Posts Tagged ‘dec 16’

Three French Hens and a Shot of Brandy

December 16, 2009

by

Kathleen Gilbert

Jacqueline Brouillard cursed under her breath as she trudged through the snow that led to the front door of the Three French Hen’s Consignment Shop.  The cold wind stung her skin, and the healthy shot of brandy she’d added to the large cup of coffee in her hand wasn’t kicking in fast enough. “Why do I have to get up early and open the damn store? It’s not even my turn.” She gulped down the warm liquid savoring its smoothness.

She gripped the keys between cashmere gloves, refusing to take them off, and clumsily struggled with the lock.  Finally the key turned, and Jacqueline kicked the door open with her boot.  A large clump of snow plopped down on her shoulders, set loose by the impact of her forceful entry.  “Oh shit.” She dusted the snow off her fur coat with her free hand.

Once inside, Jacqueline’s mood improved.  She smiled, admiring the opulent antiques that were set around the shop. Clothes, jewelry, and furniture were among the items that filled the ample space.  Jacqueline, and her two sisters, Michelle, and Renee had purchased the store together, and had been running it for almost 2 years now. Their mother had come up with the name– Three French Hens.  She joked saying her three French daughters whispered and gossiped among themselves like hens. The girls disagreed with her opinion wholeheartedly and told each other so behind her back.  But they secretly loved the name and had agreed upon it instantly.

“I brought donuts,” Renee held out the box as she entered the store.   She removed her scarf and shook the snow out of her curly brunette hair.  She set the donuts down on a small table, turned on the Christmas music, and plugged in the lights. “Wow. We did a great job with the decorations this year.  Everything looks beautiful.”

The store sparkled with white lights that wrapped around evergreen boughs all tied together with red velvet bows.  Christmas trees with jewel colored ornaments were placed in each room, and poinsettias set on freshly polished mahogany floors added elegance to the display.

            “Michelle called me this morning and asked me to open the shop.  She said she wasn’t feeling well and would be a little late.  I hope everything’s all right.” Jacqueline said.  She took a nip of brandy from her purse and added a splash to her fresh cup of coffee.

“Isn’t it a little early to be drinking?” Renee looked at her watch.

“I’m not drinking.  I’m just keeping warm.” Jacqueline took a sip, and then grinned at her sister.

Michelle waltzed into the shop looking impeccable as always. She wore a grey suede coat and matching boots.  Her blonde hair was cut short and her makeup was flawless. “Good morning ladies.  It’s nice and cozy in here.  It’s freeze-your-ass-off cold outside.”

“You don’t look sick,” Renee said, observing her well-put together younger sibling.

            “I’ve been having dreams.  That’s all.  I woke up in a cold sweat this morning.  I’m fine now.” Michelle lit a cigarette. Her fingernails were well manicured — painted pink. The large sapphire ring on her finger flashed deep blue under the interior lights.

“Do you have to smoke in here?” Renee stared at her sister’s hand.  “Where did you get that ring?  It’s amazing.”

“Some guy brought it in to sell last Saturday.  I’m just wearing it for a while.”

“How many times have we told you that you can’t just wear things people bring in on consignment?” Jacqueline’s words were beginning to sound slurred.

Michelle closed her eyes attempting to block out her sister’s incessant nagging.  The image of a young woman with long dark hair popped into her mind.  The same woman had appeared to her in her dreams the night before, and she couldn’t get her out of her thoughts.  Her long silver gown swirled at her feet as she danced with a tall man, on a stucco terrace, by the light of a pale moon.

“Snap out of it,” Jacqueline said to Michelle.  “And give me that ring.” She held out her hand, impatiently tapping her foot.

Michelle tried to remove the ring but it wouldn’t come off.  She twisted it back and forth, finally pulling it hard over her knuckle.  “My fingers must be swollen.” She reluctantly handed the ring to her sister.  “I don’t see why I can’t wear it for a little while longer.”

“We’re not going to sell it if it’s on your hand.  That’s why.”

__

The store opened for business at 9 o’clock.  The streets had finally been plowed and shoppers were out looking for Christmas bargains.  An older woman with faded red hair tugged on Michelle’s sleeve.  “My granddaughter wants a gold chain this year.  Would you mind showing me some jewelry?

“I’d love to.”  Michelle walked over to the display case and removed the black velvet tray that held a variety of gold chains.  As she placed it on the counter, something caught her eye.  The sapphire ring; it was right there in the next tray.  She quickly removed it and slid it onto her finger. It slipped on easily; in fact it was rather loose.  “The swelling in my fingers must have gone down,” Michelle thought, looking around to ensure no one had seen her take it. Both her sisters were busy helping customers.  She was pretty sure Jacqueline wouldn’t notice that it was missing for a while.  Not until the effects of the brandy wore off anyway. 

The woman finally selected a short gold chain.  Michelle walked her to the register.  Renee rang her up and gift wrapped the necklace for her.

Michelle’s head began to throb.  She sank into a comfortable chair in the middle of the store, closed her eyes and rested her head against soft cushions.  The dream was intense as it entered her mind. It tore through her brain like a tornado and she couldn’t stop it. 

__

The woman danced with the man in the moonlight. He jerked her close to him and whispered something into her ear.  She struggled trying to break free from his grasp. He plunged the knife deep into her chest. Blood seeped from her body, slowly saturating her dress.  She staggered down the steps of the terrace, and then tumbled down the steep embankment that led to the beach below. Her body lay in a heap–like a rag doll–sprawled out on the cool sand.  The man stood over her smiling.  He spoke to her as if she weren’t already dead. “I loved you but you deserved to die. I showered you with gifts and then you forced me to take them away from you–one at a time.  You never treated me the way Mother did.  She made me the center of her world but not you. You needed to do things for yourself.  Like taking that stupid college course; some good college is gonna do you now.”  He bent down and took her hand.  Her fingers were long and slender.  The sapphire ring looked exquisite against her soft skin.  He pulled the ring off her finger and put it in his pocket. 

__

Michelle’s eyes snapped open.  She knew who’d killed the woman.  She’d seen his face in her dreams. She ran to the front of the store to find her sisters. She saw someone talking to Jacqueline, but his back was towards her so she couldn’t see his face.  The same man who’d brought in the sapphire placed a ruby brooch into her sister’s hand.

Michelle went into another room to find Renee.  She had to warn them about the murderer.

Jacqueline was captivated by the magnificent ruby. The man explained to her how his new bride had decided to go visit her parents in Florida for the weekend, and how he didn’t think it was a good idea.  Anyway, she wouldn’t be needing the ruby any longer and he wanted to sell it. He left the ruby with Jacqueline and walked out of the store.

Even though it was against the rules, Jacqueline pinned the brooch to her blouse. It was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. She couldn’t resist its charm.

            Michelle couldn’t wait any longer. She needed to tell her sisters what she’d seen. She went back to the front of the store and spoke to Jacqueline. Her voice cracked as she uttered the words. “I know who  …” Jacqueline interrupted her.  “Tell me later.  I’m not feeling well.  I need to sit down and close my eyes for a minute.”

Bio:  Kathleen Gilbert lives in Rhode Island with her husband and two children.  She has been published at Microhorror, Six Sentences, The New Flesh and Postcard Shorts.

Three French Hens

December 16, 2009

by

Karen Collum

As she stumbled across the street, her tears traced their journey down her rouge-enhanced cheeks, but no-one noticed. Too burdened with parcels and presents, umbrellas and underwear, shopping and champagne, they hurried down the street, dodging the rain as they made their way to their cars. The Christmas rush was at its peak as even the most Scrooge-ish person attempted (albeit half-heartedly) to have something under the tree for tomorrow, no matter how tacky or inappropriate.

She watched the crowd and tried to remember, through the fog of disbelief that inhabited her head, when she had someone to buy for. Or when someone bought presents for her. It was such a long time ago now. And things had changed.

When she was young, she embraced change. Her favourite times of the year were when Autumn slipped coolly into Winter; when Winter melted into Spring; when Spring evaporated into Summer. Change brought wonderful surprises, like the first daffodil of the season, a leaf of crimson red or a snowflake so perfect it froze her breath inside her lungs. But not all change was good. She realised that some time ago. Too little, too late.

This Christmas, like the one before and the one before that – but definitely not the one after this, thank God – she was alone. A-lone. It sounded like a job description. What are you? I’m a lawyer. I’m a consultant. I’m a lone.

The busyness of people scurrying that way and this was comforting though. She had once trotted along the same well-worn path. Now, however, she meandered to the right or to the left, whenever it took her fancy.

When her parents were alive, Christmas had been a somewhat painful but still satisfying event. She played along with the carolling and the cooking and, much to her amazement, did find herself enjoying the season of jolliness. But after one the other, they succumbed to the tentacles of old age that warped their faces into saggy caricatures of the parents in her mind, and riddled their bones with aches and pains. And then they were gone.

She had planned her life well. It was just a shame no-one seemed to care about her plans. From high school to University, from University to overseas travel, from overseas to post-graduate studies to her ideal job, it went to plan. But as friends paired off and began the great journey that is The Relationship, she was busy with other things. She couldn’t exactly remember what those ‘things’ were but they had been intensely important at the time.

Sometimes, when she lay in bed at night, she wondered if she’d missed him. Had he been there? In that bar in Italy the night of the World Cup? Or perhaps the consultant seconded by her company for the big project a few years ago? The thought drove her insane. What if he had been there? She’d knocked plenty back. Not that she was fussy, but she wasn’t desperate. She was waiting for her equal, the yang for her ying. But she never found him.

And then it was too late.

Mum. That was a word she’d always thought she’d hear from a little babbling mouth one day. There was no rush, no urgency, no panic. At least at first. There would be lovely cuddles with a friend’s newborn, but relief when she handed him back, red-faced and squalling. A bemused interest at the park as a child was comforted by her mother after a scraped knee, but frustration at the child’s melodrama. Even a thankfulness when a pierced, tattooed, black-haired teenager abused his mother in the carpark. But that was before. It was different now.

It hadn’t been an easy decision. She’d considered adoption, but the process was long and drawn out and hideously expensive. She thought about foster care but wasn’t sure she could hand a child back once she had held him or her in her arms. She was then left with two options, both of which, had problems. Both of which, due to her age, were unlikely but not impossible.

The first one was untenable to her. She couldn’t use a man. It was that simple. Sure, she’d had a one night stand or two in her time, but never with any concealed agenda. Being caught up in the moment, whilst not ideal, wasn’t manipulative. No, it had to be the second option.

There had been raised eyebrows, particularly the grey, bushy ones that belonged to her father, as he struggled to accept her decision. There were a few tut-tuts from the periphery (funnily enough from those people who happened to be married with children) but mostly, the reaction she got was silence.

The silence spoke the multitude of questions that she herself had asked. Was it selfish? What would she tell the child about their father? What about medical history? Was it really fair to bring a child into the world without a father to guide them?  How do you explain ‘donor sperm’ to a little one?

In the end, she found answers for herself although she knew the answers were not enough for some. Her journey – like most things in her life, it seemed – was done alone. There was no-one to hold her hand, speak soothing words to calm her nerves or share her soul wrenching disappointment.

Until today.

Today, everything changed. As the Christmas carols rang through the tinny speakers of the shopfronts, she caught herself smiling through her tears. “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, with its list of gifts from a true love, had always puzzled her. Who would want a partridge in a pear tree? But this time, it was different.

She wrapped her arms around her slim waist, the hiding place of her trio of Christmas gifts, and held the ultrasound pictures close. Of course she wouldn’t really name them that. She didn’t even know if they were boys or girls yet. But for now, she had Three French Hens of her very own, just like in the song of old.

Faith.

Hope.

Love.

She clutched another tiny parcel under her arm as she ran through the rain. There would be three tiny presents under her tree tonight. Three little matching outfits (in gender-neutral yellow and green and lavender, of course) for three little miracles. Mum. Someone – in fact, three someones – were going to call her Mum.

 “Merry Christmas, my little French hens.”

BIO:  Karen Collum is an Australian children’s author and mother to her own Three French Hens (although her boys are 19-month-old twins with a 4-year-old brother, not triplets). She has three picture books coming out in 2010: Samuel’s Kisses, Fish Don’t Need Snorkels and When I Look at You.  Karen squeezes in time to write when her boys are in bed and is severely sleep deprived, but happy. You can find out more about Karen and her writing at http://karencollum.wordpress.com .

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