John and Anne walked arm-in-arm along the streets of the XIVème arrondissement in Paris. They had taken a late Eurostar on Friday night and escaped for the weekend, away from the prying eyes of friends and colleagues. Their affair, which had begun with a mastery of deception and subterfuge, was now becoming painfully obvious; even John’s wife had been more inquisitive than usual when he had told her of yet another business trip abroad.
They approached a small flea market which had attracted a considerable crowd. Anne was immediately drawn to the wooden stands selling a variety of old bric-à-brac, vintage board games and small collectibles. Behind them, the merchants – mostly old men chatting loudly among themselves – looked on at their clientele with an expression of Parisian indifference (or was it condescension?) which she found almost moving.
She caught one of the older-looking merchants spreading used postcards on a wooden table. They were decades-old and yellowed out, with the writings invariably faded or smudged; a handwritten sign announced they were for sale (“cinq cartes postales, cinq euros”). The centrepiece was a thick leather binder which held dozens of them in chronological order, dating all the way back to the beginning of the twentieth century. Anne flicked the pages one by one, focusing on a postcard written on Sunday, 21 June 1914.
“This one was sent just before the first World War started,” she told John. “This man is writing to his wife, saying he’ll be home by fall, that work is going well and he can’t wait to see her again. They had no idea what was coming.”
“I wonder what happened to them,” he said, adjusting his demeanour to her somber tone. He already knew better than to joke around when she went all sentimental like that.
The old merchant was now smiling politely at Anne. For a second she pondered buying the postcard; then she put it back, thanking him before stepping away.
After all, it felt wrong to hold the dreams of ghosts in your pocket.