Thought I’d post a bit of my work-in-progress, Looking-Glass Girl. In this scene, my protagonist, Alice, first meets Suzanne Manet, wife of Edouard Manet. Alice is still completely discombobulated by time travel, which she accomplished by means of an heirloom silver coffee pot (cafetière), which has now gone missing. Léon is Suzanne’s son, though he was always introduced as her younger brother. His father may have been Edouard Manet or Manet’s father, Auguste. That secret is lost to history.
“Delighted.” The younger Mrs. Manet smiles, almost shy.
Then she takes me by the shoulders and kisses me once on each cheek.
She smells of roses.
Suzanne. That’s her name in the strange archives that are now my memory.
She’s broader-faced than Manet painted her,
her features blunter,
her hair coiled like a cinnamon bun
at the back of her head.
Surreptitiously, I scan the room.
The cafetiere is not on the sideboard, nor any of the end tables.
The older Mrs. Manet does not smile, as she kisses me stiffly.
“Mademoiselle, you say? You are unmarried?”
No cafetiere on the floor, either, where it might have fallen.
A bit of sand, missed by the maid,
crunches under my shoe.
Suzanne’s fingers, on the piano lid, twitch,
pressing invisible keys.
Léon leans against the mantel
and pretends a gaze into the fireplace.
“You are separated from your chaperon?” Madame-the-elder probes.
Her name begins with E: Esmerelda? Eunice?
“Yes, Madame. My aunt is ill.” I picture Willey
under blankets in a room with flocked wallpaper, and it’s almost as if she’s really there.
“And you decided to take a stroll unaccompanied?”
How quickly I am ashamed of myself. “Yes, Madame.”
Eloise? Estelle? Emeraude?
“Is your aunt contagious?”
“Mother Manet, she is an American,” murmurs Suzanne.
Madame Manet purses her lips and studies me.
“My dear, you are in France now.
Regardless of your bohemian ways across the sea,
such gallivanting is neither safe, nor seemly.”
I think of Olympia, Manet’s famous nude,
a prostitute, staring brazenly from her couch.
It seems that seemliness did not pass to the next generation
Suzanne’s fingers tighten. “Mother, she can hardly be expected to sit
in a sickroom her entire holiday.”
“Well, then someone must look after her,” says Mother Manet.
She gestures me to a chair, rings a small bell,
And then turns to her daughter-in-law.
“Suzanne, you must play.”
Suzanne brings forth a sheaf of music from a shelf.
“Something new from that fellow, Brahms,” she says to me.
“Oh, surely not a German!” says Madame Manet.
“I don’t care what he is, he’s brilliant,” says Suzanne,
When she plays, she is all at once alive.
Her shoulders roll with the runs,
her large hands graceful as birds,
lifting and landing.
Her eyes close and I wonder why she
put the music on the rack at all.
Seated by the fireplace, Léon
hasn’t taken his eyes off me.
Marisol appears with a tray of croissants,
stops, stares. The cups rattle as she sets them next to me.
Madame Manet scowls at her
and puts her finger to her lips.
Marisol hurries from the room,
glancing over her shoulder,
as if making sure I don’t escape.
Maybe I really am here on holiday—
an American girl with a sick aunt.
My abolitionist mother promised me a trip abroad
when I was small, and now I’ve come.
Maybe the voyage was a month of rocking
on the waves, promenades on deck,
and worrying over Aunt Willey, who always waved me off, saying,
“A bit of ocean wobblies is all I have.
Don’t fuss over me, when we’re on a boat full of handsome young men!”
Aunt Willey always was a little reckless.
No wonder I’ve shocked Madame Manet-the-elder
with my liberal upbringing.
I like this story so much I want it to be true.
Marisol appears beside me and begins to fill the cups.
The smell of coffee hits my nose.
She is holding my cafetière.
c 2018 Katherine Grace Bond
Looking-Glass Girl: Alice Finds Herself in 1871