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Authors: Reina Lisa Menasche

Silent Bird

BOOK: Silent Bird
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A Novel





Reina Lisa Menasche














This one is for you, Mom.

Through a lifetime of teaching and selfless caregiving,

you have helped heal the world;

With your gift of a magically safe, playful childhood,

You have helped me find my place in that world.














If he is a man, he should not lose his name.

If she is a woman, she should not lose her knowledge.

If it is a silent bird, God will help him.

All the evil eye, all the stares, the pain, and the evil eye

All will go to the bottom of the sea...


Marc D. Angel, T
he Jews of Rhodes


Jeannot Courbois, the unlooked-for love of my life, lay on his back waiting for me to respond.

He waited, his signature patience strained and stretched like taffy almost too thin to deliver its sweetness. This, I found, stung more than any old pictures in my mind, any shadows lingering at the gate.

And so my hands hesitated only a moment.
I willingly gave in. He wanted only a massage, after all.

He felt warm, strong and soft: a paradox of sexuality and masculine protection.
How dare I hesitate? He was beautiful. P art of me, and my brief life here in France, had been etched into the contours of his body. I kept touching. Kept on accepting his skin.

Then it was my turn to receive. To open myself to this massage we were doing, this suggestion of Jeannot’s to strengthen our relationship, this trick of the body that required a trick of the mind.

We hadn’t closed the balcony doors, yet our bedroom was private inside. I glanced at those doors while he removed my sweatpants and sweatshirt. Of course Jeannot preferred nakedness to clothes; what young man in love doesn’t? When he led me back to bed I lay down and waited.

I hope this will be as enjoyable for you as it is for me,” he whispered in French.

I hoped so too.
Oh God: did I. But we don’t have to be sexual, I reminded myself. Not today.

I am just a person
. My mother’s cryptic words coming back to me at the oddest of times.
A person.

The wish to fool Heaven is madness on Earth
. And Grandma too…

Jeannot stroked my thighs and calves and even my toes.
At first I felt only pleasure—none of that awful claustrophobia. These hands didn’t smother…
smother. They loved me. Only when his touch changed, when the pressure changed, when his hands rose to my hips, did I feel it: cloying, like there was not enough air. Stifled. Trapped.

Then, to my relief, the disturbing sensation faded, like a sharp light after you've closed your eyes.
At last I did relax, my mind drifting and bobbing. French sounds floated on the flame of the candle.

Everything is all right, I realized suddenly.
This isn’t the lawn of a mental hospital. This isn’t the biology classroom with its creepy teacher and the smell of formaldehyde. This isn’t a bathtub, a frilly little girl's bed, a dormitory floor. This is my own adult bedroom in my own European castle, with a prince who loves me no matter what, who wants to marry me.

It was a powerful thought, consuming the leftover debris around it.
At some point I turned over on my back, but I didn’t realize I had fallen asleep until my pillow moved. My pillow moved and Jeannot wrapped his body very tightly around mine, and for once in my life I wished it.

I wished it.

I pressed myself against him with the gladness of a thousand accomplishments. If time couldn’t change me, what could? Time moved mountains. Time is on my side, I thought, like the song says. Sometimes “just a person” can achieve miracles….

Finding Jeannot's mouth, I kissed him.
He held still: an animal signaled to alert.

Let's make love,” I whispered.

He did
n’t speak.

Let's make love,” I repeated more forcefully.

Stroking my face, he nodded.
“You are sure?”

Yes. Please. Now, this very moment, and all night if we want.”

But...” His voice trailed off. “But we said—”

I know. But I feel it, Jeannot! And you do too. It’s here, right now. Let’s not stop. Please.”

He broke into a smile that did
n’t look quite sure of itself. A second later, though, he grabbed me and kissed me with so much conviction that I knew we were doing the right thing. This was love
sex, not one without the other. Together as one.

I kissed him back with all of my own deep, soaring, glorious, newborn need.
And it must have been enough to fool the heavens—at least for a while—because it sure as hell did fool me.

For that one, long night of the best silvery magic in the world, I would have convinced myself of almost anything.




House of Shells



Here’s some advice for you, my
impulsive young friend.

you ever arrive in a foreign country, in a city that you selected by stabbing your finger onto a random spot on a map (or some other ridiculous reason), bring lots of cash! And here’s some more advice, because I know how much you love it (
). Better to learn the language before you go abroad in the first place. If you don’t speak the language, if you are still green in so many ways, and female and jetlagged and more than a little unsure why a rational person would do such a thing as you are in fact doing, then, well, go directly to a nearby hotel and sleep it off.

n’t linger in unfamiliar public places such as the pretty patch of parkland directly across from Montpellier’s train station, because that park might be notorious for its prostitutes. Never mind the sunshine, and the swans. Think before you do things, is what I’m trying to say, though no one young likes to listen to advice.

I know that now, in middle age.
An unimaginable age on that day in that park, with my twenty-four years, my sketchbook on my lap, my camera around my neck, my suitcase between my knees, and my brain in a travel-induced coma.

In so many ways my story begins in the park, in France.

You see, I didn’t understand the guy who approached me flashing a gold-toothed smile, yammering in this ridiculous language of which I could comfortably use about three words. Those words were:
oui, non
, and

The man wore jeans and a pullover, and he carried a man-purse.
I glanced away. Maybe he’d go away when he saw me concentrating on work.

The park really was
pretty. A stream of individuals moved along the sidewalk at the grass’ edge. One punkish looking girl, safety pin securely attached to lip, sat on a bench nearest the swans. But all of the other visitors to this peaceful section were…men.

Middle-aged men trolled the narrow paths, eyes scanning, scanning. Middle-aged men sat on benches, smoking cigarettes, watching, watching. Middle-aged men posed to wait, holding folded newspapers—or pretending to read open newspapers. I wondered what those men were really waiting for—who they were waiting for. Was this a park for the lovelorn, then? Or for letches? One man entering the park, striding in my direction, huddled inside an actual trench coat. A flasher.

,” I said to the guy still talking to me, still smiling hopefully with his mouthful of gold. “

He protested, raising his hands as if I’d demanded his wallet.

I shook my head, another emphatic

,” and began dragging my suitcase away from all of them. The man followed, still talking.

Had I come so many miles just to fight off creepy

This was a public park
. I had a right to sit. I found another bench, opened my sketchbook, and savored those brand new slender charcoal pencils my mother had given me as a farewell present despite her misery at my going.

I began to sketch.
For me, as you know, art has always been a form of meditation. Swan necks so long and graceful…punk hair spiked like a helmet…a man eating a sandwich…and, beyond the park, women climbing the steps of a bus, sophisticated scarves a-flutter, leggings and oversized shirts bright and stylish. I lost myself in all of it: the lines, the shadows; the light. This was the very same light that had attracted artists for centuries: a golden sheen, warm dry air; a study in hope. Cézanne, with his landscapes of Provence: his fields and layered lights and dappled leaves…

right to come!

another word reached my ears: “

Love? I glared up at the guy with the pirate teeth.

! Stop following me!” I cried and grabbed my belongings and darted out of this treacherous little park. Public or not.

The first hotel within sight was

Hôtel de la Gare
.” I figured that meant either Hotel of the War or Hotel of the Train Station, and I was betting on the latter.

At least the p
lace was clean. The man at reception seemed respectful. I offered him a fistful of Monopoly-looking francs and my passport. He babbled something encouraging and handed me a key the size of a small dog. I dragged it and my suitcase up a narrow flight of stairs, bumped along a wrinkly runner in a narrower hallway, and finally found peace and quiet in my own little room.

Or peace, at least
—forget quiet. The BING-BONG of train announcements across the street shook the hotel walls every five minutes or so. No matter. I was alone, on an actual bed, art stuff on the bedside table next to my old photo album. Inside the album were pictures I wanted nearby but refused to look at. Of TAG, my high school boyfriend from the innocuous gang I used the hang out with—The Piddles. Of my childhood buddy Jane, holding up a Budweiser can. Plus another kid: a wiry string bean of a boy who once terrified me because he’d seen me with the biology teacher. Oh, and my college boyfriend. Tommy.

My left toe itched like crazy.
Slipping off my sneakers, I winced in relief. Then I scratched, wiggled all toes to get the cramp out, and stretched out to sleep.

This adventure would be okay, all of it.
I would make it okay. I would sleep as long as humanly possible then begin my search for a studio apartment. And I would stay in that apartment as long as legally possible or maybe forever if I could become a great artist like
. What a lovely, whimsical thought.

Only one problem.
I felt a little empty already—or still—as if the past that had been rudely dumped out of me had nothing new to replace it.

Maybe art
wasn’t enough.

BOOK: Silent Bird
10.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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