Authors: V. C. Andrews
But my mother lay buried in the cemetery a half mile away and my father. . . my father was a blank face with no name, a stranger who had come passing through the bayou and met my mother at a
a Cajun dance. According to Grandmere Catherine, the love they made so wildly and carefree that night resulted in my birth. What hurt me beside my mother's tragic death was the realization that somewhere out there lived a man who never knew he had a daughter, had me. We would never set eyes on each other, never exchange a word. We wouldn't even see each other's shadows or silhouettes like two fishing boats passing in the night.
When I was a little girl I invented a game: the Daddy Game, I would study myself in the mirror and then try to imagine my facial characteristics on a man. I would sit at my drawing table and sketch his face. Conjuring the rest of him was harder. Sometimes I made him very tall, as tall as Grandpere Jack, and sometimes just an inch or so taller than I was. He was always a well-built, muscular man. I decided long ago that he must have been good-looking and very charming to have won my mother's heart so quickly.
Some of the drawings became watercolor paintings. In one of them, I set my imaginary father in a fais dodo hall, leaning against a wall, smiling because he had first set eyes on my mother. He looked sexy and dangerous, just the way he must have looked to draw my beautiful mother to him. In another painting, I had him walking down a road, but turned to wave good-bye. I always thought there was a promise in his face in that picture, the promise of return.
Most of my paintings had a man in them that in my imagination was my father. He was either on a shrimp boat or poling a pirogue through one of the canals or across one of the ponds. Grandmere Catherine knew why the man was in my pictures. I saw how sad it made her, but I couldn't help myself. Lately, she had urged me to paint swamp animals and birds more often than people.
On weekends, we would put some of my paintings out with our woven blankets, sheets, and towels, our split-oak baskets and palmetto hats. Grandmere would also put out her jars of herbal cures for headaches, insomnia, and coughs. Sometimes, we had a pickled snake or a large bullfrog in a jar because the tourists who drove by and stopped loved to buy them. Many loved to eat Grandmere's gumbo or jambalaya. She would ladle out small bowls of it and they would sit at the benches and tables in front of our house and enjoy a real Cajun lunch.
All in all, I suppose my life in the bayou wasn't as bad as the lives some motherless and fatherless children led. Grandmere Catherine and I didn't have many worldly goods, but we had our small safe home and we were able to get by with our loom work and handicrafts. From time to time, although admittedly not often enough, Grandpere Jack would drop by to give us part of what he made trapping muskrats, which was the main way he earned a living these days. Grandmere Catherine was too proud or too angry at him to accept it gracefully. Either I would take it or Grandpere would just leave it on the kitchen table.
"I don't expect no thanks from her," he would mutter to me, "but at least she could acknowledge I'm here leaving her the damn money. It's hard earned, it is," he would declare in a loud voice on the galerie steps. Grandmere Catherine would say nothing in reply, but usually keep on doing whatever she was doing inside.
"Thank you, Grandpere," I would tell him.
"Ah, I don't want your thanks. It's not your thanks I'm asking for, Ruby. I just want someone to know I ain't dead and buried or swallowed by a gator. Someone to at least have the decency to look at me," he often moaned, still loud enough for Grandmere to hear.
Sometimes, she appeared in the doorway if he said something that got to her.
"Decency," she cried from behind the screen door. "Did I hear you, Jack Landry, talk of decency?"
"Ah . . ." Grandpere Jack waved his long arm in her direction and turned away to return to the swamp.
"Wait, Grandpere," I cried, running after him.
"Wait? For what? You ain't seen stubborn until you've seen a Cajun woman with her mind made up. There's nothin' to wait for," he declared, and walked on, his hip boots sucking through the spongelike grass and earth.
Usually, he wore his red coat which was a cross between a vest and a fireman's raincoat, with huge sewn in pockets that circled around behind from two sides. They had slit openings and were called rat pockets, for that was where he put his muskrats.
Whenever he charged off in anger, his long, stark white hair would fly up and around his head and look like white flames. He was a dark-skinned man. The Landrys were said to have Indian blood. But he had emerald green eyes that twinkled with an impish charm when he was sober and in a good mood. Tall and lanky and strong enough to wrestle with a gator, Grandpere Jack was something of a legend in the bayou. Few men lived off the swamp as well as he did.
But Grandmere Catherine was down on the Landrys and often brought me to tears when she cursed the day she'd married Grandpere.
"Let it be a lesson to you, Ruby," she told me one day. "A lesson as to how the heart can trick and confuse the mind. The heart wants what the heart wants. But before you give yourself to a man, be sure you have a good idea as to where he's going to take you. Sometimes, the best way to see the future, is to look at the past," Grandmere advised. "I should have listened to what everyone told me about the Landrys. They're so full of bad blood . . . they've been bad since the first Landrys settled here. It wasn't long before signs were posted in these parts saying, No Landrys Allowed. How's that for bad and how's that for listening to your young heart instead of older wisdom?"
"But surely, you must have loved Grandpere once. You must have seen something good in him," I insisted.
"I saw what I wanted to see," she replied. She was stubborn when it came to him, but for reasons I still didn't understand. That day I must have felt a streak of contrariness or bravery, because I tried to probe at the past.
"Grandmere, why did he move away? Was it just because of his drinking, because I think he would stop if he lived with us again?"
Her eyes cut sharply toward rue. "No, it's not just because of his drinking." She was quiet a moment. "Although that's good enough a reason."
"Is it because of the way he gambles away his money?"
"Gambling ain't the worse of it," she snapped in a voice that said I should let the matter drop. But for some reason I couldn't.
"Then what is, Grandmere? What did he do that was so terrible?"
Her face darkened and then softened a bit. "It's between him and me," she said. "It ain't for you to know. You're too young to understand it all, Ruby. If Grandpere Jack was meant to live with us. . . things would have been different," she insisted and left me as confused and frustrated as ever.
Grandmere Catherine had such wisdom and such power. Why couldn't she do something to make us a family again? Why couldn't she forgive Grandpere and use her power to change him so that he could live with us once more? Why couldn't we be a real family?
No matter what Grandpere Jack told me and other people, no matter how much he swore, ranted, and raved, I knew he had to be a lonely man living by himself in the swamp. Few people visited him and his home was really no more than a shack. It sat six feet off the marsh on pilings. He had a cistern to collect rainwater and butane lanterns for lights. It had a wood heater for burning scrap lumber and driftwood. At night he would sit on his galerie and play mournful tunes on his accordion and drink his rotgut whiskey.
He wasn't really happy and neither was Grandmere Catherine. Here we were returning from the Rodrigues home after chasing off an evil spirit and we couldn't chase off the evil spirits that dwelt in the shadows of our own home. In my heart I thought Grandmere Catherine was like the shoemaker without any shoes. She can do so much good for others, but she seemed incapable of doing the same sort of things for herself.
Was that the destiny of a Traiteur? A price she had to pay to have the power?
Would it be my destiny as well: to help others but be unable to help myself?
The bayou was a world filled with many mysterious things. Every journey into it, revealed something surprising. A secret until that moment not discovered. But the secrets held in our own hearts were the secrets I longed to know the most.
Just before we reached home, Grandmere Catherine said, "There's someone at the house." With a definite note of disapproval, she added, "It's that Tate boy again."
Paul was sitting on the galerie steps playing his harmonica, his motor scooter set against the cypress stump. The moment he set eyes on our lantern, he stopped playing and stood up to greet us.
Paul was the seventeen-year-old son of Octavious Tate, one of the richest men in Houma. The Tates owned a shrimp cannery and lived in a big house. They had a pleasure boat and expensive cars. Paul had two younger sisters, Jeanne, who was in my class at school, and Toby, who was two years younger. Paul and I had known each other all our lives, but just recently had begun to spend more time together. I knew his parents weren't happy about it. Paul's father had more than one run-in with Grandpere Jack and disliked the Landrys.
"Everything all right, Ruby?" Paul asked quickly as we drew closer. He wore a light blue cotton polo shirt, khaki pants, and leather boots laced tightly beneath them. Tonight he looked taller and wider to me, and older, too.
"Grandmere and I went to see the Rodrigues family. Mrs. Rodrigues's baby was born dead," I told him.
"Oh, that's horrible," Paul said softly. Of all the boys I knew at school, Paul seemed the most sincere and the most mature, although, one of the shyest. He was certainly one of the handsomest with his cerulean blue eyes and thick,
hair, which was what the Cajuns called brown mixed with blond. "Good evening, Mrs. Landry," he said to Grandmere Catherine.
She flashed her gaze on him with that look of suspicion she had ever since the first time Paul had walked me home from school. Now that he was coming around more often, she was scrutinizing him even more closely, which was something I found embarrassing. Paul seemed a little amused, but a little afraid of her as well. Most folks believed in Grandmere's prophetic and mystical powers.
"Evening," she said slowly. "Might be a downpour yet tonight," she predicted. "You shouldn't be motoring about with that flimsy thing."
"Yes, ma'am," Paul said.
Grandmere Catherine shifted her eyes to me. "We got to finish the weavin' we started," she reminded me.
"Yes, Grandmere. I'll be right along."
She looked at Paul again and then went inside.
"Is your grandmother very upset about losing the Rodrigues baby?" he asked.
"She wasn't called to help deliver it," I replied, and I told him why she had been summoned and what we had done. He listened with interest and then shook his head.
"My father doesn't believe in any of that. He says superstitions and folklore are what keeps the Cajuns backward and makes other folks think we're ignorant. But I don't agree," he added quickly.
"Grandmere Catherine is far from ignorant," I added, not hiding my indignation. "It's ignorant not to take precautions against evil spirits and bad luck."
Paul nodded. "Did you . . . see anything?" he asked.
"I felt it fly by my face," I said, placing my hand on my cheek. "It touched me here. And then I thought I saw it leave."
Paul released a low whistle.
"You must have been very brave," he said.
"Only because I was with Grandmere Catherine," I confessed.
"I wish I had gotten here earlier and been with you . . . to make sure nothing bad happened to you," he added. I felt myself blush at his desire to protect me.
"I'm all right, but I'm glad it's over," I admitted. Paul laughed.
In the dim illumination of our galerie light, his face looked softer, his eyes even warmer. We hadn't done much more than hold hands and kiss a halfdozen times, only twice on the lips, but the memory of those kisses made my heart flutter now when I looked at him and stood so closely to him. The breeze gently brushed aside some strands of hair that had fallen over his forehead. Behind the house, the water from the swamps lapped against the shore and a night bird flapped its wings above us, invisible against the dark sky.
"I was disappointed when I came by and you weren't home," he said. "I was just about to leave when I saw the light of your lantern."
"I'm glad you waited," I replied, and his smile widened. "But I can't invite you in because Grandmere wants us to finish the blankets we'll put up for sale tomorrow. She thinks we'll be busy this weekend and she's usually right. She always remembers which weekends were busier than others the year before. No one has a better memory for those things," I added.
"I got to work in the cannery all day tomorrow, but maybe I can come by tomorrow night after dinner and we can walk to town to get a cup of crushed ice," Paul suggested.
"I'd like that," I said. Paul stepped closer to me and fixed his gaze on my face. We drank each other in for a moment before he worked up enough courage to say what he really had come to say. "What I really want to do is take you to the fais dodo next Saturday night," he declared quickly.
I had never been out on a real date before. Just the thought of it filled me with excitement. Most girls my age would be going to the fais dodo with their families and dance with boys they met there, but to be picked up and escorted and to dance only with Paul all night . . . that sent my mind reeling.
"I'll have to ask Grandmere Catherine," I said, quickly adding, "but I'd like that very much."
"Good. Well," he said, backing up toward his motor scooter, "I guess I better be going before that downpour comes." He didn't take his eyes off me as he stepped away and he caught his heel on a root. It sat him down firmly.
"Are you all right?" I cried, rushing to him. He laughed, embarrassed.
"I'm fine, except for a wet rear end," he added, and laughed. He reached up to take my hand and stand, and when he did, we were only inches apart. Slowly, a millimeter at a time, our lips drew closer and closer until they met. It was a short kiss, but a firmer and more confident one on both our parts. I had gone up on my toes to bring my lips to his and my breasts grazed his chest. The unexpected contact with the electricity of our kiss sent a wave of warm, pleasant excitement down my spine.
"Ruby," he said, bursting with emotion now. "You're the prettiest and nicest girl in the whole bayou."