By Rohini Sunderam
Louise stepped out of the door of her home and was caught by a blustery wind. She buttoned her coat down to the last button and was glad she’d thought to wear warm stockings. There was a glimmer of sun and a blue sky above. As she entered the path to walk down to her job at the dockyard she saw the first crocus in the flowerbed poke its cheeky lavender head out of the snow. It was going to be a lovely day.
Yesterday she had noticed a handsome young man, a new worker at The Blue Luncheonette standing outside smoking a cigarette. They had locked eyes for a brief moment and Louise had looked away.
Today, there was a lightness in her step as she hurried down to her work and she knew it wasn’t just the crocus that had put it there.
She saw him, leaning against the doorpost, the restaurant sign hung above his head, silhouetted against the early morning light. She wanted to see him again but she didn’t want him to catch her doing so. She thought she’d walk quickly past him, check him out through the corner of her eyes, and see if he was really as handsome as she recalled.
“Bon jour!” he said, stepping in front of her, bowing low, and doffing his cap.
French! Louise thought and blushed, “Good morning!” she replied, “I don’t speak French!”
“Oui, I..I..know.” He hesitated fumbling with the words, as he continued.
“Tu et jolie,” he said, his hazel brown eyes crinkled at the corners and his light brown hair fluttered in the wind as he straightened up replacing the cap on his head.
She knew enough school French to know he thought she was pretty. She couldn’t contain her amused delight and laughed. It was a clear bell laugh accompanied by a bright open smile that lit up her face and eyes.
That laugh and that smile were like rays of warm sunshine to Jacque. They were the first expressions of warmth and frank friendship that had greeted him in this cold grey outpost of the place they called Haaalifax. He’d practiced that ‘Ha’ till his breath steamed in the cold air. His natural tendency to say ‘Alifax had finally been tamed.
This place was to be his new home at least until the war was over. He had wanted no part in that and certainly didn’t want to be conscripted into a battle against an enemy he didn’t know. He promised his parents that he’d return or send for them from across the ocean when the time was right. And then he took that arduous winter journey across the choppy Atlantic, paying his way by working as a cook in the ship’s galley. He’d arrived barely two months ago at the pier in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
He had never experienced such bitter cold as he had on the journey across. Then he’d arrived in the middle of February to a city covered in ice and snow. Thanks to his knowledge of cooking and his experience on the ship he had found work at The Blue Luncheonette along with board and lodgings in the attic.
Now, here was this beautiful vision laughing and smiling at him, spreading her wholehearted affection to him, a stranger, inviting him with that beautiful smile to be part of it all.
He continued, “Je m’appelle Jacque,” he said, holding out his hand.
Louise shook his hand, smiled and nodded, she could feel a deep warm blush as it crept up from her neck, coloured her cheeks and suffused her face, “I have to rush to work,” she said abruptly, adding ‘work’ again as she quickly released his hand and hurried on without looking back.
What had happened to her! She was behaving like a giddy schoolgirl. The electricity that had passed between them was so intense it had taken her aback. She rushed on, her face gradually cooling down.
“Votre nom s’il vous plait!” He called after her. Please, he thought, I can’t have this vision of beauty disappear from my existence like dew in the morning sun. I must see her again! I must know her name.
Louise stopped, turned around and called out, “I’ll tell you tomorrow!”
“Ah!” He somehow understood that. Tomorrow was always a time of hope. So she would come this way again. He watched her as she walked down the street.
Louise was a tall, well-built girl with dark, wavy brown hair that tumbled down to the middle of her back and was held in place against the flirtatious breeze with a barrette and a simple beret. Her tan swing-back coat was both practical and smart. It swung saucily with each stride accentuating her waist and hips. She was acutely aware of his eyes on her.
Jacque was transfixed. “Tres belle!” he said to himself. Those eyes, “Mon dieu!” They were as dark as just-roasted coffee beans. Her smile, just thinking of it made him smile again. It was sunshine and warmth, it was love and hope, it was the scent of summer in a field and warm fresh bread. It would take almost too long for tomorrow. But, she had said, she had promised… tomorrow. He could live until then.
The next morning there was a row of crocuses all winking at Louise. This time she picked up her pace. She’d added a dainty brooch to the lapel of her coat and a small touch of lavender perfume to her wrists.
I have barely said hello to him! She admonished herself. But there was no denying that her heart was beating faster as she walked to work.
He was there!
Leaning against the doorpost of The Blue Luncheonette a casual stance that belied his own thundering heart. Would she come, the beautiful lady with a smile that would send him to paradise? He heard her footsteps. He had been dreaming of those footsteps all night long. They came to him and left as suddenly. A dream, a nightmare, a dream.
She was there! Despite the overcast skies, she was there and all at once the world was beautiful. He could hear the birds singing of the promise of spring. He could see the leaves pushing their way through the branches. He could smell the earth as it slowly nudged winter away. She was there!
He stepped into her path. Today he would not let her go until he had her name. It would be something to whisper to himself in the lonely bed in the attic. It would be a word to caress his mind and his fevered forehead. Her name.
“Good morning!” He said deliberately. He’d been practicing it in his head for a few minutes.
“Good morning!” She beamed back at him. “You learn quickly.”
He grinned, his eyes lighting up. “I practice,” he confessed. “But…please your name?”
“It’s important?” She teased him, her eyes twinkling.
“Oui. Trés important, for me.” He smiled again looking into her eyes this time.
“Louise,” she said lowering her eyes not able to hold the frank look of admiration in his.
“Louise!” He exclaimed, “Ai! C’est Français! You are not French?”
“No! Canadian!” Louise replied.
He was confused. “How? Louise?”
“Calm down,” She laughed, that laugh that sent him to heaven and back in a second, “My grandparents are from Italy.”
“Ahhhh!” He flung his hands up and shrugged in Gallic comprehension. “Louise,” he said again, this time it was a hoarse whisper. He held out his hand.
And she held out hers, with the glove removed.
He raised it to his lips, “Louise.” He said, inhaling the perfume of her, drawing her into his being, his life.
Louise it was the most enchanting name in the world. It was the name for him. He could take that name and this girl and hold her in his arms till eternity.
Their eyes met.
“Jacque,” She said, his name a burr of honey on her lips, “Jacque.”
They could say no more. Their names hung in the air and slow as the mist of their breaths they met, came together, and became one.
– end –
Forty two years they were married, their home was a place of laughter and stories, of never learning French and fumbling with English. It was a home of Italian dishes and French flair a truly Canadian home… A home where the first word of the day was always love and the last word, je t’aime.
(Note: This is based on a friend’s story about how her parents met. It is not entirely factual and names have been changed, but I thank her for the inspiration.)