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Authors: Robert Cormier

Frenchtown Summer

BOOK: Frenchtown Summer
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That summer,
Frenchtown was a place
of Sahara afternoons,
shadows in doorways,
lingering evenings,
full of unanswered questions
and mysteries.

It was also the summer
of my twelfth birthday,
the summer
of Sister Angela
and Marielle LeMoyne
(even though she was dead)
and my brother, Raymond,
and all the others,
but especially my uncle Med
and my father.

And finally
it was the summer
of the airplane.

Other books
by Robert Cormier

After the First Death
Beyond the Chocolate War
The Bumblebee Flies Anyway
The Chocolate War
Eight Plus One
Fade
Heroes
I Am the Cheese
I Have Words to Spend
In the Middle of the Night
A Little Raw on Monday Mornings
Now and at the Hour
Other Bells for Us to Ring
The Rag and Bone Shop
Take Me Where the Good Times Are
Tenderness
Tunes for Bears to Dance To
We All Fall Down

To Bobbie, Peter, Chris and Renée
With Love, Dad

That summer in Frenchtown
in the days
when I knew my name
but did not know who I was,
we lived on the second floor
of the three-decker on Fourth Street.
From the piazza late in the afternoon
I watched for my father,
waiting for him to come home
from the Monument Comb Shop.
No matter how tired he was,
his step was quick.
He'd always look up, expecting to see me,
and that's why I was there,
not wanting to disappoint him
or myself.

That was the summer of my first paper route,
and I walked the tenement canyons
of Frenchtown
delivering
The Monument Times
,
dodging bullies and dogs,
wondering what I was doing
here on the planet Earth,
not knowing yet that the deep emptiness
inside me
was
loneliness.

I felt like a ghost
on Mechanic Street,
transparent as rain,
until the growling of Mr. Mellier's dog
restored my flesh and blood
and hurried me on my way.
I was always glad to arrive home,
where my mother,
who looked like a movie star,
welcomed me with a kiss and a hug.
My mother filled the tenement with smells,
cakes in the oven,
hot donuts in bubbling oil,
and hamburg laced with onions sizzling
in the black pan she called the Spider.
She loved books, lilac cologne,
and me.

My mother was vibrant,
a wind chime,
but my father was a silhouette,
as if obscured
by a light shining behind him.
He was closer to me waving from the street
than nearby in the tenement
or walking beside me.
On summer Saturdays,
the men gathered
at the Happy Times bar
or in Rouleau's Barber Shop
and talked about the Boston Red Sox
and the prospects of a layoff
at the Monument Comb Shop
while my brother, Raymond,
swapped baseball cards
in Pee Alley
with his best friend, Alyre Tournier.
I stood beside my father
as he listened
to what the men were saying,
smoking his Chesterfields,
and I wished I could be like him,
mysterious,
silent.

I was not famous in the schoolyard, or on the street corners, content to cheer for Raymond,
who was a star at everything,
baseball at Carder's Field,
Buck Buck How Many Fingers Up?
in the schoolyard,
while I read
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
or
A Study in Scarlet
on the piazza,
avoiding the possibility
of dropping a fly ball in center field.

My paper route took me
from the green three-decker
next to the Boston & Maine railroad tracks
where downtown Monument
met Frenchtown,
along Mechanic
and all the numbered streets
from First to Twelfth.
My last customer was Mr. Lottier
at the end of Mechanic Street
next to the sewer beds.

I held my nose
as I tossed the paper to his piazza.
He always smiled
when he paid me on Friday,
as if his nose didn't work.

That summer, Frenchtown was a place of Sahara afternoons, shadows in doorways, lingering evenings, full of unanswered questions and mysteries.

It was also the summer of my twelfth birthday, the summer of Sister Angela and Marielle LeMoyne (even though she was dead) And my brother, Raymond, and all the others,
but especially my uncle Med
and my father.

And finally
it was the summer
of the airplane.

How many times I have heard
the men at the Happy Times
talking about the famous dancer
in a London dressing room
who decided,
on a whim,
to cut off her tumbling locks
of auburn hair,
plunging Frenchtown
into a depression
a year later because
women all over the world
adopted her bobbed hairstyle
and did not require anymore
the fancy combs
and barrettes,
glittering with rhinestones,
dancing with sequins,
that paraded from the assembly lines
of the Frenchtown comb shops.
My father didn't work for a year.
Just a child then,
too young to understand
what was happening,
I only knew that my mother
did not smile anymore,
her voice like one long sad note
struck on a piano
when she read me stories,
while my father seemed to have gone away
even though I could see him clearly
in his kitchen chair by the window,
the silence in the tenement
a terrible noise
in my heart.

Moosock Brook
kept disappearing
as it flowed
through downtown Monument
and later Frenchtown,
red, purple or green,
depending on the dyes
dumped that day by the comb shops.
The brook slid
under Main Street
and reappeared
on Water Street,
colors hectic in the sunlight,
until it went unseen again
beneath the B&M railroad bridge,
before finally flowing
into the Meadows.
There it created
a sudden pool
into which Frenchtown kids,
Raymond among them,
plunged with glorious abandon,
emerging later,
dripping
red, purple or green
depending on the dyes
dumped that day
by the shops.

I wore my aviator helmet,
the goggles pushed up
on my head
in careless fashion,
striding through the streets
like a World War hero
home after aerial battles
over the trenches in France
until Hector Henault
tore the helmet from my head,
dashed it to the ground
and crushed the goggles
under his boots,
the sound
like my own bones cracking.
He paused to view his damage.
Holding the ruined goggles
in hands that trembled,
I withheld tears
as I screamed at him:
“Die, you dirty rat, die,”
(but silently, of course)
like James Cagney
in the movies.

Three days later,
Hector Henault was crushed
like my goggles
under the wheels of a Mack truck
on Mechanic Street
near Fifth.
They said he died instantly.
I was awestruck
by my power to kill.
On the fourth of July,
Oliver Randeau,
giggling,
lobbed a firecracker my way.
It exploded like a grenade
against my ear,
stunning my skull with pain.
Knowing the power I possessed,
I ignored the mad doorbells
ringing in my head
and looked at him.
Because he was stupid,
still in the sixth grade
at the age of fourteen,
with a left eye that often
went askew,
I decided
not to kill him.

Whenever I met him later,
on the sidewalks or in the empty lots,
I deflected his baleful stare
with a pitying smile.
Frowning, he always looked away.
Did he somehow know
that I held the power
of life and death over him?

I wondered whether I should confess this power of mine to Father Balthazar but instead vowed never to use it again even if absolutely necessary.

BOOK: Frenchtown Summer
4.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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