Untitled by Dorothy Menosky.
Sitting alone, in a chair made of wrought iron, at a matching table, outside a small coffee house in Paris France, I was waiting for my friend, Shirley, hoping, wondering if she would appear at all. I had been living in Chateauroux France for a few months, and decided it was time to find her.
Shirley had been a friend from our Detroit Michigan high school days. A marvelous pianist, she had been part of the Tchaikovsky competition, and won a scholarship to work and study in Paris. We had, over the past ten years, lost contact. Her parents knew only that she lived in Paris, and sometimes played the organ in one of the Catholic churches there.
For more than two months, I had been looking for Shirley. Each weekend, I drove from Chateauroux to Paris, and hunted. Finally, I found the right church. They did know Shirley, but had not seen her for some weeks. They provided an address.
The location turned out to be a garret. An honest to goodness garret in Paris. Romantic? Not really. It was dark, dirty, and a bit fetid.
When I reached the top floor, I could hear voices behind all the doors. But when I knocked, silence descended. More knocking, and a yelling out of who I was and what I wanted finally elicited a "Leave a note." reply. No opened doors.
I wrote that I would be waiting at the coffee house, and if she didn't show up, I would be there again next weekend.
So I sat. Looking. Waiting. Wondering.
And then, there she was. The same Shirley. But not the same. Her face was gaunt, but lit up with a smile. She was pleased to see me, but a bit shy and reticent. She was wearing a worn black cape, which seemed to me to be both wonderfully French and woefully sad.
While we caught up on the past, Shirley drank cup after cup of coffee, and ate two trays of cookies. Through it all, I couldn't stop staring at her hands, her fingers _ those wonderful pianist fingers. They were cracked, bloody, blackened, and infected.
I asked if she needed anything, and she replied simply, "Money."
I gave her some of the cash I had with me, and she promised to meet me again the next weekend. I was to go to the church to hear her play the organ on Sunday morning. And I would bring her foodstuffs and money.
Just before we parted, Shirley reached over, took the bowl of sugar cubes, and dumped the contents into her bag.
I never saw her again.
On Sunday, when I went to the church, they told me she had not been there, and they had not heard from her. I climbed again to the garret. This time, my knocking and yelling elicited only, "Shirley went away. She doesn't live here anymore."
Now, four decades later, I sit in the Copper Cup in Bloomington Indiana, idly drinking decaf lattes. I'm a old woman. I no longer look or wait. But I never stop wondering.