Montmartre, XVIIIe arrondissement, Paris, République française, 3 September, 07:22 hrs + 2 GMT
Max sat at the little, rickety table in the kitchen of his tiny apartment. The remnants of breakfast, buttered toast, a glass of water and a few stray paper napkins shared the space with the parts from his old, non digital camera. Batteries were hard to come by these days and his little digital camera died a few weeks back. Now he packed his first camera, with no flash or power lenses, backed by a half a dozen one shot tourist cameras he snatched from the local shops at rock bottom prices. Using film instead of memory cards meant it took longer for the pictures to reach the newspapers, but he had enough to fill entire libraries. He didn’t had to travel far to take his picture. Paris was now on the front lines. Artillery shells struck the east and south of the city at all hours. Ballistic missiles hit at random, although Montmartre had been spared, for now. All he had to do was walked pass abandoned homes and nightclubs, past empty churches and down the streets to the city proper and within minutes he would come across the signs of war. A demolished building here, a rubble filled street there, a raging fire somewhere in the distance. And when his eyes failed, the sound of wailing sirens and the smell of smoke always led him to the latest scene of carnage.
A cool breeze blew through the balcony double doors. A broom rested against the door frame its bristles stained with ash. Collette came into the kitchen wearing one of his old shirts. She kissed him on the cheek on her way to the stove. A few minutes later she cleared away the table.
“Tea?” she asked.
“Sure,” said Max.
He took a sip and got back to work on the lens mount. The less he thought about their situation the better. And the situation was strange. At some point he invited her into his little artisan apartment, yet he slept in the couch. She made him breakfast and wore his shirts but their physical contact never went past the occasional good morning kiss. He knew she was what the Army called a “sensitive”, someone who could read and influence the emotional state of others. He knew and felt guilty for keeping her near him, like a vampire feeding on her ability to cheer him up in these horrific times.
He looked up and gazed into her blue eyes. Max knew that he could no longer abuse their relationship like this.
“We need to talk,” he said.
She rested her chin on steepled hands, “We do?”
“Us? I didn’t know there was an us? I mean if there was an us, then you would have noticed I left the door open last night, and the night before or that I’m wearing your shirts and nothing else.”
He had noticed her firm athletic legs, how the shirt sort tucked in under bottom.
“Yes, I noticed which is the problem. I know what you are. This thing, this…I don’t what to call it… aura…maybe? I’ve been relying on it to keep me sane. I’ve abused your trust and I am sorry.”
A stray tabby jumped from balcony into the kitchen. It meowed once, the climbed into Collette’s lap. She stroked its fur with long fingers.
“I told you that I wanted to be vet. The reason for it is that animals have feelings but they are not quite human. It is easier to deal with them than with human emotions. It’s like floating in the middle of the pond. Every new mind creates ripples until it turns into a raging sea with waves crashing against each other, crashing against me. I managed to control it without losing myself in the emotions of other or violating their emotional…integrity.”
“If its so hard, why become a doctor, of I mean.”
“For selfish reasons, I guess. If I could soothe the pain of others then it made it easier on me.”
“But doesn’t that mean putting yourself in the middle of other people’s emotional turmoil?”
“You can’t escape it unless you want to become a hermit or something. No, better deal with the problem head on. The thing is there is something worst than the pain of the living.”
She nodded, “The silence of the dead. When someone dies there is an emptiness, a cold void. They are gone. Whatever they were a second before, a lifetime before it disappears…just gone.” She blinked away the tears. “I have needs to Max. I know you love me. You are not abusing me. I need someone who is sane, who cares, who hasn’t fallen apart. I need someone who respects me, who loves me.”
“Do I love you, or am I simply feeling what you feel for me?”
“Do you trust me?”
“Close your eyes.”
Max close his eyes.
“Leaned forward, just a bit.”
He leaned in with his eyes close. First they brushed lips. He felt his cold, hungry, as if he very essence was being drained. The second kiss full embrace of the lips. A ranging fire flooded him. He reached out and cupped her cheeks in his hands. Max trembled as his passion clashed into hers. He felt her, her whole being and he knew she felt the same. She pulled back and the hunger returned with a vengeance. He opened his eyes and she was gone. She called him from the bedroom.
“The door is open.”
He hurried up to close it behind him.