PAPERBACK BOOKS
MY FRENCH BARRETTE 

barrette
 

My French Barrette, the latest book in the Genna Perrier series, follows on from the popular Our Hollow Sofa, Ants in my Dreadlocks and Stinger in a Sugar Jar.
Now at University, and soon to graduate, feisty Genna is forced back to the country of her birth. There she must make choices. Does her future lie with the tennis-playing student Aaron, kava farmer revolutionary Rocky, or motorcycle-riding academic Pascal? Will Genna remain in the Victorian seaside town of Ravella, settle in the Pacific
Islands of New Caledonia or embark on new adventures in distant France? And what is the importance of the French barrette?

In Store Price: $AU26.95 
Online Price:   $AU25.95

ISBN:   978-1-921919-47-3 
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 229
Genre: Fiction

Buy as a pdf or Epub  Ebook version - $AUD9.00.

By the same author: 

Our Hollow Sofa
Ants in My Dreadlocks 
Stinger in a SugarJar 
Couscous Threads
Bad Grass

Visit Cynthia's Website:
www.cynthiarowe.com.au

 

 

Author: Cynthia Rowe
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2012
Language: English

Author Biography  

Cynthia Rowe has a degree from the University of Melbourne and has taught secondary and tertiary French and English in Victoria and New South Wales. Most of her working life has been spent teaching teenagers to Year 12. She has been writing for many years and, in the Society of Women Writers NSW 2007 Biennial Book Awards, was Highly Commended for her novel Ants in My Dreadlocks (2005). She received 2nd Prize in the Society of Women Writers NSW 2011 Biennial Book Awards for her novel Bad Grass (2009). 

Cynthia has also spent time in France and the French Territories and was awarded a Diplôme Approfondi de Langue Française by the French Ministry of Education. She is a Writing Fellow of the Fellowship of Australian Writers NSW Inc. 

Her general fiction novel Couscous Threads (2008) was Highly Commended in the Society of Women Writers NSW 2009 Biennial Book Awards.  

Cynthia’s short stories have appeared in journals nationally and been broadcast on National Community Radio. Her poetry has won many awards, such as 1st Prize in the 2011 Polish International Haiku Competition, and can be read in numerous literary magazines both in Australia and overseas. She is Editor: Haiku Xpressions; President: Australian Haiku Society; Immediate Past President: Eastern Suburbs Branch (Bondi Writers) Fellowship of Australian Writers NSW. 

Her play ‘Not the Vice-Chancellor’ was performed in the Sydney Short and Sweet Festival 2008.  

My French Barrette is her sixth book of fiction and fifth book in the Genna Perrier series.

Chapter 1  

u r invited 2 a Sorry Sit-In, Hetty had said in her text message. 

I skidded down the path to the beach, picked up pace and jogged the last few steps onto the sand. The afternoon was chilly and, passing the bathing boxes, I felt a bit iffy about this scheme of Hetty’s. Say sorry to your friends? Didn’t they know, deep down, in their hearts, you never meant the hurtful things you’d said in the past?

Just as well Hetty hadn’t announced the plan on Facebook. Half the hoons in our seaside town of Ravella would’ve turned up to watch, jeer, suck on tinnies (the cans, not the boats) and pull faces. Anyway weren’t we too old for this sort of stuff? I wondered if Hetty was using us as guinea pigs, part of an experiment for her Psych III studies at the University. Hetty Geiger was big on behaviour indicators, nature versus nurture, genetic predispositions ... oh, and individuals’ innate qualities. Would she be taking notes, handing out forms for us to fill in? Would we be marked, ranked in order? Whatever it was, I’d be sure to fail, I told myself.

I pulled my sweatshirt tighter around my neck. My sneakers crunched the shingle and, after dodging shore boulders, I looked up to see Hetty, Angela and Fat Betty (sorry, Elizabeth—old habits tend to stick like chewy on the sole of your shoe) seated in a semi-circle on the rocks, under the Ti Point overhang.

Panting, I approached.

“Hi, guys!”

“Where’ve you been, Genna?” Hetty flicked an Indian plait over her shoulder.

“Yeah, you’re late,” said Angela.

Elizabeth smiled, twirled a blonde strand and said nothing. She wore a thumb ring I’d never seen before.

Eyeing Elizabeth’s long legs stretching forever from her cut-off denim shorts, I envied her elegant figure. On the other hand, I hadn’t spent time in and out of hospital being treated for an eating disorder. Nor did I have a brother who was mentally challenged and living in a halfway house in Kingston—a short bus ride from Ravella. Then again, neither did I have a hunky boat-building boyfriend.

I had a new boyfriend who attended the same University as I did. Aaron was a cute guy with tanned skin and gelled hair but, so far, our relationship wasn’t serious. My only long-term ‘thing’ had been with Stefan. Rocky? I’d heard nothing since his last letter. Pascal Manet, on the other hand, had sent me emails after I’d returned from visiting my birth mother, Sandrine, in Far North Queensland. We’d chatted often, about my studies, my life, but the emails had trailed off in the last few months. And I wondered why.

“Um, I was trying out a new hairdo and the time kinda got away,” I mumbled.

“Not another ’do!” Angela’s curls bobbed about in the breeze. “What’s that, Gen, the fifth, or is it the sixth?” She counted on her fingers. “French plait, dreadlocks, extensions, Tawdry Tan highlights, ordinary untidy ... Are you hair-obsessed, or what?”

“Watch it, Ange!” Hetty scowled as I settled beside my friends on a smooth rock, with my back to Port Phillip Bay, thus closing the circle. “That comment almost merits an extra, totally heartfelt, ‘Sorry’!”

Angela Rasmussen twisted the ring on her left hand and sighed, the sort of sigh indicating she would rather be anywhere but on the beach confessing past sins.

“Is anyone else coming?” I asked.

“Only us, the coolest group to ever graduate from Ravella High, hippest on the whole Mornington Peninsula.” Did I detect sarcasm in Hetty’s voice? “You go first.” She jerked her chin at Elizabeth.

“Um, really, do I have to?”

Hetty exhaled a long, controlled stream of air. She tapped her gladiator sandals like an impatient schoolteacher.

“Um, well...” After rearranging her toned legs, Elizabeth pointed at me. “I would like to say I’m sorry for being jealous of the way you have a tan pretty much all year round and I’m sorry I perved on Stefan, your ex ... who, as you all know, lives across the road from our house and I can see into his bedroom, particularly if he doesn’t draw the blind and it wasn’t fair on you, Genna.” She pulled a lock of hair across her cheek, and into one corner of her mouth. “Um, my current boyfriend, Severn, rather my first boyfriend and only boyfriend so far, has given me confidence and made me realise how childish I was. Um, I’m really sorry if I hurt you.”

My eyes popped. I’d had no idea Elizabeth could see into Stefan’s bedroom and I was pretty sure he didn’t know either. Elizabeth’s father owned the local panel beating business and Stefan’s dad ran the servo. Their parents were close but Stefan and Elizabeth had never connected—not for want of trying on her part.

“Is that all, Liz?” Hetty’s tone was soothing. “It’s not much. It didn’t hurt Gen, did it?”

“Well, um, I’d like to also say sorry for all those ‘wog’ comments Mum made about Genna.”

“That’s not your fault.”

“Yes it is!” Elizabeth was on a roll. “I could’ve stopped Mum. I hate racist comments and I’m really, really sorry, Gen.” She gulped in a breath. “I’m also sorry for calling you a bitch when you misled me, told me to buy a pink slip dress and, instead, you turned up at Stefan’s Christmas Eve bash in that raunchy gear, black and tight and, um, looking torn.”

“But that was years ago and I had nothing to wear and I didn’t mean to...”

“Do you accept her apology, Genna?” Hetty was grouchy.

I jumped so hard I nearly fell off my rock. Even the waves lapping on the shore behind me seemed to stop lapping.

“Yes,” I squeaked, thinking about all the disparaging things I’d said about Elizabeth in the past.

“Oh, and I haven’t finished.” Elizabeth set her jaw. “I’m sorry about that ball I let drop in which cost us the match against Eastern Lakes High. I couldn’t concentrate because there’d been all those phone calls about my brother’s neural pathways and him acting up and Mum had gone out and bought more pearls, you know, that ritual she had because he’d pulled on her pearls when he was a baby and the string broke and she slipped on the stairs and dropped him.” Tears filled her azure eyes and, for the first time, I knew she was going to let it all hang out.

The now grey sky had blotted out the watery sun, and still Elizabeth burbled on. We were all sniffing, reaching into our pockets for hankies, when I saw a light turn on in the house on Ti Point.

The light remained on but I could detect no movement.

The pines around the house on Ti Point moaned in the wind and I found it hard to concentrate. Elizabeth apologised to Angela for saying Angela’s boyfriend hadn’t come on to her when he had. Her list was endless.

Angela regretted various things she had said and Hetty also begged forgiveness. When my turn came, I expressed remorse for having called Elizabeth ‘Fat Betty’. I asked Angela’s pardon for calling her a ‘backscratcher’ when she traded her reject gear, asked Hetty’s forbearance for having referred to her specs as ‘nerd glasses’.

After all the apologies had been offered and accepted, Hetty gave us slips of coloured paper to fill in. She instructed us to write down the nice things, the positive feelings we had about each other. I wrote that Hetty had been a true cuz by caring for me after the box jellyfish attack, and that Elizabeth had generously helped sort out my French grammar, that Angela had been a shoulder to cry on when Stefan ditched me...

By this time, all the lights in the house on Ti Point were blazing.

After the Sorry Sit-In had concluded we pushed ourselves up and trudged past the bathing boxes, ground our way up the cliff face through the buffeting wind and on to Ravella Crescent.

Hetty insisted we farewell each other with a kiss on each cheek, a bise, in the French manner. “The bise is sophisticated, everyone, both formal and yet intimate at the same time. In other words, the perfect ‘See ya later’. ”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Elizabeth and Angela turned left, while I turned right with Hetty, deciding to take the route past Grassberger’s Guesthouse to make sure Bill Einstein, Win’s horse, had enough water to drink. Although Win and I were no longer pals—not since she hit on my ex, Stefan—she was currently in China visiting her father, so keeping an eye on her scraggy nag was the least I could do.

“I s’pose that was your prac for Psych III, or did you really want us to be closer?”

A grin crept over Hetty’s face. She changed the subject. “Remember the French examiner, the one from New Caledonia?”

“Pascal Manet?”

She poked her glasses back onto the bridge of her nose with her forefinger. “I went to a lecture he gave.”

My heart rate went up. “I thought Pascal was still in Far North Queensland, teaching at Reef University.”

“He was in Melbourne last week.”

“Well, he didn’t contact me, the rat!”

Was Pascal Manet renting the house on Ti Point? Was he in Ravella to check up on me? Had my grandfather, Jacques Forestier, sent him to relay feedback on my comings and goings?

I dismissed these thoughts as paranoid. After all, Papi and I were hardly close. In fact, I hated my grandfather. He had signed the Procuration during the Events in New Caledonia—French overseas territory composed of Grande Terre (nicknamed Le Caillou), the Loyalty Islands and some smaller islands—when the country had descended into chaos. The Procuration had handed me over to Namilly Perrier when I was just a little tacker. Why should he be the slightest bit interested in what I was doing, whether I was happy in my life? Jacques Forestier was only interested in his stocks and shares and the Australians who turned up at his farm on Grande Terre with their rifles, aiming to turn his deer into wall trophies.

“Well,” continued Hetty while I topped up Bill Einstein’s pail from the tap, “we all rocked along to a goûter afterwards, an arvo tea in the lecturers’ common room, where we gorged on patisseries and skolled this really bitter coffee.” She pushed the toe of her sandal around in the dirt. “Pascal is cool.”

I sighed. “Pascal was our French examiner. How can he be cool?”

I had first met Pascal when he conducted our French oral exam. I had used the wrong word for to kiss in French, telling him the main character in Madame Bovary had ‘done it’ with his wife before setting off to see his patients. Pascal had laughed like a drain and I’d fled from the room, humiliated. We’d met up next when he lured me to New Caledonia, at my grandfather’s behest, offering me teaching experience as English assistante at a high school in Noumea. I had last seen Pascal in Far North Queensland when my birth mother, after inviting me to stay, skedaddled. Pascal had persuaded me to return to Ravella rather than sort out the mess Sandrine had left behind. We’d kept in touch since—so why not recently?

“Believe me, he’s trendicool!” Hetty interrupted my musing.

Rain began to patter down. I snaked my fingers into my jeans’ back pocket.

“Let’s go shelter inside Win’s.” I pulled out the key to the rundown clapboard.

“Win doesn’t like people intruding.”

“She won’t know we’ve been there. Ma gave me the key in case I needed to get stuff for Bill Einstein.”

The key grated in the lock. The front door opened with a rush and I could smell mould, laced with a tinge of horse manure.

Behind me, Hetty breathed, “Wow!” She added, “This is so grungy.”

“Yeah, want a drink? Win should have something in the kitchen, won’t be alcohol though.”

“That’s right. She had a problem.”

“Don’t remind me!”

A bulb swayed from a cord above a grimy wooden table. The bulb was enhanced with an art deco shade that threw out jagged shadows on the fly-spotted ceiling. Had the shade been donated by one of the customers selling their unwanted clothing at Re-sale Rose, the shop Win managed with Namilly? Patrons often had strange ideas about what the words ‘recycle seconds’ meant. I suspected some used the shop on the highway as a dumping ground for unwanted Christmas gifts.

Through the door into the family room, kit bags sat on the floor. More second hand clothes for Re-sale Rose?

In the kitchen the bentwood chairs were in disarray, as if pushed back in a hurry. The oven was spew-coloured green with only three functioning burners, the fourth clogged with grease and unusable. Strangest of all were the curled signs on the cupboards: PLATES, MUGS, BEST PLATES, POTS, CUTLERY, and GLASSES. (From memory, CONTAINERS was missing.) It was as if Win’s mum, Alice Winstone, had never died.

Win’s home looked tired and unloved. On the other hand, Win was always drop-dead immaculate. Her ice-blonde hair was groomed. Her T-shirts were pristine.

“Wow,” Hetty said again. “How can Win live in this dump?”

“I guess she has no choice.” I rattled around for mineral water, or Diet Coke, or even Fanta. “Sorry, Hetty, but I think it’s gotta be water.”

I slid two tumblers from an overhead cupboard.

“That’s okay, I’m dieting.” Hetty squinted behind her nerd glasses. “Why does Win have those crappy old signs everywhere?”

Alice used to be confused, so to help her I guess.”

I turned the cold tap and water gushed out, rusty and discoloured. I let it run for a moment.

“Talking of mums, how’s yours?” asked Hetty.

“Namilly’s fine. She gets heart palpitations and wheezes a bit, but she’s getting on, you know.” The water began to clear. “She’s okay.”

“No, I mean your real mum.”

“Namilly is my real mum.”

Hetty sighed. “All right, okay, so how’s Sandrine?”

“I haven’t heard lately, not since she did a flit, but that’s vintage Sandrine. Run from responsibility as soon as things get tough!”

“I thought your birth mother was nice when I met her.”

“Anyone who could sign away her child is so NOT nice!”

“Well, she was really worried when you were stung by that creepy sea creature what’s it called—Chironex fleckeri?” She eyed my jeans. “Still not wearing shorts?”

“The marks are fading, I think.” I thought of Rex, sitting on my kitchen bench at home, preserved in Sandrine’s old sugar jar. “Appearances can be deceiving. Sandrine and her partner owed moolah to lots of people. She should’ve stayed in Australia to work it out, but staying and working things out is not Sandrine’s style.”

Hetty shrugged, tossed a plait back over her shoulder.

I breathed in, wondering if Sandrine was back in New Caledonia, adding, “I think her partner’s a decent enough dude, but he was, and I assume still is, under the spell of Sandrine’s dubious charms.” My birth mother was blonde and seriously beautiful.

“I think it’s sad you don’t get on.”

“Well, I’m not saying sorry to HER. It’s not my fault my dad died during the Events and Sandrine went berserk rather than grieving like a normal person.” I kicked at the worn lino. “And why didn’t she come looking for me? When I did turn up on her doorstep she didn’t want to know me.”

“Well, your dad succumbed to dengue, pretty unusual for a soldier, not to mention traumatic for your birth mum.”

“Maybe I’m too judgmental.” I sighed. “Then again, I would never have met you guys if Namilly hadn’t brought me to Ravella, away from all that independence uprising in New Caledonia. It just goes on and on, the indigenous people want their rights back and...”

“Wasn’t Namilly your nanny originally?”

“Yeah, she was my nounou. She rescued me, brought me to Australia ... smuggled me aboard the ship inside, you know, that sofa of ours. Had it hollowed expressly, so the authorities wouldn’t find me.”

“That’s pretty radical.” Hetty took a sip of water.

“In Europe and America they smuggle people into the country inside shipping containers. Me, I was squirreled into Oz inside our hollow sofa!” I gave a droll laugh.

“Were you scared?”

“I still have nightmares, but not so often these days.”

“Do you think it’ll happen again?”

“An uprising?”

She nodded over the rim of her glass.

“Don’t care. I won’t be going back! All that shooting and stuff...”

Hetty cocked her head to one side. “I think the rain has stopped.”

After rinsing the tumblers, I propped them against the rack to dry.

I flicked off the light switch and saw a glow through the darkness. A beam roamed back and forth through the front door leadlight.

“What’s that?”

I snatched at Hetty’s arm.

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