You’re home free when you smell the butter. Just watch your pace between the register and glass doors. Focus on the red awning of the crêperie outside. And take the exit on the left – this she makes me say with her – because it’s the only one not hooked up to the alarm.
I don’t want a pocket-sized travel guide written for old people, but we’re taking it home. I scramble to find another line to massacre aloud. “The monument looks for all the world as if carved out of ice and snow by some angelic hand…” When she snorts and claps (some angelic hand!) I know I’m going to buckle.
Thing is, funds are tight. The internship covers only half the rent. We used to get free lunch in the cafeteria until there was no such thing. Now we microwave bricks of soup from the discounter and dream of starch until sundown. No more pileups on the tray – no more tut-tutting from the locals for gorging on multiple pieces of bread. You Americans. Last week she dared me to pilfer a sandwich from a meeting we weren’t invited to. I had to eat it over a toilet while she stood watch outside.
With pickled breath she leans in close to tell me I deserve it – just like she deserved the black dress she wears on the nights the disco lets females in for free. She nicked it from her old roommate and had to hide it in the lining of her suitcase until she moved out. A just cause, she likes to say, since it looks better on her anyway.
She points to a magazine. I drape it over the book. It sticks to my fingers, and my face goes hot. In my single digits I stole a pack of gum and confessed before my mother could unlock the car. I don’t even want the travel guide. And the police here look like police.
The bag tilts. The book drops. She praises my angelic hand, and my laugh comes out like a bark. She whistles a chanson while I pay for the magazine, but all I can think about is the door.
The red awning flaps through the glass. I wait for the Mademoiselle! and flash of blue. It’s not too late. I could still play dumb. Starch on the brain, sir – butter up the nose. You Americans. You idiot. “You legend,” she breathes into my ear as I burn my tongue on a crêpe.
D.B. Miller is an American writer who has been living in Europe since 1995. Her essays, short stories and offbeat profiles have appeared in Litro, Split Lip Magazine, Offshoots, The Weeklings, The Woolf and NBHAP. Her flash fiction will be included in the Reflex Fiction Volume Five anthology, out in 2022. www.dbmillerwriter.com