I have forgotten whether Mireille's room was on the sixth or seventh floor of the ancient walk-up apartment house at 7 rue St. Martin. It really doesn't matter. She was a small Norman woman from Urville Bocage, but I had met her in Paris in 1970. My friend and I had introduced ourselves to Mireille and her friend at a cafe near the Louvre.
Mireille's single room served as a kitchen, living-room and bedroom. The loo was in the hall. Beneath her bed she kept a large stone crock of cherries soaked in calvados, the fiery destilled apple spirits of her native Normandy.
Our actual acquaintance was brief - a month in the summer, and another in December of 1970. George Harrison's, "My Sweet Lord" was topping the charts, and Mireille, who was nine years my senior, called me, "My sweet Lord", and "Robert, you clever boy". Truth to say, in 1970, I was, in many ways, still a boy.
Mireille cooked splendid French meals for me on a tiny hot plate, and through the small dormer window of her room, pointed out the hermaphrodite gargoyle on the cathedral across the street. That was the year that it snowed in Paris before Christmas, pure white flakes the size of silver dollars dissolving like fallen angels into the black waters of the Seine. Mireille asked me not to leave for North America before Christmas, but I did. I took a cab to Orly on Christmas Eve, and flew to New York on an almost empty 747.
She wrote me many love letters, and I wrote back. She asked me to come to live with her on her father's farm in Normandy and raise, "a half a dozen of cows." In one letter, written from that farm, she enclosed a pressed violet flower.
At the end of 1996, which had been a singularly loveless year for me, I busied myself moving old papers around my apartment in a vain effort to convince myself that I was actually accomplishing something. I came upon Mireille's letters, and re-read them all again. It had been more than ten years since I had last looked at any of them. They were poignant and touching and made me feel the fool, or much worse, for having rejected her love. At last, as I knew that I must, I came to the letter containing the flower. Perhaps I should not have been surprised that it had faded so. But I was surprised by how little of the indigo summer
of 25 years ago remained.
All love fades. This would include the lost love of the up-Island woman who, beside a lake near Nanaimo and once or twice in her little house, removed me from my small portion of space and time. Now I rummage through the cardboard boxes of memory with the lonely but certain knowledge that I will never see the winter moon through the leaveless branches of the walnut tree in her backyard, or be shaded by it from the summer heat, or tread unsteadily upon the sodden wetness of its fallen leaves by autumn's desiccated blackberry bush, or even once again, even for one sweet moment, behold in awe, the tender champagne-colored rosebud of her scented garden.