Monday, April 02, 2007

The Dinner Party

Once lunch was over and the waiter had arrived with the check, Claire passed me list of the supplies I’d need to purchase for our expedition into the catacombs. The tall rubber boots and flashlight were self-explanatory. But the list also included four cans of confit, three types of cheese, two baguettes, and a bottle of cheap wine. I asked if we’d be having a picnic, which made Claire laugh.

“The food is to keep us out of trouble with the troglodytes,” she told me.


“People who live in the catacombs. It’s best to have something to trade with them in case we need help. Underground, a good baguette can save your life.”

“I’ll buy everything this afternoon,” I told her. “What time should we meet tonight?”

Claire shook her head. “Not tonight. We will go on Monday. The catacombs are full of teenage boys and tourists on the weekends, so there are more police in the tunnels. All serious explorers go during the week.”

I couldn’t stifle my sigh. Monday was still two long days away, and I’d already grown to loathe Sundays in France. With all the stores shuttered, and no English-speaking friends to amuse me, my homesickness grew deadly. Claire seemed to understand my predicament.

“There is a dinner party on Sunday night,” she said. “It’s in honor of my friend Otto. Maybe you would like to come?”

“I’d love to!” I hated to sound so eager. The French seldom showed such enthusiasm.

“Then you should meet me at nine at the McDonalds on the Place de la Republique.” She looked me over and grinned. “Wear something chic.”

At 9:15 on Sunday, I was waiting outside the garish McDonald’s, wondering if I had fallen victim to a cruel prank, when I heard Claire call to me from across the street.

“I’m sorry. I’ve made us late,” she said. “We must hurry.”

Her red dress floated in the wind as she guided me to nearby a metro (subway) entrance. The station had long been abandoned and a metal gate blocked the stairs. Claire scanned our surroundings, taking note of a woman with a dachshund and a man relieving himself against a wall, before pulling out a set of keys. She opened the gate, and we both hurried into the darkness.

“They closed the Saint-Martin station during the Second World War,” Claire told me. “Part of it is used as a homeless shelter, but this part is ours.”

“Ours?” I asked.

“The Mexicans are not the only subterranean society,” she informed me.

When Claire turned on a flashlight, I wondered if a war had taken place inside the station. Everything that wasn’t burned or broken was caked with black grime. Tiles had fallen from the arched passages, and razor-sharp shards littered the floor. Rats frolicked in tall piles of garbage and debris. I’d visited several of New York’s abandoned subway stations, but I’d seen nothing that compared to the Saint-Martin metro stop.

We heard a rumble in the distance, and the platform began to vibrate beneath my feet. Claire flicked the switch on her flashlight, and we stood perfectly still in the darkness. A train shot past us, the eyes of bored commuters staring blindly out its windows.

When the train vanished, we approached a door composed of several old subway signs nailed together. A mouthwatering aroma wafted past my nose. Claire knocked and the door opened at once. Clean, white subway tiles gleamed in the light of countless candles. Massive 1930's advertisements for liquor and laundry detergent lined walls of an unused metro track. Seated at a long, beautifully-set table were more than a dozen people in formal clothing. A man in a chef’s hat toiled over five camping stoves at the end of the platform while a waiter filled water glasses. A banner on the wall read, “Bon Voyage Otto.”

“Where's your friend going?” I whispered to Claire.

“Heaven if he’s lucky,” she said. “He was declared dead last week. He disappeared in the catacombs three months ago, not long after he discovered the new passage.”



Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's kinda sinister....

4:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is really starting to get weird...

ps where are theatre, alexxis, and cosimacat?

5:50 PM  
Blogger Cosima said...

How many times must I say here, Kendall? :D

4:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry but where r those other guys?

5:54 PM  

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