By David William Pearce

It was her eyes I noticed first. Big, cobalt blue, and surrounded by a translucent white. The beret was as I expected: red felt covering her head and left ear.

She was sitting at a café, outside, under a red and white checkered awning. A cigarette dangled between her fingers, and a cup of coffee, with barely visible wisps of steam, was very close to her red lips. 

She smiled as I approached her. 

“You are Georges?” she asked as she set down the cup.

“Yes, I said. “Maurice told me I’d find you here.”

The young woman raised her eyebrows at the name, but did not speak.

“May I?” I motioned towards the empty chair to her right.

After a long drag from the cigarette, she said, “Please.”

“You are Maris, no?”

She shook her head. “No.”

“But…” What little composure I had fell away. I looked towards the busy boulevard as I fumbled with the pockets of my coat, searching for something with which to wipe my eyes. To be crying at such a time…

“What is upsetting you?”

Pressing the handkerchief to my eyes, I struggled to find the words, but all that came out was, “I don’t know.” I held the damp handkerchief to my chest as if I could not bear to lose it.

“Maurice told you my name was Maris?” The wisps of steam were dancing with the smoke from her cigarette.

“He said I’d find a young woman named Maris at this café wearing a red beret—”

She waved at the waiter standing just within the café doors. “And what would this Maris do for you?”

“He told me she would know,” I said.

She raised the cup to her lips. “Know what?”

“What has happened to me? But if you are not Maris—”

“I’m not.”

The waiter, a spindly man of some years came over. “Mademoiselle?” 

“I’d like a croissant with jam, please.”

“Of course,” he said, without looking at me.

“You see,” I grumbled, gesturing in the direction of the waiter. “He didn’t ask if I cared for something or even acknowledged my presence. It’s been like that for days.”

Her eyes looked through me. “I imagine so,” she said.   

“Do you?”

The woman shrugged. “Are you hungry, Georges?”

“No, but that’s not the point.”

“Must there be one?” she asked. “What if there is none?”

I stuffed the handkerchief back into my pocket. “Then there is none.” 

Her eyes seemed to grow, widen, as if they could take me in, process me. My head felt dizzy as I stared. For a moment I was certain I’d fall from my chair, but I also felt that wouldn’t happen because I could not let go of those eyes. I would not allow it.

An arm in a white sleeve set down a tray with a croissant and blueberry jam. “Mademoiselle,” it said.

“Who are you if you’re not Maris?” I asked once the arm had gone.

“Do I need a name?” the eyes said.

They were like a liquid sky on the finest day of the year. The red beret all but floated away.

“We all need a name,” I said.

The chair no longer supported me, was no longer there. 

“Why are you looking for me, Georges?”

Why was I? I felt weightless, ethereal. The eyes. So blue they shone, sparkled.

“What did Maurice tell you, Georges?”

“That you would help me,” I whispered. I closed my eyes, yet hers continued to shine within mine.

“Do you believe that?”

“Yes,” I said.

The blue light enveloped me. “Have you figured it out yet, Georges?” 

I tried to smile, but could not feel the muscles in my face. “You have a gift,” I said

“Yes, Georges,” a voice said. “I talk to those who believe they are dead.”

We were spinning, elliptically, without balance. I felt an urge to reach out, to grab hold of something as the spinning became more disorienting. “Then I am dead? This is dying?”

“You are not dying,” the voice echoed.

I opened my eyes. A soft green ring circled the blue.

“If I’m not dying, then what?”

“You are simply moving from place to place, Georges, as we all do. Are you afraid?” she asked, her voice sweet, welcoming.

“I don’t know.”

Yellows and reds stretched into the vastness, racing past the soft green and the simmering blue. The spinning began to slow. I closed my eyes and felt a hand in mine.

“Would you care for something to eat, Monsieur?”  

I opened my eyes to see the waiter standing over me. He had a wry smile and dark eyes. We were on opposite sides now, the world having moved half-way round. “A croissant and raspberry jam,” I said. Looking down I saw the hand in mine. I followed it to the woman sitting across from me.

“My name is Maris,” she said. “Maurice told me I would find you here.”

Her eyes were a soft and radiant green.

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