Novel Excerpt of Mademoiselle Gigi
The girls arrived at Chez Nelly’s with its distinctive green and white canvas awnings. They chose to eat on the al fresco patio, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine of the sunny day. Gigi sat at a table with a clear view of the street to keep watch for Pepère. She browsed a menu, perusing the flavors of sorbets. The patio filled with patrons. The waiters, dressed in crisp white shirts, bow ties, black pants, and long white aprons, flew around the patio, balancing the orders on large trays. A handsome waiter, wearing too much cologne, came to the table and took their orders. He returned momentarily, carrying a round platter with three tall bell-shaped glasses with two lime sorbets and a peach one for Gigi.
“Voilà, Mesdemoiselles,” the waiter said, winking at Gigi and arranging the creamy confections on the table before them.
“Merci,” the girls chimed.
The three friends didn’t hesitate to devour the sweet, swirling sorbets, only pausing to tidy the corners of their mouths with cloth napkins.
“Look, there’s Henri from my math class. I want to invite him to my birthday party,” Renée said, tasting a spoonful of her sorbet.
“Oh, please do, Renée,” Corinne begged.
Gigi and Renée looked at each other in surprise and then looked at Corinne staring dozily at Henri.
“Somebody’s got a crush,” Gigi and Renée sang.
“It’s true,” Corinne said. “I’d like to fall in his arms.”
A look of horror came across Renée’s face, and she quickly hid behind a menu.
Renée slouched down in her chair. “There’s Madame Busybody with her army of old nags. Hide me.”
“What’s her real name?” asked Gigi.
“Her name is Devenpeck,” Renée said.
“What peck?” Gigi said.
“I think her husband is Dutch,” Renée said. “She’s a witch.”
“She already spotted you,” Gigi said. “She’s coming to our table.” A middle-aged, frumpish woman lumbered up to the table, followed by her contingent of pious ladies. A mixture of lilac water and mothballs invaded the air.
“Holy Mother of God, it’s tall Renée,” Madame Devenpeck said, her frizzy head jerking from side to side. “I think you’ve grown a foot since I last saw you a few months ago.” Her close-set eyes, framed in old-fashioned eyewear, were searching the girls up and down as if she were a chicken looking for a worm.
“Hello, Madame Devenpeck,” Renée said wearily.
“Renée will probably be a spinster. Men don’t like tall strong girls,” Madame Devenpeck told her ladies. “Renée, you should become a nun. Be sensible. You should give up any notion of marriage.”
Gigi said on cue, “Renée, I love that necklace you’re wearing. Isn’t that a gift from your Spanish lover, Carlos?”
“Oh yes, he lavishes me with pretty things all the time,” Renée chirped. “The boy is absolutely mad about me.”
Madame Devenpeck, choking and coughing, extracted a lace hanky from between her sagging bosoms. She leaned in for a closer view of Renée. Gigi knew exactly what the old hag was doing. Madame Devenpeck was looking for the tell-tale signs of Renée being with a man. Gigi would wager a bet that Madame Devenpeck had only been with her husband, a conjugal duty she probably abhorred.
“Spanish lover?” Madame Devenpeck spluttered. “Does your mother know about this?”
Madame Devenpeck didn’t wait for a reply but commenced a diatribe about the corruption of today’s wanton young girls. “Paris is full of these young trollops, wearing make-up, dressing immodestly and acting like debauched rabbits. I’m telling you one thing. I’m not going to run the streets half-naked. I’m keeping my morals!”
“The men of Paris will be relieved to know they’re safe,” Gigi said with spirit.
Gigi was transfixed as Madame Devenpeck’s goiter slid up and down her jowly throat like a freight elevator as her monologue rambled on. The girls snorted and choked, trying to contain their laughter while tears flowed in rivulets down their cheeks. Madame Devenpeck noticed the insolence and became indignant.
“Well, I can see you girls are a lost cause,” Madame Devenpeck huffed. “Renée, tell your mother to call me. My ladies of the Daughters of Charity are on a mission for a sacred cause. We’ve been supporting the Catholic Church’s endeavor to certify, by the Vatican, the Holy Mother Eugenia’s miraculous conversations with God. I’ll be expecting full participation from your mother.”
Madame Devenpeck spun around and left the table, the Daughters of Charity trailing in her wake. She created a minor scene by calling on the owner of Chez Nelly’s. Madame Devenpeck loudly protested, to no avail, the seating arrangements for the Daughters of Charity, who had been seated next to the smelly garbage cans.
“What do you think causes that throat to bounce up and down like that?” Renée asked.
“Maybe she swallowed a squirrel,” Gigi offered and all three girls roared again.
“Where did you ever come up with my Spanish lover, Carlos?” asked Renée. I thought Madame Devenpeck’s eyes were going to pop right out of her head.”
“I wasn’t going to let old Madame Chicken-Peck put you down,” Gigi said.
Renée and Corinne laughed so hard at Gigi’s imitation of Madame Devenpeck’s chicken-like head movements that their eyes spurted tears like Angel Falls.
Gigi saw Pepère, walking Pock in the distance, followed by a league of small children.
“Look at all those kids,” Corinne said, wide-eyed. “They adore your Pepère.”
Pock was feverishly straining on his leash to reach Gigi, wagging his tail excitedly.
“Your dog is so cute,” said a lady at the next table. “What kind of dog is he?”
“He’s a mutt,” Gigi said proudly, “but mostly rat terrier.” Gigi jumped out of her chair to greet Pepère.
“Pepère, I’m so happy to see you,” Gigi said, kissing him on both cheeks and hugging him.
Pepère turned and greeted Renée and Corinne, sharing hugs and kisses, their usual custom over the years.
“I see you’re the Pied Piper today,” Gigi said, waving her arm like a magician’s assistant before the children.
Pepère turned to address the little ones. “If you meet me in the park at five o’clock, I promise to do a magic show for you. There will be a surprise treat in store for all who are good.”
“We promise we’ll be good,” a red-headed boy with freckles said, clapping his hands.
“Now go to the park. I’ll be there by five o’clock,” Pepère said, looking at his pocket watch.
The children hugged and kissed, in order, Pepère, Gigi, Renée, and Corinne goodbye. A dark-haired little girl in a floral print dress stooped down and kissed Pock on the top of his head.
“Bye, bye, Pock. See you later.” She then ran after her friends on baby fat legs.
Renée turned to Gigi. “I need to get home before Madame Devenpeck calls my mother.”
“Madame Chicken-Peck won’t get you in trouble?” asked Gigi.
“No, my mother will have a good laugh,” Renée said. “I just know that old witch is going to call, though.”
The friends kissed and parted company, promising to phone each other later to discuss the details of Renée’s birthday party.
“Don’t forget to have your mother call me,” Madame Devenpeck brayed like a peasant farmer from across the open air patio of Chez Nelly’s. Patrons at nearby tables shuddered and rolled their eyes.
Renée and Corinne walked on as if they were deaf and mute.