Messenger of Love

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“If you kiss the frog today, 14 February, at 7 pm precisely, someone will ring your doorbell. It will be your Prince Charming.”

When she opened the little parcel a few minutes ago, round about five o’clock, and found the toad in it, her first reaction was one of disgust, then, once her surprise and amazement had vanished, a phase of doubt and anxiety set in. She had always believed in Prince Charming. And in the true-love kiss. If she hadn’t she would have let go of the creature straightaway. But on Valentine’s Day, receiving that kind of missive started her dreaming. She casually placed the amphibian in a damp jar, and went to check her appearance in the bathroom mirror. You never know…

“At 7 pm precisely, today, 14 February, go and ring the doorbell at 26 Rue des Plantes. Prepare to be greeted like a Prince, be charming!”

When he found the message slipped under his door, he thought at first it was a bad joke. He yanked open the door to the landing to see if whoever had brought the message was still around. As soon as he came back in, he wondered who could have been so quick as to push the envelope in without him noticing. Amused, intrigued, and with his curiosity definitely aroused, he racked his brains as to who could possibly be living at 26 Rue des Plantes. He hadn’t the foggiest idea. And he thought it was quite ridiculous, too silly to give it any serious thought. As if he was going to present himself at an unknown address - not far away, true, but unknown, nevertheless - and ring the bell like an imbecile!

6.30 pm

She walked round and round the jar like a pilot-fish. She was watching him out of the corner of her eye. For a moment she wondered if the skin of that toad was poisonous. And dismissed the idea with a wave of the hand. So what else might she imagine? No, but really!

He had a long shower to sort his ideas out. Freshly shaved and pampered. Ready to go out. Yes, so what? I’m still allowed to go out, aren’t I? And what if his steps took him to 26 Rue des Plantes, what then? So? The love-sick prince of the desert, why not?

6.45 pm

A little make-up check? And straight after, she was dying of shame and laughter at the thought she had been preening herself to kiss a frog. Poor girl, really half-witted. And an idiot. And alone, after all that. And a bit mad too.

He was standing in front of his closet wondering if he ought to wear a tie to be ‘greeted like a Prince’.

6.55 pm

The jar was on the central island in her kitchen. She gently caressed the back of the frog, who raised its froggy, lovesick eyes. What if someone really did ring the doorbell?

He went out, talking to himself. “Yes, OK, I’m outside number 26. But out of curiosity, eh? I’m a very inquisitive person and this is a really weird thing, after all. It’s completely unreal, out of the ordinary. Do you think my life’s much fun at the moment, do you? Truthfully? It’s just the daily grind. That’s what life’s all about, isn’t it?”

6.58 pm

The bells of the little local church will be ringing soon. “After all,” she said to herself, “I’ve nothing to lose by kissing this animal. The message is quite clear: that was the condition for something to happen, wasn’t it? The message specifically says ‘if’.”

He was rather excited, like a flea on a dog, and definitely bugged by curiosity, all alone outside that front door with no name on the doorbell. He felt as if he was fifteen. When he went to fetch his first girlfriend from the upstairs flat to take her to the cinema. Flora… he had never forgotten her. There had been others, but Flora outshone them all. First loves last longest… When her diplomat family moved abroad, taking Flora far, so far, away, his heart had stopped beating. Then, quite reasonably, he went on living. What else could he do? But he had never forgotten her.

6.59 pm

She has never been in such a state of expectation since her first date. He was called Pierre. She has the same mental age tonight. About fifteen. Bloody hell, you don’t kiss frogs, for God’s sake!

7.00 pm rings out from the church steeple.

She tells herself she is crazy. And kisses the frog.

The doorbell rings.

The ensuing silence is unbelievable. On either side of the door, two people transfixed have stopped time in its tracks. She shakes her head in helplessness, a smile on her lips at the weird goings-on, the amazing coincidence.

He is all but ready to run away. Yet he is glued to the spot, waiting just to see. Since he has rung the bell now, after all!

And finally, she opens the door, her heart beating violently.

Pierre and Flora are staring at each other. A moment of grace has captured time and here they are in each other’s arms. They recognized each other from the first glance. Unchanged. A mixture of laughter, and the most intense joy, astonishment, completeness, and Love...

From up in her window, on the first floor of 23 Rue des Plantes, an old lady looks down on the scene, watching with a wide triumphant smile a job well done. She has known those two for a long time. She was the caretaker of the apartment block they both lived in with their parents when she first saw them kissing under the stairs. She had been so touched by it that she had cherished the memory to warm her thoughts on the fate of humanity on chillier days.

She must be the only Cupid to have delivered a toad in the whole of creation! She was still laughing about it when they closed the door behind them.

Translated by Wendy Cross


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