Grand-mère’s salon fills with widow friends seeking solace after the Great War. I read Proust, head down, hunched away from walls covered in gilt crosses and gold-framed ancestor portraits.
“Odette,” she says, “Eduard is here.”
I smooth my lace bookmark into place and stand. The old bachelor lingers in the doorway. Every eye turns a spotlight on my single womanhood. A frown from Grand-mère signals displeasure at my attire. I’m an unrepentant rose among black-robed mesdames.
“You resemble un garçon, with no waist, no shape,” she says, whispering through my bobbed hair. “You should change.”
“I’m trying,” I say, and sweep out, away from women dwelling on loss. Past my suitor.
Saint Germaine-des-Prés fills with young women like me in short sleeveless dresses, our ankles on display. I avert my eyes from former soldiers with pinned sleeves and hurry to the café. A table empties outside Les Deux Magots and I sit, eavesdropping on English conversations, sipping hot chocolate and nibbling a madeleine.
“Du côté de chez Swann,” a man says, reading my book’s cover. His thick brown hair flops to the side. “And what have you learned of love from Monsieur Proust?”
A blush heats my cheeks. “Difficult to win, easy to lose. Completely unreliable.”
He nods, grins. “May I join you?” He drinks sherry, amber in crystal.
In accented English we discuss literature, art, and the metamorphosis of the world. He buys me sherry and I forego my velvet cocoa. He’s older yet handsome, erudite. We laugh and others join our frivolity.
“Meet Zelda, and Ernest.”
“Une nouvelle Odette. Lovely,” says Zelda. “A new muse for you, Pablo?”
Liquor stings my lips with heat. I hold my breath.
“Well?” Picasso strokes my hand among the litter of our glasses.
“Oui.” I stutter, discarding the reservations of the past. “Yes.”
Lee Budar-Danoff sails, plays guitar, and writes when she isn’t reading. Lee volunteers as Municipal Liaison for National Novel Writing Month and is an alum of the Viable Paradise Writer’s Workshop. A former history teacher, Lee spends that energy raising three children with her husband in Maryland.