Tuesday, September 20th
Memories, ever changing, ever deceptive,
A guide to the past, reliable as the lying tongue,
Vanished moments, lost ideas, forgotten faces,
Never trust the ethereal realms,
Where rage sleeps.
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“Berk, school is today… why could not summer last forever?” She sighed heavily, reassuring herself that it was only one more year, and she was out of the ever monotonous era known as lycée.
Impatient musings aside, she began her daily routine. She grabbed the cane beside her bed and used it to navigate to the bathroom. She took a quick shower while humming eighties' tunes by long broken up French bands. She then brushed her long hair and flung it behind her shoulders, tying it into a low set ponytail with a green satin bow. Once dry, she changed into her uniform; a knee-length, pleated green skirt, a white blouse and a matching green sweater vest, and to unify it all, a drooping, green ribbon bow at her collar.
She was ready for the first classes of the school year.
There was only one thing she needed, her leg. She kept her prosthetic right leg by her nightstand, already wearing her right shoe and stocking. After first putting on a protective sleeve over what remained of her natural calf, she slid on the prosthetic, and then stood and waited until it clicked secure under her weight.
She walked out to the dining room and spun in front of the wall mirror, reminiscing how she had looked enviously at the high school girl’s uniforms, and now here she was, dressed in that same uniform. In the terminale grade she joined the ranks of the privately educated, for her parents it was to increase her chances at college, for her, it was all about the uniform.
There was just one thing that tarnished her appearance, that leg.Even the beautiful uniform, for all her love of it, now exposed her prosthetic for all to see. She considered taking the pants option which was offered to her, but she declined as it would take longer to put on and was less cute than the skirt.
'Perhaps' she pondered with a halfhearted grin, 'It will be a conversation starter?'
She turned to the small round table and greeted her parents, “Bonjour Maman, Pere.”
“Bonjour cheri,” her father replied, “How are you feeling?”
The girl’s mind went back to her senseless screaming two nights ago. They were still worried. She smiled brightly. “I’m so nervous, with the new classes, new teacher and so on.”
“That’s normal,” her mom piped in encouragingly, “When I was your age I never got to be with my friends from the year before. But there was a bright side! I met so many wonderful people, including your pere.” Mrs. Lafayette looked adoringly at her husband.
Océane smiled awkwardly, and shifted in her seat. Now is as good a time as any. “Mamán, pere, I thought you met at work? Pere would have been twenty-six when you graduated, how could you have meet in school?” Océane could not help but smirk in amusement at her parent’s look of panic between the two of them, and then grimaced at how she had already invaded that private part of their past. She forced a chortle and continued, “I would have figured out eventually.”
Her father, red cheeked, responded, “I did… in fact… meet your mother at work. I was the groundskeeper at her academy. But listen cheri, we were just acquaintances; a nod and a rare chat, that was it.”
Océane smiled, trying to hide her own discomfort. “Well, when did you stop being ‘just acquaintances’?”
Mrs. Lafayette laughed at her husband’s embarrassment, alleviating her own. “Well, just before my graduation, Louis earned his law degree landed a job as a paralegal at a local firm, and after my graduation, when I was looking for work; he hired me as a receptionist.”
Océane sat forward eagerly. “Oh, the plot thickens,” she said, urging them to continue. Inside she was already experiencing déjà vu, knowing the order of events perfectly from times when her parents let their thoughts ramble freely; thoughts which played out easily before her eyes.
“That’s one way of putting it,” Mrs. Lafayette replied. “You see, he was too shy to ask me out, so he settled to hiring me. And that would have been the extent of us, since he was pleased with just seeing me every day.”
Mr. Lafayette’s ears were nearly glowing red, as he cut in. “Your mamán, wasn’t interested in waiting for me stick my neck out and ask her for a date. So then… who was he Romeo? Rubio? Anyway some Italian client thought he had the right to ask her out. So… I stepped in, and nineteen years later, here we are.”
“Stepped in?!” his bride exclaimed, “Is that you called it? You ba--,”
“Dearest, we don’t have to go there…”
Outwardly, Océane squealed in mirthful delight, but inwardly she sighed in relief. She had one less secret to pretend she did not know.
During the meal she received a wise lecture on the importance of staying out of relationships until she was graduated and established followed by the mildly hypocritical guidance to never date a co-worker. After helping clear the table and fill the dishwasher she kissed her parents and hastened out the door.
The sun shined brightly on the ancient, southern French city. Below most apartment windows, small flower gardens radiated their splendour, the advent of frost still far off. Océane looked at the surrounding beauty with a quiet smile as she walked slowly down the store-lined street, shutting off her mind to anyone she did not recognise, or recognised all too well, and doing her best to remember to smile and chirp a quick "salut" in response to furtive passerby glances at her leg.
Not far from her home, she saw the windows she both loved and dreaded as her eyes glued them, unable to look away. The ballet school was towards the end of their morning lessons every time she passed. She would look in the windows, enthralled in even the most miniscule movement the dancers would make. She would smile a moment, and then it was followed by a frown and she looked down at her right leg. Her ball and chain served as a constant reminder that she was never to be that graceful.
Her limp, though small, became a little more pronounced as she walked away. But, before she could fall too far into melancholy, she would see her friend at the street corner, with her dark ringlets retained in a princess braid, white teeth smiling joyfully at her, contrasting beautifully with her dark Andalusian complexion.
“Holà Janine!” Océane greeted.
“Holà,” her friend responded. “It’s the first day of school! I’m so excited!”
“We are in the same homeroom!” Océane added.
“Oui, and we’re in the same class as Antoine!” Janine cheered, referring to the yellow haired boy who after last week's orientation several female students had pledged their affections for him.
“Mm!” they both exclaimed and giggled as they boarded the metro bus, imagining the square jawed, flaxen-haired boy who was not as popular as some of the prettier boys, but as of first day had at least a dozen not-so-secret admirers.
Océane’s gaze flitted about the bus as she beheld jugglers, scenes from the cinema, and golden sands sprawling down the middle of the suddenly infinite length of the bus. She smiled bitterly to herself as she both cherished and despised her secret. She looked at her friend, immediately seeing Janine’s imagined idea of what Antoine would look like in the new uniform, along with an appropriate music piece playing in the background.
Janine often entertained Océane with her daydreams of ideal men, tumbling kittens, or any chocolate desert, always accompanied by one of her favourite soundtracks and pristine lighting. It was her friend’s carefree and adorable imagination that attracted Océane to her two years ago when they went to public high school. The last year had been spent apart when Janine went to private school while Océane remained in the public institution for two more semesters. They maintained their friendship by spending every weekend at one or the other’s apartments.
As the girls at last found seats in the crowded bus, Océane mentally closed off the surrounding world, and the fanciful imagery vanished with it. She found that if she focused on her own thoughts, or even Janine’s, all the hallucinations would go away, save for what her friend was thinking
Janine continued quietly praising the virtues of Antoine, and how no past examples could ever compare to his perfection.
Océane sighed in mock sadness, “Of course it’s not like we have a chance with him.”
“So?” Janine replied, “At least he’s easy on the eyes, which is helpful since we have Professeur Guy as our principal.”
“Janine! You’re terrible…” Océane scolded, but soon lost her serious tone when the teacher’s face was projected before her, alongside an outpatient facelift commercial’s quirky jingle from her friend’s memories, throwing her into a fit of laughter.
They both giggled and continued down their routine path of conversation, glad to have this time together again after the long summer, and unhappy that they did not have fun Professeur Dantés as their professeur principal.
“Dobrae utro!” Aleksei exclaimed as he embraced his sister from behind, planting a kiss on her cheek. “What are you making?”
“Omelettes, I’m trying something new.” she replied, shooing her brother off and brushing back her bleached hair. “While you wait, there is tea ready in the samovar.”
“Thank you lassie,” he said in his Scottish accent.
“De accent still need some verk.” Mashka informed him.
“You’re one to talk,” he retorted, “you sound like you just arrived on the boat.”
“Da,” she replied, “but I’m not the v’one trying’k and failing’k.”
Aleksei decided to cut his losses and acknowledge his defeat.
The siblings turned as a messy haired Evan walked into the kitchen stretching. “Top of the morning to you.” he said groggily as he shuffled over to the samovar and filled a tea cup. Then he leaned against the counter, sipping the hot liquid.
Mashka sighed sadly and gave an irritated glare at Evan as she exchanged phones with her brother who gave a ‘thumbs up’ at their bewildered companion.
“What was that about?” Evan asked, thoroughly confused by what transpired.
“Mashka and I made a bet as to which side you would sleep on tonight. Winner gets to have the smartphone for the day.” Aleksei happily explained.
“And how did you know which side I slept on?” Evan asked awkwardly.
“It shows all over half of your face.” Mashka said, pointing.
Evan felt the left side of his face and found it was imprinted by the fabric.
“You see,” Aleksei said gloating, “I noticed that you have a pattern, right side twice, left side thrice, right side twice, etc.”
“You pay attention to the strangest things, Aleksei,” Evan said, returning his attention to his cup, deciding it was not important to ask why they chose him as the topic of their bets.
“Spasibo!” the youth replied, putting on his ear buds and turning on some music as he tidied up the living room.
Watching Aleksei work, Evan suddenly remembered, “Oh I have the laundry today!”
“Da you do,” Mashka affirmed, “now get it done or no food.”
After morning chores Mashka called the two for breakfast.
Sitting down the two siblings nodded to Evan to say grace.
He obliged, “Heavenly father, thank you for your gracious provisions, and the one who prepared them. Amen.”
Though he was not religious like his two companions, he had gotten past any awkwardness in appeasing them. He even went to church, listened to the sermon, and chatted with the parishioners. By doing so, in addition to solidifying his cover, he at least understood them more and he could avoid provoking any strife in their most unorthodox household.
“So what’s on the schedule today?” Aleksei asked.
“I’ll probably shop for some new curtains.” Mashka announced then looked pointedly at Evan, “and get a toolset so a certain someone has no excuse for not fixing the wiring in the bathroom.”
Evan smiled guiltily.
“Why do we need new curtains?” Aleksei asked.
“Because it is in our budget and the ones that came with the house are hideous.” Mashka flatly replied.
For the first time, Aleksei examined the curtains; they were coloured brown, blue and green with a vague cubic blotch pattern. “Huh, that one looks like a--, maybe the ones by the bed are the reason I have been having that weird dream lately.”
“What about?” Evan asked.
Aleksei launched into vivid description, “It’s this big brown bear thing, just it’s not a bear but more like a monkey, and has an elephant nose and green fangs.”
“That’s the same dream that I get!” Mashka replied excitedly. “Except for me it also has blue claws.”
“It does for me too!” Aleksei exclaimed.
Evan raised his eyebrow in amused confusion. He looked at the curtains, back at the two siblings, still describing this increasingly bizarre creature in more and more vivid detail. He looked back at the curtains. 'Sometimes these two confuse me.'
“Didn’t Baba Yaga have a servant that looked like that?” Mashka asked.
“Perhaps, we were never told the whole story of her, so maybe.”
Mashka shuddered at the thought of the Russian hag-monster, “I just remember being frightened.”
The two continued to banter entirely in Russian as they discussed various other folklores, most of which Evan had no inkling about, so he just read the paper as he ate.
“Excuse me,” Aleksei said rising, “time to get ready to go.”
“Ay ay,” Evan replied, finishing up his dish quickly.
Aleksei stood patiently by the door as Evan went back to change. A few moments later Mashka handed out the lunches and the two men were on their way to work in the blue lorry, leaving Mashka with the small silver car. She waved as they disappeared over a low rise of the heath.