Authors: Linda Kepner
Tags: #romance, #historical
.” Bishou kept her eyes shut. The shampoo and scalp massage felt so good. She hadn’t realized how tense she was, either. The tension was now vanishing. She sighed, “Oh, I want to stay in this chair. I don’t want to go back out into the world.”
Mama Jo chuckled again. “Do you love your man?”
“I love him very much.”
“Then I’ll give you some massage oil for him, so he will feel like that, too.”
“You are very kind.”
“You will be lying with him for the first time?” Mama Jo asked.
,” Bishou admitted, blushing.
“Then I will give you a jar of cream, too, with lanolin in it, for your breasts and thighs, in case he is rough with you. Prison men are often rough,” Mama Jo said frankly, “whether they mean to be or not.”
. That is a good idea,” said Bishou.
“How long was he in prison?”
“Seven years, at hard labor.”
Mama Jo let out a silent whistle. “It seemed like a moment, to those of us who weren’t there. I remember his wedding, to the first Madame Dessant.”
, to Celie Bourjois, who was actually Carola Alese.”
“Daunting, non? To be
la deuxième Madame Dessant
? Something to live up to?”
, Mama Jo. On my worst days, I still treat him better than she did.”
,” she said thoughtfully, toweling Bishou’s hair. “I signed one of the petitions to the Prefect for his release.”
“He and the Prefect are friends. The petitions were quite effective,” said Bishou.
“That is nice to know, that something good came of them. Perhaps there is some justice in the world, after all.” Mama Jo motioned Bishou to another chair. Bishou moved. Mama Jo took a razor, and began trimming the ends of Bishou’s hair. “I remember that day. We went to the wedding — I think everyone did. We sat in the back. I saw the ring that did not fit until she forced it on, herself. I saw her face like stone. I said to Armand, ‘
, he is an innocent virgin, he will be sorry for this.’ But surely, no one expected something like what happened.”
Bishou smiled. “You are married to Armand, the bus driver?”
. How do you think I knew who you were?”
,” Bishou grinned. Gossip.
Mama Jo chuckled, a deep chuckle that suited her. “There is enough of that, too. I am glad to confirm my gossip from the source, though.”
“So far, you haven’t been wrong about anything.”
Ceci giggled, “Mama Jo is never wrong about anything.”
“Hush, child!” Mama Jo chuckled, still trimming. “That is not true. But maybe we will come over and sit in the back. When are you married?”
“And no plans for little ones yet?”
“I think that will just happen,” Bishou replied.
“Madame is a teacher,” said Ceci.
“You are? Will they let you teach if you’re carrying a child?”
“It depends on how much they want me to teach, or how much I want to stay home.”
“Well, you don’t need the money, do you?”
Bishou sighed. “Yes and no. I don’t always want to take and take and take from Louis,
Like Carola did. Even Louis called her a parasite. If all I do is keep practicing my teaching, and cover my bus fare and café expenses, then I will be content.”
for the days you will not be with your children?” Mama Jo suggested.
“I cannot force myself to think that far ahead, but I suppose yes.”
“You have strong muscles. You have a body that a man would want. I don’t think it will be long before you are
. You should plan for it.”
, let me get through the wedding first.”
This time, Mama Jo laughed outright.
She soaked Bishou’s hands, and gave her a manicure. Then she soaked her feet, and gave her a pedicure. Bishou hadn’t even thought about that — the open-toed shoes.
“Where are your parents, Bishou?”
“Back in America. They are too sick to travel so many thousands of kilometers. My father has a brain injury from a car accident. My mother is in a wheelchair, from the same accident.”
“You have no family here?”
, my elder brother Jean-Baptiste and my younger brothers Andre and Gerard are here. Today, Andy and Gerry are with friends, and Bat — Jean-Baptiste — has gone off somewhere with Louis.”
“He will not bring him back sober,” Mama Jo predicted.
“He had better, or find another continent to hide on. I already told him so.”
Mama Jo chuckled. “They are men. They will do what they wish.”
“Probably true,” Bishou admitted.
Mama Jo applied a light polish to toenails as well as fingernails. “Hold still and let this dry.”
“I am simply not used to
calling me Madame.”
“Then adjust to it,” said Bishou, as frankly as Mama Jo had spoken to her.
“No. You will call me Mma Jo, as others do.”
“As you wish,” Bishou replied.
Bishou stood and gathered up her purse and shopping bag. Mama Jo added the massage oil and crème jar to her bag. At the front counter, Mama Jo named a price that was half what Bishou was used to. Bishou added a tip, and thanked her.
Ceci walked with Bishou back to Rue Marché. “Did I make you lose time from work?”
. But it was interesting, and Madame Ross will want to know what happened.”
“I like that place. I liked Mma Jo. I didn’t realize, at first, that you were saying Mma Jo.” Mrs. Joe.
Ceci nodded. “Or Mama Jo. We use either name for her, she doesn’t mind.”
“So I gathered. May I give you something, too?” She pulled out a ten-franc note and gave it to Ceci.
Ceci smiled like she had been given the keys of the kingdom. “Thank you so much, Mademoiselle Bishou — Madame Bishou.”
“Thank you for your help,” Bishou replied, and began the walk back to the pension.
Now she spent time cleaning out her hotel room. When the car contained everything but what she needed tomorrow, she trundled on to Rue Dessant. Bettina met her at the door.
“I’ve come to bring over my things,” Bishou told her.
“For your new room upstairs, madame?” Bettina smiled.
“Oui, for that room.”
She brought in backpacks, packages, notebooks, and clothing. Bettina helped her arrange things in a brown rattan-and-iron armoire that blended perfectly with the other furnishings of the exotic bedroom. They also turned the little desk in the salon, next to the telephone, into a work desk for Bishou. Currently it was idle, containing only a few bills Louis needed to pay.
“There,” said Bishou at last, “I have everything out of the hotel room except the few things I will need tomorrow. I can make up one last bundle of those, or someone else can.”
“There is not much here,” Bettina said doubtfully.
“I’ll send for my trunk from home, later. But, you know, much of what is in my trunk are clothes for the colder weather of New England. I don’t really have much I want to bring to this new life.”
Tears fell from the older woman’s eyes. “‘This new life.’ Oh, if you knew what that meant to Monsieur Dessant. He says, ‘I suggested Bishou buy a sundress here, she’s never had one.’ And he says it so quietly. But it makes him so happy.”
“I want to make him happy,” said Bishou. “He’s such a good man. He really deserves happiness.”
The tears were out of control. “He’s like a little boy sometimes. I so — so don’t want to see him hurt.”
“We’ll do our best to keep that from happening,” Bishou promised.
• • •
With Denise riding shotgun and the boys in the back, Bishou drove the old gray Ford down the coast road. “So how far to East Beach?”
“Fifteen minutes, maybe twenty,” Denise replied. “Do you know what they’re up to?”
“Bat said something about getting out on the ocean, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he rented a boat or a canoe.”
“On the ocean!”
“They’re both strong men,” Bishou reminded her. “It’s not as if you and I were going to do it.”
“I should say not! I’m glad they didn’t drag Etien along — Bat telephoned him and told him to mind the store because he was taking Louis.”
“They have everything covered, don’t they? Thank goodness for Etien.” Bishou suspected that Etien was physically weaker than the other two, and parking him at the factory had been a good thing. But she would never hint as much.
At last they were at
, East Beach, a gravelly and sandy strip just off the grass. Louis’s white car was parked there. They got out, and the boys went tearing down the beach, calling to each other.
“Oh, they’ll get their clothes all wet and sandy!” Denise complained.
“Well, they are boys,” Bishou returned. “We can’t send them out naked, can we?”
“Speaking of boys.” Denise touched her shoulder, and pointed out toward the Indian Ocean.
There were several boats out there, all canoes, rowboats, or similar styles. One caught her eye. It was canoe-like, running parallel to the shore, with two men paddling. Both were shirtless and intent upon their work.
Bishou tsked. “The Bodies Beautiful.”
beautiful,” said Denise.
They must have seen the women, because they turned to paddle in their direction. It was easy to see muscles strain on both competent oarsmen. At last, they were close enough to jump into the water and drag the boat in. Both men were barefoot and had rolled up their pants legs, but were seawater-soaked nonetheless.
Bishou kicked off her shoes, ran out, and grabbed hold of the canoe. It was a heavy one, vintage 1940 or 1950, but many hands made light work. They dragged it up onto the beach.
She knew Bat had stayed in shape, but had never really thought about what hard labor had done to Louis’s body. His chest was every inch as well-muscled as that of the soldier. He concentrated on dragging the boat further aground, and then glanced up at Bishou with a smile.
“All right,” said Bat, “I think that’s where we got it from. Hey, baby sister.” He reached into his pocket, unperturbed, pulled out a waterproof packet, and freed a cigarette and matches from it. In a moment he was smoking, walking back to Denise with them. The men opened the trunk of Louis’ car and got their clothes out.
“Where are the boys?” asked Louis. The women pointed down the beach, where they had already found some other children to play with.
“Mmph, good,” approved Bat. “Fresh air and exercise.”
Louis pulled a blanket out of the trunk. “I’m going to sit down for a while and dry off.
Bat reached out his hand. Bishou placed the keys to the Ford in it. Bat told her, “You stay with Louis. I’m going to go back with Denise and everyone, and get ready to play Boy Scouts tomorrow night.”
“We’re going to have a tent in Campards’ back yard the night of the wedding — it was okay with Etien. The boys are going to sleep outside, cook their own meal — I’m going to pick up ingredients for macaroni and cheese — and just hang out.”
“Very considerate of you, Sergeant-Major,” said Bishou.
Bat grinned. “You can return the favor someday.” Rather than don his shirt, he draped it over his shoulder, and barked, “
Allons-y, mes garçons! Allons-y!
“Put on your shirt,” Bishou directed. “Madame Campard is a respectable woman. You must not embarrass her.” He obeyed, and buttoned up.
Milles pardons, madame
,” he said, the cigarette still not budging between his lips. Then he grinned, and ambled off to the Ford with Denise, the boys in his wake.
Louis laughed. He carried the blanket back out to a grassy spot, and spread it. He lay down, his shirt open, and let the sun and the wind dry him off. Bishou sat down beside him. His cheeks and chest were tinged with red, sunburn or windburn, but with the promise of health.
Louis folded his arms behind his head, still happy. “This was a good day. I will sleep well tonight, after all.”
He stroked her leg. “You are not wearing stockings.”
“I’m wearing sandals today.”
“Ah. I see.
.” He reached out for her.
Bishou lay down, her head on his shoulder and one hand on his bare, muscular chest. She felt the warmth of his chest, its rise and fall as he breathed. They remained that way for a long time.
“I rather like Bat,” said Louis at last. “We have had some talks. He quite frankly asked me if you and I already slept together.”
“I had already told him to mind his own business.” She stroked his chest.
. I told him I was a lonely, half-crazed widower, and not to judge by me. Then — I did tell him some of the things Carola did to me.”
“I imagine that was pretty nasty,” said Bishou.
“It was. As I told you, she taught me how to seduce and be seduced. She taught me sex. At the very end, she taught me love, misery, and death — all at the same time. Bat did say one wise thing — that I needed to be able to distinguish one from another.”
“Well, that much is truth.”
“I can distinguish them, Bishou. That I promise you.”
She smiled, and stroked his chest again. “I think you can.”
After a while, Louis announced that he was dry enough. He sat up and buttoned his shirt. Once in the car, they sought out the fisherman’s café they had dined in on Sunday. What they wore didn’t matter in this place. Today’s catch was haddock, and it was good. They spoke mainly about the food and wine, because there really wasn’t much else to say.
On the way home, he found a place to pull the car over. He kissed her like he meant it, and opened his collar so she could kiss his neck and throat. Every movement was full of promise.
One more day
, she thought.
At last, he pulled back onto the road and drove her back to the pension. As he escorted her from the car to the hotel door, he held her hand. At the door, Louis placed her hand on his bare throat. With her other hand, she stroked his hair. He kissed the hand he had placed on his throat, and sighed. “And you cannot come home with me, because the clothes are here.”