Sometimes I go to the Grand Épicerie, always on a weeknight, always just before closing. The security guard is bored as he passes a wand over my bag. Inside, it is cool. Inside, people still look crisp in the throes of the canicule. Inside, the produce is never off, never wilting, and you can find common American cereal brands at ten times the price alongside smoked salmon flecked with black truffle shavings, and tarte cerise pistache, with its perfectly piped waves of pale green cream and oxblood cherry coulis. The shop floor is hushed. It is my only anecdote to a Tuesday.
I flirt with the 36€ jars of pasta sauce. I scan the labels, tessellated perfectly, on the pyramids of confitures and curds. I pretend I’m the kind of girl who can afford this. Imagining the life that starts with luscious lemon curd slathered into buttery croissants, I wear silk pajama sets and lounge on velvet sofas. Someone else does the dishes. I weigh the petite hunks of morbier shot through with veins of summer truffle in my hands. I take in the wall of the palest rosés, luminescent in the ambient lighting. If no one’s looking, I touch them, lightly stroking the curve of the bottle with my fingertip. The marble floor gleams.
I imagine the dinner parties. Last-minute gatherings executed perfectly. Elegantly off-beat friends—each a different hue of Mary Oliver, Loulou de la Falaise—sitting at my long table draped in white linen, perfectly pristine despite drippy tapered candles. Silver bowls floating flowers. The conversation, scintillating. The apartment, the balcony, the claw-footed tub. The paycheck I would have to pay for it.
Instead I take an apple, a perfect pink lady in full blush, the color of bitten lips. I am the last customer. The vendeuse weighs it for me, and wraps it up in a paper sachet, applying a sticker with precision. When I am done, she does not take out her phone, pick at her nails. No, she sits at her station. She waits, staring out at that great shrine to produce. I’m almost in line to pay when I walk back through those empty aisles tossing Sicilian durum wheat pasta and the ridiculous amatriciana sauce into my basket. I pick the most luscious, leafy basil plant from the display stand. I choose the smallest hunk of parmesan. A Languedoc rosé.
Avez-vous trouvé tout ce que vous cherchez? the checker asks.
She is young. Adding up the totals, her face doesn’t register judgment. Maybe she’s been trained to not to notice the contrast between the items she scans and the total. Maybe she’s already seen it all. The total for pasta, sauce, cheese, a plant, and an apple is 60€.
Oui, I say. Chaque mois, je viens pour un repas exceptionnel.
The words come out automatically, and saying them, they become true. I pay with my credit card, and walk out onto rue des Sèvres, the Lutetian limestone buildings washed rose gold. It’s sunset. It’s summer. It’s a Tuesday in August at eight on the dot and the street is empty, so for once I don’t think about how I’m going to pay for it. I carry the shopping bag in my arms rather than by the handles, breathing in the sweet, peppery scent of fresh basil.