Life must go on, we all agreed on that. We can’t live in fear. So we decided, yes–the kids would attend their Sunday morning tennis class, and yes–we would meet at the Café Ourcq, like always. But when we got there we didn’t enter, just huddled together like pigeons in the grey morning, our gloved hands tucked under our armpits.
Only a handful of other people were on the street, maybe three or four. They looked normal, as far as we could tell. They moved warily; heads turning right and left as they pulled shopping caddies, carried baguettes. A few cars were on the road, driving neither slow nor fast, as if they hoped nobody would notice them. Except for the quiet, the dearth of people, the reluctant cars, it was normal. It was normal. One of us said, should we go inside? And we thought inside would be even more normal, so we did.
Our usual table was by the plate glass window. We drifted over toward it, then stopped. Had we really sat there only last week, our eggshell-brittle bodies so casually bared? We glanced around the café, pretending we weren’t looking for emergency sortie signs, assessing the bullet-shielding potential of the café’s zinc-topped oak bar, trying to remember whether the bathroom had windows and whether our hips would fit; thinking about what those people, those poor, poor people, must have–
One of us laughed. Not out loud, not with mirth, it was just a shimmer of air, but we recognized it all the same. We were being paranoid, weren’t we? It’s probably safer now than before, someone said, and the rest of us fell on this. The streets are crawling with police. The guy must be long gone by now. I heard he was seen in Belgium. Turkey is what I heard. We’ve got to live, right? We can’t not live, that’s what they want. We’ll be okay. It’s fine. We’re fine.
We slid into our usual seats, ordered our usual drinks, and continued to plead with each other, blinking violent imaginings from our eyes, refusing to notice that we were perched on the edge of our chairs, ready to flee.
Barbara Diggs is an American writer in Paris, France. Her flash fiction has appeared in numerous publications, including Lunate Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, Reflex Fiction, Spelk, and 100 Word Story, among others. Her story “sometimes you walk right in” was shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award, February 2021. She is also the author of three non-fiction history books for middle-schoolers. Come chat with her on Twitter at @bdiggswrites.