Anna had already seen the Mona Lisa.
She had squeezed through the crowd of admirers to stand closer to the painting and stare into the young woman’s brown eyes. Like so many, Anna wondered what she was thinking about. Was she truly content and happy? Or was it a façade – her smile painted on as a last-minute request?
Anna would have liked to contemplate the mystery more but the crowd was pushing in – especially the old man behind her who wasn’t wearing any deodorant. She slipped out.
Agitated with acute claustrophobia, she loosened the red scarf around her neck, smoothed her matching trench coat and ran her fingers through her dark brown hair to give it a fluff. Now she was examining Antoine-Jean Gros’s painting of Napoleon on the Battlefield of Eylau. She pursed her lips as her eyes honed in on the heap of dead soldiers in the foreground covered with snow.
“Winter’s casualties are always forgotten,” she thought. She then heard light footsteps approach.
“Excusez-moi mademoiselle,” the young man said. He now stood beside her. The first thing she noticed were his chiseled cheekbones. He looked about 25, the same age as her. “I could not help but notice that your eyes are searching for something,” he said in his best English.
Anna didn’t know what to say so she granted him a subdued smile instead. He tilted his head slightly toward her and the bangs of his auburn hair fell over his left brow. He narrowed his eyes as if to search her thoughts. She offered him nothing.
“My name is Jacques,” he said. “My friends and I are going out tonight for apéritifs and dîner in the Left Bank. Perhaps you would like to join us?” He took a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to her. He had written in cursive.
Then he turned and walked away – his brown suede coat slowly swaying with his steps. She watched him adjust his black wool scarf as he turned the corner.
How long had Jacques waited to talk to her and when did he first notice her? Anna was curious. She had forgotten what it was like to be noticed.
Outside the Musée du Louvre, the Paris sky was a cold grey. She folded the piece of paper in half and put it in her left pocket and as she did this she felt an absence on her ring finger.