Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877

by Melissa Goode

"Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877": the sign next to the painting said Caillebotte was twenty nine when it was hung in the Third Impressionist Exhibition of 1877 and here it was in the Art Institute, Chicago. Caillebotte, ten years younger than Jody was now. They lived shorter lives then, she told herself and almost laughed, for it was no comfort when confronted with genius. Just let Caillebotte have it—admiration, no, abeyance.

Jody leaned closer to the painting. The light was pale yellow, silvery, luminous, as people walked through the street with wet, gleaming, black umbrellas. The cobblestones and the water pooled around them reflected the sky. The light was European, true.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?"

She turned to the man beside her. "Yes."

He smiled and a little girl ran up to him, she must have been four or five.

"I found it, Daddy!" she said. "I found the lady holding the book."

Jody looked down at the child, despite herself, the bright eyes, the milk-pale part in her dark hair.

"Corot's 'Interrupted Reading'," the man said and Jody realized he was speaking to her.

"I love that one too," Jody said. She smiled at them, this father and child, and turned and walked away. The child might have been Jody's own, if she had a daughter. She had the same coloring, same straight nose, same slight build.

Behind her Jody heard the girl say, "What will I look for now?"

"Can you find the lady sitting and holding her foot?"

"Wounded Eurydice": it was Jody's favorite painting by Corot and she could not breathe. She thought of the snake bite poison travelling through Eurydice's body, towards her heart.

* * *

Jody sat in the cafe, the Caffè Moderne on the second level, not the Museum CafĂ© on the lower level—too many kids. This afternoon, the place smelled of dog. On the other side of the communal table from her there was an old man with his guide dog, a Golden Retriever. Jody took a deep breath and missed her dog, felt the physical loss of him.

"Priscilla," the man said sharply to the dog that had moved a couple of steps away from him. "Priscilla, I'm talking to you."

Jody had seen the man here before and he didn't startle her anymore. She figured he had his reasons. Perhaps he was not completely blind, or he remembered the paintings or simply liked the coffee in this cafe. She had her usual—Earl Grey tea, a grilled cheese sandwich and one of their miniature lemon meringue pies that tasted bitter and sweet and of everything good. The habit of it—this lunch every Saturday, in this cafe—was a comfort to her.

The man and his daughter entered the cafe. He was on his cell and stopped near the doorway while the girl rushed ahead and patted the dog.

"Don't do that," the old man said. "When you do that, she stops working for me."

The girl looked between the dog and the man, a crease appearing in her forehead, her little hand hovering above the dog.

Jody went to them and said, "Sir, she's just a child."

"Well, you should teach her better," he said.

Jody took the girl's hand and wanted to weep for the smallness of it in hers. It could have been the hand of her impossible child. As if the final embryo, the eleventh, took after all and here she was, right beside her, holding her hand.

Jody drew the girl to her feet. "Honey. Leave the dog alone. She's a guide dog for this man. He's blind."

The girl's father came over. "Is there a problem?"

The old man said, "Your child should know not to approach a guide dog."

The girl's father did a double-take at the blind man and the dog, here in the gallery. He seethed, his jaw shifting, but then he seemed to swallow it. "Yes, sir," he said, calm and low.

"Between the two of you," the old man muttered, and threw up his hand in a hopeless gesture. Jody suppressed a smile.

"This lady was just helping," the man said and for a brief moment his hand went to Jody's shoulder, although it was so brief she wasn't sure if she imagined it. She did that—felt human contact, when there was none at all, just a ghost or her memory playing tricks.

"What sort of dog is it?" the girl said.

"A guide dog," the old man said.

"No. I don't mean that," said the girl, and peered up at her father.

"A Golden Retriever," he said to her, softly. "Let's leave this gentleman to have his lunch."

They both turned and walked away, the girl glancing over her shoulder at the dog.

* * *

The communal table in the cafe was almost full on a Saturday afternoon. The girl and her father returned from the counter with their lunch.

He extended his hand to Jody, over the girl's head. "Chris Burnett," he said. "This is my daughter, Marie."

"Jody Evans," she said and shook his hand.

Marie sat beside Jody. Chris sat on the other side of Marie.

Jody watched him stir sugar into his coffee—his bare hands, their long fingers, their angles. She sensed him noticing and switched her gaze to her tea.

"Thanks for saving our skin back there," Chris said. "Or my daughter's skin."

"He was a bit fierce," Jody said, quietly, even though the man had already left. She wanted to say that his gruffness reminded her of her grandfather, but she didn't want to sound lonely, desperate for a chat.

Marie grinned up at her as she plucked another raspberry from the top of her vanilla tart and ate it. Jody felt it like a punch.

"We've learnt our lesson. Haven't we, Marie?" Chris said.

"What?" Marie said.

Chris raised his eyebrows at Jody. "Maybe not."

Jody smiled again and looked down at her lemon meringue. It was untouched and keeping her here. Her ex would laugh at her, speaking with people in public like this. It was so unlike her.

"Ask me another question, Daddy, about the paintings," Marie said. "Another question about what I saw."

He finished his mouthful. "Do you remember the lady with the book? What was the color of her skirt?"

Marie flung her head back to face the ceiling, then slurped hard on her shake and kicked the back of her sneakers against the legs of her chair. "The skirt?" she said.


Jody cupped her hand around the girl's ear and whispered, "gold."

"Gold!" Marie said.

"Yes." Chris smiled at Jody. "Saved again."

Jody already had him in her bed. He was asleep. The length of him swathed in a white sheet. The silvery light from the Caillebotte came through the window onto the bed, because they were in Paris, on a Rainy Day in 1877, almost one hundred and forty years ago.

Now, Jody glanced at her watch, as if she had somewhere to be.

"Can I get you a coffee?" Chris said, indicating her lemon meringue. "To go with your pie?"

She was more Eurydice wounded than the reader interrupted and he could not have worked that out yet, but if he spent time with her he would come to know this as an irredeemable fact.

In that bed, in Paris, bathed in light that was shifting to lilac as the afternoon darkened, he opened his eyes and said, "The day I met you. I thought you were different than who you are."

She dropped her book to look at him or, more likely, took her foot and studied the bite there. "Yes, I am different," she said.

Now, Jody pulled the plate holding the pie closer to her. "I should probably get this to go."

"It will get crushed," Chris said.

She looked over at him. She might as well have been standing on a precipice.

"It's perfect," he said. "You wouldn't want it to be ruined before you even get to eat it."

Or perhaps, he held out his hand and she took it and let him pull her down to the bed and into his arms. She lay beside him, against him, joined to him all the way along, from her forehead to her feet. She breathed in his skin. We are here. Paint us here.

"You're right," Jody said. "A coffee would be lovely. Thank you."

He smiled at her and seemed to take his time with it, exquisite, slow, as if they had all day. He went to the counter. Marie slurped loudly on her shake and laughed around the straw. The bitter and sweet meringue waited before Jody in all of its perfection.

BIO: Melissa Goode's work has appeared in Best Australian Short Stories, Pithead Chapel, New World Writing, Cleaver Magazine, Jellyfish Review, and Gravel among others. She has been a featured writer in Bang! One of her short stories has been made into a film by the production company, Jungle. She lives in Australia.