Anastasie et Rémy

Rémy1

PART I

Anastasie stared forlornly out of the window of the café, watching as the wind caught the leaves and scattered them along the bricks of the street. She pressed her hand to her heart, biting her lip in an effort to quell the tears that threatened to fill her eyes. Ana felt as nearly dry and scattered as the leaves. She was only eight.

She tugged at the ribbons beneath her chin that secured her hat against the dark brown waves of her hair. They itched horribly.

“Ana,” her mother warned.

She thrust out her lower lip in a pout and turned angrily to stare out the window again. While she waited for her father to pay the bill, she mouthed the word, café, which was written backwards (at least from inside the small restaurant it was backwards) on the window. She smiled, slightly, proud that she could read the word backwards. Of course, it was a French word, which made it a little easier. The first word backwards was a little more difficult. “Abercorn,” she whispered.

“Hmmmm?” her mother asked.

She shook her head, and thought it instead. Abercorn. Abercorn Café. She was terribly bored. And she had nothing to look forward to once they walked back to the apartment they were renting in the big old house. It was the middle of February in 1919 and quite cold. She wouldn’t be able to play outside. Not that she had any friends with which to play. Her brother, Rémy (though her parents called him by his first name, Claude), had died in July of 1918 on the Marne. It was his death that had prompted the move to Savannah. Too many bad memories in France.

She missed him so much that at times she felt sure her heart would burst. Other times she felt so hollow that she was sure she must be nothing but an empty shell just like one of those bugs she had found attached to a tree in Forsyth Park. A cicada her mother had called it.

Claude Rémy Flaneur had been ten years older (she, apparently, had been quite unexpected) and had doted on her ferociously. She longed to hear his voice one more time. He had called her “Tasie,” and she hadn’t allowed anyone else to do so. And so she had called him Rémy in order to have her own special name for him.

“Rémy,” she whispered as they left the café, swiping away the tear that trickled from her left eye with a mittened hand.

 

“But Maman,” she pleaded.

“Mother,” she corrected.

“Mother,” Ana said, with a heavy but charming French accent. “Why can I not have a pet? Un chien? Un chat?”

“Dog and cat. But the answer is still no.”

Anastasie had been pestering her parents for more than a month for a pet. She felt that with a small dog or cat she would have something with which to share her sorrow and boredom, and, perhaps, eventually her happiness.

They always said it was impossible, but their reasons never sounded plausible to her. It was early April and the air had warmed considerably. She now enjoyed daily walks in the park and particularly enjoyed the fountain, which reminded her of the one in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

At the moment, though, her mother was plaiting her hair in preparation for bedtime. She was already in her nightgown, but was dreading the next step in her nightly routine. She would have to sit on the couch with her mother and read to her from a book written in English. And it was exceedingly difficult. She was sure she would be much more adept at the language if she had friends with which to practice.

“If I had a dog,” she told her mother, “I would promise to speak only English to him.” Her mother frowned and held out the book—Old Mother West Wind. She enjoyed the animal stories but it felt as if her mother did most of the reading.

She sighed and took the book. If she had a dog, she thought, she would read him stories from Old Mother West Wind.

 

The end of May. It was now so warm that they had to keep the doors that opened onto their second floor porch open all the time. Fortunately, they had screen doors to keep the bugs out. These enchanted Anastasie. They had not had the like in France. The only problem was that living room door kept wanting to shut, so they had to use a brick to keep it open.

Ana was staring out the door when her mother entered the room. She was bored once again. If she had a pet, she thought for perhaps the millionth time, she could take it for walks in the park.

“What have you got, Ma, mm, Mother?”

“I found this at a second hand shop,” she informed her daughter, holding aloft a small black dog that appeared to be made of metal.

“What is it?”

“It is a door stop. Is it not adorable?” She said “adorable” the French way, and Ana had to stop herself from chiding her. After all, her mother constantly picked on her about her use of French words.

But the little doorstop was indeed “adorable,” and Ana wanted to see it more closely.

“Is that a Bouledogue Français?”

“Yes, a French Bulldog,” she said, removing the brick that held the door open and replacing it with the little iron dog.

Ana knelt down beside it and appraised it, “He has not been well cared for, has he Mother?” The poor creature was pitted here and there with rust and she thought he looked a little sad. Yes, a little sad just like her. He looked as if he had spent quite a bit of time outdoors.

“That is probably why I was able to get him for such a reasonable price.” She nodded her head. “Yes, much better than a brick,” she said with satisfaction before returning to the kitchen to prepare their lunch.

They had definitely come down in the world, Ana mused. In Paris, her mother would have gone to the kitchen only to see how the cook was progressing in her preparations for meals. She had heard her parents talking, though, and knew they hoped her father would soon be promoted, and that eventually they would be able to buy their own home again.

Ana would have loved to live in one of the beautiful homes around Forsyth Park, but knew they had been talking about the possibilities in someplace called Ardsley Park. Which, perhaps, meant there was a park there as well. And, if they had their own home then maybe she could finally get a dog. She sighed, caressing the ears of the little iron dog. She knew that was probably a very long time away. And the little doorstop was the closest thing she would have for a pet until then.

She looked at it again. The way its head was cocked reminded her of the way Rémy used to look at her when he was teasing her, which was most of the time. Ana smiled and her big brown eyes began to glow as an idea occurred to her. “Rémy,” she whispered, the tip of her finger tapping its tiny nose, which was cool like a real dog’s would be. She would call it Rémy.

 

Summer slipped into full gear, and Ana found herself sitting more and more often next to Rémy. She still had no friends, her father was always at work and her mother seemed inordinately distracted.

But Rémy always had time for her. He was incredibly patient. He would sit and listen as she poured out her frustrations, read to him from the English books, told him of her dreams for the future. She still wanted a real dog, but decided not to tell him for fear he would get jealous.

 

“Anastasie!” her mother called in that voice.

What had she done now? “Oui, Maman?” she asked running down the hall from her bedroom where she had been selecting a book to read to Rémy.

Her mother raised her eyebrows.

“Yes, Mother?” she asked again.

“What is that?” she asked, pointing to Rémy. One of Ana’s red silk ribbons was tied around his neck.

“The black collar was ugly,” Ana explained. “I thought Rémy deserved,” she slapped her hand over her mouth.

“What did you call him?” her mother looked as if Ana had slapped her instead.

“He reminded me of Rémy,” she said, swallowing hard.

Her mother studied the doorstop for a moment. It was true that the tilt of the dog’s head was reminiscent of one of Claude’s expressions. Finally, she sighed, and said, “Yes, I can see that. But please do not call him that around your father. It would upset him greatly.”

“Yes, mother,” she said, relieved. If her mother had told her she could never speak to Rémy again, she might have despaired. She had grown quite attached to him.

 

“Anastasie!” her mother called, once again, in that voice.

And once again she wondered what she had done.

“What is that?” she asked, as before, but this time she was pointing at the floor where her father’s newspaper had been torn to shreds.

Ana stared in consternation at the mess on the floor before looking up at her mother and shaking her head. Her first thought was Rémy, but of course that was impossible. He was sitting, as always, iron body planted firmly against the door to the porch preventing it from shutting out what little breeze they could get in the sultry Georgia heat. But, she hadn’t done it. Why would she rip up the newspaper? “I promise, Mother, I did not do this,” she said, but she knew it was in vain. There was no one else to blame.

And so she was sent to her room without her dinner, and when her father got home from work, she could hear them discussing the incident in hushed but worried tones.

She was sitting on her bed, trying to read but failing, when her father opened the door to her room.

He hadn’t even made it to her bedside before she started crying. “I swear to you, Papa,” she sobbed, “that I did not do it.”

“Then who did?” he asked, sitting on the edge of the mattress.

“Rémy.” Her voice was barely audible.

“Pardon?” He was so surprised that he gave it the French pronunciation. “Qu’es-ce que t’as dit?”

“Rémy,” she repeated a little more loudly.

“Rémy?” he asked, stunned.

“Non! Non!” she suddenly realized what he was thinking. “Mon chien Rémy.”

“Your dog?” he seemed even more confused, if possible.

She felt the blood rushing to her face. “The door stop,” she mumbled.

“The door stop?”

“She is talking about the iron dog that holds the door to the porch open,” her mother said from the doorway.

Her father looked at Ana in disbelief. Had his daughter lost her mind? “How is this supposed to have happened?”

Ana blushed again. “I do not know, but I cannot think how else it might have happened.”

“Is it possible that you are responsible?”

Tears welled in her eyes again. She shook her head. She knew she hadn’t done it, but how could she possibly make them believe her. Instead, they would think she was just lying. She honestly didn’t know what to say, so she just continued to shake her head as the tears burned their way down her cheeks.

Her parents looked at each other helplessly. Apparently the loss of her brother had affected her more deeply than they had realized.

“Are you hungry, mon cher?” her mother asked.

Ana sniffed, and nodded her head.

“Come with me, I will fix you something light so you do not have to sleep on an empty stomach.”

 

Ana regarded her father’s slippers in dismay. She realized that it was entirely possible that she could have ripped the newspaper to shreds, but she wasn’t even close to being capable of chewing up her father’s slippers. Her teeth just weren’t sharp enough.

She marched over to Rémy, shaking with anger. “Bad!” she reprimanded him. “Bad, bad dog. Why have you done this? I am the one who will be blamed for this.”

Rémy stared back, silently, with cold iron eyes.

“Who are you yelling at?” her mother asked, rushing into the room. “Ana!” she gasped, horrified. Had her child really chewed her father’s slippers? It didn’t seem possible.

“Maman,” Ana said, baring her teeth, which revealed several incisors in varying stages of eruption. And, she still had her baby canines. “It is not even possible.”

Her mother swallowed, hard. Ana was right. It was not even possible. Only a dog could have ripped apart the slippers. “Je ne comprende pas,” she whispered.

“What is happening, Maman?” What she found terrifying was the coincidence that this was just the type of prank her brother used to play on her. He would do something that he knew she would get blamed for, but always at the last moment, he would laugh and tell his parents that he was the responsible party. And, he would always get away with it because he was his father’s beloved Claude, and it was just a joke, and so on and so forth.

She felt the goose bumps prickle her arms. But it cannot be my brother, she thought, because Rémy had died a year ago. She had insisted that she attend the funeral, had watched as they lowered his casket into the ground. And as the earth thumped against the coffin, she realized that he was irrevocably gone and the tears had poured down her face in a salty cascade, and her heart felt as if had been ripped from her chest. Yes, he was gone forever. She had reminded herself of that repeatedly during the past year. Nevertheless, and once again, she was wracked with sobs as she remembered her loss.

 

RémyII

Part II

Ana settled the six-pound dog firmly against her chest. Rémy rarely left her side anymore. She just could not trust him.

 

Following the debacle with her father’s slippers, there had been two more incidents: her mother’s broom had been gnawed on, and even more horrifying, a small puddle of urine had appeared behind her father’s armchair. Ana had been terrified that they would blame that particular accident on her, and cleaned it up as quickly as possible before her mother saw it.

Meanwhile, numerous rat traps had been placed around the apartment for surely this was the work of a rat or a squirrel her father had reasoned. He had laughed at them when they offered that Rémy was responsible. Her mother had received his explanation with great relief. Of course it was a rat! Why had she not thought of that? Ana, on the other hand, was not convinced. It was her brother, Rémy. She was sure of it.

How he had come to inhabit the body of a small, but hollow, iron dog, she could not explain. But, she felt in her heart that he had managed to do so. So, Rémy never left her sight, if she could manage it. If she had to leave the room when he was holding the door open, she simply retrieved the brick she had secreted underneath the sofa and traded it with the dog.

The first time her mother had caught her doing this she pretended to pout, accusing her mother of trying to take away the only friend she had. A happy Anastasie being better than a pouting and whining Anastasie, her mother had quickly relented. Time passed and there had been no more “accidents.”

 

“Must you really bring the dog?” her mother asked her as they prepared to leave the apartment. It was finally cooling down enough to resume their daily stroll in the park.

“I want him to see the fountain,” Ana explained.

Her mother inwardly rolled her eyes and allowed her peculiar child to do as she pleased. Ana was much happier these days and Jeanne Flaneur felt as if she had finally been relieved of the burden of her daughter’s grief. Claude’s death had been difficult enough for herself and her husband, Michel, but Ana’s grief had felt like a millstone around their necks. And, if the price of that release was to allow Ana to treat the little iron doorstop as her pet, it was a small price to pay, particularly as she no longer begged for a real pet of her own.

Ana allowed her mother to think that she thought of Rémy as a pet. In truth, he had become a responsibility. She felt as if she must protect her parents from what the doorstop really was—an inanimate object that held her brother’s soul. So, she watched him like a hawk, and carried him around, often until her arms trembled with fatigue. She just could not risk what he might do next.

 

As they approached the fountain, Ana felt a strange thrumming where she held the small dog against her chest. She was carefully holding him, face outwards, so that he could see where they were going, and she could almost sense Rémy’s excitement as they drew nearer to the fountain. She even felt a gentle warmth radiating from his body.

Sitting on a bench to enjoy the view and to do a bit of people watching, Ana suddenly realized she was no longer looking through her own eyes, but through the eyes of Rémy. And she was no longer in Forsyth Park but at the Place de la Concorde. She felt the presence of another body next to hers, and a hand was placed on her shoulder. She turned to look into the eyes of a young boy, perhaps ten or eleven years of age.

She recognized that face. It was Antoine. Rémy’s friend. But Antoine had also been killed in the war, and he had been older then, obviously. She didn’t understand. Antoine was daring her to jump into the fountain and grab some of the coins therein so that they might purchase some pastries.

Looking down, she realized she was clad in the summer outfit of a little boy. She held her hands in front of her face. They were the grimy hands of a boy. Antoine was staring at her quizzically and shaking her shoulder.

“Quel est le problème, Claude?” Antoine was asking.

She turned to look at the fountain again and realized that it didn’t actually look like the fountain in Forsyth Park. Similar definitely, but not the same fountain at all. And as she started noticing the differences, the fountain in Place de la Concorde began to fade away and was replaced by the fountain in Forsyth Park.

This time it was her mother shaking her shoulder. “Ana, Ana, what is wrong?”

Ana shook her head as if by doing so she could whisk away the rapidly receding memory of turn-of-the-century Paris. As she came out of her trance, she turned to her mother and apologized. “I am so sorry, Maman,” she said. “I almost felt as if we were back in Paris again. I . . . I was confused.” She hoped the lame excuse would suffice.

Her mother studied her, anxiously. She had been so sure the oddities had stopped once she allowed her to carry around the little dog. Perhaps things weren’t as copacetic as she’d led herself to believe.

“Really, Mother, I am fine,” Ana said in earnest. Fortunately for Ana, her mother desperately wanted to believe this was true.

“If you are sure?”

“Certes oui.”

Her mother sighed deeply. “Bien. I am glad to hear that.”

Ana turned so that she might scrutinize the fountain again. It was definitely only the Forsyth Park fountain bearing little more than a slight resemblance to the fountain in the Place de la Concorde. She expelled her breath, slowly, so as not to draw her mother’s attention. She hadn’t been aware she’d been holding it.

In her arms, Rémy was nothing but a heavy, but still iron, doorstop once again. He was no longer radiating that strange heat. The iron was warm, yes, but it was from the rays of the sun, the heat of her body. The unusual vibration had stopped, as well. All in all it had been a strange (and scary) incident, and she wasn’t quite sure what had happened. Had she really been Rémy for a minute or two? Or was Rémy remembering his past through her? None of it made any sense. She only knew that she would have to keep an even tighter rein on the little dog.

 

Ana was both excited and scared. They were renting a carriage and driving out to Daffin Park to meet Lawrence Black and his family for a picnic. Her father had met Lawrence when visiting the military hospital in Etaples. Rémy had stayed there briefly before dying from the wounds he received on the Marne. She had heard her father telling her mother that he had never regained consciousness before dying and that his head wound had been particularly severe. She didn’t like to think about it.

Lawrence, on the other hand, had only a severely fractured arm, which had to be amputated. But, once that had been done, he had recovered, and it wasn’t long before he was being sent back to America. He had been in the bed next to Rémy’s so that her father had been able to visit with this soldier so far from home while he waited hopelessly for his dear Claude to awaken.

Because Lawrence spoke so lovingly of Savannah, it was easy for her father to decide, later, to move his diminished family there. Lawrence had been with the 61st Coast Artillery Company’s Expeditionary Force in France, and hadn’t been in the country long before he was wounded.

It had also been the soldier’s Savannah connections that had secured her father a job.

It was a beautiful early fall day, and they started out shortly after breakfast because it was a several hour ride down Whitaker to the former Estill Avenue, recently renamed Victory Drive. The broad street had been dedicated as a memorial military boulevard in honor of the soldiers, sailors, and marines of Chatham County who died in World War I, which seemed particularly apropos considering they were going to visit a soldier.

It was a lovely outing, and Ana was enjoying every second of being outdoors. Victory Drive had a center plat of grass, which was lined with palms and grass, and each side of the drive was bordered by Spanish-moss-draped live oaks. The broad avenue reminded her of some of their outings in France.

Shortly before noon they reached the Beau Arts-style park. After tethering the horses, they headed toward the lake where they were to meet Lawrence, his wife, and their toddler son. Her father carried the picnic basket and her mother, walking by his side, clasped, in her arms, an old blanket for them to sit upon. Ana trailed behind them with Rémy clutched to her chest as always.

She felt her heart begin to beat a little more quickly as the excitement for the drive and the outing slowly metamorphosed into fear. She wasn’t exactly sure what she was afraid of. Certainly, it worried her a bit to meet the man who survived instead of Rémy. But in the long run, she knew that was silly.

She looked down at Rémy. Should she hide his eyes? How would he react to meeting Mr. Black? And, of course, she knew that would be considered insanity if her parents knew she was thinking that way. He was an iron doorstop, for goodness’ sake. He couldn’t possibly feel anything, they would say.

But she would swear on Rémy’s grave that the little dog was very in tune with what was going on around him. She even felt as if her worry about him worried him. Yet, she couldn’t help it. She just could not put her parents through the pain of knowing that she was nearly certain that Rémy’s spirit resided in the eponymous dog. And, if she told them so, she would wind up in a lunatic asylum.

“Michel,” a voice called, disrupting her thoughts.

“Lawrence,” her father called back cheerily though it sounded more French than American.

His new son, Ana thought unkindly, before blushing with guilt. She knew that was probably both true and unfair. He had lost his beloved son. Should he not find another to take his place? But, she could not help feeling that way. Sometimes she just felt like an afterthought, the accident she apparently was.

They had reached the Blacks and introductions were being made. She tried to hold onto their names, but there was a roaring in her ears and her heart was thumping so madly she thought it might burst from her chest. She was doing her best not to stare at Mr. Black’s arm. Or lack of arm. The sleeve on his right arm had been rolled up and pinned where the limb used to be. She assumed it was so it would not flap uselessly in the light breeze.

But, when he extended his left hand to shake hers, she nearly passed out.

“I am feeling faint, Maman,” she whispered, the usually ruddy skin of her face taking on a pale greenish tint.

Her mother threw the blanket on to the ground, and pushed Ana down. “Put your head between your legs,” she commanded.

Ana did so, and with her eyes no longer on Lawrence, she began to feel better almost immediately. But so she wouldn’t have to look at him again right away, she kept her head down for a few minutes. When she finally lifted it, she kept her eyes cast at her feet. She breathed deeply a couple of times, and then gave the excuse she had come up with while she was still pretending to be ill. “I guess the carriage ride made me a bit dizzy.”

“I told you you should have used a parasol,” her mother admonished her, but felt relief that it was explained so simply. “Michel, hand me the basket, s’il vous plait.”

Her father did as asked, and her mother withdrew a decanter of red wine and poured about an inch into a small glass. “Drink this, mon cher,” she handed the glass to Ana, “it should revive you completely.”

Ana sipped it slowly, nose wrinkled in distaste. It tasted sour to her. She had thought it must be the nectar of the gods the way they consumed the stuff. After a few sips, though, there was a pleasant warming in her belly, and she felt completely restored. She would continue to avoid looking at Mr. Black, though, if at all possible.

His son toddled over to her, chubby hand reaching for Rémy. Her first instinct was to pull away from him, but she gritted her teeth and let him touch the dog.

“I have forgotten his name,” she whispered to her mother who was sitting next to her on the blanket.

“Jimmy.” She said it the French way with the softish “j.”

Ana nodded. “This is Rémy, Jimmy,” she introduced the doorstop to the little boy. Jimmy looked at her blankly. Perhaps the name is too foreign, she mused.

Then Jimmy tugged on Rémy’s ribbon, and it slipped from his neck. He then turned and waddled away with it to show it to his mother. Ana wanted nothing more than to grab the ribbon from his fat little fist but knew that would not only embarrass her parents, but would probably be considered overreacting. But, it is Rémy’s ribbon, she screamed silently, tears pricking her eyes. Do not cry, she ordered herself, and turned to see what types of food her mother had packed in the basket.

“Tu as faim?” her mother asked when she noticed that Ana was looking longingly at the basket.

“Yes, mother.”

Her mother fixed her a plate with cold chicken, bread and cheese. Thanking her, Ana began to nibble on the food, eyes still firmly downcast as she tried not to look at Lawrence who sat nearby talking with her father.

She had eaten as much as she could and was handing the plate back to her mother when, peripherally, she saw someone sit down beside her. She assumed it was Jimmy, returning the ribbon, she hoped, and turned to greet him. It was Mr. Black.

The roaring in her ears began again, and her vision narrowed. She couldn’t quite hear him but he was proffering the ribbon and saying something about how much my father had talked about me when he was in the hospital.

“That’s not true,” she said, but it wasn’t her speaking. “He did not speak of Tasie at all, only me.”

Mr. Black regarded her with shock, glancing back at her father in confusion. “Are you okay?” he asked. Her face was pale again and her eyes unfocused. He reached out a hand to steady her, and she shrieked.

But, she wasn’t yelling because he had touched her, she was screaming because suddenly the air was filled with the sounds of men screaming, bombs falling and explosive gunfire. And then her head felt as if it might implode, and she slumped to the ground, unconscious.

 

She awoke in her own bed back at the apartment. A doctor sat on the edge of the mattress taking her pulse and her mother paced the room, nails bloody from where she’d been chewing on them.

“Good morning, Miss Flaneur,” the doctor said when her eyes trembled open.

“Rémy?” she asked, voice rising in panic.

Her mother hurried over to the bed, tears rising in her eyes. “Oh, Ana, we’ve been so worried. You have been unconscious since the picnic yesterday.”

“Yesterday?” Ana asked, then had a fleeting image of destruction, before she once again remembered her dog. “Where is Rémy?”

“Rémy?” the doctor repeated.

“Yes, it is the doorstop in the shape of a French Bulldog that has become her special pet.”

Special pet, Ana thought angrily. He is not a pet. He is driving me insane. But she said, “Yes, where is he?”

Her mother walked over to her bureau and opened a drawer, and lifted the little dog from its confines. The ribbon was once again around his neck. “Here he is,” she said, but it was all she could do not to roll her eyes at the doctor.

“That’s quite a heavy little pet,” the doctor said taking the dog from her mother and handing it to Ana.

“Maman would not let me have a real pet,” Ana explained.

“Ah,” the doctor nodded, and stood.

“We are not allowed to have pets in the apartment,” her mother defended herself.

“I honestly can’t say what caused the fit,” the doctor told her mother. “She seems as right as rain at the moment. Perhaps the heat? The motion? The stress of meeting the Blacks? Maybe a combination. I would let her take it easy for a few days. Keep an eye on her and let me know if her condition worsens. Honestly, I believe she’ll be up and running around again in no time at all.”

“Thank you,” her mother said, as she escorted the doctor from her room, and to the front door. “I will . . .”

But Ana could not hear the rest as her mother was murmuring.

“Rémy, Rémy,” she moaned once they were out of earshot, “what am I going to do with you?”

 

Rémy3

Part III

            “Ana,” her father ventured, several days after the disastrous picnic. He was sitting in his armchair, newspaper folded on his lap and his new affectation, a meerschaum pipe, tucked neatly into the side of his mouth.

“Oui, Papa?” she replied, tucking a stray brown curl behind her ear and looking up from the book she was attempting to read.

“How did you know?”

“Know what?” She hadn’t the faintest idea what he was talking about.

“Know what Lawrence and I talked about in the hospital,” he hedged.

“How could I possibly know what you talked about?” she asked, growing more confused by the moment.

Perhaps she had forgotten what she said in the midst of her fit, her father concluded. It might be better to let it go. “Never mind,” he sighed. “You gave us the impression that you had listened to our conversations.”

“In the hospital? How is that possible? I was in Paris with Maman.”

“True,” he said, and picked up his newspaper. But he remembered that day in Daffin Park very clearly. Ana had said that he and Lawrence had talked only about Claude. Which was a fact. He had barely mentioned his daughter to Lawrence at all. But she had called herself Tasie, Claude’s nickname for her. It was all so very unsettling. And yet, she seemed to genuinely not remember. Yes, perhaps it was better to let it go. Things had definitely been much quieter around the apartment since that day. Even Jeanne seemed more at peace these days, and that, he mused, was well worth keeping his mouth shut.

 

Ana had more important things on her mind than whether she had known what her father and Lawrence had spoken of in the hospital. Something had changed in Rémy. Ever since the incident at Daffin Park, he had seemed nothing more than an iron doorstop. There were times, she admitted to herself, particularly when she was cuddled up with him in bed at night, that she thought she could feel his body warming and a slight trembling, but that could have been her imagination. She wanted her old Rémy back so desperately.

As the months passed, she grew more and more distressed. She’d grown used to his trouble making and the problems that ensued. She almost enjoyed, despite her protestations, formulating ways to deal with the occasional mess. It helped to occupy her time, made her feel necessary. Without them, she was reduced once again to reading, daydreaming, or taking what she now considered to be boring walks in the park with her mother as Rémy didn’t even seem to notice they were there. Playing with her dolls now struck her as childish, and she still had no friends to speak of.

Her mother had attempted to teach her embroidery, but Ana soon found she stuck the needle into her finger more than the fabric. The only benefit was that it took intense concentration on her part and she didn’t have time to think of Rémy while she was attempting to form designs with colored thread.

Because of the fit she had at Daffin Park, her parents were reluctant to enroll her in a public school. Also, because they had recently spent all the money they had been saving to purchase a home in Ardsley Park to buy a plot in Bonaventure Cemetery and have Rémy’s body shipped from France, they could not even afford a tutor. Which meant, of course, that her mother had taken on educating her, as well. It wasn’t that she didn’t love her mother. It was just that if she couldn’t communicate with Rémy then she’d rather be elsewhere. At the very least, she wished she could be with children her own age.

Her parents had stopped attending church when Rémy had died, so she didn’t even have the consolation of meeting other children in catechism classes.

Sometimes, she wished she had never been born. He had been dead for more than a year, but still her brother took precedence in everything. She was absolutely dreading a second funeral. The first had been difficult enough.

 

She sat on the porch overlooking Forsyth Park and stared unseeingly into the trees that grew along its western edge. Rémy sat staring just as blindly next to her.

Had the screams she had heard when Mr. Black touched her been those of her brother, she wondered? It had sounded how she imagined battles would sound. So loud and frightening. Sometimes, she mused, she wasn’t sure she would have regained consciousness if her mother had not put Rémy in that drawer. Instead, she was still alive, even if she felt like she was carrying the weight of the little dog in her chest. Her heart always felt so heavy that it often throbbed with pain. Was it even possible to feel as lonely as she felt sometimes? Why couldn’t she just be happy?

The raucous caw of a crow startled her from her contemplation. Tomorrow would be Rémy’s second funeral, and her little dog now seemed just as dead to her as her brother did.

 

That Saturday morning, November 1, 1919, Ana awoke to an overcast sky and the threat of rain. A gloomy day for a gloomy funeral, she thought, sliding out of bed before retrieving Rémy from beside her pillow.

Her limbs felt leaden as she dragged herself down the hallway to the kitchen. She wasn’t hungry but she dearly wanted a cup of very creamy coffee with lots of sugar. She thought that might warm her up. She felt so cold inside even though the weather was still relatively mild, particularly when compared to France.

Maybe it was just the idea of the drive out to the cemetery. She ought to be excited. Papa’s boss was to pick them up in his practically brand new 1919 Model T Ford and drive them out to Bonaventure. She’d never been in a car (they hadn’t needed one in Paris) but she had been on trains and on the ocean liner that had carried them to America. Yet, despite the novelty of being in a car for the first time, she knew at the end of the drive another funeral awaited and she would have done nearly anything not to go.

 

The ride out to the town’s famous cemetery (John Muir had lived among the tombs for nearly a week in 1867, she had heard her father tell her mother. She wasn’t quite sure who that was but her father sounded impressed.) had been bumpy but quite a bit faster than riding in a horse-drawn buggy. And, by the time they got there, the sun had been doing its best to push away the clouds.

Passing beneath the Spanish moss-draped live oaks, Ana felt a shiver of dread travel down her spine. If the first funeral hadn’t made it clear that Rémy was gone, forever, this one certainly would. She hugged her little dog tightly as the priest said the words of the Committal. Again.

She stood at the end of his grave, which was marked with the word, “SON.” She wondered if her parents would have “DAUGHTER” written at the end of her grave. And then she remembered that they were much older than she was and she would no doubt bury them. She wasn’t sure she wanted to live that long much less another day. The Priest’s voice drew her back to the service.

“And let light perpetual shine upon him,” she forced herself to whisper, and that’s when she heard his voice, as clear as bell ringing through her head.

“You must let me go, Tasie,” she could feel the little dog thrumming in her arms; would swear she could feel its heart beating against her chest. “It is time.”

“Non!” she cried. And everyone turned and looked at her. The tears flowed from her eyes and there was a look of anguish on her face.

Her mother took a step toward her, “Mon cher, we have been through this already.” There were tears on her cheeks as well, but most of the grief had begun to fade away.

“I don’t want him to go,” she wailed.

Her father looked irritated and embarrassed. “Ana, why are you carrying on like this now?” he said with clenched teeth. “Claude has been dead for more than a year.”

But he wasn’t. She knew it. He was in her little doorstop. She could feel him. Perhaps for the first time in a couple of months, but she could feel him. He was back and she wouldn’t lose him this time.

“You must,” Rémy repeated. “I’ve humored you far too long. This is painful for me.”

She hadn’t realized she was causing him pain, but she wanted to be with him both now and always.

“Impossible,” his voice was growing fainter.

But it had to be possible. There had to be a way.

“Let me go.”

“Non,” she whispered.

“Oui.”

Her heart hammered excruciatingly against her ribs. Everyone else had turned back to finish the service as she struggled with letting Rémy go once and for all. She would do it, she would say the words, but she would figure out some way to bring him back.

“Say it,” her brother urged her. She could barely hear him anymore.

“I release you,” she whispered, choking on her tears.

“Merci, Tasie. I will see you again when you join me here.”

“Join you?” she thought.

“In the future. When you die,” he said, and was gone. The dog was still once again. Nothing more than a cold and heavy piece of iron in her arms.

Join him, she marveled. Rémy had said that she could join him. That had not occurred to her. Someday, she would be laid to rest beside him (she hoped) and then she would see him again. But when would that day be? The future seemed so far away.

She felt the tears well in her eyes again, but her mother was telling her it was time to get back in the car. She looked at the vase of white mums her mother had placed next to Rémy’s headstone, and she had an idea. Taking her dog, she placed it at the end of the grave next to the word, SON.

“Ana?” her mother asked anxiously.

“I will feel better if Rémy is here to guard Ré, mmm, Claude,” she corrected herself.

“You are not afraid of leaving him out in the weather?” It was threatening to rain again, and despite the fact she was anxious to return to town, Jeanne did not want to have to make a return trip to retrieve Ana’s little pet.

“Oui, I am sure. I think it would make them both very happy.”

“Yes, but what about you?”

“What Rémy needs is more important.”

Her mother wasn’t sure if she was talking about the dog or her brother. “If you are sure.”

“Oui, Maman, certes oui.”

Jeanne led her away with mixed feelings. Rémy stared out into the graveyard as if daring anyone to approach. It was a rather comforting sight, she thought, but how would Ana feel about this decision come bedtime.

 

Once they had returned to the apartment, Ana found she had very little appetite for the large post funeral meal her mother had prepared. Her parents were busy with their guests and hardly noticed when she slipped away to her room having barely nibbled on her food.

When her mother came to check on her, she found Ana, already clad in her nightgown, beneath the covers of her bed, a book in her hand.

“I am not feeling well,” she told her. Her mother laid a hand across Ana’s forehead, but the skin there was cool. No fever then. Probably no more than the stress of the day. She had not been herself since her breakdown in Daffin Park, and no doubt the funeral had taxed her.

“Shall I bring you some tea?” Jeanne asked.

Ana shook her head. “No,” she said, setting down her book. “I believe I am just tired. I think I shall try to sleep.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” her mother agreed. “Perhaps you will feel better after a little nap.”

“Is she all right?” Michel asked when Jeanne returned to the living room.

“She is not feverish,” she replied. “Perhaps, just a little overwrought and exhausted.”

“She seemed to take the burial really hard,” one of Michel’s co-workers, who had attended the small burial service with a few others of those employed with Michel, noted.

“She absolutely adored her brother,” Jeanne explained. “His death was particularly hard on her. She has had a difficult time adjusting to it.” She was suddenly reminded of Rémy and wondered how the little dog was faring on Claude’s grave. She immediately reprimanded herself for being fanciful. It was nothing more than a doorstop, after all. But, she couldn’t help but shuddering slightly, sometimes he (It! It! her logical mind chided) had seemed so real.

 

She understood now. She wasn’t sure why it had taken her so long. It had always been Rémy. Claude. She was just the thing they were forced to take care of. She was thankful, of course, that Rémy, at least, had loved her. But without him what was she to do? She had no reason to live. She was the afterthought. The “what do we have to deal with this time”?

But she could join Rémy. He said so. When she died she would be with him again. Yes. That’s what she wanted more than anything. She wanted to be with him again. And that decision made, she was able to drift off to sleep.

 

When her mother came in to check on her that evening, her daughter was sleeping soundly. She didn’t have the heart to wake her. She thought about leaving the tray with its cold chicken sandwich and grapes, but decided that was probably unwise. She only hoped that if Ana did awaken in the night and feel hungry that she would go search for something in the kitchen. She would wrap the sandwich in paraffin paper and leave a note atop it to catch her eye, just in case.

But Ana did not awaken during the night, and was sleeping fitfully when her mother entered the room the next morning. Her daughter’s face was pale and there was a slight sheen of sweat on her forehead and cheeks. Once again, she placed her hand across Ana’s forehead, and this time snatched it back quickly. Her daughter was burning up.

“Michel!” she called, frantic. She heard a dining room chair crash to the floor, and the sound of her husband’s feet pounding down the hallway.

“What is it?” he asked, rushing into the room.

“She feels so hot.”

Her father laid his hand across her forehead and groaned. She felt very hot, indeed. “I will get the thermometer.”

“105 degrees,” he read when the mercury no longer rose along the gradient. “We must bring the fever down. I will fill the tub with cold water.”

Because their landlord had provided them with one of the relatively new refrigerators, they no longer had an icebox nor any immediate access to ice. Jeanne stripped her daughter of her nightgown and carried her down the hall to the bathroom.

Michel took her from Jeanne and lowered her gently into the tub. The water wasn’t extraordinarily cold, but it was definitely colder than Ana’s body. Her eyelids fluttered and she groaned as her body was immersed, but it didn’t take long for her own body heat to warm up the water. Draining the tub, Michel refilled it, and once again lowered his daughter into the water.

Ten minutes later, they removed her again, and once again took her temperature. 102. Still high, but not dangerously so. They carried her back to her room, and Jeanne began pressing cold damp cloths to her forehead, neck, and chest, changing them each time they warmed. She could hear Michel on the phone in the living room trying to get in touch with a doctor, which always seemed to be much more difficult on a Sunday.

“He cannot come until tomorrow morning,” Michel reported when he returned to the room. “His wife says he is on his rounds and only hopes he can make it back to town by this evening. He has a case of typhoid fever to deal with out on one of the islands. She said that we were doing the right thing, as far as she knew, and suggested giving her an aspirin every few hours as well.”

“I’ll go grind one into some honey. She should be able to swallow that.”

Jeanne and Michel took turns watching Ana the remainder of the day, sitting in a rocking chair pulled into the room for that purpose. That night, her mother settled herself into the chair with a blanket, and tried to stay awake. But, Ana was so quiet and sleeping so soundly, she soon drifted off to sleep herself.

 

 

Ana’s eyelids flew open in the wee hours of the morning, “Rémy!” she thought, heart pounding, and she began to pat the area around her pillow before she remembered that she had left him at Bonaventure. “Oh Rémy,” her heart cried, as she tremblingly drew in a breath. “I miss you so much.” And then she exhaled. Or did she? Perhaps her body was just doing what it was accustomed to do because her chest did not rise again.

 

Jeanne woke a couple hours later as the cold gray light of dawn filtered through the translucent curtains. Her breath caught in her throat as she realized that her daughter seemed preternaturally still and silent. She propelled herself from the chair to her daughter’s side only to stop midstride.

In his customary spot next to Ana’s pillow sat Rémy. His cold iron eyes stared at her reproachfully, as if holding her personally accountable for this tragic outcome.

 

 

 

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