Françoise has not changed much in the three years since Mom and I have frequented her art shop. She still has her ballerina-thin figure and still paints cherry-red streaks through her chocolate-brown hair; the contrast is as stark as her customers' paintings, which line the store's entrance hall and make shoppers feel smug about their own art.
At the cash register, when I take out my carte bancaire, Françoise still picks up the phone to call over to the papeterie, shouting for them to bring back the hand-held credit-card processor (the one the two stores have always shared, never mind the inconvenience).
"Moins vingt... moins vingt... moins vingt...." Françoise mumbles, as she tallies up the art supplies. She still gives my mom twenty percent off all items, and then rounds down the total. This morning she even threw in a freebie.
"Those paintbrushes have been discontinued," she said. "I can offer this one to your maman."
To this day, Françoise listens to my mom's English, only to reply in French. Just how the two women can understand each other is high art to me. The paintings which result from their exchanges need not be translated either. They are, like the language barrier the women have overcome, indeed like love itself, transcendent.
* * *
Returning a few years later, Mom and I were shocked to discover that Françoise's shop had closed down. Standing out on the sidewalk, we stared sadly at the handwritten sign in the window; it read "A VENDRE". Our eyes caught on a bold reflection in the window; we turned to discover the bigger, fancier, more deluxe store that had opened across the street....
Unlike Françoise's window, which displayed tubes of paint, brushes, and even a few modest creations of her customers, the competitor's windows were filled with a new rage: "scrapbooking"... ink pads, stamps, glue and tiny cutouts crowded the window.
At the back of the glittery new store, a few paint supplies hung, like the end of a belle époque.
Click here to leave an edit or suggestion in the comments box. Thanks for checking the vocab section, below. Note: the story was originally published without the sad post note (about the shop closing). Do you think the postnote should be included in the book? Or leave off the story with the happy ending?
la toile = canvas
la carte bancaire = credit/debit card
la papeterie = office/school supply store
moins vingt = minus twenty (percent)
la maman = mom
à vendre = for sale
la belle époque = beautiful era