New Friends (text)


The time period is: the Summer of 1985. The location is: France.

It is a dry and warm mid-summer’s day. A young woman – no older than about twenty – with reddish-brown hair, tied up at the back, cycles along a country lane, between two lush fields. Her set of small, lightweight-foam headphones are connected to a cassette-player.

Another young lady – a country girl, with long dark hair, swept back with a hair-band – casually strolls along, passing by some brick out-buildings and tall hedges. This woman is carrying a lightweight straw handbag.

The dark-haired girl is wearing a soft white top, that shows off her evenly-tanned bare arms. She wears a pastel-blue, flower-patterned, loose-fitting, summer-skirt, that spreads out wide at her knee-level. Nice and airy. On her feet, she has neat white ankle-socks and flat, pale, plimsolls.

The cycling-girl is gently pedalling up a slight incline. Her red cardigan is loosely tied over her shoulders. Her black blouse has small white buttons at the front. Contrasting with her black leggings, she wears red ankle-socks and dark-blue plimsolls.

The sky is deep blue on this warm day, as this girl slowly pedals up the gentle slope. Claudette is a city-girl, and doesn’t really belong to these parts. She almost seems out-of-place. It appears that her front tyre is quite soft, and so she gets off her pink, ladies-bike, and lays it down on the grass verge at the side of the road. Claudette is now, all in black, as she has cast her red cardigan aside, lest she overheat.

She squats down, with the silver inflator in her hand, and attempts to pump some air into the tyre. She is not a sturdy girl – her arms are slim – and it appears to take all her concentration to connect the inflator to the tyre and give it a few, cursory, thrusts.

With her delicate fingers, she gives the tyre a pinch, with low expectation, to check for any progress—but she has made no impression on the tyre whatsoever—it is still spongy. There is an expression of mild disappointment on her wee face.


Mirabelle – the dark-haired country-girl – walks along, in an unhurried manner, carrying her straw bag in a carefree way. She smiles, and hums a happy tune to herself. Her long black hair blows in the summer breeze. Mirabelle is much less serious in her demeanour than the city-girl and she has a stronger physicality, and a lovely femininity about her—almost an innocence.

Mirabelle is spotted by Claudette.  

“Excuse me,” the city-girl addresses Mirabelle. The country-girl stops walking, and puts on an approachable expression.

“Is there a garage around here?” Claudette asks. “I think I have a flat.”

The straps of Claudette’s top cover her thin shoulders, and her neckline plunges quite a way—enough to reveal a hint of her flattish breasts, if you follow the white buttons down. When Claudette becomes animated, it can be seen that she has an understated beauty about her—and perhaps even the coolness and aloofness of a fashion model.

“Yes, about, eh, five miles,” Mirabelle replies, while walking towards her, with a wide and friendly smile. “May I see?” Mirabelle asks, moving closer to the crouching city-girl. “Can you hold this?” She passes her straw bag to Claudette and then grasps the inflator that has already been abandoned by the city-girl. Mirabelle squats down and has a go, herself, at pumping up the tyre—but not for long. “Got any patches?” she asks Claudette.

“Yes, but how do you find the hole?” Claudette replies, genuinely, as she stands there, staring at her bike, with a concerned face.

“You never repaired a tyre?” Mirabelle states, with a smile. Claudette shakes her head. They both laugh, good-naturedly. “I’ll fix it for you,” Mirabelle says. “Got the cap?”

“No, it came without one.”

Mirabelle lifts the bike up from the verge and starts to push it along. Claudette picks up her red cardigan and Mirabelle's straw bag.

“This way,” Mirabelle says, as she leads Claudette through a path in the trees.  

Mirabelle has produced a huge red basin, full of crystal-clear water. Both girls are now kneeling on the grass, surrounded by the sounds of nature. Birds are merrily chirping away around them, as they have positioned themselves in the shade of the trees. Mirabelle is dipping an inner-tube into the water.

“See the bubbles,” the dark-haired girl says, “that is where the hole is.” There is a gurgling sound, and an impressive stream of bubbles shoots out of the tube, which is immersed under water. “You put your finger on it, like that.” Mirabelle presses her index-finger down on the rubber. “You dry it a bit…you can’t put the glue on yet…”

“I’ll do it,” Claudette says, eager to learn, and pull her weight. She takes a rag and dries off the surface of the inner-tube.

“I take out the emery paper,” says Mirabelle, “to scrape it a bit. Wanna try?” Mirabelle hands a small square of the coarse paper to Claudette to encourage her pupil to join in. Claudette is delighted to have a go, seeking approval from the pretty country-girl. “This will make it hold better,” Mirabelle says, as Claudette gives the tube-surface a vigorous rub. Claudette is concentrating very hard. “You then take the glue and the patch,” instructs Mirabelle, showing great patience. “The tube of glue is new,” say Mirabelle. “They make these things so hard to open.”

“Maybe we need a sharp thing to puncture it?” says Claudette, trying to offer help.

“A needle, maybe,” says Mirabelle. “Or a fork—I’ll get one.”


Mirabelle gets up, and heads off to find such a thing, while Claudette stares, with intense concentration, at the instruction leaflet provided with the repair kit. Her face looks baffled. Mirabelle comes back with the glue-tube now opened, and she skillfully applies glue to the rubber surface that has been roughened up.

Showing much willing, Claudette, holds the tube steady, with her fine-boned and pretty hands. After a bit more humming and hawing, and fine-tuning, they complete the task. Or, rather, Mirabelle does—but with considerable moral support from her assistant with the fine reddish-brown hair that is tied up, at the back.

Mirabelle takes the repaired inner-tube to a non-descript brick-building and hangs it on the wall, inside, on a nail. Outside, Claudette stands up, and casually drapes her red cardigan over her shoulder. She looks around, as she stands in the tall and unkempt grasses that surround the brickwork

“What is this?” the city-girl asks, in her low, flat, tones.

“Where?” Mirabelle asks, as she comes out of the brick building.

“This place,” says Claudette, as she looks about, trying to grasp, what appears to her, to be abandoned ruins.

“It’s my home.” Mirabelle says, proudly, in her keen, and higher-register voice.

They both stand, facing each other, in untidy grass that is about four-feet tall. Behind them is a thirty-foot-tall brick building with just one, high-up, small window. The door-opening is around the side.

Claudette has a calm, aloofness about her. She is about five-foot nine in height, and of slim build. She resembles a catalogue model, with her matching black blouse, with its many small-white buttons, and her black, baggy, collets. Her blouse has thin straps, and so her long and slender, lightly-tanned, arms are bared. She wears a tiny watch on her left arm which has a delicate black strap. At the wider bottom of her trousers there is a gap, where you can see her skin just before you meet a set of vivid-red ankle-socks that match her cardigan. Her reddish-brown, fine-stranded, hair is long, but she has it tied back for the moment.

When Claudette speaks, her voice is slow, low in tone, and detached. It is almost as if she is not, directly, connected to the physical reality that is all around her, but rather, she is a mere observer. You could never imagine her doing anything in a rush.

“Where do you live?” Claudette asks

“There!” Mirabelle points to an opening. She spins around, and walks through the overgrown grass. Claudette follows Mirabelle along, and through the door. Mirabelle shows Claudette her kitchen, which is just a bare brick-room, with no windows. It has a very basic stove and a couple of well-worn tables with jars and pots sitting on them.

They both stand outside the building again. The country-girl is the same height as Claudette but she has a stronger, more athletic, build. Her shoulders are wider, her waist is slim, and her arms and legs and thicker and stronger. And Mirabelle moves around, and speaks fast, with much more energy.

Claudette dresses like a young woman. But, in contrast, Mirabelle dresses more like a pretty girl, with her white top, floral skirt, and white socks and plimsolls. Her long black, hair reaches her waistline—held back by a white hair-band. She looks like a cute doll, whereas Claudette could pass for a glamour-model. The city-girl even has a red-tie to keep her hair up, that coordinates with her socks and cardigan.
Mirabelle points to the small window up at the top right.


“It’s a house?” asks Claudette, with incredulity.

“What else?” Mirabelle replies, brightly, with a laugh.

“It looks more like a hayloft,” Claudette says, matter-of-factly. She doesn’t seem too impressed. And is not shy in saying so.

“It used to be. We made it into a room. Want to visit?” Mirabelle asks, keenly.

“Hmm,” Claudette affirms.

The girls walk around to the other side of the building, through the long grass.

“Watch out for the thistles,” Mirabelle says.

“I love the grass growing wild, so much nicer,” says Claudette.

“Me too,” says Mirabelle. “Too bad the neighbour will cut it for his goats.”

Claudette notices an imposing tree, with thick, spread-out, branches.

“What a fabulous tree!” she says. They both stop and gaze up at it.

“It’s my great-grandmother’s.” says Mirabelle. “Lovely, isn’t it?”

“Your great-grandmother’s?” The tree is about sixty feet high.

“It was planted one-hundred years ago, the day she was born. It’s a pear tree. Come, it’s over here, the little door.”

Mirabelle points at a door in the brick wall, and walks towards it. Claudette, smoothly, glides towards the entry-point. Mirabelle then opens, what looks like, a wooden shed-door.

“Entrez Mademoiselle.” Mirabelle gestures for Claudette to go through the narrow door first.

Claudette takes a short bow. “Merci,” she says. They both laugh.

As they walk inside, Mirabelle tells her new friend to excuse the mess as this bottom-part is just a storeroom. There are rusty metal shelves, bolted to the brick walls, which contain various bits of wood and cans and jars, and the like. To the right, there is a steep set of sturdy-looking wooden stairs.

Mirabelle indicates to her friend to go on up. Claudette hesitates. Mirabelle gently laughs, and tells her not to worry as the steps are “quite solid.” They both walk up the staircase, with Claudette taking the lead. When they get to the top they are still in bare-brick accommodation but it now looks a bit more homely.

Claudette asks her friend if “she lives alone here” and gets an “Oui” as the answer.

Mirabelle tells Claudette that her mum lives in Rebais and has a convenience store there. They continue along a narrow ledge with a thick wooden handrail which turns, at a right-angle, taking them into the living area.

There is no wallpaper on the walls—it is just painted brickwork—and the overall design is minimalist. There are a couple of long and thin, dark-wood, presentation shelves with some small picture-frames and vases of flowers on them. One shelf has a small straw hat ornately dangling from it. In a corner, there is a big doll sitting on a wooden chair. An easel stands in another corner, next to an opening in the thick brickwork that serves as a window.


“You have a nice place here,” Claudette says, as she stands erect, and looks around. Her tone is friendly, but cool. “Do you paint?”

Mirabelle goes all bashful, and puts on a wide grin. She bows her head, graciously.  “I try to,” she replies, with a big smile.

Claudette now has more presence, seems somehow taller, and more composed, when she is inside a building. She sits down on a small chair, and begins to relax.

“What do you do?” Mirabelle asks her, politely.

“I am a student,” replies Claudette, from her seated position. Mirabelle is still standing, near her easel, which has a vivid painting, sitting on it, depicting a mythical-looking dancing-lady.

“What do you do?” Mirabelle asks.

“I am a student,” replies Claudette.

“What field?”


“What’s that?” says Mirabelle, laughing slightly, at her own lack of understanding.

“The study of ethnic groups.” Claudette, leans forward on the chair, with a relaxed hand supporting her chin. “Ethnic comes from the word ethnos—in Greek that means people.”

Mirabelle’s face goes all serious, and her eyes widen, as she tries to take all this in. “I see…” she says, her voice lowering, due to her lack of confidence in the subject area.

Claudette rises from the chair, perhaps maybe getting slightly bored about where the conversation is heading. Mirabelle quickly senses this and puts on her relaxing smile, as Claudette nonchalantly wanders about, with her red cardigan casually hanging over her shoulder.


“What is your name?”


“I’m Mirabelle,” she replies, with a big smile, offering her hand in greeting. The girls shake, warmly. Claudette’s face shows little emotion, but her grip is tight.

“Can I look at your paintings?” Claudette is at the easel.

“Sure, go ahead.” Mirabelle, goes over, and stands next to her. “That one’s called Breakaway” — they both look at a naked dancing-lady, floating in the sky.

Claudette, sweeps her hair back, but makes no comment. And then she picks up another painting, from the side, and puts it on the easel, the wrong way up. Mirabelle, turns it around the right way. “You have to stand back to look at this one,” she informs Claudette.

“You have to stand back to look at this one,” says Mirabelle. The painting shows a couple of disembodied heads floating about in a landscape, and a naked lady, with stockings and heels, upside down, with her head stuck in the sand, and her legs kicking up towards the sky. “It’s Refusal.” — Mirabelle reveals the title.

“Really? Why?” says Claudette.

“When you refuse to open, or close your eyes, you select a face for that body, and you put it on.”

“Right.” Claudette picks up another painting and puts it on the easel, with some help, and adjustments, from Mirabelle. “And this?” The next painting shows three naked ladies floating in the sky, looking angst-ridden, with their head in their hands, and their long-hair flowing, while another, more subdued lady, is lying very still, and hovering in the clouds.

“You have to look at this one from a distance,” Mirabelle says. Claudette stands back a bit. “It just comes to me. Don’t try to figure it out.”

“Looks a lot like a comic strip,” says Claudette.

Mirabelle laughs. “The only comic-strips I know are by Grimm and Perrault.”

“They did comic strips?” Claudette puts on a warm smile, which lights up her face. This encourages Mirabelle.

“Do you want to see my favourite?” Mirabelle, starts to enthuse, and become animated. “This one’s called A Few Extra Inches.” The painting is of two women, scantily clad, holding onto a silk curtain, in a pastel landscape. The ladies bottom’s are enticingly protruding. And there is a sizable ant, down in the corner. “I love ants,” says Mirabelle, “I like that picture because the ant came out well.” She points at the insect in the corner of the frame.

“It all takes place on the Moon?” Claudette asks.

“Yes, in a way. Want to see my sunset?”

“Hmm,” affirms Claudette.


Mirabelle puts up another pastel-coloured fantasy-painting, featuring a girl sitting on a platform that is floating in the sky; and another lady, leaning on the platform with her bottom revealed as her thin dress is blowing around.

“There, you can see the ‘extra inch.’ ” — Mirabelle points at the lady’s behind — “That is why I place it in the centre. I like it because it is the prettiest part of a woman. It’s so round; it’s lovely.”

“Your work is very surrealistic,” says Claudette. Then she, casually, and slowly, walks away from the easel.

“Yes, it is surr…” Mirabelle tails off. “Next year I’ll go to Paris to study art.”

Claudette sits on the small chair and crosses over her leg, in a relaxed posture. “You’re really lucky to be here, it is so lovely.”

Mirabelle grabs a small kitchen-chair, brings it over, and sits to face Claudette. “What about you? Where do you live?” Mirabelle leans forward.


“You didn’t come from Paris now?”

“No.” Claudette replies, with a smile. They both laugh. “My parents have a cottage near here, with gravel paths, a lawn, and flowers. Get the picture? Mirabelle laughs. “The house next door is much the same. But I have never been in a countryside like this.” Claudette gazes out of the window, and clutches her raised-up knee, in a casual posture. “It’s completely wild.”

“So stay here,” says Mirabelle.

They are both sitting next to the window, on small kitchen-type chairs. There is a big plant pot on a low-level table with has a nice arrangement of tall and colourful flowers displayed in it.

Claudette is slightly taken aback by Mirabelle’s suggestion.

“Oh no, I did not mean it that way,” says Mirabelle. “You can stay. I’ve got a cot.” Mirabelle puts on a friendly smile that is disarming.

“I hate to impose…”

“Look, I wouldn’t have said it. I have just finished a painting. Once I’m done I love a good chat.” And then Mirabelle lowers her voice. “If I talk too much you can always leave.”

“I can’t. My parents are expecting me. I have to go.”

“Call them.”

Claudette gives this serious thought. “Got a phone?”

“No, but the neighbours have. Shall we?” Claudette says nothing. But her look says yes.

* * *


It is now the evening. Claudette has decided to stay, and they are both sitting at a small table in the grass—manger à l'extérieur—enjoying their evening dinner, and each other’s company.

They sit under the tall pear tree. Claudette has now let her hair down. When she allows her hair to free-flow, in this way, it can be seen that there is a distinct red tinge to her locks. And she has her cardigan fully-on now, to protect herself from the evening chill.

Mirabelle, at the opposite side of the small table, is wearing a red jumper that uncannily matches Claudette’s cardigan. On the table there are several bowls of fruit, a bottle of wine, and a big jug of water. As they chat away, they work their way through some shredded carrots, a few radishes, a bit of charcuterie, and some potatoes and green beans.

“The silence is wonderful,” says Claudette.” They both look so grown-up, and sophisticated, as they eat their supper. “It’s never like this is Paris. Always a car driving by, or a neighbour’s stereo, like a steady drone.”

“But this isn’t real silence either. Listen. Lots of sounds,” says Mirabelle.

Claudette thinks deeply. Her face is serious. “Silence doesn’t exist in nature,” she says. “Maybe on mountain tops.” She takes a spoonful of her yogurt. “Ever been on a mountain top?”

“Never,” says Mirabelle. You get it here too.”

“Maybe at night.”

“No, the night’s full of noises. Cats serenading, and owls…” Mirabelle takes a sip from her wine glass. “Ever heard of the blue hour?”

Claudette’s face looks perplexed. She shakes her head. “Blue hour?”

“Actually, it’s not an hour, but a minute, really. Just before dawn, there’s a minute of silence. The day-birds aren’t up yet, and the night-birds are asleep. Only then…there is real silence.” Mirabelle laughs, softly, and gazes at the table as she recalls a memory. “As a kid, I’d ask my mum to wake me up then.” She runs her finger around her glass.

“Every morning?”

“Oh, no.” A soft laugh. “Not every morning. Two or three times a year. In summer, when the sky’s clear.” Mirabelle looks down at the table again, in deep thought. “It’s hard to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it.” Mirabelle places her hand to her chest, in an expression of sincerity. “But when nature’s truly silent, it’s scary.”

Claudette is skillfully peeling an apple. She is enchanted by this story. Her eyes are wide, and focused on Mirabelle.

“A bit like a courtroom,” Mirabelle continues. “When they’re waiting for the verdict. It’s either life, or death.” Mirabelle flourishes this with a dramatic wave of her hand. “If the end of the world ever comes…” She looks at Claudette, intently. “…I’m sure it will be at that moment. You know why?”


Mirabelle continues. “It’s the only time that you can feel nature’s holding its breath. It’s very scary.” And then she laughs, gently, again. She looks over to Claudette – who has almost got her apple peeled now – and smiles, and scratches her head. Mirabelle is wondering if she has gotten her point across to her new friend.

“All farmers know about that moment. That is why they say another day, another daybreak. It’s true. Whatever happens, you can’t stop the sun rising. That’s the finest lesson in humility you can get.” Mirabelle speaks with great passion. Claudette gazes at her. “We need nature, not the other way round.” Claudette puts a segment of apple into her mouth and starts to chew. “If you want, we can go to bed now. I’ll wake you for the blue hour, ok?” Mirabelle puts on her lovely, sincere, smile.

"We’ll never wake up—anyway, I don’t hear alarms,” says Claudette.

"Leave it to me," says Mirabelle, with a big grin on her face.

* * *


It’s now the middle of the night. The girls are sleeping, next to each other, in long, single beds. Mirabelle clicks on a table-lamp. She reaches over to Claudette and gives her a gentle nudge. “Claudette,” she whispers. She nudges her again. “Claudette. It’s time.” Her new friend sweeps her covers back, still half-sleeping, and gets up. They head outside, and then stand there in their baggy nightgowns. The night is very silent.

“Listen,” says Mirabelle. “A toad…and that's a frog. An owl…”

It is so peaceful, and the sky is starting to become a deep blue. But then there is the harsh sound of a tractor starting, and a dog barking.

“What’s that?” Mirabelle is quite stressed at the jarring, unnatural, sound of machinery and this has spoiled the experience for her. She is really upset.

“Dammit!” Mirabelle says. “Hurry up!” She wants the tractor to go away.

“Don’t be mad,” says Claudette, placing a hand on her shoulder, and trying to make her feel better.

"A minute’s very short, you know." Mirabelle is almost in tears. A distant dog keeps on barking. There is no more tractor noise.

"See, he’s gone away," says Claudette, in a soft voice.

"He’s gone, but he ruined it." Mirabelle slaps her leg in frustration. She huffs and puffs, and sighs. "I can’t believe it!"

Mirabelle starts to sob. "Stop it, it doesn’t matter," says her friend, sympathetically. "You know, it was very impressive." Claudette says to Mirabelle, to make her feel better.

"That wasn’t real silence!" Mirabelle tells her friend, still sobbing.

"I understood that." Claudette tries to console her distraught friend.

But Mirabelle is not ready to be comforted yet. "Everybody says, ‘I understand. I understand!’ Well a ripe strawberry’s better than a green one, but until you’ve tasted it, you don’t know. What’s the use?" Mirabelle is inconsolable, and starts to sob again.

"Don’t cry," Claudette says, in her calm voice, and places a hand on Mirabelle, to give her comfort.

"I’m fed up," Mirabelle sobs. "Friends always ruin everything."

Claudette tries to reason with her. "I thought you’d heard that blue hour a thousand times."

"Yes, but I wanted you to hear it," she says, in a whimper, and then she sobs away.

"Listen," says Claudette. "There will be more opportunities, ok?"

"Sure, tomorrow you’ll be gone, who knows where." She can’t stop crying.


"Listen," says Claudette. "If you want, I’ll stay." Mirabelle doesn’t respond. "Ok?" says Claudette.

"Really?" says Mirabelle, with hope in her voice.

"I just have to make a call." Claudette reassures her, in a calm voice. "Now stop crying. Let’s go to bed now. You’re silly." Claudette takes Mirabelle’s hand and leads her back to the house. The sky is now very blue.

It’s a new day, and a new dawn. And the birds are chirping away. Both girls are sound asleep, in their long and narrow beds. The light is beginning to stream in through the window. Today, Mirabelle is in a much better spirit, and decides to give her new friend an enthusiastic tour of the local farm.

As the tour begins, Mirabelle is still dressed in her soft-white top and her light-blue, floral dress, but now she has substituted her plimsolls for a set of Wellington boots. Claudette has her hair tied back up again, and is also wearing Wellingtons, over a set of blue jeans. Claudette now has a lilac jumper on, with a wide-open, polo-style, plunging neck-line. She carries a padded anorak with her, in her left arm, but still manages to look assured, and elegant, as they both wander around the farm. 

"Look at them." says Mirabelle. "The geese. They always look like they’re talking business." The girls wander about, over the grass, in their wellies. Mirabelle throws food pellets at the geese and the chickens. Claudette asks if the animals will hurt her. Mirabelle says, not if she is gentle with them, and doesn’t scare them. And so Claudette, confidently, wanders around, chipping food at the chickens and geese.

Claudette then points to a building. "What’s in there?" she asks.

"Little goats," says Mirabelle.

"Can we visit them?"

The both wander about in the goat-shed. Mirabelle explains about the different types, and how they have pecking orders, and how their horns have to be cut, or they will fight. Claudette walks about, stroking the animals, and taking a keen interest in them. "They are adorable," she says.

Later, the girls head over the fields to see a beautiful horse. They walk through the long grasses and now they approach the horse-field. The wind has whipped up, and it has really become quite breezy, as they lean on the fence.

"What's her name?" asks Claudette.


They call her, but she does not come over. Mirabelle says that she is sulking. She also mentions that, in Autumn, the horse blends with the trees. Claudette, much to Mirabelle's surprise, climbs over the fence, and walks over to the horse. The horse reacts well to Claudette, further surprising Mirabelle.

Next, they both head to meet the neighbours; that is the farmer, and his wife, Monsieur Housseau and Madame Housseau. Madame doesn’t make much input, because she is too busy working, but Mr Housseau is very taken by Claudette, and she jokes and laughs with him. She makes him feel very important. They spend the next couple of hours talking about all the aspects of farming.

It starts to get a bit wet and so Mirabelle puts on a red raincoat that comes down to the hemline of her dress. Claudette puts her anorak on, but keeps it open, not buttoned up. It gets increasingly wet and windy, and so after an extended walk about, looking at poppies, and strawberries, and cabbages, and the like, the girls seek shelter. They set up a table, inside a small shed, and lay out a fine meal on the tablecloth, while the rain lashes down outside. 

They set up a table, inside a small shed. They have some beef palate with Bourguignonne, some tomatoes with blue cheese, and some Terrine. They converse, and eat, with impeccable manners.  

"Too bad it is raining today," says Mirabelle.

"Doesn’t matter, now I have seen the countryside in all weather. You graduated from high-school?" Claudette asks.

"Last year. And I never went to school."

"Then you did it by correspondence?"

Mirabelle nods her head. "I always had problems at school. Really, it is so dumb! Their schedules! You study a new subject every hour! It’s idiotic!"

"So what’s next?" Claudette asks.


"Next year I am applying to get into the Art Institute. When I draw, I know when it’s wrong, but I don’t know why. I think I’d help me a lot if I improve my technique. There I’d make an exception and adapt to the school system, but otherwise, no way!"

"It is true that technique helps," says Claudette. "Where’ll you live?"

"I have cousins in Sartrouville."

"That’s a long way away."

"Twenty minutes from Paris."

"That’s an hour’s travel everyday!" says Claudette.

"I like trains. I’d like to try. And my cousins are so nice."

"I share an apartment with a girl who’s leaving in September. If you want, you could share it with me. So you’d really be in Paris. If that suits you, of course."

"I’m very independent." Mirabelle puts on her big smile.

"We’ll each have our own room."

"I could fix mine up as I wish?" asks Mirabelle.

"Sure we’d be sharing fifty-fifty. There’s no problem. Bring home whoever you want. Do whatever you want. I have a boyfriend, but he does not live with me. So he comes over. You got a lover?"

"That’s secret. That’s my private life. If I talk about it, it’s not private anymore!"

They take all the crockery and cutlery back to Mirabelle’s place; she gets her big red basin out, and the girls begin to wash up. Claudette is still wearing her blue, padded-anorak, with its red lining, and her outdoor jeans. With her hair tied up, she manages to look cool, even when doing the dishes. Mirabelle has her red cardigan on, over her white top and dress. However, they have both changed into their plimsolls.

To make the mundane task more enjoyable Claudette puts one of her cassettes into Mirabelle’s portable player that is sitting on a table to the side. She presses the button and some pleasing music, with a good beat, fills the room. Claudette immediately responds to the groove and starts to bop about, in a minimalist, but cool, fashion.

There are no carpets in the room, just the basic flooring surface. But there is plenty of space to bop about as Mirabelle tends to just pin things to the wall to get them out of her way. Her straw-bag is hanging from a hook on the brick-wall, for example, and her straw-hat is hanging off the edge of a thin shelf.

Mirabelle is standing at the red basin, leaning over, and washing the dishes, while Claudette is upright, and creatively using a towel, to dry the crockery, and so she is free to move about.

"You dance well!" says Mirabelle.

"I don’t know how!"

"Doesn’t show."

"Dancing comes naturally. I never learned," says Claudette.

"I never even tried," says Mirabelle, with a laugh. "I’ve never been to a disco."

"Come on, let’s go then," says Claudette, encouraging Mirabelle to ‘take the floor’ with her. Claudette then, still with her anorak on, sways her shoulders from side, and waves her arms a bit, in a cool-style of dancing. Mirabelle, takes her cardigan off, pretends to look bashful for a second or two, and then joins her friend in a dance.  

Mirabelle quickly picks up on the groove, and starts to move around, in perfect time to the music.


"That’s nonsense, you can dance!" says Claudette.

Encouraged by this complement, Mirabelle’s movements become more elegant, and exaggerated. She has a slim waist, and wide shoulders -- perfect figure for dancing -- and she starts to strut her stuff like a flamenco dancer. She shakes her shoulders, in an enticing way, and, all the time, she has a big smile on her face.

"I’ve travelled," Mirabelle reveals. "I’ve been to Mexico, Tunisia, Greece, and the Caribbean." She moves every part of her body in a fascinating rhythm, and it all looks so natural. Claudette stops dancing, as she now realises Mirabelle owns the floor. She has been totally outclassed. And so, Claudette tries to put a dampener on proceedings.

Claudette has now turned into a party-pooper. "We ought to go to bed, or we’ll miss the blue hour." she says.

Mirabelle sweeps her arms about, in melodramatic motions, to the bopping music. "Live for the moment!" she declares. "Like a Parisian." She waves her arms about, provocatively. "And a Parisian must know how to dance!" She points at Claudette, in a cheeky manner.

"We’ll miss the blue hour." Claudette pleads to her friend, with an open-handed gesture, and an earnest tone in her voice.

"Do you really want to?" Mirabelle stops dancing for a moment, and sweeps back her long black hair.

"I mean, it's for you…" says Claudette.

"If it’s for me, then we’ll dance ‘till midnight, ok?" Mirabelle claps her hands, theatrically, and starts to bop about, again. Claudette joins in, but she tries to remain cool, and so does not take her anorak off. She just starts to sway her shoulders, in her cool, Parisian, way. 

The dancing becomes more intense, and both girls, bopping in their blue and white plimsolls, demonstrate some rather fancy footwork.

Both girls are sound asleep. But now the blue hour is approaching. Claudette wakes up, but she does not turn on the lamp, in case she disturbs Mirabelle. Claudette picks up a flashlight-torch and then gets out of bed, dressed in her long and baggy nightgown. She briefly shines the torch on Mirabelle, who is still deep in the land of nod. Claudette heads down to the small door, opens it, and walks outside. The sky is beginning to turn blue and all is silent.

There is movement behind her. She turns around to see her friend has joined her. Mirabelle stands, about twenty yards away, also in her ankle-length, baggy, nightgown. There is the distant sound of frogs croaking and owls hooting. And then there is perfect silence. There are no sounds of nature at all.

The girls just stand and look at each other, for what appears to be an eternity. The atmosphere becomes intense. The silence is overpowering, and scary, almost terrifying. And then the birds start chirping, and the sky turns vivid blue. The girls walk towards each other, and embrace. And then they cry with emotion.

* * *


If you looked out of the window of the flat you would be able to see the Eiffel Tower, sticking up, over the rooftops, a few miles in the distance.

Claudette is lying sleeping, on a mattress, on the floor in the corner. There is a grey telephone - an old-style one with a big dial - on the floor next to the bed. Right next to the phone, is a study-desk and chair, sitting up against the wall of Claudette’s room. She reluctantly pokes a foot out, from under the blanket, in an attempt to gain the motivation to maybe start thinking about getting up. The make-shift bed has a dark under-blanket, and then a red over-blanket, on the top. Claudette, slowly, sits up a bit, but still has her head in her hands, trying to get used to the idea of being fully awake.

There are clinking and clanking sounds coming from the kitchen as her flatmate, Mirabelle, busily, and energetically, gets ready for her day.

Mirabelle is 'busying' about. She has a white blouse on, and a black, business-like skirt. She is doing up her cuffs, brushing her long black hair, and making up her bed, all at the same time. Her thick, and puffy, duvet has a black music-notation pattern on it. It is, literally, a music sheet. And she is knocking it into shape. Her bedroom is nicely decorated in pastel colours and there are vases of flowers placed around in appropriate positions. Most of her room-wall-space is taken up by her own surreal-fantasy paintings.

Claudette has just about summoned up the energy to get up. She stands upright in her long, white, T-shirt and slowly walks over to her big, red curtains. She sweeps them open to reveal a greyish, but dry, day. She looks out over the small balcony. There is the sound of clanging and banging from construction work going on, and there is a persistent dog barking somewhere.

Mirabelle puts on her light-grey coat, with the black buttons, and checks the contents of her small black rucksack.

A door opens and Claudette wanders in, in her long T-shirt, still not fully awake yet.

"Leaving already?" Claudette asks, sleepily.

"Yes. I’m late."

"When do you get out?"

"3 P.M."

"We could meet…eh…in Montparnasse."

"Meet me at school," says Mirabelle. She is speaking three times the speed of her flatmate, as she stands there in her coat.

"Let’s meet at a café. There’s one there called "Equality" or something."

"What’s the address?" asks Mirabelle.

"Near the Montparnasse Tower … Gaite Street. Know where it is?"

"No, but I’ll find it. What number?"

"I don’t know, but it’s a café…it’s near a square…with a subway station." Claudette is speaking very slowly, and it is taking great effort.  

"What station?"

"I don’t know. Doesn’t matter, since you're walking there. Take Grand Chaumiere Street, keep going straight. Cross one avenue. There’s another further down. There’s a little street in between with a small square at the end. The café faces the station." Claudette tries to draw street-shapes, in the air, with her hands, as she leans on the wall in her T-shirt.

"Ok, Gaite Street. If I can’t find it, I’ll just ask," says Mirabelle.

"You can’t miss it. I’ll see you later."


Mirabelle closes the greyish-white, pitch-pine, door and leaves the flat. She walks down the wide stone-steps of an old-style stairwell. As she grasps the polished wooden handrail, and descends to street-level, the diffuse light coming through the stairway-window casts a big, dark, soft-edged, shadow of herself that follows her down the spiral steps. At the bottom she pushes the huge double-doors open, with effort, and steps out onto the pavement. She then, carefully, closes the ornate entry-doors using one of the giant brass knobs. And off she goes, walking briskly, and with purpose, along the street of central Paris.

It is a dry morning, but overcast, and so there are no shadows being cast on the outside of the building. Mirabelle looks quite presentable, wearing her sensible light-grey jacket, over her black skirt. Her long black hair is free-flowing down her back, and reaches nearly to her waist-level. As she quickly walks along the pavement, her small black rucksack hangs off of her left shoulder. Her strong, and shapely, legs have a natural tan to them, and complement her flat, black, shoes. She is heading for the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, art school, in Montparnasse.

It’s now the afternoon, and the weather has become much brighter. Mirabelle strides out of the ancient, and esteemed, exit-door of the Academie and heads down the street, passing various Renaults and Peugeots that are tightly parked to each other, and also to the pavement. There is a short old-woman in a black coat, limping along, some distance behind her, as Mirabelle passes a rack of postcards on a display-stand about fifty yards from the Academie exit.

As she walks over a well-worn pedestrian-crossing, that has stripes that are somewhat faded, the sun makes an appearance. There are plenty of people wandering around, and the traffic is quite busy on the roads. A small motorbike buzzes by, with no baffle to muffle the piercing exhaust sound, and it spews out some blue smoke. And then the ambiance turns to the normal, everyday, traffic-and-people-sounds of a bustling city.

On one street-corner, a distinguished-looking man, in his fifties, sits on a small chair, next to a railing, that marks the edge of the pavement. He has set up an impromptu gallery of his landscape drawings, and they are all pinned up against a large container-bin to give passers-by a good view. Mirabelle has a quick glance at the sketches and then moves on.


The afternoon is now lovely and sunny, and the Parisians are mainly dressed in casual-wear and bright colours. Mirabelle, still wearing her light-grey jacket, is now getting a bit lost, however, and so she decides to ask someone for directions.  

Mirabelle stands on a busy thoroughfare, and looks up at the street names on the corners of the tall buildings, with a confused face on. Some of the Parisians, that are constantly walking by, are giving her ‘looks’.

Mirabelle takes her eyes off of the pretty buildings, as they are not helping her to find her way, and brings them down to street level. She glances about, and then spins around quickly, as she tries to catch the attention of a confident-looking young man, in his late twenties, who appears to be about five-feet-eleven in height, as he clears Mirabelle by a few inches. Her ploy works. He stops sharply, and stands face-to-face with her, on the pavement.

The man is immaculately dressed, and his swept-back, neatly-trimmed, brown hair is full of vitality. He looks like a successful person, and he has a nicely-tanned complexion too. His attire is of a high standard. He is wearing a cream shirt, a neat grey tie, and a dark-brown, blazer-jacket, together with nicely-creased grey-flannel trousers, over dark-brown, finely-polished, expensive-looking, brogues. He could be a business-man, a hotelier, or even a footballer. Or maybe he’s just a normal Parisian man.

Mirabelle has now got his full attention, however, as he stands there, elegantly, with his hands resting behind his back, while looking down, in an approachable way, at the concerned country girl who needs the help of a city gent.

Mirabelle, still wearing her light-grey jacket, asks the man in the blazer for directions.  

"Pardon Monsieur. Where’s Gaite Street?"

"You’re in luck, I was just there, or almost. It’s on the left there, can you see Main Avenue?" The blazer-man stretches out his hand to the left.

"Main Avenue?" her face looks doubtful.

"It’s a broad, tree-lined avenue. Now where Gaite Street starts there aren’t any trees, the avenue goes underground. Keep going, take a right, then left, left again, twice left, and you’re there. Got it?" The blazer-man speaks with authority and intensity. He switches, back and forth, from gesticulating, to looking very directly at Mirabelle. But she is not taking in what blazer-man is saying. Her head is starting to drop and Mirabelle is beginning to look confused again.

However, there is another man, hovering in the background, listening into their conversation. And he decides to make an interjection.

"Need help, Mademoiselle?" says a very tall, and strongly-built man, with thick, dark-brown, slightly wavy, hair. He must be about six-feet-two in height. He is wearing dark trousers, a casual, open-jacket, and a white open-necked shirt.

"I’m looking for Gaite Street," she replies, to this new man’s polite question.

Casual-man stands to Mirabelle’s right, and towers over her. "It’s close," he says, "I was just there, or almost. It’s that way!" He points in the opposite direction to blazer-man, who still maintains his ground to Mirabelle’s left.

"Gaite Street?" she queries, wondering if he means this, or has got it wrong.

"Oui, turn right, follow the cemetery, then right again," says causal-man. He stretches his arm out and points.


Mirabelle has turned towards casual-man and, inadvertently, turned away from blazer-man. And so blazer-man, gently, puts his hand on her shoulder, possessively, to spin her back in his direction. "It’s to the left, it’s shorter if you take Maine Avenue," states the man in the blazer.

Casual-man:  "That’s a big detour!" .

Blazer-man:  "What? Maine Avenue is to the left, and so is Gaite Street!"

Casual-man:  "That way’s much shorter. The rear windows of Gaite Street overlook the cemetery. A friend of mine lives there."

Blazer-man:  "I don’t care about your friend. It’s tasteless to send her to a cemetery to reach Gaite Street when it’s that way! All roads lead to Rome, but don’t cross cemeteries!"

Casual-man:  "No need to cross it, just follow…that’s simpler than taking your huge detour!"

Mirabelle is caught in the middle of this interchange, and her head is moving from one to the other as they both try to take the stage. She slowly walks off, although they have now forgotten she was ever there in the first place. As she gazes about, she notices a sign high-up, in the distance.

"I think that’s it!" she informs the guys, shouting from down the street.

Casual-man:  "…not through…alongside…" he continues to lecture blazer-man.

Blazer-man:  "What’s the difference, the cemetery’s square!"

"Messieurs! Messieurs!" she shouts, trying to get their attention, but they both just keep waving their arms about and pointing at each other.

Casual-man:  "No it isn’t!" He points in the air.

Blazer-man:  "Are you from here Monsieur?"

Casual-man:  "Not really. And you?"

Blazer-man:  "Not at all. But I know Montparnasse."

"Messieurs!" Mirabelle shouts.

Casual-man:  "And this young lady…"



She gives up, and walks away. "They’re hopeless. Unbelievable." Mirabelle mutters to herself.

Mirabelle squeezes between two white Renault 5’s, that are parked on the edge of the pavement, and crosses over the busy road. She walks along past a billboard stating "Porticulier, Tous Les Jeudis" (the publication coming out every Thursday) and a poster of David Gahan from Depeche Mode. She then walks by a dark-blue Ford Escort RS that is sitting outside of the entrance to the Rue de la Gaîté theatre.

She eventually finds the outdoor café and sits down on a small, armless, wicker-chair at a tiny, brown, circular table, which doesn’t even look big enough to hold two cups and saucers at the same time.

Behind her, a row of trees, run down the avenue into the distance. There is a grey BMW R80 boxer-twin, parked, on its side-stand, on the pavement, about twenty yards behind her, sitting behind a thick tree. A wee bit further away, there are couple of Puch mopeds sitting, at right-angles to the wall, of the four-storey nearby building.

There is another, empty, wicker-chair at the opposite side of her small table. The table has a raised rim around it to prevent anything from falling off of the edge. Still wearing her light-grey jacket, Mirabelle sits there, waiting pensively, with the tips of her fingers touching her lips, for her order of coffee.

The waiter finally appears, and Mirabelle’s expression becomes expectant. Her keen wee face lights up a bit. "Here you are," the waiter declares, gruffly, as he, somewhat heavy-handedly, plonks a small, dark orange, coffee-cup and saucer, down on the tiny round table. There is one lump of sugar, in a white packet, nestling on the edge of the saucer, and a silver spoon.

"Merci," says Mirabelle, politely, with a smile. The waiter puts a square white ticket on the table, and then stands there, fiddling with a white napkin. The serveur is in his mid-forties, with a full head of dark, straight, hair that has just some hints of grey running through it. He’s not particularly handsome - presentable enough - but perhaps a bit jaded-looking. He is wearing black trousers, a black waistcoat, a white shirt, and a black bow-tie. The bright sun is blazing away, down the avenue, but they are both in the shade of the big trees, and so their ambient lighting is much more subdued. Mirabelle picks up her sugar-lump packet, looks at it briefly, and then starts to open it.


"Pay me now, s'il vous plaît," the waiter says, in a flat tone.

"Sure. How much?" Mirabelle zips opens up her rucksack to get to her purse.

"There’s the check. Can’t you read," he says, abruptly, and points at the ticket on the table.

Mirabelle picks up the receipt. "4.30 francs, is that it?"

"That’s it." The waiter stares into the distance.

Mirabelle hands him a franc-note, with a warm smile. "Here," she says, in a friendly manner.

The waiter leans back and sighs. "Are you kidding me?" he says, incredulously. "A 200-franc bill?"

"Sorry, I’ve no change," she replies.

"Me neither," he retorts. "Nobody ever has change, so how can I have any?" Mirabelle’s face begins to fall.

"Look for it," he commands her.

"Sure, but where?" she laughs, nervously.

"You must have 4.30 francs," he pleads with her, in a stern manner. He then takes Mirabelle’s small-white purse out of her hand and starts to count through the change in it.

"1.30...1.40...1.50...1.60..." He rattles through her change. "All you got is 1.60? People don’t go around with only 1.60 francs in their pocket!"

"I’ve 200 francs." she says.

"Hell with that! If you’ve no money, don’t go to cafes!"

"This is money, monsieur." She thrusts forward the 200-franc bill, in frustration, her face now looking slightly annoyed. And then her expression goes pleasant again. With an expectant smile, she says, "I’m waiting for a friend. Maybe she’ll have change."

"So you say. … Waiting for a friend, my foot! I know that trick. I turn my back, and you’re gone!" He bows down, and leans towards her. "I am alone here. I serve on the terrace, and the floor. So as soon as I turn my back, people can vanish. Can they really? No. Because I’ve got my eye on them! It’s not always easy. A girl tricked me the other day." He pauses, and peers at Mirabelle. "She looked like you," he says.

"I’ve never been here before!" she informs him, a bit aghast.

He compromises his stance. "I’m only saying she looked like you. A dead-ringer!" He points at her. "I remember faces. I’m not falling for the ‘friend’ bit twice. So watch it!" He leans forward and points at her again.

"It wasn’t me, I tell you!" She leans away from him.

"I don’t have to believe you. Whatever you say. Just watch it!" He then gets a call from another table. "Coming," he says, in an irritated manner, and then he walks off.


Mirabelle sighs to herself. "He’s crazy," as she glares at him serving someone the other table.

The waiter serves another table and hands the couple their bill. "95 francs," he says. The man gives him a note. The waiter searches for change in his pockets and hands back some coins to the customer. "Here you are," he says.

This does not get past Mirabelle. Now she is watching him. "So now you’ve got change," she calls over to him.

"Of course I do. For customers!" he calls back to her. The couple have paid, and have left the table, and the waiter is clearing up. "People like you are a waste of time!" he says to Mirabelle.

"You sit there for two hours, over one lousy coffee!" he tells Mirabelle.

Mirabelle looks quite shocked at this. "I’ve been here 5 minutes!"

"You’ll stay, I guarantee you. You’ll wait ‘till I get change. Maybe all afternoon!" And then he points at her again, in a menacing way. "Don’t try to split, I’m watching you!" He then continues to clear up the other tables.

Mirabelle decides to have a taste of her coffee. She gives it a stir, raises the cup to her mouth, and takes a sip. Her face screws up at the bitter taste. The waiter was right. The coffee is lousy.

Mirabelle sits there and contemplates for a while. Three people come across the road and sit at a small table. The man grabs a chair from another table so that the three can sit together. With a spring in his step, the waiter appears, in a flash, to serve them.


The waiter comes over to Mirabelle’s table, gives her a scowl, and makes to grab the spare chair away with him. She reacts quickly. "I’m waiting for someone!" she exclaims. Mirabelle stands up from her chair to face him.

"What do I know? You can’t keep two seats all day, for 4.30 francs!"

"There are plenty of empty tables," says Mirabelle, as she waves her hand at the other vacant tables.

"Yeah, things are slow today. And with people like you, who stay all day, over one coffee, I could starve!"

"You won’t believe me?" says Mirabelle.

"I wouldn’t get far if I believed everybody." He points at her again. "I fell for the ‘friend’ bit once. Not twice! I’m watching now. I’m watching!"

Mirabelle has been, unceremoniously, put in her place. She sits back down, with her legs crossed to the side, and her hand covering her mouth.

The waiter goes over to another table. "What’ll you folks have," he says to them.

Mirabelle quietly sits at her table, behaving herself, holding her chin, and shaking her head.

"A big foamy hot chocolate," orders a customer, in the distance.


Claudette arrives. She has her reddish-blond hair tied up at the back, and she is wearing blue jeans, with a thick belt, a blue T-shirt and a rather natty, stylised, short, open jacket. As she confidently walks towards the table she notices that Mirabelle is biting her nails and has a sad face on.

Claudette touches her hand, gently, on the back of Mirabelle, gives her a warm smile, and kisses her on both cheeks. Mirabelle’s face lights up, and glows.

Claudette then picks up a chair, from a nearby empty table, so that she can sit down with her friend.

The waiter bellows at her, "Don’t! Leave that chair where it is!" The waiter walks right over, and stands face-to-face, with Claudette. He looks at her, sternly. She looks back at him, smiles, and then laughs a bit.

"How can I sit, if I have no chair?"

"I removed it," he informs her. "So don’t touch it!" He gives her a dismissive wave.

"You’re going to stop me from sitting at the terrace of your café?" Claudette asks, with incredulity.

The waiter looks at Claudette, then Mirabelle, and then he has a double-take.

"So you’re the friend?" He points at her. Mirabelle smiles up at them both, as they stand there, face-to-face.

"Whose? Her’s?" asks Claudette, confused, as she looks down to Mirabelle.

Mirabelle chimes in. "He didn’t think you’d come, and so he took the chair."

"I’m here, so I’ll take it back," Claudette says, confidently, with a gesture of her hand.

The waiter can’t deal with this. He puts on a sheepish grin, and gestures to Claudette to take the chair. And then he lets out and sigh, and takes a deep breath.

"What will you have?" he asks, in a conciliatory tone, with his shoulders down.

"What will you have?" he asks Claudette.

"Coffee," she says.

"You too?"

"What?" says Claudette, confused.

"Ok, you’ll get your coffee," he says, grudgingly.

"Damn right I’ll get my coffee," Claudette says, giving him a scornful look. She then pauses. "We can go elsewhere. There are thousands of cafes in Paris." She waves her hand, then slaps it on the table, in disgust, and then she stands up, to meet him face-to-face.

"Stay!" he commands, while pointing at her.

"What’s that face about?" she says to him.

"Stay, but pay first!" He makes jabbing motions, to emphasis his point.

"I’ve had nothing!" Claudette pleads.

"Not you. Her!" He points at Mirabelle.

Claudette gestures her hand at her friend and, politely, asks her to pay. "Pay and let’s go," she says.

Mirabelle looks a bit concerned, as she sits there at the table. She looks up at Claudette, and says: "Got 4.30 francs? I’ve no change."

"All I have is a 500-franc bill." Claudette looks directly at he waiter, and says, "Make change for her," in a non-nonsense tone.

The waiter gets very uppity. "First 200, now 500..." He is waving his hands about, and touching his temple, as if to indicate they are mad. "Who do you think you are?" he says to Claudette, while standing there, with his hands on his hips, in a gesture of defiance.

"What? How about the cash-register inside?" Claudette suggests.

"I have no change, so there!" He leans forward and swipes his hand down in a gesture of finality.

"Too bad, we’re off," says Claudette, with a shrug, to show her indifference.

"First you pay!" he demands.

"What do you mean. We are trying to pay you!" Claudette attempts to reason with him. She slaps her hand on the table, to emphasise her words.

But he’s not giving in yet. "Here, the customer must have the exact change!" he says.

"That’s news to me," replies Claudette. "I’m studying law you know." she informs the waiter. "The customer is asked to have exact change on the bus and subway but not in shops and cafes."

He lets out a big sigh. "Listen kid…" He doesn’t get to finish.

"Don’t you talk to me like that!" Claudette raises the pitch of her voice.


All the time, Mirabelle, is sitting between them, looking up, with her head, swinging back and forth, as each one vents.

"You can go, but she stays until I get change." He points at Claudette, angrily, and attempts to hold Mirabelle as a hostage. "No matter how long it takes!" And then he directs his attention to Mirabelle, who is still sitting down, with her wide eyes looking concerned. He stands over her, and jabs his finger at her. "And don’t try to run out on me! If you do I’ll…" he doesn’t finish his sentence. He just walks away.

The waiter walks away, and heads into the building. The girls take their chance to escape. Claudette comforts Mirabelle by resting her hand on her shoulder. "Let’s go. To hell with this!" she says.

Mirabelle is still upset about not paying her bill. "You got 4.30 francs? I hate to…" She doesn’t finish.

Claudette looks around, and makes an assessment. "He’s not here, so come on." She grabs Mirabelle’s arm, and they run away from the table. "Hurry up!" Claudette says. They run, between two parked-Renaults, across the street, nearly getting run down, by another speeding Renault. Hand-in-hand they run, and head for the underground.  

The waiter emerges from the café interior, stands at the door, and looks over to their table. He sighs, and stiffens up, with rage. "I knew it! I knew they wouldn’t pay!" He folds his arms over his chest, in defeat. "Yet I was watching…" He scans the distance, to see if he can spot them. "4.30 francs isn’t much," he mutters to himself, "but it still makes me sore!"

* * *


Back at the apartment, Claudette is in the other room, getting changed to go out, while Mirabelle is touching up one of her paintings. Claudette walks through, holding a can of juice in her hand. She is wearing an attractive dark-purple dress, with a thigh-high slit, light-tan shoes, and a black shoulder-bag. “See you later,” she says to her friend. The soft tones of Claudette’s voice have become alluring, now that she has transformed into a night fox.

Mirabelle is so engrossed in her painting that she doesn’t even look around to see Claudette, all dressed up, with somewhere to go. "Don’t wake me when you come in," says Mirabelle.

"I’ll be home before midnight." Claudette’s voice echoes from the hallway. She hasn’t left yet, and then she comes back into the room.

“I’m going to bed early, so I can pay for that coffee,” says Mirabelle, without taking her eyes off of the work of art, that is standing upright, at an gentle angle, in front of her, on a wooden easel.

As she stands there, Mirabelle balances a square piece of flat art-board, in her left hand, which she is using as a make-shift palette to mix her colours. And, in her right hand, she is holding a small touch-up brush. Her long dark hair is tied well-back out of the way, and she is wearing a long-sleeve grey-shirt, buttoned right up to the neck, and extending down, below her waist. Her baggy shirt is bespeckled with many colours of vivid paint.

“Are you crazy,” Claudette says, in her, sultry, low register, as she sashays around Mirabelle’s shirt, with her left thigh elegantly exposed, by the cut of her purple dress. “For 4.30 francs?”


"It’s not about the 4.30 francs." Mirabelle’s eyes widen, as she starts to get animated. "What gets on my nerves is that I did what he said I’d do: leave without paying." She waves her brush about as she speaks. "I always get into these kinds of situations. It must be my face. No-one believes me. Right away they think I’m up to no good."

Mirabelle carries on speaking, with great intensity. "Like at the dentist’s: I had an 11 A.M. appointment. I got there at 11 on the dot, walked in, said ‘good morning’ -- no reply. I waited 5 minutes…10 minutes…nothing. I asked the secretary why I hadn’t been called. She said, ‘you’ve got the wrong day, mademoiselle.’ I checked my agenda: 11 A.M. 

I said, ‘I have it marked down. It can’t be a mistake.’

‘Yes it is!’ she replied.

Everyone laughed. They thought I was trying to get in without an appointment. She said, ‘If we have given you an appointment you’d have it on a card in the doctor’s handwriting. I said, ‘I did get one, but I am scared of losing cards so I copy it all in my agenda.’

‘Impossible,’ she said."

Mirabelle’s expressive, high-register voice, becomes very passionate. "I got mad, grabbed my huge purse, searched it, and what did I find? The card. I took it out and said, ‘Did I write this?’ They all looked dumbfounded. But at first no-one believed me. Then they had to admit I wasn’t lying."

She carries on. "I want that café waiter to know I was telling the truth too."

Mirabelle points with her brush as she emphasises her words. And then she stands upright, thrusts her chin forward, with pride, and puts on a determined expression. 

* * *


It’s a wet and windy morning in Paris. Mirabelle is wearing her functional grey coat and her sensible black skirt. Her long black hair blows about in the wind, as she walks over the cobblestones, with purpose in her wide stride. She’s heading back to the café to settle her outstanding debt.

There is the sound of heels on floorboard, as Mirabelle walks, confidently, into the café. It is quite dark inside, compared to outside, on the street. She stands at the bar. No-one comes immediately. But Mirabelle is not in a patient mood.

She stretches over the bar. "Pardon monsieur," she says, in a voice that cannot be easily ignored. There is a bar-tender, and a waiter, hanging about at the back of the bar. They see her, but make no indication that they will come over. One has a waist-coat and white shirt on. The other is wearing just a plain-white shirt. The both look in their twenties.

Mirabelle persists. "Where is the waiter who was on yesterday?" she asks. The man with the black hair, and waistcoat, who’s wearing a tie, comes over to her.

"He was just a fill-in. What’s it about?" he smirks at her.

"I owe him 4.30 francs for my coffee," she says, with great sincerity. "Can I give it to you?" she asks.

"Sure thing," he replies.

She takes her purse from her handbag and gets out the change, counts it out, and places in on the bar surface.

"Merci," he says, as he sweeps up the coins. Mirabelle then turns around, and walks away from the bar, and out of the door, having honoured her debt.

The barman watches her go, still with the smirk on his face. He says to his colleague, "She came back just for that." He shakes the coins in his hand and puts them in his pocket, rather than the till.

* * *


It’s a pleasant and sunny day in central Paris. Claudette and Mirabelle are walking along a crowded pavement.  They are both wearing flat shoes, and ankle-socks. Claudette has on a long black coat, and she’s carrying an orange cardboard file in her right hand. She has her reddish hair ‘up’.

Mirabelle has her white hair-band on, but her long black hair is otherwise free-flowing. She has her light-grey jacket on, and is wearing a long red scarf, to add a bit of flair.

Sitting at the inner-edge of the pavement, on top of a small mat on the ground, is a collection of paintings on wood, leaning against the wall, depicting various religious figures and scenes. Above them is a paper-notice, stuck on the wall, giving the prices.

Along a bit, from the art-display, sitting in a door-recess, is a man, of about thirty, with wild black hair. He’s wearing a black jacket and floppy grey flannel trousers. A beggar.

In his right-hand he clutches a small, rectangular, piece of brown cardboard, with writing on it, that explains his position, and purpose, for being there. Mirabelle spots this guy, and can’t bear to walk past him.
Claudette is indifferent, but becomes slightly irritated, as she stops to wait for her friend.

Mirabelle takes out her small white purse and produces a few coins, while Claudette looks on, as she stands there, with her orange cardboard file in her hand, that starkly contrasts with the blackness of her coat.

With a generous smile on her face, Mirabelle bends down and hands the beggar-man the coins. He takes them from her, briefly smiles back with gratitude, and then he puts the coins into his left-jacket pocket, while still holding his little cardboard display-sign in his right hand. 

As they carry on walking along the pavement, Mirabelle cannot help but notice the lack of concern, for the man, in her friend’s face, and so she challenges Claudette.

"Why not giving him something?" she asks, putting on a pout of disapproval.

"He didn’t look nice enough," replies Claudette. 

"You only give to people who look nice?"

"I can’t give to everybody!"  Claudette attempts to justify her position.

"But he needed it. His sign said, ‘For Food.’ "

"There are thousands of them, in the subway, on street corners, they’re all hungry, they all need money," says Claudette, waving her file at her friend, as they walk along. "There are too many of them."

Mirabelle does not let her off the hook. "It’s not right to let people starve to death when we have plenty to eat," she says, with sincere emotion.

"Why don’t you go to Africa as a medical missionary. Go ahead," says Claudette, challenging her friend. "What are you doing here, living in an apartment?"

Mirabelle replies. "A franc or two, it’s the least we can give." Her face is upset at Claudette's hard-line approach.

"You give to everybody?" Claudette asks, testing her friend's stance.

"Not if they play music I don’t like, or if I think they are faking," replies Mirabelle. "I give what I can afford."

"To all the guys in the street?"

"I give to all the ones I feel really need it," says Mirabelle.

They are both standing, in the middle of the busy thoroughfare, at the front of the a la ville du puy building, having their lively interchange, while all the other pedestrians are weaving around them.

* * *

There's no place I can go
It's the only life I know
You let the people see
Just who you wanna be
You can run away from time
For a nickel or a dime

* * *


Later, Claudette walks down the steps, as she exits the Universite De Paris, Pantheon-Sorbonne center Pierre Mendès. It’s a sunny afternoon. She casually strolls along the avenue, past the parked cars, the trees, and the small moped and bicycles that are standing about, and leaning on the walls of the buildings. She is wearing a thin dark grey-green blouse, and matching, stylish, baggy, cropped trousers, with big pockets on them. She has black ankle-socks on, and is wearing polished flat black shoes.

Standing with dignity, up against a railing, is a man in his sixties. He’s lost a leg, but he still stands upright, with the help of his crutches. The man has a small shoulder-bag over his left shoulder, and a bigger coarse-linen bag around his waist. The total sum of all he owns is contained in these threadbare possessions. And the man’s face is just as well-worn as his clothes.

Claudette pauses, and searches inside one of her big pockets, to find some change. She then walks over to the man, standing at the railing, and places it in his hand. And she also gives him a warm smile.

Soon she comes across another, young man this time, sitting on a step. She gives him a nice smile, and some coins too. Claudette now has a spring in her step as she heads for the supermarket.  

* * *


Claudette carries her black jacket over her arm as she walks past vast racks of Coke, and cases of beer, stacked high. She walks by the eggs, fruit and boucherie, before arriving at des biscuits. She picks up a big round tin, and has a look at it. And then she looks at some meatloaf. Next, she lifts up a packet of chocolate fingers, and considers purchasing them.

Claudette is just about to buy the packet of chocolate fingers when her attention is drawn to a couple of figures - a man and a woman - who are hanging about, suspiciously, at the other end of the shop. They are both standing with their arms folded, and they don’t look like regular shoppers. They have no baskets or trolleys.

The man is about five-feet-ten in height, with neat black, wavy, hair. He’s wearing a fine-quality, light-grey jacket and a cream shirt, with a dark tie. He looks in his mid-thirties. The woman is black, and she is about three inches shorter than him. She has jet-black, short-cropped hair, and she is wearing a dark, business-style, jacket.


An announcement, in a shrill and tinny, woman’s voice, comes over the shop speaker-system. "Mr Berthier, you’re wanted at the door."

This is a coded message.

Claudette’s eyes widen as she sees the Tall Lady pick up a huge packet of high-class pink salmon, all laid out in neat strips, and carefully puts it inside a blue canvas-bag in her trolley, rather than, visibly, into the actual cart.

The highly-trained Watching Team are now acting a lot more casually as they pretend they are not really observing the shop-lifter. Claudette is keeping a close-eye on proceedings.

Next, the Tall Lady heads for the duck confit. She picks up a huge tin, has a quick glance over her shoulder, and then places the big tin inside her canvas bag. But now she is being tailed by the Watching Team.

The Tall Lady is being tailed by the Watching Team … and also Claudette.

Claudette is now at the checkout-till, and paying for her chocolate biscuits. In the checkout behind her, the Tall Lady puts her blue canvas bag onto the steel surface to the right of the scanner, with the intention of not paying for the undisclosed salmon and duck, but only for a smaller item on view.

Claudette senses the woman’s presence behind her, at the parallel till, and realises that she will be stopped by the Watching Team as she tries to leave the store. Claudette has already paid for her own biscuits. And so, on impulse, she decides to take swift action, to save the Tall Woman from prosecution.

Quick as a flash, Claudette spins around, and grabs the blue canvas bag from the counter, and speedily heads for the exit. "Hey!" shouts the Tall Lady, and chases after Claudette. But the Watching Team accost the Tall Lady.

"Your bag, please." the man grips the Tall Lady’s arm firmly, and successfully prevents her from running away.

"You’re nuts!" the lady says. "What do you want?"

"May I inspect your bag?"

"What for?"

Other shoppers are clocking the scene as they walk by.

"There is a second bag," says the woman store-detective. "Where is it?"

The Tall Lady looks bewildered and sweeps her hair back in a defiant reaction to the challenge. The detectives are baffled and insist on pressing the Tall Lady, who continues to declare her innocence from any misdeed. There ensues much kerfuffle, and gesticulating from all parties, but finally, they have to let the Tall Lady go.

The lady strides, stroppily, out of the door and emerges, from the clinical fluorescent light of the supermarket, into the harshness of the bright afternoon sunlight.

Meanwhile, Claudette is making a break for it, with the blue bag and its contents.  She clutches onto the stolen goods as she runs across a busy road. 

Claudette manages to get to the other side of the road, safely. She now hides behind a green Renault. From a distance, she has been watching the carry-on outside the supermarket door, through the gaps in a constant stream of busy traffic. She keeps track of the Tall Lady, who has now been set free.

The Tall Lady struts along the pavement. Claudette attempts to keep track of her. The lady gets into the left-hand, driver’s-side, of a silver Renault. Claudette is still quite far away, and on the opposite side of the traffic stream. 

Looking anxious, Claudette waves at the silver car in an attempt to attract the lady’s attention. She holds up the blue bag. The lady does not notice her, and just drives off.  

Back at the flat, Mirabelle has set up the table for a minimalist meal. There is one small white plate, and a glass of water, on the wicker table. Her red, tartan-scarf, is hanging over the back of a small-white kitchen-chair.

She is surprised when she hears the door-lock opening, and when Claudette walks in. “You’re not eating out tonight?” says Mirabelle, in her high register.

“No, where’d you get that idea?” Claudette answers, almost whispering, in her dulcet tones.

“I didn’t buy anything,” Mirabelle says, still a bit taken-aback.

“I didn’t buy anything,” Mirabelle says. Claudette walks through to the kitchen. Mirabelle follows. “There is really nothing,” Mirabelle reinforces. She appears with a knife and fork and sets a place on the table for Claudette, who then sits at the table side-position. Claudette puts the blue bag on her lap. “You’ve bought a bag?” says Mirabelle.

“I have some lemons, you never know.” Claudette takes two lemons from the bag and places them on the table.

“I don’t know what we’ll use them with,” says Mirabelle as she puts a white plate down for her friend. Claudette then dips into the bag and takes out a big bottle, and places it on the table.

“Champagne!” says Mirabelle, with surprise.

Claudette then brings out the big can and puts it down in front of Mirabelle.

“Canned duck?” Mirabelle looks at the label. Next, comes the vacuum pack.

“And salmon?” says Mirabelle. She puts on a wide smile. “You remembered it’s my birthday!”

Mirabelle is over the moon. She hugs and kisses her friend.

"Thank you!" says Mirabelle, with delight. "At home, no-one ever remembered. We'll have a real birthday. I'll put this on a plate, and heat this up. We'll have flowers, everything, ok?"  Mirabelle is so excited.

But Claudette's face remains serious. 

Mirabelle dashes into the kitchen, with the salmon and duck. She has a beaming smile on her face.

“Can I use your bouquet? She shouts through, from the kitchen.

“You don’t owe any of this to me,” confesses Claudette, shouting back.

(to be continued)