On Afternoon in late July, Catharine made her way to the building where her sister Mimi lived.
She was dressed in black because that day she had made her monthly visit to the grave of her second husband, Bernard Mathieu, at Père Lachaise. It was a hike across town that she made more out of duty than any sentimentality. Bernard had died three years prior in the arms of his fat Dutch mistress not that Catharine had given a damn about that because he had left all of his money to her and her daughters. He had never been a faithful husband. Only two weeks after their wedding she had found out that he was sleeping with his busty Belgian secretary, full figured women from the Low Countries had been his personal kink, but Catharine had married him simply because he was rich and could provide her her and her girls. Catharine was not the most affectionate of mothers but she always made sure Mathilde and Agnès lived comfortably which to her was as good a proof of motherly love as any. She considered Bernard Mathieu the better of her two husbands.
Her first husband, George Thomas, had been a different story. He had been the least detestable of all the suitors that had courted her in her youth; handsome and charming with an air of danger. She did not know why she had married him, lust, she suspected, or maybe a need for some excitement in her life but she soon regretted it. One thing she had learned in her life was that Prince Charming was not always Mr. Right.
Mimi greeted Catharine at the door of her flat.
“Catharine” she said “come in. I’ll put a pot of coffee on the stove”
Catharine reached into her handbag and took out a postcard.
“I received a postcard from Agnès” she said “she and Mathilde and Edmond are in New York and are staying at The Plaza. They’ve done some shopping, gone through Central Park, went to see that really tall building everyone’s talking about…the Empire State Building, and they went to see a show on Broadway called Jezebel which Edmond and Mathilde were disappointed by because they thought it was going to be a hoochie coochie show. At the end of the month, they’re going to go to Chicago because Edmond has business there. That doesn’t sound good. And then they are going to go to Atlantic City. They should be back in September.”
“Oh, I can’t wait to hear all about the trip when they get back” Mimi added.
“I trust you’ve seen something of Marianne? How is she doing?”
“I think she’s in love. Whenever she comes by here, she seems so distracted”
Catharine did not want to say it but Marianne, like her mother had, usually seemed distracted.
“Good. With any luck she’ll be the next of the girls to get married. As the second oldest she should be next in line. Agnès has her admirers but nobody serious. She’ll probably end up an old maid if she continues to sulk around in Mathilde’s shadow. I don’t why she keeps letting Mathilde outshine her, she’s every bit as pretty as her.”
Mimi had noticed that her niece Mathilde had that force of personality that makes others cower in presence, which she had inherited from her mother.
In the evening Augustin ran into Jules and pulled him into a café which happened to be called Café La Première Étoile for a bite to eat.
“What are you doing here?” Jules asked “I thought this part of town was too polite for you”
A certain blond haired waitress came over to their table and gave Augustin a flirtatious smile.
“Now I see”
“What can I get you?” Marianne asked them “something to eat or just drinks?”
“We’ll have something to eat” Augustin answered “and maybe something sweet for dessert”
“I’ll have the Crôque Madame and a whiskey and soda, please” Jules said
“Be right back”
As Marianne was walking away she stopped to whisper “I get off in an hour and a half. Meet me out back” into Augustin’s ear.
“I’m going to Normandy next week” Jules began “with my sisters and brothers in law. We’re going to Deauville and stop and see my parents along the way. My brother in law Charles is actually taking time off from work”
“That’s surprising. You’re always telling me how busy he always is.”
“Well, have you ever seen my sister Adèle in a bathing suit?”
“Here’s your whiskies with soda, Messieurs” Marianne said as she brought them their drinks.
“Thank you, Mademoiselle” Augustin answered.
About an hour and a half later, Marianne was waiting in the kitchen of the café. She held the door open and was searching the alleyway out back. Manon came in to hang up her apron.
“Well I’m off” she said “what about you?”
“I’m going to sweep the floor and lock up before I go” Marianne answered
“I thought it was Anna’s turn?”
“She has a headache, so I told her I would do it”
“That was kind of you”
A figure moving in the alley caught Marianne’s eye. Augustin appeared in the doorway. Manon giggled.
“Anna has a headache” she said, imitating Marianne’s voice “I’ll sweep the floor and lock up”
“I’ll be out in a minute” Marianne said to Augustin “I just need to finish up”
“Hopefully she won’t keep you waiting too long” Manon added as she stepped out of the room.
From the doorway, Augustin watched Marianne as swept the floor. Her face looked pale and tired. Strands of her hair had fallen loose from where they had been pinned up. She turned and gave him one of her smiles, one of the kind that could make a man believe that she smiled that way only for him.
When she had locked up, she joined him in the alleyway, ran up to him and kissed him. It was coming upon ten of the clock and it was just beginning to get dark. Looking into Marianne’s eyes, he could read what she was thinking: should I invite him in? She was perfectly comfortable whenever she went out with him but he always sensed an uneasiness in her when he brought her home because she wrestling with this question.
If she were to invite him in, he knew he would not be able to resist but it would be a happiness he did not feel he deserved. What he felt for her was the only good thing that had been in her heart for a long time and he was afraid that this good feeling might have a dishonest motive.
Looking into her eyes, he believed that Edmond who ever he was had never been anything to her. He was glad of that. He would have prefered that she had seen dozens of men rather than just him.
Marianne wanted to let him in. She was beginning to believe that he respected her and could be trusted. But letting him in would be against everything she had been told was right.
They were both enjoying going out with each other but they were unsure of where it was all going. At their time of life, they had long outgrown childhood but had not yet grown into adulthood. Young though they were, they were not so young that they could be unconcerned about a future that was frighteningly close and frighteningly uncertain.