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Claire pulled the picture out to compare. Yes, his face looked much older, but still handsome nonetheless, and although his hair was mostly grey now, it was still long and worn back in the same ponytail. A more recent piece about him came from a Montmartre periodical. He taught art classes to special needs children and the article mentioned his habit of sketching in the Place du Tertre in front of Sacré Coeur Basilica on Sundays.
I have special needs, Claire thought. I need to see my father.
How would this work, exactly? She could just show up at his address but that seemed too abrupt and jarring. What would she say to him when he answered the door? She couldn’t understand the telephone system and even if she was able to get a number for him, what if he thought she was a nut case and hung up on her? She invented many excuses, to cover her anxiety. What if he has a wife and children? She couldn’t just spring herself on him and them. No, tomorrow was Sunday and she would go to Montmartre and try to find him there. She walked back to her little hotel clutching print-outs of all the articles.
The next morning, she was up far too early. She had barely slept. She changed clothes several times trying to decide what to wear. She settled for jeans, sneakers and a long-sleeved striped tee shirt, very French chic, and she grabbed her bright yellow rain poncho as the day was overcast with showers threatening.
By the time she reached the Montmartre hill, a drizzle had started. The skies were dark and foreboding but the famous white Sacré Coeur rose like a beacon in the gray sky. She was starving, excited and nauseous all at once. The yellow poncho covered her almost to the ground, keeping everything but her sneakers dry. Up ahead, a little tabac called out to her. She used her few French words to order coffee and a croissant with jam. Biting into the flaky, buttery confection loaded down with strawberry preserves, she just knew that one would not be enough. Her appetite was back. Meals over the past weeks were hit and miss but today a new energy coursed through her. A longing for life. Maybe it was just the city, maybe it was the idea of a father, but she was on fire. She finished one creamy café au lait, deciding whether to have another. How could coffee taste this good?
From her corner window table, she watched the artists scurrying around setting up their easels and samples of their work under umbrellas trying to keep their pastels and water-colours dry. Many threw big plastic sheets over their artwork and waited for the rain to subside. With pure joy she sipped her café and watched the passing parade of students and tourists.
As suddenly as it came, the rain parted. Steam rose up from the cobblestoned streets as the sunshine broke through. First I should see the church and then start the search, she thought. She paid her bill. The garçon gave her a big smile as he saw the generous tip. He looked at her appraisingly. Blonde hair and green eyes, pretty enough, but he could only guess at what lay beneath the poncho. She smiled back at him.