1 a.m. at the Bistro, with Marc Chagall

“I want to write novels like Chagall paintings – filled with desire and fleeting naked women, dark whimsy, dreams entertained, violin-eating horses and unexpected birds – and such frail, bold, impossible colour – but mostly, bursting with desire and longing.”

Imagine this: You are sitting in the Bistro P. having a glass of red. You are at one of the wooden tables along the wall. You look around. There are perhaps a dozen people left and they are all sitting at wooden tables. You smile. All the tables are wooden. Perhaps, it is after midnight. You’re not sure what time it is. You’re alone at the Bistro. You are often alone at the Bistro.

Marc Chagall comes in and sits at your table, across from you. Inexplicably, even though you have never seen his picture, you know who he is.

“This is a fine establishment,” he says. “It’s warm, and the light is gentle but bright enough to read. And the sound is a din but it is not obtrusive. It is how a café ought to sound.”

You might introduce yourself.

“Are you Russian?” Chagall says.

“I don’t know,” you say.

“Shouldn’t you know where your people come from?”

“I don’t know.”

“Find out about you people,” he says.

He orders a bottle of expensive French wine and you wonder who’s going to pay for it since Chagall died in 1985.

“I dreamed a red horse with a crown of thorns on its head was watching my wife and I make love,” he says “We were inside a massive church but there were stars floating in the air. We were standing in a corner, far away from everything, but the horse could see us.”

Outside, it begins to snow, the flakes drifting past the window, playing in the thin street light. Chagall is intrigued. He shifts his chair so he can see better. “To paint snow and get it right is very difficult,” he says. “I have tried and failed, but now I will paint Adam and Eve in the snow. Do you have a pencil – something so that I can sketch?”

You hand him your Waterman fountain pen – the one you can’t seem to lose.

Chagall removes the cap and starts to sketch on a paper napkin. When one napkin is filled, the waiter, who has been watching, brings a small stack of napkins to the table and soon Chagall has covered half the table. He crosses the border between conscious and subconscious as if it does not exist. The last thing he draws is a soaring office tower with wings. He moves the napkin with the naked couple enfolded in each other’s arms to the bottom right-hand corner, as if they are a less-important afterthought. You stand up and look at the sketch of what will be a painting. Chagall, who is ninety, asks you to help him up onto his chair. He stands on the chair and looks down at the table. “Yes,” he says. “Adam and Eve, in the snow. They have already been expelled from the garden and they are cold because they are without their old friend, God. See how Eve hugs herself? And the snow? The snowflakes are like stars.”

You help him down from the chair, he orders another bottle of wine, and you don’t care. The waiter pours the wine and you sit with Chagall and watch the falling snow, which is, of course, filled with starlight. At around 2:30 a.m., a red donkey walks down the middle of the street and you both watch it without flinching, or saying a word.

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