The Man in the Paris Cemetery, Ch. 8


Gemma left the museum and aimlessly strolled the sidewalks. Her confession played over and over in her mind. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as she thought. True, she’d lied to Daniel, but it was only about being in Paris with a boyfriend. If he liked her wouldn’t he be thrilled at the revelation? Everyone lied sometimes. Didn’t she have a good reason? The danger in confessing to a stranger that she was alone. If Daniel refused to hear her out then maybe he wasn’t worth all this angst.

Putting one foot in front of the other felt like wading through a vat of peanut butter. She was probably just exhausted. If she were home she’d take a nap. Lack of sleep often masqueraded as depression. That’s all this was. Jet-lag.

She stepped toward a storefront to avoid being bumped into by a passerby, and used the navigation app on her phone to find the nearest Metro station back to the hotel. She longed to slip between those crisp, clean sheets, and pull the blanket over her head.

Back at the room she stepped out of her sneakers, slumped into bed, and fell into a deep sleep. (The Champs-Elysees)

She dreamt she was strolling on the Champs-Elysées toward the Arc de Triomphe, holding Daniel’s soft, warm hand. She kept glancing at him, wondering why this younger, handsome man would choose to be with her. They turned a corner and Harvey stepped into their path.

“I need to explain,” Harvey said in his nasal, plaintive tone.

Daniel dropped Gemma’s hand and vanished.

“That’s not necessary,” Gemma said, echoing Daniel’s words at lunch. “Go away.”

Marla appeared. Her arms slithered around Harvey’s chest and transformed into snakes with forked tongues darting from their mouths. She dragged Harvey off.

Gemma’s dream had an abrupt scene change. She was now alone, stranded in the Montmartre cemetery on a moonlit night. The granite tombstones gleamed in the dark. Lonely and menacing. A crow swooped down and landed on Corin Falconer’s headstone. When Gemma backed away the crow spread its wings and emitted a piercing cry.

Gemma fled and crashed headlong into a monolith of a man. He wrapped his arms around her and crushed her to his chest. She tilted her head back and found herself staring into the face of Corin Falconer. He drew an icy finger down her cheek. “Are you okay?” he asked.

Gemma slumped into his arms and buried her head against his cold satin shirt. “I don’t know,” she said.

She began coughing and sputtering. She bolted upright in bed. She felt drugged and irritable. It was probably the effect of a late nap, compounded by the time change.

She stumbled into the bathroom, brushed her teeth, and touched up her smudged eye makeup. She still felt dazed. The dream kept replaying in her head. Her lunch with Daniel had stirred up distressing emotions around Harvey’s betrayal, just when she hoped she might get over him more quickly than she usually did after a breakup.

As Gemma walked to the window she thought that maybe a walk would restore her balance. She peered through the glass at the sun filtering through white clouds. The streets shone.

Slipping into her sweater and wrapping a silky scarf around her neck, Parisian-style, Gemma reminded herself that her infatuation with Daniel was merely the result of a vacation dopamine dump. And rebound. Not real. Not something to get worked up about.

She stepped outside into the crisp, late afternoon air. It was too early for dinner so she headed for the block of markets and outdoor food vendors. The baskets of chard, rapini, squash, and plump red tomatoes were lush and inviting. If only she could get that kind of wholesome food in the restaurants here. The unfamiliar high-fat, salty diet was wreaking havoc with her emotions. She was clutching at ways to make herself feel better but maybe she just needed to give herself time.

The memory of her two breakfasts with Daniel gnawed at her. She stepped toward a building, leaned against a wall, closed her eyes, and willed herself to calm down. She concentrated on replacing her visions of Harvey and Daniel with Corin. She was in control. Corin would be her calming meditation tool.

Tilting her head back, she let the sun warm her face. She forced herself to smile. Although her smile wasn’t real at first, she felt instantly better. The smile lingered on her lips.

She opened her eyes and headed back to the hotel. She’d ask the concierge for a new recommendation tonight for dinner.

On the way, Gemma became engrossed in the shop windows. The boulangerie with long, skinny French bread, the patisserie with its cream puffs and macarons, and the flower shop bursting with color.

The colorful sights were so hypnotic, she soon realized she was lost. She’d find her way back eventually, but instead of reaching the hotel she found herself at the entrance to the Montmartre cemetery.

In the soft, late afternoon sun this place was not the forbidding graveyard Gemma had dreamt of during her nap. It was a peaceful oasis in the busy city.

Entering the cemetery, she searched for something familiar to point her to Corin’s grave.

After a few minutes of walking, a man entered her path a couple of blocks away. The moment he looked at her, he stopped walking.

Gemma veered down a different path. Although the man maintained a respectful distance between them, he seemed to be following her. She had the absurd thought that he was the flirtatious guard from the museum today. She was being overly dramatic.

She searched around her. Where was Corin’s grave?

Her skin prickled. Now she just wanted to get out of the cemetery. Crows hopped around her, pecking at the grass that poked up between broken cobblestones. Suddenly, a large crow swooped onto the path in front of her. She jumped.

The crow gave her a sidelong glance, its beady eye glaring.

Gemma turned around to look for the man but he was no longer in sight. She was alone in the cemetery. A wave of relief washed over her. He hadn’t been following her after all.

She squatted and spoke teasingly to the crow. “Did you visit me last night?”

The crow took flight and landed a few yards away on a tall, black obelisk. The bird tilted its head and seemed to be beckoning her to follow.

As Gemma advanced, the crow swooped off again, landing and launching intermittently, leading her on until it touched down on its final destination. The headstone of Corin Falconer.

She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself.

Ghost stories were her favorite type of book. Preferably consumed while she was safely wrapped in heavy blankets in bed at home. But there was no such thing as real ghosts. Souls didn’t survive after death. When your life was over, it was over. There was nothing else. Only deluded people were comforted by the fairy tales that religion peddled. Deluded? Or lucky?

Corin’s winsome face stared at her from his photograph.

“If you’re going to be a ghost story,” Gemma teased the dead man, “then I’m the one who will write it, not you.”

She lifted her head and saw the man again, in the distance, unmistakably walking toward her. Was it Daniel? No. Daniel wouldn’t be walking without his sons.

The man stopped and seemed to be staring straight at her. He was tall, with strong shoulders. From this distance she could make out his pale, blue shirt with an open collar, and khaki slacks. She couldn’t see his face clearly.

His body language suggested that he knew Gemma, but she knew no one in Paris except Daniel. And the museum guard.

She stole a look at the man, trying not to be too obvious. She didn’t recognize him.

She headed briskly for the exit. She didn’t want to look paranoid to the stranger so she avoided looking back at him and kept up an unhurried pace. When she ventured a quick glance backward, she saw he was still there, keeping the same respectful distance. There was no mistaking it now. He was following her.

Her scalp tightened. It wasn’t the museum guard, or Daniel.

Who was this tall, elegant man? And why did Gemma have the unnerving feeling that she knew him? She whirled around and took off at a run. When she reached the exit, she glanced back. He was gone.

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