August 26, 2015

the french girl: an excerpt

The magic garden. Laurant had her eyes closed. Hands in her lap, legs stretched out, leaning against the misshapen tree. Gnarled bark, rotting apples resting in the grass. Bees and wasps taking pleasure in the rotting fruit. Humming in the languid summer heat. The sounds of August. The smells of summer. The sounds. Winter nights were silent, summer nights lusty. Crickets, their joyful creaking. No crickets yet. It was too early. The yellow light of afternoon sun still had its arms around us. Her grandmother Violette’s garden.
‘Laurie, ich bin da. Ich muss dir etwas erzählen.’ She smiled. Her granny's voice.
They spoke German together. Granny Violette had grown up in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Born in Prague, she later moved to Vienna, where a modest villa had been part of her dowry when she married. With the most beautiful secret garden ever. Then the war had come, and the Russians. They’d occupied her home. Violette, a widow since the First World War, had gone to France. St. Rémy de Provence. Her husband had grown up there. She had searched for the house, found it, made it hers, re-created her beloved garden. The garden where Laurant was now. The garden of secret dreams. The garden of happiness. She could smell the apricots. Juicy, smooth, with the sweetest nectar running down your chin when you took a bite. The best ones were a-blush with rosy red. Yes. Laurant loved this place.
‘Laurie, wach auf. Ich muss dir etwas erzählen. Ich kann nicht lang bleiben.’
Laurant opened her eyes. The tall stately figure of the lady Violette was blocking the sunlight. She was leaning heavily on her cane.
‘You know who you remind me of? Vanessa Redgrave.’
‘Who is Vanessa Redgrave?’
‘She was in Mission Impossible. We saw it last night. She was Max.’
‘Ah, yes. I liked that woman. Then I will take it as a compliment.’
‘It was intended as such, Granny.’
Laurant got up and helped her granny to the chairs under the walnut tree. Mothballs and ‘Shalimar’. That's what Granny smelled like. She smiled.
‘What’s the matter, Granny? What is so urgent you need to tell me? That couldn’t wait till after your nap?’ In the summer months, she and Granny took their afternoon coffee outside, sitting at the rickety Ratana table and chairs underneath the shade of the walnut trees. Either Marillenkuchen or Zwetschgenkuchen. Made with the apricots and plums growing in this magical place. Veined hands, the colour of plums, folded over her cane. A faded blue scarf covered wispy grey hair. Laurant knew there wasn't much hair left on her head.
Once, they had been driving along the Croisette in Cannes. Granny had been driving her Peugeot Cabrio. At a stop light, she had glanced in the rear-view mirror. Then she’d pulled down the sun visor.
‘Ooh la la! I can see my scalp!' Parting the hairs as deftly as a monkey searching for nits, she’d given her own scalp a thorough examination. ‘Hmm.’ She’d put the car into first gear and had steered it forward toward the Majestic for afternoon champagne.
‘Might be time for hats.’ Laurant had smiled at her. ‘Granny, you will always be beautiful.’ Later that afternoon, with Granny in the shade of a beach umbrella and Laurant stretched out in the sun, a vendor had come by. With all the bags he’d been carrying, he’d looked like a beehive. Scarves had been tied to his hat. Laurant had bought a blue one. Since then, Granny had worn that scarf in the summer months. Always.
A blackbird was singing perched high on one of the tall Serbian pine trees. ‘I have to give you something.’
Lady Violette’s hand trembled as she reached into the heavy linen pocket of her apron. Her trembling hands filled Laurant with sad happiness or happy sadness. She didn’t know which. But she was grateful. Yes. Grateful was the appropriate word to describe her state of mind. Grateful to be here, to take care of this proud woman quietly. Granny’s hand fluttered like a tipsy sparrow. A gold chain brushed against the wood table. A heavy gold chain. An old-fashioned-looking one. Violette let her hand come to rest, not yet revealing what exactly she was holding.
Faded blue eyes looked into her grandchild’s. Eyes that reminded Laurant of the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Sardinia. Not every part of the sea was quite as serenely blue. Granny was serene. And she had a penchant for chocolate. A sure sign of happy serenity. A trait.
With her free hand, Violette reached into the other pocket. A bit soft but not completely melted, a square of Bensdorp chocolate wandered into her mouth. The chocolate factory itself didn’t exist any more. Violette had made sure to buy up the entire remaining contingent of Bensdorp milk chocolate bars and had stored in the basement, where it was cool and dry. A few boxes were left. Enough to last until she died. That was a comforting thought. According to her calculations, and if she was frugal with her consumption, five more years were left. Violette wanted to be here when Laurant came back. Or if she needed help during the trip.
Why a supply of old chocolate tied in to a life expectancy, her life expectancy, she couldn’t explain in a rational manner. She just knew there was a connection. Silly, no? To put one’s future in the sweet hands of chocolate? Better, though, than in the skeletal grip of cancer or some other horrid sickness.
The small square of sweetness tasted of St. Rémy. Her village. The village of lavender fields, a river running through it, blackbirds singing, the fragrance of hay, donkeys, sheep, wild hedge roses. Truly amazing, she thought to herself. How one little square opened the curtains to such a rich performance of memories. She leaned back, the chair creaking, another familiar sound that filled her with great joy. The sounds of her present world and this particular sound from a world past. If the age rings of a tree could speak, what would they say? What sounds would they make? Why, all the sounds of life. The orchestral sounds. Tuning up. Begin.
‘Listen carefully, Laurant. It is almost time. Keep these things I give you now close to your heart at all times.’ Laurant had been afraid of hearing those words. She didn’t want to leave. She didn’t want to go anywhere alone.
‘Why? I mean, why now? I don’t want to go. I’m afraid.’
‘Gibt es noch ein Stück Gugelhupf?’ Her hand rested on the locket. Keeping it warm. Laurant placed her hand on Granny’s. And squeezed. Gently. The frail hand.
‘I think so. Unless I was sleep-eating again, there should be a fresh slice left.’ A few minutes later, Laurant returned with the afternoon treats. The coffee pot chipped, old, still proud of its delicate hand-painted coat of tiny violet forget-me-nots.
‘I don't want to leave you Granny. Not now.’ Laurant poured coffee into mismatched cups.
‘I will be waiting for you. I will be here when you come back. I will be here if you need help. You just have to call out to me.’
‘But why do I have to go? Why can’t someone else go back and fix whatever has to be fixed?’ A lone cricket began to chirp. Unseen and cheerful. Granny looked at her.
‘You know it has to be you. All our souls ghost about through the centuries. Everyone’s. The difference between us and them is this: we are of the eternal return. We know where we’ve been, what eras and what happened to us and those we love. We know.
‘That's fine. Yes. I do know. But does it necessarily mean I have to go back and fix things?’ Laurant was afraid of travelling alone.
‘Oh, things can't be changed, at least not directly otherwise you’d end up somewhere completely different. But we do have the power to give others peace. Our eternal beloved. We go back to heal the souls of our eternal beloved. You have been chosen. You must go back.’
‘Granny, back in time is not very specific. It’s like getting on a train, not knowing where it’s going to stop.’
‘So that's a good thing?’
‘You will know. The eternal return knows where to take you. Just remember what I’ve told you.’
‘The love that moves the sun and the other stars,’ she heard Granny say.
The wind had risen, Laurant was shouting, ‘But what does that mean?’ The heavy chain was warm around her neck.
‘Go where the wind takes you. It is the breath of Mother Earth, she knows where you need to go. I will watch over you, Laurant.’

this is the prologue of the french girl, available to read for free for a limited time here on wattpad* the french girl will remain on wattpad during the copy editing stage, upon completion will be published as an ebook.

*Wattpad is a site for writers to try out stories, publish stories for free and for followers to read for free. There are a lot of great things on there, including classics by Austen, Bronte, Pushkin, Dickens, Hardy etc all available for free. If you do take the time to sign up - which, I know, can be a pain in the butt, please go to my book and follow me, 'star' ie vote for each chapter. The more exposure the better as I move up in the rankings. Every little bit helps. Thank you so much. 

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