Letters to Juliet
Main street of La Porte, Indiana
Lights switched off and Miss Pony appeared at the doorstep of the house, holding between her hands a huge strawberry cake overflowing with cream, upon which burned 26 candles. Present family and relatives started singing the famous suited song :
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you, dear Candy
Happy birthday to you
From good friends and true,
From old friends and new,
May good luck go with you,
And happiness too.
The old lady put the dish on the big table in front of Candy who was greedily watching her dessert. The candles’ flames were dancing in front of her pretty face, lighting it with a twany and blue shaded light which emphasized the sparkle of her eyes.
- Go on ! Blow them all out ! – said one of the orphenage’s resident, eager to find a piece of cake in his plate.
The young lady stood up with a smile. She pointed to Annie to accompany her in her task. Hadn’t they been found on the same day on Pony’s home’s doorstep ? It had been then decided that their discovery’s date would be their birthday’s date, date that Candy had kept while Annie’s parents chosed to change it after her adoption, putting it back six months in order to determine more specifically her age, and certainly to differentiate her from her sister of heart. Since then, Annie used to celebrate her birthday in november, but kept on celebrating innerly the same day as Candy. Without any hesitation, she joined her girlfriend to the top of the table. Bending over the cake, leaning on their hands, they both took a deep breath and complied, discreetly helped by the children who surrounded them. The candles got lighted off in a few seconds under everybody’s applauses. A light cloud of still warm wax flied in front of them, displaying a smell that Candy liked particularly well and which evoked her of serene times : christmas evenings, Sister Lane’s candles in the chapel, the private lighting during a bath, and birthday candles of course…
Electrical lanterns got swtiched on again and the guinguette’s atmosphere that had come along the meal rekindled. The weather was very fine on that evening of Wednesday 7th of march 1924, so good that it had been decided to eat in the garden. Anthony’s rosewoods that Candy had made planted all around few years before, exhaled their delicate scent, dispersed by a light breeze which was having fun to squeeze between the guests. Invisible in the grass, crickets could be heard singing which suggested to a future blistering summer.
Candy had been living at Pony’s home for several years now. Doctor Martin whom she had worked with in Chicago, had opened a clinic in La Porte, a little town of 20.000 souls, located at few miles from the orphenage. After the ending of the extension’s works which were financed by Albert, the number of children had increased and as a result, the little sick ones too. Seeing Miss pony and Sister Lane having problems to look after all this little world, the idea to offer to Doctor Martin to settle in the area crossed her mind. Without any regret, she left her job as a nurse in Chicago for the one of Dr Martin’s assistant at La Porte. The rural everyday life had quickly won back over her city habits. Annie always wondered how she could do so easily without the town’s excitement, its noises, its crowd, its buildings which brushed the sky, its fashion boutiques and its delicious restaurants. Candy answered her that she liked the city, but the country peace suited her better, because she felt more comfortable and because it was the only way for her to regenerate. She knew it supposed the sacrifice to live far from some people she loved, but that night, she was feeling fullfilled for the first time for many years. She had been able to reunite around her for her birthday every people dear to her heart : Annie and Archibald, even Patty who came specially for that happy day. As a litterature teacher in one of the poshest schools of New-York, she was not able to be absent too long. Easter holidays had that year fallen the right time, for Candy’s birthday. The opportunity was too beautiful for not taking it, as much as the surprise she would make to her friend when she would see her arriving at Pony’s.
Candy glowed with happiness. Having her friends reunited at the orphenage meant a lot to her. It was the time when, while she was engaged in cutting and handing out some cake’s slices, Sister Lane came back from inside, holding a basket full of multicolored papers and boxes. The young lady waited for everybody to get served and began to open her gifts. She started with the children’s presents : drawings, little clay sculptures, necklaces, flowers bracelets, a mass of pretty and touching things that she will later very store away preciously. She thanked every one, squeezing their little faces between her hands, and covered them with noisy kisses. Then she opened the last gift but one which was waiting in the bottom of the basket. It was a Violet of Toulouse parfume, a nectar made in the said pink-bricked town from southwestern France. A little tender word from Miss Pony and Sister Lane accompanied it. Candy was extremly pleased by that gesture but could not prevent herself from scolding them for such an expensive spending. Moved, she opened the bottle and the fresh scent of flowers took possession of her nostrils, a subtle and sophisticated scent which bewitched her immediatly. With her finger’s top, she collected few drops from it then closed back the bottle and with caution, put it in its box.
One last gift still remained. It was a medium-sized envelope but with a certain thickness. Intrigued, she teared up one of the envelope’s sides and pulled a series of documents from it : a first-class booking on the ship Le France from New-York to Le Havre in the date of the 1st of july, then a train ticket on the Orient-Express towards Venice, Italy. She lifted astonished eyes to her friends who were looking at her with a very satisfied expression.
- But what is that ?... But it is too much !... Oh well… I… - she mumbled.
- We thought that a little stay in Italy would be good to you. – speaked Albert with his warm and reassuring voice.
- But I can’t !... – followed Candy, shaking her head – I can’t leave the clinic that way, they need me !
- You don’t have to worry at all. I made an arrangement with Doctor Martin, and he gave you a six weeks of vacation.
- Six weeks ???
- You will really need that if you want to make the most of the surroundings. Reaching to destination will already take more than two days !... – answered Albert, laughing.
He expected that negative reaction from his young charge, this is why he had planned everything to neutralize the least of her dodgings. However, he had voluntarly avoided to tell her that his decision to send her far from La Porte came from the gloomy expression she had been displaying for months. This generated concern among her relatives. Few weeks ago, on a sunday afternoon, while he came and visited Annie in her sumptuous holiday home located half-way from La Porte and Pony’s, she confided in him about that topic.
I though Candy would be there… - he said as he graciously accepted the cup of tea the young Cornwell was offering him.
- She was indeed supposed to … - she answered, shighing and sitting in front of him in a comfortable dark-leathered armchair – But she called off at the last time under the pretext of an urgent work to do.
- She patently takes her job seriously, it is worthy of praise but…
- But killing herself at work won’t help her to chase the dark thoughs which haunt her mind – she interrupted him, looking for his approval in his gaze.
The latter put back his cup of tea on the coffee table in front of him, and looked straigh in the eyes at his young hostess.
- I think that we both totally agree about Candy… And about the source of her torments…
Annie lifted herself, her hand to her heart.
- Oh, Albert ! I feel so much relieved to know that ! I’ve so often tried to talk about that with Archie, but he becomes uncontrollable when it’s about… about Terry ! You see, even in front of you, I’ve troubles to tell his name since this topic became so sensitive. Candy did not help me either. All along those years, I’ve seen her showing a joie de vivre that I found extreme so many times, a joy which hid a misery that she herself refused to imagine. I do not count the number of gentlemen who got introduced to her and got snubed. I had yet big hope with that young doctor who succeeded in extracting from her a third rendez-vous, but he confessed to me later that he had given up fighting against a ghost, a ghost whose identity he ignored but whose invading presence revealed to him the impossibility to build something with her. I thought that with Suzanna’s death, she could see life with more optimism. I thought she would run to Terry. Instead of this, she settled for welcoming the news with a strange indifference. She did not say anything about him but hurried up to feel sorry for that girl who broke their life. There are times when I can’t understand her ! She finds excuses to anybody, even to her best ennemies !
- Candy’s indulgence, instead of being a quality, can indeed turns out to be her biggest fault – said Albert, laughing, entertaininh himself with the discovery of an unknown facet of his interlocutor. The indignation colored her cheeks and intensified the tone of her voice, so usually neutral. Did she ever got angry ? Candy’s state visibly spread revolt in her heart, and the Andrey’s heird got innerly satisfied. It was good to know that his adoptive daughter could rely on a faithful friend.
- All those years at keeping her sorrow silent – followed the latter – at refusing that coming happiness, like a widow who lost enjoying life. All those years entirely devoted to her work, her patients, like if they were the only ones who deserved being cared. I suspect her of being convinced that she is not worthy for happiness, that she can’t be allowed to this kind of condition.
- Who could reproach her to beleive this ? Every people she loved got carried off from her… This does not encourage self-esteem…
- She’s so combative for the others though ! Why isn’t she the same towards herself ?
- Quite simply because, as we’ve just mentionned it, she does not want to suffer anymore. Making a move to Terry would mean taking the risk to be disappointed once again…
- What about him then ???? Why didn’t he write to her yet after all this time ? More than a year has elapsed since Suzanna’s death, oh damn ! A little more every day, I can see Candy sinking into morosity and I keep on thinking it is because of him. I think she kept the inner hope that he would contact her and that his silence is finishing her off piece by piece.
- Unfortunatly, I fear he will never give her any sign of living. Those two beings are so similar : one is convinced to jinx while the other one thinks that she does not deserve being happy. Even though a boulevard would open in front of them, they would not take a step towards each other…
- What can we do then ??? – she asked with a tremolo, her eyes clouding over with tears – Are we going to stay that way without doing anything and leaving her unhappy all her life ?
- Certainly not, my friend ! – said Albert as he streched out his legs with an half-smile sketching on his lips – I beleive it is time to take action for our little Candy’s good.
- We’ve indeed lost too much of it ! she exclaimed, hopping in her armchair, her hands joined with contentment – How to go about acting and behaving ?
- I must confess to you that I’ve been already thinking about it for a while and I’ve a hunk about it. Though I still have to check some details, I still have a surprise in store for her…
- Both of us won’t be too much for this. I’m eager to begin !
- I bet that Patty would not say no to this initiative, don’t you think ? Doesn’t she live in New-York ? – he asked, a hint of irony in his voice. Without waiting him to end his sentance, Annie rushed to the telephone and dialed her girlfriend’s number…
Candy was caustiously looking at her tickets. Going back to Europe, after all those years, seemed to her incungruous and inappropriate. People needed her more here rather than sending her for rides in unknown places.
- I’m sorry but I can’t accept !... – she persisted in her stubornness.
- I think it’s too late to refuse – said Patty getting closer, her eyes laughing under her thick glasses – because I’ve also booked my tickets for this trip ! You can’t walk me out on, can you ?
- You… You mean that we are going to travel together ???
- Yes !... I’ve always dreamed to visit Italy and I.. We thought that you would be a very good companion.
- It looks like a real conspiracy ! – joked Candy, still dazed by what she was offered to.
- It’s indeed a real plot which we’ve happily participated to ! – said Annie, affectionatley taking her hand – It will do you the greatest good to discover new scenes…
- - But Miss Pony, Sister Lane, are you sure that… ? – she asked turning towards her dear teachers.
- If Ihave to, I will make you get up into that train for New-York ! – the religious woman interrupted her – Stop worrying for us or for the clinic. We got organized accordingly.
- That’s enough ! You can be so stuborn sometimes ! – said the nun visibly irritated – I don’t want to hear anymore any « but » or any additional thing ! You will leave for Europe and you will send us nice postcards from there !
The severe tone used by the sister nipped in the bud the young nurse’s last dodging attempts. She shrugged off, harms stretched and palms turned to the sky as a sign of capitulation.
- Ok… But they might arrive before my come-back ! – she chuckled – Nevertheless, I promise you to send you some from all over the map !
- You are finally taking a good decision ! – Sister Lane cried out, sighing with pleasure – I feel so happy for you my child ! You’re so lucky to make such a beautiful trip !
- I do agree with you. I’m very lucky to have such generous friends. I’m also delighted to know that Patty will accompany me – she answered, nodding.
Then she turned to Annie :
- What about you, Annie ? Do you feel like going to Italy ? Why don’t you come with us ?
- To tell you the truth… - the latter mumbled, exchanging a gaze of complicity with her husband – It was planned in the beginning.. Until…
- Until we learnt that we were going to be parents ! – Archie proudly interrupted her, thrusting out his chest and tenderly caressing his wife’s shoulder.
- A baby ??? – Candy exclaimed, stupefied – You are going to have a baby ???
- Yes indeed ! – said Annie, blushing, immediatly putting a tender hand on her lightly rounded belly – I’ve been being pregnant for four months, and as you imagine, I cannot take the risk to leave so far away…
- Never mind ! Oh, Annie ! A baby ! You are going to have a baby ! – the young blond did not cease saying – I’m going to be an auntie !
- What a wonderful news ! – both Sister Lane and Miss Pony cried out, tear-filled.
- Please, make haste to sit down ! You musn’t get tired ! – the old lady added, rushing to move a chair closer to her.
- Oh, this is not an illness ! – laughed Annie – I think I’ve never felt so well. This is why I can tell you, my dear Candy, that I wil have enough strengh to take you with me to do shopping. You really need to change your wardrobe ! A lady with your condition cannot leave with as all luggage, a denim overalls and a ten years old dress ! European women are so elegant that you might get turned back at the frontier !
- Indeed ! I’ve forgotten the day when we were able to admire Candy wearing suit other than a nursing blouse or a trousers – Archie added, teasing.
- It must have been on our wedding day, my love… There was no other way, she was my maid of honor !
The body of guests bursted out laughing. Albert placed a compassionate hand on his adoptive daughter’s shoulder. The former wanderer who used to sleep out with the company of animals could easily understand the little energy she showed to this kind of futilities. What would have shed one with pretty dresses at the orphenage or at the clinic, which would have been durtied or damaged ? How would have she been able to work in good conditions, wearing a hat and heels ? People were really forgetting reason when the matter was about setting up priorities. She nonetheless accepted that evolving in the high society implied the application of some dress codes that she was able to avoid in her remote countryside. Didn’t Albert follow those rules by obligation ? She could not prevent herself from admitting that this linnen suit suited him wonderfully and that it was further from her mind to reproach him to have taken off his adventurer’s threadbare jacket. Defeated, she speaked to her friends, pretending some vexation :
- No more mockings, please ! – she did, waving a white napkin to show her surrender – I got it. That’s ok. I will come to town with you Annie and you’ll play dolls on me.
- I can’t wait ! – her girlfriend exclaimed, drawing her hands against her heart, hopping like a little bird – What do you think about going to Chicago this week-end ? I know a boutique which just received the latest creations from France : Mariano Fortuny, Paul Poiret, Chanel... Some real wonders !
- Well, you are not wasting your time ! – laughed Candy, entertained by her girlfriend’s enthusiasm – If you promise me that I’ll be back here Monday, I will agree to make that effort…
- You won’t regret it ! Our chauffeur will come and pick you up Friday in the end of the afternoon. Be ready !
- Yes sir ! – said Candy, clicking her heels, raising her hand to her forehead with a military salute. Then turning to the table, unable to hold the gurgles of her belly :
- Before everything, do you allow me to taste this delicious cake which has been flirting with me for a while ?
- So be it ! – nodded Annie with a smile – But no more than a slice. I would not want us to be obliged to make some alterations on your clothes in a near future.
Candy shrugged off, bursting out, and gluttonously gobbled up a piece of cake. The emotions of the night did not have visibly taken her appetite away, so much so that the incurable greedy one managed to hide one more piece in her napkin, in anticipation of a late-night snack… Out of the corner of her eye, Patty noticed her little game, and enjoyed it innerly. Those holidays with Candy looked to be special, on one hand because of her girlfriend’s personality, but also because of the surprise intented to her…
Patty took a glance at her alarm-clock, slightly enlighted by the moon rays which broke through the thick bedroom’s curtains. She was able to distinguish the late-night hour and sighed, upset. She had been trying to sleep for two hours without any success. But how could she fall asleep in those conditions, with Candy sleeping in a bed next to hers, while knowing what she was hiding to her since her arrival ? She could hear her peaceful breath and she wondered, for the hundredth time, if she should take the risk to tell her what she knew. As quietly as possible, she pulled the drawer of her night-table and checked if what its content was still there, then pulled it back very slowly. Being unable to stay in bed anymore, she decided to get up and to go to the kitchen to prepare herself a cup of tea. Silently, she crossed the bedroom, walked along the long corridor which separated the bedrooms and the dormitory from the living-rooms, and pushed the kitchen’s door. Though the leftovers had been put in a safe place, there was still a good smell of the birthday’s meal. Patty understood now why Candy used to have such good appetite. The food was so good at Pony’s ! It made differences with the dinning hall of the very poshed Nightingale-Bamford School, located in the Upper East Side, a fancy neighborhood of Manhattan, in which she teached to young ladies from very good backgrounds. She was not a very good cordon bleu either. Every night, when coming back in her small appartment, she regretted it. Until one year back, it was her dear grandmother who used to cook nice little meals for her, but since her death, the content of her plates was reduced to a very limited choice of preserved cans. She began to think that it would be time for her to start learning some culinary rudiments if she did not want to starve. The loss of her grandmother had particularly unsettled her, and one more time fragilized her. She used to represent the only and unique emotional support which ahd allowed her to keep afloat after Alistair’s death. She had been her fixing-point which had prevented her from drifting away. She could not expect anything from her parents who never showed any interest to her. She did not even know where they lived exactly. This is why she had great hope for this journey in Europe with Candy. Who else, after all what she had to pass through, could understand better the inner upset which was driving her on, her doubts and fears, this infinite sadness without any break ? She was feeling the keen desire to take charge of herself and turn a new page of her life. What about her girlfriend ? What will happen when she shares with her what she knows ?
Plunged into her thoughts, only disturbed by the pendullum of the Franche-Comté clock which regulated the seconds with a regular cadence, she poured the almost simmering water in the teapot and added some coffee cups of tea leaves, and waited a few minuts until the infusion takes place. After a while, she filled a mug with the burning beverage and came near the window, holding her cup. The almost full moon recovered the gardin with a bluish paleness which gave to it an atmosphere of fantasy stories. In front of the fireplace , she saw a blanket on Miss Pony’s rocking chair and took it. Outside, the air was fresh but bearable. Swaddled in her blanket, her hands heated by the cup of tea, she laid down on one of the garden’s deckchairs and lifted her eyes towards the dark sky spangled wit stars. She sighed once again in an attempt to remove the oppressing feeling which gnawed at her since her arrival, and began to recall the reasons which got her in such permanent anguish state…
When few weeks before, Annie and Albert called her to tell her about the mission they wanted to entrust her, she did not imagine the difficulties in which she would find herself. As a matter of course, the thinking to participate in the plan to reunite Candy and the man she loved enchanted her, but she was far from suspecting the responsability that lied to her. On the fly, she had only seen Candy’s happiness, but now, since she was with her, observing her in her little universe inside which she had built an impassable fortress, she wondered if she had made the right decision.
She could still see herself, taking her most beautiful pen and writing a letter to Terry, which content remained indelibly imprinted in her memory because of the so many drafts she had made before sending to him the good one, in spite of her incertitudes, and the fear that he could throw it away. After many rough works covering the ground, she chosed to get to the heart of the matter. Knowing the pigheaded blowhard he could be, she suspected that her prose would not capture his attention but the message she wanted to pass on :
« Terrence Graham Grandchester,
Stratford theatre company,
10 West 45th St. Broadway
New-York, March 12th 1924,
That must be a big surprise for you to read that letter from me. I’ve to confess that it is a surprise for me too but I’ve been thinking about writing to you for a while. Since you’ve lately ended your tour and since you are in New-York presently, I’m taking the opportunity to ask you something both personal and professional, which, I hope, you will agree to.
I’ve been teaching for several years English Literature at the Nightingale-Bamford School, and on the occasion of the British great authors' Program , I took to heart to make better known Shakespeare’s works to my young pupils. The task is rather arduous at this difficult age in which literature classics put them off rather than seduce them. This is why I thought that the great shakesperian actor that you are could help me in that art to win those young ladies over to bring them back towards more vertuous paths. I’ve no doubt about your talent neither your charm, neither your capacity to bring to light the riches of this writer. You are the only one able to perform this feat. Yet, you were able to captivate the whole audience in Saint-Paul, that will be for you easy as pie in front of those naive young girls.
No need to say that I rely upon you for this thorny case.
In rememberance of the good old days, Terry…
English Literature Department
20 East 92nd Street
New York, NY 10128 »
Praying Heaven over being persuasive, she had mailed the letter the same day and waited without any conviction for a sign from the rebelious aristocrat. Two weeks elapsed without any missive from him, such that she came to the point that she had failed, until when, during an afternoon, while she was on duty at her office, a phone call made her almost chocke and paralyzed her whole body. A familiar voice sniggered at the other end of the line, a voice that she hadn't heard since years, a voice that had gained maturity and seriousness but she could recognize it without any ambiguity.
- So, Four-eyes, it seems that you need my help ?