In the coming weeks, my blog will feature periodic postings of “summery” excerpts from some of my books – starting today with a short snippet from – hot off the press! – Marie-Claire. All four of the original Marie-Claire stories appear in this handsome treasury edition.
“Lucille, do you mind if we find somewhere to sit down for a minute?”
“My head . . . ” Marie-Claire held it between the palms of her hands as Lucille led her to the shade of a circus tent. “And I feel so terribly hot.”
“Oh, Marie-Claire, this is how . . .”
Lucille shook her head. “Nothing. I am sure it is nothing.”
“I know what you were going to say.” Marie-Claire felt suddenly hotter. “You were going to say this is how smallpox begins, weren’t you?”
“Before my spots came I had a bad fever and the very worst headache,” Lucille admitted. “But does your back hurt, too?”
“Then I am sure you are just suffering from the heat.”
Beside a circus tent Marie-Claire lowered herself to the dusty ground. “Oh, I do hope so, Lucille.”
Lucille put a protective arm around her cousin. “I hope so too.”
“Today is a very hot day.”
“Yes, very hot,” Lucille agreed.
“But I have had enough of the circus. Can we go home now?”
As much as possible, the girls kept in the shade of buildings as they made their way slowly through the streets. On many houses, tattered remains of placards hung listlessly in the heat. Above them, smoke from the city’s factories, hospitals, and manure fires continued to drift across the sky.
At home Marie-Claire gulped tepid water from the bucket beside the wood stove. The bucket was almost empty. Her head still pounding, she plodded downstairs to the tap in the laneway, refilled it, and hauled it back upstairs into the stifling house.
“It is so hot,” Marie-Claire said. “Shall we just have some bread and cheese tonight?”
At the sewing machine Maman coughed. “Papa may be hungry when he gets home if there have been many fires to fight today.”
But when Papa came home, he said no, there had been only two small fires, and the men of his station were not called. He had spent the day dampening down dusty streets. “I wished I was one of the little boys,” he said, “running along behind the hose wagon, soaking myself in the spray.”
Marie-Claire laughed to think of Papa doing such a thing…