Boarding School Blues: Ch. 52
Boarding School Blues: Ch. 52
By Louise Peloquin
Ch. 52: Eve of Destruction
The initiation to skiing left its mark. Within twenty-four hours, indigo, violet and maroon splotches popped up all over Blanche’s and her brother’s bodies. Proud of his battle wounds, Antoine wowed Byron and Maggie by showing them off.
“I got this one racin’ Momo down the hill” Antoine bragged as he uncovered an impressive black-and-blue below his right shoulder. “Stupid tree got in my way. Otherwise, I woulda won no sweat.”
His tall tales triggered admiration. Blanche didn’t set the record straight because hearing the little ones’ “oh’s and ah’s” in the spruce-perfumed living room was so much fun. With a twinge of melancholy, she absorbed the ambiance. Just as she was resettling into the family routine, back-to-school was looming. Setting the thought aside, she observed Papa’s growing stamina. “He’s getting better cuz he’s feeling our love, the best medicine ever. I wonder what Andy would say about that? Corny probably. Yeah for sure. But true.”
Wiping SFA out of her mind was as impossible as tackling a bad case of poison ivy. You scratch and scratch. The itch stops for awhile, only to rage back, worse that ever. She decided not to ruin the rest of her vacation worrying about its end. There was more to look forward to after all.
Maman’s high-pitched voice interrupted Blanche’s musings.
“I’ve just received a call from Hélène Coucy. You won’t be going to Cécile’s tomorrow because she’ll be in Woonsocket visiting her Mémère (1). You’ll do homework together another time. Nice young lady, that Cécile, good friend. But we’ve got something else on the agenda,“une collation” (2) at the Briard’s. You know how much Madame Briard enjoys seeing you. Jonathan will be there. You two will be able to talk about your studies and compare notes about school. A very nice afternoon in store.”
Blanche didn’t show her disappointment. C would organize more baking and rock ’n’ roll sessions. But when? She tried to humor herself with the thought of being a guest at the Briard’s Belvidere home on a street that sounded like “Hollywood.” It always conjured up images glamour. The lady of the house obtained her name from the collection of rhizomes overtaking her mother’s pocket-sized garden in Centralville. Iris Briard carried it well. Everything in her oozed of elegance, the bouncy, ash-blonde bob, the demeanour, the stylish clothing. Madame Briard’s glow never ceased to impress Blanche.
The Briards lived in a gabled residence resembling fairy tale images of gingerbread houses. In years past, Blanche and Antoine had especially appreciated its backyard – a steep slope providing an exceptional venue for winter sledding and summer rolling-down-the-hill. Neighborhood kids enjoyed roughhousing in Ma’am B.’s playground and indulging in her“petites collations” of paper-thin French crêpes or buttery madeleines. She had studied French in Montréal before marrying her attorney husband and liked to spice up her discourse with Gallic terms and show off her haute cuisine skills, especially with young people. Blanche suspected she did it just to magnify her aura. But Maman maintained that a strong maternal instinct moved Iris to cater to all the rascals her son brought home.
Jonathan seemed to add to the Briard household magic. The lanky, bushy-haired, sculpted-faced teen moved like a feline and excelled in sports. He was a notorious daredevil whose exploits propelled him to the competitive level in winter skiing and summer running. Proud of her offspring, Iris referred to him as “my young Roman athlete” and ordered a Louvre copy of a Spartacus bust for her front hall.
Maman continued her exposé about the Briard invitation in an effort to rev up excitement, or so Blanche thought.
“I’m sure Jonathan will be happy to give you skiing advice Blanche. He’s competing for a New England junior title next month. Iris has told me all about it. Did you know that she gets up at 4 in the morning most weekends to drive him up north? You and your cousins have always had fun with him at the lake in summer. And since he is your age, he could be a fine escort for proms and social functions.”
Blanche blushed before blurting out “SFA doesn’t have proms, Maman. No boys allowed, except maybe students’ brothers. And the only man around is the chaplain a few times a week. Yeah, Jonathan is OK but I’m definitely not going to talk about how many times I fell on the slopes yesterday. He’ll probably be with his buddies anyway. Please Maman, let’s not stay there too long. I have homework to finish.”
“Oui, oui, ma fille” Maman answered. “Iris told me Jonathan is looking forward to seeing you.”
Antoine joined in the conversation. “Wow Blanche. Is Jonathan gonna be your boyfriend? I like him. I approve.”
Blanche shoved her brother while Maman wasn’t looking and whispered “drop the subject, will ya. A stupid boyfriend is the last thing I need or want.”
Antoine continued. “Madame Briard makes the best cookies, even better than Yum Yum Shoppe. And I’ll ask Jonathan to help me with skiing. I wanna learn how to jump over moguls and stuff like that. I tried with Momo yesterday but wiped out every time. Jonathan can show me. I’m so looking forward to tomorrow.”
Antoine posed with torso stretched forward, knees bent and arms tucked into his ribs. “Look. This is what you’re supposed to do, right? Jonathan will show me cuz he’s such a nice guy. Maybe he has an old pair of skis to lend me for a lesson right there in his backyard. Wow, this really is the best Christmas ever!”
Blanche refrained from expressing her growing discontent and was about to exit the living room when Maman asked “would the two of you sit down for a moment s’il vous plaît?” Before they were seated, Maman adopted her most solemn pitch.
“Antoine mon grand, you accompanied me to la Messe de Minuit this year and I was very proud to have you as escort. Tu m’as fait honneur; you honoured me. My friends were impressed to see how you have become quite a young gentleman. Your big sister made this possible by staying home with Papa and les petits. You have shown how mature you are, Antoine. Well, tomorrow is your turn to remain home and Blanche’s turn to accompany me.”
Blanche spoke up. “Maman I don’t mind staying here. I can get my homework done and…”
Her brother didn’t miss a beat. “Yeah Maman, you always said school work comes before playing outside and watching TV and stuff like that. So I’ll be a good escort for you again tomorrow.”
Maman stood firm. “Discussion closed. Antoine, you will hold the fort tomorrow. Blanche, you will accompany me. Iris Briard has always admired you and Jonathan is a childhood friend. I have no doubt whatsoever that you’ll have no problem finishing your homework. Have I made myself clear?”
Antoine held his tongue for once and Blanche noticed that her mother sounded exactly like headmistress Sister Théophile.
The next day, Blanche was slipping on her well-worn dungarees and favorite sweater when she heard her mother shout from the kitchen.
“Blanche, I hope you’re choosing proper attire to look your best for the Briard visit? Why don’t you wear one of the nice plaid skirts you got for school?”
Blanche grumbled under her breadth. “Unbelievable. I can’t even be comfortable during vacation. I’m sick of all the lousy school clothes.”
She decided not to buck her mother’s wishes and put on the green plaid only to find that she couldn’t zip it all the way up. The egg nog and Christmas treat regimen had had consequences. She felt like a hot dog bursting out of its casing.
Maman walked into the bedroom, took a look at Blanche and raised her eyebrows.
“Your skirt shrunk at the dry cleaner’s. That new person at Anton’s hasn’t mastered the techniques. You’ll have to choose another outfit – the new blue corduroy pants and matching cardigan perhaps? And didn’t Aunt Dora give you a pair of blue suede shoes she doesn’t wear anymore because they irritate her corns? I don’t understand how suede can irritate one’s toes but, no matter. That will make a stylish outfit. It’s winter. You’re young. A skirt is not required for a collation.”
Blanche followed instructions without protesting but wondered when her mother would stop telling her how to dress. Does a teen have to wait until voting age to choose her own clothes? She didn’t want to add to the stress so turned her thoughts to the collation. Antoine was right. Ma’am B baked great pâtisseries. They wouldn’t be served with top-ten-tune background music however. Blanche wondered when she would return to C’s house.
The ride into Belvidere was pleasant, like entering into a familiarly foreign land. Both Maman and Blanche enjoyed checking out the Greek Revival houses with their Christmas-garland-decorated columns and the Victorians with their lit-up turrets.
At destination, Maman insisted that her daughter ring the doorbell. Lights flashed in front of Blanche’s eyes and a wave of queaziness wrenched her stomach. Was a migraine coming on? She didn’t feel comfortable in the new clothes. Her fine hair was more flyaway than ever and her mother’s pancake makeup had not camouflaged the red spots on her nose and cheeks. Returning to boarding school suddenly appeared less daunting than facing Madame Briard and her athlete son.
The yellow-lacquered front door opened and wedgwood-blue-clad Iris greeted the visitors. “Mes chères, do come in. So good to see you. Cher Urbain’s recuperation is coming along, I trust? Please assure him of our daily prayers. Come into my library where a petite collation is waiting for you.” Iris escorted the guests to the beat of her clicking stilettos on the marble foyer floor.
“You like books, don’t you Blanche? Estelle, I know you do. Well, I’ve started a new collection. Most of my friends collect knick-knacks of some kind. That is very nice but I have chosen to develop an interest in rare books. You know, first editions, signed books and antique, leather-bound pieces. All very exciting. Furthermore, these volumes represent a fine investment opportunity, an aspect not to be neglected by a serious collector. At times I’m a bit reluctant to open my treasures for fear of damaging their delicate pages. But I cannot resist the thought of handling an item touched by a great writer. I use special white gloves while doing so, of course. Oh my! Aren’t I rattling on and on and you’re not even seated. Come ladies, asseyez-vous ici!” (3)
A kaleidoscope of cherished memories replaced Blanche’s nausea as library duty with Sister Claudette flooded back. For a split second, she was tempted to share those experiences but that wouldn’t do. The best possible visit to the Briard’s was an expeditious one. She would limit herself to answering questions.
The newly-decorated, dimly-lit library smelled of old books, bergamot, ginger and butter. Four cherry-red, Voltaire-style armchairs sat in front of small round oak tables set with delicate china cups, saucers and desert plates. An antique roll-top desk occupied the only free corner of the spacious rectangular room whose walls were hidden by floor to ceiling shelves. Some were still empty, waiting to welcome Iris’s newest acquisitions. Blanche decided that she would live in such a place one day – a dwelling made for books.
Madame Briard gracefully extended her arm towards the shelves as if she were introducing a member of royalty. You see, this has become my haven of peace, my place of meditation, my chapel. Come. Let us enjoy our collation amid my new treasures. They will inspire us, don’t you think Blanche? Of course, Jonathan will join us shortly. He’s just finished his muscle-strengthening exercises and is showering. Bon appétit mes chéries!”
The three ladies took dainty bites of the ginger snaps and almond tuiles (4) and sipped the hot fragrant tea. Blanche had never tasted Earl Grey and wasn’t sure she liked it. But the beverage stopped her nausea so she downed the whole cup.
“I can see you appreciate good things Blanche” Ma’am B. observed. “That tea comes from Mariage Frères, Paris’s most renown marchand de thé (5). My good friend Daisy Jones brought it back from Paris. She and her husband have just completed a European tour. Goodness only knows why they chose winter to do so but the journey was delightful she said.” Iris turned to Maman and continued her soliloquy about Daisy and her engineer husband’s adventures.
Blanche’s attention was diverted by sound coming from above. It wasn’t classical music. It wasn’t rock ’n’ roll and it wasn’t folk, a combination of the two perhaps? She couldn’t describe it but it sounded good.
The European tour description was endless. Blanche helped herself to another cup of tea and smiled to pretend interest in the detailed descriptions of the London Bridge , the Eiffel Tower and the Colosseum. All of a sudden, the volume on the first floor pumped up. Blanche didn’t recognize the tune. A boom followed; something heavy must have jarred the record player. Again and again, Blanche heard “eeevovdistruk, eevovdistruk, eevovdistruk”. She wondered what language that was.
The music stopped all of a sudden and Blanche could hear someone grumble “Stupid, damn thing, what the H…!” She supposed it was Jonathan but didn’t recognize the anger-altered voice. She peaked at her watch and tried to think of some ploy to shorten the visit.
Madame Briard interrupted the enumeration of Daisy Jones’s tourist stops and proceeded to the hallway. Blanche heard her speak to her son.
“Jonathan. Blanche and her mother are here. Do join us, won’t you?” Blanche guessed that through her honeyed voice, Iris’s summons was unequivocal.
In an instant, Ma’am B. was back in the library resuming the list of Europe’s attractions. Maman appeared attentive while Blanche remained disinterested.
It took Jonathan several minutes to make an entrance. Blanche gave him a discreet coup d’oeil as he slinked into the library, barefoot, hair dripping and dressed in a faded tee-shirt over baggy blue jeans. He bowed deeply towards the ladies.
“Good afternoon Madame Rejean. Mother, I’m going to Andrew’s house. He wants his record back. I won’t be long.”
He swivelled towards Blanche without making eye contact. “Hi. Wanna hear before I return it? There’s a hi-fi in the living room. Sound system’s better down here.”
Blanche awkwardly followed Jonathan like a zombie in a horror movie. The two mothers ceased chatting.
Jonathan never looked at Blanche nor did he offer her a seat. It was a relief, in fact, because she preferred to remain invisible and immobile.
He placed the LP on the turntable, lifted the tone arm and, as soon as the stylus hit the track, the music blasted. It didn’t make Blanche want to swing her hips or hop around in her hand-me-down blue suede shoes. The opening drum beat and guitar chords introduced the singer. She tired to concentrate on the lyrics but only managed to retain snippets.
…bullets loadin’ …
…not for votin’…
…that gun you’re totin’…
When the refrain came, Jonathan, eyes glued to the floor, sang along with the soloist’s raspy voice.
But you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
How you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction (6)
He removed the record and left.
- An afternoon snack.
- Sit down here.
- Thin, crisp biscuits.
- Tea merchant.
- Single by Barry McGuire, “Eve of Destruction”, from the album “Eve of Destruction”, released in August 1965.
Read Chapter 1: The Announcement
Read Chapter 2: Facing the Inevitable
Read Chapter 3: Readying
Read Chapter 4: Au revoir!
Read Chapter 5: Arrival
Read Chapter 6: Settling In
Read Chapter 7: Beginning to Belong
Read Chapter 8: Quick Showers
Read Chapter 9: Inside & Outside Study Hall
Read Chapter 10: Math Manoeuvres
Read Chapter 11: Cinephiles
Read Chapter 12: Camera, Action, Lights
Read Chapter 13: Reconnecting
Read Chapter 14: Back to the Fold
Read Chapter 15: In the Night
Read Chapter 16: Parlez-vous?
Read Chapter 17: On the Agenda
Read Chapter 18: Dress up, sit up, chin up
Read Chapter 19: Post Conference Assessment
Read Chapter 20: Orderliness
Read Chapter 21: Inspection
Read Chapter 22: The Inner Sanctum
Read Chapter 23: Going Home
Read Chapter 24: Merci Mon Oncle
Read Chapter 25: The Food Fairy
Read Chapter 26: Bon appetit!
Read Chapter 27: Friends
Read Chapter 28: A Grocery Stop
Read Chapter 29: Tempus Fugit
Read Chapter 30: The Chapel
Read Chapter 31: A Nice Kind of Weird
Read Chapter 32: Mnemonic Device
Read Chapter 33: Cuisses de grenouille
Read Chapter 34: Run along now
Read Chapter 35: Consequences of playing hooky
Read Chapter 36: Good Vibes
Read Chapter 37: Never too many, never too much
Read chapter 38: Dust Bunnies
Read Chapter 39: I’m into something good
Read Chapter 40: Wistful and Admiring
Read Chapter 41: “Anywhere Out of the World”
Read Chapter 42: “If you really want to hear about it”
Read Chapter 43: “Why don’t they go and create something”
Read Chapter 44: Squiggles, snowmen and angels
Read Chapter 45: A Measure of Mirth
Read Chapter 46: Advienne que pourra
Read Chapter 47: Smile upon our joys
Read Chapter 48: “Venez, venez, venez!”
Read Chapter 49: “C’est si bon”
Read Chapter 50: Naughty or nice
Read Chapter 51: We all fall down