March 29, 2009

Excerpt from a story-in-progress

This is the opening to a story I'm still drafting. It's coming along slowly - I've hit a lot of stumbling blocks - but I like where it's going. Please excuse the bad French - I don't actually speak the language, and am working with Google Translator for now. I'll be having someone who speaks French work with me during the revision process.

Jaqueline hung back slightly as her girlfriends burst into the military dance. She was still insecure about the loss of her family's status, and even though the war in Europe had recently been won, her country was still in shambles and the military's continued, although decreasing, presence was still unnerving. She never quite trusted the soldiers of any country, not the Americans, not even her own. They all seemed too powerful
Her friends paired off with soldiers, but she was left to her own devices. Her self-consciousness left her looking unapproachable, and she was too shy to make eye contact with anyone. Then, she felt someone tap her shoulder.
“Howdy, may-duh-moy-zelle.”
Jaqueline turned to see a short, tanned man. “Bon soire.”
“Y'all speak English?”
She was confused as to what he meant by “y'all,” and decided he had been referring to her entire group. “Yes, we all do, but not equally well. Marie and I are the most advanced, Emma does reasonably well, but Colette never applied herself and has a rather halting vocabulary.”
“And who are these other ladies yer speakin' about?”
“My friends, who are dancing. You did ask about us all – I thought you saw them on the floor.”
The soldier chuckled. “I guess they don't teach “y'all” up here. I was just asking about you. And you answered my question. So how'd you learn to speak English so good?”
Jaqueline winced at his poor grammar; her education had not taught her about colloquial perversions. “Before the war, my family was wealthy. I had an excellent education. I learned Latin in addition to English.”
“So you're smart, then.”
“My Latin has never been excellent, just passable. Even my English is not perfect. But I work hard.” Mais je parle votre langue mieux que vous.
“Well, now, you do just fine. Would you like to dance.
Jaqueline smiled, inwardly condescending and not sure she wanted to dance with a man who could barely speak his own language. “Oh, I'm not a very good dancer.”
“Well, that makes two of us.”
Juste une danse. Il ne sera pas trop mauvaise. “Then yes, I will dance.”
The soldier had not been lying when he said he was a terrible dancer. Jaqueline pretended to be bad so as not to hurt his feelings. The song ended, and they remained on the floor. Three songs later, he asked if she would like a drink.
Oui, s'il vous plaît.”
He looked confused.
“You have not been in France very long. It is a common phrase; most soldiers pick it up in a few days.” He looked hurt. Jaqueline sighed. “Yes, I would like a drink.” She felt the need to protect his ego. “In which part of the United States do you live?” she asked as they sat down with their beverages.
“Texas. A little town called Falfurrias. Beautiful place, real quiet, spacious.”
“Will you go back when you are relieved of your military duties?”
“Yup. I've been away for pert near two years, stationed around Europe. It's been a real learnin' experience, but I miss my home.”
“And what will you do when you return?”
“Why, I'll go back to workin' on the family ranch.”
“And – and what is a ranch?”
“It's – you don't have ranches here? Well, it's like a farm. Y'all got farms here, right?”
“Yes, yes we do. I think I understand.”
“And what do you do?”
“Right now, not much. I am trying to find work to help support my family, but jobs are scarce right now. I make a little money as a tutor for the children of still-wealthy families. Perhaps I will join the rebuilding efforts – hopefully there will be more money in that field.”
“But a lady like you shouldn't have to do work like that.”
“If it means feeding my family, it's what I'll do. You cannot tell me that the women in your country do not work hard.”
“It's just different, is all. Supportin' the ranch and raisin' a family and maintainin' a home is one thing, but construction work ain't ladylike.”
“I'd rather eat than be a lady.”
They avoided eye contact for a few minutes, both of them irritated. Finally, the solider shrugged and smiled. “It occurs to me that we haven't been properly introduced. I'm Henry Cotting, private first class.”
“Jaqueline de Veaux.”
“Well, may-duh-moy-zelle de Veaux, I'm pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Jaqueline concealed a grimace with a smile. “Likewise.”
“May I have another dance?”
Un soir, avec un Américain. Il ne sera pas trop mauvaise. “Yes, you may.”
At the end of the evening, Henry brought Jaqueline her coat. “May I see ya tomorrow?”
“Oh, I don't – I mean, my father is very old-fashioned.”
“Well, of course I'll havta meet him. Don't worry, I'll be on my best behavior.”
“He is very strict.”
“I promise, I'll be a true gentleman. And anyway, any heat I'll have to take will be worth it if it means I get to spend more time with you.”
“He will be suspicious. Of your intentions. After all, you will be returning to America soon.”
“I have a month left here. And I promise, I will be completely honorable.”
Eh bien, c'est juste un dîner. Et je suis sûr que mon père va le conduire loin. “All right, you may visit me tomorrow for dinner if you're willing to risk my father's temper.
“Much obliged, may-duh-moy-zelle.”

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