Hervé Poullouin grabbed his gray, wool stocking cap from the bottom of his bureau drawer and shook the splinters free of it by tapping it against the sleeve of his cotton, long-john shirt. Poullouin’s hairline was low toward his brow, his hair long for a typical man his age, somewhat unruly in nature, and the color of a beaver’s pelt. When Hervé revealed to a woman what he hid under his cap, she would tell him, “What a shame it is that you don’t parade your full head of hair around, a shame that such hair is wasted on a man.” Despite protests, he would gently smile and pull his stocking cap down, firm around his head. Women took great pleasure in finding ways to free him of the worn sock, and he took great pleasure in always keeping it in place.
Poullouin ran a quick hand through his mop top and slid the pilled beanie down, leaving only the hair from the nape of his neck peeking out. Walking to his kitchen table (a not-completely converted billiard table), he took from atop the piles of junkmail, tattered envelopes, faded marketplace, receipts, and pool balls and cues, his tan, deerskin leather jacket. He patted away a blue chalk smudge and ran his arms through the sleeves. The jacket rested loosely over the layers he was wearing, and sharpened Hervé’s shoulders. Walking to the door and looking over to the living room and out his window, the sky brilliant blue, he could see leaves being wisped away from the trees, falling on the wind. He rubbed his stubbled cheeks and sighed.
Outside, Hervé found himself surprised, delighted that he had worn so many layers. The sun shone and the leaves fell to the ground, the air was crisp and borderline icy. He patted his chest and under his fingers the logo from his tee-shirt stretched. Breathing the sharp air in, he coughed and a tuft of warm air escaped from him hanging visible in the air for a moment. Hervé balled his fists together and blew hot air from his mouth into them, and then threw them into his jean pockets. A small shiver found it’s way to the young man’s shoulders and slid up his back, he shook it off and started walking down the sidewalk.
Whistling a non-tune, Hervé Poullouin made his way to the street market a couple of blocks from his flat. Turning on to the main street, his non-tune disapated into a non-sound. The street was alive with men on Vespas and children on bicycles. Young women wore long coats and thick scarves that bulked around their necks. Old ladies wore trenchcoats with thin scarves keeping their frocks in place. Random tents and booths lined both sides of the street emitting the smells of fresh fish, fruit, stale cotton, and spices galore.
As he had times before, Hervé found himself lost in the back and forth of the marketplace. He found this feeling home. The rambunctious, squealing children brought a smile to his face. He remembered being a boy in this market, he remembered every step he had taken, every vendor’s face, every vendor’s voice. In particular, he remembered first encountering the yellow tent. No taller than a fully grown boarder collie, Poullouin barely had his feet about him and had wandered from his mother’s side. When he looked around and grasped that he was in unfamiliar territory, he grabbed and tugged on the matching yellow tablecloth, and a mountain of green bell peppers came tumbling down on top of him. A girl, not much older than he, leaned over the table and snipped something unintelligible to him.
This girl had honey-colored tresses, cherry-red cheeks, and a nasty temper. As he kneeled down to pick up the peppers, she did the same in haste, mumbling. He was intrigued and frightened. She gave him a good yelling-at. Years after, he learned that she was the granddaughter of Mademoiselle Pascal, a French woman who had retired a widow to London. Mme. Pascal found herself a second husband who really wasn’t her husband at all, however people in the neighborhood weren’t inclined to talk. The girl’s name was Cerise Pascal.
"Quel grand, jeune homme."
Hervé stopped in his tracks. Turning to see the yellow tent, he made his way through the crowds, narrowly missing a small girl carrying an empty birdcage on her head, singing “God Save The Queen.” Nearing the checkout table, he leaned over and gave a dastardly grin. "Quel beau sourire, c'est dommage que vous êtes mariée, Mademoiselle Brisighella."
Cerise was only ever in town the first three weeks of October. She knew little English, and rarely used what she did know. That pleased Hervé just fine. He had spent many years of random home schooling in the U. S. trying to appease her and her maddening culture. "Ah, vous m'embarrasse avec votre mots amusement et votre yeux bleu."
It had taken many years for Poullouin to make her blush. Although when she finally did, she never stopped. Unfortunately, Cerise couldn’t see past Hervé and his age, a whole five years younger than herself. She ignored his advances and when he wasn’t looking, she found herself a French husband, Raoul Brisighella. He was a pleasant enough man with a thin face, a bit of a lisp, and was sarcastic as hell—but appreciated. Nodding over the two, Raoul bellowed, "Monsieur Poulloin, vous rendez fou ma femme avec vos mots fous! Desistez les ou je doit elle emplacer dans une sanitarium. Bon, qu'est ce que vous desirez aujourdhui?"
The two men shared a laugh as smirking, Cerise leaned in and winked, "Ne lui attend pas, mon homme est jealoux."
"C'est bien, nous sommes (even / level)"
"Desistez!" Monsieur Brisighella faked exasperation as the two in question snickered to one another. Hervé often took his neck in his hands, flirting with the young lady in front of her husband, but he got from Raoul that he understood what their marriage had done to the boy. For months after the nuptials, Hervé kept himself locked away from the world, denying himself everything, although once Cerise had enough, she marched into his flat and demanded he get a life.
"Qu'est ce que vous desirer aujourdhui, mon ami?" She motioned to the tables of produce and smiled.
"Trois des tomates les meilluer, une aubergine gande, et un onion petit et blanc. Je prepare un grand fete pour seulement un homme ce soir." Hervé and Cerise watched as Raoul hovered over his produce, looking for quality tomatoes. Poullouin looked at Cerise as she watched her husband. She was a content woman…possibly even madly in love with her husband, proud of him at least.
"Ah, c'est un traveste que vous ne trouve pas une amie," Hervé looked away before she caught him staring.
"Non, J'attend la perfecte."
Raoul dropped the onion in a brown paper sack and handed the bag to Hervé. "C'est bon." Hervé went in his pocket to grab his wallet and Raoul shook his head, “no,” as he wrapped an arm around the waste of his wife. Hervé nodded his thanks and slipped his wallet back into his back jean pocket.
"Et voila. Bon chance comme votre fete!" The three smiled.
"Merci bien. Bon apres-midi. Au revoir Cerise! Au revoir Raoul!" Hervé turned back into the crowds and continued walking down the street.
"Au revoir Hervé.” When he had made it a few feet away, he could hear her voice in the distance, “Ah...ce garcon...tant pis." He shook his head in disdain and continued on his way.
Cerise’s wedding was a beautiful day, with a yellow-purple sunset dotting the French vineyard they had snuck into. There were five people in the wedding party and they had all snuck onto the vineyard, Cerise dressed in white, Raoul, the priest, Hervé, and another witness. Hervé stood beside Raoul, his cheeks as hot and red as a seventeen year old boy could be, part furious, part broken over the moment. Raoul was firm, steady and a good man for such a whirlwind of a girl. Cerise was hardly the dry eye, her hands shook unless they were in Raoul’s, her eyes, nervously darting back and fourth until Raoul took control of them with his own. Although Hervé proved himself to be a jealous man, he knew the little cherry-cheeked girl who had nearly ripped his head off years before was in good hands.
Hervé walked through the crowds of people with the little brown paper sack tucked under his arm making sure to keep the bag from being knocked loose and thrown to the ground. People were out in throes with the sun as unusually bright as it was for a London autumn, although as luck would have it (or as was the vein of Poullouin’s luck) the clouds began to gather in tufts, and rain began to pour. The sun still shown gold, and the sky was still blue, but the street began to grow nylon umbrellas like they were dandelions, began to thin as people ran to find shelter under the tents or in small businesses. Hervé found his shelter as he stepped down into the Underground.
The large staircase smelled faintly of permanent marker above the distinct smell of cigarettes and compound body odor. Black marker diseased a large ad displaying the Royal London Opera House presenting “Carmen” in profanities that would make the Queen herself blush five shades of burgundy. Standing in front of it was a group of young delinquents, surrounded by a cloud of mentholated smoke. Hervé caught the eye of one girl with cherry-red hair down to her chin, with heavily lined eyes. She gave him a little smile and followed his gaze as he continued walking to his platform. When she finally broke the connection, it was to a young man about twice her age with greased hair and a handlebar moustache reaching to pinch her in the side.
“Bloody hell, Dottie, he’s not the bloody Prince of Wales.”
Hervé looked back to see the girl elbowing the man in the side, “Shut up you arse. Lord, why do you have to be such a dick?”
Walking up to the platform, Hervé loaded the subway car and turned into the left plexishield beside the door and leaned up against that. He had only five stops to Sloane and wasn’t greatly worried about sitting the way. As the intercom bellowing, “Mind the gap,” began to plague the station, and the automatic doors began to close, they stopped abruptly as the cherry haired girl shoved her body inside. Catching herself, she slumped over into a seat across on the other side of the door behind the plexishield and looked over at the child she’d slid in next to.
Hervé found himself strangely indifferent to this girl, locked eyes or not. She wore a ratty American bomber jacket and a green skirt that resembled a tutu, but wasn’t a tutu. She also wore yellow, wilting Doctor Martin boots with bright green ribbon lacing them. In that regard, he was a bit awestruck, but she sat with naked lips and crossed arms. She was not altogether a bastion for sympathy, leaning more toward tendencies to be the little girl she likely was. Poullouin noticed the girl to be fifteen, sixteen maybe. She wore her face emotionless and rested her head against the window behind her, sticking her pointy chin in the air. The train started moving and the full boxcar bobbed backward, and as it did so, the bag went flying from under Hervé Poullouin’s arm to the girl’s feet.
Muttering under his breath, Hervé took the first step away from the plexishield to retrieve his bag. The car was unsteady and full of people and Hervé had to bend and shift and turn his way to get through them to the young girl’s feet. When he finally made it to the bag and went to stand up, the boxcar made a sharp turn and he smacked his free hand into the window, straight above the girl’s head. Instead of pushing off and standing up, he looked down into the heavily drawn up eyes, they were a comical shade of green against the heavy black eyeliner. Instinctually, Poullouin opened his mouth and said, “My apologies.”
Hervé picked himself off the side of the car and returned to his plexishield. Now he was interested. He watched from behind his protective shield as she sat with her face drawn to the floor. The subway car made its first stop and crowd traded crowd. As the car took off again, she still sat there, only with her feet on the seat and her knees drawn to her chest. On the second stop, a young man—thin as a rail—popped in and made a big show of greeting her hello. He replaced the little girl and made a sweeping gesture of falling into the seat. He called her Dottie as well and asked her a few questions about coming to dance. Poullouin felt the second and third stops, but missed the fourth and the fifth as he found himself lost in their conversation.
“Dottie, whatever in the hell possessed you?”
“Manic Panic…but I don’t remember the number. I’ll never do it again. It was a nice stain on the parents’ whitewashed tomb. I’ll never forgive the Anglican church for my parents.”
“It’s so red.” The boy let her hair slide between his fingers. “I believe this is the same color as my mother’s favorite color lipstick.”
Laughter escaped the girl as she knocked her knee into his arm, “Shut up Isaak, I like it. It’s shocking.”
“Ah, but will Mme. Scoffone like it?”
At another stop still, a second boy stepped in the car and with a start waved as he walked over to the two. He first gave a short kiss to Dottie and then a kiss to the other boy. The two young men were about seventeen or eighteen in age and while one wore a fauxhawk, a small sweater, and large converse sneakers and the other wore belled sweatpants and a denim pea coat with a large scarf pillowed around his neck, they were a significant change from the young man with the handlebar moustache. The three of them sat in close, holding hands and smiling. At one point, Hervé noticed one of the young men pointing his way.
“Dorthea, it looks like you have an admirer,” the second young man tugged on his scarf, “and one about twice your age at that…what is he, Isaak? Early, mid twenties?”
Hervé’s eyes widened as he looked at the bag in his hands.
“Thomas, I do believe it looks that way…” The boys conspired with winks and ornery white-toothed smiles as the girl stared at the two hands in hers. Hervé looked up for a moment and felt the subway come to a stop. Poullouin looked around and realized he was not where he wanted to be. He unloaded himself from the car and began to walk to a platform that would get him back to where he was going.
Hervé, walking as fast as he could away from the subway car heard a whisper, “Bloody Christ, he probably thinks I’m following him now.” At that word, his body tensed and his ears began to thud. He spotted a postcard stand to the right and stepped over to look at it while he waited for the three of them to pass. Hervé looked at a postcard of Prince Charles in a cabana boy outfit and paid no mind to the two boys he could hear laughing behind him. Standing there, distracting himself, he nearly made a noise as one of the boy’s large black duffle bag banged into his thigh. As he heard them walking up the stairs he turned to look and barely saw a thing as the sun poured into his eyes.
Hervé Poullouin’s mind began to fill with the mysteries and intrigues and implications of following a young girl. As he stood there analyzing, his feet began to step one in front of the other, and before he realized what he was doing, he was stepping out of the Underground. Hervé was aware of where he was standing, but didn’t comprehend where he was going. In the corner of his eye, he saw the cherry red hair and his body shifted. He hardly noticed the three women standing beside him, asking him for the time. Instead he walked and didn’t have to follow long before they turned into a windowed building.
Across the street sat a small brick pub with a help wanted sign inside the window. With his bag in tow, Hervé stepped inside, ordered himself a small straight coffee and brought it to sit in a window booth facing the building across. The tables set up outside made the street narrow and just small enough that even with a glare, he could see inside. The building was two stories tall and above the door, a sign hung with no name. There was a bar running inside the length of the front window, which covered the bottom of the building to the top. A woman and her daughter came running toward the building, and as they stood in front of the door, she kissed the girl’s cheek, handed her the bag over her shoulder, and pointed over to the pub. The girl took a short look at the pub and ran inside the no-named building.
Hervé watched as the two boys and the cherry haired girl walked into the windowed room. The second boy, Thomas, placed his bag on the ground and removed his scarf and pea coat. The first boy, Isaak, removed his converse sneakers and his jeans to reveal a leotard and tights. Thomas reached into the duffle bag and removed two pairs of thin, black, leather shoes. The cherry haired girl removed her jacket and hung it on a coat rack by the door. She reached to the skirt around her waist, unwrapped the tutu, and threw it in the duffle bag. In her leotard, she sat on the floor and untied the green ribbons of her shoes. Without unlacing them, she began to pull the first shoe off and the laces pulled out like a fishbone. The large, yellow combat boots came off to reveal a pair of electric green toe shoes.
Standing, she picked up the shoes and placed them under her jacket; they sat, a pair of lumbering pirate boots, intimidating yellow next to the wooden coat rack. The three stepped off the wall and took to the middle of the floor and started stretching. A time later, an elderly lady walked into the room with several little children.