The urge to fulfill one’s desire for a crêpe, in this climate of contagion, was just one of many risks a person could take. A risk that, in another life now, would have been deemed as merely “quotidian.” Noémie remembered that life better than most, she sometimes felt. Maybe that’s why it was easier for her to mark the palpable differences between the past and the present, whereas everyone else seemed to prefer to exist as though no change had occurred at all. Like this crêpe maker before her on the Rue Saint-André des Arts, flaunting his dirty fingernails and grime-coated hands like everyone was still living in a disease-free, mid- to late-twentieth century era. And yet, Noémie had specifically come to this part of town in the hope that, because of the surfeit of tourists that populated it, the business owners in question would be more inclined to crack down on the illusion of sanitary practices (even though, in truth, nothing could ever be sanitary again).
From the moment she approached the crêpe stand, however, she could see that this was clearly not the case. The aging crêpe maker, who looked to be somewhere in his late seventies with those craggy, vein-addled hands, was overt in his lack of care for la santé. Rubbing the back of his hand against his running nose as he moved the rozell with careless abandon, not seeming to pay attention at all to whether or not the batter was being evenly spread on the galettière. Perhaps at that age, it’s true that nothing really matters and people should simply feel lucky that you bothered to show up at all. But Noémie, in comparison to the tourists congregating around the gaping opening where the biligs were placed, was not feeling lucky about his presence. And, just as she thought she might be able to walk away from the stand undetected before the fat, pasty couple in front of her parted to reveal her presence, the crêpe maker called out, “Et pour vous, mademoiselle?”
At least he didn’t call her madame. Then again, at his stage in life, maybe just about every woman appeared to be a “mademoiselle.” Nonetheless, she was momentarily taken in by this “flattery” (even if it was totally appropriate considering her age), frozen in her tracks long enough for the crêpe maker to continue his line of questioning with, “Tu veux la crêpe classique?” She was already irritated that 1) he was quick to dispense with his previous formality and 2) he would presume this about her, that she was so basic and plain as to want nothing more than ham and cheese as her key ingredients. She desired so much more. Specifically, the crêpe végétarienne, with plenty of ginger incorporated into it. And yet, for Noémie to prove that she was no “average” customer (after all, she might not be from Paris, but, at the bare minimum, she was from Rouen instead of the U.S.), she would have to endure letting his dirty hands touch even more ingredients, thereby taking an even greater risk of subjecting herself to whatever disease he was inevitably packing. Because everyone was packing nowadays. There was simply no avoiding it.
Except that, for quite some time, Noémie had managed to. Maybe it had been her “vacuum-sealed” life in Rouen, or the fact that she didn’t much bother to socialize despite being the prime age to do so—twenty-four. Whatever had spared her thus far, she knew part of it was evading places like Paris and people like this crêpe maker. Yet she was obliged to come to town after being hired to do a temps partiel job that she couldn’t refuse. Not if she wanted to save up enough cash to eventually move out of her parents’ abode, which was starting to feel increasingly small the older she got. It was a good thing she had about zero inclination to fuck—or maybe it wasn’t. Because if she had been a bit more sexual, maybe she would have been more motivated to depart from her childhood bedroom once and for all. As of now, the only reason she was experiencing any “pressure” to leave “the nest” was nothing more than a result of the unspoken societal one. Which itself wasn’t even really that strong in France. Not for a “little girl” like her anyway. Indeed, that’s how the crêpe maker was treating her, like some ninny who needed guidance on her order. That was precisely why he didn’t even bother to wait for her to confirm or deny whether she wanted the crêpe classique, just proceeded to make it like the inherent misogynist he was. Because a woman can’t decide much of anything for herself, now can she? Let alone a trifling food order.
As she watched in stunned silence at what was happening—this old man’s beyond microaggression under the guise of being “nice” and “efficient,” but not waiting to hear what she actually wanted—she sort of floated up out of her body so as to look away from the hands that were fondling each component as his dirt resin seeped in like its own unhygienic seasoning. When he was finished, she, as if on autopilot, took the crêpe, wrapped tightly in its paper and napkin cradle, walked a few paces away and tossed it into the nearest trash can. She seethed internally at the waste of time, food and money. But she also thought, Fuck him. If he, or anyone else, believes that just because “this is Paris” I’m going to settle for whatever I’m given, he’s in for a rude awakening. But it wasn’t as rude as the awakening Noémie got over the next few days spent in the city, as she came to find that crêpe makers with dirty hands were a dime a dozen.
And why shouldn’t they be? Everyone had been told to live with things “the way they were now.” That is to say, shit. Sometimes billed as: “the new normal.” Rife with such “reasoning” as, “What can be done?” and “Pandora’s box has been opened and life will never be the same again.” That type of “Surrender Dorothy” thinking that had gotten this world into the pit of hell it was only sinking deeper into. As such, the crêpe makers and everyone else shrugged, “Why bother trying to stave off contagion in any way when, au présent, it was as inevitable as Death?” So yeah, in the end, Noémie ate a crêpe from one of the dirty-handed crêpe makers. Yet at the very least, she could console herself that it was a crêpe végétarienne, as she had originally wanted.