“How can Paris be full?” said Miranda when Bernard translated ‘Complet’. They were at the Gare Du Nord, staring at the notice outside the tourist bureau. Bernard went in and she watched through the window. At least a dozen people were standing around the desk and only one person could be seen behind it. After a minute, he came out and stood looking around the station, stroking his beard.
“Well?” she said.
“No vacancies are showing on their system, but that doesn’t mean Paris is full. There are hotels that don’t advertise. They rely on walk-ins. We’ll just have to find one. And walk in.”
“You should have booked in advance,” she said. “Especially at Easter. I told you.”
“I never book in advance. I told you.”
“And why don’t these walk-in places advertise? Are they full of bedbugs?”
“I’ve never seen a bedbug in my life. They’re either mythical or extinct.”
“You’re mad,” she said.
They got the RER to St Michel and headed for the back streets of St-Germain-des-Prés. He had a rucksack on his back, she pulled a suitcase on wheels. He saw himself as James Dean on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. She saw herself as herself. It was hopeless. Every hotel had Complet signs on the door and when they went into one just in case, the response was short.
“What did she say?” asked Miranda as they came out.
“She said can’t you read.”
“Cow. Why did she have to be so unpleasant?”
“Because she’s old and ugly and life’s hard.”
But in one hotel there was a glimmer of hope.
“He says they’ll have a room free from tomorrow morning.”
“More than usual, but not ridiculously so. If we pay a deposit, he’ll reserve the room for us.”
“Can we trust him?”
“He says the couple who’ve got the room are leaving early to catch a flight. If we get there for nine am, the room will be ready for us. We can even leave our bags here.”
“Will we be able to go to sleep tomorrow morning?”
“We’ll be able to do whatever we like.”
It was almost dark when they came out of the hotel. They bought pizza slices from a street stall and wandered over to the Latin Quarter. A cinema was showing Monty Python et Sacre Graal and they went in. The film had French sub-titles and the audience laughed over the soundtrack.
“What did he say?”
“I haven’t a clue.”
When it was over, they walked to the Gare Montparnesse because Bernard said it stayed open late and they could nap. It was midnight by the time they got there. The seats didn’t look very comfortable and a group of skinheads were taunting and spitting at someone. It looked like a homeless person. Miranda didn’t often swear.
“For fuck’s sake,” she said.
“Walk on,” said Bernard. “There’s nothing we can do. Let’s walk around the block. They’ll be gone when we come back.” He was right but instead there were police officers on patrol.
“Let’s look as if we’re waiting for one of the night trains,” said Bernard. They walked over to the indicator board.
“Don’t forget — if they speak to us, I’m Bern-ard and you’re Miri.”
“Bern-arse more like,” she said.
“We’ll be able to sleep on the Metro when that starts again.”
“What time will that be?”
They emerged from the Metro at eight o’clock after spending the rest of the night walking the streets, resting on park benches before the nearest station opened. They’d slept easily on the trains, but had to keep getting up and changing.
“I’m sure there used to be a Circle Line,” Bernard said.
They sat down outside a cafe. Miranda looked at herself in the window. Haggard wasn’t the word but it would do. When the waiter came, they ordered a cafe au lait for him, a chocolat for her and a double helping of croissants.
“There’s no doubt about it,” said Bernard. “Suffering is good for the appetite.”
They reached the hotel on the dot of nine. Miranda was prepared for the worst. The couple who were supposed to be leaving early would have changed their plans. Or there’d be a different manager who wouldn’t know anything. But the manager from last night was there, brought their baggage out of storage, gave Bernard the room key and even summoned the lift. When they got to their room, Bernard put the Ne Pas Déranger sign on the door handle.
“Don’t drive us mad,” translated Miranda. French was easy really.
It was a decent size room with a double bed, dark red carpet, heavy curtains, a little old-fashioned but none the worse for that. They looked through the window. Two cyclists were freewheeling down the narrow street, talking loudly as they went.
“Students,” said Bernard. “We’re near the Sorbonne. How romantic.”
They undressed and got into bed.
“Well, it’s a nice room.”
“Hmm,” said Bernard.
“It’s funny,” she said. “I don’t feel sleepy now.”
“Well, we could always…” said Bernard.
“Oh, I’m too tired for that.”
“When we wake up then. Something to look forward to. Explore our bodies and explore Paris.”
She admired his optimism, his resilience, his ability to live in the moment and take things as they came. She’d live in the moment too and put up with him for now.
“Sleep tight, Bern-ard,” she said, turning away. “Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”
Tom Anderson lives in London. He writes straightforward literary fiction with a humorous slant. He is the author of The Last Days of Dad (short stories) and Downturn (novel), available on Amazon, Lulu etc.