At eight I boiled water in a pot on the stove while Savannah had her breakfast in the corner of the bedroom. Since it was cool in the morning I had the window to the street open. The honking and engine noises bouncing around the room created an irritating cacophony, but without the window open there was no source of ventilation.
Because it was down the plateau and outside the walls of center Angoulême, the hotel Appart’city was one of the cheaper places to stay.
Savannah and I had been there three days. A few days before arriving I was notified by my bank that my debit card had been compromised and, in turn, deactivated. New cards were being sent to the hotel so there was no choice but to wait for the cards to arrive.
After I finished my coffee I put my laptop in my backpack and we headed down to the lobby.
“Did the cards arrive?” I asked.
The head receptionist was blonde and pretty and had a long, broad nose and wide, narrow glasses that I never understood the appeal of. She smiled as a practiced gesture and was curt and showed no genuine concern about my cards.
“No. Does that mean you’ll be staying another night?”
The cards were overnighted and should have arrived already. I was beginning to suspect the receptionist was keeping my cards from me just to rack up the bill. A paranoid thought if I ever had one, but the receptionist’s cold demeanor only facilitated those delusions.
“Unless the card comes tomorrow morning.”
The receptionist nodded then resumed some dispassionate and serious paperwork that demanded her attention.
With Savannah leading on the leash, I went out the front door then turned left and walked uphill towards a set of steps across the street. At the steps I let Savannah off leash. She ran up the steps and onto the grass above them.
Far above us were the ramparts separating center Angoulême from the valley below it. There were streets to the center, but the most picturesque way was to follow the paths which zig-zagged through parks and greenery to the top.
I walked that part of the path slowly. I was always alone on it unless children were on their way to school. The birds were loud and the traffic noises were dampened by our distance from the streets and the trees separating us from them.
At the highest path Savannah trotted along the grass closest to the ramparts.
Sometimes I’d hear voices above me and I’d looked up to the ramparts and see people peering down at me. Other times the voices came from tourists looking out over the valley. Once the voices were soft and came from a girl running her fingers through a boy’s hair.
Soon Savannah and I took a walkway up so we were inside the fortified area of Angoulême. The view of the valley was mostly blocked by trees but through occasional clearings I could see red-tile roofs spread across the French countryside.
On the opposite side of Angoulême was a café which I’d grown accustom to. The coffee was strong and the waitress always set a bowl of water out for Savannah. I made it a point to take a long path to the café so I’d see more of the city.
Each street was a new face of Angoulême. Even walking down the same street in the opposite direction could reveal new wrinkles.
The shudders are what I enjoyed most. They fit the windows perfectly and when drawn the homes had the smooth, singular facade of fortresses. Sometimes in the morning I’d catch a person leaning out their window latching the shudders to their open position. Then by mid-morning the streets would be four stories of outstretched shudders that altogether looked like the resting place for a migration of tremendous square butterflies.
After a while of wandering Savannah and I arrived at the café. Like everyone else, I sat facing the street. Across the street was a covered market whose constant flow of people made for pleasant people watching.
I sipped my second coffee of the day while I wrote and Savannah rested beneath my chair. People drew on cigarettes and tapped the ash into ashtrays.
Once my cup was empty I sat a few coins on the table and walked to the tourist center down the street.
My debit cards weren’t the only thing I was having trouble getting a hold of. My friend at Brooks Running had sent a pair of shoes to my home in New Jersey and my parents had forwarded those shoes to a small town twenty-five miles north of Angoulême.
I arrived in that small town, Verteuil-Sur-Charente, on a Friday evening and camped there overnight to get to the post office when it opened first thing Saturday morning. But when I went to the post office Saturday morning it was closed. Apparently, the worker was sick. There was a flow of locals approaching the post office door, shrugging, then walking away.
Anyway, for reasons too complicated to get into, I couldn’t stay in Verteuil until the post office reopened Tuesday. So now I was in Angoulême trying to find a way to my new shoes.
In the tourist office I was speaking with a girl who had the same wide glasses as the receptionist in my hotel. The glasses fit her face better because it was round as opposed to long. The girl was young, maybe nineteen and not much help at all.
“There’s no bus to Verteuil, but there’s a bus to Ruffec in the morning. But from Ruffec there’s no bus to Verteuil and the bus only runs in the morning so you’d have to stay overnight in Ruffec.”
“That won’t work.”
Leaving in the morning and staying overnight would mean leaving Savannah alone in the hotel room for an entire day.
“Maybe you can take a taxi from here?” the girl suggested.
“A taxi is eighty euros.”
The girl nodded. “Too much.”
“Is there a bike rental here?”
“There’s no bike rental in Angoulême, but you can take a bus fifteen minutes south and there’s a town there with bike rentals.”
“How much is the bike rental?”
The girl spread out a brochure.
It was forty-five euro for the day. With the bus I’d spend fifty-five euro, more than what it would cost to have another pair of shoes shipped from America.
“I’m sorry. There’s no easy ways to these little towns in the country.”
“It’s my fault. I should have shipped the package to a larger town. Could you call the post office there and see if they could mail it to Angoulême?”
The girl looked at my blankly, as though the request to call someone held for her the fear it holds for kids still taken care of by their parents. She called to her manager, a middle age woman with a scarf and a short haircut and very pleasant and alive eyes and who appeared to me exceedingly French.
I explained my situation to the manager and she gladly called the post office in Verteuil. After a few minutes she told me what was said.
“They’ll ship the package to Ruffec and hopefully the post in Ruffec will ship it here, but they weren’t sure if it’s allowed.”
“But it sounded promising?”
“It does. I think you’ll have them tomorrow.”
“Oh man, that would be so nice. Thank you for all your help.”
Leaving the tourist office it was nearly noon and the sun was reaching its epoch. After all the walking around in the morning I thought it’d be nice to return to our room. The sky was blue and the sun was exposed and though it wasn’t the sun of north Africa or southern Spain it was still a hard sun because it was one of the first summer suns after the winter.
But before returning to the room I wanted lunch. Savannah and I went to a bakery I knew was good because there was always a line. I bought a chicken and egg sandwich on a baguette then we made our way back down the hill to our hotel room.
We stayed there with the window closed until six. At six I put my camera in my backpack and went down to the lobby.
“Any cards?” I asked the receptionist.
Up the hill and at the steps at the bottom of the trail to center Angoulême I once again let Savannah off leash. We climbed to the cobblestone streets inside the wall and I withdrew my camera.
The sun was low so the lighting was soft and made the white stone buildings glow orange and red. I hoped to catch someone extending from their open window drawing in their shudders for the night but I never came across anyone doing that.
Savannah and I wandered to city hall where there was a large green space. I laid out on the grass there and so did Savannah. On a bench near us was a young couple and their little girl who was walking and stumbling on the lawn. The little girl wore a white and blue striped shirt and looked like a tiny sailor.
A group of teenagers were let out from something and for a while the area was raucous with their conversations but then they were gone and it was only me and Savannah and the married couple and their little girl.
When the married couple and their little sailor left it was only me and Savannah on the lawn.
The sunset was two hours long. It wasn’t until nine-thirty that the sun reached the horizon.
After the sun had set we walked slowly in the park below the ramparts. It was quiet for a city.
I thought about my death and how it would approach unseen and unexpected like a breeze. And I thought how no matter what I did there wasn’t a thing I could bring with me, not even my memories.
The thought of all that relaxed me.
Nothing great was accomplished that day, but I had lived and that was enough.