About Me

My photo
I live on the ocean, write women's fiction, love to read so much that it's an addiction rather than a hobby (I read an average of a book a day). I live on the wet west coast so it's a good thing that I like to walk in the rain.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Twitter story - See How They Run

Three blind mice…
See how they run…

Jenn popped herself in the temple – again – trying to get the damned song out of her head. But it wouldn’t go.

Ever since she’d seen the first road sign announcing she was almost there – Brest, 50 kilometres – her wayward mind had been singing of blind mice. She knew it didn’t make sense, if anything, she should be singing about breasts or chickens, but that’s what had come to mind and that’s what wouldn’t let go.

She was sick of this trip, sick of the mice, sick of – well, she was sick of pretty much everything. Ever since her Gran had insisted she travel to Brest on a moment’s notice, Jenn’s life had deteriorated into a place where singing Three Blind Mice seemed normal.

The flight to Paris was a disaster – three hours late leaving and Jenn stuck in a middle seat (because she’d had to book at the last minute) between a snoring drunk and a football-player sized businessman juggling a laptop, an iPhone and two stress-relief balls. She hadn’t slept the night before, Gran waking her every hour with another list of instructions.

Now she was in this tiny Renault, driving to Brest to find the sisters her Gran hadn’t seen for almost fifty years.

She didn’t know what had triggered Gran’s anxiety – the holiday season? – and it hardly mattered. She would do anything for her Gran, up to and including this trip over nine time zones on the third day of Christmas. Damn, she thought, that’s why the mice. Though now she was here, she wondered if there had been some other way to find the sisters. A private detective? An internet search? A few phone calls?

Because Jenn was pretty certain that if they weren’t in the house they’d all three grown up in, her chances of finding them were slim. Her French was laughable despite having grown up with Gran. Her skills as an accordion player were legendary; her other skills? Nominal at best.

Anyway, here she was, less than an hour from her destination and willing to do her best.

She checked – again – to make sure her cellphone was charged. She’d promised to call the minute she arrived though Jenn planned to wait until she had some news. Gran wasn’t much on accurate time keeping, hence the wake up calls every hour during the night.

Welcome to Brest.

The sign – in French, of course – translated easily, even to Jenn’s tired and untrained eyes and she heaved a sigh of relief. She wasn’t sure she could drive another mile. She pulled over and took the map from her bag. She couldn’t sit long, she’d fall asleep, but hoped the roads were as clearly marked as the hotel.

Because Brest was a mystery to her – as much a mystery as her Gran’s sisters.


Her Gran, Madam Celeste Francoise Annalise Berthaulme, had been Jenn’s salvation as a child. She had fed her, clothed her, made sure she got to school on time and properly accoutered. She had found a woman who would teach Jenn the accordion the week after Jenn had fallen in love with the instrument.

Gran made Jenn’s life as normal as it was possible to be with a mother who lived in another world and a father who had died when she was a baby. Gran, her only son gone and buried, had transferred her love to her granddaughter and had replaced both parents – carefully, completely, perfectly.

So here Jenn was, tired to death and sitting on the side of the road in the far west of western France. She’d never been to France, though she’d often suggested the trip to Gran.

“Let’s go to France this year,” she’d say as they began their planning for their summer vacation. “I’d love to see where you grew up.”

Gran would hum and haw and pretend to consider it. But in reality, Jenn knew that for some reason – a reason she couldn’t figure out and Gran refused to reveal – her grandmother did not want to go back to France. She missed it, though, that was obvious.

It was obvious in the music she played, leaning heavily to French lounge singers like Piaf and Aznavour; it was clear in the art in her room, posters of Monet’s garden and photos of the Eiffel Tower; and even more obvious in the food she cooked and the wine she drank. Jenn hadn’t realized any other country made wine until she turned 19 and could go into a liquor store for herself.

Jenn shook herself out of her memories and back onto the side of the road. She checked again her Google map. The hotel she’d booked – the Lion D’Or – was two blocks away from her Gran’s childhood home and, according to the map, a straight shot from where she sat.

The map was right.

Jenn arrived at the hanging sign of the golden lion fifteen minutes after she’d finally managed to shake off her exhaustion enough to safely navigate the city streets. Because Brest wasn’t the town her Gran remembered, it was a city. A big city.

The jet lag rolled over her like a tsunami the minute she closed the door to her room. She dropped her bag, ripped off her worn-way-too-long clothes and fell into bed, promising her face and teeth and body a darn good wash in the morning.

The croissant and café au lait revived Jenn just enough to kickstart her conscience. She pulled her cellphone from her pocket and dialed the number she knew better than any other.

“I’m here,” she said when her Gran answered the phone with her usual brisk “Oui?”

“And?” Gran was a woman of few words.

“I’m on my way to find the house.”

The silence in return spoke volumes.

“I only got here late last night and I needed to get some sleep. It’s only eight o’clock here, Gran, and I didn’t want to go barging in before daylight.”

Silence again.

“I’ll call you as soon as I know anything.”


No time to say goodbye, the click as adamant as Gran had been about her trip to France. She had tried to convince Gran to come, to say about the great-aunts (her brand-new, never-before-heard-of great-aunts), but she did neither.

Jenn walked out of the hotel into the cold, bright sunshine and turned left – á gauche. The house, number 122, was two blocks from the hotel and she took deep breaths as she strolled, as slowly as she could without stopping, toward her Gran’s past. Her Gran’s secret life.

The house was painted a brilliant canary yellow with carnelian red trim to match the window boxes spilling over with geraniums in spite of the winter air. Jenn, a closet painter, wanted to sit down across the street and paint this perfect house. Now, more than ever, she couldn’t understand why her Gran had left and why she had never returned.

She steeled herself to climb the worn steps and knock on the door at the top of them. Her first attempt, tentative and light, brought no response. Her second, two or three minutes later, worked better.

The door was thrown open. Jenn smiled at the … not an old woman. Not her Gran’s sister. But a man, a beautiful man. Her dream man.

He wore jeans and sneakers and a scowl.


Jenn knew how to respond to that, she’d been doing it all her life. She pulled out the set speech she’d practiced all the way across the Atlantic. “My name is Jenn Berthaulme. My grandmother, Celeste Berthaulme, lived in this house as a child.”

He looked at her, sizing her up as she had him.  He said nothing.

Jenn knew how to respond to that as well. “I’m looking for her sisters, my great-aunts. Their names are Berthe and Jeanne. Do they still live here?”

Jenn crossed her fingers behind her back. If they weren’t here, she had no idea what to do next. She’d have to go to the town hall and try and decipher the death certificates or something. Or she’d have to hire a private detective – in French – and get him to find them.
She closed her eyes and hoped for a miracle.

She got one.

He spoke with an accent, though not a pronounced one, as unlike as possible as the thick, difficult to decipher English her Gran spoke even after all these years. His accent was lyrical, soft and sexy.

“My name is Daniel Bourdain. Your great-aunts are my landladies.”

Jenn breathed a silent sigh of relief. She did not want to be related to Daniel Bourdain, at least not by blood. She grinned at him.

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For speaking English. For telling me that Berthe and Jeanne are still alive and still at this house. If they weren’t, I had no idea what to do next and my Gran would flay me alive if I came home without news of them.”

He grinned back at her and gestured her into the hallway.

“They’re out shopping right now but they should be back,” he glanced at the clock on the wall, “within an hour or so. Will you have a coffee with me while you wait?”


The great-aunts returned and made a huge fuss over Jenn once they got over their astonishment. And they spoke English, Gran’s English, easy for Jenn after so many years of practice.

Jenn offered her cellphone for their call to Celeste but they said, “Wait. Wait until tomorrow. We will call her tomorrow.”

They shooed her and Daniel out of the kitchen for a walk around the town. “Bring her back for dinner,” they told him. “Stop at the wine merchant and none of that cheap watered down wine. Only the best for family.”

“You don’t speak French?” Daniel asked as they wandered down to the waterfront.

“I tried, even went to a French immersion school, but I don’t have an ear for language. What ear I do have is for music.”

He grabbed her hand and pulled her across the crowded street into a narrow alley. “Then you’ll love this.”

A tiny bar, six tables and the smallest stage Jenn had ever seen. An accordion player sat on a stool. Next to him, a smaller stool holding a glass of red wine.

The hours until dinner time passed in a moment – Saeed, a Persian friend of Daniel’s – had been in Brest for almost forty years and he played the accordion like an angel. Or a djinn, he told her.  She promised to return for the next four days – the four days until she had to be home for a concert of her own.

“Come back tomorrow and play with me,” Saeed said.

Daniel grinned at her and she grinned back. Playing the accordion was a snap compared to the rest of her life right now.


Three nights later, three dinners later, bottle after bottle of fabulous wine later, and Jenn knew no more of why her Gran had left and stayed gone. The great-aunts hadn’t spoken to Gran nor to Jenn about it and all Jenn had been able to say when she spoke to Gran each night was, “They’re going to call.”

She felt Gran’s restlessness but Daniel and Saeed and the great-aunts and the wine coerced her out of her anxiety and into relaxation. Daniel had already promised to visit in February and Saeed was embarking on a world tour that would take him to within two hundred miles of Jenn and Gran. She had the dates – both of them – in her Blackberry.

The last night. Daniel was coming back to the hotel with her, she’d said goodbye to Saeed, and she now sat at the dining table with the great-aunts, hoping they’d finally call Gran, at least say something.

“She’s our baby sister, you know,” Berthe murmured.

“We miss her every single day,” Jeanne added.

“But she asked us not to call, asked us to think of her as dead. We couldn’t do that,” tears stood in Berthe’s eyes, “but we did respect her wishes not to call.”

“We always knew where she was. We knew when Michel died. Berthe wanted to call her then, but I said non.” Jeanne shrugged. “She had been adamant about it and I did not want to make her unhappy.”

“Why?” Jenn asked, asking more than she could articulate.

Berthe’s smile was sad. “The usual reasons. No husband, a baby, a scandal. Back then, this was a very small town. Now?”

“Now,” Jeanne said. “It no longer matters.”

Jenn smiled at the two of them, their faces so like her Gran’s. “Now,” she said, “it won’t matter.”

She smiled again as she pictured her Gran at this table with her sisters, pictured her at the church down the road, pictured her at the wine store arguing over vintages with the old man behind the counter. She pictured her in the room at the top of the stairs, the one that still held her communion dress and the gold necklace she’d received for her sixteenth birthday.

And while Gran was in Brest, Jenn – and Daniel – would be traveling the world. Merry Christmas, she thought, the merriest of all Christmases.


This story is part of a Christmas e-anthology called 12 Days of Christmas. Twelve writers, twelve stories. If you'd like to read the rest of them, you can get a free download of the anthology at my website at http://kateaustin.ca/treats/12DaysAnthology.pdf

Have a wonderful holiday!


No comments: