Anastasie stared forlornly out of the window of the café, watching as the wind caught the leaves and scattered them along the bricks of the street. She pressed her hand to her heart, biting her lip in an effort to quell the tears that threatened to fill her eyes. Ana felt as nearly dry and scattered as the leaves. She was only eight.
She tugged at the ribbons beneath her chin that secured her hat against the dark brown waves of her hair. They itched horribly.
“Ana,” her mother warned.
She thrust out her lower lip in a pout and turned angrily to stare out the window again. While she waited for her father to pay the bill, she mouthed the word, café, which was written backwards (at least from inside the small restaurant it was backwards) on the window. She smiled, slightly, proud that she could read the word backwards. Of course, it was a French word, which made it a little easier. The first word backwards was a little more difficult. “Abercorn,” she whispered.
“Hmmmm?” her mother asked.
She shook her head, and thought it instead. Abercorn. Abercorn Café. She was terribly bored. And she had nothing to look forward to once they walked back to the apartment they were renting in the big old house. It was the middle of February in 1919 and quite cold. She wouldn’t be able to play outside. Not that she had any friends with which to play. Her brother, Rémy (though her parents called him by his first name, Claude), had died in July of 1918 on the Marne. It was his death that had prompted the move to Savannah. Too many bad memories in France.
She missed him so much that at times she felt sure her heart would burst. Other times she felt so hollow that she was sure she must be nothing but an empty shell just like one of those bugs she had found attached to a tree in Forsyth Park. A cicada her mother had called it.
Claude Rémy Flaneur had been ten years older (she, apparently, had been quite unexpected) and had doted on her ferociously. She longed to hear his voice one more time. He had called her “Tasie,” and she hadn’t allowed anyone else to do so. And so she had called him Rémy in order to have her own special name for him.
“Rémy,” she whispered as they left the café, swiping away the tear that trickled from her left eye with a mittened hand.
“But Maman,” she pleaded.
“Mother,” she corrected.
“Mother,” Ana said, with a heavy but charming French accent. “Why can I not have a pet? Un chien? Un chat?”
“Dog and cat. But the answer is still no.”
Anastasie had been pestering her parents for more than a month for a pet. She felt that with a small dog or cat she would have something with which to share her sorrow and boredom, and, perhaps, eventually her happiness.
They always said it was impossible, but their reasons never sounded plausible to her. It was early April and the air had warmed considerably. She now enjoyed daily walks in the park and particularly enjoyed the fountain, which reminded her of the one in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
At the moment, though, her mother was plaiting her hair in preparation for bedtime. She was already in her nightgown, but was dreading the next step in her nightly routine. She would have to sit on the couch with her mother and read to her from a book written in English. And it was exceedingly difficult. She was sure she would be much more adept at the language if she had friends with which to practice.
“If I had a dog,” she told her mother, “I would promise to speak only English to him.” Her mother frowned and held out the book—Old Mother West Wind. She enjoyed the animal stories but it felt as if her mother did most of the reading.
She sighed and took the book. If she had a dog, she thought, she would read him stories from Old Mother West Wind.
The end of May. It was now so warm that they had to keep the doors that opened onto their second floor porch open all the time. Fortunately, they had screen doors to keep the bugs out. These enchanted Anastasie. They had not had the like in France. The only problem was that living room door kept wanting to shut, so they had to use a brick to keep it open.
Ana was staring out the door when her mother entered the room. She was bored once again. If she had a pet, she thought for perhaps the millionth time, she could take it for walks in the park.
“What have you got, Ma, mm, Mother?”
“I found this at a second hand shop,” she informed her daughter, holding aloft a small black dog that appeared to be made of metal.
“What is it?”
“It is a door stop. Is it not adorable?” She said “adorable” the French way, and Ana had to stop herself from chiding her. After all, her mother constantly picked on her about her use of French words.
But the little doorstop was indeed “adorable,” and Ana wanted to see it more closely.
“Is that a Bouledogue Français?”
“Yes, a French Bulldog,” she said, removing the brick that held the door open and replacing it with the little iron dog.
Ana knelt down beside it and appraised it, “He has not been well cared for, has he Mother?” The poor creature was pitted here and there with rust and she thought he looked a little sad. Yes, a little sad just like her. He looked as if he had spent quite a bit of time outdoors.
“That is probably why I was able to get him for such a reasonable price.” She nodded her head. “Yes, much better than a brick,” she said with satisfaction before returning to the kitchen to prepare their lunch.
They had definitely come down in the world, Ana mused. In Paris, her mother would have gone to the kitchen only to see how the cook was progressing in her preparations for meals. She had heard her parents talking, though, and knew they hoped her father would soon be promoted, and that eventually they would be able to buy their own home again.
Ana would have loved to live in one of the beautiful homes around Forsyth Park, but knew they had been talking about the possibilities in someplace called Ardsley Park. Which, perhaps, meant there was a park there as well. And, if they had their own home then maybe she could finally get a dog. She sighed, caressing the ears of the little iron dog. She knew that was probably a very long time away. And the little doorstop was the closest thing she would have for a pet until then.
She looked at it again. The way its head was cocked reminded her of the way Rémy used to look at her when he was teasing her, which was most of the time. Ana smiled and her big brown eyes began to glow as an idea occurred to her. “Rémy,” she whispered, the tip of her finger tapping its tiny nose, which was cool like a real dog’s would be. She would call it Rémy.
Summer slipped into full gear, and Ana found herself sitting more and more often next to Rémy. She still had no friends, her father was always at work and her mother seemed inordinately distracted.
But Rémy always had time for her. He was incredibly patient. He would sit and listen as she poured out her frustrations, read to him from the English books, told him of her dreams for the future. She still wanted a real dog, but decided not to tell him for fear he would get jealous.
“Anastasie!” her mother called in that voice.
What had she done now? “Oui, Maman?” she asked running down the hall from her bedroom where she had been selecting a book to read to Rémy.
Her mother raised her eyebrows.
“Yes, Mother?” she asked again.
“What is that?” she asked, pointing to Rémy. One of Ana’s red silk ribbons was tied around his neck.
“The black collar was ugly,” Ana explained. “I thought Rémy deserved,” she slapped her hand over her mouth.
“What did you call him?” her mother looked as if Ana had slapped her instead.
“He reminded me of Rémy,” she said, swallowing hard.
Her mother studied the doorstop for a moment. It was true that the tilt of the dog’s head was reminiscent of one of Claude’s expressions. Finally, she sighed, and said, “Yes, I can see that. But please do not call him that around your father. It would upset him greatly.”
“Yes, mother,” she said, relieved. If her mother had told her she could never speak to Rémy again, she might have despaired. She had grown quite attached to him.
“Anastasie!” her mother called, once again, in that voice.
And once again she wondered what she had done.
“What is that?” she asked, as before, but this time she was pointing at the floor where her father’s newspaper had been torn to shreds.
Ana stared in consternation at the mess on the floor before looking up at her mother and shaking her head. Her first thought was Rémy, but of course that was impossible. He was sitting, as always, iron body planted firmly against the door to the porch preventing it from shutting out what little breeze they could get in the sultry Georgia heat. But, she hadn’t done it. Why would she rip up the newspaper? “I promise, Mother, I did not do this,” she said, but she knew it was in vain. There was no one else to blame.
And so she was sent to her room without her dinner, and when her father got home from work, she could hear them discussing the incident in hushed but worried tones.
She was sitting on her bed, trying to read but failing, when her father opened the door to her room.
He hadn’t even made it to her bedside before she started crying. “I swear to you, Papa,” she sobbed, “that I did not do it.”
“Then who did?” he asked, sitting on the edge of the mattress.
“Rémy.” Her voice was barely audible.
“Pardon?” He was so surprised that he gave it the French pronunciation. “Qu’es-ce que t’as dit?”
“Rémy,” she repeated a little more loudly.
“Rémy?” he asked, stunned.
“Non! Non!” she suddenly realized what he was thinking. “Mon chien Rémy.”
“Your dog?” he seemed even more confused, if possible.
She felt the blood rushing to her face. “The door stop,” she mumbled.
“The door stop?”
“She is talking about the iron dog that holds the door to the porch open,” her mother said from the doorway.
Her father looked at Ana in disbelief. Had his daughter lost her mind? “How is this supposed to have happened?”
Ana blushed again. “I do not know, but I cannot think how else it might have happened.”
“Is it possible that you are responsible?”
Tears welled in her eyes again. She shook her head. She knew she hadn’t done it, but how could she possibly make them believe her. Instead, they would think she was just lying. She honestly didn’t know what to say, so she just continued to shake her head as the tears burned their way down her cheeks.
Her parents looked at each other helplessly. Apparently the loss of her brother had affected her more deeply than they had realized.
“Are you hungry, mon cher?” her mother asked.
Ana sniffed, and nodded her head.
“Come with me, I will fix you something light so you do not have to sleep on an empty stomach.”
Ana regarded her father’s slippers in dismay. She realized that it was entirely possible that she could have ripped the newspaper to shreds, but she wasn’t even close to being capable of chewing up her father’s slippers. Her teeth just weren’t sharp enough.
She marched over to Rémy, shaking with anger. “Bad!” she reprimanded him. “Bad, bad dog. Why have you done this? I am the one who will be blamed for this.”
Rémy stared back, silently, with cold iron eyes.
“Who are you yelling at?” her mother asked, rushing into the room. “Ana!” she gasped, horrified. Had her child really chewed her father’s slippers? It didn’t seem possible.
“Maman,” Ana said, baring her teeth, which revealed several incisors in varying stages of eruption. And, she still had her baby canines. “It is not even possible.”
Her mother swallowed, hard. Ana was right. It was not even possible. Only a dog could have ripped apart the slippers. “Je ne comprende pas,” she whispered.
“What is happening, Maman?” What she found terrifying was the coincidence that this was just the type of prank her brother used to play on her. He would do something that he knew she would get blamed for, but always at the last moment, he would laugh and tell his parents that he was the responsible party. And, he would always get away with it because he was his father’s beloved Claude, and it was just a joke, and so on and so forth.
She felt the goose bumps prickle her arms. But it cannot be my brother, she thought, because Rémy had died a year ago. She had insisted that she attend the funeral, had watched as they lowered his casket into the ground. And as the earth thumped against the coffin, she realized that he was irrevocably gone and the tears had poured down her face in a salty cascade, and her heart felt as if had been ripped from her chest. Yes, he was gone forever. She had reminded herself of that repeatedly during the past year. Nevertheless, and once again, she was wracked with sobs as she remembered her loss.
YOU CAN READ THE REST OF THE STORY HERE: Anastasie et Remy