A Brief Encounter – Short Fiction

Île de la Cité (Paris) - Photo by Trent P McDonald

A few people trickled off the train.  Sean looked back over his shoulder and realized that the car was empty.  This really surprised him since the RER train was packed pretty tight in the morning.  He glanced at his wife, Jennifer, who was using the fading light to read the tourist material they’d picked up at Versailles.  Noticing Sean’s attention Jennifer looked up and smiled.

“Hey beautiful, come here often?” Sean asked with an impish grin.

“Sir, I’m a married woman,” she answered.  “By the way, stranger, when will we be getting back into the city?  I’m starved.”

“In about 10 minutes.  Shouldn’t be long,” he replied.  Nodding, Jennifer returned to her reading.

Sean looked out the window.  His thoughts hovered between reality and fantasy, his mind in a strange euphoric state caused by too little sleep and too much caffeine.   The feeling was heightened by the sensory overload of exploring a fascinating new country.  Every second stood out in sharp relief, the buildings passing the RER window were framed in a new gallery in his mind.

The train slowed then stopped.  A beautiful woman entered the car.

Sean laughed at himself.  Parisian women weren’t any prettier than women in Boston yet he was strangely attracted to them.  Was it just the atmosphere, the idea of being in “The City of Love” or were they actually different in some way?  The woman sat down facing them, just across from Sean.  He reflexively flashed her a smile before remembering where he was. He’d read that you should never smile at a stranger in Paris.  The natives will either think you’re an idiot or soliciting sex.  He quickly turned back to the window.

“She’s watching me.”  Looking out of the corner of his eye Sean saw his instincts were correct.  He tried even harder to look out the window.  “It’s their eyes,” Sean decided, thinking about Parisian women.  A picture of a young Leslie Coron came to mind.  He had been in love with her after seeing the old movie Gigi.  Leslie’s eyes haunted him for years.  Now there was a set of eyes just like hers and they were pointed at him.

He tried not to look.  A quick glance showed him she was still watching.  He turned away.  He could still feel them, two magnets locked onto him pulling his head around.  He turned involuntarily, his eyes hungrily searching for hers.  A glance at the woman then back out the window.  A longer look followed by a shorter interval at the window.  The woman seemed amused by this little pantomime.  The need, the desire was slowly overcoming the fear.    He finally stopped struggling and was caught, the magnets clicking into position.

As soon as eye contact was made the woman smiled and started to mouth words.  She was speaking slowly yet silently, trying to ensure every word was understood.

Sean spun his head back to the window in panic.  He’d never tried to read lips, but even if he could, he didn’t know French beyond the basics of ordering in a restaurant or asking simple directions.  And there was Jennifer.  How could the woman not know he was with Jennifer?  Or did she know and not care?  Did Jennifer notice?  Sean’s palms felt clammy, his brain fogged over.  He could feel his face flush red with embarrassment.

The pressure on the side of his head lessened and Sean knew the woman had turned away.  He glanced back at her.  She was no longer watching. He quickly looked away and then slowly turned back, hoping to surprise her watching him.  She was still looking away.  Sean tried to make eye contact but she refused him the privilege.  He quickly looked out the window then closed his eyes.  What did he do wrong?  Heaviness descended on him.  The need, the desire to have her acknowledge him one more time was ripping his mind to shreds.  He tried to make eye contact again.  She repulsed his every attempt.  He could feel it, as if she were pushing his head away.

The train slowed and came to a stop.  The woman got up and rushed off the train, head turned and eyes averted.  Looking out the window he saw her stop in the middle of the platform.   She lowered her head and put her hands on her face.  The train pulled away, her solitary shape disappearing.  Was she crying?

“Tour Eiffel,” he heard Jennifer say.  “Only three more stops.”

Sean could only nod.


Photo of Île de la Cité, Paris by Trent P McDonald

15 thoughts on “A Brief Encounter – Short Fiction

    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks. I put this up ages ago. I have to admit, it was based on something that actually happened the first time I visited Paris. Nobody flirted with me the other two times (unfortunately ;) )

      Liked by 1 person

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  2. Solveig

    A great read, I am glad that you pointed it out today.
    That not smiling myth… I was told never to smile in France on transportation (by Americans), well it has never done me any harm and has made people smile more around me. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Before the first time I went to Paris I read a book that was supposed to help explain the cultural differences. Smiling at strangers was something they said to avoid. But I did discover that many of the cliches I had heard and read really didn’t apply a lot of the time. On the other trips I don’t think I smiled any more or less than I normally do.

      Thanks for reading!


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