Art for Art's Sake
VE Day, 1945. I think it was Jimmy's idea to go to Maxim's. We were in Paris, we were Americans, we'd liberated Europe. Victory was ours. C'mon, let's go live it up, he said, We deserve it. So we went, twelve of us. We'd all been in the front line at some point covering stories, we were alive, we needed to celebrate. There was a rumor Hemingway might show. I was pretty new so I just followed, I was very keen to meet Hemingway. The rest of them were a bunch of hacks I didn't recognize, and a couple of art critics.
So we were getting into the meal, everyone talking at once. I started with escargots, then roast duck. The bottles kept coming. Soon we were all drunk, and people started telling jokes. Hey listen to this one, yelled Jimmy, Which artist has dirty fingers? Why don't you shut it, someone yelled back, You've got a big mouth Jimbo. Everyone jocular, no malice. No seriously, slurred Jimmy, Which artist has dirty fingers? No-one was listening, so Jimmy stood up and yelled, Picasso. There was a moment's silence, then we were on the floor, like it was the funniest thing we'd ever heard.
The meal went on like this for about three hours, by which time everyone had put away at least two bottles of wine. We were toasting dead colleagues, singing songs. A couple of guys had fallen asleep. I was sitting back nursing a glass of cognac smoking a big Havana thinking of the good life, the war over, and we could go home. New era, new world. It was hard to believe.
Someone called for the check. The head waiter arrived, very correct, very respectful. We thanked him. Someone hollered, Vive La France and started singing the Marseillaise, the only one amongst us who knew any proper French, aside from asking for wine or a girl. The check did the rounds, no-one seemed anxious to pull out their wallet. When Jimmy saw it his eyes nearly popped out of his head. He handed it to me without a word. I did the math, recounted, repeated the process, checked the conversion, allowed for zeros. No mistake. $600. More than my life savings. I didn't even have two bucks on me. I'm cleaned out, whispered Jimmy. It turned out we had twenty bucks between us. Everyone thought someone else was going to pay, or else it was on the house because we were Americans and we'd won the war.
When the head waiter found out, he was no longer respectful and correct. An argument ensued, negotiations about washing up all night, calling the police. A couple of waiters entered the fray. Things were getting nasty. Then to cap it all one of the waiters made a remark about how this would never have happened when the Germans were there, the Germans always paid on the spot, they behaved better than the Americans. A scuffle started, one of the guys took a swing at the waiter who swung back, othe r guys trying to break it up, getting into a mix up themselves. Some military police arrived accompanied by two plainclothes officers. Things settled down, everyone straightening their jackets and ties, while we parlayed what to do.
I saw a stocky little guy with dark hair talking to the head waiter. I'd vaguely noticed him, and the broad he was with, no-one else paid them any attention, but they'd been watching us. They were at a table in the far corner, the woman dark and very beautiful like a gypsy. The head waiter listened, nodding, and he gave the little guy a menu. The little guy scribbled something on the card and returned it to the head waiter. The head waiter studied it, then he strolled over to our table, a big sm ile on his face. Gentlemen, he enunciated, The bill is taken care of, you may now leave. Knowing your predicament, Pablo Picasso has produced a drawing for Maxim's in lieu of your payment. He wishes you his warmest compliments. In the subsequent chaos, I looked at the drawing briefly before it was whisked away. First I saw eyebrows and a nose, but when I looked a second time I perceived a pair of buttocks and a pen.
About the author:
Originally from Scotland, Andrew McIntyre lives in San Francisco. Most recently, he has published stories in The Copperfield Review, Outsider Ink, and Mobius.