Henriette spied the American tourist coming from a long way off. Later she would remember it as the moment when she knew what she needed to do. In truth, at that moment, all she was aware of was the moment. She rested her head on Félix’s shoulder as they sat on the bench in the back of his pedicab, parked at the curb in front of her kiosk on the Quai Malaquais. His shirt was still damp with sweat and he smelled of mint chewing gum and tobacco and a day of pedaling. It wasn’t unpleasant. It was Félix, and that could never be unpleasant.
They had been laughing, but they were quiet now. It was her favorite part of the day, and she tried to stretch the moment out. Late on summer afternoons, just as she started to think she couldn’t take another insipid tourist, another moment listening to the cars and scooters, another breath of exhaust, Félix would arrive. When she couldn’t stand another hour under the watchful dead-eyed windows of the Louvre across the river that judged her as they separated her from everything she wished she was, he would come to her kiosk and park the bike at the curb and they would climb onto the passenger bench and rest awhile. There, in the shade beneath the pedicab roof, he invented funny stories about passersby and whispered them to her, and she laughed. Above them the canopy of the plane trees was a patchwork of green leaves and blue sky.
Henriette sold oil paintings from the kiosk. Some were her own. Most were not. She sold small canvases that could be rolled to fit in a briefcase or suitcase, convenient for tourists. But she hoped, also, that a few Parisians would prefer original handmade art by an unknown artist over yet another print of a Seurat or Monet or Van Gogh.
The shade of the trees was getting longer, and soon she would pack up, and her kiosk would become just another in the line of shuttered green bookseller boxes along the wall above the Seine. Then Félix would take her in the pedicab and drop her at…