Eighteen-year-old Kansas boy, Clark Bisbee, visits France for the first time. He wanders the streets, looking for something he cannot find. Not alone anyway. Clark saved all the money he made cleaning and helping Mom and Dad. He had ten years to make the trip happen, but now three days into his journey he’s running out of time and cash.
For the ordinarily shy Clark, the France trip excited him. There he was not the tall, lanky boy known mostly in his town for raising prize-winning goats. They’d be just fine for a few days while Clark looked for answers; or at the very least something he recognized. France, in those dreams, was different. At a quiet cafe, Clark finally found help. His parents never believed his stories, but a pretty cafe girl named Sophia did.
“Do you want to be a writer?” asked Sophia, the beautiful dark-haired waitress in broken English. All the women Clark’s seen since coming to France three days ago were beautiful. France itself was near perfect, not at all rude like his parents said it would be. She tells him “My American customers want to follow in the footsteps of Hemingway and tell stories.
“I don’t want to write novels”. Clark tells her; feeling a little desperate as he sips his espresso. “But I do have a story to tell and I need help with the ending.”
“Ooh la la,” Sophia says, landing in a seat across from him. There are no other customers in the small cafe. “Now I’m tres interesse, very interested. Where are you from Clark the Storyteller? Hollywood?”
“West Kansas,” Clark says.
“Clark from West Kansas,” Sophia exclaims. “Are you superman?”
“My last name’s not Kent, it’s Bisbee, and I’m from Goodland, not Smallville,” he states, gazing out the window taking in the beauty of Paris. He liked how the buildings all looked old, except the Eiffel tower, which loomed over the city. The cars looked futuristic and some even flew. He could never get used to that. Clark looks back to Sopha and says. “I did have a superpower, and that is why I’m here. I could take someone’s dreams as my own.”
“Whoa,” Sophia whispers. She’s monitoring her cafe, but it’s still quiet.
“Okay,” Clark admits. “It’s not as cool as it sounds. When I was eight, instead of dreaming about my own dreams, I started to dream in French. I had never been to France. I don’t know the language, but every night I traveled to your country, I lived in a dirty apartment. I was a house cleaner sometimes. Other times I was an artist. If that wasn’t weird enough, my hands weren’t mine, and neither was my reflection. The person looking back at me was an old woman.”
A customer enters the cafe.
“Pardon me.” Sophia jumps out of her chair to attend to a man looking for a coffee and croissant. Clark’s eyes are affixed on the Parisians outside going about their daily business.
An energetic Sophia soon returns to her seat. “So Clark, who is the woman of your dreams? Do you know her name?”
An embarrassed Clark clarifies quickly. “She’s not of my dreams. I’m in hers. Somehow, I hijacked her dreams ten years ago so I could help her, but I was too young. I understood none of it but felt all her pain.”
“You are here to find the woman?” Sophia asks.
“No. I’m sure the woman is dead. After two years, the dreams got longer and weirder until they finally stopped.” Clark says. He continues watching the passing crowds outside hoping he would recognize a face. “She gave me her dreams so I could help her find someone.”
A door opens, and a woman enters with her young daughter. Sophia tells Clark, “I shall return.”
Sophia moves over to the counter like a dancer. The young girl no older than three or four stares at Clark while her mother orders.
When Sophia is finished with the customer, she rushes back to Clark only to find he has left the cafe but has not gotten far. He’s right outside. Sophia knocks on the window to get his attention. Clark, who has only made it halfway across the street, stops and turns around. She motions him to wait for her, and he does. She rushes out the door locking it behind her and putting up the ferme sign.
“Don’t be embarrassed, Clark,” Sophia says to him and interlocks her arm in his. “I will help you solve your mystery. Tell me everything. Who are we looking for?”
Clark is clearly not comfortable with this woman’s affection and closeness, but together they continue down the street.
He explains as they briskly walk, “Something happened to the woman’s son. Something bad. Experiencing her dreams wasn’t like watching a movie. I felt her pain. I was the one walking the streets yelling out Remi. I was cleaning homes, the most disgusting messes you’d ever seen. Dishes piled to the ceiling; floors covered in toys and food and books. No matter how much she cleaned, the place was always a mess. In other dreams, I was painting, but I couldn’t paint the details. The woman was obsessed with finding this boy. She painted herself in a world where the boy never died.”
“Until she did,” Sophia adds grimly.
Clark nods. “There were dreams with air raid sirens going off. Maybe it was a war.”
“Maybe, but they still test those sirens every month. It’s spooky, but it doesn’t actually mean we are getting bombed,” Sophia says as she takes Clark into a book shop. “If this lady sold even a single painting, Phillippe can help you.”
The bookstore was overstocked with books and cats. Inside, Sophia introduced Clark to Phillippe, an older man with a grey beard and dressed in a dark brown suit. She speaks in French to the man, while Clark watches silently. On occasion, Sophia will ask for another detail from him before returning to the conversation with Phillippe.
“You don’t know the woman’s name?” Sophia asks.
“Something with an ‘M’. Clark replies, “Maria, Marie Mary.”
Phillippe looks at Clark and says, “Marie. Marie Leveaux?”
“Possibly,” Clarks says. “It’s been a long time.”
The man leaves the conversation briefly. When he returns, he brings with him a sizeable red art book. He leafs through the pages until hitting upon a photo of an older woman and holds it up for Clark to see. “Marie Leveaux.”
Clark’s mouth drops. “Oh yeah. That’s her. That’s Marie.”
Phillippe says something in French to Sophia.
Sophia translates. “She cleaned houses until she was nearly sixty. Then one day, an art collector changed her life. He saw one of her paintings when he was in her building.
“Ask him about a missing child, or a husband,” Clark tells Sophie. “Remi. Does he know who Remi is?”
She does as asked, but Phillippe shrugs.
“It says the subject of her paintings was the son she lost in an explosion,” He hands the book to Clark. The book is heavy and the words are in French. Clark studies a painting of Marie’s. It is of a young boy sitting in green grass with a straw hat. He points to the book and hands it to Sophie, “It says Remi. Right here. What does this say? This part.”
Sophie leans over and looks at it. “It says that Remi was her inspiration. She needed a way to be with the boy she lost. But you knew that.” Sophie reads the passage in the book to herself. “Oh, nice she lived in Rivoli.”
“Fifty-nine Rivoli,” Phillippe adds.
“What’s at fifty-nine Rivoli?” Clark asks.
“It’s a wonderful place,” Sophia says. She turns to Clark. “For a very long time, it was an abandoned building, but artists took over, and they never gave it back. It’s a museum to not giving up. That’s where her work was discovered.”
Thunder rumbles in the distance. The bookseller picks up a cat. Suddenly the siren’s blare. He urges, “Go now. Before the storm.”
They thank Phillippe and quickly exit the store. As they walk out of the building, Clark looks up to find dark clouds forming over the Eiffel tower.
“We should go somewhere to wait out the storm,” Clark says.
“You’re not in Kansas anymore, Clark,” Sopha pulls him to the sidewalk “That’s not a twister. You need to hurry before you’ve run out of time.”
A car driving down the road honks, and Sophia sees someone she recognizes. “Oh good, my brother’s here,” Sophia exclaims. “He will drive us, but we need to move quickly..”
“How’d your brother know?” Clark says, unable to process the information in real-time. They climb into the tight backseat of Sophia’s brother’s car.
Her brother says something in French. Sophia answers. “The Rivoli museum. We should fly. Driving will take too long.”
The car begins to lift straight into the air.
“Never been in a flying car before,” Clark says not realizing how hard he squeezes Sophia’s hand.
“Don’t think my brother rude, he’s a quiet character,” Sophia tells Clark.
The car lifts ten feet off the ground and moves over traffic. It takes only a few minutes to arrive at their destination.
“Look familiar?” Sophia asks as they step out to the sidewalk. Her brother drives away.
Clark surveys the street. He shakes his head; it doesn’t. So they head into the Rivoli building. Inside they are greeted by walls covered in paintings. Not framed but instead, just on the walls and floor.
“This building was abandoned for years, but artists like Marie took it over, and now thousands come to visit.”
“I think this is the wrong building,” Clark says.
They come to a woman who is covering a wall with a painting of a yellow brick road.
“Marie Levenaux?” Sophia asks. Just as she does a crack of thunder, so tremendous dust falls from the ceiling.
The woman uses her paintbrush to point up the stairs. Sophia and Clark continue through the building. He turns to Sophia. “Why are you helping me?”
“I’m helping Marie. The same as you,” she says. Another thunderstrike.The staircase wobbles.
“Was that an earthquake or thunder?” Clark wonders aloud. Sophia ignores his questions, and they rush up the stairs together. Out of breath and suddenly feeling unstable in the century-old building, they reach the top floor. Many of the lights in the hall have gone out. The hallways are painted with cartoon flowers and black and white sketches of warriors of other cultures. Sophia points out a Superman drawing.
The next boom brings them to their knees. A portion of the staircase tears away just as they step off. Clark watches the debris careen off the lower levels. No light comes in from any window.
“What’s going on?” Clark says.
“You’re coming to an end,” Sophia tells him. “Just hold on a little longer.”
They approach a door at the end of the hall. It has several names scribbled out. One is M. L. Sophia pushes open the door. Unlike the rest of the building, there is no artwork on the walls. A stack of paintings sits on the ground. Another boom.
“I think we’re under attack,” Clark shouts panicked. “We should go before this collapses.”
“It already has,” she says, walking Clark over to the paintings.
The first painting is a portrait of a young boy in a red coat at a park. The paint is wet and when moved it drips off the portrait smearing it. The boy ages in each piece of art; there’s another of the boy, a bit older, playing baseball and then one working on a farm as a young teenager.
“That’s Remi?” Clark asks, ignoring the storm.
“It is,” Sophia says quietly. Almost impossible to hear.
The last painting is of a young man and a dark-haired girl sitting at a cafe. Clark can’t process what he’s looking at. He touches it with his fingers but the paint drips off. His fingers are covered in red and black paint.
Outside, someone calls, “Remi.”
“Go,” Sophia says. “Before it’s too late.”
Clark studies the painting. “Wait, I’m Remi?” He declares. “Have I been him this whole time?”
Sophia nods. “Hurry.”
“Come with me,” Clark says.
“I’ll be fine,” Sophia tells him. “We’ll see each other again.”
Clark leaves the room and runs back down what is left of the stairs. Bricks and roofing fall all around him. He rushes to the front door, but before he can escape, the entire building crumbles around him, the world darkens, his eyes close, and the dream fades.
“Remi,” a woman calls out. It’s a voice he recognizes. There are others calling for him as well. They work to free him from the fallen building. As they near, there are glimmers of light, and after four days, he’s finally awake to see it.
Through the pain, the thirst and the hunger, the young boy in the red coat cries out in the only language he knows, “Je sui là.”
I am here.