Marty Delmon Sample Stories
"Mirror on the Sidewalk"
I married while sailing the high seas. My parents gave me a cruise to Hawaii for graduating from a finishing school and on board I met Steven, likewise a gift recipient, celebrating his MBA from Harvard. Early the morning we docked, as the band played it's last song, we dragged the Captain out of bed and he married us. They say lovers spend 80 hours together before the question is popped and that week we did at least that.
Steven went to work for an international corporation, quickly scaling the ladder to success. Consequently we lived all over the globe, my son being born in Hong Kong and my daughter arriving in Rio di Janeiro. They're both grown now and my daughter, displaying a rebellious streak, married a cowboy and moved to Oklahoma, of all places! My son lives in London practicing international law.
I divorced in San Francisco. When Chad established himself in London and Jessica hightailed it for Oklahoma, Steven left me for his secretary. He said he wouldn't have to watch her face crumble into wrinkles, she being twenty-five years his junior. I asked about all the years I had helped him get to where he's at; didn't they count for anything? He replied my generous alimony checks would speak for themselves.
So I got a face-lift and moved to Paris. I took a charming little apartment on rue Barbette nestled in the La Marais district. It's an old mansion chopped into units. For my living quarters they made one big room with a two story ceiling, two expansive windows measuring at least 10 feet high and opening onto little balconies, a compacted kitchen, nice bath and over these two my bedroom can be reached by a spiral staircase.
Discarding everything that smacked of Steven I arrived with suitcases of clothes and boxes of books but furnished and decorated from scratch. That was fun! The furniture in my apartment is hand picked because I like it, not because kids won't break it and not because it can be used to entertain clients and not because it is Parisian. I call it my "American in Paris" style.
Paris lives 24 hours a day. When Chad came for his first visit, crossing the channel, we went for a long walk. Passing through the Jewish Quarter we settled on a little storefront restaurant, Chez Miriam, with two large rooms. A dry-cleaning establishment separated the rooms and I marveled at the waiters hustling down the sidewalk carrying trays of food.
Just before dessert two women came in dressed as penguins and tap-danced between the tables. There was barely room to pull out a chair to sit down, much less dance. That's what I love about Paris! Anything can happen, and usually does. We enjoyed the floorshow, putting a coin in the extended flipper afterwards. Then came coffee and another long walk.
That's why we were on the ---- bridge at midnight, the streets still loaded with pedestrians and Paris hinting things might just get started. But Chad and I decided to head home and strike out again in the morning. We took a side street as a short cut, a deserted, darkened place so we walked swiftly. In the middle of the block lay a street person covering one of the air outlets from the underground system.
His ragged old wool coat could have been a century old. His tennis shoes and filthy socks revealed pasty white legs sticking out of jeans. Chad had my elbow and guided me to the far side hurriedly scooting around him, but I looked to see if he were alive. He didn't move. Passing him by ten feet or so I suddenly turned, without preconceived thought, whipped my scarf off my neck, went back and laid it across his bare legs. He still didn't move.
When I returned to the circle of Chad's arm he said, "That was nice, Mom." We continued home and I made up the "clic-clac" for my son to sleep on stationed at the base of the spiral staircase. The walk had tired us both and even though I left my door open so we could chat, we chatter like magpies when we're together, we both fell right to sleep.
The next morning I put on my ivory satin robe draped with wing sleeves and went downstairs. Chad put his pillow over his head. I made coffee and opened the brocade drapes at the far window. I checked out the other balconies, being a one-lane street I will be able to meet my neighbors this spring just by sitting on my balcony. There was nothing much noteworthy, but then I looked down and saw him.
My scarf now topped the brown wool coat covering jeans and sick white legs sticking into sloppy socks and tennis shoes. He leaned against a building looking like he intended to spend the day there. I stared at my orange and pink wool wrapped around his neck as if seeing a mirage. But I snapped to attention when I saw that he was looking up at me and I yanked the drapes shut.
"Chad." My voice would barely work. "He's on the sidewalk."
Chad raised up on his elbows, "Who's on the sidewalk."
"The one I gave my scarf to last night."
"How do you know it's the same guy?"
"He's got my scarf around his neck."
Chad sprang out of bed and parting the drapes a crack, peeked through. He turned, rummaged through his bag, pulled out jeans, a sweatshirt, put them on and tied on his tennis shoes without socks. "I'll take care of this, mother. Don't worry." With my admonitions and warnings trailing behind him he ran out the door and down the stairs.
I watched with one eye through slightly parted drapes as Chad approached the man. He uncrossed his long legs, pulled away from the building, put his hands in his pockets and soberly listened as Chad animatedly spoke. Then Chad pulled out his wallet and gave him some bills. The man smiled, nodded up toward me and ambled away. My son watched until the man apparently turned the corner and came back upstairs.
"He's harmless, Mom. He said he woke up when you put the scarf on his legs and followed us home because he wanted to say thank you. I told him you would be happy to know he liked the scarf. He won't be back. I gave him enough for a couple of bottles of gin and when he wakes up from that he won't even remember you."
Chad and I spent a delightful weekend together; puttering through the shops at Place des Vosges, finding a restaurant on the Ile de St. Louis and on Sunday we perused the museums. He caught an early train Monday morning and called me from his office to affirm he arrived safely.
About 10 a.m. I left my apartment, heading for my favorite Brasserie, I like to take my petit dejeuner there, (my bread and coffee) and the thought of Chad sitting with me still lingered. I came swinging out the front door, buttoning my coat, when I bumped into him. He had been leaning against my building and stepped forward when I came out putting himself right in my path. I backed up and said "Excuse-moi", then I realized who he was and I stood frozen unable to utter a word.
I moved to the side to go around him but he stepped into my path again. I looked up, regained my voice and said, "What do you want?"
He just looked at me with a little smile on his lips. For what seemed an eternity he said nothing. Unpleasant thoughts raced through my head of what his motives could be. Finally I said, "If you are not going to answer my question, then please let me pass." Thinking I should soften my tone I added, "I'm glad you liked the scarf." Again I moved to go around him and again he stepped in front of me.
"You gave me more than a scarf." He said.
Grasping frantically to think of what he meant I asked, "What else did I give you?'
"When I stood up and put on your scarf, I could smell your perfume and all of a sudden I knew some very personal things about you. Like you felt sorry for me because what I looked like to you on the sidewalk is how you see yourself inside and it's really yourself you were feeling sorry for." He looked at me blankly as if not expecting a reply and that is exactly what I wanted to give him, no reply. So I briskly brushed past him and clipped hurriedly to my Brasserie.
However, this morning the croissant tasted like mush and the coffee cup trembled in my hand. My mind whirred with fears and trepidations. Was I in danger? Could he get into my apartment? Should I call the police? I calmed myself with logic. The man had done nothing but speak kindly to me. What was there to fear? He might be a nuisance, but that was all. What did he mean, anyway, that I felt sorry for myself? I've never felt sorry for myself in my life! What did he mean I gave him more than a scarf?
I couldn't shake the thought of him so I avoided going home and browsed through boutiques until early afternoon. Returning on rue Barbette from the other end I sidled along the buildings hoping to run inside without being seen by him, if he still happened to be leaning against my building, which he was. This time he leaned on this side of the door facing the other way as if waiting for me to return from the direction I left.
I came to within 30 feet of him and paused, wondering how to get around and into my building without him stopping me when the whole situation started making me mad. Hadn't I been the one to be nice and cover his exposed legs with my own scarf? I straightened up and marched around him, put my key in the lock and he put his hand on my wrist. His dried, parched, scaly hand on my cream softened skin stunned me with its contrast, dissipating my anger.
He said earnestly, "I've been waiting for you and I'm very hungry. I missed the meal at the soup kitchen, would you give me some lunch?"
Compelled by something beyond my comprehension I said, "I'm hungry myself. There's a café at the end of the street, let me buy you lunch."
We walked in silence and entered the café. His tattered appearance caused the few patrons still lunching to stare, with discretion. We took a table, saying nothing. What does one say to a street person? How did you get this way? Did you ever amount to anything? Are your mental faculties all there? Where do you get your clothes?
A waiter came and gave us menus, which we studied as if they were Wall Street Journals. It occurred to me that he might not know what to say either. He could ask me the very same questions! I put my menu down. "What's your name?"
"Well, Jean-Claude, would you like the special menu today? Do you have time for a full lunch?"
"Yes." He said, "that would be very nice." He studied his menu with a frown. I explained he had a choice of starters, a choice of main dishes, and a choice of desserts. His eyes lighted as he chose exactly what he wanted to eat. "I haven't done this in a long time." He seemed to gaze into a distant past. "God is good to me," he breathed.
Well, that was gratitude, I thought. Here I am buying him a meal and he is giving the credit to God. It made me mad again. I wasn't going to ask him how long it had been since he had ordered food from a menu, nor did I want to know why. Now all I wanted was to get the meal over with and get out of there. The waiter came and took our orders; I started to include wine but thought better of it and when the waiter left I asked bluntly, "What did you do with the money my son gave you?"
"I bought new underwear with it." He responded. Sheepishly I called the waiter over and ordered a bottle of wine.
"You don't have to do that on my account," he said, "I don't drink much any more." But I ordered it anyway.
Our starters came. He had chosen a terrine of duck paté on a bed of lettuce surrounded with little pickles and my starter was rounds of goat cheese with walnuts also bedded on lettuce. I wondered if I would have to tell him how to use his cutlery, but he managed quite nicely with his knife, devouring all the bread in the basket. Then he sat back while I finished and asked, "Why do you feel sorry for yourself?"
I swallowed my mouthful and said, "I don't feel sorry for myself."
He looked slightly over my head and smiled, "Is that why? Thank you Lord."
I turned to see if someone stood behind me and caught myself. I would not play this game. If he spoke to people in the air I would not pretend they were there. I directed my attention to my plate and speared several pieces of lettuce.
He said, "The Lord just told me you feel sorry for yourself because your husband treated you like a pet until you were no longer useful to him and then he threw you away, like a piece of trash."
My fork stopped midair and a piece of oily lettuce fell into my lap. I quickly brushed it off and rubbed my blue skirt with my napkin. "How did you know that?" I demanded gruffly. What means would this man have of playing detective and uncovering personal information about me? What did he want?
He said, "The Lord told me." He smiled and looked over my head, gesturing for me to look there also. But I stoically stared at him remembering that simple-minded people are reputed to receive information seemingly from the air. Our thoughts emit electrical waves; perhaps they received those waves.
The waiter came with our main course. He removed the salad plates and placed a faux filet in front of Jean-Claude and a grilled loup before me. Jean-Claude picked up his fork and knife and began whittling away at his steak, totally ignoring my presence. I picked at my fish and ruminated. How could he have known that? I couldn't remember thinking those thoughts anytime today or even the night I gave him my scarf.
Exasperated I asked, "How does 'the Lord' tell you these things?"
"I just know them. All of a sudden I will know something I didn't know before and it's the Lord who tells me." His plate wiped clean, having used the second basket of bread to sop up his juices, Jean-Claude sat back, folded his arms and regarded me with a knowing air. I didn't want to know what he knew so I busied myself with my food.
Then out of the clear blue he asked, "Could I take a shower at your place?"
"A shower?" Stunned, I considered his request. I had covered his legs in the cold. I had fed him when I caused him to miss his lunch. Did I have to let him in my home to use my personal things?
He must have seen the disgust on my face because he leaned across the table. "I promise I will clean up after myself, but I haven't had a bath in so long I can't remember what it feels like."
How could I say no? "If I let you take a shower will you go and not hang around my door any more? Do you promise me that?"
He looked forlorn. "But you gave me another thing the other night with your scarf and I haven't done that, yet."
I sucked in my breath. "What did I give you?"
"You gave me the chance to tell someone about the Lord." Dessert arrived. He stared at his tarte tatin as I looked down at my sherbet.
"You can tell me about the Lord while we eat our dessert." I offered.
He brightened and attacked his apple tart. Between bites he said, "I picked up a paper off the quai several months ago, a lot of them were blowing around, somebody must have been passing them out, and I read the name Jesus on the top. There was a picture of this man with long hair and real friendly eyes. The paper said this man had died for my sins and then it had some sentences that it said came from the Bible and then it had a prayer called the Sinner's Prayer. I read that paper and started thinking about my life and I knew I had a lot of sins so I prayed that prayer. The man on that paper, Jesus, came inside me. I don't know how else to say it. I felt warm and I felt loved. I don't ever remember feeling loved, but I knew it was love. Since then I've just known things. Jesus told me about heaven and I asked him if I could go there and live with Him. He said yes, but first I had to tell somebody about Him. I don't know anybody and I've been waiting a long time to tell somebody. Then you put your scarf on my legs and I knew you had given me two things: your scarf and the chance to tell you about Jesus.
His simplicity touched me so I said, "Okay, you've told me about the Lord and yes you can take a shower in my apartment. Shall we go?" I paid the bill and we left.
We walked back to my place without speaking. I felt light inside as if I were doing something really wonderful for someone. I knew Chad would have a fit if he knew what his mother was up to, but this old guy didn't seem like a threat to me, just a little light in the head. I showed him the bathroom, gave him a towel and he closed the door. But then I felt uncomfortable being in the apartment while a strange man took a shower in my bathroom so I put my coat on and sat on my balcony.
After what I considered to be an appropriate amount of time I came in and saw the bathroom door open but no sign of Jean-Claude. I went back on the balcony to see if he had left but he was nowhere in sight. I called into the hallway but no answer. I climbed my spiral staircase and there he was in my bed, underneath my comforter, his shampooed head, still wet, resting on my pillow, his eyes closed, his arms through the sleeves of my satin robe rested by his sides with his hands folded on his chest. He looked prepared for death, except for the silly robe. He breathed easily, obviously asleep. Sleeping in a bed was probably something else he had not done in so long he couldn't remember.
I went back downstairs, not knowing what to do with myself, when I wondered where his clothes were. I found them hanging neatly on my hook behind the bathroom door, filthy, emitting such a stench. Then I had an idea. I took my measuring tape, measured their sizes, put his clothes in a garbage bag, tying it closed to keep the smell contained and rushed out the door. The men's boutiques down the street supplied a sturdy new outfit for him from shoes to overcoat. I also bought him a man's scarf.
My shopping took several hours and when I returned I called to him from downstairs. He sputtered awake and dutifully came down, my robe wrapped tightly around him. "Thank you," he said simply and headed for the bathroom.
I handed him my packages, "These are for you." He took them without response and went into the bathroom.
When he came out he looked like a regular man. He was grinning from ear to ear. "Oh, the Lord is good to me!" he crowed. I just smiled. With another thank you he left and without prompting he said, "You won't see me again. I'm on my way to heaven. Now I've got something nice to be buried in."
I started to protest and he said, "Don't you remember? You let me tell you about Jesus." I smiled and said goodbye. I figured he would be outside my door again, but I had done everything for him there was to do and I was no longer afraid.
Just before midnight, after the movie on Antenne Deux, I started feeling antsy. I couldn't explain it but I had to go back to that grill covering the underground and see if he was there, see if he was alright. I threw on my coat and hurried out, compelled to half run to get there. I arrived just in time to see an ambulance pull away. I tugged on the sleeve of a nearby policeman, "What happened here?"
"One of our citizens apparently died while sleeping on that grill, lady."
"Oh," I gasped, and then I described the clothing I had bought for him. "Is that what he was wearing?"
"Yes, it was. Best dressed bum I've ever seen and also the happiest. He had a big smile on his face. I tried to pull his cheeks down, but that smile was frozen on him."
"Will he be buried in those clothes?" I needed to know.
"Oh, I doubt it. They'll sell them to pay for the funeral."
I spent half the night in the police station arranging to pay for the funeral if they would guarantee me he would be buried in those clothes. Finally I succeeded. But when I arrived home, I felt awful. What more could I have done? I had done more for that bum in one day than I had done for anyone all my life. In fact when I recalled my life I had very little to show for it. I had been a selfish, self-willed woman, using people for my own advantage. My reflections left me feeling worse than ever.
Then I remembered Jesus and I said a little prayer, I believe Jean-Claude called it the Sinner's Prayer. I asked Jesus to forgive me, to come live His life through me and be my Lord. The minute I said "Amen" something warm came in me. Jesus appeared before me. Suddenly I knew things. I knew how loved I was. I knew this Lover would never leave me for someone else. I knew Jean-Claude was in heaven, satisfied and happy. Then I went to sleep in peace.