Tuesday, January 17, 2012

In Which I Share a Homework Assignment

As you know, I'm taking courses at Grub this semester. One of these courses is called Fiction II. Christina, our teacher, is super knowledgeable and incredibly nice. The assignment this week offered the writing prompt "Familiarity and Estrangement." I thought you might enjoy reading the 600-word scene, entitled "Fishy Business," which I intend to submit tomorrow. Fiction is an entirely different animal from non-fiction, in case you hadn't noticed. Okay, so get out your French flags and accompany Heather (me!) on her (my) very first trip to Paris:

A ray of sunshine angled through the broken Venetian blind, causing Heather to open her eyes and peer around the bedroom. The excitement of the previous day came flooding back. For months she had looked forward to this trip to Paris, a high school graduation present. As planned, her father’s cousin had met the Air France jet at Orly. Heather felt as if she already knew Lisa because they had exchanged so many aerograms. Lisa had taken Heather to a real café and bought croissants for lunch. Since her stomach had been tied in knots, she hadn’t eaten much. The café was located a short distance from Le Bon Marche, the department store where the former model said she had once worked. At least, that was what Heather had understood. Lisa was definitely still glamorous despite advanced age. Sixty? Seventy? After a taxi ride around the city, Lisa had escorted her here to meet Princess Dadiani who had inherited this four-bedroom apartment, rue Constant Coquelin, and took in paying guests. The women had exchanged kisses, but did not seem very happy to see each other, perhaps because Juliana Dadiani had family visiting, two rambunctious little girls with blond hair, and a niece, with what looked like a recent black eye? There was nothing but tea for supper, since the family ate their main meal at noon. While the two adults discussed alimony, Heather had roughhoused with the children. How the halls had resounded with their cries of glee! Now all Heather could hear was a door closing somewhere. Outside pigeons cooed. Yes, there they were, two pigeons strutting along a nearby roof. She tried to open the window but couldn’t make the latch-bolt work. Drapes covered a second window. Heather parted them only to discover a brick wall.

She dropped the house key in her purse and proceeded down the corridor. The apartment was loud in its silence. Narrow parquet boards creaked beneath her feet. In the kitchen, an elderly woman was making borscht. She said something friendly in Russian and wiped beet-red hands on a dirty apron. Heather shrugged and pointed at her stomach. The cook poured some café au lait into a pitcher and carried bread with butter and jam into the darkened dining room.

After breakfast, Heather went for a long walk along rue Duroc, lined with stylish clothing shops. She sat down on a bench and spent half an hour writing postcards.

“Bon-jour?” the American teenager called out tentatively, opening the apartment door at lunchtime. The dining room table was set for two. Ah! Surely Princess Dadiani would be home soon.

Once Heather had washed her hands, she hurried back to the table. A stranger, dressed in a soiled business suit, sat erect in one of the seats, eating radishes. He was big, with thick glasses and greasy brown hair. The man gestured for her to sit down. “Have some crudités,” he said.

Heather chose two longish radishes and broke off a piece of baguette.

“Eat them with butter,” the man advised, shoving a butter dish across the table.

Heather made herself a small radish sandwich but refused seconds. Her companion rang a silver bell. The cook placed two platters on the table. Heather looked down and confronted the dorade that was to be her nourishment for the day. The stranger was too busy carving out his fish’s eye to notice her consternation. “The best part,” he said with a flourish of his fork.

The sea bream, accompanied by three perfect potatoes, was crusted with slivers of almonds. And, it still had its head on …