Keep Out!

The old man, at the corner of Madison and 76th, was oblivious to the cars honking and the pedestrians rushing home in the drizzle of the early evening. He stood still, staring at the red and white demolition sign screaming “DANGER, KEEP OUT.” This intrusive, ugly sign was ordering him, Felix Menochon, to keep out of his own restaurant, relegating him to the anonymous crowd of outsiders and potential trespassers.

Keep out.

Those two words, vulgar in their simplicity, were the painful reminder that after forty-three years, Chez Felix was now permanently closed. The doors bolted, the windows taped with coarse, brown paper. The kitchen, where Felix had perfected steak tartare and coq a l’orange, was empty. The restaurant walls were stripped off their black and white photos of Parisian monuments and street scenes.

Keep out.

Felix had never felt so lost and abandoned, not since Arlette’s passing anyway. He had had time to get ready, of course, from the day the landlord’s attorney called. The cold, blunt facts, the few words he remembered. Landlord. Selling. Millions. New condo. And just like that, the small bistro’s fate was sealed.

Keep out.

Forty-three years of hard work, late nights and dedication. Forty-three years fighting the competition, the rising rent, the higher wages. But forty-three years of excellence.

The drizzle turned into showers. Felix didn’t move.

Keep out.

First Arlette, then Jean-Pierre and now this. When his son Jean-Pierre, a talented pastry chef, heard about the news, he immediately put himself on the market. He turned down offers from a famous Midtown steakhouse and a hotel chain in the Maldives, and opted instead to go to Hong Kong. He wanted to travel the world, explore different cuisines. His work visa was ready in record time, his flight booked. A few weeks before his departure, Jean-Pierre called his father. Felix would never forget that call, his son’s voice. The only words he heard and remembered. Hong Kong cancelled. Doctor’s check-up. Cancer. And just like that, his son’s fate was sealed.

The disease didn’t keep out, it metastasized. Extremely fast. Jean-Pierre started fighting, ever the optimist. But the treatment failed. He lost weight, stopped working. Was hospitalized. Started a new treatment, that failed too. The doctors were cautious, Felix was hopeful, Jean-Pierre gave up. Felix needed to believe his only child would survive him. Three months after that fateful call, he buried his son.

A young man approached the old man. “Sir, are you ok? Do you need help?”

Felix turned around. The young man was about Jean-Pierre’s age. This could have been his son, right there, talking to him, hugging him, laughing with him. The scream scared the young man and alerted the other passers-by. Felix dropped on the wet sidewalk, wrapped himself in his drenched coat and sobbed.

He hated that city that had never really been home. The city that after forty-three years told him to keep out. The city where Arlette and Jean-Pierre had died. The city that took everything, where there was nowhere left to go. So he would do just that:

Keep out.


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