ENTENTE PEU CORDIALE

Both Eden and I are francophiles, so it being my turn to write the opening, I risked dropping in a tiny bit of French. (The prompt certainly encouraged it.) This is the 11th in our 800 series. If you’re new to it, you’ll find details here. I hope you like it.

Prompt: “Eloïse was my half-sister, but everyone thought she was my cousin.”
Parts 1 and 3 and title: Bill
Parts 2 and 4: Eden

 

Entente Peu Cordiale

Eloïse was my half-sister, but everyone thought she was my cousin. Not sure why. Mind you, she encouraged it. She wanted to be mysterious or something. Because of her name, I think. You see, our mum, Estelle, was French. We had different dads, both called Bernard. Mine was from Manchester but when he and mum got divorced, she married a French Bernard and his name was pronounced the French way. So when they had a daughter – Eloïse – she was all French.
My name’s Derek, so I’ve got no choice. I suppose I could pretend it was Dirk or something, but I still couldn’t do all the exotic stuff that Eloïse manages. She looked up her name and the only things she found were about some nun way back in the 12th century who wrote sexy stuff but also philosophy stuff, even though women didn’t do that in those days. According to our Eloïse, the stuff the history Eloïse wrote started feminism. Of course, they didn’t call it that back then, but our Eloïse seemed to think it was a pretty big deal. Anyway, none of this was a problem until she started seeing this bloke called Denis with one ‘n’.

+++

It was Tuesday, the one day of the week I got home early enough to shower and nap before dinner. Ten minutes of hard scrubbing with clay soap removed the stench of the shop, clearing my nostrils to enjoy Mum’s home cooking. Tuesday was liver and onions night—my favourite.
When I stepped out of the shower, an unfamiliar voice made me pause. Male, boisterous. Then I heard Eloïse.
“Bro, I want you to meet someone,” she shouted from the bottom of the steps.
Shit. I was looking forward to the nap.
I opened the door. “I’ll be ten minutes.”
By the time I made my way downstairs, I’d already had enough of the stranger. Who was he, and why was he so damn loud?
“Hi,” I said as I entered the kitchen. Mum was standing over the stove, Eloïse and the man seated around the table. Sis stood up; he didn’t.
“This is Denis, my new beau.” She introduced him with a sweep of her hand like showing off a new car.
“You’re the big brother. I gotta be careful!” He stuck out his hand while still seated.
I made up my mind right there I didn’t like him.

+++

++++A gratuitous but beautiful French image.++++

I’m not usually like that. I’m pretty easy-going with most of the guys. Some of them are prats, but I put up with them. But this guy… good-looking, wearing French gear, the sort none of the rest of us could get away with, French name… and yet this weird twang to his booming voice. Too bloody American altogether!
But I saw this sort of anxiety on Eloïse’s face as she looked at me. It was a familiar expression. She’d seen and heard how I’d ‘greeted’ previous boy-friends. I put on a deliberate grin, shook the guy’s hand and said, “Dennis. Good to meet you.”
To his credit, he didn’t correct my pronunciation, but Eloïse noticed. So did Mum.
”Petit salaud,” she said. ”Tu sais bien que c’est Denis.”
”Not in Scotland,” I said.
But even as I spoke the words I wondered what the hell had got into me. I hadn’t dared give Mum any cheek since I was a kid. What the hell was I doing?
Dennis, the bastard, was smiling all over his bloody French face.
”It’s cool, Madame Martin”, he said, the first bit pure American, the second undisguised Daniel Auteuil. ”He’s just protecting sa cousine.”

+++

Eloïse blushed and sat down.
I also took a seat. “Look, Dennis, watch your step, okay? Eloïse has already told you I’m her brother, so don’t confuse the matter further.” My response immediately wiped the smug look off his face. He stood up, and I pushed back my chair too. Luckily for me, I was at least two inches taller than him.
The tension in the room thickened.
Finally, he said, “Look, Derek. I’m sorry. Can we start over … please?”
Eloïse’s eyes pleaded with me. When I nodded, Denis gave me a friendly punch in the arm. After we both sat down again, Mum brought beer to the table.
“I’m sorry too … Denis. Long day at work.”
“No worries, mate. I can come on strong at times.”
Mum opened the fridge, and Eloïse got up to help her.
“You staying for dinner, Denis?” I asked. “Liver and onions night, I’ve been looking forward to it all day.”
This time, it was Mum who spoke, “No liver and onions, dear. Denis is vegan, and Eloïse bought a non-dairy, meatless lasagna for us.” She looked at me sheepishly.
I knew there was a reason I wasn’t going to like this guy.

FIN

As usual, comments, suggestions, critiques are all welcome.

CAN LIVE WITHOUT THEM

After the second of our solo offerings in this sequence, Eden Baylee and I are back with the next in our ongoing series of 800-word collaborations. This one was started by Eden and follows the usual pattern of us alternating 200-word sections with no discussion of where the story should go or what points – if any – it should make. We just want readers to enjoy them. If you need to know more about the project, you’ll find it here.

Prompt: She found him in the Terminal Bar and Grill. He was sober, for a change..
Parts 1 and 3: Eden
Parts 2 and 4: Bill

***

Can Live Without Them

The sound of a jackhammer outside the window woke Lidia from a deep sleep. For a second, she had no idea where she was and why the room looked so bright, then it hit her. She wasn’t in bed. It was the middle of the afternoon, and she’d fallen asleep at her desk—a first! She stood up and stretched her arms above her head. Her butt hurt, and her lower back ached from sitting on the plastic chair. She closed her laptop and headed downstairs.

The house was quiet.

“Tim? Where are you?”

No answer.

In the kitchen, the dishes piled in the sink, and the smell of garbage wrinkled her nose.

Why did she always have to clean up his mess?

She bagged the rotting garbage and threw it outside in the bin. The noise of roadwork sounded again. She walked around the corner and saw workmen breaking up a part of the street. There was one worker operating the machinery while another three stood and watched. She approached them and gesticulated with her hands to say, What’s going on?

One of the men saw her. He raised his palm at her and screamed “Don’t come any closer!”

+++

Even in her still befuddled state, the irony of his words raised a smile. Usually the shouts she got from building workers carried invitations which not only suggested moving nearer to them but involved removing various articles of clothing before doing so. His warning was unnecessary anyway; she didn’t even want to be in the same street as that pounding hammer and the dust and chunks of material it was throwing up. Also, her mute question was superfluous because, lying along the pavement beside the workmen were several long PVC drainage pipes obviously ready for laying. As a writer of crime fiction, she knew exactly what they were and how frequently, in fiction at least, they were seen as convenient disposal channels for various body parts. Disregarding the man’s continuing gestures, she stepped onto the pavement and looked more closely at them. They were wider than she’d expected and, slowly, the possibility formed that they might help her resolve the dead end she’d reached in the plot of her latest story. Eager to develop it, she waved at the man, turned and walked back, grateful that there would be no Tim there to barge in yet again and disturb her.

+++

By the time the sun set, Lidia finally stopped tapping at her keyboard. The brief interaction with the road workers was all she had needed to energize her novel. Now, as she reread her chapter with smug satisfaction, something else tugged at her—hunger. She had missed lunch but was in no mood to cook.

And where the heck was Tim?

Lidia threw on a light jacket and headed out. She found him in the Terminal Bar and Grill. He was sober, for a change.

“Mind if I join you?” she asked.

He didn’t bother to look up. “Suit yourself,” he said.

Lidia motioned to a server and asked for scotch on the rocks before sitting down with a menu. She was happy before she walked in. Now doom and gloom in the form of her son sucked away any joy she had felt.

“Look Tim, I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m not putting up with this any longer. If you don’t like living with me, then move out. My house is not a hotel, and I’m not your maid.” She knew he had nowhere else to go, but their little arrangement was no longer working for her.

+++

“OK,” said Tim. “I’ll start looking for a flat.”

His dull, bored tone surprised her as much as his words. She couldn’t help but reply, “And who’ll be paying the rent?”

He shrugged. “Probably Dad. At least till I get my uni grant.”

“Have you asked him?”

“No need. I know he’ll do it. He’s… different.”

It was another matter-of-fact, throwaway remark.

“What do you mean? Different from what?”

Tim lifted his head. The directness of his gaze disturbed her.

“Not what, Mom, Who.”

Some seconds passed.

“Me, you mean?—Me?”

Tim nodded.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said, his voice low, gentle. “You’re a great mom. I’m proud of you. And not just for the books. But you don’t live in the same world as us. As me and Dad.”

Lidia started to reply but he went on.

“The things that bug me can’t be solved by some tricky bit of plotting. Dad’s the same. He didn’t want to leave. He’s still in…”

He stopped. Shook his head.

“He told me he couldn’t be what you wanted. And I’m the same. I can’t either. I’m a waste of space. And I know you’re not my maid.”

He stood up.

“Bye, Mom.”

***

All comments welcome.

800 WORD STORY ~ CONFESSIONS

This fifth story in the collaborative series by Eden Baylee and myself is the first that provoked what could have seemed a relatively serious difference of opinion about the process of story-telling. We have separate, interesting  takes on some aspects of writing but they only ever serve to make us both reexamine our approach and think objectively about long-held beliefs. Although the subject here is set in a religious context, our discussions were not about faith or anything related to it or any specific religion. They were about the story-telling process. In the end, I think they produced a tightly constructed tale which I hope you find works.

For any visitors who  are new to this whole 800 word story idea, the background to our collaboration is spelled out here.

Prompt: I cheated on my spouse. And it wasn’t the first time.
Parts 1 and 3: Bill
Parts 2 and 4: Eden

***

Confessions

 

OK, I’m a priest, but sometimes the things I hear in the confessional really make me want to reconsider. You’d think it was simple enough. I mean it covers all the basics pretty comprehensively – the easy ones, (respecting the Lord, cherishing his name, observing the Sabbath, staying away from other Gods, honouring your mum and dad), and the really bad stuff (murder, adultery, theft, lying), but the trickiest ones always seem to involve a neighbour – bearing false witness against him, or coveting his goods or his wife. Take yesterday. This guy, his last confession had been just two weeks ago, but the stuff he’d been up to since then beggared belief.  He began with, “I cheated on my spouse. And it wasn’t the first time.” And it wasn’t just adultery; it was with his neighbour’s wife. In his neighbour’s house while the guy was at work. Not only that, they’d drunk two bottles of his favourite burgundy. He was particularly pleased about that because it wasn’t the sort of thing he could afford himself. But that wasn’t all. He then told me he’d done more or less the same thing with the wife of the neighbour on the other side.

+++

“Religion is a lie, and I’m part of the machinery that keeps it alive.”

“Come on, Greg, don’t be dramatic. You’ve had a bad week, that’s all.” Jenny poured two shots of whiskey.

“No, it’s more than that,” I said.

Tall and graceful, she brought the drinks to bed and sat next to me. I already had my shirt and pants on. She wasn’t as modest.

“Drink this. You’ll feel better.”

I downed the contents of the glass and shivered, even though the room was still hot and humid from our session. “You should wear something. I don’t want you to catch a chill.”

Jenny stared at me awhile. “Now why would I do that? You know you’re only going to want me again.” A sly smile stretched across her face.

She was right, of course. To her, I was just an ordinary man, a man full of weaknesses and needs, addicted to my regular sessions with her. “Aren’t you afraid, Jenny?”

“Afraid of what?”

“Life and the unknown that comes after it.”

She grabbed my clerical collar from the nightstand and shamelessly wrapped it around her neck. “Look,” she said, “sounds like you want to confess something to me.”

+++

It was typical of her – a beautiful, intelligent, above all realistic, practical woman. The vague, conscience-driven things that often troubled me (but never enough to make me willing to give up our weekly trysts) never bothered her. She knew there was no future for us but all she wanted was the present, the regular glorious, uninhibited indulgence in what I was supposed to call sin. Each time I brought up, in my obsession with her, the suggestion that I could renounce my ‘calling’ so that we might actually marry, her reaction was one of disbelief, even laughter.

“Mrs Greg!” she’d splutter, “No way! Stop fooling yourself. You don’t want a wife.” Then she’d lie against me, flesh to flesh, and add, “You want this.”

And she was right, of course. She was honest. On the days we were apart, when I wasn’t judging other people in the Confessional, what I felt for her was unconditional love, a desire I turned into poetry. But when it was just the two of us with a whole evening before us, everything gave way to undisguised lust. She was right. That was exactly what we wanted.  The bare, honest truth of ‘Love thy neighbour’.

+++

“The more I confess, the more confused I become, Father. Last time you asked me why I keep seeing her. Perhaps I think it’s because I can save her—but from what? She has no interest in giving up her life for me or anyone else. She’s fiercely independent. I envy her freedom from guilt, her lack of responsibility to others. It’s not that she’s selfish or uncaring, but the problems of the world don’t weigh her down. And though she has no interest in the afterlife, she sets surprisingly high standards for herself, living by her own moral code. She does a lot of good for those in her immediate circle.

And it’s her goodness that draws me to her. She refills my cup with love, hope, and compassion every week. When I leave her, I hold on to those feelings and feel ten feet tall. Without her, I wouldn’t even be able to write my weekly sermons.

I’ve fallen in love with a prostitute, a sinner in the eyes of God. Yet, she has not destroyed my spirit and soul; she has lifted me up. It is I who have sinned.

Please forgive me, Father. Please forgive me.”

***

 

As usual, we’d love to hear your opinions about this.