UNE CHRONIQUE ENNUYEUSES
'Acceptez-vous les cheques de voyage?'
The story has a moral, in three
By now, it's time to go. We've finished our third round of d'gestifs and Celine and Alexandre must get back to work. The waiter brings l'addition and our part adds up to 505 F. I offer cash, or to put the check on our credit card, but they refuse, saying it is their pleasure to provide us with this token of true pariesene hospitality. Humbled, we accept, vowing to find a way to repay them for their unparalled generosity. Cafe Baribal? is a short walk from our neighborhood, so Lillian and I set of for yet another late night stroll, which of course, takes us right past Piccola Italie. Inside, Fausto is holding court, burning the checks, magically popping the corks on wine bottles, sending card after card to the ceiling where they stick like moths, and turning everything into francs. We sit down and order our usual vodkas with ice. For tonight at least, everything is in its place and all's right with the world and our little corner of Paris.
'Ou est la toilette pour messieurs?'
Clare has a black hat with her that looks, from a distance, remarkably like Clementine. Lillian has begun to sway seductively to the pop music in the background, Rino, as usual is leering her way. Fausto brings Clementine, and another round of double vodkas to our table, and burns the checks of the last customers. Clare has Louis' attention and is telling him tales of Oscar Wilde, the Marquis de Sade, and Marlene Deitrich. His eyes burn holes in Clare's flimsy blouse. Lillian has unbuttoned her shirt and dances closer to Rino. Fausto shows the young Japanese man out the door and brings us the bottle of vodka we've just ordered. Another round of vodkas for everyone. The martial music is blaring. Rino is reeling, Louis is marching stiffly around the table. I have my eye on Fausto. Clare has her arm around Louis. When Fausto's back is turned, I push Clementine out the front door. She sits down, under the potted umbrella. I turn around to see Lillian and Clare lead Rino and Louis into the toilet at the back of the restaurant. I pick up Clare's hat and take it in the kitchen. I kick it under a worktable, in view, but just out of reach. I stop the tape player, remove the martial music, and start playing the soundtrack from Passolini. I turn the volume full blast. Fausto gives me a puzzled look. I tell him that Clementine has disappeared; that I last saw her going into the kitchen. Fausto looks worried. He begins to search around madly.
Passolini is humming, the sound has become the foreground. Lillian and Clare burst out of the toilet, slamming the door on Rino and Louis. They lock the door from the outside, and shove a table in front of it for good measure. I have turned the burners in the kitchen on full blast. I find the stash of grappa from Fausto's uncle. I toss a bottle at the flaming stove. It explodes. Fausto screams, 'Clementine!'. He has not found the hat, yet. Louis and Rino are pounding on the bathroom door. Fausto sees the hat, he's on his hands and knees crawling under the table grabbing at the hat; 'Clementine', he cries 'Clementine, mi amoure!'. I throw another bottle at the stove; it explodes, smoke fills the kitchen, the flames race toward the toilet. I grab Lillian and Clare by the arms, thrusting bottles of grappa into their hands. 'Let's get the hell out of here!', I cry. 'The joke's on you', I say and close the door. We can hear sirens in the distance, people are running towards the restaurant. I pick up Clementine and we all walk quickly away, towards our house on Villa de Charmilles. Lillian is humming 'La Marsailles', Clare is whistling 'Dixie', and I am singing 'Popeye the Sailor Man' at the top of my lungs.
We hear a resounding explosion from the cafe mixed with the Pasolini's '1001 Arabian Nights'. As we round the corner, turning onto Villa des Charmilles, we see three men coming towards us, walking together, arm-in-arm. Two older men and one young one, in the middle. As they approach us, we are startled to see Fausto, Louie-the-shepherd, and Rino. They are laughing and jostling, tiny wifts of smoke rise from their hair. 'Ah, there you are', says Fausto. 'We've been looking all over for you. I see you've brought Clementine.' I sheepishly hand him back his rabbit. 'I want to thank you, personally, for giving me the opportunity to perform the grandest illusion of my career. An escape of the greatest magnitude; accompanied by my two assistants, Louis and Rino. An homage to your Harry Houdini. A testament to our own, Robert Houdin. An escape from an impossible inferno and the restoration of the tableau to it's original, undisturbed state. Right before your eyes. All sleight-of-hand, no gimmicks.'
Fausto holds Clemetine in the air, in front of my face. 'Observe', he says 'an ordinary black rabbit'. He asks Lillian to pick a number between one and five, 'zero and six not included'. She says four, I was thinking two. He asks Clare for a handkerchief, which she takes from her pocket and hands to him. He places the handkerchief over Clementine's head. It makes her look like a little girl, about to take communion. He asks us to count to four, in unison, Lillian, Clare, me, Rino and Louie-the- shepard. We do as told. 'One...two...three...four.' The handkerchief falls flat to his hand. Clementine has disappeared. He picks up the cloth and waves it in the air. He drapes it over his upturned palm. He tells us to count again, backwards. 'Four...three...two...one.' The handkerchief is full again. He lifts it up, underneath is a black fur hat, the kind they wear in Russia in the winter. 'For you,' he says, 'in case it is cold and snowing when you return to your home tomorrow. Un souvenir de Paris. Una mememto ala cafe Piccola Italie.' He hands me the hat. He kisses Clare and then Lillian on the cheek, both sides in the affectionate way, twice, in the family way. He takes Rino and Louie by the arm, they turn and walk up the street, back to their resturant around the corner. Clementine hops along behind them.