'Emeritus' by Jonathan Trigell

Donald is at the dinner in his honour when the world closes in on him again. When the dignitary he’s been talking to suddenly seems to be mocking him from behind a barbed fork. When all the other faces at the table become flat like paintings, Munch shapes. When he has the familiar but panicky sense that this is a trap. That it was all a trap.

He tries to keep his composure so that they won’t know he has seen through their little plan. Makes his excuse with a squeezed smile and walks slowly towards the bathroom; but past it and out into the Paris air. His hairless old legs move almost at a trot once outside, his flat leather soles slapping the hosed pavement.

The world is clearer when looked at through the eyes of fear. Things are more defined, if not necessarily more accurate. Donald can see at a glance which of the passers-by are in on the plot.

He flattens himself behind a green pill-box newsstand. The trader is handing over brown-paper-bag porn to some someone who hasn’t yet discovered the internet or maybe just likes the smell of paper; they are not informants. When certain he is unwatched by his enemies, Donald dashes for the Metro steps.

A glance at the scrawled-upon wall map tells French-less Donald how the Metro works; Donald has that kind of a mind. He has no destination but escape; any station will do, but the more changes involved, the safer he will be.

The rubber-wheeled carriages are almost silent, unlike the steel screech of the New York subway. Not that Donald often takes the subway anyway. Donald doesn’t latterly stray far from his office and his cork-walled apartment. He wishes he was there now; then fights that effete thought.

Twice he evades the pursuers he sees studying his sweating bald brow and nervous mannerisms by darting through closing train doors at the final moment. Melding rapidly into brisk crowds.

He heads first for the station called ‘La Défense’ but realises that this is exactly what they will expect, so he doubles back, changes again, and emerges at Pigalle.

Even now, in high summer, the evening sky is black as the end of a rat hole. But the bistro on the other side of the street is painted oriental red and Donald suspects that red will ward the plotters away.

Once inside, Donald points at the bottle shared by two young men to order. The wine is red; a good omen. They are not accomplices of his foes: he can sense that from their frictionless smiles. Neither is the waiter who brings the wine.

Donald has lost them. He will be safe here for a while. The euphoria of sanctuary flushes the adrenaline from his veins and leaves Donald soft-toy floppy. Maybe he should try and sleep. If he is lucky, when he wakes, it will be over. The plot will have been called off. At least, this is how it has always happened before.

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