The Silhouette Artist

Throughout my time in Paris, he shadowed me. He was the pool of darkness beyond a street lamp, the oil slick on a puddle, the smudged mascara that branded the prostitutes’ cheeks as they trudged back and forth, back and forth beneath my window. I tried to catch him out, but he was always too deft, slipping from the corner of my eye before I had a chance to pin him down. In my scarlet duffel coat, I was easy enough to find, but he could have been anybody, anywhere. I sought his presence amidst the grim-faced morning commuters and searched for him in The Louvre, beneath ruddy, muscular seraphs and soft-eyed virgins. Come evening, I fully expected to find him swigging carafes of cheap red wine and flirting with Toulouse-Lautrec demoiselles. But he was not in any of his customary haunts. Everywhere I went, his absence accosted me: a lack of being so tangible that after a while I began to accept and even welcome the dragging, invisible pursuit through streets deprived of romance.

On my last day in Paris, I wandered through Père Lachaise Cemetery, with the vague intention of visiting Oscar Wilde’s grave. Without a map, the place confounded me. I paced the labyrinth corridors for hours, passing tombs bigger than my hotel room, and more impressively furnished. I read somewhere that the cemetery, challenged by limited space, has started issuing leases on grave sites.The living clamour; the dead are forced to relinquish their peace. As I sat in the misty graveyard, it struck me as almost unbearably sad.

And then I saw him. Moving between the tombstones, a sudden rearrangement of light and shadow marking the space he left behind.

Mademoiselle. The figure stepped out from behind a tombstone. It was a stranger, I realised, feeling foolish as I took in the ragged coat and battered shoes.

What do you want?

Wordlessly, the man proffered a scrap of paper. A thumbnail silhouette portrait, black card delineated against a pale egg-shaped background. Even in profile, it was a perfect likeness. The long straight nose and defined jaw, the straggle of hair at the brow, the lashes whittled with infinite care and captured, mid-flutter, for anyone who cared to part with their cash.

How much?

The man held up five fingers. As soon as his fist curled around the coins, he was off, shouldering his way between tombstones.

About the author

Rachel currently teaches English in Bath, although she never stays in one place for too long and is most at home on a bicycle.…

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Issue 15 · June 2012

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