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By Daniela I. Norris
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2015 Daniela I. Norris
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I was still considering cancelling it all as I entered through the building's gate and stepped towards the door. I took a couple of deep breaths and looked around for clues, to help me decide whether I should go ahead with this craziness or not. I could hear my own heartbeat, which I thought was a bit weird, as I'd never noticed it before. Not like this, thumping in my ears like a distant drumbeat.
There was no name on the door – just a sticker of a dragonfly, and her initials. It looked as if it were the door to a student's apartment, or to the practice of some dodgy manicurist, certainly not a door to another state of consciousness.
When Lauren, my editorial assistant, first suggested hypnotherapy, I laughed. Lauren is the spiritual type, taking three yoga classes a week and constantly talking about meditation, energies and karma. It isn't that I don't believe in these things. In fact, I don't really know what I believe in, I just know that between my teenage kids and my day job and my attempts at finishing my never-ending novel, I hardly have time to explore all sorts of strange mind-body-spirit connections or whatever they call them these days.
But since Don left I pretty much lost it, in more than one way. I couldn't focus on the books piling up on my desk, silently filling me with guilt for letting them sit there for so long. I was supposed to be spending my days securing foreign rights for American books, mostly working with French-language publishers. But I couldn't do my job properly. I suffered from sudden anxieties during the day, and at night I couldn't sleep. It's not that he broke my heart or anything, it's more like he somehow managed to crack the fragile confidence in humanity that I've managed to maintain over the twenty years of living in New York City.
But I couldn't spend the entire day in front of that door with the stupid dragonfly sticker, so I decided to knock. If she turned out to be some kind of witch with missing front teeth and hair coming out of her ears, I could always make a run for it.
A woman in her late thirties opened the door, and all her teeth were intact. In fact, she had a pleasant smile.
"Come in," she said as she shook my hand, and then signaled towards a coat hanger by the door.
As I took my coat off I felt a knot of anxiety in my throat, but I just swallowed it. There was no way back now. Taking my coat off made me feel vulnerable, as if a dice had been thrown; a decision had been made, one I couldn't go back on anymore. I wasn't used to feeling vulnerable; it was a recent state-of-being that I still didn't wear well.
"So why are you here?" she asked.
I was seated in front of her in a black leather armchair, and noticed that both my hands were clenched into tight fists. I had to choose my words carefully because I didn't want to let the wrong ones out. Even though I didn't know her, even though she was supposed to be able to help me with my fears and my worries and my questions, still – I wanted to make a good impression.
"I came because I can't sleep well," I said. "And I've kind of lost interest in things. I've been working on an historical novel for three years now, and it's not progressing. I also have some ... I suppose they're called anxieties. About the future. Also about the past."
I stopped there. I didn't want to sound too neurotic.
"Have you gone through any major life changes recently?" she asked, noting down my words. She stopped writing and looked at me with gentle eyes. I then noticed that she was perhaps somewhat older than I initially thought; at least her eyes seemed old.
So then I had to spill it all out. I told her how Don decided one day he'd had enough and how I was initially relieved he left because by then I'd had enough too. We'd been at each other's throats for years and now that the kids were a little older there was no need to pretend any longer. But when he almost immediately moved in with some woman called Claudette, that's when the anxieties started. What if I had made the wrong choice? Was it too late to change it now? Besides, what kind of name is that, anyway, Claudette? Sounded like some granny from a bad fifties movie.
But Claudette was no granny. I saw her when they came to pick up the kids together one Saturday morning about two months ago, shamelessly sitting in the passenger seat of our car, or what used to be our car, not even bothering to come out and introduce herself. She wore a little black halter-top despite the fact it was a cold day, exposing skinny shoulders and a big red pendant of some kind draped around her neck like a hangman's noose. Maybe it was just wishful thinking on my part, but I was more than pleased when Tom and Jen came back and said they didn't like her at all.
"She's trying to be funny," said Jen. "But she isn't."
"Yeah, she tried to bribe us with ice cream as if we were little kids," said Tom. He was now a tall, slim teenager, his voice breaking as he spoke.
But none of that mattered now, for I was lying on the therapist's couch as she started counting backwards in a slow, monotone voice, instructing me to relax, breathe deeply, let go of all my worries and put them in a small imaginary box which – she assured me – I'd be able to pick up mentally when we finished the session. It felt nice knowing that I could put away all my worries for a little while, but then get them back if I wanted to. I was quite attached to my worries and anxieties by then, they even felt comfortable and familiar. I could not help but wonder if I was truly and honestly ready to get rid of them.CHAPTER 2
If I don't get up now, it might be too late, she thought.
What frightened Adele most was that she could not feel her toes. She could see her feet, tucked into warm brown leather boots which were done up with rough, old laces. But she could hardly move them. They were just not responding to her commands.
She gathered her wool skirt and pushed up on her hands, then on her knees, her fingernails clawing the cold, dusty ground. She grunted, feeling a sudden, jolting pain as the blood started flowing to her legs. Up on her feet now, she took two steps and stumbled, supporting herself on a large rock.
It was late in the afternoon and the skies had started changing from gray-blue to indigo. Adele raised her eyes to the clouds, noticing that they now looked heavier, more pregnant than they did just a few hours ago. It felt as if it would start snowing again soon. A late afternoon in the mountains, in early spring. Yes, of course it could still snow, but she didn't think of that earlier in the day when she stormed out of her house down in the village at the foothills of the Jura.
All she could think about that morning was that it was not fair that she, nearly an adult, was being treated like a child, while her fourteen-year-old brother could come and go as he pleased. He had few chores to tend to, just his studies and then chopping firewood or shoveling snow in winter. Her parents treated him like a prince, while treating her like the housemaid.
Of course she didn't mind helping her mother with the cooking and the cleaning and the sewing, that was her duty after all, she was pulling her own weight like everyone around her. But if she could do what she wanted with a little bit of her time ... then it would be more tolerable. But instead of doing what she really wanted to do – which was reading, or roaming the woods by her house and enjoying some time on her own, she was expected to work on her embroidery – which she found not only useless and boring, but also ugly.
Adele took a deep breath and left the safety of the solid rock. She could feel her toes now, but they hurt as if someone had broken them one by one. The late-afternoon breeze made her feel as if she was wearing a mask that prevented her from controlling her expression. She grimaced, forcing her facial muscles to move. She then started walking, step after step, in the direction she had thought was home. Only a few hours earlier, what now seemed like an eternity ago, she had confidently walked up the side of these same foothills of the French Jura mountain range. She remembered how the anger and frustration swelled up in her ribcage and the thoughts exploded in her mind.
She could run away from home, she had thought just a few hours earlier. Yes, she could run away to Paris and find work that would allow her to support herself. She would be part of all the exciting political events she had heard about; she would find friends who were influential and romantic, artists and writers. This would be the real life she was meant to live. She could even become a writer herself. She would be eighteen soon and be able to get away from her boring life and live the exciting life of a city girl. She would be like those glamorous women she'd read about in novels.
Now all her anger was gone, and her previous plans did not feel as if they were such a great idea. What would she do on her own in Paris if she could not even take care of herself in these rural parts she knew so well? Paris. What a ridiculous idea. If she made it home safely ... if she made it home safely she would be a better daughter to her parents and not lose her temper so quickly. Her parents were probably so worried about her; they had no idea where she'd gone. She hadn't said a thing before she left, she just grabbed her winter coat and stormed out of the house.
Was she even heading in the right direction? Twilight in this eastern part of France arrived quickly on spring days, like a cat pouncing on a bird. Although the days were getting longer and the sun sent its thin, long fingers through the clouds on some days, other days, like this one, were misty and chilly and wet. Small patches of frost dotted the earth around Adele as she stumbled downhill.
I am not going to cry, I am not going to cry ..., she thought. But when she reached her fingers up to touch her cheeks, they were wet. And then she saw something that made her stop and listen. It was a light, a light hovering somewhere down beneath her. A light? Was there someone there? Maybe they had come looking for her ...
"Hello!" she called, hardly recognizing her own voice. "Hello, je suis la, I am here!"
And then something scratching the rocks, something moving towards her, low on the ground. She couldn't see because of the mist but suddenly something large and hairy and wet sniffed her feet and almost made her jump out of her skin.
She let out a faint cry as her legs gave in on her and she fell on her knees. The creature rubbed itself against her and yelped, and then she realized it was a large dog and started laughing. A dog! A dog! It meant that someone was nearby. She felt huge relief and let her consciousness slip away for a moment, and it was only the dog licking her face that brought her back to the here and now.
"Viens ici!" she heard a voice calling and saw the master of the dog emerging out of the mist around her, holding a small lantern.
"Mademoiselle!" he called as he approached her, his rough wool coat hovering over her as he kneeled by her side. "Are you all right, mademoiselle? What are you doing here on your own?"
She tried to answer but her voice would not obey her. All she could do was shake her head at him.
"Come, let's get you off the ground," he said and tried to lift her. She managed to get up and first reluctantly, but then gratefully, accepted his arm.
"We will take you home, where do you live, mademoiselle?"
"Chevry," she said, and as they walked together in the opposite direction from which she'd been heading all this time, she glanced at him sideways, not wanting him to notice her staring. She managed to see that he was older than her but not that old, maybe twenty-something. His fur hat covered his forehead and all she could see was dark eyes and a few strands of brown hair stuck to his forehead. All this time she'd been walking in the wrong direction. How foolish was she, she would have never made it home on her own.
They did not talk during the long descent, as the air around them got darker and crisper and the mist hung over their heads like a ghostly umbrella.
"I can get back home now," she said when they reached the outskirts of her village. "I know where I am now, thank you."
"I will take you to your home," he said in a low, quiet voice that left no room for argument. The dog bounced at their feet like a faithful chaperone and Adele reached down to stroke his head. He licked her hand.
"He isn't very old, is he?" she asked, suddenly feeling the need for conversation. She dreaded the encounter with her parents. What would she say to them? That she took off in a temper tantrum and got lost? Her back ached and her feet still felt as if they had been viciously stomped on. Would they be angry? It would be good to have this stranger with her, at least they would not want to embarrass her in front of him, or so she hoped.
They walked towards her house, at the end of the village, and he now followed closely behind her, keeping a respectable distance. The mutt wagged its tail in enthusiasm, as if this was the greatest adventure he'd ever been on. He made Adele laugh.
"This is my house," she said and pointed to the gray-walled building, its sloping red roof almost black under the thin moon. "Would you like to come in?"
"I believe you will be fine if I leave you here, mademoiselle ..."
The front door flew open and her mother stormed out of the house, waving her arms.
"Where were you? We did not know what to think. Your father and brother and Monsieur Montague have all gone out looking for you and ..."
Her mother noticed the stranger and stopped in mid-sentence, eyeing him suspiciously.
"Who's this?" she said, as if he wasn't there.
"Maman, I am sorry, I got lost ... he found me ... this is ..."
Adele suddenly realized she did not know the man's name.
"Bonjour, madame." The stranger approached her mother and bowed his head. "I believe your daughter took off in the wrong direction and got somewhat lost," he said. "My dog found her and was happy to make a new friend," he added and pointed at the mutt, who now wagged its tail enthusiastically at Adele's mother.
A small smile escaped her previously clenched lips, but she quickly resumed her serious expression.
"Do you have a name, young man?" she asked, and he bowed his head again.
"Jules Badeau, at your service, madame. I shall leave you now, for I have a long walk ahead of me, back to Gex ..."
"You will come inside and have something to drink before you go, Monsieur Badeau," ordered Adele's mother, walking back towards her house. "My husband will want to thank you when he returns," she added.
Jules Badeau looked at Adele, uncertain how to regard the order he had just received.
"Yes," she said. "You must come in for a few moments."
He nodded in resignation.
"Reste ici," he instructed the mutt, who immediately obeyed its master's command and sat, its tail still wagging uncontrollably underneath it.
"I shall accept your kind invitation then, madame," he said and followed Adele and her mother into the stone-walled house.
The matronly woman sat him by the log fire and stuck a glass of red wine in his hand.
"I prefer not to drink, madame," he said and handed it back.
"Oh," was all Madame Durand said in return. Adele just stared at him. Who was this strange man, who just refused the glass of wine her mother offered him?
She noticed Monsieur Badeau looking around the room, taking in the understated elegance and the small details that made the Durand home pleasant and welcoming. The sofa was well-used but covered with beautiful fabric, small embroidered flowers on the arm-rests. The four chairs around the room were of solid, high-quality cherry-wood.
"Adele, go sit by the fire," came the instruction from the kitchen. "If you become ill, I will have to nurse you to health for days now. Go and warm up."
Adele took a sideways glance at the guest and pulled a chair close to the fire, but not too close to him. They sat in awkward silence, each waiting for the other to speak first.
Excerpted from Recognitions by Daniela I. Norris. Copyright © 2015 Daniela I. Norris. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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