The Renoir Is Put Straightby Pamela Ryder
L’Auberge. The sign can be seen from the road. The child will remember the vine that winds around the post. She will remember the willow in the yard.
The cottages are clapboard. The main house and the stairs to the dining room are stone. The dining room windows face east. A Renoir print hangs above the table where they always sit. Girl With Watering Can. The frame is gilt.
Breakfast is omelette au fromage, sometimes with a sprinkling of chervil. One of the guests—was it Madame Larouche?—heard that Chef Henri may surprise everyone with omlette aux truffes one day this week.
A basket covered with a cloth holds the warm baguette. The butter is sweet. A clot of jam sits in a dish. The mother tells the child that it is cherry, although it is cassis. But this is something that the child does not believe.
Most tables have a view: the lawn, the court for la boule, the swimming pond.
An orchard can be seen from the kitchen. The trees are bent and untended. Birds, undisturbed, make their nests. The unpicked apples—sooty with blight—fall and rot.
The child will remember the sweet smell of ferment, the tunnels in the browning folds of grass, and once—a glimpse of a traveling mouse.
The dining room is clean but has a well-worn look. The floorboards are wide and dark. The tablecloths are white.
Ah. Here comes Madame Ménage with her tray of flowers—rushing as usual, table to table, before Chef Henri Menage rings the breakfast bell. Madame favors yellow: buttercups in summer and goldenrod in the fall when most guests are gone.
Hop clover grows around the cottages and all along the road. The flowers are furred like the feet of the rabbits in the hutch behind the kitchen: the brown one and the all-white one and the one nearly as blue as slate. The child pets them though the mesh-wire. Chef Henri Menage tells her that she must never pick them up. They hate to be held, he says—they’ll only claw and kick. But the child does not believe Chef Henri Menage.
The child will remember the morning Chef Henri carried his stick to the hutch behind the kitchen. And that he hung all three—the brown one, the one all-white, the one as blue as slate—limp and dripping from the kitchen rack, beside the copper pots. She will remember the big hooks sunk into their flanks. The pan beneath. She will remember the word lapin to mean something to be held in one’s lap.
At last: here is Chef Henri Menage, emerging from his kitchen, barging though the old screen door. He stands on the landing at the very top step. He looks out at the fields and the mist above from the swimming pond. He looks down at the guests milling about below him on the lawn, chatting about the weather and their plans for the day. Il fait froid ce matin! Did you hear that rain last night? Après manger: le ping-pong or la boule—which?
Chef Henri leans to the rail and clangs his big square bell over them, as if he does not see them, as if they are all still in bed. Everyone looks up and shouts—Henri! Henri!—and covers their ears with their hands. Everyone laughs.
Who will remember the sound of Chef Henri’s bell? The child—the girl—will hear it in her dreams.
The guests climb the stone stairs. They greet the mother and the father and the child on their way up: Bonjour Hirschbergers! Bonjour Pamela!
What do you say? the mother says, and gives the child’s hand a yank.
The child is somewhat shy of them, ungraceful in her clothes: blouse partly tucked, socks mismatched, one down, one up. And is that a twig stuck in her hair where it is coming undone?
Here come the Rogets in their matching straw hats. Bonjour Hirschbergers! And how is la jeune fille?
Here is Philippe Bouvier with his bird-glasses around his neck. Madame et Monsieur et Pamela—
Now Mademoiselle Karine with her old papa Frederick. Bonjour Bonjour! says Mademoiselle Karine.
Frederick stops to tip his cap.
Claudia Larouche carries her little dog Pierre. Woof woof, says Claudia Larouche to anyone who looks. The child will remember that pierre means stone; she will always think of it as an odd name for a dog.
Here is Monsieur Diage stomping up with his oak-knot cane. Excusez-moi, he says and everyone makes way.
The child is told to stop to let him pass, and to please retie her shoes properly so they will not come loose.
Next are the Bernards—Monsieur and Madame with their baby Chappell wrapped in his blanket, his face peeping out.
Now here comes Monsieur Martin Morey helping along his little Mama Jacqueline. The child will remember that Jacqueline smelled of lavender and pee.
Bonjour Pamela, say the old sisters Paulette and Pauline Baptiste holding tightly to the rail with each tottering step. The child is told to move out of the way.
Now the Durants. Bonjour Americans!
Now the Dubonnets. Bonjour!
Everyone will remember the night a doe and fawn walked onto the court for la boule. The Durants and the Dubonnets were on their knees, measuring the marks in the sand and arguing the shot. They did not see the doe and fawn pass behind their back as they measured the distance to the cochonnet. They did not hear the other guests fall silent. They did not see the doe and fawn walk under the bright bulbs strung post to post or how the doe held up her small stony hoof in hesitation before the next step. They did not see them slip back into the wood.
Andre will remember the August afternoon he stood on the kitchen back-step, shaking out the tablecloths after serving the lunch. He will remember looking up the slope and seeing the child—what was her name?—sitting in the orchard, her back against a tree, her arms crossed around her knees—and watching him lift and snap the tablecloths over the rail and up in the air. He will remember that he thought to wave—but he did not—nor did she. Many years hence Andre will think of this as a nurse spoons soup into his mouth.
Everyone is clattering into the dining room now, talking on about this and that. Let’s hope baby Chappell won’t start up. Sure sure, un bébé charmant—but he’d better not. Philip Bouvier says he heard a nightingale at dusk. Does Madame Larouche have that dog on a leash? I am sure the Menages get complaints. Did you hear?—Chef Henri is planning his tarragon potatoes with tonight’s entrée. Where is that Andre? I need my café.
Everyone is taking their usual seats.
Mademoiselle Karine tucks a napkin under her Papa Fredrick’s neck. Ouch, he says—too tight.
Claudia Larouche pats an empty seat. Pierre wiggles his haunches and hops up.
Monsieur Bernard lifts baby Chappell and wags his arm to have him wave.
Martin Morey and his little Mama Jacqueline take their table near the door so she hasn’t far to walk.
Now the old sisters Baptiste. There is always great commotion when they sit, both being quite deaf. J’ai froid! shouts Pauline Baptiste. There’s a draft! shouts Paulette. They loudly scrape their chairs along the floor. They bump the table. Drop spoons. Shhh, says Monsieur Bernard. Baby Chappell begins a stint of chin-quivering—a deceptive delay—then opens his mouth and howls. Pierre lifts his head and bays.
Monsieur Diage raps the floor with his oak-knot cane. Mon Dieu!—ça sufit!
Arrête! says Philippe Bouvier. He sits and opens his bird-guide to Birds In Silhouette. Philippe Bouvier is working on his life list.
Madame Jardine sniffs the buttercups that Madame Menage has arranged, though she knows they have no scent.
Madame and Monsieur Roget do not remove their straw hats.
Now here are the Durants.
Now the Dubonnets.
The child follows the father and the mother to the corner table, under the Renoir print. She sits on a pillow to reach table height.
And here is Andre, arriving unsummoned. He steps astutely tableside, bearing saucers stacked in his arm-crook and cup-handles hooked on his fingers. The towel he folds waiter-style on his arm is unwrinkled, unstained. His goldwire glasses glint. He sets the crockery in place without so much as a rattle or clink. Andre sees past all pathetic pleasantries. He does not pander, engage. He is unmoved by friendly attempts.
Paulette Baptiste tells sister Pauline that Chef Henri Menage has made pain au raisin today. What? What? shouts Pauline Baptiste. Pain au raisin! Pain au raisin! The other guests lift the cloths that cover their baskets of bread to look. But no: the usual plain baguette.
Andre is back. He gazes at the wall just over their heads. He speaks. Pardonnez-moi, Andre says, with the faint scowl of noting something amiss. The mother and the father slightly quake. Andre sidles into the narrow space between the wall and the child in her chair. He leans over. He is just above her head. He is stepping closer in, closer than when he sets down a platter or arranges the cutlery or makes a space for the tureen of soup. The child sits very still, her hands in her lap. She slides down in her seat, somewhat under the flap of tablecloth. She is a small thing, quiet and hiding in the folds of browning grass. She is a wind-pummeled heart, an apple shaken loose and thudding to earth. Andre is closer still. Andre reaches in. His hand near the wall now, just over her head. Ah, the print! The Renoir is atilt! He reaches up and puts it straight.
Andre now steps back to check: the graveled garden path, the watering can, and the subject—a girl with hair the color of spun honey. The crimson ribbon. The velvet dress. The frame of gilt. Much better, the father says. Yes, very good, the mother says. The child looks. Girl With Watering Can. No resemblance, the mother says. Not one bit.
Andre makes his usual slight bow. Monsieur, Madame, he says. He will be returning soon with the omlettes—perhaps aux truffes? And please—they would like to say—some café au lait when you get a chance. Though everyone knows better than to actually ask Andre.
Here comes Madame Menage, table-to-table, greeting the guests. And here she is tableside. Bonjour Hirschbergers! says Madame Menage. The father beams. The mother does not.
Andre is on his way, says Madame Menage. In the meantime, is there anything that you need?
Well yes, the father says, and winks.
Monsieur! What do you mean? says Madame Menage feigning innocence. Le Can Can? she says. Le danse de Moulin Rouge? and she two-handedly lifts her skirt to just above her knees and gives the hem a left-right swish. Voilà! she says, with a saucy little kick.
Bravo, the father says.
Merci Monsieur! says Madame Menage, dancing off.
She has some nerve—the mother says—for a woman of ill repute. You’d think she’d keep it to herself.
Oh hell, the father says. Don’t start.
The mother whispers to the child: They didn’t wear their underpants on stage at the Moulin Rouge.
The father is smiling, sheepish. He bends to the child and sings softly in her ear: Oh they don’t wear underpants in the southern part of France.
Stop, the mother says.
You, the father says.
Wouldn’t she feel cold on a windy day? asks the child.
No—she wouldn’t, the father says. Absolutely not.
But this is something that the child does not believe.
The child asks the father if he would come with her for or a walk. Daddy please. She knows a spot in the stream by the bridge where there are tiny fishes—shiny like pins.
Is that so? the father says.
Yes and also a shady place where a bird has a nest.
You don’t say, the father says.
Oh yes and also a broken dolly in the dirt.
And where was this? the father says.
Across the road in a ditch in a field where the man has a plough.
You went where? the mother says. Just where did you say you went?
The child does not say that after yesterday’s lunch—coquilles Saint-Jacques—she went up the slope all by herself and sat in the orchard and picked a rotting apple out of the browning folds of grass and took a taste.
She does not say that after last night’s desert—mousse au chocolate—she went alone past the court for la boule, through the swinging gate, along the cornfield path, and over the little bridge where the fish are silver pins. And that she went carefully along the banks of the swimming pond to the shallow end where the swimmers never swim. That there she saw stars making circles in the water and a snail on a rock and a frog jumping in and a snake that went sliding away through the watergrass—and she saw the slow underwater whip of its dark-patterned body and its glossy head held just above the surface unplaiting the blades of yellow-green watergrass and bearing behind it the wave of its body, the wave-on-wave of it, a ribbon of grace.
No, she does not say.
She does not say that she saw Monsieur Diage try to smash a spider with his cane on the dining room stone stairs but he missed and the spider ran away and hid in a crack and Monsieur Diage said: Aha! Got it!— even though he didn’t, and anyway—she never believes anything Monsieur Diage has to say.
Fish like pins, the child says again. So can we please?
Well, the father says.
Fix yourself, says the mother tells the child. You missed a button.
Ah. Here is Andre, returning now with two chrome pots.
The child watches him with quiet intent. The way he pours the coffee and milk together, the liquids streaming out of their respective spouts. The up-and-down filling of the cups. How he keeps the towel folded on his forearm, elbow bent. How he gazes slightly over his goldwire glasses and tilts his head so that she sees there the silver of the pots. And she sees how he does not drip or make a mess. How he does not bring a pen or pad to write. How he does not look at her in her misbuttoned dishevelment.
Andre now collects a soiled spoon and an unneeded dish. His bearing hints at mild disgust; his slight nod and bow suggests that he means to insult. Old school, the father says when Andre turns evenly on his heel and heads for the kitchen door with its round window near the top and the brass nailheads all around the rim.
The door swings in: kitchen sounds of pot-lids and sizzle. Chef Henri Menage there at the great hooded stove in the bright steamy light. His round belly crisscrossed with apron ties wound back to front. The child will remember his hat as a white stalk with a pouf of cloud on top. He shakes a pan above the grate. Flames leap.
The door swings in. Madame slipping inside, calling: Henri!
The door swings out. Andre slipping back out, balancing platters.
Here comes Andre. He sets down his platters. He lifts the silver domed lids that keep in the heat, and quickly turns them up to catch the beads of condensation before they drip.
The child tests the china rim with a fingertip. She wonders how Andre can hold what she can barely touch—what would burn her, it is so hot.
Her hands—she knows—are not like the Girl With Watering Can. No resemblance. Not a bit. Her fingers—she knows—are stupid and thick. There is grit in her nails, a twig in her hair, a found piece of bone in her pocket. She is a child who peeks under rocks, who likes the millipede that rolls into a perfect sphere when touched.
Sit up, the mother says.
Did you wash your hands? the father says. Did you use soap?
Madame reappears. Her again—the mother of the child mumbles while feigning occupation with the buttering of the baguette. Cows are dull but they do make butter, the mother has told the child—but these are things that the child does not believe.
Excusez! says Madame Menage. Bad news! Today the swimming pond will be drained. It has been years—how many?—since it was dredged and the spring was re-dug. There is too much silt. And even worse: a snake was sighted by the sisters Baptiste! Poor dears, they had to end their swim. The Durants and the Dubonnets say it is large, but it may have been just been a stick. Claudia Larouche fears it will attack her dog Pierre. And Philippe Bouvier saw it slither from the water and swallow a fledgling bluebird on the spot! And the Bernards—they have a small baby to protect. So. The snake must be routed out.
Ah. Andre is just now passing by. One might desire a bit more café. But, no. Too late. He has decided that everyone has had enough.
But do not worry, continues Madame Menage. Other recreation has been arranged. A mushroom walk—we pick des champignons—two pastures past the swimming pond. Where the cows—how do you say—make excrement? She pinches her nose with her fingers—merd, she says; kaka she tells the child, hoping the child will laugh. It is the best time for champignons, now that we have had a good rain.
Would Pamela like to come? inquires Madame Menage. Would the little one like to learn which champignons are good to eat, sauté avec un peu de la beurre—she kisses her fingertips—and which are les anges de mort?
The child will remember that ange is angel and that mort is short for Uncle Morty who is dead.
Mademoiselle Karine will come along with us and bring her papa Frederick, says Madame Menage.
Frederick is our Mushroom Man, our expert, she says.
Claudia Larouche will bring Pierre, who promises not to bark.
Madame Roget will come, but Monsieur Roget will stay to drain the pond and dig.
Philippe Bouvier will walk with us and name the birds.
Madame Jardine will point out which are wildflowers and which are weeds.
Monsieur Diage will not come. He cannot walk far, even with his cane.
Monsieur Bernard will stay behind and work. Madame must mind baby Chappell.
Martin Morey will come along; he likes to walk. His Mama Jacqueline remains here for her nap.
Our Chef Henri will supervise the dredging and the opening of the lock.
And the Durants and the Dubonnets? They prefer a game of la boule, of course. They are already making bets!
Ah, here comes the mushroom group straggling across the lawn. Baskets, knapsack, kerchiefs. Martin Morey in hiking boots. Madame Roget in her usual straw hat. All talking. Wait up. Where’s the corkscrew? Who has the food? Did Chef Henri pack a knife? The child is taken by the hand. Pamela, where’s your hat?—and she is given a hat. They pass the court for la boule. Now through the swinging gate. They follow the path through the field of corn that seems to make its own waves of heat. Next the plank bridge. Over the stream where the fish are silver pins. High grass. Stone path. Swimming pond.
The men are already at work, digging the bottom out. The iron lock is up. The water is flowing away. A rim of flat stones marks were the water was, where the swimming pond has shrunk away from the grassy banks.
Chef Henri stands in the pit. He still wears his apron tied around front and his sleeves rolled to elbow length. Monsieur Bernard is hauling out debris. The father of the child slings away a shovelful of mud. Monsieur Roget takes off his straw hat and fans his face. Monsieur Diage is on the bank with his cane, smacking at frogs trying to escape.
A turtle washes against the lock, green with algae and as big as a platter. Chef Henri snatches it up by the tail and holds it at arm’s length. The neck twists, jaws snap. Inside its mouth is white. The frantic fanning of its feet. La Soupe de tortue? says Chef Henri. Everyone shouts: Oui, Henri! La Soupe de tortue!
The child is lifted over the stream that flows out past the iron lock. The father waves: Be good, Pamela.
Here is the next field. Wet meadow. Dim, cool wood. Sun shifting though the leaves, light spattering the path. A peeping in a bough. A distant whistle. Philippe Bouvier, in the lead, puts up his hand for everyone to stop. Claudia Larouche is looking down at what Pierre has in his mouth and she bumps into the back of Martin Morey who knocks against Philippe Bouvier who tells everyone to pay attention, s’il vous plait! He points overhead. Crested flycatcher—announces Philippe Bouvier—mais…c’est trop petit—so possibly a wren. All look up into the fluttering leaves, a play of sun and green. They crane their necks, squint. Where? says Claudia Larouche. I don’t see it, says Mademoiselle Karine. Oh my neck, says her old papa Frederick. Where? says Martin Morey. Where?
No one hurries. No one hurries the child along when she stops to pick things up: butterfly wing, wood beetle, hickory nut. No one hastens Madame Jardine when she stops to gather asters for a small bouquet.
Claudia Larouche and Mademoiselle Karine sing Je Chante! and skip and dance along the path. Pierre howls, joins in. Shh—you’ll scare the birds! says Philippe Bouvier.
Now here is the hedgerow, a log to climb over, the end of the path. A rusted wire fence is held up. One by one, all duck under. They step out of the dim wood and into the sunlit pasture—a green expanse—the grass close-cropped. Here and there is a thorny shrub and a thistle that the cows have spared. And the champignons—the champignons! They are everywhere—pale as rounds of leftover snow, bright as a scattering of stones.
Monsieur Frederick instructs: See the caps? he says. No spots. And underneath the gills are white. He sniffs. La odeur—he says—de la terre.
Madame Jardine points out a pasture rose. Pierre pisses on a dried pile of dung. The baskets fill with champignons. Ah, let’s see what out Pamela has picked. Monsieur Frederick examines the cap, the color of the gills, and the shape of the stalk. Oui! Look everyone! Our Pamela has found the biggest one.
The baskets fill. Time for lunch.
They open the knapsack and spread a cloth. Baguette. Fromage de chevre. Red pear. Chocolate bar. Chablis Grands Cru—still quite cool—is poured into small tin cups. The child is given a taste. Hmmm, says Martin Morey—a hint of framboise, he says, with a faint undertone of oak. Mademoiselle Karine chokes and laughs. Madame Roget squirts chablis out her nose. Slices of pear are handed off on the blade of the knife. Philippe Bouvier spots a warbler—or is it a vireo? Sips of wine. Sun overhead. The cover of kerchiefs and hats. They sleep in the grass.
Come Pamela, says Mademoiselle Karine. Time to wake up, says Madame Roget.
The cores of the pears are tossed away. The cups are drained, packed up. The knife is wiped clean and wrapped. Grass is shaken from the cloth. Oh my knees, says Monsieur Frederick.
It is cooler now as they again step under the wire fence and set off through the wood. Longer shadows in the hedgerow trees. First firefly. Early crickets. Monsieur Bouvier spots a hawk but keeps quiet. Field, field, stone wall, wet meadow. Up ahead, they can see the other guests on the bank. Well look at that. Everyone is there, it seems. Even the Durants and the Dubonnets—they must have finished their match. And see, Pamela—Voilà!—there’s your mother. And Madame Bernard with baby Chappell. Even Mama Jacqueline, up from her nap. Everyone now at the drained swimming pond, everyone watching the men down in the pit. Chef Henri stands in the mud, wielding a stick. Get it! Tuez-le! shouts Chef Henri.
The snake swims—a frantic undulation—in the small black pool that is left. Chef Henri is up to his knees in the muck. He takes a step. The snake slips under, gone. Everyone waits. Its head comes up. It rises for a breath. Tuez-le! screams Pauline Baptiste. Tuez-le! shouts Paulette. Monsieur Bernard thrusts a rake. Chef Henri jabs his stick into the mud. Monsieur Bernard goes into the pit with a shovel. Now Martin Morey. The snake squirms in the thick silt. Smash. Smash. The skin breaks. The wound is pink. An avulsion of its strange pale flesh. Still it slides away from them through the small circle of water that is left. Monsieur Bernard snatches the stick from Chef Henri. Now Philippe Bouvier joins in. Now Claudia Larouche. Old Papa Fredrick falls in the mud but manages to give the snake a whack. It struggles through the slime, trying to reach the bank as Madame Jardine drops her flowers and pitches a rock. Vite, vite! says Papa Frederick. Il se sauve! The father of the child pries loose a rock and lifts it two-handedly over his head and brings it down. The snake is hit and slips into the dark water but starts out again. Monsieur Diage brings down his cane. Smack. Smack. Still it writhes in the broken blades of watergrass, its head pulling what is left of the living length of it along, dragging the broken remains. Tuez-le, say the sisters Baptiste. Now Chef Herni with a final strike. Finalement. He lifts the body on his stick. He holds it up for everyone to see. Flayed now. Broken. Hooray for Henri! Hooray. Hooray. Now to the wire fence, to hang it on a barb. Pierced there, displayed. Hooray. But look. Is it not dead? See that? It moved? Il est pas mort! screams Mama Jacqueline, as it slightly lifts its head. More stones! shouts Claudia Larouche. Fracassez-le! The father of the child has the stick and does his work. Now the mother of the child strikes once, twice. And again. Monsieur Bernard holds baby Chappell so Madame Bernard can throw a stone. She grazes its head. Bon coup! Now the Rogets. Now the Dubonnets. And now the Durants. Yes, yes! A turn for everyone! A tear, a rent. A blow on blow. The sun is setting. A spill of pink. The sleek head still intact. Splinter of spine. Everyone claps, everyone cheers. The child will remember the word for blood: sang sang sang, sang sang sang.
Chef Henri is laughing—see how his apron spattered with mud. Henri! What a mess! And see Papa Frederick—Frederick, you’re soaking wet! The men all shake each other’s hands, slap each other on their backs. Everyone is talking and laughing as they head up the slope. Over the plank bridge. Along the stone path. Cornfield. Through the gate. Chef Henri hurries ahead. He is sure Andre has the tables ready and that he has set out the tureens. He is sure Madame Menage has kept the soup at a simmer, but he still must add a sprinkling of basil. He still has to add a bit more tarragon to the potatoes. He still has to pipe the buttercream decoration on the hazelnut gâteau. He must hurry. Madame Menage will be wondering. And that Andre—he’s bound to be annoyed, having to serve dinner so late.
Andre will die one night as his nurse puts him to bed. She will lift and flap his sheet to shake off the crumbs from his beard and the bits of food that have missed his mouth. The sheet will rise and billow above him, will float down and cover him, and he will think of the child in the orchard who sat in the browning folds of grass, the child who watched him shake the tablecloths, and he will wonder again—what was her name?—and he will remember—it will come to him: Pamela. Her name was Pamela. Yes, that was it.
Chef Henri goes to the rail: a quick clang-clang. The dinner bell at last. Everyone climbs the big stone steps. Everyone is talking as they take their usual seats. What a day! I’m starved to death. What are we having? Chef Henri hinted at lapin tourtiere. I heard lamb and ratatouille. Where’s that Andre?
Too tight, says Old Papa Frederick when Madame Karine sticks a napkin under his collar. La boule tonight? Ping-pong? say the Durants. No no—it’s just too late, say the Dubonnets. This isn’t my wine, announces Martin Morey. I’ve got yours! calls Philipe Bouvier. Then where’s mine? says Monsieur Roget. Woof, says Madame Larouche. Waaah, says baby Chappell. Shh, say the Bernards. Shh, says Monieur Diage. What was that? shouts Pauline Baptiste. The dog! shouts Paulette.
The dog—Pierre—will be killed the coming fall while running unleashed, shot by a hunter who mistook him for a fox. Claudia Larouche will have him mounted with one paw up.
Claudia Larouche will die of an infection that blackens her foot. The remains of Pierre will be thrown in the trash.
Monsieur Diage will fall one day despite his cane, sustaining a blow to the back of his neck.
The sisters Baptiste will live on for many years, but will not remember that they are sisters or each other’s names.
Old Frederick will die on a windy afternoon while chasing after his cap. His daughter, Mademoiselle Karine, will fall from a great height.
Monsieur Martin Morey will die before his little Mama Jacqueline—a problem with his heart. Mama Jacqueline will cough and break a vessel in her lung.
Baby Chappelle Bernard will develop a fever of the brain and die in his crib. Madame and Monsieur Bernard will part.
Madame and Monsieur Roget will go to separate homes for the infirm. They will not be permitted to wear their straw hats.
Chef Henri will die long after he shuts L’Auberge for good—a problem in the gut, discovered too late. Madame Menage will call the old guests to tell them he is dead: Hello?—she will say—Madame Hirschberger? This is Madame Menage! I am calling with news about my Henri! – But the mother of the child will not speak with Madame Menage.
The Durants and the Dubonnets will die in a boating accident on the Seine.
The deer will die in a late-winter storm.
Monsieur Philippe Bouvier will have 388 birds on his life list.
Ah. Here is Andre, a bit perturbed—put upon, to be exact—to be serving at this hour. The child yawns. Sit up, the father says. Goodness—says the mother—just look at those hands. Did you even wash, did you use any soap? Andre makes room for the tureen with the silver lid. His goldwire glasses cloud with the brief rise of steam—then clear—as he lifts the cover off. Magnifique: bisque of tomato provençale with fresh basil—just a touch. Comments now from all around: Oui, tres bon! Délicieux! And the basil—just right. It needed more pepper, calls out Martin Bouvier as he wipes his mouth. No it didn’t, says Claudia Larouche. But where is the entree? J’ai faim! What is Chef Henri doing out there? Mon Dieu, but that Andre is awfully slow tonight!
The mother tells the child: Fix your napkin. Finish your soup.
The child—Pamela—will grow and live, and live as people do. Her mother—though frail—will persevere.
Her father will die first. She will visit him in the evenings in the years that mark her middle life; she will sit beside his bed, cut his food, help him eat. She will say goodnight. She will be called one morning and informed that he is dead—that he died in his sleep—peacefully, as they say. But that part of it—that one part of it—will be something she does not believe.
Here comes Andre, returning with the meal. Finalement! He sets down the big platter. He lifts the silver dome with the slightest flourish of his wrist. Voilà! But what is this? Ah! You see! Chef Henri never disappoints. It is not lapin tourtiere, oh no. But even better—and a surprise for all—medallions of veal with champignons en croute!
And of course—those tarragon potatoes that everyone likes.
Madame Menage will die soon after her Chef Henri.
No one will recall that she once danced on the stage of the Moulin Rouge.
Pamela Ryder’s fiction has been widely published in literary journals, including The Black Warrior Review, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, Conjunctions, Unsaid, and The Quarterly. Ryder is the author of Correction of Drift: A Novel in Stories about the Lindbergh baby kidnap case. Her newest collection of stories is A Tendency to Be Gone. Ryder lives near New York City.