Chapter 6: "What Do You Like?"
Like most adolescents, Heloise thought of herself more or less like a mirror, if not in so many words. She took care to present herself exactly as she imagined people saw her—or as she imagined she’d like them to—and she took it for granted that—since people love looking in mirrors—no had any pleasure greater than looking at her.
Before the mirror of her self cracked, Heloise never noticed this. Now she noticed little but. She loved the way Jacques and his family looked at her when she spoke her mind. She loved the way she could pierce herself in their eyes.
“Which country do you find is the home of your soul?” Madeline asked her. They were picnicking by one of the leisurely rivers on their stop-by-day-as-well-as-by-night way. “To me, it’s the Orient. There’s something vital and full-blooded there that alone can satisfy the blood in me.”
“That’s like Madeline,” said Louise, “Everything pounding like the last three chords of a symphony and the longer and more clotted with history the better. The
“And you Heloise?” asked the Marquise.
Still Heloise found something affected in the question. As if she had been waiting all her life for a family to ask her about her soul-home—which everyone had, of course, or at least they did. She replied, “Perhaps with a better education, or at least one more liberal, I would be better able to dispose of my soul so lightly. But I have not been so fortunate to find any home for long, much less one for my soul.”
She wondered at her daring and her rudeness, but the family simply laughed. They loved it when she spoke out like this. Madeline said, “And that’s to teach me to ask questions my —future—sister does not wish to answer.”
Madeline looked at her like there was never a girl so fun to play with, so nice to show off. Louise looked at her kindly, rosily—the Marquis approving, glancing at his wife for her nod. Celi just stared and stared. (She was saving Heloise up in her eyes for Just, who she missed—who at the moment was grinding his teeth with self-pity at how itchy and sticky and feverish he was in his skin.)
Heloise watched Jacques, who mostly stayed quiet. She would have thought this was his nature, if Madeline had not thrown a roll at him and said, “Why so dull now always? Who should I call on to ask for my brother’s tongue back?” (What Heloise did not notice was Louise say, Shh, and Madeline, her lips straight, whisper, And how does how you treat him help? And the Marquis say, Shh.)
What she did notice was that when spoke out, Jacques looked her up and down, with something of his father’s judging glace, but at a further distance—ah, so that’s who you are, you surprise me.
Heloise watched them all watch her and loved each turn of the reflection, and thought she could deal with all of them and altogether liked the thought. Now all she had to worry about was sex.
She had tried to broach Genevieve on the subject but was surprised to find her elusive. The truth was Genevieve preferred romance a little more vague, a little more composed of breath, a little higher, somewhere between the air and the lips.
“What is your favorite dessert, Mlle Beaujeu?” asked Celimene—another picnic. “Mine’s Venus nipples.”
“And if the girl likes Venus nipples is she to be scolded?” said her father. “Mine favorite's lady's fingers—more discrete with age, you see.”
Heloise admitted that she liked beignets very much.
”And you, Jacques?” asked the Marquis.
“I don’t know.”
But the Marquis didn’t take that for an answer. He kept on picking at him until Jacquest finally said, “Pain de beurre. I’d like that best, if it’s so important to pick a favorite food.”
“I’d forgotten you’re too old now to speak to us,” said the Marquis.
“And I’m surprised you’re not too old to be constantly looking for society with your children—although, I forget, you love nothing so much as your family, after all you’ve given up everything for it. I can’t stand it, Louise,” said Jacques, “Why must he spend all his time with us. I never asked him to. I never made him.”
The old man is lonely, thought Heloise, and she thought again how she preferred him to Jacques. Except that Jacques was so sad. You could never be bored or useless with someone that sad around.
The next person Heloise would have looked to for advice about sex would have been Cure Fulbert, her spiritual father—she would have put it delicately—but the cure spoke to her first.
The next two things that happen in this story seem very much like dreams. Just would always swear that his was not, and Heloise would have given anything to believe that hers was. Heloise first, then.
It was dark, an inn after everyone snuffed their lamps out and turned to snuffing themselves, heavy-breathed in sleep—that’s important to know because Heloise had trouble hearing in the dark—and the cure shook Heloise and told he needed to speak with her. Heloise started, stumbled obediently out of bed, feeling half as if—looking at the soft, still sleeping Genevieve—she were leaving her own body there.
Closeted together, the cure began by catechizing Heloise.
“How do you like this family your aunt has found for you?” he asked.
”I like them well enough.”
“And how do you like your king?”
“I am a loyal subject—what do you mean?”
”And how do you like God?”
“He is God—how should…” Heloise did not think that she was understanding the cure correctly.
“What do you say to this? This Marquis is nothing more than a dilettante who does not have the guts to be a true intellectual, an atheist too cowardly to take the name, and a coward who hides his traitorous thoughts from himself behind the skirts of his family. How do you like that?”
Heloise blinked, not understanding the attack. (And if, later, she came to accept that this was a kind of truth, she might wish to have said, “And what reason is that not to like him?”)
She said, instead, “I would not like to think that at all.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” said the cure, “but you might in any case. If it were true—Don’t look at me like that, girl! I wouldn’t like it either. Here, read this.”
He handed her a letter, but became impatient with her puzzling out the hand and a moment later snatched it back.
“It’s a warrant,” she said, disturbed.
“From the king—or at least the one who guides his steps,” The cure looked at her expectantly, another school-hour pattern that she must puzzle out. He said, “One of them is a murderer. And we, poor girl, must sniff him out.”
“I don’t understand you,” she said. The cure took her by the arm. It felt like glass, her own arm, his far away on its surface. She wondered she did not break. “I can’t hear what you’re saying.”
”Which one? Dear God, girl, I thought it only just to ask.”
“I don’t understand,” speak up! she wanted to say, “How can I know? What kind of justice is that?” They none of them seemed like murderers to her.
The cure spread his hands and a table of desserts appeared under them. Heloise blinked again. There were gateaux and ices—sharp chocolate smell, melting edges—and mille feuilles (Madeline) and beignet (herself) and pain de beurre (Jacques) and Venus nipples (Celi) and lady’s fingers (their father). “Which one?” the cure asked.
They don’t seem like murderers—they look like pastry. (It was too ridiculous, and she like a parrot repeating I don’t understand, I don’t understand.) Heloise thought she heard laughter; she heard the family questioning her and laughing. “Which one’s your favorite? What do you like?”
She shook her head.
She was awake the next morning before its cold light leaked through, before breakfast, long before the Marquise’s screams woke everyone else. “He is dead. My husband is dead.”
He was dead. His eyes were open and dead, his leaking mouth crusted with spit.
The girls cried. Jacques screamed, “You’ve lost me forever now. You stupid old man. What are you thinking?”
Heloise bent over the Marquis and plucked the lady’s fingers out of his fingers.