Okay, so here is another chapter (well part of one) to Marcello’s Revenge. I am really wanting to get back to getting this written. Perhaps this will help inspire me. Oh well. Also, just want to warn that this is a really long post, originally being in three parts. I have decided to post half of the entire chapter, and will post the second part in the near future.
You can find the previous installments here:
Francine stood at the mirror in our bathroom putting on the finishing touches of her make up as she prepared to go to church. I was behind her, watching as she applied eye liner. Having had very little sleep, I am afraid I was a little irritated and short with her that morning.
“Can we really afford for you to go to church today?” I asked curtly.
“Can we afford for me not to?” As her question was as absurd as mine, I dropped the matter and looked over at the bathtub, its porcelain lining and chrome faucet shinning after a fresh scrubbing. “Dearest, you choose to harbor this girl for reasons I do not fully understand. Or even agree with. And yet, as I trust you and your judgment, I will support you in your decision even if it makes me an accomplice to a crime. However, I will not neglect my religious duties for it. Plus, I am reading the epistle lesson today!”
Francine is devout in her attendance of church, a discipline she derived mainly from her father, Andrew Delacroix, a Catholic prior to meeting her mother, Mary, who was an Episcopalian. It was a point of contention for some time, from what I understand, but the two eventually came to terms on the matter by becoming Anglo Catholics. Andrew agreed to this, however, under the condition that they be married in the Catholic Church, and have all of their children baptized therein as well.
Over the course of our relationship to each other, I have been formally introduced to Francine on three separate occasions, and the first of these being just before her baptism where I and my wife at the time, Sophia, were to be her Godparents. My mother, who had made preparations for the sacrament to take place at her church, petitioned unbeknownst to us on our behalf. We were both twenty-one at the time, newly married, and Catholics in good standing with the Church, so, along with me being the nephew of Andrew, we were a logical choice.
Thus, with my mother in tow, we visited them at their house one evening, gathering in the Delacroix living room a week before the service, and as the other children rambunctiously played, Mary brought out Francine from her room where she had been sleeping, and handing her to me said “Here is your cousin, Francine.” She slept the entire time. I was slightly taken back and unsure of myself, so I quickly handed the baby over to my wife. My mother, overjoyed with our selection, commented how radiant Sofia looked while holding her. A hinting comment, to be sure, but one which would come to fruition in another year when our son was born. Yet she did look radiant with the soft electric light accenting her short blond hair, her bare arms gleaming as they cradled the dark-haired child sleeping with a crooked grin.
The ceremony took place at Saint Peter’s in downtown, a church built around the turn of the century where the smell of the incense that floated around its iniquitous, hallowed halls was mixed with the sweetness of mendacity and burned into the great brown stone columns and the stained glass images of Jesus, Mary, and the whole gang. It was pretty ceremony with Francine dressed in the traditional white gown one would expect, Sofia in a green dress, and me in a white shirt with a sky blue, sparkling tie.
Overcoming my initial awkwardness, and Sophia under the impression that on this occasion it would be more appropriate for me to do so, I held Francine while she was at my side baring the candle. The parents flanked us. Now, years later, I feel the pain in the hypocrisy of my sacramental vows to bring the child up in Christ and the Church, becoming a man who abstained from both to the point of resentment. But at the time, under the shadow of the Sacrificial Lamb hanging over us at the altar with his bare chest and thorny crown, and the multi-colored light surrounding us, streaming in from a high round window with morose faced saints, I felt assured and confident in the words and my abilities to fulfill them.
“I will be back in a couple hours, love, so please stop looking so dower and long in the face,” Francine said while putting on her necklace with the Saint Agatha charm and walking to our bedroom for a final check in the full length mirror. Smoothing out her skirt she asked “Which shoes do you think I should wear? I think the cream-colored ones with the flower for this outfit. What do you think?”
“Your black ones with the silver trim would be a better match,” I said in a dismissive manner.
“Please don’t be difficult. I promise when I return we shall get this settled. And decide what the best course will be to take from here, but…Well, look at that! You’re right, they do match better!”
“I just want to say I am sorry for all this. It really is a mess that I got you caught up in.”
“Shh. Dearest, no more. It’s alright.” She gave me a kiss as she opened the front door to leave. “As I said, we will work it out, and I promise to talk more about it later. Now I do have to go. All my love.” And with that she left. I heard the car start and pull out of the driveway and down the road. With little else to do, and Julie still sleeping in our guest room, I went to the kitchen and poured my third cup of coffee for the morning, buttered a slice of pumpernickel bread, and stepped out to enjoy them in the backyard. A cardinal sang, a brown female one perched on a high branch in a maple by the creek with the sound of the bubbling water accompanying it. It had a sort of lifting feeling.
The Delacroix family would move to Arizona a couple of months after the baptism, and it would be five years before I would see Francine again when I and my mother attended Mary’s funeral; flying out to the Sun State to pay our respects and provide comfort to her grieving brother and his family. Mary had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and though she fought it by undergoing treatment, she quickly succumbed to its aggressive nature after a bitter struggle which lasted for two years. My father was out of the U.S. on business, and Sophia and I were on a trail separation. She would have been willing to attend for the sake of her Godchild, but as we had no real contact with Francine for some years, we decided it would be best and least troublesome for all involved for her not to attend. George stayed behind with her.
We drove to the Delacroix homestead for the wake after dropping off our bags at the hotel. It was a quaint ranch style house, a yard decorated with cacti and mesquite, the stucco walls painted the same color as the baked rocks on the bare mountains that rose in the distance. Andrew met us at the door and hugged his sister with earnest despair and tears welling up in his eyes as he thanked her for coming.
“It is the least I could do. Oh, I am so sorry and heartbroken for you and the children. Mary was such a beautiful soul, and loved you and them so very much,” my mother said.
Breaking their embrace, he turned to me and shook my hand. “Robin, thank you for coming. It is nice to see you again, and a comfort to have you here.”
“My deepest condolences, Uncle. I am terribly sorry for your loss.”
Andrew showed us around the house. First we went to Mary lying in the master bedroom as Andrew would not suffer her to be taken to a funeral home for the viewing. A couple of women were in the room with her, looking reflective as they huddled by the bedside reciting prayers or psalms, but most of the relatives and friends that had come were gathered in the front room and the kitchen, their subdued voices barely more than a whisper. Eventually, he led us to a playroom where the children were gathered. Andrew’s seemed to keep to themselves, and even though there were others there, they did not mingle with them. They played games, perhaps in an effort to keep their minds occupied and off of the tragedy. Laura and Michael, the two eldest, were engaged in a game of backgammon, and faintly smiled and greeted us as we entered. James was deeply involved in his Game Boy, but managed to say hello albeit without looking up. Francine was seated at a table working on a puzzle with wooden pieces of farm animals. My mother, who had been out there a year before, hugged her and Andrew introduced me to her.
“Francine, here is your cousin Robin. You were too young at the time, of course, to remember, but he is also your Godfather.” I greeted her with a handshake. She smiled at me and said hello, but quickly turned her attention back to her main concern in finding out which slot on the board to place the panda piece she held.
“The poor kids,” Mary’s sister Lily said to me in a discreet manner later in the hall. “They are all in shock. And little Francine. She has been sitting there working on the same puzzle all day. You know, I don’t think she knows what happened. What’s really happened, I mean.”
“And do you?” I asked.
“Do I what?”
“Know what happened. What really happened.”
“That was my sister, you bastard.”
“And it was her mother.”
The next day was the funeral, the cloudy morning sky matching the serene affair, solemn attendants with downcast faces and dark-colored clothing. The people who spoke were mostly reticent, and the priest’s doughy voice flopped through the pews and fell meekly at the gravesite. The only exception would be Lily who at the mass and the burial bemoaned and lamented in an audacious manner the fate of her only sibling, how lost she would be, and how she would forever be there for the children. Francine hovered near her father the whole time, finding comfort in his pale shadow, never venturing from his side.
After the service, everyone went back to the house, and as I went outside to smoke I saw Francine near the garage on the gravel drive. The clouds had broken up, and the sun felt hot against the back of my neck. She was tossing rocks against a fence, and I watched for a little bit as each one ricocheted off the wood and bounced along the ground. I approached her as she was scooping up more.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Trying to throw a rock through that small hole in the fence.” She tossed one, but it as all the others missed the hole to fall rejected to the dusty earth. “You had a blue tie last time.”
“You remember that?” I asked surprised.
“Yes. My dad showed me a picture last week of my baptism. You were holding me, and had a blue tie on. My Godmother had a green dress. She looked very pretty. Where is she?”
“Sorry dear, she could not attend, but she sends her love.”
I felt a dismal sting of guilt, and was about to ask if she was okay, but realized the ridiculousness of the question. Instead, I picked up a rock and tried to make it through the hole, but missed by about a foot to the right. It was a small hole where a knot in the wood plank must have fallen out, measuring around three inches tall by two wide. The stones we had were on average around a half-inch. We took turns, and after three throws I managed to get it in.
“You did it!” Francine said giddily.
“Yes. The trick is to keep your eyes on the target, and follow through on your throw.” She turned and stood stiff and erect, squinting at the hole, staring like a tiger and tossing the next rock with a catapult like motion of her forearm. It missed. Depressed she dropped the remainder of the rocks she had and looked down at her feet, black leather shoes covered in silver and brown dust. “Would you like to go get something to drink?” I asked, and she nodded but still held her head low as we walked away.
I got a couple of sodas from a cooler that was set up in the kitchen and we went out and sat down on the steps to the front door. The soda was sweet, sticky and refreshing in the heat of the early evening, and helped to bring her out of her funk caused by the rock debacle. She proceeded to eagerly speak to me on a variety of wonderful nonsense that only five year olds can conjure up, informing me in the course of our discussion that her most prized possessions were her bicycle and her crayons, and her favorite color crayon was Wisteria.
“What color is that?”
“Kinda purple. What color do you like?”
“I like purple too,” I said, though I really never had a preference for any color.
“Would you want to color?” she asked.
“Not now. But maybe tomorrow.”
“You are coming back tomorrow?”
“I will try to come by before I leave. If not, though, perhaps I will be back again soon to visit.”
I left the next day early in the morning, going straight to the airport and back to a life that was descending into lunacy and displacement. I would not see Francine again for ten years in which time the complete dissolution of my marriage took place. Before I left for Arizona I lost both my faith and faithfulness, and though we attempted a reconciliation shortly after I returned, in two years we ended up filing for a divorce. It was a doomed marriage, and for my part at least founded more on friendship and youthful lust than love. Yet to this day I am genuinely fond of Sophia, and though we never could get along living together, she is a wonderful woman and mother. She married again. After having moved to Florida she met a man, Scott Byrne, and in order for them to have a proper Catholic ceremony, I went through the arduous process of an annulment through the Church.