Sunday, May 17, 2015
First 5 Pages May Workshop - Jauffret Rev 2
Name: Elle Jauffret
Genre: New Adult Historical Mystery
Title: SALTED (Revision 2)
The thin layers of the millefeuille’s light and crispy pastry disintegrate like a thousand leaves between my tongue and palate, giving way to the soothing silkiness of crème patissière. A vanilla caress after a flaky explosion, concluded by the sugary taste of raspberry icing.
I feel a flush heat my face and shivers spread through my body. I’ve outdone myself with this dessert. I can’t wait for Papa to sample it, upon his return, and see that I have all it takes to be a chef.
When I open my eyes, the sun is rising and the copper pots reflect the birthing daylight, splashing an orange glow on the ash grey walls. The birds’ chirps and tweets fill the air, uninterrupted by the screams of rioting peasants whose uprisings have been halted thanks to concessions from the King - which my father obtained as Provence’s representative.
The church bells sound five in the distance. I better hurry up. The kitchen staff will soon be rushing in with many ready to disclose my clandestine cooking to my mother in exchange for two pints of grain - if they catch me here, spoon in hand.
I check my day gown, assuring that no traces of cream or flour will betray my night spent in the kitchen and prompt another of my mother’s violent outbursts and endless tirades about the kitchen not being a place for noble girls.
I slide my millefeuille on the icebox’s top shelf as Marius, our cook, recommended, when I see a silhouette approaching on the wall. As I turn around, something hard and sharp hits me in the chest. I stagger backwards, looking down. A cleaver is lodged in my thick leather apron and a crimson stream is running down my feet.
Then, all I can see is black.
André-l’insomniaque, our oldest watchman, takes over the night shift from the sleepy soldier who guards the large wrought-iron gates of our domain. I watch him from the olive tree that stretches to my bedroom window, waiting for him to raise his bayonet over his head twice, signaling that the road is clear. Since my father’s disappearance, my mother has forbidden my wandering through the woods and to the sea, trying to mold me into the same perfect wall-confined aristocrat as my sister Marie. Which isn’t for me. At seventeen, I have no interest in marriage or bearing someone’s heir. So, for the past four years,André has facilitated and kept secret my nightly escapades in return for a weekly loaf of bread and bouteille de vin.
I start to run as soon as my feet touch the ground, ready to feel the elements, even so slightly. Except for my face, palms, and soles, my body is numb - completely insensitive to touch since the attack that almost killed me four years ago and has encased me in a shell impervious to tactile sensations.
I wear nothing but a light cotton nightgown, exposing without shame the raised thick cicatrix that disfigures my cleavage, that my mother deems repulsive; the reminder of my survival; the branding by a criminal who has yet to be found.
I run past the line of cypresses, through the orchard and the lavender fields, and disappear into the familiar abyss of the forest. I run blinded by the night, but guided by the scent of the sea that seeps into the woods, the gravel and the rocky ground deliciously piercing the skin of my soles. My scalp breathes, liberated from the constraint of a painful hairstyle. My legs move unrestrained by the fabric of any floor length gown. The soft texture of sand replaces the coarse dirt, welcoming my feet as it does every night. My sprint comes to a halt and my breathing slows down. The salty air is dry and cool, sticking roughly to my throat until I dive mouth open into the black liquid in front of me, welcoming the probing embrace of the Mediterranean Sea. Ce baiser salé... that enlivening salty kiss that I desperately try to capture and recreate in the meals I fashion in secret. That tactile-like essence that gives rise to internal frissons I crave my skin to experience.
Two hours later, a pine-scented breeze and the faint hooting of an owl greet me back to the shore, along with a wolf.
The beast is unusually large, about twice the size of the shepherd’s watchdogs, and is at least two hundred pounds. Except for a warm auburn shade circling its neck, its fur is of a perfect black unlike the now extinct Provençal wolves whose coats were in the browns or grays. It is standing straight on its four legs, at the edge of the woods, wagging a fluid pendulum-like tail, resembling a good domestic dog. Its presence surprises but doesn’t frighten me. The wolf has always symbolized protection and rebellion, which the people of Provence so direly need. And unlike humans whose greed has tormented their own race, animals only kill to satisfy their basic needs, which are met by the bountifulness of our woods.
A faint breeze carries its scent, a mélange of tree sap, young moss and lavender fields with a touch of a familiar je-ne-sais-quoi to my nostrils. The fragrance of Provence mixed with the animal musk is invigorating, inducing a shiver to form at the small of my back, crawl along my spine, and spread to my belly. The first shiver I've felt in four years.
Overhead, the Ursa Minor constellation tells me that dawn is upon me. I've to hurry home. When I look back down, the wolf is gone.
I grab my nightgown and dash back into the woods, retracing my path through the morning fog, leading back to my jail-like home. My wet hair flows, capturing the scent of the forest. My heartbeat echoes in my temples as fast as my strides, its drums rippling under my skin. Pictures of the wolf linger in my mind. The bouquet of its fur still in my nostrils injects life into me, as would strong smelling salts, awakening the start of another shiver, refueling my hope to see my skin retrieve its lost sensitivity.
I am about to exit the woods when I trip on something unusually soft that wasn’t there two hours ago. I squint down, catching my breath, when a metallic scent hits me. It permeates the air with a mix of alcohol, fear, and a hint of death. The smell monarchist soldiers carried with them when they were brought to the operating table, wounded by the protesting peasants’ pitchforks and hoes. The muted light bounces off a white cloth and pale face.
I tripped on a girl.
I kneel by her side, hoping to provide her with help, but to no avail. She has no pulse and blood's drenching her gown. She lies on the soil and decaying leaves as if still in motion, her hair flowing back toward the woods, but a worried grimace marks her face and large gashes her neck.
No crime has been committed on our domain, including the woods, in years. I swallow hard, feeling my heart pulsate faster beneath my skin; trying to ignore the throbbing of the scar marking my chest and the eerie similarity between the dead girl’s injuries and my four year-old wounds.