Thursday, October 30, 2008

Gunter Arrives Before the Flood

The rain stopped for a minute or two and the sun seeped through a break in the clouds to illuminate a slice of the pavement in front of the Brasserie Lipp. Paul experienced a glint of light in the corner of his left eye and raised his head from his notebook to glimpse a momentary illumination in the street. Then, thunder rumbled, shaking the foundation of the old building, and the rain returned in iron sheets.

Before returning to his notes on the shipwrecked, Paul recognized a short figure in a wrinkled beige raincoat running across the wide boulevard. The man, with a large pipe clenched between his teeth, dodged cars and jumped puddles, heading inexorably toward the entrance of the Lipp. It was Günter, late as usual, he thought, running to catch up with a deadline he had already missed.

Günter stopped outside the restaurant, underneath its awnings, and peeled off his wet coat. He shook it several times before he folded it over his left arm. He faced the glass door and Paul watched as Günter’s dark eyes blinked, owl-like, twice behind black horn-rimmed spectacles. The well-lit Lipp and the dark rain-soaked night created a mirror out of the front door and Paul knew Günter could not see into the restaurant. Instead, he stood before the mirror and prepared himself for his late entrance. Gazing at his image, he ran a fat hand through his thick black hair, removed his wooden pipe, and deposited it into the right-hand pocket of his gray suit. Beside the crumpled suit, Günter wore a pale blue shirt, unbuttoned at the collar, gold cufflinks, and scuffed brown shoes. For finishing touches, he rubbed his left hand over his thick Nietzsche-like mustache and pulled the suit forward at the labels, as if to make room for his bullish neck and shoulders.

Once inside, the maître’d moved forward, his hand outstretched, as if Hemingway himself had entered the room. He took Günter’s coat and pulled out the banquette table to allow him to edge onto Paul's left. The two now sat like an old couple, ensconced in their place of honor, near the door. The placement was significant to all cognoscenti; the two mattered. Their place had been earned. The management placed them to see and be seen.

“May I have towel, Maurice?” asked Günter in his heavily accented French.

The maître’d snapped a finger and a middle-aged waiter with thinning hair dyed coal-black rushed forward with a linen towel. Günter rubbed his head down roughly and then asked for Paul’s comb. He pulled the thick hair back in several rough movements. Paul noted his hands were stained black and yellow from ink and nicotine.

“Your hands look as if you have been writing.” Paul said in German.

“I have. But not just writing, though. I am producing a baby, a monstrous baby. It’s something different from anything else I have written.”

The waiter re-appeared and asked if they wanted an aperitif.

Günter said, slapping his meaty hands together, “Let’s have two Kir Royales. I feel like celebrating the head-birth of my baby.”

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