LE FOYER [A SHORT STORY]


Paris has always been one of Robin's and my favorite cities. It's a beautiful place full of art, architecture and culture. But it's also a city that has had more than its share of hardship, most recently from terror attacks back on Friday, November 15th, 2015. Of course, probably its most famous dark period was during the French Revolution.

Back when we visited the city in June of 2011, Robin, my father, and I took a walking tour of the different sites that played a significant role during the French Revolution including visiting Cafe Procope (where the Revolutionaries did there drinking), the National Theater (where plays espousing revolution were staged), and the Luxembourg Palace (where important prisoners spent their last nights before facing the guillotine (an invention by a German harpsichord maker Tobias Smith, whose workshop we passed on the tour route). To look at these buildings today, you'd never know they were during that time places of cruelty and fear.

I actually wrote LE FOYER several years before this trip, but I think it became more real and less speculative for me after taking this tour. I thought afterwards that this story really could have happened as I wrote it.

I took this picture of the Seine, with Notre Dame in the upper right corner, from the upper observation platform on the Eiffel Tower on June 27th, my mother's birthday.

Photo copyright (c) 2011 by Steve Pool. All rights reserved.

LE FOYER

By Steve Pool

(c) 2004

Everything in the main room was cold, despite the large fire burning in the hearth. The Laurents lived fairly well compared to most families, even after the Revolution, but their comforts did little to keep out the chill of early January. During the winter, the fire was always going. It was Charlotte’s favorite place in the house to be, except when Mama stood over it to cook, being drenched in sweat that would later lead to chills while she fussed with the large black pot that she used for stewing their meals. It was the only time Charlotte didn’t want to be near fire; she knew that she, too, would someday have to do the same. No woman could escape the fire.

Mama pulled Charlotte close to her as if to hide her from some terrible thing, even though there was no one else in the house. It was out of kindness that Mama did not involve Papa in this trouble. She was very angry with Charlotte; Mama feared the men who wore the black coats, and any kind of attention from them was too much for her. It was those men who discovered Charlotte reading her beloved de Ronsard. Her grandfather had given her the book when she had proved to him that she could read every word of it. Mama didn’t know if Charlotte was permitted to read; no one, not even the Black Coats, knew exactly what the rules were anymore. But she understood, even before Charlotte was caught, that reading the old poets was a punishable offense. Most of the bonfires that burned in the streets were fueled with beautiful treasures like this book.

“What were you thinking? Do you want to bring trouble on our home?” Mama yanked Charlotte hard, bruising the arm that she refused to release. Charlotte squeaked but stifled any further response. “They could take our house. We could be thrown into the streets, where we would go hungry and freeze. They could even…” Mama contemplated some horrible thought, but could not voice it. She was crying.

Tears welled up and fell from Charlotte’s face, too. “I’m sorry, Mama. I don’t want the bad men to take our house. I’ll be more careful. I won’t read it where I can be seen. I’ll keep it in my room, not take it out…”

“No, you won’t do that.” Charlotte saw the book in Mama’s other hand. It wavered in the air for a moment, then dropped into the hearth. “I’m sorry, bébé. This is for the best.”

Mama released Charlotte and turned away from her. She loved Charlotte dearly, but she needed to teach her, to show her, that no woman escapes the fire.