The bulbous brown and yellow forms resembled animals, swimming in a sea of spun sapphire. I should have waited to take the pill. It always made me see things, or at least see things differently. The woman wearing the low-cut linen dress, sitting at the table across from mine, smiled at me as though I was a beau-monde chronicler. Négatif! I wanted to shout. I also wanted to tell her that her hair was on fire, but again, I suspected I was seeing things.
“I should like to take to wind and water today,” she said, over her shoulder.
I didn’t know if she was talking to me, but no one else except the waiter populated the café. He stood by the entrance doors smoking Gitanes, gazing at his fingernails and occasionally tweaking his luxuriant moustache.
“Are you going to ask me what I’m doing here?” she said, again talking over her shoulder.
I am a simple man, stubborn at times, but not interested in complications. Complications lead to regrets, and long ago, seeking solace from the burden of regrets, I had purged myself in an Eastern cleansing ritual, vowing never to let them amass again. Yet they were never very far away, complications. You ran into them without seeking them, without effort.
“Excuse me,” I said, “were you speaking to me?”
“No,” she said, over the shoulder, “I was speaking to my pet parrot. Hahaha.”
She was joking of course. I saw no parrot. Perhaps I would have seen one if I let myself.
Someone was flying a scarlet kite, an aesthetically pleasing trifle in the sky. It made me smile. I couldn’t see the child or person manning the line. He or she must have been down on the beach. The kite zigged and zagged.
The woman watched, her blue eyes darting, perhaps an indication that her mind lacked focus. But I am no psychologist. Her carmined lips looked like a wound in the harsh sunlight. It’s difficult to tell with any certainty if someone is playing with a full deck, or merely mocking you. People are mysterious, their motives, their behaviour. I found the French even more mysterious than most people. I snapped my fingers for the waiter, who shot me a look of utter moral depravity. He came over only after pausing to tuck in his soiled white shirt and tie his shoe.
“If you take me on a voyage, I will do anything you ask.”
Again, I wasn’t sure the woman was talking to me, for she turned and rested her chin on her shoulder as she spoke.
“What’s her deal?” I asked the waiter.
The waiter, holding a pad and pencil, shrugged. “What do you want?” he asked.
But before I could place my order, the waiter’s pad burst into flames. Then his shirt caught on fire. He ran off down the cobbled street screaming. I knew I was probably hallucinating the whole thing, but the screams seemed pretty real.
“He’s an idiot,” the strange woman said, once again over her shoulder. “He always does that.”
Salvatore Difalco’s short fiction has appeared in print and online journals. He lives in Toronto.