Paris was beautiful at night. A man with a red beanie waited just outside the doorway of a small cafe. Beneath the awning of a bookstore across the street stood a woman with a dark blue afghan and a purse to match. A boy was rode his bicycle, pedaling hard to compensate for the weight of his passenger, the girl on the handlebars. The Eiffel Tower cast a long shadow there in the afternoon, but the shadow had long since faded into the darkness of night. Beaming, a fat man with a giant mustache pushed a cart of breads in the light of a crooked street lamp. At least it looked like he was going to. For the moment he was still. In fact, everything was still. The bike didn't move forward, nor fall. The woman at the bookstore tirelessly held up her hand as she waited for a motionless taxi frozen not far from where she stood. It was silent too. Much too silent for a night in one of Earth's greatest cities.
"Do you like it?"
Paul shifted to look at the man just behind his elbow. His pointer finger dropped from where it had rested so long on his lips and helped the rest of his hand straighten his tie, which seemed to be hanging from his neck at an angle again. He didn't dare touch his hair for fear of mussing it. He'd slathered it with enough gel to cement this painting to the gallery wall. He was sure it hadn't moved a millimeter and he didn't want that to change. He'd do best to leave his hands where they were, crossed against his chest now.
"You know, I don't think I do," he said, considering it once more. "Have you ever been to Paris? This is nothing like it. Too quiet."
"Mr. Carson, paintings are always quiet. If you want noise, you've come to the wrong place. May I suggest a French opera house?"
"Very funny. But that's not the kind of noise I'm looking for. This painting could be louder. For example, smoke near the taxi's tires could suggest squealing brakes. If that bread cart looked like it were toppling over, I'm sure I would not only hear the crash, but hear the baker's curses as well. If the woman's mouth were open, I could almost feel the word "taxi" slipping from between her lips."
"That's about as loud as an art gallery will get. So loud that you can almost hear it."
Paul chuckled. "I guess it would have made more sense if our artist had painted the Louvre. Then it would have been perfectly quiet."
"How long will you be staying here in D.C., Mr. Carson."
"I really can't say," Paul said. "There are some things I have to do here, but I'm not sure how long they'll take."
"Why don't you give me a call in a couple of days. I'll keep the offer on the table until you go. If you change your mind about the painting, you know where to find me."
"I don't think I will, but I really appreciate it." He followed the gallery attendant to the door and stopped just before pushing it open. "Oh, and thanks for the tour. It's not very often that I have time to do something like this and it's become a bit of a hobby."
The attendant nodded acknowledgement and watched Paul push through the doors into the open square, the clear blue sky refreshing after that stuffy Parisian twilight.