- Pub. Date:
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Katherine Hall Page was born and grew up in New Jersey, graduating from Livingston High School. Her father was the Executive Director of The Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation and her mother was an artist. Page has an older brother and a younger sister. Early on the family developed a love of the Maine coast, spending summer vacations on Deer Isle. She received her BA from Wellesley College, majoring in English and went on to a Masters in Secondary Education from Tufts and a Doctorate in Administration, Public Planning, and Social Policy from Harvard. College had brought her to Massachusetts and she continues to reside there. Before her career as a full-time writer, Ms. Page taught at the high school level for many years. She developed a program for adolescents with special emotional needs, a school within a school model, that dealt with issues of truancy, substance abuse, and family relationships. Those five years in particular were rich ones for her. This interest in individuals and human behavior later informed her writing.
Married for more than forty years to Professor Alan Hein, an experimental psychologist at MIT, the couple have a twenty-seven-year-old son. It was during her husband's sabbatical year in France after the birth of their son that Ms. Page wrote her first mystery, The Body in the Belfry, an Agatha Award winner for Best First Mystery Novel. The fifteenth in the series, The Body in the Snowdrift , won the 2006 Agatha Award for Best Mystery Novel. Ms. Page was also awarded the Agatha for Best Short Story for "The Would-Be Widower" in the Malice Domestic X collection (Avon Books). She was an Edgar nominee for her juvenile mystery, Christie&Company Down East.The Body in the Bonfire was an Agatha nominee in 2003. The Body in the Lighthouse was one of three nominees for The Mary Higgins Clark Award.
Descended from Norwegian-Americans on her mother's side and New Englanders on her father's, Ms. Page grew up listening to all sorts of stories. Her books are the product of all the strands of her life and she plans to keep weaving.
Read an Excerpt
The Body in the Vestibule
There are many ghosts in the city of Lyon. Some appear at twilight--on the Place Bellecour when a couple strolling across the large, open square may find the shadows suddenly deepened, the breeze cooled by the memory of the guillotine that once filled the gardens with cries for blood.
Other ghosts wait until the city is dark and different noises fill the traboules, the long, ancient passageways snaking down from the Croix Rousse colline to the quais below. These are the sounds of the silk workers, hungry, exhausted, leaving the clatter of the looms to carry the richly glowing brocades to the waiting ships.
Sometimes, the night watchman at the Musée des Beaux-Arts thinks he hears nuns chanting, looks out the window into the ancient cloister, notes the rustling leaves in the birch trees, and quickly crosses himself.
Then there are the ghosts that are not ghosts, the shadows that move rapidly up the steep stairs from the Place des Terreaux and vanish into the traboules. The next day, a child hastening to school may kick aside an empty syringe, stumble across some broken glass, smell the night smells, and emerge gratefully into the morning air.
To know the city is to know all the ghosts.
Faith Sibley Fairchild waited impatiently for the light to change on the Quai St. Antoine so she could get to the open-air market on the other side of the street. Several times, she was tempted to dart across the traffic, yet after a week in Lyon, she had not only learned which baker had the best bread but that French drivers would not hesitate to mow you down if you put so much as a toe in the way of their Renaults and Peugeots--respectable-looking individuals hurling quite unrespectable phrases out the window in the process. It was just like Boston, in fact.
She swung her empty straw market basket, her panier, idly back and forth. Despite the delay, she felt a lovely sense of well-being. Her husband, the Reverend Thomas Fairchild, was happily engaged in work; her three-year-old son, Benjamin, was happily playing at nursery school; she'd happily made it through four enervating months of pregnancy and still wanted to have a baby; and--most important of all--she was in France for a month. It had been a wonderful incentive for getting over morning sickness, which in Faith's case came like clockwork at dinnertime. The idea of passing up the fabled food of Lyon was unthinkable. Whatever the reason, this pregnancy had been better than the first, or rather less worse, and now all her appetites were back.
And at four months, she did not have the sensation of two bodies occupying the same and equal amount of space at one time, which was contrary to somebody's law, and, recalling the experience now, Faith felt, should surely beagainst whoever's it was. Four months was a little gift from nature, a hiatus of sorts, to allow prospective parents to paint the nursery, read thirty or forty books of baby names, and, if so gifted or inclined--Faith was neither--knit a bootie or two before settling in for the long stretch. It was a time when you thought of soft little bottoms and tiny kissable fingers, not dirty diapers or sleepless nights. Well-being was exactly right. She felt well right down to her toenails and even slightly mellow, edges blurred. This was a very different Faith from the one normally known to her near and dear. That Faith's crisp judgments about the world and its inhabitants were swiftly uttered more often than not. Now they were hidden in some warm, fluffy corner of her brain. She was enjoying this kinder, gentler state for the moment, secure in the knowledge that it wouldn't last long and soon she'd be back in full form.
It was a long light and the traffic continued to stream by. Faith's mind wandered back to the February afternoon when Tom had come home with the news that he had an opportunity to spend a month in France working on his dissertation. She'd been huddled on the living room sofa, wrapped in a down comforter, trying to convince herself that she had made a wise choice when she left a glittering career as one of Manhattan's most successful caterers to be a parson's wife and mother of one and two-ninths children in the small (and at present very cold) village of Aleford, Massachusetts. Tom, rosy-cheeked from the frosty air, his thick reddish brown hair hatless, his coat unbuttoned, had come bounding through the front door, lustily singing "La Marseillaise" at the top of his voice. The sight of all that energy was so galling, Faith had wanted to throw something at him. But there had been nothing at hand and it would have required too much effort to get up.
He'd grabbed her and cried, "Faith, ma chérie, we're going to France! Soon! April, if I can swing it!"
Tom had spent an undergraduate year in Paris, developinga fluency in the language and a permanent love affair with the country. He'd also acquired a number of friends, and if he was currently no longer in touch with a certain Simone, he was with Paul Leblanc, a graduate student who'd lived in the same pension. It was a letter from Paul, now in the history department at the Université de Lyon, that Tom was waving ecstatically as he told Faith of the proposal. Paul had learned he could bring in visiting scholars to give a lecture or two, offering them a small honorarium and the chance to do research at the university in return. He'd known Tom had been struggling to finish his work on the effects of the Albigensian heresy in twelfth-century France on subsequent Christian practice and he thought his old friend might want to make use of the university's famous library. Tom most certainly did.
"I've checked the calendar and you know Easter is early this year. I'd have to be here then, of course, but we could leave by the middle of April. I can get people to cover the pulpit for a month. Lord knows, I've done it often enough myself for others."
"I'm sure He does," Faith agreed, her mind--and body--in a whirl. "But, darling, what about the rest--all the meetings, the hand-holdings, not to mention the serious stuff?"
Tom had been momentarily perturbed. "I've been wrestling with that all afternoon. The opportunity to finish my doctoral work is important to the parish, certainly, except I know I want to go just for the fun of it, too. Maybe even mostly. I'm sure First Parish could survive for a month without me, probably a whole lot longer, but--"
Faith had interrupted him there. Lyon was in the southern part of France. It would be warm. Her way was clear.
As it turned out, the congregation was unanimous in its support and in typical Yankee fashion seemed to be looking forward to coping on its own in novel and ingeniousways. The lone nay-sayer was Millicent Revere McKinley, better known in the Fairchild household as a strong contender for the world semiprofessional meddler title. Millicent kept an eye on things from her strategically located clapboard house across from the village green, as well as an ear firmly directed toward whatever ground she happened to be treading. And Millicent covered a lot of territory. The sole reason Faith characterized her as "semiprofessional" was because of Millicent's oft-stated aversion to paid employment as being, well, slightly déclassé. There was no question that she was a pro.
"We've always been Congregationalists, of course," Millicent would announce to all and sundry in the checkout line at the Shop and Save, or wherever else she could find a captive audience. Her tone clearly indicated that none of the men of her cloth would do such a quixotic thing. The only legitimate reason for a minister to abandon his flock was missionary work, and although she believed the French were no better than they should be, and might well qualify, she doubted that was what the Fairchilds--especially Faith, she'd added to a select few--had planned. "Mind you," she'd told Hattie Johnston, the ex-postmistress, whose former position and generous attitude toward what someone wrote on a postcard--if it was meant to be private, they'd have written a letter--had cemented the friendship between the two women. "Mind you, I'm not criticizing Faith, but you know she's only going there to buy more clothes, and somehow she's convinced poor Tom to go along. Research, my eye. Doesn't he have the Boston Public Library right here?"
For once in her life, Millicent was wrong. Faith was also going to eat French food.
But everything had worked out and the plane had left Logan Airport as a light snow was falling. Faith had contentedly watched the lights of Boston harbor and the expressways grow dimmer and dimmer until they disappearedaltogether. "Good-bye Boston. Good-bye Aleford." Ben and she had waved out the tiny window, filled with a swirl of snowflakes. "Good-bye goldfish-bowl life," Faith had added in a whisper. As the date for departure had drawn closer, she'd been filled with an even greater than usual longing for anonymity.
Faith was no stranger to parish life. Her grandfather and father had both been ministers, and despite having lived in a parsonage that was a duplex on New York's Upper East Side and enjoying relative privacy, she'd decided by the time she was twelve there was no way she'd ever marry a minister. But at twelve, she hadn't yet met Tom.
Brakes were squealing. She was jerked back into sun-drenched Lyon--miles and worlds away. She looked at the people on either side of her. The wonderful thing about travel was that on a certain level you ceased to exist. Nobody knew her name--or that she hated baked beans, and sometimes took a Judith Krantz out of the library, or directed meaningful glances at her abdomen, or ...
It was great.
The light changed and Faith crossed the street. She'd been to le marché St. Antoine almost every day since she'd arrived and still got excited when she looked down the seemingly endless array of stalls that stretched along the river Saône. She started walking, passing the flower sellers first, who called out, "Bonjour, Madame Fairsheeld" to her. She'd be back later. It was a pleasure, almost an honor, not to be anonymous here. Then past the old lady sitting behind a small card table with her cartons of fresh eggs, a few onions, some herbs, and today some bunches of flowers stuck into ancient tin cans of water. As usual, she was wearing two sweaters under her apron and a black kerchief on her head. She sat quietly, patiently, in contrast to the noise and crowds around her--the cries of other vendorspiercing through the din--"Un kilo, dix francs! Super! Un kilo, un kilo ..."
Faith squeezed by an elegant Lyonnaise ruthlessly bargaining at a fruit stall for a flat of clementines, her chunky gold bracelets glittering as brightly as the shiny fruit. The lettuce man was next. He had a large beet-red face and wore bright blue workers' overalls. He'd been the first to tell Faith the old chestnut about there being three rivers running through Lyon: the Rhône, the Saône, and the Beaujolais. The veins on his nose attested to his familiarity with the latter at least. He greeted her warmly. 'Ah, mon chou, what will it be today?" Then he deftly mixed the varieties she indicated, weighed them, and wrapped them in a square of brown paper.
Most of the vendors had umbrellas over their tables, which rested on trestles, or, in the case of the larger motorized stalls stocked inside with goods, the side of the truck lifted up to shade the wares. The rows of platane trees lining the river on both sides arched into another awning higher up. Through them all, the strong April sun still managed to find an opening and shone in bright spots on the asphalt strewn with debris--vegetable peel, flower stems, crusts of bread, stubs of the yellow cigarettes favored by the farmers.
Faith headed for the cheeses. She didn't have time to go over to Fromagerie Richard in Les Halles de Lyon, the large indoor market on the other side of the Rhône. There was no question, mother and daughter Richard, both attractive blondes with unfailing smiles, were the queen and crown princess of cheesemongers. Still, Faith's mouth watered as she looked at the array before her at the quai. If she could get St. Marcellin, perfectly runny as it was today, back in Aleford, she'd never complain about living there again.
She tucked the package into her panier and moved on. It was too late for the sport of chef-spotting. Other days, she'd been delighted by the regal procession of the area'sfamous cuisiniers--Bocuse, Lacombe, Chavent--usually in spotless, starched white jackets with names discreetly embroidered over the pocket, selecting just the right melon or string bean. They caressed the fruit, snapped the vegetables for freshness, and moved on with an entourage of kitchen help trailing along to load the purchases into large carts and settle the accounts.
On the way back through the market, she was distracted by a display of mushrooms. There were so many varieties, it took several minutes to decide--cèpes, chanterelles, mousserons, pleurotes, on and on. They had names with music in them. She'd make an omelet for a first course tonight, or pile them up on a sliver of toasted pain de campagne, a dense, crusty, chewy loaf.
With a final hasty stop for flowers, she walked quickly back toward the apartment the Leblancs had found for them, pausing at the bakery on Place d'Albon to pick up bread for dinner and a baguette that Ben and she would probably finish for lunch. Staff of life, she told herself, and looked down at her rounded abdomen. She could see her shoes, and would for some months--unless they stayed in Lyon. The pregnant French women she saw did not look any different from their American counterparts, except for the style of maternity garb that proudly emphasized with belts and sashes what still tended to be kept under wraps in the States. But with all this food, why didn't they gain a ton? she wondered.
And with that thought clearly in place, she headed for her butcher, Monsieur Veaux, to buy some of the incomparable chicken from Bresse. Monsieur and Madame Veaux's establishment was located a few steps from the apartment and seemed to function as the information center for the neighborhood. It wasn't just the little three-by-five cards that covered one wall, offering apartments for louer or university étudiants to tutor the garçons and jeune filles of the district. Several chairs had also been thoughtfullyplaced against the wall for weary customers and were usually occupied by one or more of the local residents. They had stopped talking at her approach when Faith first started going there, but now after a week of observation during which it became clear that here was a young woman who knew her côtelettes, she was hailed with great familiarity whenever she passed by, and Benjamin had become a favorite.
"I don't understand!" Clement Veaux had exclaimed as he stood in front of a cheerful poster issued by the butchers association of France, proclaiming: MON BOUCHER --IL EST UN ARTISTE ! His white apron with the red streaks from the day's work stretched tightly across his round body. "You Americans throw away all the parts we like best."
"Not this American," Faith had assured him as she scooped up brains, boudin--blood sausage--and even tête de veau--although she still had not acquired a taste for the calf's eyeballs.
Veaux's wife, Delphine, sat at the cash register all day. She was less round than her husband and wore her dark black hair in a neat Dutch bob, the thick fringe of her bangs reaching the top of the frames of her glasses. The whole effect was of une femme sérieuse--until she smiled. She asked Faith endless questions. What did they eat for dinner? Was it true they sold ice cream for dogs in the United States? It was tempting to answer nettles and peanut butter to the first query--Delphine would not have blinked. It would also have been nice to say, "No, of course not!" to the second. But she stuck to the truth.
After finishing at the Veaux's, Faith walked quickly to the small square in front of her venerable building and went into the dark, cool, sometimes pungent vestibule. The huge dumpsters, poubelles, for the building were at the rear of the narrow hallway.
The apartment had been a surprise. It belonged to arelative of the Leblancs, both of whom were from old Lyonnais families, and the cousin--a generic term for all kin outside the immediate family--was willing to let the Fairchilds use it because he did not dare to rent it. Since the Napoleonic Code, a sitting tenant has had such inalienable rights that it often took years to get rid of one, no matter what the lease said. Paul's cousin planned to move to this apartment in another year; until then, it was virtually empty. There were a bed, two tables, a few lamps, and some chairs. There was also a phone, since to disconnect service could mean never getting it restored. The Leblancs had produced a child's cot for Ben, some plates, cutlery, and kitchen equipment, and it would suffice for a month.
When Faith and Tom had struggled with Ben and their suitcases up the five flights of dizzying circular stone stairs to open the heavy oak door, using three separate keys, they had walked into an immense apartment with high ceilings adorned with intricate plaster bas reliefs and moldings, the walls beautifully painted and papered, ornate fireplaces with carved marble mantels in most rooms, and small balconies outside the almost floor-to-ceiling windows. The windows were tied shut now after Ben had exuberantly flung one open and managed to take a heart-stopping step outside onto the balcony.
Tom had walked about slowly, then let out a whoop. "Pinch me, Faith--it's like camping out in some corner of Fontainebleau!" he'd exclaimed.
The room with the bed in it faced the immense fifteenth-century church of St. Nizier directly across the square, and the clock face on one of the steeples seemed close enough to touch, especially at night when it loomed through the windows they were loath to cover with the inside shutters. The statuary on the façade seemed to come alive when illuminated at dusk, the babe in the Madonna's arms wriggling slightly, high above the street.
After their first enthusiastic impressions, the Fairchildsbegan to take note of the antique plumbing--the toilet in a closet so tiny that one's knees grazed the shut door once enthroned, and with a chain pull so high that Faith, not a small woman, had to stretch to reach it, producing a cascade of water that threatened never to stop. The bathtub--at the far end of the apartment from the w.c.--had lion's-paw feet and was large enough for all three of them. Faith found it handy for laundry.
The kitchen had a stone slab of a sink and a doll-sized refrigerator and stove. To get hot water, there were two Victorian contraptions, one in the kitchen, one in the bath, that required a great many pressings of buttons, lightings of matches, and prayers.
Faith loved the apartment more than any place she had ever lived.
They'd immediately gone to Mammouth, a sort of combination supermarket, department store, and hardware store in a building the size of an airplane hangar, and bought a tricycle for Ben and other essentials. He careened recklessly from room to room. There was nothing to worry about: no furniture, no heirlooms, hardly any possessions at all. Faith filled the rooms with flowers from the market, arranged in some pitchers and vases from Mammouth. She covered the table in the dining room with a few yards of paisley fabric, from the Monday nonfood market, the marché d'affaires, and that was the extent of her decorating. She didn't miss her home, the parsonage with all their things. The feelings possessions bring seemed to depend on immediacy. Or, as she put it to herself in her current euphoria, the whole place could sink into the earth and she'd merely say, "Too bad."
The first night, savoring the cheese course, still suffering from décalage horaire, jet lag, and feeling slightly drunk--Tom on the excellent Côte du Rhône he'd discovered he could buy in bulk at the vinoteque nearby and Faith on the grape juice she'd found at Malleval, a fancy épicerie--they'd watched the sun set and asked themselves how they were ever going to be able to leave.
And now after she put the food from the market away, this was how Faith started a long-overdue letter to her younger sister and only sibling, Hope. Their parents had stopped short at Charity. Hope was a newlywed, living and working in New York City with her husband, Quentin, and their yours, mine, and ours Filofaxes.
I can't remember ever being so happy. Tom says it's my hormones, but he's grinning, too. Even the job of switching from winter to summer clothes early--you know how boring that is, and in New England, you no sooner drag all the stuff out than the season has changed again. This year it was easy, because nothing fit Ben or me and I decided to wait to get things here. You must be wondering what it's like in Lyon. Very different from Paris. No place is like Paris, but I think it's more livable here. The Leblancs have been sweethearts. I liked them immediately. We've been there twice for meals en famille and sit and laugh and talk for hours. They have two children: Stéphanie, who's thirteen and can seem thirty, as well as seven when she plays with Ben, and her nine-year-old brother, Pierre. He's very solemn and like all these French children, so perfect in their long Bermudas and polo shirts, Chipie, the hot brand and very branché, of course. The small children in Benjamin's school, the garderie, look as if they are going to a birthday party every day. But the marque with the greatest cachet for the preschool set is--Oshkosh! Very expensive and treated like gold.
We've also met some of the other people in our building. The d'Amberts live directly below us and their apartment stretches from Place d'Albon to Place St. Nizier, so they look out at the church on one end and the river on the other. The Saône, that is. I'vefinally gotten them straight. We're in Presqu'île, the center of the city, which extends like a finger between the Saône and the Rhône. Lyon is a very walkable city and Ben and I go exploring every day. He's changing so fast. You won't recognize your grown-up nephew when you see him next, and I miss my little two-year-old. I think this is how kids get their parents to produce siblings for them to play with.
It's hard to describe our apartment's location. Two buildings back onto and around a kind of courtyard, except no court--more like a large, open elevator shaft. Everyone uses the deep sills for plants, small laundry lines, and for cooling pots. The windows are all discreetly curtained, of course, but not always closed, and I'm becoming dangerously voyeuristic--or whatever it is when you eavesdrop, too. I can see the Saône if the windows in the apartment across from us are open and at the right angle. I can also see the photos of their ancestors hanging on the wall--Grand-père looks remarkably like Lenin, or maybe it isn't Grand-père at all. It's a bit strange to know so much about your neighbors--what they're having to eat, the state of their lingerie--without knowing who they are or what they look like in some cases. By the way, the French really do say "ooh la la" or "ooh la" for short. They also say merde a lot, and I don't think it's as bad as saying "shit" at home. Anyway, back to the travelogue.
Vieux Lyon, the medieval part of the city, is on the other side of the Saône and I haven't been there much yet. The best cheese, cakes, chocolate, and sausages are all on the other side of the Rhône. I know this may not fascinate you as much as it does me, but it tells you how I'm spending my days. (Citibank, you'll be happy to hear, has an office on the next block. So we are not totally devoid of amenities.)
Not getting much done on Have Faith in Your Kitchen, but I plan to incorporate lots of Lyonnais recipes into it and so this all falls under the category of research.
Faith looked up from the letter and out the window to the square below. Another thing that was making it difficult to work on the cookbook she was writing was the noise. Not the traffic, or occasional siren, but the music from the clochard's radio. Clochard was the word for "tramp," she'd learned, and the literal translation did not take into account the kind of romanticism these men--and a few women--of the roads had been invested with by their more prosaic compatriots. She wouldn't have minded a little Edith Piaf or Charles Aznavour for atmosphere, but this clochard had other tastes--the French equivalent of elevator music and loud.
He arrived each morning quite punctually, spread out a small tattered blanket, took a couple of bottles of wine from the battered attache case he carried like a proper homme d'affaires, then positioned his animals--an old mutt and a rabbit in a cage--and sat down. Just in time for the first mass. He took a small brass bowl from his case, set it down, and placed a ten-franc piece dead center. By the end of the day when he reversed the proceedings, his bowl runneth over. Faith wasn't too sure what the animals were intended to convey--a latent sense of responsibility or simply colorful window dressing. He was often joined by other clochards and frequently by non-clochards, especially teenagers, all of whom appeared to invest him with some special kind of wisdom. The court of the bearded philosopher beggar. The large, greasy-looking cap, casquette, he always wore--his crown. She resumed writing.
So, there are the d'Amberts. They need a big apartment because they have five children. I see them on thestairs, very polite, very BCBG, "bon chic, bon genre," Stéphanie Leblanc told me. It's some sort of French version of a well-born Yuppie. Stéphanie did not seem to be all that impressed. Tom told me the other version he'd heard from Paul, "bon cul, bon genre,"considerably cruder and roughly translates as "nice ass, may be underused." I don't know the d'Amberts well enough yet to know to which, if any, category they belong. They do have a very elegant card on their mailbox and a fancy, highly polished brass nameplate on their door, though.
Then above us are the Joliets. He's also at the university and always to be found at the forefront of whatever anyone is protesting, Paul told us. Madame is Italian, Valentina, and owns a small art gallery a few blocks away. She has invited us to a vernissage, an opening, Saturday night. She's very lively, very pretty. No kids. She told me her husband was enough.
On the top floor, there are some students and, in a closet-sized apartment, Madame Yvette Vincent, the widow of another professeur--it's quite an academic building. Madame is over eighty and climbs up and down the stairs several times a day to do her marketing or take her little dog out. (Everybody seems to have dogs here, if the streets are any evidence. We even saw a couple bring their dog into a restaurant we ate at the other night, and order for him. When the food came, it was garnished with parsley, just like ours. Bonne préparation, as if FiFi would notice!) Back to Madame Vincent. Besides being agile, she's extremely elegant--well coiffed and very à la mode suits. I had a chance to see her apartment when she invited me for a cup of tea. The main room was filled with armoires, commodes, tables, fragile little chairs all from Louis somethingth. Her bed was behind a silk drape, which she proudly pulled to one side. Ben's crib was bigger. We drankfrom Sèvres cups, of course, or I should say, bien sûr. My French is improving dramatically, but not as fast as Ben's. He rattles on about le petit lapin--named Peter Rabbit!--at school and his bon ami Léonard."
Faith looked at her watch. She'd have to finish the letter later. It was time to get said child. She glanced in the tiny mirror over the bathroom sink and put on some lip gloss and blush. French mothers, at least in Lyon, never appeared in the streets in untidy clothes or without makeup. They didn't have the kind of style Faith saw in Paris or even elsewhere in Lyon, on rues Victor Hugo or Emile Zola, where skirts were very short, and agnés b. or Clementine supplied them, yet the mothers still had that seemingly unconscious ability of most French women to look good--no matter how homely they were. She thought of her neighbors back in Aleford in their ubiquitous jogging suits, jeans, or, in the case of the older women, ensembles from Johnny Appleseed's. Informality was easier, but it didn't look as chic.
She raced down the stairs, paused almost at the bottom until the walls stopped spinning around, then opened a door and took Ben's stroller out. She'd been lugging this up and down the stairs with Ben and usually a full panier in tow until, happily, Madame d'Ambert pointed out that one of Faith's keys opened up what had formerly been living space for a concierge and was now a storage area for bicycles, etc. As she grabbed the stroller, she was struck as always that the good old days hadn't been so lovely for all concerned. The Belle Epoque in this case meant a low ceiling, a single interior round window, so dirty that little light passed through, and narrow rooms extending the length of the building. She locked the closet again and went out the door into the square, hoping Ben would consent to be pushed in his poussette and not demand to push it, as usual.
It was close to noon and everything in Lyon had cometo a halt for the sacred hour, sometimes longer, for lunch--or almost everything.
Faith and Tom had been amused to discover that St. Nizier and the small, narrow surrounding streets composed one of Lyon's red-light districts. At lunchtime, the prostitutes were out in full force, as men put aside work for the pleasures of the table, and perhaps the bed, as well. Every day to and from school, Faith passed the same three women who stood casually a half block down from the butcher's. One had a small, fluffy dog that Ben adored and it wasn't long before they had entered into conversation. The dog's name was Whiskey, she told them. Faith realized that as an outsider, and a transient one, as well, she had the freedom to break the conventions people like the d'Amberts, and even the Leblancs, followed whether they wanted to or not. So she was fast becoming close friends with her butcher and his wife and could stop and shoot the breeze with the ladies at the corner. Their names were Marilyn, Monique, and Marie. Marilyn appeared considerably younger than the other two and wore glasses, which she pulled off whenever a car slowed at the curb, then called discreetly, "Tu viens mon minet?" The little dog was hers.
Monique appeared to be about Faith's mother's age and had the largest bust Faith had ever seen. She favored tube tops in a variety of neon colors, miniskirts in black, and patent leather go-go boots--a kind of universal outfit, as much at home over the years in Boston's Combat Zone or Paris's Pigalle as here.
Marie could have been twenty or forty. She smoked constantly--how constantly was a question that crossed Faith's mind--and had a mane of bright red hair to her waist. It was when Marie had told Faith one day last week to hurry upstairs, her husband had come home for lunch, that she'd begun to suspect Lyon was a village, too.
It was always difficult to get Ben to leave school, especially when he'd been playing with the riding toys in the bigroom, and today was no exception. It ended the same way as usual, too. The teacher, Jeanne, watched Faith cajole, speak firmly, start to leave in the blind hope he would follow; then, with a smile, she stepped in and said firmly, "À demain, Benjamin. Dit 'au revoir.'" And Ben kissed her, said good-bye, and left. Of course, it was one of life's perverse truths that children will always behave better for anyone else than a parent, but Faith was convinced Jeanne possessed some hidden powers. Mesmerism, or something she sprinkled in their milk.
The garderie was a godsend. Faith was afraid she might get a little boring about how wonderfully the French arranged their lives when she got back to Aleford, but the government-sponsored child care was truly wonderful. And the public transportation. And the health care. And the ...
Benjamin was in high spirits and raced out to the street with Faith in swift pursuit, awkwardly lugging his stroller. She called, "Stop" at the top of her voice, then switched to "Arrêt," and he did. Miraculously, he also allowed himself to be strapped into the stroller. Ben's blond hair was losing its curls with each haircut, although hot weather and exercise produced the damp that restored them and his face was framed with tendrils. He gave her an angelic smile. It didn't fool her for a moment, but it was a nice moment.
They made their way slowly back to the apartment. Ben was fascinated by a barge on the river, crying, to Faith's delight, "Bateau! Mom! Bateau!" They crossed the street to the bridge to stand and watch it pass underneath. It was a houseboat, a péniche, with a small, bright green square of AstroTurf, complete with lawn chairs, on the deck. From the bridge they were standing on, they could look down the river to the other spans arching gracefully across the Saône. On one side, old Lyon sloped from the medieval cathedral of St. Jean and the Palais de Justice up the mountain to Fourvière, a nineteenth-century cathedral with Byzantine leanings that dominated the skyline. Then,on the other side, the shops and apartments of Presqu'île crowded close to the quais, row upon row of brightly painted exteriors--rose, ocher, yellow--their balconies filled with pots of flowers. Once, Paul Leblanc had told her, Lyon was completely gray, matching the rains that fell for weeks in the winter. Louis Pradel, the mayor during the sixties and early seventies, had started the restoration back to the original colors. Paul was convinced this was when the city began to shed some of its reputation for bourgeois correctness and provincial snobbishness. He swore it began to rain less, too. Faith looked up at the brilliant sun. For whatever reason, the weather had been perfect so far.
When they got back to their block, Ben saw Marilyn and ran to her. As Faith drew near, she noticed the dog was cradled in Marilyn's arms, instead of at her feet as usual, and she had buried her face in its fur. Her stiff, slightly pink blond hair contrasted oddly with the puppy's fluffy brown fur. The other two women were nowhere in sight. Ben was trying to pet the puppy. Marilyn lifted her head toward them and Faith said, "Another time, Ben," and pulled him away.
Marilyn did not look like une fille de joie. She was crying her eyes out.
THE BODY IN THE VESTIBULE. Copyright © 1992 by Katherine Hall Page. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.