Prose Header

Donna’s Men

by Michael E. Lloyd

Table of Contents
Book I: Windmills Everywhere

Chapter 4: Channel Tunnel Vision

part 2 of 2

‘Thank you, mad- ... It was a lovely meal. And which way is the nearest Métro station, please?’ ... ‘Mais oui, merci! Bonne nuit!’

Why am I taking the Métro? ... Because this is Paris, Donna! Otherwise you’d be taking the Tube! ... Of course! OK, St Michel, here we come ...

Looks like I need Line 4 ... yes, that’s right, towards Clignancourt, just two stations to Châtelet ... then change onto Line 7 towards La Courneuve .......

A lot of people on this train. Must be one of the last ones ...

Right, this is Châtelet. Over to Line 7.

Bit of a walk. But not many people changing here. And I’m well ahead of the rest.

Sounds like there’s a train coming in. Very noisy. So two, probably. Some way to go yet. Hurry up, Donna! Damn these new high heels! Which way, which way? Oh, I need to cross to the far platform! And now there’s a long flight of steps down. And people coming up. Take it easy, girl, you’ve had a few drinks, remember ...

There goes the other train. And the doors of mine are closing now. Ah, missed it!

Four minutes till the next one ... no, just three now. Oh well, could be much worse. It’s a very good system.

Wow, not another soul on this platform yet. Or on the other one. Freaky! And it’s so quiet. That can’t last long ...

Oh my god. I’ve never felt so alone. It’s empty. Everything’s empty! Everything’s nothing. Nothing’s all around me. Nothing’s all inside me! I’m nothing ...

Is this hell? No, hell is other people, isn’t it? But I’m not alone, am I? They’re watching me! There must be a little hole high up in the wall of the platform. Where, where? Someone’s standing on a chair on the other side and peeking through. He can read everything I’m thinking. He can smell my nausea. He can taste my panic. He can see right through me!!

But he’s gone now! And there’s a woman coming onto the other platform. And a couple clacking down the stairs behind me. And more noisy people behind them. And lots pouring onto the other side too. Phew!

And I can see the next train coming in ...

So, they know I’m here. And now I know they know. But maybe they don’t know I know they know. Oh, I hate them, Shaun!

Just four stations to Opéra, Donna. Calm down. Don’t panic. It’ll be all right.

* * *

Ah, there’s my faithful Doorman again.

‘Bonne nuit, mademoiselle. Dormez bien.’

‘Merci beaucoup, monsieur.’

Sleep? I hope so. Perchance to dream? Oh, I hope not.

Donna Dormouse, dormez-vous?

Dream your Doorman loves you too.

* * *

God, why is it all so bright? Is this heaven?

Oh no, I never closed the curtains last night! Special east-facing room, of course. Wonderful view of the Square and the Opera House, but you get a free visual early morning call to compensate. So what time is it, Donna?

Ten o’clock?? Oh, merde!!

I’m gonna get indigestion after eating that quickly.

Right, eleven o’clock. Another quick look at the Opéra first. It deserves at least an hour, it’s so magnificent ... oh, just look at all that gold! ... but it still seems OK, so I’ll press on down to the Madeleine.

Police sirens. That’s the second time I’ve heard them in just ten minutes.

I’ll cross over here, to get a proper look from the south of the square. Fingers crossed ...

Oh, no, not again! They’ve done it in Paris too!

‘Look, can’t you see? They have brought the Fitzwilliam over here! It’s just not right! Why aren’t you all complaining?’

‘Qu’est-ce qu’elle a?’

‘Chais pas!’

‘Viens vite!’

‘Oh, why don’t any of you care?’

‘Attention, imbécile!’

‘Crazy foreign drivers!’

Dozens of people all around, but no-one seems concerned! And so many of them are using mobile phones. Why are they doing that? They must be talking to each other about it. Yes, that’s it — they’re all part of the conspiracy! Oh, what can I do?

Of course! Two can play at that game. I’ll call Shaun .......

Damn, he’s switched it off again. What is wrong with him?

More police sirens now. Gotta get away .......

‘Check behind you, Donna, see if they’re following us!’ ... ‘I don’t think they are — turn left here!’ ... ‘Look again!’ ... ‘Can’t see anyone now, but turn right here and then we should be in the clear...’

Stop in this shop doorway. Take a breather. Try to calm down.

Now check the map. Where are you? Ah yes, corner of St Honoré and St Florentin. Right, let’s ... oh no, police sirens again ...

They’ve gone past. OK, it’s safe to come out now. We’ll go on down towards Concorde. Still so much to do ...

The Jeu de Paume is fine ... and so is the Obélisque. Now, it’s a long way up the Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe, but that still looks the same as it always did. What about the other direction? Yes, the Louvre seems OK from here, but so much of it’s now hidden behind that new pyramid! Need to take a closer look. Carry on to the Orangerie first, though ...

Yeah, that beautiful façade’s all right too. Phew! So, down the centre of the Tuileries now, towards the Louvre.

Bloody pigeons! And seagulls! Why did they all suddenly have to take an interest in me?

Oh god, they’ve landed and they’re forming up all around me ... They feel so menacing, so imminent, so organic ... Oh, now they’re a huge monochrome wave moving me along inside itself ... It won’t let me slow down or speed up ... Oh, Mother!

Ah, now I see it! They’re just another bunch of conspirators in disguise ... Oh, my chest, my chest ... Gotta break loose, find a bench ... Out of my way, you devils!

More police sirens! Surely they’re not coming in here?

No. They’re going along the river bank towards the Assemblée Nationale.

Please, Shaun, please answer the phone for me ...

‘Hello, Donna.’

‘Oh, thank god you’re there!’



‘Lots, Shaun! I really need to talk to you. Please don’t hang up!’

‘Why would I do that?’

‘I don’t know. So ... I went to look at the Madeleine this morning ... and they have changed it, Shaun, they have changed it!’

‘Take it easy, Donna. It’s going to be all right.’


‘No, it isn’t. Don’t patronise me. You know it’s getting worse all the time!’

‘OK, OK. So you’ve seen some other swaps, then?’

‘Well, no, actually. But I haven’t put in many hours yet. And I think there are people watching me — in the Métro and on the streets ...’

‘Right ...’

‘And there’s something else ...’

‘Go on ...’

‘Just now I was surrounded by a huge flock of birds. And they’re all still here, just watching me and waiting. I’m sure they’re part of the conspiracy too, Shaun. But I think I was handling that idea OK, until ...’

‘Yes ...?’

‘... then I got this deep surge of dread, high up in my chest ... you know, just like Roquentin when he was playing in the Luxembourg Gardens, and there was that pensioned-off censeur ... you know, the man with the fish-eyes, just sitting there wearing one shoe and one slipper, right ...?’

‘Yeah, I know ...’

Does he really?

‘... and how he just gave Roquentin and his young friend a friendly smile and gesture, but they could somehow sense the man was thinking “crab and crayfish thoughts” ... and how terrified they were at the idea that someone could drown everything around them in those thoughts, right ...?’

‘Yeah ...’

Is he actually listening to me?

‘Well, I just knew these birds were thinking evil thoughts about me. But I didn’t only feel like Roquentin and Robert. I felt like that poor old man at the same time! So overwhelming! And the man was so alone. And I’m so alone now. I don’t want to go the way he did. I don’t want to frighten little children. Or be frightened by heartless little creatures. Oh, I do wish you were here, Shaunie!’

‘All right, then.’


‘I’ll join you. This afternoon.’

‘Wow! Really? But do you have a passport?’

‘Yeah. Got one when I was a teenager. Had to renew it about seven years ago. Had a bit of cash then. Seemed like a good idea.’

‘Oh, it was! You’ve made me so happy, Shaun! Will you really come today?’

‘Sure. But I’m afraid you’ll have to ... cover it.’

‘Of course I will. I’ll phone Eurostar right now and arrange ...’

‘No, don’t do that. Too complicated. I’ll borrow some more cash from my mate and get my own ticket on the spot.’

‘Oh! OK, then. And ... well, I’ll pay for that and everything else over here, of course! So, what time can you get away?’

‘Hmmm ... it’s eleven-twenty in England. Let’s go for a departure around half-past one. Hang on ...’

What’s he doing? Keyboarding again?

‘Are you still there, Shaun?’

‘Yeah ... just checking the train times.’

‘Another Internet café?’

‘Er ... yeah ... right, there’s one leaving just after two o’clock, arrives Paris about 1730 local time.’

‘Brilliant! OK, get yourself sorted out, then meet me at the Café de la Paix. It’s right by the Opéra Métro station. I’ll be waiting at a table on the square by half-past six. OK?’

‘That sounds perfect, Donna.’

And a little word of thanks, maybe? No, wait, he’s doing this just for me.

‘Thanks, Shaunie. See you soon!’

Oh, that’s so good! Pity there are no bars in the Tuileries — two reasons for a quick one right now. But I need to press on anyway. I’ll have a drink with my lunch ...

More sirens. They really spoil the atmosphere of this lovely city.

OK, nearly at the next square. The other Arc still looks good. And isn’t the carousel beautiful! You’ll Never Walk Alone. Well, I shall until this evening. Then maybe things will change at last!

The Pyramide seems healthy enough too. But the devils can spirit that new baby away here and now, for all I care! It’s still blocking out a proper view of the Louvre, translucent or not. It’s as bad as draping banners across those wonderful façades. I bet they do that over here too, these days. Sacrilege! Right, across the courtyard and up to Palais Royal ...

Out through this gateway onto the Rue de Rivoli. Then I’ll need to cross over to ... Aaaarrgh, they’re coming straight for me! Two baby police officers on tiny little motorbikes! How did they know I’d be walking through here? Where can I ...?

Oh, thank god, they’re not after me. They’ve scooted right up onto the pavement in front of that young African lad. So what’s he been up to? Ah, he’s selling the tourists tap water in old plastic bottles, fifty cents a throw! Those crack policiers are giving him a right old lecture. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, Santé publique. Now they’re watching him empty every bottle down the drain. Summary justice, Paris-style. “It’s the guillotine for you next time, my boy.” Course, he’ll just go and fill the bottles up and start again somewhere else. But it’s keeping them all in gainful employment.

Where was I? Oh yes — over to Palais Royal ...

Good, that seems OK. A real mess of building works in the courtyard, but the façade looks fine. And I must keep an eye out for a cash machine — need another maximum dose of euros.

Now, let’s go to the theatre ...

Ah, the Comédie Française! What a wonderful place! All looking great, front and side elevations, and the busts of all the poets are still in situ too. Don’t suppose I’ll find time to take in a performance, though. Sorry, everybody, but especially you, Monsieur Poquelin! I’ll make it up to you by visiting your monument next!

Police sirens yet again! Why? There just can’t be ten times as many emergencies in Paris as in London! Maybe the drivers are just very keen to get back for their tea break.

Right, up the Rue de Richelieu, and if I’m not mistaken ... yes, here he is! Mon cher Molière, it is a huge pleasure to meet you face-to-face again! You simply have no idea how much you are admired!

So, press on to the north ... Ah, here’s a cash machine! .......

Job done! And there’s the Bibliothèque Nationale. Lovely courtyard, and still looking great. What treasures it must hold! One of these days, Donna ...

Oh wow. That’s the song that always rescued Roquentin. Well, not quite, but ...

OK, heading east now, then down to the Bourse ... Hey, what’s happened at this junction? Why is it always the police in Paris? Looks like a squad car has crashed into ... what is it? ... oh, it’s some sort of street lamp maintenance truck! And the medics are all over the police driver, even though he looks perfectly fine. In fact he looks really pissed off. He’s about to be wrapped up like a mummy! Hah! ... he’s going to take an awful lot of stick from his mates for the rest of his career. If he’s still got one! Probably the last time he ever drives a police car!

Hey, have a heart, Donna! Everything was fine for that poor guy, until it suddenly wasn’t. All he probably wanted was an early cup of tea for him and those mates. And look what he got instead. Wow.

I’m getting quite hungry now. What’s the time? Half-past two. OK, I have a plan ...

Here’s the Bourse. Always very impressive. Love that pediment and its statues! Talk about over the top! But it’s all still in one piece. Bravo! And now I think I’ll stroll up to Les Halles and get a sandwich and a glass or two of vin blanc ...

Oh, I’d forgotten all about St Eustache! Just look at it! What a huge, magnificent edifice! ... and the setting, too! ... but somehow it’s just off the beaten track, isn’t it? I’ll bet most visitors never get to see it. Well, that’s their loss. It’s wonderful ... and it’s all still there too, thank god!

Glorious French bread! So different from the French bread I usually have to put up with. And perfect Brie. Ditto! Nice wine, too. And I feel fine! But is Baby in love with me?

And there’s another beautiful carousel to look at, as a bonus. What did you do to deserve this, Donna?

Don’t answer that.

OK, two hours left before I need to head back. Here we go again .......

Hah, I can do without the Pompidou, too ... et vous? Get me outta here!

Now that’s more like it! Hôtel de Soubise, all present and correct and looking very smart indeed. And just a bit further down ... yes, the Musée Carnavalet — still immaculate! Now I’ll just mosey along to the Place des Vosges ...

Four of the clock and all’s well here as well. Swell, Samuel.

I’ve just realised I’ve been hearing those police sirens every ten or fifteen minutes, all through the afternoon, but I’ve completely stopped noticing them! So that’s how they get away with it!

Right, final lap for today ... Back along the Quai.

Hôtel de Sens. Just glorious. The stuff of fairy tales. So different from anything else on the tourist trail! And it’s still safe and sound. So, keep moving west ...

And now the Hôtel de Ville. Magnificent! They would never have dared to ... Now hang on Donna, don’t push your luck! And there’s carousel number three. Wonderful!

OK, across the bridge to the one you’ve been saving up for all afternoon ...

Oh, just perfect! It looked good from the rear and the side — those flying buttresses! — and now I can see the front is still intact as well! What an achievement! Makes you glad to be alive! If someone had meddled with Notre-Dame, I’d have ...

Well, I’d have been very unhappy.

Hmmm, it’s funny, isn’t it? — apart from the swap that Shaun forecast back in Cambridge, I’ve seen no changes at all here, so far. That’s a bit worrying.

No it isn’t, you fool! It’s brilliant!

OK, it’s nearly five o’clock. My new shoes have been wonderful, but it’s time for a little transformation of my own. It’s the rush hour — trying to find a taxi would probably be a very bad move. No, I’ll head straight across to the Palais de Justice and make sure that’s still in good shape, then I’ll come back to Cité Métro station and pick up last night’s route back to the hotel. That should leave me plenty of time to change into the finest of those two special dresses! Whichever one that is!!

* * *

Café de la Paix, Saturday, 6pm

Phew! Got down to the Café just five minutes ago, and there was just one spare table!

Think I left it all a bit late this afternoon. No problem with the Métro, but choosing the right dress was a real challenge. Hope I got it right. Finally went for the crimson one with the plunging neckline. I feel like a Spanish gypsy dancer! But that feels so good!

In fact I can’t remember when I last felt so good.

Shaun’s train was due to arrive forty minutes ago. I guess he’ll take a twenty-minute walk up to one of those cheap hotels near Barbès-Rochechouart ... then he’ll need say fifteen minutes to check in and dump his stuff ... then the nearest Métro ... yes, he should be here by about half-past six.

Nearly there, Donna!

So, at least twenty minutes to wait. Well, I’ll just sit back with my lovely Cul-De-Sac Ricard and take a proper long look at the façade of the ...

Oh, wow, it’s Shaun! Getting out of that taxi, right in front of me! Has he seen me yet?

‘Hey, Shaunie! Over here!!’

To be continued ...

Copyright © 2010 by Michael E. Lloyd

Table of Contents

Home Page