The Paris Express

By Jonathan Wilkins

Élodie met him in a faded restaurant in a small, rainy town Saint-Mars-la-Brière on the main line between Tours and Paris. There were mirrors on the walls all around the room. Over his shoulder she could see herself reflected a dozen times; it made her blink. She wasn’t sure which face was her own. She never would again.

Another train whistled through the station,

Élodie shivered at the memories it brought back. She had never liked this station, even in the days when she and her father had used it to travel to adventures North and South. He had become more morose as his anger had grown. Thankfully he had never shown any signs of striking her, but his attitude to her mother was another thing altogether. For that she could not forgive him. For that she had to protect her mother.

She had to work hard to bring her eyes back to Chardy, a small brown haired man with a silly little moustache. What her mother saw in him was beyond her. He had no redeeming features, not even the sparkling with he assumed he maintained. He smiled towards her, well his lips did, but never his eyes. That awful smile she remembered so well and had tried so hard to forget.

“Why here Chardy?” Élodie asked.

“It seemed the right place. It was either here or at your University.”

“For what?

“It reminded me of that last time…”

“You wanted to be reminded of what?” she asked.

The last time she had met him was confronting him on their doorstep in Tours, threatening him with the police if he ever returned. He had frightened her then, but she knew he could no longer harm her. She had got him out of her mother’s life with threats of the police. Why would he wasn’t to see her now. He could not hope to resurrect his relationship with maman.

She shuddered, was that his plan?

Élodie could hear the rain battering the window, the raindrops bruising the ground outside, but that seemed a more attractive place to be than the restaurant with him. He showed her to a table. Élodie sat down, not because she wanted to, but where else could she go. The train would not be here for a while.

There was a rushing noise and a harsh rattle of the window as the Paris express shot through the station. Élodie looked across at Chardy.

A charmer Maman had called him. She had fallen for his charm, she fell for his smooth tones, his insinuating niceness. She fell for it all and where did it get her?

Élodie never liked him from day one, but he seemed to make Maman happy at first. He took her out, brought her little gifts, wooed her. He bought Élodie presents, but they remained in her wardrobe, unwrapped or still in their boxes. Élodie wasn’t cheap, he could never buy her affection. She hated the way he spoke to Maman, and letting this man’s lips touch hers, it made her shudder. She wanted her maman to be happy, but didn’t know why she had to let him into their house. Was Élodie jealous? Not of him!. It was so strange that her mother had been taken in by him.

It was only when he started to stay overnight that things really changed. Élodie knew this was a big thing for her mother who always tried to stay within the social norms, so she must have been very fond of Chardy. She saw the neighbours talking and wasn’t sure how she should react to that. They obviously had an opinion on everything and none of it was good anymore.

On Papa’s death home had suddenly become so empty. It was so unfair, so wrong, so cruel. Slowly, but surely, Élodie had begun to miss him more and more. He was not a good man, he had let Élodie down dreadfully through his behaviour. He had let her maman down even more through his violent actions. For that she could never ever forgive. Maman was Maman, but there was no Papa. No Papa to talk to, to hold me, to smile and pick me up when things got bad. And things were getting bad as month by month she seemed to be sinking into this quagmire of blackness. With Papa Élodie thought that she could have been fine, he might have changed, though she knew it was unlikely, without him it was just empty and dark and cloying. With Papa here there would of course still been some of this sadness, there could have been no need to be sad, no need to mourn, no need to cry.

Chardy sat down. Élodie placed her wet coat over her chair and smoothed down her dress. She noticed his eyes following her hands down her body. He made Élodie feel sick.

“Your belle Mère well?”

“Now that not around her.”

“Oh, that’s not very nice. You sure she doesn’t miss me?”

“Like a rash.”

“Élodie you must be nice.”

“Must I?”

“You’re my guest”

“Why? Why do you want to meet here of all places?”

Élodie took the menu from the waiter. Thoughts drifted back to the last time she’d been here. How had Chardy known? Her Papa and Élodie. The two of them together, just as she had used to like it.

Élodie could hear Papa laugh and see him smile, but his face was again fading, she wanted to hold his hand. She wanted him to laugh, to smile as he once had. How could she explain this to Maman? It was easier not to have to, how would she be feeling? How do you ever get over the loss? How did Élodie get over the loss? What feelings did Maman still have? Of course, hers was a different love to the one that Élodie as a child had for her Papa, but the feeling of loss. How do you manage? How do you cope? Do you ever, ever get over it? Élodie couldn’t believe Maman would ever get over it, but was too frightened to ask her. Why? In case she said she, was over it, wanted to move on? Or that she was crying herself to sleep like Élodie did on so many nights. Is that why she had taken up with Chardy? Élodie did not want to picture her Maman, crying about anything. But she did not want her to be over Papas death either. For some stupid, nonsensical reason Élodie thought she needed her to be unhappy as well, just as she was so unhappy, but for a different reason. But she so wanted her to feel happiness, to be happy, because she was her Maman and Élodie loved her and wanted her to be happy so very, very much.

So, when Chardy came into the equation Élodie was really torn. Maman had found what she called a friend, but Élodie soon realised it was more than that. He spent more and more time at their house. Talking loudly, laughing loudly. Just being loud. Élodie couldn’t hear Papa anymore, his words, his presence, his memory, was being silenced by this unpleasant man. One night it all changed. They had been giggling downstairs so Élodie left and sat in her bedroom in front of her dressing table mirror and prepared to go out for an evening stroll..

She was putting kohl on her eyelids when she suddenly heard her Maman cry out.

“Are you all right?”

“Yes Cherie, I’m fine.”

But she wasn’t.

Maman was downstairs washing up. Chardy was nowhere to be seen.

“What’s wrong Maman?”

“Nothing, all’s fine.”

“Need any help?”

“If you like.”

Élodie found the tea towel and started drying. She looked at her Maman. She had been crying, then Élodie saw how red her eye was, it looked sore and swollen.

“What’s happened to you?”

“Nothing just collided with the door…”

But Élodie knew,

“Oh Maman, how can you let that happen?”

“We were just having a silly row, Chardy lashed out, it was an accident. It’s okay…”

“You think?”

Élodie had said, all high and mighty.

“He said sorry, he didn’t mean to…”

“They never do Maman…”

Élodie had been surprised when Chardy had invited her to the station. It had been her and Papas secret place. Élodie could get the local train and end up here then imagine travelling West towards Nantes or East towards Paris. The whole world was at her feet. Sometimes Élodie would toss a coin and just get on a train for the day, have an adventure, Papa at her side and like two schoolchildren they would rush around the sites of the different cities. But no more could this happen and certainly never with Chardy.

The mirrors glinted in the dull restaurant light and Élodie looked up at her now two faces reflected back at her. She sipped my café au lait and turned back towards Chardy.

How can someone who looks so normal be so evil? Why had she given him the time of day to meet him here of all places? What had he to say? What had Chardy found out?Élodie swallowed the last of her café au lait. “I have to go…”

“Not for…”

“I have to go. We can finish talking on the platform.”

“You might want to sit down when you hear what I have to say…”

I doubt it.”

Élodie pulled on her coat. Still damp from the pouring rain and moved towards the twin doors. Ever the faux gentleman, Chardy opened it for her, but she ignored him and pushed at the other side, to be met with a gust of wind and rain that chilled her to the bones again. Élodie walked towards the platform edge and looked down the track. The announcer said something, but she didn’t hear them. All she could hear was the rain tamping on the platform roof and the rails seemingly shivering in the air. It was true you could see a sheet of rain and looking through it Élodie imagined what it must be like to be behind a waterfall. She would be unseen, hidden from all. She could not see to the opposite platform, she was cocooned in her own private world and Chardy had entered it, despoiling it.

The train was about to arrive.. The hissing of the track amplified and filled the air, rushing towards them overhead and through the tracks below. Like a banshee attacking its prey. Another announcement, words sucked into the night sky. No one but the two of them on the platform. No one to see what would happen, no one to know what could happen.

Chardy had followed her to the edge of the platform. She looked straight ahead into the torrent.

“You know your maman and I would be a good partnership.”

“Pfft! You have been told Chardy, stay away or I go to the police.”

“This is where we may meet mademoiselle, I too have news for the police.”

“You surprise me Chardy, what would you have for the police except your confession.”

“Moi? Confess? My conscience is clean. Is yours?” Chardy sneered.

Élodie turned to face him.

“My conscience is pure Chardy. Mine is not the mind of a bully and a liar.”

Élodie listened without hearing. What she could hear was the next train, rails rattling and singing out their own message.

Élodie pushed Chardy. She didn’t see that the supercilious smile had at last been ripped from his face as he fell to his death under the wheels of the Bordeaux Express. That would have pleased her. No one saw her, no one knew what she had done. He made no sound. He didn’t have time to scream, just like Papa hadn’t had time to cry out as he too, had tumbled onto the same track. Just like her father, Chardy should never have beaten her maman.

(Bio: Jon Wilkins is 65. He has a gorgeous wife Annie and two beautiful sons; He loves to write. Jon is a retired teacher, lapsed Waterstones’ bookseller, and former Basketball Coach. He taught PE and English for 20 years and coached girls & women’s basketball for over 30 years. Jon regularly teaches at creative writing workshops in and around Leicester. He takes notes for students with special needs at Leicester University. Jon has always loved books and reading, but 9 years at Waterstone’s nearly put paid to that! Jon has had a work commissioned by the Arts Council and several pieces published traditionally as well as on-line. He has had his work exhibited in art galleries, studios, and museums. He also has his writing on various blogs. Jon enjoys presenting papers at crime fiction conferences, it keeps his mind active and is a great way to meet new people and gain fresh ideas for his writing! He loves writing poetry. Fitting words together is an odd way of spending time, but he does revel in it!)

You can find more writing by Jon at Brigand.

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Publishing Editor for The Yard: Crime Blog.

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