Cynthia Rowe has a degree
Cynthia has also spent time
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
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.
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
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,
Panting, I approached.
“Where’ve you been, Genna?” Hetty flicked an Indian plait over her shoulder.
“Yeah, you’re late,” said Angela.
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
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
“Um, really, do I have to?”
Hetty exhaled a long, controlled stream of air. She tapped her gladiator sandals like an impatient schoolteacher.
After rearranging her toned legs,
My eyes popped.
I’d had no idea
“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!”
“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
“Oh, and I haven’t
The now grey sky
had blotted out the watery sun, and still
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.
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
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
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’. ”
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
“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
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
“He was in
“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
“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
“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?”
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
Hetty shrugged, tossed a plait back over her shoulder.
I breathed in,
wondering if Sandrine was back in
“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
“Wasn’t Namilly your nanny originally?”
“Yeah, she was my
nounou. She rescued me, brought me to
“That’s pretty radical.” Hetty took a sip of water.
“In Europe and
“Were you scared?”
“I still have nightmares, but not so often these days.”
“Do you think it’ll happen again?”
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.
I snatched at Hetty’s arm.
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