sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A House

A House

a fictional short

The house remained embedded in a group of tenements but for as long as anyone could recall, no part of it had been rented to anyone. Today you might consider it a vertical compound. I believe that had been the intent of my ancestors who laid brick to mortar so long ago because they built it to last. Even so, the five-story walk-up had the look of a place where each floor had been rented, because successive generations of the same family occupied the building. A succession of grandparents or great grandparents lived on the bottom floor. Today it's as it was then -- grandma's home because she has difficulty climbing stairs. Her eldest son, known to all by his nickname, Corisco, and his family above her, and so forth until you reached the top, five levels and four generations. Above them a water cistern that caught rain water on the roof, which flowed down and everyone in the house used from time to time. The family home dated to before the Napoleonic era when there was no piped city water and the cistern provided the only water that the building received. Today there are water pipes  discretely running up the outside of the building and sewer pipes running down. Successive generations and renovations have tried to keep current without destroying what makes it our house.

The door from upper floors and the criss crossing stairways down emptied directly onto the cobblestone street. Even today as I step out, I feel that I can hear, and sometimes even see  Napoleon's Grand Armee, the brave young men who went to the front to live in trenches, most of whom never returned on parade outbound. I can Hitler's jackbooted storm troopers marching in and  then the Americans that pushed them out and had been quartered there on the third level of the house. One of the American men left my grandmother with a child while he returned across the Atlantic to his home and his wife.

Behind the house, fed by a hand pump, a washing tank, made of stone, naturally, had been used by successive generations, and the stones, worn smooth. Within my lifetime the old home had been plumbed for a mechanical washer and drier, but the clothes never smelled as fresh as when we washed them in the old stone tank and hung them in the air to dry in the yard. The sheets are not as crisp. Not everything newer is better, even if it is more convenient.

The smell of the mechanical era is not earthy as in the era when the yard had been home to pigs, sheep and horses. Today we keep chickens for fresh eggs and fryers. The morning call of the rooster rouses all of the generations that live in the house. My grandmother fixes breakfast for the men who descend the stairs in their work clothes -- some fancy, some not. Today there are croquets stuffed with chicken, fresh eggs poached in boiling water with a bit of vinegar to bind them better and bread, fresh from the oven. She does not churn the butter anymore, but it comes from the neighborhood store and it is good enough. Fresh honey for the bread is exchanged for the eggs that our chickens lay.

When the men leave, the children in their school uniforms are met with a grandmotherly kiss, a bowl of oatmeal and a boiled egg. On special holidays there are crepes with fresh blackberry jam.

There is a patio in the yard that is reserved for adults. No child may enter without an invitation. It is said that the rule extends back to the days before the arrival of the steam engine and it is still upheld with religious fervor. The yard is for the children to play in and the patio is for adult conversation. My uncles and my father sit there when they return home in the evening. It is a place for after dinner, and the drink is sipped gently as cigars are carefully lighted. Politics, work, who in the neighborhood dallies with forbidden love and the mechanical problems associated with automobiles are all probed. Problems are solved.

In the vast kitchen (the dimensions of which are not at all common in the neighborhood), the discussion between my aunts and female cousins goes in different directions, but they just as weighty as the men's. Which butcher doesn't cheat you with his thumb on the scale, where to buy the best oranges and who in the neighborhood dallies with forbidden love. Which women have female problems, why are our family's children superior to the children born of others, and matchmaking the young, which is always an exercise in futility. During these discussions, the children are sent into the yard, safely surrounded by an insurmountably high stone wall, mostly covered by green moss as it had been before electric lights, telephones or police car sirens.

Teenagers retire to the roof, and sit near the cistern, speaking of how parents don't understand what it is to be young. Or they all pile into Uncle Henry's taxi and Henry takes them here or there and waits until they are ready to come home. None value Henry's generosity with his time, his taxi and his unbending love. Such is the nature of teenage years. Some of them apprentice with their parents, whose careers span the wheel of possibilities. Nicolette is a doctor, her husband Marcel runs an engineering firm specializing in locomotives; Henry, the cab driver, is a widower; Gaston repairs jet engines for Air France and his wife, a Flemish woman, teaches school. Pierre, who ran away to join the army, returned with an Alsatian wife and child and he manages a restaurant on the Seine. Paulette, once a model, is now a politician, and her husband sells insurance to shipping companies. They are diverse, but they all still are drawn back to home. They could live in more luxurious settings, but they don't want to separate themselves from people who love them unconditionally.

Such is the nature of A Home.



12 comments:

  1. Very evocative of a 'better' time, and I'm betting it's on the West Bank in Montmartre.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I tried to evoke a reflection of how things work best and did have Montmarte in mind.

      Naturally my thoughts on the matter are not progressive.

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  2. Very nice. Sounds like the opening chapter to something much darker.....

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    Replies
    1. I have some ideas of where to take this very basic piece but don't know that I will. Much of the development that goes into a story is the momentary whim of an author combined with a market that would likely find it interesting. Nothing is more unsatisfying than pouring blood, sweat and tears into a story, only to have it not be purchased even for a nominal amount. I'm not pimping my stuff. Simply saying that if nobody reads it, was it worth writing it.

      Even a short book takes on the order of a year to write (in addition to earning daily bread).

      Delete
    2. I feel your pain.....

      Some of my best technical writing is either classified, or was done for companies long since out of business....

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    3. Much of my best reporting is and will forever be classified - TS/WN/NF/LIMDIS/ORCON, etc. But I'm done with that.

      Delete
  3. Write about Bambi and Leather. They always bring a smile.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Possible titles:

      ^ Bambi and Leather Join the New Orleans Police Department

      ^ Bambi and Leather On Patrol

      ^ Bambi and Leather Love a Big Bust

      Delete
  4. I like the patio aspect -- good house rule.

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    Replies
    1. Children are to be seen and not heard in bastions of manly discussion.

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  5. I think this could go further as you have an interesting array of characters and the back drop of Paris. Ahhh, the nostalgia, the repetition of history and the stability that family gives an individual no matter how eclectic. I like this ~ it's a good scene setter and embodied with nourishment.

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