Marie was born into the wrong era; the wrong place, or perhaps, into the wrong family. She knew that she had a place in the world; she just hadn’t quite figured it out yet. She looked up from her play corner to be greeted by the familiar dullness of her grandmother’s house; heavy green velvet curtains perpetually closed lest the sunlight damage the darkwood interior, the large mirrored pieces perpetuating a dark scene into what Maria felt was eternity. She longed to be outside. She had just suffered an endless lunch of tedious asparagus leaves, painstakingly eaten under surveillance of Grand’Mere who waited fervently for her to slip on correct manners. Victoria, la bonne, having gone out to run some errand, had left Maria housebound and in the pretence of keeping an eye on Grand’Mere, who, thankfully, these days, spent much of her life in bed.
Grand’Mere didn’t like Maria very much; at least, that’s what Maria thought. Her own mother hadn’t seemed to either. Following a pledge of undying love which had incorporated an un-materialised return and rescue plan, Maman had run off with Him. Maria was subsequently left alone with her grandmother, who, at the mention of her daughter’s act of indecency, screamed ‘Madame Bovary, right here, under my nose!’ with great indignation from her bed, proclaiming incessantly the lament that her daughter had absconded with the facteur (which no one could figure out, when in fact, he wasn’t a postman at all, but well connected to the paper mill in Rouen). The sister mill in the south of France was allegedly in need of his skills, and, obviously, he was of the temperament of Maria’s mother, the newly christened Madame Bovary. Maria was left, alas, in the north, waiting patiently for her to return. Besides a few infrequent letters over the last two years, there was little news, and little information for Maria to deduce she was coming back for her. She thought of running away to join her, but being aware of all the large rivers criss-crossing the length and breadth of France, she had no idea how to navigate the bridges that would bring her to her mother’s house. The last address was more than a year old. Perhaps she had moved. She thought of walking at least to the factory. But what if He had moved also?
Maria imagined the town which lay immediately outside the thick stone walls encasing her; her school friends; Emilie on the merry go round in town; Mathilde in the playground with her little brother. She imagined Monsieur LeNy’s boulangerie in the centre of town with its multi coloured caramels tempting all that passed; she was sure Victoria was there buying some treat for her right at this very moment. She smelt the smoky café where the drunk, ugly people were playing their football loto; she could almost feel Victoria pulling at her arm to quicken the pace as they passed by.
She often wondered who was in that café that Victoria was so desperate to elude.
It was 1979; an incessant hot French summer. And Maria stayed inside.
Carina McNally, from Beara, Co. Cork, is a social care worker in the intellectual disability sector and a commissioned writer of children’s short stories for the RTE Radio 1 programme Fiction 15 (producer Aidan Stanley) 2007 -2009. Over the years she has had short stories published by a variety of magazines, some out of / still in print e.g. Beara Arts, Island Magazine, Xclusive and Lumen and is the current book reviewer for Curam magazine.