Snowdrops from Basque - Love Stories

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Featured Review on this writing by Vance Currie

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage” – Lao Tzu
Paris, 1983:
He was feeding her soup from a silver spoon, and she loved him. Feeding her like that!
HJ Note: I am so thrilled and proud to say that I read this story out live to Brentwood Writer's Circle and received a standing ovation, so here it is!

Photo: Maman, when she was young.

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage” – Lao Tzu  

Paris, 1983:

He was feeding her soup from a silver spoon, and she loved him. Feeding her like that! The soup was thick and warm, coating her gums and teeth, teasing her glands into salivation, frothing before she swallowed her mouthful. She opened her mouth, licking her raspberry-red lips with the tip of her tongue, craning her head for him, then dropped her jaw so that he could feed her again. She dribbled some, felt the tiniest trickle run down her dimpled chin, but he dabbed her clean with a soft mouchoir, so the soup never reached her neck. She blushed. Her cheeks bloomed with roses.

He stopped feeding her.

She felt his hand brush her wavy teak hair behind her elfin ear. His fingertips pressed into the line of her parting. Her hair was parted on the left. He ran his hand down her smiling face and felt her straining neck, her vein. She pursed and puckered her lips to kiss him. Their lips touched, lightly at first. Then they kissed. She ran her fingers through his hair. She loved him. They kissed and kissed, as if their lives, their loves, depended.

His hand pressed on her, stroking her chunky gold necklace. He slid his fingertips under her flimsy satin top, and caressed her neck and shoulder. She felt his hand grip her tightly, insistently, then heard a voice: vague, distant, coming close, closer. It wasn’t his voice. Their lips no longer kissed. He released her. He drifted away. Her mind pleaded for him to stay.

There was birdsong: a dawn chorus. The hum of distant traffic, a car approaching, a bus. Children’s laughter, muffled, in a nearby room. A shard of daylight filtered through the tangerine curtains, warming her face. She smiled as she felt the soft hand resting on her shoulder, shaking her awake; the sound of her mother’s voice,

‘It is time to wake up, Marie. Did you sleep well?’

Marie blinked at the sunlight as Maman walked across the threadbare carpet, went to the window, and drew back the gaudy orange curtains - sending up a fine mist of dust motes. The window was grubby, soiled with grime off the street, dashed with pigeon droppings. Maman looked down at the statue of Andre Gill, the noted cartoonist, standing formally in the middle of the small grey square, then she turned to face her daughter,

‘I had the loveliest dream, Maman,’ Marie said, pushing herself into an upright seated position with her strong legs, ‘I dreamed I fell in love with a man.’

‘Ah, but that is a lovely dream, Cheri!’

Maman was very beautiful. Her stunning looks belied her age of fifty. She had soft, round, smiling cheeks. Her blonde hair had been cut into a bob, blow-waved off her face, giving her a youthful, boyish appearance. She was up, dressed in a shabby grey cardigan over a crisp, open-neck white blouse and navy jeans. Her sleeves were rolled up to the elbows in readiness for the chores to come. Maman could easily have passed for a woman in her late twenties were it not for the worry-lines etched into her face, the dark blotches under her eyes. She stuffed a hand into her jean pocket, flashed a radiant smile at her daughter, and sagged against the wall, propping up her spirits with her outstretched arm. Marie caught the sadness in her eyes, and challenged her,

‘But I will never fall in love, will I Maman?’

Her mother, looking downcast, fixed her stare on a fat pigeon, squatting on the window ledge. She didn’t reply. Marie felt like strangling her when she acted like this, shying from the truth: her terrible imperfections.

She persisted, ‘Will I Maman?’

‘No, Cheri,’ her mother conceded, ‘You will never fall in love.’

‘But I still have you?’

‘Yes, you still have me.’

They lived in a pauper’s room, a homage to their poverty, which was sparsely furnished with a chest of drawers, wardrobe, table and chair, a sturdy three-legged stool, and a hand basin. But the walls were daubed with colour, delicate paintings: bright red tulips, yellow chicks, white blossom, azure blue seas, golden sandy beaches, shady harbours, a blood-orange sunset, and smattered here and there on a partially-painted canvas, snowdrops.

Marie pushed the duvet off the bed with her feet, swung her legs off the bed, and stood,

‘I have to go to the toilet, Maman.’

‘Call me when you have finished. Oh, and run a bath for yourself, Cheri.’

Marie nodded and padded across the worn-out carpet to their bathroom while her mother busied herself making their bed. Mother and child had slept entwined in the bed since the fateful day that she gave birth there in front of her beloved husband, Georges. She recalled the look of shock on his face, on the midwife’s face, when Marie slid too easily from her womb. How Georges burst into tears and stormed out of the room never to be seen again. The midwife staring sorrowfully into her eyes as she cut their cord and passed over her bloodied bundle of joy to Maman for her to hold and suckle, making her apologies, and leaving her to cradle the disfigured baby. That was all in 1960. Today was her daughter’s twenty-third birthday. Maman pressed the creases out of the sheet, fluffed up the pillows, and drew up the duvet, admiring the unfinished painting hanging overhead. Her mind was clouded with guilt. Her throat was choked with shame. But her eyes were filled with tears of pride. She sank to her knees and wept for her tarnished child.

Marie closed the bathroom door with her bottom, then pulled at the light cord with her mouth. The place was a dingy hole with thick black mould growing on the window fan and around the bath. She hurried to the window, pulled at the fan cord with her mouth, reached for the bath plug with her left foot, gripping its chain between her toes, and pressed it into the plug-hole with the sole of her foot. Next, she turned on the hot and cold taps with her toes, and went to the toilet. The lavatory was a dark hole in the floor with a wooden seat flush to the ground. Marie squatted over the abyss, sighing with relief as she freed her heavy bowel and emptied her swollen bladder. Then she called out to Maman,

‘I have finished!’

Quickly, she stood up, reached for the cistern handle with her right foot, and flushed the toilet. Her mother strode in, brown mascara running down her cheeks, tore off a thick wad of soft tissue, gently eased her legs apart, and wiped her bottom, front to back, as if Marie were still her baby. After disposing of the mess, she splashed a little bath foam into the warm water and gestured for her daughter to clamber into the bathtub. Marie knew why her mother had been crying, but didn’t say a word.

Once Maman had bathed and towel-dried her child they went to the bedroom, which was bright, warm and sunny, lit by dusty sunbeams. She fetched the sturdy three-legged stool, and placed it in front of the hand basin. Marie sat on the stool, reached up for the loaded toothbrush with her right foot, turned on the cold water tap with her left foot, then cleaned her teeth. Maman stood at her side. She never ceased to marvel at the sheer flexibility in the young woman’s toes: her ‘fingers’, the supple legs and feet: her ‘arms and hands.’ As Marie dabbed her mouth dry, she swivelled on the stool to face her mother, delighted, and surprised, to see a smiling, happy, Maman cradling three parcels tied up with pink ribbons in her arms,

‘Happy Birthday, Cheri!’ she cried, stemming back her tears, ‘Shall I put them on the bed for you to open?’

‘Oh, Maman! I love you! Thank you! Thank you!’

Maman placed the two flimsy packages on the middle of the bed. Marie hesitated at first,

‘Go on then, open them!’

She watched avidly as her daughter squatted on the duvet and tore apart the loose ribbons, pulling off the shiny red wrapping paper with her toes, 

‘I wonder what they are?’ Marie said, grinning from ear-to-ear.

‘You’ll see! You’ll see!’

Marie, who was born partly limb-deficient, well used to wearing old sweaters, knotted at the elbows, and Levi’s, stared despondently at the beautiful royal blue satin sleeveless top and pleated white skirt, lying between her feet. Her mother had dreaded this moment. Had feared her attempt to celebrate Marie’s womanhood, her stunning natural beauty, would cause this upset. Ashamed of the actions that she took, in all innocence, when she was a young woman herself: actions that directly resulted in her daughter’s horrid deformities. Wishing the floor would open up and swallow her whole, she braced herself,

‘What is it, Cheri?’

Marie lowered her head, so that her chin rested on her chest. Her wavy teak hair fell in a flop over her face. She cried gently. She didn’t want to upset her mother by letting her see her cry on her birthday. Marie hated her body, hated her physical aberrations, hated herself, the human abnormality that she was. Why couldn’t she be normal, like the other artists?

‘I cannot wear these clothes, Maman!’ she blurted, suddenly, ‘You know I can’t! Why have you offended me so?’

Marie’s harsh words cut into her mother’s heart like a bitter sword of hatred. Swallowing her pride, she begged her daughter’s forgiveness, explaining to her beloved that she was only trying to make amends. For the mistake she made during her pregnancy. For the drug she took when she lived in England with her husband George (his real name): the Distval, otherwise known as thalidomide. Maman opened her final present, the small parcel, and withdrew a hard, black jewellery box. She took out the chunky gold necklace and hung it round her crying daughter’s neck,

‘This was Grand Mere’s,’ she wept, ‘I want you to have it, to wear for me, always, because you are beautiful, Cheri, because you have nothing to be ashamed of. It is me who should be ashamed.’

She slumped on the bed and held her baby in her tender motherly embrace. Marie cried,

‘Oh, I am so sorry. I love you, my dear, sweet, sad Maman.’

They cried, as one. They shed teardrops.

Snowdrops.

Marie painted snowdrops.

With her mouth.

*****

Marie:


Submitted: October 03, 2021

© Copyright 2021 HJ FURL. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Cindy J. Smith

What a powerful piece. Sometimes the shortest stories show us our personal inadequacies. I am limited in my ability to understand the feelings of someone with disabilities. In this story, it shows how one person's actions which resulted in a tragedy for another. I was also touched by the way the author showed that neither seemed to understand how the reality affected the other.

Sun, October 3rd, 2021 4:13pm

Author
Reply

Thank you so much for your kind words, Cindy,
Best Wishes,
HJx

Sun, October 3rd, 2021 4:37pm

Vance Currie

Oh my, HJ. So beautiful ... so sad. I'm not sure that I would have the courage to read one of my stories aloud to an audience. I'm sure that the standing ovation was well deserved.

Sun, October 3rd, 2021 8:01pm

Author
Reply

Thank you so very much, Vance,
I thoroughly recommend reading your stories live to a group, however large or small. On this occasion, it's fair to say it was my proudest moment.

Sun, October 3rd, 2021 4:40pm

AdamCarlton

A story of great pathos, beautifully told

Incidentally it's wonderful that you share my admiration for Lao Tzu's great work.

Sun, October 3rd, 2021 9:08pm

Author
Reply

Thank you Adam,
I was particularly taken by the opening phrase - it suited Snowdrops perfectly.

Sun, October 3rd, 2021 4:44pm

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