Sidewalks of New York Chapter 1

Grandmother Maloney was born in a small fishing village in Ireland. She had talked about the stone buildings with the thatched roofs, the peat lands, the green hills and fields of heather, and the rocks cliffs which sloped down to shores inhabited by seals and sea birds. The legend was that the seals would gather together on the beaches and chose their king.
Her father and brothers had been fishermen and they had been the ones to tell her these tales. Her brothers had teased her by telling her to watch out whenever she passed a gathering of seals. If the king seal sees you and fancies you, he will carry you off to be his queen.
It was said that some of those seals were selkies, creatures which could change from seal to human by shedding it’s seal’s skin. If you posses a selkie’s skin it is under your control until the day the selkie is able to get it back. On that day, it returns to it’s home in the sea. Selkie women were said to be exceptionally beautiful, with wild dark hair and eyes which appear once and twice in every generation of their descendants, and make the best wives.
Da and Mary had wild dark hair and eyes. As a child, Ashlyn had searched her house and the houses of any of her relatives for a selkie skin
but had never found one.
Grandmother Coyle had told Ashlyn stories about the fair folk on warm summer nights when she had a hard time falling asleep. Sometimes they had gone for walks in the fields and woods near their house and looked for fairy rings by candlelight.
Ashlyn had liked to build fairy houses out of rocks, twigs, leaves, grasses, and flowers, anything she could find, in hopes that one day she would see a fairy. Sometimes in the little house she built, she would find a note from the fairy queen thanking her for her kindness and telling her to always be a good lass but never saw any fairies
for herself. When she got older she realized that the fairy queen’s handwriting bore a striking resemblance to her Da’s.
No one had ever told her that things such as fairies and selkies did not exist, they just let her figure that out for herself.
 

“Wake up lass” Aunt Nora shook Ashlyn awake. Ashlyn groaned groggily. “come, put on your shawl. Everyone’s going up on deck.”
Ashlyn had fallen asleep in the bunk she shared with her aunt where she had been for most of the time she had been at sea. The weather had been dreadful the entire time and the sea as rough as anything. When the sea had calmed down a little and the sky stopped raining for a moment, she had been able to go up on deck for some fresh air. It was a blessed relief from being crammed down below deck, breathing clammy, stinking air, and being constantly sea sick.
“what’s everyone going up on deck for?” Ashlyn asked between yawns.
“you’ll see” Aunt Nora smiled, the first time she, who had spent the entire trip either praying or swearing, had smiled in days.
At Ashlyn’s side was her carpet bag which contained her things from home including her sewing kit, a bible with photographs of her loved ones tucked among it’s pages, and her passport and papers. But things she had that were of any value, her silver celtic cross, her amber rosary beads, and the money Ma and Da had given her, were kept on her person at all times, worn around her neck and hidden in her blouse.
Aunt Nora put on her coat and tied her shawl under her chin. She helped Ashlyn into her coat. Ashlyn put on her hat and shawl and grabbed her carpet bag to follow Aunt Nora up on deck. The seas had calmed and the sky was cloudy but it was not raining. It was cold for early October but the brisk air was refreshing after being cooped up below deck.
“The weather has been awful these days” Aunt Nora said “remember how we all prayed to St. Christopher for an easy voyage before we left from Belfast. Well I don’t think that St. Christopher was at home that day.”
They had all come to Belfast to see them off, Ma, Da, Mary, her husband, and their children. After staying the night at Aunt Shannon’s, they had prayed for a safe journey and they all cried when they left for Liverpool, even her usually jovial Da.
In Liverpool, they had their hair combed and shampooed for lice and their things fumigated to prevent disease, much to the chagrin of Aunt Nora who insisted that they were clean people and were not carrying any vermin or disease, and boarded the steamship for America.
Soon Ashlyn realized why everyone was gathered on deck. The ship was coming into New York Harbor. When they saw the Statue of Liberty looming out of the fog, there was much cheering and tossing of hats. Ashlyn wept for joy.
The it was, America. And America meant Will.
She had known Will Murray all of her life and had loved him for just as along. Will’s Aunt Deirdre was a friend of her Ma’s. His parents had died when he was very little but they had left enough money for Will to get a decent education. Ashlyn had always been impressed by how clever he was.
As the years passed, their relationship had changed from that of playmates to that of sweethearts and they promised to marry. When Will left for America, Ashlyn assumed that he would forget about her and marry some beautiful young cattle baroness and when months ago he had written to her asking her to come to America and be his wife, she had been surprised but quickly excepted.
“What d’you think New York will be like?” Ashlyn asked Aunt Nora.
“Don’t know, child” she answered “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, how you bothered me with your questions this entire trip”
“I couldn’t help it Aunt Nora, there was nothing else to do”
The ship docked on the Hudsen River and another ship took them to Ellis Island. When Ashlyn saw the red and white bricks and onion domes of Ellis Island, she thought it looked something like something between a fair pavilion and a prison.
“What day is today?” She asked Aunt Nora.
“The tenth of October, I think” Aunt Nora answered.
The tenth of October was Ashlyn’s birthday.
“What a way to spend your birthday” she thought as she and Aunt Nora were herded inside along with everyone else.
They were brought upstairs to a large room with large windows and a large American flag hanging at one end. Shafts of sunlight came in through the large windows and glared upon the sea of brown and grey that filled the room below.
The day passed in blurr of seeming endless lines of people being processed and the noises of people talking and shouting in every language possible and their children crying. The medical examinations made Ashlyn nervous because she thought that her weak lungs and heart would be cause for her to be sent back but the doctor did not seem to think those were an issue. The doctor had been a handsome, youngish man who seemed to think that he was the natural person to handle a young girl in her underwear. Afterwards Ashlyn had complained to Aunt Nora that she did not think it was proper that she was handled by a man while half dressed.
“You better get used to the idea of being handled by a man while half dressed if you’re going to be married” Aunt Nora had said.
Ashlyn blushed and thought herself foolish.
Then immigration officers asked them questions and checked their papers. The questions were things such as “what is your name?” “how old are you?” “Where are you from?” “Have you ever been arrested?” “how much money do you have on you?”. Ashlyn answered that her name was Ashlyn Rose Maloney. She was nineteen years old as of today and was from Strabane in County Tyrone Ireland. No, she had never been arrested and she had about five pounds on her.
When the immigration officer said she could go, Ashlyn breathed a sigh of relief.
The entire ordeal had taken less than a day. After they had been processed and accepted, they went and had a meal in the dining room which was a step up from the little bread and little soup on tin plates they had been given on board the ship. Then they exchanged their pounds for dollars and took the next ferry to Battery Park.
Docking in Battery Park, they stepped foot in New York City. Looking through William’s last letter, she followed the address he had given her.
“Just think, Aunt Nora, before you know it we’ll be living in one of those fine houses like those in those society clippings Will sent me in one of his letters”
“easy there love, let’s concentrate on finding where we’re supposed to be living now first”
Ashlyn looked about wide-eyed. The bustle of the city made her feel overwhelmed. Her first impression of the new world was a bit disappointing. It was not quite hell but it was far from the heaven people imagined it was. The streets they walking through were crowded and noisy. The air was filled with smoke, smells, and the voices of people.
A gang of youths loitered in front of a stores and were smoking cigars and cigarettes. They whistled at Ashlyn they walked by.
A shabby, freckle faced little boy toting a bag of newspaper shouted the headlines. Aunt Nora purchased a newspaper from him.
Following the address brought them to a tenement on a street in the Lower West Side.
Two rows of buildings with fire escapes and awnings with an area in between crowded with carts and passers by and a spider’s web of clotheslines hanging above head.
In the doorway of the number building indicated stood a fair haired lady in her forties sweeping the front hall. She came out, stood out under the awning, noticed them, and blinked a few times.
“Hello Aunt Deirdre” Ashlyn said to her, sinking in a slightly curtsy.
“Child, child, child” Aunt Deirdre said “won’t Will be delighted to see you”
“Where is he, Aunt Deirdre?”
“Still at work, but he’ll be home later this evening. ” Aunt Deirdre pinched Ashlyn’s cheek.
Will worked as a clerk for the Metropolitan Police.
“Come inside, come inside”
The Murray apartment was on the second floor of the building which meant it was one of the nicer apartments. In tenements buildings the nicer apartments were on the lower floors. When one entered, they entered into a main room. At the far end were two large windows with lace curtains which lead out onto the fire escape. On one side was a kitchen range and stove for cooking with shelves above them. Pushed into the corner were a medium sized tub and mangle for doing laundry. On the other side was a table and chairs with a shelf above on which were a crucifix and a statue of the Virgin Mary. In the center of the room sat Aunt Deirdre’s rocking chair on top of an old red and black rug.
The walls were papered with an ugly wallpaper of sickly sulfuric yellow color with a florid pattern reminiscent of fungus and seaweed. The room looked warm and cosy and safe.
“There’s a wash stand in my bedroom, if you’d like to freshen up”
“Thank you”
At door at one end of the main room lead into a narrow, rectangular bedroom. Inside, the walls were rough, the floor was bare with a faded old carpet on top, and a bulky cast iron radiator took up one corner. Most of the room was took up by a metal frame bed and a changing screen with a washstand behind.
Ashlyn removed her red shawl and her grey coat  and then her green tam hat. She gently put the hat and shawl on the bed. They were special to her because Ma and Da had given them to her before they left Belfast. She could still picture him standing on the quay, smoking his pipe and waving as the ship left port.
Aunt Deirdre came in with a pitcher full of water for washing and two towels.
“There’s a bar of soap in the basin” she said “I’ll put a pot of water on for tea and Ashlyn, Will should be home any minute”
Knowing that she would soon she her future husband, Ashlyn thoroughly washed her face, neck, and hands and smoothed and rearranged her hair. She had not been able to properly wash for almost a fortnight and was she looked quite a fright. By the time she had finished freshening up, a young man had taken a seat at the table and was drinking tea with Aunt Deirdre and Aunt Nora.
He was about twenty-three, tall and lithe, with a head of sandy curls and an open, handsome face, merry blue eyes and a cocky, boyish smile. His clothes did not look expensive or stylish but were neat, clean, and suited him well and he carried himself like a duke, with something that would be called arrogance on someone else but seemed perfectly justified on him.
“Will?” Ashlyn asked
He turned, looked Ashlyn over, smiled, and stood up.
“there you are” he said.
Will came over and picked up Ashlyn into his arms, kissing her. Diminutive and delicate Ashlyn weighed little more than a feather to him. Then he held her at arm’s length so he could look at her.
Ashlyn fit the definition of pretty rather than beautiful. Her delicate features were a bit too soft and her nose was a bit too crooked for beauty but she had a good fair complexion with rosy cheeks, large and lovely blue eyes, and full lips which curled into a sweet smile. Strands of strawberry blond hair had refused to be held back by pins that held her chignon in place. Only the most fastidious would find fault with her looks She had polite and pleasing manners as good as those of the highest born lady.
Over cups of tea, Aunt Nora related the sorry tale of their dreadful voyage over from Ireland. Ashlyn said that she had not minded it: it had been an adventure.
“Ashlyn Maloney, you’re the bravest girl I know” Will said
What Ashlyn had said was partly true. This trip to America had been the bravest and most exciting thing she had ever done. Certainly more exciting than staying in Strabane and doing the same thing day after day.
The fondness between the two young people had quickly rekindled and they began talking as they had only been separated for a few days. Remembering Ashlyn’s fondness for reading , William showed her the collection of books he had amassed, promising that she could borrow what wanted.
“this one’s my favorite” Ashlyn said when she found a well worn volume of Poe among Will’s collection. She thumbed through the book until she came to a favorite poem.
He smiled, knowing that he plan was working.
He was wooing Ashlyn with books.
After dinner, the family sat in the main room and Will read aloud from the book Ashlyn had chosen. To him, poetry was best enjoyed read aloud.
“I was a child and she was a child, in this kingdom by the sea. But we loved with a love that was more than love- I and my Annabel Lee”
He had a fine speaking voice and the ladies hung on his every word.
That night, Ashlyn slept in Aunt Deirdre’s room. The two Aunts slept in the bed, she slept in the daybed by the window. She had a hard time falling asleep and tossed and turned for what seemed like hours. It felt strange to sleep in a strange bed and also there was the light and noise coming from street and snoring of her aunts.
It suddenly struck her that she felt homesick. When she did fall asleep, she dreamed of home.
Mostly she missed her family, specifically her Da. Seamus Maloney was a big man with a big voice and had been something of a brawler, having spent his youth fighting for money on the docks and pubs of Belfast, but was as gentle as lamb around his wife and daughters. He had never been what one would call a handsome man but had a sort of romantic ruggedness which had caused her mother to fall in love with him. By profession, he was a pewtersmith but he was sometimes in trouble with the law for aiding the fenians. Will Murray was the exactly the type of man Da Maloney wanted for his youngest and dearest daughter. He was glad that Ashlyn was to marry a good Irishman who would take good care of her and raise their children as clean catholics.
Her mother, Margaret, was a small, gentle, sweet faced woman whom Ashlyn greatly resembled in looks and temperament. Her sister Mary was six years her senior and took after Da, being statuesque and dark haired with an easy going charm and a strong force of personality. Mary had been a tomboy in her childhood, having prefered to play cricket and climb trees rather than play with dolls and sew samplers. She was now married to her childhood sweetheart Matthew Dowd and they had three children. But despite the outward resemblance, Mary did not have strangeness most people found in Da. The world seemed to judge certain people as “strange” for whatever reason, mostly because they did not do as they did and Da was one of those people. Ashlyn was also given the same look that “strange” people were given and she had never understood why.
Despite the homesickness she was feeling, Ashlyn knew that following Will to America had been the right thing to. It was an adventure and a chance to start over. This was what she had wanted.
Will stepped into the bedroom having heard Ashlyn crying. He tread softly into the room as to not wake the aunts because it was unseemly for him to enter a maiden’s bedroom even if he was soon to marry her. He sat on the day bed beside Ashlyn. Noticing that he was there, she wiped her eyes with a sheet to get rid of the evidence that she had been crying.
“You miss your family don’t you?” He asked
“Yes” she answered.
“You’ll be happy here, I promise. This place is special, I can feel it.”
Will had taken to New York quickly. He liked the fast paced excitement of the city and he believed that Ashlyn would take to it too.
His words comforted her a little bit and gave her a little more strength. She called upon the rest of whatever strength she had to help her get over her homesickness.
It was silly to dwell on the past when a new life was beginning, but she believed that it would not be as easy as Will believed.
Will turned to leave the room.
” wait, I need a goodnight kiss” Ashlyn said. 

 He kissed her on the forehead and went across the hallway to his own room. 

When he had first seen Ashlyn that day, she had seemed little changed from what she had been four years before. But looking at her again, she had changed from a sprite to a goddess since then, with her long tendrils of red-gold hair loose around her shoulders , her blue eyes sparkling, the moonlight making her fair skin glow, and her nightdress clinging to the voluptuous s-shaped curves of her body. 

Will went to bed thinking about how lucky he was. He had everything a man could ask for and he was not yet twenty-four. 


Retribution Chapters 1 and 2

Paris 1925 

Maude Dupres 

In a building near the Rue St. Denis lived a woman named Maude Dupres. Maude was a small woman who wore large glasses and her hair in a tight, prim bun and had worked in a hairdressing salon since the death of her husband five years earlier. 

One day in April she heard a knock on the door of her flat. 

It was Madame Villon, the landlady and a friend of Maude’s. Madame Villon often came by for a cup of coffee and a gossip but this time she stood in the doorway with a furious expression and a dead black tabby cat in her hand. The cat’s head was smashed and bloody. 

“Madame Villon” gasped the startled Maude.

“those damned boys of yours” howled Madame Villon “I hope they know how to catch mice. François had a fall from the roof and I saw that they were up there” 

“Surely you’re not suggesting that they knocked him off the roof. They would never do a thing like that “

Madame Villon groaned and shrugged her shoulders as if it was useless to try to defend the perpetrators then closed the door on Maude. 

“ask them yourself” was the last thing she said before the door closed. 

A little while later, the “damned boys” in question returned home. Léon the youngest at ten, was a slight, delicate looking boy with Maude’s dark brown hair and hazel eyes. He was five when his father had died and Maude had clung to him as her last source of comfort. Augustin, the older of the two at twelve, was the son of Maude’s younger brother Guillaume. 

Guillaume had been soldier stationed in Algeria and he had taken a beautiful local girl as his lover and voila Augustin. The boy’s mother and grandmother had died of a fever and Guillaume brought Augustin back to France with him, and left him with Maude

Guillaume had been soldier stationed in Algeria and he had taken a beautiful local girl as his lover and voila Augustin. The boy’s mother and grandmother had died of a fever and Guillaume brought Augustin back to France with him, and left him with Maude. 

Most people in her position would have resented the burden but she loved Augustin as much as if he had been her own son and Lèon was very close with his cousin. The boy had a mischievous sort of charm and a merry smile which had made his grandmother call him her ray of sunshine. 

Augustin stood in the doorway with a gawky gait and surly expression particular to adolescent boys. There was a look in his green eyes which Maude could barely see behind his mop of dark curls that showed he knew he was in trouble. Lèon came and stood somewhat behind him. 

“Madame Villon came to see me earlier” Maude addressed Augustin, whom she knew was most likely the ringleader in whatever had happened “she said that François fell off the roof and that you two were up there” 

“yes, we were up there” the boy answered “Leon and I were throwing rocks off the roof.”

Lèon nodded to verify this fact. 

“you know how François likes to climb up there” he added. 

“He was walking along the edge of the roof and I guess some of the rocks hit him. Stupid damn cat, he didn’t know to get out of the way” 

Augustin did not add that he had always disliked the cat; he was fat and lazy and was always hissing at him and staring at him with his nasty green eyes. 

“we didn’t mean to knock François over, honestly Maman” 

“both of you will go to bed without supper tonight” was all Maude could say of the situation. 


Augustin

Maude’s neighbors would say to themselves “Poor Maude, having to raise that bastard brat. There’s something weird about him. Isn’t it strange that all of his family is dead, but he isn’t and his mother and grandmother both died after nursing him when he was sick. He must be unlucky.” 

Most boys Augustin’s age could get into mischief but he was particularly prone to trouble. Augustin would often play hooky, and get into all kinds of shenanigans. Often he would arrive home having been chased there by someone or other. The worst part was that he would often get Lèon involved. He could be disrespectful and smart mouthed and seemed to have an instinctive dislike for anyone who tried to get him to do anything he did not want to do. “If any boy’ll go bad” they said “he will”. 

Augustin looked at everything in his world with an inward sneer. Living in a tiny, ramshackle flat and having hardly anything to eat was no way to live. Even at twelve, he knew that. Though he disliked school, the boy had a type of intelligence which would be called too smart for his own good. 

“would you look at that” He said to Lèon as they were walking by a shop on the Rue St. Denis one afternoon in June. 

Parked out in front of the shop was the most beautiful bicycle they had ever seen. It’s blood red metallic finish shone in the early summer sunlight and it’s black tires and leather seat looked as good as new. A head light like a large, green eye was strapped to the front. 

“Beautiful, ain’t it” Augustin lightly stroked the red finish. The two boys stood and admired the bicycle

“I can’t imagine riding something like that” said Lèon

“I can” Augustin grabbed onto one of the handles ” When I’m a man, I’m going to have whatever I want and do whatever I want and no one’s going to tell me I can’t” 

The boy let go of the handle and continued to walk home with his cousin. On the way, he thought of how he would one day make a whole lot of money and wear fine clothes and would not have to watch each sous like Tante Maude had to, and no one would ever bully him or boss him around. 

He could not stop thinking about the bicycle; it haunted him. 


What Happened To Him

A few days later, Maude got another knock on her door. 

“Officer Desmarais” she said to the man standing out in the hall. 

Officer Desmarais was holding Augustin by the collar of his red jacket. Augustin stood there with a defiant look on his face. 

“I caught this little punk walking off with a bicycle belonging to the shop owner downstairs. I’m afraid I’m going to have to take him in” 

Maude’s face lost all of its color. 

“He’s only twelve, you can’t take him to jail” 

“I can take him to Juvenile Hall” 

Augustin looked back at his aunt as Officer Desmarais dragged him off. 

Maude went back into her flat and began to sob. On the mantelpiece stood an old photograph of Guillaume inside of a brown leather frame. Seeing this made Maude cry more because she felt as though she had failed him.


Cannes 1926 

Little Marianne 

In November of 1926, a woman named Madeleine d’Aubrey was staying in a hospital in Cannes. Madeleine had moved to Cannes with her daughter some years earlier from Rouen believing that the warmer climate would improve her health and had been working as a private secretary. She lost her husband during the Great War and since then had been using her maiden name. 

In November of 1926, Madeleine’s daughter Marianne had just turned twelve. On an unusually mild Monday afternoon of that month, she sat in the waiting room of the hospital reading movie magazines. Marianne, sweet faced though not pretty, rosy cheeked with an engaging smile, was small and young for her age but was precociously chatty, curious, and full of life. She was sometimes referred to as Little Marianne and was now at an age to regret being so. 

She gazed at the photographs in her magazine of the starlets of the age such as Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, Gloria Swanson and especially her own favorite, Greta Garbo. It Girls and glamour queens on every page, impossibly beautiful and impossibly glamorous, wearing the latest fashions, driving Rolls-Royce’s, going to wild and elegant parties and flirting with dashing men. Flipping through the pages, she thought that it must be wonderful to be them. Truly the life of a film star must be one filled with excitement and romance. 

A beautiful dark haired woman of about thirty came down the hallway into the waiting room and sat down next to the girl. 

“Who’s on the cover this week?” The woman asked 

“Clara Bow” the girl answered. 

“Were you bored waiting out here?” 

“No. Not at all” 

“Well, your maman is about the same, Marianne” 

“Can I go in and see her Tante Mimi?” 

“No, you can’t. Not yet” 

The woman known as Tante Mimi was Madeleine’s younger sister who had come down from Rouen to look after Marianne while her mother was in the hospital. 

Marianne knew that her mother was seriously ill with tuberculosis and that she must be kept away from her for fear that she would catch the infection, but, young as she was, she could not quite understand how serious it all was. 

Looking at the cover of the film magazine, Marianne thought about how much Mimi looked like Clara Bow, only ten times prettier. She did not understand why Tante Mimi,who was as beautiful and kind as an angel, was not married yet. Her maman had said that she had been in love years before and had been about to marry a man but he died of the Spanish influenza of 1918. 

“Would you like to go to a picture show?” Mimi asked

“Yes!” she answered enthusiastically 

Going to picture shows was Marianne’s favorite thing to do. 


The Picture Show 

The movie they saw was called Flesh and the Devil and starred Greta Garbo and her off screen lover John Gilbert. That Monday afternoon, the cinema was fairly empty, just a few housewives with curlers in their hair and small boys who crawled and ran around in the aisles. Marianne was utterly mesmerized and forgot all about her troubles for a while. But all too soon, the light came back up again. 

“Would you like to watch it again?” Mimi asked her. 

She nodded yes. 

They stayed in their seats and waited for the next showing to begin. A man came down the aisle with a broom to sweep up the popcorn. 

“Have you seen this movie yet?” Marianne asked him

“No, Mademoiselle” he said “Not yet.” 

“You should, it’s really good. Do you get to watch movies for free?” 

“Yes.” 

“I’ve noticed that people like to go to the movies when they’re sad.” 

Tante Mimi gave her some money to go get some candy from the concession. Marianne stopped to chat with the man at the concession who could guess her favorite type of candy, peanut butter cups, before she even opened her mouth to order it. He probably knew it by heart because she went to the cinema so often. 

When Flesh and the Devil played again at five o’clock, she returned to her mesmerized state and dreamed of growing up to be as beautiful and glamorous as Greta Garbo. 

In the darkness, Mimi no longer had to hide her worried expression from her niece. She knew that the girl’s mother was in a poor state and did not have much longer left to live. Marianne was happy at that moment and she wanted to preserve that happiness for as long as she could. 


Mother and Daughter. 

Back at the hospital, three new people were in the waiting room, a woman and two girls. When Marianne and Mimi came in, the woman approached them. 

“Catharine?” Mimi said recognizing the woman. 

“Nice to see you, Miriam. Despite the circumstances.” The woman called Catharine answered. 

Catharine was in her early forties and was still rather beautiful but her face had become icy and hard over the years. 

Mimi had always been in awe of her older sister and they had not been on the best of terms in recent years. Catharine had been pressuring Mimi to find someone new after the death of her fiancé and implying that her spinsterhood was a disgrace to the family. “It has been eight years, surely enough time has passed.” she had been saying. If Mimi had been less in awe of Catharine she might have brought the fact that Catharine was divorced and now on her second husband and asked why that was not a disgrace to the family. 

“And you must be Marianne.” Catharine said to her niece. 

Marianna stepped forward and tried to show herself off to advantage. She was wearing her favorite dress which suited her the best. 

The woman looked Marianne over and appeared to find her wanting, less pretty than her own girls. But her mother had never been the beauty of the family. 

“Yes, Madame” Marianne answered, giving her a friendly smile. 

The woman eyed her with something like suspicion. She found children who smiled all the time untrustworthy. 

“Marianne, you remember your Tante Catharine?” Mimi asked her. “And your cousins, Mathilde and Agnès.” 

The two girls in front of Marianne were pretty brunettes around her own age dressed in school uniforms. Mathilde, the older of the two, was a year older than Marianne at thirteen but she was already as tall as a girl of sixteen and was a younger, softer version of Catharine. Looking at the more grown up looking Mathilde gave Marianne pangs of jealousy. Agnès, the younger, was two years younger than her sister at eleven and was small and Pixish. 

Mathilde looked at Marianne and found her wanting in the same way her mother had but Agnès looked almost friendly. But neither of them seemed to be very interested in their cousin. 

A priest in full vestments came down the hallway followed by one of the nursing sisters. 

“She just confessed and been given the last rights” the nun said to Mimi “you can go in and see her now. The child should go in too, she’s been asking for her.” 

The only thing Marianne understood was that she could now go and see her mother. 

The nun escorted the group into a room with two rows of hospital beds separated by gauze curtains. In one of the beds was a blond haired woman of about thirty-six who was sitting up and waiting for them. Her blond hair was spread out behind her like a halo. Marianne ran over to her, shouting “Maman!” 

Catharine shot the girl a cross look and even Mimi looked a little embarrassed. The woman in the hospital bed gave Marianne a wan smile and kissed her forehead. 

“I missed you” she said in a weak voice. Her graceful fingers began to stroke Marianne’s blond hair. 

“Madeleine” Catharine coldly greeted her sister. 

“Catharine” Madeleine coldly greeted back. 

She began to violently cough. The nun came over and nursed her brow with cold water and helped her to lie back down. Mimi took one of her hands and Marianne took the other. 

“Tante Mimi and I went to the picture show today, Maman” Marianne told her mother “we saw a movie called Flesh and the Devil. Greta Garbo was in it.” 

Madeleine continued to cough and the nun continued to nurse her brow. 

“Tante Mimi let me see it twice and I had popcorn and peanut butter cups.” 

Madeleine began to drift off into another world. She reached out with all of her strength to touch her daughter’s hair. 

“Marianne, Marianne” she said “are you still there, mon enfant” 

“silly Maman, of course” 

Marianne thought that her mother was just playing with her. 

Madeleine breathed heavily and began to sweat and the nun held a handkerchief sprinkled with chloroform to her nose to calm her. The dying woman settled into a calm sleep. The exaggerated rising and falling of her chest gradually lessened until it appeared she was no longer breathing. 

The doctor was brought over to check her pulse and could not find one. 

“I’m sorry” he said “she is no longer with us” 

“Maman, Maman” Marianne shouted. 


What Happened to Her. 

That night, Mimi allowed Marianne to sleep with her in her bed. The normally chatty girl had not spoken for hours though Mimi had done her best to comfort her, letting her take a hot bath and cooking her favorite dinner. 

Madeleine’s body was taken back to Rouen for the funeral the next day. Marianne was still not speaking; she just stared out the window at the scenery as the train chugged over almost the entire diagonal length of the country. The trip seemed endless to her; she had no idea that France was so big. 

On the day of the funeral, Marianne refused to set foot in the church. 

“Marianne, it’s your mother’s funeral” scolded Catharine. 

“No, it’s not.” the girl answered, refusing to believe that it was. 

“Marianne!”

“Leave me alone.” 

Mimi took Marianne’s hand and gently began to lead her inside. 

“I’m not going in there.” Marianne screamed. 

When Madeleine’s body was to be burried in the d’Aubrey family plot in St.Ouen, the open casket was put out by the grave side so that the guests could say a final goodbye. Marianne stood by the casket the entire time and when the priest began to give a final blessing, she burst into tears and ran out of the cemetery. 

Catharine scowled. That girl had decided to be particularly difficult that day and she’d had enough of her mischief. She wanted to go and smack the girl but Mimi stopped her. 

“This is the last time the three of us will be together in this world.” Mimi said “Don’t ruin this.” 

That evening at the reception, the two women discussed their niece’s fate. 

“I guess she can go to school with my girls.” Catharine suggested 

“She could use a proper education.” Mimi agreed 

The nuns at the school were very strict and Catharine knew that they would be just the thing to straighten out her difficult niece. 

At the word school, Marianne perked up. School meant music and drawing and poetry lessons and growing up to be accomplished and clever. Most important, there would be lots of other girls which meant that she would make lots of friends and not be lonely any more. She ran out to hug her aunt for the suggestion. 

Catharine frowned when she received the hug. “Your gratitude does you credit.” she said. 

“I think it’s time for you to go to bed, Marianne” Mimi cut in. 

After Marianne had gotten ready for bed, Mimi came in to say goodnight. 

“I have something for you.” she said sitting down beside the girl who was already tucked up under the covers. 

Marianne sat up and looked at her aunt with anticipation evident in her eyes. She loved presents. 

“Give me your hand”

In Marianne’s open palm, Mimi put a ring which Marianne then examined. It was an old silver ring set with a red stone which winked in the dim light. 

“Maman’s ring” Marianne said 

To her it was the most beautiful ring in the world and Greta Garbo herself would be proud to wear it. 

“She wanted you to have it” Mimi told her “Please take good care of it” 

Mimi pulled the covers up to her niece’s chin, kissed her on the forehead and turned out the light. 

“I will Tante Mimi”