OK—this is what it looks like on the inside. Just had my post-surgery checkup—all well—and the surgeon kindly presented me with a souvenir X-ray of my right leg, with unicompartmental knee in place. [g] (This is, if I’m not mistaken, a back view of my right leg (taken while I was unconscious following surgery). I _think_ that they flipped the negative while making the copy, thus making it look like my left leg.)
Many thanks to all the kind people who’ve sent me flowers, Starbucks cards, get-well cookies, and lovely cards and emails! Buoyed by so many positive vibes, I did get back to work after only a few days of blissful drug-induced stupor [g], and have been beavering away. Mostly on a story for an anthology, which is really due pretty much Right Now, but it’s nearly finished.
This one is for an anthology titled DOWN THESE STRANGE STREETS, which has a sort of mystery/thriller-with-fantasy-elements theme. I’m not sure as to the title; I have been calling it “Terror Daemonium” (that’s Latin for “Terror of Demons”—it’s from the Catholic Litany of St. Joseph, in case you couldn’t quite place it), but for the last couple of days have been thinking of calling it “The Space Between.” I’ll know better when it’s finished.
Anyway, the story itself deals with Michael Murray—Young Ian’s elder brother, another of Jamie Fraser’s nephews—whom we saw briefly in AN ECHO IN THE BONE—and with Joan MacKimmie, Marsali’s younger sister, whom we also saw briefly in ECHO.
Joan has a vocation to be a nun, and—there not being many convents in the Highlands—is going to France in order to do so. Michael, junior partner in a flourishing wine business in Paris, has offered to see her safely there. The road to the convent may present a few challenges, though.
This bit takes place on the Channel ferry, taking them across to France. Joan has just gone up for air, leaving the passengers in the cabin.
Copyright 2010 Diana Gabaldon
“What a waste of a wonderful arse,” Monsieur Brechin remarked in French, watching Joan’s ascent from the far side of the cabin. “And mon Dieu, those legs! Imagine those wrapped around your back, eh? Would you have her keep the striped stockings on? I would.”
It hadn’t occurred to Michael to imagine that, but he was now having a hard time dismissing the image. He coughed into his handkerchief to hide the reddening of his face.
Madame Brechin gave her husband a sharp elbow in the ribs. He grunted, but seemed undisturbed by what was evidently a normal form of marital communication.
“Beast,” she said, with no apparent heat. “Speaking so of a Bride of Christ. You will be lucky if God Himself doesn’t strike you dead with a lightning bolt.”
“Well, she isn’t His bride yet,” Monsieur protested. “And who created that arse in the first place? Surely God would be flattered to hear a little sincere appreciation of His handiwork. From one who is, after all, a connoisseur in such matters.” He leered affectionately at Madame, who snorted.
A faint snigger from the young man across the cabin indicated that Monsieur was not alone in his appreciation, and Madame turned a reproving glare on the young man. Michael wiped his lips carefully, trying not to catch Monsieur’s eye. His insides were quivering, and not entirely either from amusement or the shock of inadvertent lust. He felt very queer.
Monsieur sighed as Joan’s striped stockings disappeared through the hatchway.
“Christ will not warm her bed,” he said, shaking his head.
“Christ will not fart in her bed, either,” said Madame, taking out her knitting.
“Pardonnez-moi…” Michael said in a strangled voice, and clapping his handkerchief to his mouth, made hastily for the ladder, as though sea-sickness might be catching.
It wasn’t mal-de-mer that was surging up from his belly, though. He caught sight of Joan at the rail, and turned quickly aside, going to the other side, where he gripped the rail s though it were a life-raft, and let the overwhelming waves of grief wash through him. It was the only way he’d been able to manage, these last few weeks. Hold on as long as he could, keeping a cheerful face, until some small unexpected thing, some bit of emotional debris, struck him through the heart like a hunter’s arrow, and then hurry to find a place to hide, curling up on himself in mindless pain until he could get a grip of himself.
This time, it was Madame’s remark that had come like a dart out of the blue, and he grimaced painfully, laughing in spite of the tears that poured down his face, remembering Lili. She’d eaten eels in garlic sauce for dinner—those always made her fart with a silent deadliness, like poison swamp gas. As the ghastly miasma had risen up round him, he’d sat bolt upright in bed, only to find her staring at him, a look of indignant horror on her face.
“How dare you?” she’d said, in a voice of offended majesty. “Really, Michel.”
“You know it wasn’t me!”
Her mouth had dropped open, outrage added to horror and distaste.
“Oh!” she gasped, gathering her small pug-dog to her bosom. “You not only fart like a rotting whale, you attempt to blame it on my poor puppy! Cochon!” Whereupon she had begun to shake the bedsheets delicately, using her free hand to waft the noxious odors in his direction, addressing censorious remarks to Plonplon, who gave Michael a sanctimonious look before turning to lick his mistress’s face with great enthusiasm.
“Oh, Jesus,” he whispered, and sinking down, pressed his face against the rail. “Oh, God, lass, I love you!”
He shook, silently, head buried in his arms, aware of sailors passing now and then behind him, but none of them took notice of him. At last the agony eased a little, and he drew breath.
All right, then. He’d be all right now, for a time. And he thanked God, belatedy, that he had Joan—or Sister Gregory, if she liked—to look after for a bit. He didn’t know how he’d manage to walk through the streets of Paris to his house, alone. Go in, greet the servants, face their sorrow, order a meal, sit down…and all the time wanting to throw himself on the floor of their empty bedroom and howl like a lost soul. He’d have to face it, sooner or later—but not just yet. And right now, he’d take the grace of any respite that offered.
He blew his nose with resolution, tucked away his mangled handkerchief, and went downstairs to fetch the basket his mother had sent. He couldn’t swallow a thing, himself, but feeding Sister Joan would maybe keep his mind off things for that one minute more.
“That’s how ye do it,” his brother Ian had told him, as they leant together on the rail of their mother’s sheep pen, the winter’s wind cold on their faces, waiting for their Da to find his way through dying. “Ye find a way to live for just one more minute. And then another. And another.”
He ‘d wiped his face—he could weep before Ian, while he couldn’t, with his elder brother or the girls, certainly not in front of his mother—and asked, “And it gets better after a time, is that what ye’re telling me?”
His brother had looked at him straight on, the quiet in his eyes showing through the outlandish Mohawk tattoos.
“No,” he’d said softly. “But after a time, ye find ye’re in a different place than ye were. A different person than ye were. And then ye look about, and see what’s there with ye. Ye’ll maybe find a use for yourself. That helps.”
“Aye, fine,” he said, under his breath, and squared his shoulders. “We’ll see, then.”