The smooth, back-and-forth rocking of the carriage bed reminded the man where he was as he woke up in the thin gray light coming in though the train car window. He and the woman had boarded the overnight sleeper higher up in the mountains, at the base of the skiing resort called La Plagne. They had had three days of skiing in fresh snow and blue skies, with hearty mountain lunches of roasted potatoes and melted cheese eaten outdoors on the patio of the lodge, with cold glasses of rose and with the bright yellow sun warming them in the clear mountain air.
The train back to Paris was always less jovial than the train heading out to the ski villages on a Friday night. On the train out, there were people in the aisle-ways drinking bottles of cold beer as they sang songs and joked and watched the lights of the city give way to the dark and gray of the countryside at night. Returning to Paris, in the early morning, pulling into Gare Austerlitz, with the city just coming to life and no-one really wanting to go back to work, you could hear the deep exhales and feel the resignation. The man and the woman were not part of this mourning crowd. They had a few hours to spend in The City before boarding the high-speed train to London.
Looking out the window as the train pulled into the station, the woman smiled gently to the man and her eyes crinkled and she knew they were both thinking about
hot café au lait and breakfast at a marble table on the boulevard near the Gare Du Nord, which is where the high-speed train departed from. The man clutched both suitcases and the two of them stepped down onto the cool, brick platform and made their way through the people and the trolleys with the clacking of shoes and the tin sound of the announcements over the speakers and the steam from the espresso machines and the people staring up at the departure board. Then they were outside in the sun.
It took thirty minutes to get to the Gare du Nord and by the time they got there, the sun shone bright orange on the tall, gray stone facades and it made orange ripples on the tall glass of the entrance of the station. The man and woman crossed the street between the early morning coaches and the large work trucks making deliveries. They turned the corner and went in to the Café La Consigne. They sat indoors at the corner table, where they could look out the glass one way and see the bakeries putting out their awnings and look the other way and see the rushing people dragging trolleys across the street and into the station.
The server brought the breakfast, a small basket with half of a warm baguette, two croissants and a plate of cold butter and a pot of bright raspberry jam. Next to that he poured two steaming bowls of Coffee and topped them from a pot of hot milk. Then the server returned with two short glasses of fresh-pressed orange juice, bright orange with bits of orange floating on the surface. The high-speed train would leave in forty minutes.
“I wish that we could stay right here in this very spot for just one more hour” said the woman.
“There are croissants and coffee in the dining car on the train” said the man as he watched out the window at the station entrance.
“It’s not the same. And it would be broken by moving and walking”
“The view is better on the train with the countryside going by”
“I like the view here. I like the people and the trucks and here the coffee is in nice warm cups and on the train it will be in paper cups and it will be too strong and we’ll be standing at the small café table with no chairs.”
The man sat back in the wicker chair and crossed his legs. “There is a great feeling about sitting back in a chair while you drink good coffee.”
“Like the English do when they take tea” said the woman.
“Only they don’t sit back and relax, they always sit upright. Even the old men standing at the espresso bar in Rome lean on the bar and get more relaxation out of it than the English when they take tea.”
“Leaning on the table in the dining car on the train will not as good as sitting back in these chairs right here while coffee is brought to us.”
The man nodded and uncrossed and re-crossed his legs and sipped from his coffee.
“And…” said the woman. “Let’s not forget the getting up and walking across to the station. That will change everything.”
The man was still nodding and he turned to look at the people hurrying across to the station. “Yes, I suppose it will.”
On the high-speed train, the man and the woman left their luggage on the rack and set down their coats to hold their seats and walked back to the dining car passing men in business suits and women in hats reading magazines. In the dining car, standing at the small café table, which was fastened down to the floor, the man and the woman watched out the window through the mist at the farms passing by. There was frost on the ground in places and the mist and the rows of trees let the sunlight through in clean, straight shafts.
The coffee on the train was strong, and the croissants left a mess of crumbs on the plastic table top and the woman swept them up and into the small metal waste bin that was also fastened to the floor in the corner of the dining car.