Three nights ago Beatrice eyed the menu of Restaurant Olivier from the sidewalk while I enjoyed painting the buildings across the street over a glass of red wine on the terrace. She settled in just inside the window, asking if she could watch before entering in what felt like every English word she knew.
She grinned wide at our meek conversation, but every time I glanced at her dining by herself behind the tinted windows along our sunlit street, the wrinkles around her cheeks dragged the corners of her lips down and she appeared quite sullen between courses. Before leaving I poked my head inside to smile and wave her goodbye.
Last night I returned to a local restaurant tucked into the ruins staffed by familiar faces. Le Capharnaum has six or seven tables wedged between buildings, veiled by a sheath of umbrellas, and became my favorite hide-a-way after an extempore night of champagne indulgence circled up with neighbors out back.
Mathilde led me to a table nuzzled next to one other where a brimming white woven hat masked the visage of a small woman overdressed for the warm occasion, hunched over her mango ice cream in the same manner I imagined Beatrice had just days prior. Her black starched slacks were belted just below the breast line where her white chemise was tucked, revealing her socks and the nude colored shoes you envision on every woman who says “they’re just so comfortable.” I mindlessly interrupted to affirm and she turned to flash the same smiling eyes.
Her partner was much younger, she being 79 while he was early 50s, at a glance. After initial formalities they scoured my sketchbook as I hesitantly watched it pass between glasses of rose. John had a raspy voice and a slow cadence, a plump man of short stature tanned on every visible surface except for those between the wrinkles noted when his eyebrows lift, or when he squints if he doesn’t understand. His t-shirt looks like it was tossed in a discard bin out front of a second hand store in Texas – faded cotton stained in any place it wasn’t torn with a cow skull graphic spanning shoulder to shoulder.
I asked Beatrice if I could take her to lunch this week to practice my French, and she turned her palm out westward towards the village center, “porquoi pas maintenant (why not now)?”
They lived in a stone apartment laced in grape vines with a backyard as picturesque as any postcard. They were the kind of people who impart their sincerest apologies for “the mess” when I go to use the toilette, admiring the multi story home and maybe catching one shoe strung out of place, but maybe it was an illusion.
We drank whiskey in the garden and what began as a lesson, of sorts, evolved into a mélange of Spanish, French, English, and gesticulation. I don’t think I retained anything except the kind words in parting when I offered to return the favor. Beatrice took a moment to formulate “Money is nothing. You give us your voice, your smile, your presence.”