Peaches for monsieur le.., p.1
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       Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé, p.1

         Part #3 of Chocolat series by Joanne Harris
 
Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé


  About the Book

  It isn’t often you receive a letter from the dead.

  When Vianne Rocher receives a letter from beyond the grave, she has no choice but to follow the wind that blows her back to Lansquenet, the village in south-west France where, eight years ago, she opened up a chocolate shop.

  But Vianne is completely unprepared for what she finds there. Women veiled in black, the scent of spices and peppermint tea, and there, on the bank of the river Tannes, facing the square little tower of the church of Saint-Jérôme like a piece on a chessboard – slender, bone-white and crowned with a silver crescent moon – a minaret.

  Nor is it only the incomers from North Africa who have brought big changes to the community. Father Reynaud, Vianne’s erstwhile adversary, is now disgraced and under threat. Could it be that Vianne is the only one who can save him?

  Contents

  Cover

  About the Book

  Title Page

  Dedication

  New Moon

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  First Quarter

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  The White Autan

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  The Black Autan

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  The Scorpion Queen

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  The Knight of Cups

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  The River Rats

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Eid

  Chapter One

  Acknowledgements

  About the Author

  Also by Joanne Harris

  Copyright

  PEACHES FOR

  MONSIEUR LE CURÉ

  Joanne Harris

  To my father, Bob Short, who would never let good fruit go to waste.

  CHAPTER ONE

  SOMEONE ONCE TOLD me that, in France alone, a quarter of a million letters are delivered every year to the dead.

  What she didn’t tell me is that sometimes the dead write back.

  CHAPTER TWO

  Tuesday, 10th August

  IT CAME ON the wind of Ramadan. Not that I knew it then, of course. Paris gets windy in August, and the dust makes little dervishes that skate and scour the sidewalks and leave little sparkling flakes of grit on your eyelids and your face, while the sun glares down like a blind white eye and no one feels like eating. Paris is mostly dead right now, except for tourists and people like us who can’t afford a holiday; and the river stinks, and there is no shade, and you’d do almost anything to walk barefoot in a field somewhere, or to sit under a tree in a wood.

  Roux knows how it is, of course. Roux wasn’t made for city life. And when Rosette is bored she makes mischief; and I make chocolates for no one to buy, and Anouk goes to the internet café on the Rue de la Paix to talk with her friends on Facebook, or walks up to Montmartre cemetery and watches the feral cats that slink among the houses of the dead, with the sun coming down like a guillotine between the slices of shadow.

  Anouk at fifteen. Where does the time go? Like perfume in a bottle, however tight the seal, evaporating so slyly that, when you open it to look, all you find is a scented smear where once there was enough to spare—

  How are you, my little Anouk? What’s happening in your strange little world? Are you happy? Restless? Content? How many more of these days will we have before you leave my orbit for good, shooting away like a rogue satellite, vanishing into the stars?

  This train of thought is far from new. Fear has been my shadow ever since Anouk was born, but this summer the fear has grown, blooming monstrously in the heat. Perhaps it’s because of the mother I lost – and the one I found four years ago. Or maybe it’s the memory of Zozie de l’Alba, the taker of hearts, who almost robbed me of everything, and who showed me how fragile our lives can be; how easily the house of cards can fall at the smallest breath of wind.

  Fifteen. Fifteen. At her age I’d already travelled the world. My mother was dying. The word home meant any place we stayed for the night. I’d never made a real friend. And love – well, love was like the torches that burn at the terraces of cafés at night; a source of fleeting warmth; a touch; a face half glimpsed in firelight.

  Anouk, I hope, will be different. Already she is beautiful; although she is quite unaware of this. One day she will fall in love. What will happen to us then? Still, I tell myself, there’s time. So far, the only boy in her life is her friend Jean-Loup Rimbault, from whom she is usually inseparable, but who this month has had to go into hospital for another operation. Jean-Loup was born with a heart defect; Anouk doesn’t speak of it, but I can understand her fear. It’s like my own; a shadow that creeps; a certainty that nothing lasts.

  She still sometimes talks about Lansquenet. Even though she is happy enough here, Paris seems more like a stopping-place on some as yet untravelled road than a home to which she will always return. Of course, a houseboat is not a house; it lacks the conviction of mortar and stone. And Anouk, with the curious nostalgia that affects the very young, remembers in rosy colours the little chocolaterie across from the church, with its striped awning and hand-painted sign. And her eyes are wistful when she speaks of the friends she left behind; of Jeannot Drou and Luc Clairmont, and of streets where no one is afraid to walk at night, and of front doors that are never locked—

  I shouldn’t be so anxious, I know. My little Anouk is secretive, but unlike so many of her friends, she still likes her mother’s company. We’re still all right. We still have good times. Just the two of us, tucked up in bed, with Pantoufle a hazy blur at the corner of my eye and the screen of the portable television flickering mystic images against the darkened windows, while Rosette sits out on the deck with Roux, fishing for stars in the silent Seine.

 
; Roux has taken to fatherhood. I really hadn’t expected that. But Rosette – eight years old, and the image of him – seems to have drawn something out of Roux that neither Anouk nor I could have known. In fact, there are times when I think that she belongs more to Roux than to anyone; they have a secret language – of honks and hoots and whistles – in which they can confer for hours, and which no one else shares, not even me.

  Otherwise, my little Rosette still doesn’t talk much to anyone, preferring the sign language she learnt as a child, in which she is very proficient. She likes drawing and mathematics; the Sudoku on the back page of Le Monde takes her only minutes to complete, and she can add up great lists of numbers without ever having to write them down. We tried sending her to school once, but that didn’t work at all. The schools here are too large and too impersonal to cope with a special case like Rosette. Now, Roux teaches her, and if his curriculum is unusual, with its emphasis on art, bird noises and number games, it seems to make her happy. She has no friends, of course – except for Bam – and sometimes I see her watching the children who pass on their way to school with a look of curious longing. But on the whole, Paris treats us well, for all its anonymity; still, sometimes, on a day like this, like Anouk, like Rosette, I find myself wishing for something more. More than a boat on a river that stinks; more than this cauldron of stale air; more than this forest of towers and spires; or the tiny galley in which I make my chocolates.

  More. Oh, that word. That deceptive word. That eater of lives; that malcontent. That straw that broke the camel’s back, demanding – what, exactly?

  I’m very happy with my life. I’m happy with the man I love. I have two wonderful daughters and a job doing what I was meant to do. It’s not much of a living, but it helps pay for the mooring, and Roux takes on building and carpentry work that keeps the four of us afloat. All my friends from Montmartre are here; Alice and Nico; Madame Luzeron; Laurent from the little café; Jean-Louis and Paupaul, the painters. I even have my mother close by, the mother I thought lost for so many years—

  What more could I possibly want?

  It began in the galley the other day. I was making truffles. In this heat, only truffles are safe; anything else runs the risk of damage, either from refrigeration, or from the heat that gets into everything. Temper the couverture on the slab; heat it gently on the hob; add spices, vanilla and cardamom. Wait for just the right moment, transmuting simple cookery into an act of domestic magic.

  What more could I have wanted? Well, maybe a breeze; the tiniest breeze, no more than a kiss in the nape of my neck, where my hair, pinned up in a messy knot, was already stinging with summer sweat—

  The tiniest of breezes. What? What possible harm could that do?

  And so I called the wind – just a little. A warm and playful little wind that makes cats skittish, and races the clouds.

  V’là l’bon vent, v’là l’joli vent,

  V’là l’bon vent, ma mie m’appelle—

  It really wasn’t very much; just that little gust of wind and a glamour, like a smile in the air, bringing with it a distant scent of pollen and spices and gingerbread. All I really wanted was to comb the clouds from the summer sky, to bring the scent of other places to my corner of the world.

  V’là l’bon vent, v’là l’joli vent—

  And all around the Left Bank the sweet wrappers flew like butterflies, and the playful wind tugged at the skirts of a woman crossing the Pont des Arts, a Muslim woman in the niqab face-veil, of which there are so many these days, and I caught a glimpse of colours from underneath the long black veil, and just for a moment I thought I saw a shimmy in the scorching air, and the shadows of the wind-blown trees scribbled crazy abstract designs across the dusty water—

  V’là l’bon vent, v’là l’joli vent—

  The woman glanced down from the bridge at me. I couldn’t see her face; just the eyes, kohl-accented under the niqab. For a moment I saw her watching me, and wondered if I knew her somehow. I raised a hand and waved to her. Between us, the Seine, and the rising scent of chocolate from the galley’s open window.

  Try me. Taste me. For a moment I thought she was going to wave back. The dark eyes dropped. She turned away. And then she was gone across the bridge; a faceless woman dressed in black, into the wind of Ramadan.

  CHAPTER THREE

  Friday, 13th August

  IT ISN’T OFTEN you receive a letter from the dead. A letter from Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, a letter inside a letter, in fact; delivered to our PO box (houseboats don’t get mail, of course) and collected by Roux as he goes every day on his way to fetch the bread.

  ‘It’s just a letter,’ he told me, and shrugged. ‘It doesn’t have to mean anything.’

  But that wind had been blowing all day and all night, and we have always mistrusted the wind. Today it was gusty and changeable, punctuating the silent Seine with little commas of turbulence. Rosette was skittish, practising jumps along the quayside and playing with Bam by the water. Bam is Rosette’s invisible friend – though he isn’t always invisible. Well, not to us, anyway. Even customers see him sometimes, on days like this one, watching from the side of a bridge or hanging by his tail from a tree. Of course Rosette sees him all the time – but then, Rosette is different.

  ‘It’s just a letter,’ repeated Roux. ‘Why don’t you open it and see?’

  I was rolling the last of the truffles before packing them into boxes. It’s hard enough keeping chocolate at the right temperature as it is, but on a boat, with so little space, it’s best to keep to the simplest things. Truffles are very easy to make, and the cocoa powder in which they are rolled keeps the chocolate from blooming. I store them under the counter, along with the trays of rusty old tools – spanners and screwdrivers, nuts and bolts – so lifelike that you’d swear they were real, and not just made from chocolate.

  ‘It’s been eight years since we left the place,’ I said, rolling a truffle across my palm. ‘Who is it from, anyway? I don’t recognize the writing.’

  Roux opened the envelope. He always does what’s simplest. Always in the moment, speculation isn’t really something that concerns him.

  ‘It’s from Luc Clairmont.’

  ‘Little Luc?’ I remembered an awkward teenager; paralysed by his stammer. With a jolt I realized that Luc must be a man by now. Roux unfolded the paper and read:

  Dear Vianne and Anouk,

  It’s been a long time. I hope this letter gets to you. As you know, when my grandmother died she left everything to me, including the house, what money she had, and an envelope not to be opened before my twenty-first birthday. That was in April, and inside was this. It’s addressed to you.

  Roux fell silent. I turned and saw him holding out an envelope – plain, white, a little scuffed, marked with the passage of years and the touch of living hands on the dead page. And there was my name in blue-black ink, written in Armande’s hand – arthritic, imperious, painstaking—

  ‘Armande,’ I said.

  My dear old friend. How strange – how sad – to hear from you now. And opening the envelope, breaking a seal grown brittle with time, an envelope you must have licked, as you licked the sugar spoon in your cup of chocolate, gleefully, greedily, like a child. You always saw so much further than I – and you made me see, like it or not. I’m not sure whether I’m ready to see what’s in this note from beyond the grave, but you know I’ll read it, nevertheless.

  Dear Vianne (it says).

  I can hear her voice. Dry as cocoa dust, and sweet. I remember the first telephone to make it into Lansquenet. Whee! What a commotion it made. Everyone wanted to try it out. The Bishop, who had it in his house, was up to his eyes in presents and bribes. Well, if they thought that was a miracle, imagine what they’d think to this. Me, talking to you from the dead. And, in case you’re wondering, yes they do have chocolate in Paradise. Tell Monsieur le Curé I said so. See if he’s learnt to take a joke.

  I stopped there for a moment. Sat down on one of the galley stools
.

  ‘All right?’ said Roux.

  I nodded. Went on. Eight years. A lot can happen, eh? Little girls begin to grow up. Seasons change. People move on. My own grandson, twenty-one! A good age, I remember that much. And you, Vianne – did you move on? I think you did. You weren’t ready to stay. Which doesn’t mean you won’t, some day – keep a cat indoors and all it wants is to go outside again. Keep it outside, and it cries to get in. People are not so different. You’ll find that out, if you ever come back. And why would you, I hear you ask? Well, I don’t claim to see the future. Not precisely, anyway. But you did Lansquenet a good turn once, though not everyone saw it that way at the time. Still, times change. We all know that. And one thing’s for sure; sooner or later, Lansquenet will need you again. But I can’t count on our stubborn curé to tell you when that happens. So do me a final courtesy. Take a trip back to Lansquenet. Bring the children. Roux, if he’s there. Put flowers on an old lady’s grave. Not from Narcisse’s shop, mind, but proper flowers from the fields. Say hello to my grandson. Have a cup of chocolate.

  Oh, and one more thing, Vianne. There used to be a peach tree growing up the side of my house. If you come in summertime, the fruit should be ripe and ready to pick. Give some to the little ones. I’d hate the birds to get them all. And remember: everything returns. The river brings everything back in the end.

  With all my love, as always,

  Armande

  I stared at the page for a long time, hearing the echoes of her voice. I’d heard it so many times in dreams, balanced at the edge of sleep with her dry old laughter in my ears and the scent of her – lavender, chocolate, old books – gilding the air with its presence. They say that no one ever dies as long as someone remembers them. Perhaps that’s why Armande remains so very clearly in my mind; her berry-black eyes; her impudence; the scarlet petticoats she wore under the black of her mourning. And that’s why I couldn’t refuse her, even though I wanted to; even though I’d promised myself never to go back to Lansquenet, the place we’d loved best of all, the place where we’d almost managed to stay, but from which the wind had driven us, leaving half of ourselves behind—

 
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