The way Philippe remembers it there was nothing otherwise remarkable about the day. Valerie’s mother had complained the traveler’s shoes were poor and his coat too big for such a little man. So she had not been surprised when after two-days stay he could not pay his bill and offered to paint the crackled shutters of her hotel. “A blue such to match the sky,” he’d said. Then to everyone’s surprise she had slowly nodded her head and answered, “That will be fine.”
The children had sat there and watched the traveler balance on a spindly ladder borrowed for just such a task and continued watching as he painted louver by louver all the shutters on the second floor and then the first. Once he’d asked them if they had nothing better to do than watch him paint and Valerie had answered that ever since she could remember nothing had ever changed on their street. The shutters had always been brown but now they are becoming blue. “A blue to match the sky,” the man reminded her and the children had all nodded in agreement. Except little Raoul who had objected, “But not the night sky.”
“Perhaps before I leave I will paint something of the night just for you children,” the traveler had laughed.
When they woke the next morning he had already moved on so their day was back to normal. That night, however, when all the adults had been put to bed the children noticed a horse and wagon hanging in the air above the bridge. It would have floated away but its rope was caught upon a nail in the bridge’s stonework. On the third night a storm blew up the river so the horse had disappeared sometime before morning. Several nights later a bent and white-headed peddler had climbed down out of the wagon and walked to the other side of the river and never returned. The very next night something set up such a howl that finally Theo, who was already twelve and brave, climbed up and brought down a spotted cat that moved in with Monsieur Morin who had lost his little dog and needed company. A saxophonist eventually arrived to serenade the children’s vigil but he too vanished every day with the first grey lines of dawn–as did the wagon.
Philippe was confused and when he could no longer stand the puzzlement he took a step and then another until he was more than half way across the bridge. Then he turned back to see the wagon’s other side and sighed with such relief, “Ah, there it is.”
There was no brightly lit wagon floating anywhere but only a darker spot as if the night had been smudged into the shadowy shape of a wagon with its side completely painted to match the night’s dark and starry sky.