Marva Dobbs loved the rentrée. She loved the way the French spoke of the end of summer as a reentry. Like a high-flying space voyager reentering the earth’s atmosphere. After the intoxicating pleasures of a month-long vacation, the whole country was supposed to return to practical everydayness. Back to school, back to business, back to reality. From summery hedonism to autumnal seriousness. The unofficial start of the rentrée was the first Monday in September, like Labor Day in the United States of America, the country Marva had abandoned four decades earlier. But while Labor Day Weekend was a three-day holiday, the rentrée was a three-week mini-season. Early rentrée was the last week of August. Late rentrée was the middle of September. French people even wished each other a “bonne rentrée.” Have a good reentry: sort of like saying “happy end of holidays.” For Marva, there was something festive about this time of year, the collective sentiment that it was time to get back to work.
Marva was rentrée-ing early this year. Following the habit of the past thirty-nine summers, she had spent most of August in Brittany, with the family of her husband, Loïc Rose. As usual, she’d had a pleasant time, sailing along the rocky shores of France’s northwestern coast, drinking white wine and eating juicy langoustines—those tiny, needle-clawed crayfish that were a Breton spécialité—and going for long walks across the dramatic cliffs, arm in arm with the man she had loved for two-thirds of her life. Loïc would have been happy to stay in Bretagne, as they often did, until after the first weekend in September. But Marva insisted on a somewhat premature return. Because, through all those pleasant walks and meals, during all the engaging conversations she had had with Loïc and his—after thirty-nine years it was really their—relatives, Marva had been thinking incessantly, obsessively, about one person: her young lover back in Paris, Hassan Mekachera.
Monday, August 27, 2001. The Boulevard Saint-Germain still had its sleepy, late summer feeling. There were couples and clusters of tourists wandering up and down the broad avenue but not much traffic. Many of the classy fashion and furniture shops were closed. The hustle-bustle that energized this main artery of the Left Bank most of the year was, for Marva, eerily absent. Like much of Paris in the dying days of summer, the Boulevard Saint-Germain had a half-deserted air about it. Lots of visitors, but precious few residents. As she walked to the garage that housed her silver Audi, Marva savored the unfamiliar stillness of the street. She felt a funny, illicit thrill to be breaking with her routine. She saw the surprise in the eyes of the fat and sweaty garage attendant, imprisoned in his little cubicle, behind the clear plastic wall, when Marva showed up a week ahead of schedule. Being a Parisian, he was far too discreet to inquire as to why she had returned unexpectedly from her summer vacation. He just nodded and said, “Bonjour, madame.”
Copyright © 2006 by Jake Lamar