La Blonde Français

La Blonde Français

This short story was inspired by a cocktail popular in Paris in the early part of the last century. It’s also based loosely around a feminist writer from the same era. Leave your guess in the comments… I’ll be beyond impressed if you get it right.

It was 1947 and I’d left my parents asleep in their suite at the Georges Cinq Hotel in Paris. I wrapped my coat tightly around me and walked into the cold, feeling the eyes of the doorman on my back. Warm rain hovered in a silver mist as I walked, carrying the scent of the wet sidewalk. Streetlights shimmered onto dark cobblestone alleys, and I turned into the first one I saw with a cafe. Dense gold light and music poured out of the cafe windows into the darkness, framing the people inside into a wall of paintings; a man lighting a cigarette with raindrops still sparkling on the shoulders of his coat, a middle-aged couple with their hands almost touching beside untouched martinis, and a single empty table with lipstick-stained wineglasses.
The bartender raised an eyebrow in my direction as I walked in, and I shrugged off my coat onto the stool beside me and asked for Hendrick’s martini. I felt the man with the raindrops on his shoulders glance up at my trousers and tweed coat. A young woman wearing men’s clothing was unusual, but not enough to hold his attention, and he finally looked away as I picked up my martini. Across the room another man walked past a woman in a corner booth, pausing to light her cigarette before he returned to his seat. Random papers littered her table and she wrote quickly in a leather journal, head dipped almost to the page. A pale gold drink sat in front of her, which she lifted every few moments but then seemed to forget was in her hand.
The gin burned my throat but loosened my gaze, and when the woman left her booth to speak to the bartender, I let myself look at her. She spoke in French, bold in manner, yet delicate in gesture if one can be both at the same time. He handed her a small glass of ice, and she returned to her table, twisting her dark hair into a loose bun secured by a hairpin as she returned to her writing. The bar was nearly empty when the bartender placed another martini in front of me, the scent of ice shards and juniper crisp and insistent.
“I didn’t order that.”
He nodded toward the woman in the corner, still following her pen across the page. The last couple in the cafe left a few moments after that, pulling on their coats against the rain. I gathered my things to leave and walked over to her table to thank her for the drink. She motioned for me to sit but didn’t look up from her page so, I moved a stack of rumpled papers to a chair across the table and sat beside her in the booth. The air around her held the scent of petals, uncut January roses and night blooming jasmine, but it had a darker edge as well, like someone from a dream you can’t quite remember.
She poured the remainder of her drink over the glass of ice, and I asked her what it was.
“It’s called La Blonde Française,” she said in English, swirling it slowly in the glass, “It was popular in the twenties, but now this is the only place in Paris that still serves it.”
Her voice was husky, as if she had just woken up, but softened at the edges with an American accent.
“And you’re much too young to be here.”
It wasn’t a question.
“Well,” I said, holding her eyes, “I’d say that ship has sailed, wouldn’t you?”
She smiled and took a cigarette out of a slim sterling case engraved with the initials A. N.; I wanted to ask her name but didn’t, so I asked what she was writing. She paused as if she was considering her answer.
“My life,” she said, handing me a lighter and leaning into the space between us as I lit her cigarette.
“I can’t imagine writing like that,” I said, leaning back in the booth and eyeing the journal with hundreds of ink smeared pages. “I don’t know what I’d say.”
She smiled and closed the book, dropping her eyes to my mouth.
“If you don’t have anything to write,” she said, “Then you haven’t been living.”
She slid her books and papers in a worn leather bag, and we walked through the alleyways toward the Seine. It was almost dawn, but the streetlights were still on, the cobblestones glittering under the rain. She paused when she came to the last building and leaned against a bright yellow door with a brass letterbox. It was a row house, with peeling blue paint and slightly crooked windows. A small typed label taped to the door said Miller.
I started to turn toward the hotel, then stopped and slid my hand around the back of her neck, pulled her into my body, and kissed her. She melted against me, and I pressed her back against the door, pulling the hairpin from her hair and letting it fall like heavy silk through my fingers.

2 Replies to “La Blonde Français”

  1. Hi
    My first thought after the dark hair put up in a bun was Anais Ninn. Confimed for me with living and writing quote. Then the AN initals and of course the last Miller as in Henry.
    Another I always found interesting was Isadora Duncan and Tamara de Lempicka.

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