An afternoon with mon papa – #FridayFlash – 3/23/2012, Lisa and Philippe #4

[Author’s Note: This is a revisit to my “Cherries” universe, a follow up to this Flash piece.]

Lisa tiptoed toward the door.  Philippe looked up and smiled. “Don’t forget the milk, chérie!  Be careful driving.”

She waved her hands, and, too late, Philippe winced. “Sorry,” he mouthed.

Maman!” Her shoulders drooped.  Gaston came toddling around the corner at as full a speed as a eighteen-month-old could manage, and latched himself onto her legs.

Non, mon p’tit,” said a repentant Philippe as he scooped his son high in the air. “Maman allez.”

Non, papa.  Maman rester.”

“Don’t you love Papa?”

The little boy studied him solemnly for a moment and turned back to Lisa, arms outstretched. “Gaston allez!”

“Non, chéri.” She brushed his cheek, kissed his nose. “Have fun with Papa.” She exited as quickly as she could manage.

Gaston’s face puckered into a pout. He began sniffling, and it wasn’t long before he was crying.  Philippe futilely tried distracting his son.

Half an hour and nearly a whole box of toys later, Gaston was standing silently at the window, clutching the curtains and watching for Lisa’s car.  Philippe was stretched out on the floor trying not to fall asleep.  He propped himself on his elbows and watched the little boy compassionately.

He crawled over to the window and cuddled Gaston. “I miss Maman, too, when she goes.” His well-meant sympathy brought tears to the little one’s eyes, which ramped back up to full-fledged crying again.

Hé, p’tit. Maybe a song?”  He thought for a minute and began. “C’est la poulette grise qui pond dans l’église…” Gaston only got louder and Philippe stopped. “Ok, not a song.” He tilted his head to one side. “Although I must say I don’t think my voice is that bad.”

He rocked the little boy and thought. A book, of course! Forty-five minutes later, he had gone through Bonsoir Lune, half a dozen Golden Books and a toy catalog that had come in the mail that day. The little boy subsided into noisy sobs and Philippe felt like joining him.

“How about something to eat?” Gaston refused all offers, looking wistfully at the door where Lisa had disappeared.

Philippe walked the floor with his son, back and forth, and tried with no success to come up with a story of his own. Finally, he sat down on the couch and turned on the Habs, playing a rare afternoon game against Vancouver.  “Regardez, Gaston! Hockey!”  At that moment, Max Pacioretty finessed a shot past Schneider, who was spelling Luongo between the pipes, and the goal horn set Gaston off again.

Philippe slumped back in the sofa.  “Je me rends. I am a horrible father.” He gave Gaston a long, sad look, and the little boy quieted to hiccups.

***

Lisa sighed as she unlocked the door.  She loved her husband and adored her son, but sometimes she just had to get away for a bit.

As she closed the door behind her, Lisa froze in shock.  The room was a shambles, with toys and books scattered across the floor, the orange juice out on the counter, along with a banana, half a sandwich and a small pile of cookies.  The hockey game had given way to L’antichambre, and the sound was off.

“Philippe?” Lisa called quietly.

A small head popped up over the back of the couch. Gaston tried putting one finger to his lips and said, “Chut, Maman.” His little voice dropped to a whisper. “Papa dort.”

She came around the couch cautiously. Philippe was indeed asleep, Gaston’s favorite blanket partially covering his chest and the boy’s small pillow gently placed over his father’s face.

“Gaston aime Papa.” The little boy patted his father’s hand, crawled between Philippe and the back of the couch and carefully laid down next to him. Philippe stirred in his sleep and laid a gentle hand on his son’s head.

Lisa and Philippe #3, Three Word Wednesday, 9/28/2011

Cherish, Guarantee, Nausea – Thought I’d have some fun following up Cherries and this story

Lisa clenched her teeth tightly as the wave of nausea passed over her.  She glanced at the timer set on the bathroom sink and closed her eyes. Just five more minutes… Not that there’s any real doubt, is there?

Philippe peeked around the corner of the door, wary. Lisa’s temper had been a byword for the last week, and he didn’t want to set her off.

She smiled wanly. “It’s okay. I won’t snap your head off.”

He entered, sat down beside her on the side of the bathtub and handed her a mug of steaming hot licorice tea.

“Are you sure this will work?”

“Yes.” He gave her a sideways glance. “I guarantee it. I remember… Maman… Stephane.  It’ll help.”

She sipped slowly and he put his arm around her to pull her close.

“I love you, Philippe.”

“I know, ma belle. And I cherish you.”

The timer chimed. They both started, and then exchanged a long look.

“You look,” she said. “I can’t.”

Philippe stretched out one long arm and picked up the stick. “If there’s a line, yes?”

“Yes.”

A smile slowly spread across his face, like the sun dawning in the bathroom’s small window. He pulled her to him more tightly and kissed her on top of her head.  “So, what shall we name him?”

“Him?”

Older Than the Earth, Younger Than the Stars

I was only six the year that Miss Martha moved into our neighborhood.

She was from up North, but mostly people didn’t mind. For one thing, she was friendly and open from the start, and for another, she didn’t act as if God had sent her here to enlighten us poor ignorant Southerners. Finally, (and most importantly from my viewpoint, and that of my four-year-old sister Beatie), she made the best chocolate chip cookies I had ever tasted, even better than my mama’s.  I think it’s almost sacrilege for a Southerner to say that, but it’s the God’s honest truth.

She had moved into the house next to M’sieu’ Daniel’s. Daniel Landry was a Cajun man, tall, grey and imposing, but always kind.  Looking back, I would say he was in his early fifties, but to a six-year-old, that was older than dirt, as old as Papère LeMay in town.  Miss Martha was a little younger, but in my eyes she was pretty much the same as he. They had something else in common, too, in the beginning. Even I noticed it, or maybe it would be more accurate to say I was the only one who seemed to see it.  Many times when one or the other of them would smile, it never seemed to reach their eyes.

I never knew what tragedy had made Miss Martha uproot herself.  I do know I heard Mama say once that M’sieu’ Daniel had built his house for his young wife. She’d died of cancer two years after they got married, and after that, he got old suddenly and withdrew from many of the town activities. M’sieu’ Daniel and Miss Martha hit it off right away, and they raised a few eyebrows when he squired her to the fais do do in town her first weekend there.

People thought maybe they were in love, but I doubted that.  Love was for young people, like Lacey Pratt and Jacques Caissy, not for old folks. At Lacey’s and Jacques’ wedding, I watched Lacey twirl, dancing with her new husband, and dreamed of the day when I would be the bride, beautiful in lace and tulle. Old people, were, well — old, and I was sure they were past such youthful pursuits as falling in love.

Aged or not, Miss Martha was always nice to us kids, but even we thought she might be a little nuts when she bought the Wishing Rock. They dug up the foundation for a new store in town, and there was a large boulder in the site that might have  looked kind of like a big frog, if you squinted hard enough. The next day, Joe Thibodaux’s dump truck pulled up in front of Miss Martha’s house and Joe and some of his friends used a block and tackle to move the rock to her back yard.

When Papa asked incredulously what possessed her, Miss Martha blushed and said that when she was a little girl, there had been a rock just like this one in her family’s yard. She had called it her Wishing Rock and loved to sit on it and watch the stars. She took a lot of ribbing, but she held her ground and on warm, clear nights, she would go and sit on the new Wishing Rock and enjoy the evening skies.

It was one night in mid-August that year when I came to understand her and M’sieu’ Daniel a little better.  Papa said there were going to be some pursy-hids that night, better than fireworks.  He winked at Mama, and she pursed her lips in pretended disapproval, but the twinkle in her eyes gave her away.  Beatie and me, we were shooed out of the house, with the suggestion that we might want to sit on the Wishing Rock and watch for the pursy-hids.

When we got to the side of Miss Martha’ s home, we saw the Rock was already taken.  M’sieu’ Daniel was sitting behind Miss Martha, with his arms around her, and she was sitting sideways, leaning on him, her head on his shoulder. As we watched silently, he put one hand under her chin, tilted her head back, leaned forward and kissed her. I was shocked.  What in earth are they doing? I knew that Papa kissed Mama, but that was them.  They were supposed to. They weren’t old people yet, not  like M’sieu’ Daniel and Miss Martha were.

Beatie broke the spell by giggling. Mortified, I clapped my hand over her mouth, but it was already too late.  Neither of our elders seemed to mind; they smiled at each other and waved us over.

“You come here now, Annie and Beatie.  Come here and sit wit’ us.”

Beatie always preferred sitting with M’sieu’ Daniel, so I wound up on Miss Martha’s lap.

“Papa sent us to see the pursy-hids.  What’s a pursy-hid, Miss Martha?”

She laughed gently.  “It’s Perseids, my dear,” and spelled it for me.  “Look, there! See that?” as a light streaked across the sky.  “That’s a meteor.  The Perseids are a whole shower of those lights — those meteors. And tonight’s the best night to see them. Look!” as an even brighter light flashed to earth, and another and another. Beatie watched the lights in awe, a little smile on her face. And me? I looked back at Miss Martha and M’sieu’ Daniel.  In the flashes of starlight, their faces seemed of no age — neither old nor young, exactly, but beautiful and timeless.  With a wisdom I still can’t understand the source of, I suddenly realized that sharing hearts wasn’t about age.  One could be older than the earth or younger than the stars, and still love.

Six months later, Miss Martha and M’sieu’ Daniel married and moved into Miss Martha’s house.  They’re still there, twenty-some years on, a little older, a little greyer. And on warm, clear nights they still sit on the Wishing Rock, holding hands and watching the constellations together.

All In A Touch

“Try to understand. This isn’t a debate. Nothing you say will affect my decision.”

“Then why did you even tell me, Danielle?”

She turned away, her voice taut. “I had some rudimentary idea of fairness, I suppose. And because Michel thought you should know, that he would want to in the same circumstances.”

“Hurrah for Michel. How did he become part of this?”

“How do you think?” She tried unsuccessfully to keep the contempt from her voice.

Luc stood with his back to her, watching her in the mirror across from him. “This was the one thing I didn’t want. I thought I was clear on that from the beginning.”

“You said you didn’t want it. Not that you wouldn’t want to know if it happened.”

“I would have thought that the one implied the other.” He ran his hands through his thick black hair in desperation and then turned to look at her, to survey the face he had loved once and bruised more than once. “So now what I am to do?”

“I don’t know. I don’t expect you to know right now, either. I know I just dropped quite a bomb on you. It’s no surprise that you would need some time to think about it. I’m not sure that there’s anything for you to do.”

Merci bien for that consideration, at least.” He took his blazer off the chair where he had thrown it and walked to the door. “I’ll be in touch when I’ve figured out how I feel — though how it matters, I can hardly imagine.”

Cher, wait.” Her voice softened. “I tried to think how you would feel ten years from now if we ran into one another and you found out.”

He turned back to face her. “Yes, there is that. I suppose it would be quite a shock then. And oddly painful, as well, to know you kept it from me.”

They stood across the room from one another, no longer lovers, not friends, but not quite antagonists.

“Luc — ” She paused, suddenly unsure.  “Despite everything, I still… love…  you enough not to want to be the one who hurts you. I hope you one day find the man you could be, that I believed you were.”

He watched her tunic jump as the baby turned inside her and pushed his hands outward, reaching for the world awaiting him.

He slowly extended his own hand, almost expecting a rebuke, but she didn’t move — nearly a miracle, really, when you considered how many times his gestures had been much less gentle. He stepped forward and touched his son’s hand through her for a brief moment, whirled away suddenly and walked out the door.

He made it to the sidewalk before his tears began to fall.

Three Word Wednesday, 9/22/2010

gait, nudge, ripen

He stumbles towards me; his shambling gait
That of a drunkard in one older than he,
But in his childish state
A march as majestic as any monarch.

One day he will mature
Burst forth from this beginning; ripen
And walk with a stride that’s sure
Be confident and proud.

But for now, we are pleased, he
And I, with this beginning.
I would not nudge him on to be
Any more than he, toddling, is.

Boarding Call

boff

The little boy sat with his great-grandfather and waited anxiously. He saw a soldier coming through the terminal and started to jump up and down. “Papère! It’s him!” When the man got closer, he realized he was wrong. “Darn.” He plopped back down and sat, chin in hands, disappointed.

“Paulie, I told you that when he comes, he’ll come from that way, ” said his vieux-papère, pointing in the opposite direction. “Now sit down and be patient, cher.”

Papère, I don’t know HOW to be patient.”

“I’ve noticed that,” the old man said with a grin. “But try, anyway.”

“Okay.” Paulie leaned against him and sighed. “Papère, can I ask you something?”

“Maybe.” Paul surveyed his namesake with concern. T’is little fellow has no off-switch on his curiosity and one day he’s going to ask the wrong person the wrong question. Just that afternoon, Paulie had been puzzled by the appearance of a very large man with multiple piercings and tattoos. Before his great-grandfather could stop him, Paulie started with the questions. Fortunately, despite his fierce appearance, the big man was quite kind and had handled the child’s shower of interrogatives with patience, to the older man’s relief. My elephant’s child, he thought, shaking his head with amusement. Oh, Paulie, what are we going to do wit’ you?

“What did you want to know?” Just then, his cell phone rang. Dratted technology. He reached for it, and was bemused when Paulie grabbed it first and stared at the caller ID. He recognized the number and sagged in relief. “It’s just Mamère Amelie”.

Paul took it from him and answered it, quizzically surveying the little boy. He explained to his daughter that no, her grandson had not yet arrived, and yes, Paulie was fine and he was fine and that she should just quit worrying. “I’ll call you when we see him; just go on and help Cherry get dinner ready for when we get back.”

He chuckled at her pretend-meek “Oui, Papa” and hung up.

“Paulie, what was that all about? Why did you grab t’e cell phone?”

The little boy sat on the edge of the plastic chair, legs kicking, staring at the ground. “Well …”

“Well?”

“Denis said you were old.”

Paul nodded. “Yes, I am. Your big brother is right about t’at.”

“And he said old people die. But Papère –, ” he said, all in a rush, “I don’t want you to die. You — you haven’t taught me everything you know!” He finished, still not able to meet the old man’s eyes. “And I’d miss you. You’re my vieux-papère. Mine. I don’t want God to have you yet.”

God. Ah, I t’ink I understand. “Did Denis tell you that when God calls me, I have to go?”

Paulie nodded earnestly. “Oui! So I t’ought if I answered t’e phone first, I’d tell God he’d just have to wait because Paulie LeMercier needs his vieux-papère. And t’en I’d hang up. So t’ere!”

If it had been anyone else but Paulie, the older Paul would have thrown his head back and laughed until he cried. But he knew this was deadly serious for the little one and he wanted to help him understand.

Cher, it’s not t’at kind of a call.”

“Oh.”

“One day, when it’s time, I’ll die, yes. But I don’t believe dying means that I end. I think we continue, only differently.”

“But I won’t see you. You won’t take me shrimping or show me how to whittle,” the little boy said earnestly, eyes screwed up against threatened tears.

The old man put his arm around the little boy. “I understand, Paulie. I miss my Papère aussi, and my papa et mama, and my Nonc Pierre, all of them. It’s okay to be sad when it happens. But you must go on. A little bit of me will always be wit’ you. Did you know you look just like me when I was your age?”

“I do?”

“You do. And one day very long from now, you’ll sit with your great-grandson, and maybe he will be named Paulie, too, and you’ll tell him what I just told you. And he’ll carry on for me and you, and my Nonc Pierre and his uncle — all of us will live through him. And until that day, we live through you.”

Paulie looked at him. “When you go — wherever you go — will you remember me?”

“I promise, cher. How could I ever forget you?”

“I won’t forget you either. I promise, too.”

“Good.” Paul tapped him on the shoulder. He gestured down the concourse. “Look who’s here.”

“Andre!” The little boy jumped up and ran to his brother.

Paul glanced up and saw the departure board. One day soon, Bon Dieu. I know t’at. But not today, eh? He stood carefully and headed slowly toward his great-grandsons.