Post Road Magazine #25

The Last I Saw Mitsou

Karin C. Davidson

The last time I saw Mitsou, she was crying into an embroidered handkerchief that belonged to my mother. Mother believed in things that lasted. Linen, perfume, clothbound books.

     Newlyweds, Mitsou and I lived in the fifth-floor walkup. Small rooms with enormous views. Below us, the courtyard, mottled with pale brown stones. Our windows faced the pianist, swaying over his black-and-ivory keys, the small child, her mouth wide for more porridge, and the old man, alone except for a stuttering television.

     Three months into our marriage, the books appeared in corners of the courtyard. Poetry in the flowerpots, nursery rhymes tucked under drainpipes, thin historical volumes near the ash cans. Mitsou proposed they had been left there for a reason. She turned their pages, sighing, and placed them gently back into their niches and nooks. Wistful, she recalled her father's print shop, the tinny odor of ink, the shudder of the presses. Her childhood was spare, while mine was ample. She had only her father; I had mostly my mother. I wanted to ask about the illustrated cookbooks she'd found after he'd disappeared, but I couldn't find the words.

     Soon after, the novels appeared. Malraux, Genet, Zola. Flaubert, Proust, Voltaire. Stacked like bricks in the courtyard entrance, preventing passage so that we had to use the main doors. Coming and going lost meaning, defined now by the dark hallway lined with mailboxes that no longer received letters, only literary reviews.

     Mother called. "The wedding, the wedding, the wedding," she shouted. "So glorious, glorious, glorious!"
     Mitsou nodded, as I held the receiver away from my ear.
     "I'm coming by train, train, train. Thursday next, at seize heures!"
     "We'll be there to meet you," I promised.
     "You'll be there," Mitsou said. "I'll be here, preparing the trout for dinner. Meunière or Amondine?"

     Thursday came. Mitsou set down the platter of sautèed trout, golden, scattered with splintered almonds.
     "Lovely fish, fish, fish!" my mother said.
     "Merci," Mitsou replied.
     Mother had brought presents. "Things you might need, need, need." Repoussè butter knives, damask napkins. "You certainly don't need anything to read, read, read." Her voice flew out the open windows.

     The courtyard filled with evening sounds. The child, having her bath and singing sweetly. The old man, watching Jean-Paul Belmondo films, a tall bottle of beer beside him. The pianist, leaning over Chopin's Prelude, Opus 28, # 4 in E minor.
     Mother and Mitsou stood at the window, whispering of fathers, fish, and faraway things. "So strange, strange, strange," Mother said, pointing to the book-studded doorway.

     Early next morning Mother opened a transom in the crowded passageway. She'd extracted Germinal, a rough red Candide, Madame Bovary—moth-eaten, unbound—and a tattered Time Regained.
     "It's very sad, sad, sad!" she cried up to our window. "Where, where, where are the cookery books?"
     Weeping, Mitsou ran downstairs to Mother, who handed her the kerchief from inside her sleeve. Mother pointed to the gap, narrow and bright, and that was the last I saw my Mitsou, climbing through to the other side.


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