Nothing more. And nothing else.
A cold gust blows, and he pulls his coat close, and looks up at the starless sky.
THREE HUNDRED YEARS—AND THREE WORDS
Title: Untitled Salon Sketch
Artist: Bernard Rodel
Date: c. 1751–3
Medium: Ink pen on parchment
Location: On loan from The Paris Salon exhibition at The British Library
Description: A rendering of Madame Geoffrin’s famous salon, brimming with figures in various stages of conversation and repose. Several recognizable personages—Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot—can be discerned among the group, but the most interesting inclusion is the three women circling the room. One is clearly Madame Geoffrin. Another is believed to be Suzanne Necker. But the third, an elegant woman with a freckled face, remains a mystery.
Background: In addition to his contributions to Diderot’s Encyclopedia, Rodel was an avid draftsman, and appears to have made use of his rendering skill during many of his installments in Madame Geoffrin’s salon. The freckled woman appears in several of his sketches, but is never named.
Estimated Value: Unknown
July 29, 1724
Freedom is a pair of trousers and a buttoned coat.
A man’s tunic and a tricorne hat.
If only she had known.
The darkness claimed he’d given her freedom, but really, there is no such thing for a woman, not in a world where they are bound up inside their clothes, and sealed inside their homes, a world where only men are given leave to roam.
Addie saunters up the street, a stolen basket hooked over the elbow of her coat. Nearby, an old woman stands in a doorway, beating out a rug, and laborers lounge on café steps, and none of them so much as blink, because they do not see a woman, walking alone. They see a young man, barely more than a youth, dawdling in the dying light; they do not think how strange, how scandalous it is to see her strolling. They do not think anything at all.
To think, Addie might have saved her soul, and simply asked for these clothes.
It has been four years now without a visit from the dark.
Four years, and at the dawn of every one, she swears she will not waste the time she has in waiting. But it is a promise she cannot fully keep. For all her effort, Addie is like a clock wound tighter as the day draws near, a coiled spring that cannot loosen until dawn. And even then, it is a grim unwinding, less relief than resignation, the knowledge that it will start again.
Four winters, four summers, four visitless nights.
The other ones, at least, are hers, to spend as she likes, but no matter how she tries to pass the time, this one belongs to Luc, even when he is not here.
And yet, she will not declare it forfeit, will not sacrifice the hours as if they are already lost, already his.
Addie passes a group of men and tips her hat in greeting, uses the gesture to pull the tricorne lower on her own brow. Day has not quite given way to night, and in the long summer light she is careful to keep her distance, knowing the illusion will falter under scrutiny. She could have waited an hour longer and been safe within the veil of night, but the truth is, she could not bear the stillness, the creeping seconds of the clock.
Tonight, she has decided to celebrate her freedom.
To climb the steps of Sacré Coeur, sit at the top of the pale stone stairs, the city at her feet, and have a picnic.
The basket swings from her elbow, brimming with food. Her fingers have gotten light and quick with practice, and she has spent the last several days assembling her feast—a loaf of bread, a side of cured meat, a wedge of cheese, and even a palm-sized jar of honey.
Honey—an indulgence Addie hasn’t had since Villon, where Isabelle’s father kept a row of hives and skimmed the amber syrup out for markets, leaving them to suck on rinds of honeycomb until their fingers were stained with sweetness. Now she holds her bounty to the waning light, lets the setting sun turn the contents gold.
The man comes out of nowhere.
A shoulder knocks into her arm, and the precious jar slips from her hand and shatters on the cobbled street, and for an instant Addie thinks she is being attacked, or robbed, but the stranger is already stammering out his apologies.
“You fool,” she hisses, attention flicking from the golden syrup, now glittering with glass, to the man who caused her loss. He is young, and fair, and lovely, with high cheeks and hair the color of her ruined honey.
And he is not alone.
His companions hang back, whooping and cheering at his mistake—they have the happy air of those who began their evening revels back at midday—but the errant youth blushes fiercely, clearly embarrassed.
“My apologies, truly,” he begins, but then a transformation sweeps across his face. First surprise, and then amusement, and she realizes, too late, how close they are, how clearly the light has fallen on her face. Realizes, too late, that he has seen through her illusion, that his hand is still there, on her sleeve, and for a moment she is afraid he will expose her.
But when his companions call for him to hurry on, he tells them to go ahead, and now they are alone on the cobbled street, and Addie is ready to pull free, to run, but there is no shadow in the young man’s face, no menace, only a strange delight.
“Let go,” she says, lowering her voice a measure when she speaks, which only seems to please him more, even as he frees her arm with all the speed of someone grazing fire.
“Sorry,” he says again, “I forgot myself.” And then, a mischievous grin. “It seems you have, too.”
“Not at all,” she says, fingers drifting toward the short blade she’s kept inside her basket. “I have misplaced myself on purpose.”
The smile widens then, and he drops his gaze, and sees the ruined honey on the ground, and shakes his head.
“I must make that up to you,” he says. And she is about to tell him not to bother, about to say that it is fine, when he cranes his head down the road, and says, “Aha,” and loops his arm through hers, as if they are already friends.
“Come,” he says, leading her toward the café on the corner. She has never been inside one, never been brave enough to chance it, not alone, not with such a tenuous hold on her disguise. But he draws her on as if it’s nothing, and at the last moment he swings an arm around her shoulders, the weight so sudden and so intimate she is about to pull away before she catches the edge of a smile, and realizes that he has made a game of it, conscripted himself into the service of her secret.
Inside, the café is a place of energy and life, overlapping voices and the scent of something rich and smoky.
“Careful now,” he says, eyes dancing with mischief. “Stay close, and keep your head down, or we will be found out.”
She follows him to the counter, where he orders two shallow cups, the contents thin and black as ink. “Sit over there,” he says, “against the wall, where the light is not too strong.”
They fold themselves into a corner seat, and he sets the cups between them with a flourish, turning the handles just so, as he tells her it is coffee. She has heard of the stuff, of course, the current toast of Paris, but when she lifts the china to her lips and takes a sip, she is rather disappointed.