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Blue Smoke

The Orphan of Père-Lachaise

     Papa stands tall and lanky and commands the stage like a champ. His presence on stage is a masterclass in confidence, humor, and human manipulation. I watch him sway his pocket watch back and forth on stage, weaving his subjects into his control. I too am mesmerized by my father's every move, but not by the watch, but by his magnetism as a showman. I’m careful not to gaze at the swaying watch for too long and go under myself - that’s happened too many times before. He’s doing incredible things; he removes the ability for some to speak, he makes others bark whenever someone says “merci,” while others tap dance whenever they hear applause. I never get tired of watching his power.
     Every evening, I sit alone and occupy my front row seat, sketchbook in hand, meticulously capturing my father's mastery over his subjects in vivid hues and intricate lines. Each drawing unfolds a narrative of the night, immortalizing the nuances of every person’s expression and movement in rich detail. I often get strange looks from adults sitting around me, wondering why a twelve-year-old boy sits alone drawing the unfolding scene on stage. I let them wonder.
    In the midst of his performance, Papa's eyes catch mine. He slips me a smile, accompanied by a sly wink. In that fleeting exchange, my smile blooms, warmed by his love and the knowledge that one day, I too will become a master artist, and maybe even a showman like Papa and learn his enigmatic expertise in human manipulation.
    The show closes and Papa takes his bow. I leap off my seat, clapping enthusiastically. “Bravo! Bravo!” I scream.
    Papa jumps off the stage and lands before me. “How did I do tonight mon Petite Lapin.” I love it when he calls me his Little Rabbit.
    I jump into his arms, “Magnifique Papa! Magnifique! I love the new thing you added when you made that lady wash her hands after she touches money. That was so funny Papa…so funny! What a crowd tonight too - une nuit au paradis! I wish Maman would come. Life would be perfect if she were here.”
    Papa sighs, "I know, Yves, but she’s a very busy woman."
    "I just wish she could spend just a little time with us. I begged her yesterday. She told me what she always tells me.” I mock her voice as I rock my head side to side, “I’m a very busy business woman and I have lots of important events I must attend to support my position in the community, blah, blah! She never listens to what I want."
     Papa kneels on the floor to talk to me face to face, “Maybe it's not that she doesn't listen, Yves. Maybe she wants to give you a magnificent manor to live in and you know, she likes nice things. Maybe she wants to afford sending you to that fancy art school you attend."
     "Papa, I don't care about the house or the money. That’s all Maman cares about, and - I finger quote her  ‘social status.’ That’s more important than me.”
     Papa kisses my forehead. "That's not true. Your maman loves you. She just has a different way of showing it. Hey, mon Petite Lapin, she’s coming with us to your art exhibition next week, isn’t she?"
     “She’s only coming because it’s at the Musée de Louvre? They’ll be journalist, art critics and photographers. Maman can’t pass that up!”
     “Now don’t be a silly rabbit. Of course she would come even without them. Are you hungry? Let’s find a patisserie and grab a pastry and you can show me tonight’s sketches.”
    My gaze rises from my shoes to the heavens as my grin reincarnates itself. Papa has done it again - once more he fills the dark shadows of my sorrow with his magic of happiness all through me without even using his hypnotic watch.

Chapter One
The Watch
Scene 1: The Prodigy

     My school, The Paris Conservatory for the Artistically Gifted, is like a hidden treasure tucked inside the majestic Musée de Pompidou Centre - Paris’ museum of modern art. Our conservatory isn’t huge, just a bunch of us kids with a knack for creating art that makes grown-ups' jaws drop. Sculpting, painting, you name it - we're like an army of creative wizards. To get in here, you gotta be seriously good. Trust me, you've got to be the crème de la crème of young European artists to step into this place.
    Now, picture this: I'm standing on the edge of something huge. No, not the Eiffel Tower. Bigger. I'm talking about our school’s Annual Young Talented Artists Exhibition and Art Show at the Musée de Louvre. Guess who's the featured artist? BAM! Yup, that's right, it's yours truly. My dad, he's beaming like a spotlight, and I can't blame him. This is like the World Cup of art exhibits for a kid like me. It’s kind of a big deal in Paris; dignitaries, artists, and artistic critiques scour our work intently to see Europe’s upcoming talent. I’m even giving a speech to the audience and let me tell you my stomach is doing some serious gymnastics.
    I’m standing backstage before I walk out and Papa does his thing and hypnotizes me to help me. He rocks his watch, whispers some secret words and instantly I'm feeling like a pro. I step on stage in front of the Europe’s art critics and move to the mic. My heart is doing the cha-cha, and I start talking and explain my techniques and meanings behind my creations.
What?!? People stand up and start clapping, like really clapping and everything! I sneak a peek at my dad. We share this secret, proud smile and I wink. It's like we've got our own little club, just me and him.
    I jump off the stage, landing right in front of him. “So, how did I do, Papa? Was I Okay?”
  Papa gives me this huge grin, like he's bursting with joy. “Bravo, my boy! Bravo! Yves, your speech brought tears to my eyes, and, oh, you won't believe what I heard. I was, uh, 'Yves dropping' on people as they examined your paintings. The man wearing the turquoise scarf, who sat on the front row of your speech, well, he's the Picasso of art critics. He’s the critic for Le Parisian Art magazine. He stared at one painting for twenty minutes. You know what I heard him say aloud? ‘Le petite maître.’ Oui monsieur, you heard me right! He called you the little master!”
    I punch Papa’s arm and chuckle, “Come on, Papa, don't tease me like that. I'm just le Petit Lapin. No way he said that.”
    Papa nods his head, smiling with me. “I swear on the heart of Claude Monet. I will not lie to my son.” Then we play this guessing game, before Papa tells me what’s up. “Guess which painting had him all hooked Yves?”
    “Trance en Rouge?”
    Papa shakes his head, a grin playing on his lips. “Close, but not quite.”
    “Hmm? Surrender…maybe? That's gotta be it!” I practically shout, feeling the excitement bubbling up.
    Papa's eyes twinkle. “Not Surrender, mon cheri. It was Whispers of the Mind.”
    My jaw practically drops to my shoes, my chin quivers, my eyes swell with moisture. “No way! Seriously? Oh, wow!” My heart's going a million kilometers an hour and I can't wipe this goofy grin off my face. Never has my spirit been so light, like 10,000 butterflies lift me and carry me on their wings through the sky. I wrap my arms around Papa as he wipes the tears rolling down my cheeks. “I even think Maman might be proud…if she were here.”

Scene 2: The Exhibition
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