From Dallas Doctor’s collection of short stories “How to Organize and Orgy & Other Stories” (Pages 3-5):
The Empty Steps
By Dallas Doctor
“Here Friend, take a look at this rather unremarkable photo,” the old man pulled a faded photograph out of his wallet, “it’s the Farmer’s Market on the Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris. That’s what it looks like when the market’s closed and there’s no one around. I took this picture just after dawn on a Sunday morning. It would’ve been a better photo if there were people in it. Let me explain…”
“Mmmm, …” the stranger decided he had a few minutes.
“Ringo and I used to pass this spot most mornings during our first doggie-walk of the day,” the old man explained, “except on the days they were setting up the Farmers’ Market; on those days, we went around.”
“Okay, …” the stranger didn’t see the point of the unremarkable photo. He handed it back.
“That particular morning was a Sunday,” the old man continued, “when Ringo and I passed by about 6:30 am, there was a bicycle parked in front of the shops. Next to the bicycle was an attractive couple, a boy and girl, in their mid-20s, both of them still wearing their fancy-Saturday-night outfits. They were seated on those silver steps. If you look close, you can see the silver steps just on the other side of the poissonnerie. They were laughing and gazing at each other while they shared some-sort-of-breakfasty-something out of a large brown paper bag…”
“Some-sort-of-breakfasty-something?” The stranger checked.
“I couldn’t see exactly what it was,” the old man admitted, ‘but I smiled when I saw them. My heart grew a little lighter. And warmer. I remembered staying up until dawn with someone I’d only just met. I remembered how magical those moments used to be. I almost stopped to talk to them. I wanted to take a photo of the overnight lovers, so I could remind myself what that used to feel like. I took a few steps in their direction. They both looked up, smiling, glowing. I quickly turned and pretended to be nothing more than an old man out walking his dog. I suddenly didn’t want to ruin what they were experiencing by drawing attention to the magic of their moment.”
“Oh, you should have asked them,” the stranger suggested.
“I didn’t want to be rude,” the old man confessed, “that’s what I told myself anyway, but the truth is I was a little embarrassed.”
“Not sure,” the old man wondered, “I guess I chickened out. But as Ringo and I continued along our usual route down to the Seine that morning, I could still hear them laughing. I could still see the light in their faces. But only in my memory, of course. The further we walked away, the more I wished I’d asked to take their photo.”
“They most likely would have let you,” the stranger guessed.
“Maybe,” the old man wondered. “Forty-five minutes later, as our morning ritual was winding down, I intentionally directed Ringo back to the same spot. I promised myself that, if the kids were still there, I would get over my embarrassment and politely ask if I could take their photograph. I definitely wanted to remember that feeling. I didn’t want it to fade away forever.”
“Were they still there?” The stranger asked.
“No. By the time Ringo and I got back, the bicycle was gone, the steps were deserted, and the lovers were getting on with whatever came next in their lives. So I took this photo without them to try to remind myself anyway…”
The old man refolded the photo and returned it to his wallet.
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