Authors: Felicia Donovan
The French Girl © 2012 by Felicia Donovan. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Felicia Donovan except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To my Wonderful Readers with deep appreciation.
To my Friends (and you all know who you are) who are always there for me.
To my Family for their constant support.
To my Children, Jess and John, with love and pride always.
To Karen who fills me with joy, love and laughter each and every day.
FROM FELICIA DONOVAN
The Black Widow Agency – Book One
The Black Widow Agency – Spun Tales (Book Two)
The Black Widow Agency – Case #3
Cyber Crime Fighters: Tales from the Trenches
for more information.
Papa used to always say that the wind carried with it either secrets or souls and if you watched very carefully, you could tell which one it was.
As I walked home from school that day, a patch of pine needles suddenly began to spiral upward as if being coaxed by some unseen hand upward, upward. They rose in swirls, spiraling around in a dance and then fell back down again. A soul for certain, I decided.
Maman was lying on her side, her long brown hair taking up most of the pillow beside it. The empty bottle was tipped over on the table next to her leaving an egg-shaped burgundy stain in the rug. I took a towel from the bathroom and dropped it down. Stepping on it, I watched the towel stain with color and felt the liquid seep through the sole of my shoe. A cigarette had fallen beside her and burned itself out. The carpet was singed with small burn holes.
“Maman,” I said touching her shoulder.
She was wearing her black and white dress with the big polka dots on it and a wide red belt that hung loosely around her thin waist. Her arm was wrapped around it, as if she were hugging herself. Her other hand was outstretched and open, the bright red fingernails pointing at something only she knew.
“Maman,” I called again. Her shoulder bone, which was so thin that I sometimes thought it would poke right through her skin, moved slightly.
“Etoile! Etoile!” my sister Anais yelled from the living room. She scooped up the dirty laundry that was scattered everywhere as I ran towards her.
“It is that county woman,” Anais said. “I saw her over at the Lalonde’s. Quick, Etoile, dump these ash trays and put this laundry somewhere,” she said throwing the pile of clothes into my face.
“Shit,” she said as she ran into Maman’s room. “Get up,” she barked at Maman.
,” I heard my mother reply groggily.
“I will not leave you alone,” Anais said. I heard the sound of water running and paused in the doorway just as Anais took a wet cloth and slapped it across Maman’s face.
Aller se faire voir chez les grecs!
” Maman screamed as she swiped a bony hand in the air at her.
“Go to hell yourself!” Anais yelled back. “The county woman is on her way.”
!” I heard my mother say followed by a few other words I was not supposed to know as she forced her body upright. She looked a lot better lying down because sitting up, her eyes looked all puffy and she was a little green around the mouth. Her thin hand went first to her waist and then to her mouth and she bolted, hand covering mouth, to the bathroom.
“Come on, Etoile, help me get the kitchen cleaned,” Anais said ignoring her.
There were half a dozen wine bottles, some empty, some still half full, standing next to the sink and on the kitchen table.
Anais, who was almost sixteen years old, scooped them all up, opened the kitchen window which had no screen in it and tossed them down four flights. The sound of breaking glass shattered the quiet alleyway. I wondered what Mr. and Mrs. Dumont, the landlords, would have to say about that.
Anais was like a whirlwind as she scooped up a stale box of Wheaties and threw it in the cabinet, took all of the dishes even the dirty ones with the crusted food on them, and piled them back in the cabinet. I grabbed the broom and quickly swept the crumbs and mouse remnants under the refrigerator.
“Come on,” Anais said as we moved to the living room but as soon as we crossed the threshold, we stopped in our tracks.
The county woman was standing there in the middle of our living room. I had left the front door open to get some fresh air.
The county woman was dressed in a red plaid gingham dress that looked like an oversized picnic tablecloth. It was early spring and the air was still quite cool as it always was in Cote Nouveau, but I could see a glistening of sweat across the county woman’s chest as she struggled to catch her breath.
She wore very sturdy white shoes that looked like nurse’s shoes and clutched a matching white pocketbook tucked tightly under her arm. Her round face was swollen like a piece of spoiled fruit just before it bursts. She took out a handkerchief from the front pocket of her dress and dabbed at her forehead.
“How long has the elevator been out?” she asked breathlessly.
Anais turned and gave me a “let me do all the talking” look.
“It has been out for a while and will not be fixed for some time,” Anais answered hoping to discourage her from coming back.
The county woman had shown up about a month ago.
“Our mother does not let us invite strangers in,” Anais had informed her.
“And ordinarily, that’s a good thing, but I’m with the county,” the woman protested displaying a very official looking badge. “If you’d like, you may call the police to verify my credentials.”
Anais had looked at her, smiled her sweetest smile and said, “I’ll let our mother know you visited,” and then abruptly slammed the door in the woman’s shocked face and locked it tight.
But now she was in our apartment because I had left the front door open.
“Is your mother home?” the woman asked. I felt her eyes settle on me and quickly lowered my head to avoid her glance.
“She is resting,” Anais said. It amazed me how confident Anais could sound around adults. “She worked all night and this is her only chance to rest.”
“And where does your mother work?” the woman asked.
Anais stuck her chin out. “She works in the domestic services industry.”
I wondered about that because as far as I knew, Maman hadn’t actually worked for several months, not since Mrs. Adelstein,
le Juif puant
, ‘the stinking Jew,’ as Maman had called her, fired her because an expensive ruby and diamond necklace turned up missing after Maman had cleaned her house.
“Then who watches you and your sister at night?” the woman asked.
“And how old are you?”
“I am almost sixteen.”
“I see,” the woman said as she drew out a notepad from her large purse and began to scribble on it.
Her eyes swept around the room - from the cracked glass on the front of the television set as Princess Grace explained her busy schedule in Monaco to Merv Griffin, to the small ceramic Christmas tree with all of its missing lights still sitting on the floor in the corner, to the hutch and Maman’s cork collection. Her eyes settled on the cork collection for several seconds.
“I will need to speak to your mother before I leave. Do you think you could wake her?
“You already have,” came a voice form the doorway. We all turned to see Maman standing there, propped casually against the frame.
Her hair was pulled back and she had put on fresh lipstick. There was a wet stain on the front of her dress. She reached into her dress pocket and took out her gold lighter, the special one that Papa had given to her, and lit a cigarette..
Maman looked like she didn’t have a care in the world the way she took a long, slow drag, but I could see one hand was clutching at the doorframe and her knuckles had gone white.
“Mrs. Toussaint, I’m Mrs. Galloway from County Services.”
Maman stayed put and studied her in that steady way she had that could bring a mean dog down and start begging to be let go.
“I know who you are,” Maman said.
Glancing back towards us, the county woman said, “Perhaps it would be better if we spoke in private.”
Maman took a long drag on the cigarette making her already thin cheeks look downright skeletal.
“Real French women don’t get fat,” Maman had once said to us when Papa teased me about asking for thirds of Maman’s beef stew. That was back in the days when Maman cooked for us. Certainly Maman never looked fat nor did Anais, but I wasn’t quite sure if that was true, because Mrs. Lavasseur who lived in the apartment next door with her annoying son, Frankie, was most certainly fat and not just a little fat, but downright waddly fat. Maman called her “
,” “The Pig.” Maman had a habit of coming up with names that stuck with people. Mr. Cavelle at the flower stand was “The Man Woman” and Madame Duvais, who ran the local market, was “Madame Fried Dough.”
The smoke spiralled from Maman’s nostrils in twin spurts, evaporating into the edgy haze of blue that clung near the ceiling.
“Whatever you have to say to me, you can say in front of my girls,” Maman announced making me feel suddenly very grown up.
The county woman cleared her throat and looked back at me. “Very well, then, it has been brought to the county’s attention that the situation here may not be conducive for the children to thrive.”
She waited, but Maman said nothing, just kept leaning on the doorframe, taking long drags of her cigarette.
“And where is Mr. Toussaint?” the county woman finally asked when Maman did not respond.
Maman flicked at one of her nails and studied it. “Monsieur Toussaint is dead.”
“I see. My condolences,” Mrs. Galloway said with little emotion.
“He was aboard
when it went down in the Christmas storms.”
“I see,” Mrs. Galloway said again, but it was hard to tell if she really knew what Maman was talking about.
Everyone from Cote Nouveau knew about the storms that blew out of nowhere five years ago one Christmas morning that took the lives of twelve fishermen on three separate vessels and left twenty-six children, including Anais and myself, without a father. The State erected a statue in their honor in the town center. Sometimes I would go down and trace my fingers over Papa’s name.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to see your kitchen,” the county woman said.
Anais positioned herself across the doorway and folded her arms. The county woman watched her do it and turned back to my mother. My mother stabbed at the air with her cigarette. In French, she said, “Let the fat cow go in the kitchen if she wants.”
I laughed to myself at
le grosse vache
and knew that from then on, that would be the county woman’s nickname. I saw the corner of Anais’ mouth turn up ever so slightly as she stepped aside. The county woman jotted away on her pen and pad as she moved from the living room to the kitchen. I wished I was tall enough to see what she was writing.
The final disconnect notice from the phone company sat on the table. Round red stains covered the surface of the gold-flecked countertop. The county woman opened one cabinet after the other. She found the dirty dishes in with the clean ones and spotted the mouse droppings in the cereal cabinet, not that we were eating any of that anyway. She made a note when the only thing she found unopened was a box of Ritz crackers, but picking it up, she suddenly dropped it when she realized that the bottom had been chewed through. Shaking her head, she went to the refrigerator. I cast an anxious glance at Anais. We had not checked the refrigerator. I watched as the county woman opened the door wide, leaned over, and then took a quick step back. The smell was unforgivable, a combination of rotted cream and a spoiled brick of cheese that was fringed in green fur.
She turned to me.
“How old are you, young lady?” she asked.
“What did you eat for breakfast this morning?”
I could feel my cheeks flush and glanced anxiously at Maman who simply shrugged her shoulders.
“I had a croissant.”
“Here?” she asked glancing around.
. Maman always gives me money to get something before school,” I lied, but since it had actually happened once, maybe it wasn’t a complete lie. The truth was that I had eaten many times at
because the owner, Monsieur Segal, made the best ice cream in the world and seemed to like it when I came in to chat with him. Sometimes, Maman’s friends would slip me some money to go down to
and buy ice cream while they visited with her. The tall one, Luc Paul, who came most often, gave me three dollars once if I would stay away for a while so he could talk to Maman about some work, but Maman never went to work as far as I knew. I took the money and went to
and Monsieur Segal asked lots of questions about Maman and what she was doing. If I told him everything he wanted to know, he’d give me an extra scoop for free. His ice cream was so thick it left a white coating all over my tongue. Sometimes he would rip open a pixy stick and sprinkle it on top. Other times, he would mix in fresh strawberries or big chunks of dark chocolate. That was my favorite. If I was really lucky, I’d come in when the ice cream was down to the bottom of the barrel where all the extra chocolate had settled.
The county woman turned to my mother, who had shifted and was now leaning against the kitchen doorframe.
“It appears you do not have much food,” she said.