Françoise


I don’t feel well enough to do a full review today – sorry guys. Enjoy this piece of flash fiction for what it is – this is a pure first draft, so there are probably going to be a few hiccups, but I can promise no stupidity regarding sex magic. (And yes, this is based on those hastily drawn RP characters. When I get a character or two stuck in my head, I just have to write something with them!)


 

Françoise didn’t cry the day of her mother’s funeral.

Sure, she was sad – she was absolutely devastated. But there didn’t feel like there was any time in the day to be sad. She had to wake up early and prepare the buffet for after the funeral. ‘Preparing’ really meant defrosting pre-packaged snacks, slicing up pre-cooked ham and cheap bread rolls, and dispensing other things from cans. Françoise wasn’t a very good cook.  She tended to burn things when left to her own devices. Mom had always said there was time.  There was plenty of time before college for Mom to teach her how to stop herself from foraging out of vending machines and the microwavable aisle.

Françoise did the best she could with what she had, knowing that Daddy and Danny were not going to help. Cooking and making the house presentable for the guests was her job, now she was the only woman in the house. They just didn’t have the time to worry about the home, not how Mom had. Daddy was a foreman at the local lumber yard and Danny had just started working part-time as a sort of apprentice. It had been made clear to Françoise that neither of them had the time or the inclination towards housework. She would just have to grow up and deal with it.

She hadn’t been able to properly clean the place, not how Mom really liked it. It was clean, but every surface had smudges and fingerprints.  She hadn’t got any of her Mom’s favourite flowers; the house was full of the damn things, their scents blending together into a sickly sweet fog, but there wasn’t a single peony amongst them.  Françoise had gone near frantic at the thought that Mom might be buried without them, even considering taking Daddy’s keys and driving at full speed to the flower store and not caring if she was pulled over for dangerous driving. But no, that was a phenomenally stupid idea, and Mom would have been completely and utterly ashamed at that sort of behaviour. She settled for scrubbing the kitchen floor instead.

That was how Daddy and Danny found her, as the taxi beeped from outside the door.  Françoise was dressed in her finest dress. the dark cotton one with the pilgrim collar she wore on Thanksgiving and Christmas meals with Grandma, bright yellow gloves, a bucket of hot water, her pantyhosed knees drenched with suds.

“Frannie, the car’s here.  Can’t you hear it?”  Daddy clicked his tongue reproachfully, adjusting his tie. He always tied it far too tight, trying to deny the rapidly growing jowls that were forming underneath his chin. He had bloated rather alarmingly in the last few years, his entire body swelling up and turning a really horrific shade of red.

Danny just stared at her. That was usually his default response when Daddy was in a funny mood, but his periods of silence had grown in the short time since Mom’s death.

They’d both stared at her while Françoise tidied away the bucket and tried to make herself look presentable again.

“You would be late for your own mother’s damn funeral,” Daddy said as they left the house. Françoise fell behind him, letting his words wash over her.

The church service was light and pleasant. It was clear the pastor didn’t really know anything about Mom – but, then again, how many of the people gathered to bid her goodbye did? Mom never really left the house. She would go out to the grocery store and – yeah, that was it. Mom would only step outside on Friday nights to buy food and, even then, she only went out late at night. None of the people here would have really known her. The occasional wave, perhaps a few words at a hurried visit to the doctors. Mom had been the local mystery story. Everyone knew the story of Frank Thompson’s shut-in wife but none of them had really know the story.

There were many assumptions made. There were stories about Mom’s mental health, theories that she had a irrational fear of open spaces or meeting people. Other kids at school had always been curious, but Daddy had told Françoise and Danny to give the same answers; to smile and ignore them, tell them it was none of their business if the asker persisted.

Some had been smart enough to put two and two together. Those were mostly those slightly older than Mom, the families who had known Daddy and Mom when they’d first moved to this town. They’d remembered the bright and vivacious wife of their new neighbour, how she loved to sunbathe and sing. They had seen the children arrive, and watched Mom play with them in the garden and the street. The neighbours had known Mom’s aunt, Axelle, when she was alive. Aunt Axelle had suffered a series of debilitating strokes when Mom was a teenager. She’d become her aunt’s full-time carer. Aunt Axelle had died when Françoise was six, and that was when everything changed.

The neighbours had seen the remnants of the blazing row Daddy and Mom had had, a few weeks after Axelle’s funeral, and Mom being thrown out the house with Françoise. Mom had been gone for several months before slinking back home. That was when she retreated into the house. That was when she became a prisoner.

The older neighbours remembered when Mom had both her eyes. Everyone else accepted it as just a birth defect, just one of those things. Those who knew had always watched Daddy closely, never knowing enough to speak out, but never able to loose their suspicions.

Françoise had sat numbly through the sermon, sang quietly when prompted, and talked politely to those who had come to speak to her. She spent most of the time looking into the propped picture of her mother than sat on the pine coffin. Trust Daddy to use a picture before her eye was damaged. She looked so normal, so happy. She had been so beautiful, with a soft, round face, long dark hair, and captivating dark eyes. She looked like someone with a great life ahead of her, endless prospects to be explored, so many adventures to be had.

About forty people came to the house after the service. Françoise was a perfect daughter and an acceptable host. She had held trays, chatted nicely, refilled drinks. She had walked through all the motions and was something Daddy could be proud of for once.

“It was Frannie that found Dominique, you know.” Daddy’s tongue always got a bit loose around company. He was shaking his head, as if he was really grieving. “Right on the kitchen floor. It was horrible, wasn’t it, Frannie?”

“It was horrible,” she had said. Her tone hadn’t been right – a crease formed between Daddy’s eyebrows, and that always predicted trouble.

Horrible was a good enough to describe that morning. Françoise couldn’t really put it into words; the gut-clenching, absolute fear that came upon her, swallowing up her skin as if she’d been eaten up by fear, as she tried to force herself into the kitchen. It had been the smell. The smell of shit and sweat and rot. Bile rose up the back of her throat. It had been the smell of Axelle’s room when she’d died. That had been worse – Axelle had died in winter, and the electric blanket had been roasting her body all night – so she’d tried to kid herself that Danny had left the dog in the house. The dog had messed in the kitchen, and that was it. There was nothing else.

The door had gotten stuck in her mother’s leg.

Mom had officially died of a heart attack, all above board, a terrible unexpected tragedy. Françoise knew it had been the drugs, not that she could talk to anyone about it. No one could know. No one could know about the illusions. They’d been so strong and so unpredictable. Sleeping pills, strong ones, had been the only things that had been able to control them. Mom had just taken too many of them over the years and they finally caught up with her. She’d bottled up what she was for too long. She couldn’t deal with it any more.

Françoise had finally cried when she got the time to actually sit down, to rest her aching feet, and to think. She’d blocked away her grief with busy work, with pleasantries, but now her pain came rushing out all at once. She stuffed her knuckles in her mouth. No one could hear. No one could hear her cry. She sank to the ground, knuckles between her jaws, body shaking with the effort of keeping quiet.

“Frannie? Frannie? I know you can hear me, you better answer me!” Daddy’s voice came up the stairs. Carefully, Françoise pulled her hand from her mouth and tried to compose herself.

“Yes, Daddy? What is it?” She’d answered, her voice barely shaking. She wiped her hand on the carpet.

“When are you starting dinner?”

That was when the last thread tying her to this house, this awful house, snapped. Her mother was dead. There was no reason to stay here. No reason at all. She wiped her eyes, hands barely trembling.

“I’ll be down soon, Daddy. Let me just get cleaned up first.”

Françoise wiped her face. She changed into some battered jeans and a hoodie that was really Danny’s. She pulled out her school rutsack and the small amount of savings hidden in her sock drawer. She looked around for something to take but couldn’t see anything she wanted. She didn’t want any part of this place.

“What are you doing?” Danny stood in the doorway. He looked her up and down. He understood instantly. “Where are you going?”

“Why would I tell you?” She whispered, opening the window. The Peterson’s next door had a huge oak tree with branches that peered into their yard. Daddy had been yelling at them to trim it for years.

Danny’s eyes were just like her own. Solemn. Thoughtful. He jerked slightly, as if he was going to leave, and then sighed. “You’re going to break a leg making for that tree, you ass. The garage roof is right by my window.”

“Thanks,” she said, closing the window as gently as she could. “You don’t have to help me.”

“No, I don’t. It’d be easier if I didn’t.” Danny shrugged. He didn’t trust words. “I’ve got some money saved in my room. You can have it. Just tell me where you’re going, at least. Let me know where to stop Daddy from looking.”

“Westchester, near New York,” Françoise said, slipping the hood over her head. “Mom had – she had some friends there. They should know she’s dead, and it’s not like Daddy’s going to tell them.”

Oh yes, they’d know Mom was dead. And Françoise was going to make someone pay for letting her die.

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