Monsieur Pierrot Grimauld gazes at his precious painting, which hangs opposite him in the dining room. The richness of the deep greens and browns draw his eye in, every time he looks up. He misses that place so much that he finds himself close to tears every time. Shifting in his seat, he pulls out his spotless but worn out handkerchief and mops his brow.
“You would think, my dear, I would be used to these temperatures by now, wouldn’t you? But no. The constitution of poor old Pierrot Grimauld continues to be one which abhors the heat, non?”
The painting hangs on his every word.
“Ahh,” he waggles a finger at it, “I should get rid of you! Rid, rid of you. What do you say?” he cocks his head and waits. “Nothing to say? Nothing? Well, we’ll just have to wait then, won’t we?”
Pushing himself up from the table, he takes his plate and glass to the sink. “Hello sponge, did you miss me? Haven’t seen you since breakfast. Breakfast, eh, can you believe it? That’s a long time ago, almost four whole hours! Are you well?” he scrubs the front and back of the plate, which had only held a few dates and a slice of bread and cheese.
The sponge flops out of his hand.
“Look here now!” he picks it up and gives it a tremendous squeeze so all the excess water runs out, “I have no time for complaints. Scrubbing is your job, and I can’t have you slacking, see? No slacking, do you hear me?” Another great squeeze.
After drying the plate and glass, he sets them on the narrow shelf above the sink, wipes his hands and hangs the dishcloth neatly over the back of the chair.
“It is time to go, isn’t it?” In three short steps, he’s at his bedside. “There you are,” he says pulling the thin, dark cover off his sleeping palette and wrapping it around his head and shoulders, “No lying about for you, my friend, see? There’s work to be done. Yes, work I say, understand?” taking a careful look in the mirror, he adjusts the shroud so it covers enough of his face and goatee, to where he won’t be recognizable. Then he nods. The scar across his neck is also well hidden.
Two steps to the door, where, out of habit, he turns to survey the room. Everything is as it should be, nothing out of place, nothing incriminating. Like the reflection in the mirror, no one would suspect it’s his. With a small grunt, he opens and closes his door, slipping through it as fast as a blink.
Once in the narrow alley, he lets himself get swallowed up by the throng of merchants and market-goers, becoming one of them in an instant. The change in his carriage and gait is remarkable as he blends in, like a human chameleon.
“Good morning,” he bobs his head and points two fingers to the thick-skinned melons. He is careful to keep his hands well covered with the tassels of the shroud. He refuses to speak too many words, as his Qatabese is not as good as it should be to pass off as a local, although his skin and eyes are dark enough.
The merchant gives him one, with a tiny shake of his head. Grimauld nods, and hands over two coins. Not waiting for change, he walks off, melting into the throng once more. Twice around the market place, then once across the center of it, and with practiced ease, slopes off into another darkened alley.
You have become the master of deceit, haven’t you, Pierrot? He chuckles to himself without a sound.
Deeper and deeper into the alley he goes. It’s like a rabbit warren down here, scores of little homes and hovels all pressed together like toes into tight shoes. But he never stops. Zigzagging, he steps over sleeping dogs and stinking debris, walks up crooked steps and down steep inclines with no steps. At one point, and without pausing, he ducks under a low archway and comes to a stop before a dilapidated wooden door. The door is protected by a once-ornate iron gate, which is now covered in rust.
He knocks three times. Pauses. Then knocks four more times. On the last knock, he grazes his knuckles down between the bars of the gate, making a low rumbling sound across the worn and chipped wood. Then he steps back.
He waits about five minutes. He’s not upset. He doesn’t knock again, but instead, hums a little ditty in the back of his throat, wiping sweat off his brow every minute or so.
“Did you bring it?” a disembodied voice floats down from behind him.
He knows it comes from a crack in the tiny peep window by the door, but he doesn’t look up nor turn toward the door. “I did,” he replies staring at his feet.
“Pass it through, then,” snaps the woman.
“No. I need to speak to her first, understand?”
“No speaking. Not today. Pass it through.”
“No,” Grimauld growls.
It’s a standoff. He knows she needs it yet he also knows how obtuse this woman can be. He won’t give in. Neither will she.
From deep inside the dwelling, he hears a muffled exchange. One of them is hers! Still he doesn’t budge. Doesn’t even gesture the fact that he’s heard her.
“Pierrot…” the whisper is faint but so recognizable, “C’est toi?”
“Oui.” He nods without turning. He knows he must not look, but, oh, he is so tempted. “How are you? You are well?”
“Do you need anything?”
“Are they treating you well?”
For a moment he is lost in the memories, like flashing pictures in the back of his mind; pictures of another time, of another place where Elise ran wild in the never-ending green gardens — the gardens of that painting — chasing butterflies, and playing badminton or croquet. Elise sitting in a regal room, robed from head to toe in sparkling jewels and fine silks, surrounded by ageless finery and at her feet on a little ottoman, a small, chubby boy — her shadow — staring up at her.
“Pierrot…” her voice falters.
He shakes his head. No use getting stuck in the past, “Yes, yes – sorry I was day dreaming.
“Pierrot… Can you …”
But sibilant shushing cuts her short, and the woman demands, “Pass it through now. You have spoken.”
With a sigh, Grimauld wipes his forehead one more time, folds his threadbare handkerchief and returns it to the pocket of his equally well-worn trousers before pushing himself up. “Here it is,” and looking away from the window he passes up the melon, which just fits through the bars.