Olivia was followed by cats all day long even though she was unaware of that fact. She was trying something new, looking for something without trying to. It was proving to be extraordinarily counter-intuitive. It felt like listening to music by covering her ears.
While she had found a pocketful of missing jewelry, three wallets and a set of spectacles, (and returned them, not being a thief) the one item she was looking for, a single key, eluded her. The advice given to her by that novice was not working quite as she hoped. It sounded very wise when she first heard it but theory was sweeter than practice.
Having spent the morning and part of the afternoon wandering the Arrondissement, hunger overtook her and she went to an automated restaurant. It was considered quite modern by some and critics of it felt the same. Each meal was prepared in an exacting manner with precise recipes. If you sat down for a bowl of vegetable soup today and came back one year later and ordered it again, it would taste exactly the same.
This outraged the culinary community from the top of haute to the greasiest of spoons. Protests arose and white tunicked kitchen worker marched in front of this affront to food. Of course this only increased people’s curiosity. That coupled with the fact that many restaurants were closed due to protest related staff shortages, insured that the protests were short lived.
Olivia had to admit that she was curious, and that fact that she could get a meal prepared almost immediately sealed the deal.
There was a queue as you entered that moved through a brass maze, until you came to a large panel with menu, complete with illustrations. You pulled knobs for you selection and then threw a lever. While walking to the cashier, you passed by a large window that showed your meal being prepared by an enormous and intricate machine.
She could not get a real sense of the shape of this automated chef. No, not chef, cook perhaps? It was a tangle of pots, pipes, grills, conveyer belts, spinning spoons, whirring knives, punctuated by gouts of flame and clouds of steam while juggling a parade of ingredients. Entertaining, if bewildering. Even so, when she arrived at the cashier, who was a living person, her croque monsieur and coffee with cream were awaiting her.
Taking her tray, she looked for an empty table. None where entirely so, but quickly she spotted one unoccupied chair in the back. After all finding things was what she did.
Moving quickly, she arrived at the table. Sitting with his back to the wall was a Renard reading a newspaper.
“Pardon Monsieur, is this seat claimed?” she asked.
Looking up, he said, “Only now by you mademoiselle.”
Sitting, she cut a small piece of her sandwich, it was still hot (a good sign) and tasted… Fine. As she chewed, the word that came to her was adequate. The café near her home made a much better croque monsieur with deeper flavor and the edges were close to but never burnt.
“What do you think of the food mademoiselle?”
She looked up to see the Renard regarding her with curious eyes.
“Please pardon me, I don’t wish to intrude on your meal.”
“Not at all,” she said, “It is acceptable…”
The last word hung in the air, despite the clatter of cutlery on plate and the indistinct drone of dozens of conversations.
“Exactly. It is food, but it lacks-“
Extending her hand, she said, “My name is Olivia.”
“And I am Roland. A pleasure to meet you.”
“May I ask you something?”
“Why did you come here?”
“Curiosity. And you?”
“I guess my curiosity was satisfied better than my appetite.”
Roland’s whiskers twitched as he grinned.
“You found the perfect words.”
“That’s usually my cousin Hélène’s thing,” Olivia replied.
“Ah, you’re a finder then,” said Roland.
“A remarkable gift.”
“Sometimes. My Aunt always falls in love with the wrong person.”
“Not like her. I could tell you stories but they would ruin your appetite.”
“Please don’t, right now I have too little to spare. If you don’t mind me asking, what is your thing? Other than finding mediocre lunch,” he said with a smile.
She laughed, and said, “We both did that, but I’m very good a finding lost things.”
“Have you lost anything?”
“Any number of things but at moment I’m looking for answers to questions.”
“Are you a philosopher?”
“Only in way that all that think are, I’m actually a gendarme.”
“You may have missed your calling.”
“Perhaps, but like yourself, I deal with the here and now.”
“It’s all we have really.”
“You also have a metaphysical impulse.”
“I’ll say this, if we were both philosophers, we might not have been able to afford this very average lunch.”
Roland looked at his chronoton and sighed.
“I’m afraid that duty calls. Thank you for making an ordinary meal enjoyable.”
“No, thank you, it was fun meeting you.”
As he pulled on his overcoat, he handed her a card.
“If you ever find yourself in need of aid, you can reach me here.”
“You never know,” she said pocketing the card.
“If we did, how dull would life be?”
With that, he said farewell. Olivia ate her sandwich with little enthusiasm. Roland had left his newspaper so she read that to pass the time. It was filled with the usual, crime, politics (not so different from crime), the Cure-dent de Déant still enlarged for reasons unknown, news from abroad, as well as art and theater reviews. Nothing really of note, until a daguerreotype caught her eye.
Sitting on a post box across the rue a calico narrowed her eyes.