Sally Spedding

   

MALEDICTION, Chapter 3

Novel published by Sparkling Books .

Single mother, Colette Bataille who's in Paris to look for her missing son, has also brought her lover, the priest Robert Vidal, and fellow priest, Francke Duvivier. Both men are dangerous.

The Café d'Autueil in the heart of the 16th was full. Students mostly, still on vacation and mostly foreign. Duvivier's damaged, putty face had hardened. His movements more precise and deliberate, and Colette suddenly felt an infinite pity for the poor, helpless creatures from the sea who'd come under his knife. Robert's thighs touched hers.

      He sat closer to her than Duvivier, so close like old times, but now was different. Once she would have said she'd always be there for him even if he didn't always want her. But she couldn't. Not now. She'd decided. Never mind that without him her life would be as bleak as ever, after caring for an invalid husband who'd only wanted to die, and watching her son demoralised without work. Robert Vidal had been the one illumination, the one candle lit by her spirit for her spirit, but her prayers that his hatred and bigotry might dissolve; that his time at Villerscourt would show him a man of God is a man of love, had gone unanswered.

      She blushed and used the napkin to hide her face as he stirred his espresso with his crucifix and sucked its conjoined legs dry till the platinum sang on his tongue. The garçon, a Philippino, flicked him the kind of smile he was used to and Colette saw it, so he straightened instead with his full tray to watch the growing crowd surge past the tables towards the Allée de Longchamp.

      Duvivier returned from the toilet and sat down. His scarred cheek bright as a birth mark dividing his face in two.

      "I know why you're staring at me." He snapped at the garçon.
      "What d'you mean sir?"
      "Not sir. Father. I'd have thought you had enough to do without being discourteous."
      "I don't understand."
      "Of course, how could you? Probably grew inside a pea pod. See my face?"
      "It look OK."
      "The colour of a rose, wouldn't you say?" Does that mean anything to you?" By now the nearby tables were heaped with rubbish and the owner stood in the doorway, hands on hips.
      "No sir, Father." As a pile of sugar sachets fell to the ground.
      "St. Rose of Lima, you yellow worm. 1586 -1617. Your patron saint. Not that you deserve one, least of all someone who blistered her skin with pepper and hardened her hands with lime."
      "Excuse me." The boy backed away, spilling yet more things as he went.
      "Bit unfair, that." Vidal all too aware of Colette's eyes, studied instead the sunlight trapped in his cup.
      "So are most things, I regret to say." Duvivier shielded himself with the menu." I'd say eleven rodent ulcers was unfair too, wouldn't you? A gift from my gorgeous but genetically chaotic Maman."

      Suddenly Colette leapt up, tilting the table. Duvivier's lager toppled into his lap giving him a huge incontinence-like stain.

      "Bertrand!"

      She edged through the melée and out on to the thoroughfare to where a tall slightly-stooped figure loped ahead, a rucksack skewed over a shoulder, from which dangled a tin mug and old cutlery. She reached him, then tapped his back. She noticed headphones - his own little world, even here. Typical of the boy. But there was a suntan where her Bertrand was white, and her heart stopped.

      "Ja, mevrouw?" He turned. Wrong eyes. Wrong everything.
      "Oh? I'm so sorry."

      The young Dutchman was soon one of many on the Avenue Mancy, then lost altogether, leaving Colette staring after him with feelings of emptiness then alarm.

*

      "You owe me one." Duvivier muttered when she got back.
      "I know he's not here."
      "Who?"
      "My son."
      "My dear Madame Bataille, take it on my authority, there'll be at least a million coming to listen tomorrow, God bless them. Just have faith."

      Vidal laughed sourly and tipped back in his chair. "But he is one in a million to you, hein?" She didn't reply, instead kept her eyes on the tide of humanity passing by.

      "Tell you what." Duvivier stood up and straightened his crucifix. Crumbs still lay in his lap, stuck to the dampness. "Give me a brief description. Thumbnail type of thing. You never know."

      But I do, you bastard. I do.

      Then Colette thought hard for a moment. Any eyes were better than none. But not theirs. She shook her head.

      "No thanks."

      Robert looked round, surprised.

      "Well don't forget, there's always the eye of the Almighty to call upon. Remember Machtgeful." Duvivier turned his back so the favourite word was lost amongst other tongues. Her lover followed him like his shadow.

      "Bloody cheek." Colette's voice faded, wedged in by Austrians to the left and Britons to the right, grappling with the menu.
      "We've got stuff to do." Vidal whispered as he passed her. "Sorry."
      "No you're not."

      His glance was of sly disdain as Duvivier pulled his sleeve. "See you back here at 16.00 hours." His watch to his ear, checking as always it wouldn't let him down. That its metronome was in tune with his heart, the only constant. They left her alone with the detritus, discarded like herself. Persona non grata, but seething nevertheless.

      Damn.

      Colette stuck out her chin then foraged for a cigarette.

      "Have you a light please?" She turned to the English couple who'd just fathomed the mysteries of a croque-monsieur. The man liked her instantly, she could tell. The woman did not. He worked his Sealink lighter, apologising until it delivered.

      "Thanks." She funnelled the smoke upwards. She could easily be taken for a native Parisian with the beige linen suit and her well-cared for heels. Always the giveaway.

      "Left on yer own, then?" He tried and she was grateful.
      "My boy's here somewhere. He came up for the Mass tomorrow." Her English was good. With Medex it had to be.
      "Same as us, isn't it, Pet?" His hair lay grizzled above his ears, and both faces bore the legacy of a fortnight in the sun. "We've just turned up on the off-chance. The last campsite was shite so we thought, nothing to lose. Not that I'm much of a believer. More the wife... "

      She in turn squinted into her compact mirror, clicked it shut as though to end things, but the man was obviously enjoying his new company.

      "Well I hope you find him in all this lot. We're going to see if we can get a room in Neuilly somewhere."

      Colette smiled at his pronunciation. "La Défense might be better."

      "Ta, thanks. We're Bartley by the way." He reached over to shake her hand. A working hand, unlike Robert's.
      "I'm Bataille. Quite similar."
      "Mansfield we're from. near Nottingham. Ever heard of Robin Hood by any chance?"
      "I learnt that legend in school. Where I come from, we have many."
      "Oh?"
      "The most famous one's about dogs." She drew hard on her cigarette and let the smoke bypass his eager face. "I believe it's mediaeval."
      "We've got a dog. A Sealydale. Jimmy."
      "No. Not that sort at all." Colette managed a smile, and stubbed out her dimp more decisively than anything else she'd done so far.
      "Go on, then."
      "Demons force men's souls to enter the bodies of dogs - the great white dogs of the mountains... "
      "Blimey."
      "They say that if you shoot at the dog and hit him, the soul will be delivered, but if the arrow or whatever falls on the shadow, the soul will immediately die."

      Silence as the tourists' mouths hung open.

      "Wait a mo," the man suddenly quick to change the subject, turned to his wife. "We've an Abel label we can give her, haven't we, Pet?" He asked, but she wasn't going to open her bag again, so he pressed out a used napkin and wrote on it, making holes with his biro.
      "I really don't think that's necessary," frowned The Pet. "We don't know who she is. Besides, I didn't like that story at all."
      "Oh come on, it were harmless enough. Look, I'm just doing my little bit to help Europe open up. Remember our car sticker? All those stars?"
      "Merci." Colette slipped the napkin into her pocket.

      All those stars...

      "If ever you're in Angleterre... " The Midlander began.
      "I will, thank you."

      He looked back at her. His European trophy, bright in the sun.

      "Might see you around tomorrow." He said.       "I do hope you find a bed."

      Soon they were no more than echoes while the same Philippino stood attentive at new, ungrateful shoulders.

*

16 03. Colette got her bearings. Rue des Sables, south west, blinded by the sun as Carmelites, straight from the Martyr's Field at Picpus, Sisters of Mercy, the Order of the Poor Clares, women who'd given up on the world kicked up the leaves, letting the light kiss their cheeks as they walked.

      No men, no Bertrand, but still something made her follow the last cohort of some twenty young women swathed in coarse, loose robes. She listened for any discernible dialect but there were too few words, and those that reached her were of a holy nature, in Latin. Other travellers stared as the procession of grey, black and white flowed by.

      She felt magnetised, somehow connected to their purpose. She'd recently started taking the Eucharist again for the first time since Bertrand's birth, to lend more mystery, something more other-worldly to her existence. But there was no need for the Confessional - she'd been martyr enough what with her late husband whom she'd nursed for three years, and the shame of Bertrand entering the world without a father. Too much pain, too many burdens - until Robert Vidal had arrived. The man with the eyes of fire.

***

Sally Spedding
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