"Your Quenelles aren't very smooth, are they?" a voice said to me from the next table. I put down my fork and looked at the handsome man who sat with his stylishly dressed wife and I smiled, not knowing how to respond. "It lacks character," he said with authority. "The dumplings of Pike aren't ground fine enough and I suspect they used a machine and they weren't pounded by hand so the fish was lumpy. Quenelles, should be light and airy and yours aren't." He smiled knowingly as he peered over his champagne glass. "I also had them and was disappointed. The crayfish used in the Nantua sauce also wasn't pureed fine enough and the sauce was a trifle scorched. The burnt taste lingered on the palate."
"They're all right," I responded not wanting to get into a heated discussion about my dinner with strangers, although he was right in his assessment. I knew I should have brought a book or newspaper to read and in that way I would have avoided the need to make contact or conversation. But that conveyed loneliness and that was something that I was trying very hard to avoid. It was bad enough I was sitting in a fashionable restaurant in Paris alone while I watched couples all around me laughing and enjoying themselves. "You're right," I said. "They're mediocre," I answered. "As a friend of mine would have said, they sure don't sparkle and in a place like this, they should."
"Here in Paris on vacation or business?" the wife asked in a pleasant sounding voice. "I'm Sally Carver and this grand inquisitor is my husband Frank."
"Hello," I responded, finding myself being drawn into a conversation. "I'm Michael Bourne."
"You're from New York," Frank said. "The accent is definitely Big Apple. You must be here on business eating alone." He said it matter of fact in a voice that sounded like a smoky bar, hoarse and husky.
"No," I responded. "As a matter of fact, I'm not here on business or vacation but on a mission." I said it with secrecy in my voice.
"A mission," Sally responded, "how exciting."
"What kind of mission?" Frank asked. "Do you work for the government? Looking for terrorists or on the trail of illicit drug money?"
I sipped my chamagne and looked at the two people who sat at the next table eagerly awaiting for what I had to say. I didn't know them and would never see them again so told them my story. "No, I'm not with the government," I said, "but here in Paris to spread my friend's ashes in all the places that he had loved here." I looked at Sally who listened enthralled and Frank listened intently. "It was something that he had talked about before he died. I lived with him for thirty-eight years and Paris was his favorite city. He wanted his spirit to be here after his death. I felt that it was important for both of us so here I am." I didn't know why I was telling my innermost secrets to strangers but all the feelings that I had bottled up inside of me since Dan's cremation had bubbled to the surface like champagne in my glass. "I've placed his ashes in his favorite museums, restaurants and places that he loved. I was afraid that I was going to be arrested placing his ashes in vases and urns in museums but I was discreet and nobody was the wiser. I placed them under trees in gardens that he frequented so now when I come to Paris I can visit him." I smiled sadly. I heard what I thought was a sob and looked at Sally who just stared at me and then I looked at Frank to see his eyes filled with tears. Sally reached across the table and took his hand.
"It's all right, Frank," she said.
Surprised by what was occurring, I felt ashamed at my behavior towards these two people who only wanted to share a conversation and I had saddled them with the death of my lover. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you sad."
Frank dried his eyes with his napkin and looked at me. Tears began to run down my face and Frank leaned across the table and reached out with his hand and brushed the tears from my cheek. His hand was big and rough but it was soft on my face.
"You didn't make me sad," he said. "These are tears of joy." He smiled broadly. "Years ago I did the same thing for my best friend who was killed in Vietnam. We served together and he had written to me before his death that in the event that he was killed, he wanted to be cremated and his ashes strewn in Paris. He had been a student here and spent the happiest years of his life here." He took a deep breath and continued. "His family was against it but his mother finally agreed when I sent her his letter knowing that was what her son wanted." He dried his eyes with a linen napkin. "So I came to Paris with his mother and sprinkled his ashes on a windy day from the Eiffel Tower and fulfilled my friend's wish. I cried but knew that his spirit was where he wanted to be and so did his mother. She cried and hugged me and we both knew that we had done the right thing. What you're doing is noble and wonderful and makes me proud to know you." He grabbed my hand and shook it. "Sal and me are in the restaurant business back in the states. We come to France to see what the chefs are doing and if there are anything that we can take back in the way of recipes for our three places. If you come to Buffalo, I will buy you the best meal in town at one of my places." He reached into his jacket and took out his business card. "I mean it," he said.
We spoke about the restaurants that he had been to and he paid their bill and left. I sat alone and began to sob. I reached into my pants pocket and felt the baggie with the ashes that I carried. "Babe, I miss you," I said. "I hate being alone. After all these years how am I going to survive without you after loving you for all these years."
"Is anything wrong?" a man said in a French accent. "Are you all right?"
I looked at the man who evidently was the owner and greeted me when I entered the restaurant. "I'm all right," said. "I'm just remembering what was and will never be again."
"A broken heart? Sad, but time will heal it. You'll see."
I sat with Dan's ashes in my pocket. "Yes, a broken heart, and maybe some day time will heal it."