The Tocsin of Toulouse.

By: Jen Shoop

Below, a draft of a fictional short story.

It was a small, clean room, the bedsheets starched and tucked neatly beneath the mattress, and a fresh pebble of fragrant milled soap on the spotless porcelain sink in the corner.  The portes-fenêtres opened to a stone courtyard with a fountain in the middle, and Violet pushed them open and imagined her ivory hands belonging to some ancient French woman, wringing out the wash or gesturing to the boulanger.  Instead, she was Violet: alone, and waiting to be seen.  Finding no audience in the courtyard’s vacancy, she withdrew and made a temporary fuss over her hand luggage.

Milner E. Fortnam was at that time making his way off the train platform, headphones around his neck, wearing his American-ness as ambitiously as a John Gast settler.  He stopped, without compunction, in the thronging flow of travelers and stood still to check a small gridded Moleskine in his pocket.  Then he looked at his leather wristwatch, and put on his sunglasses, and walked into Toulouse as if he’d been born to it.

He was six-foot-three, with the build of an athlete, which he was.  He crowded the squat entryway of L’Hotel D’Amande, blotting out the sky.  The hotel manager took him to Violet’s room, and bowed graciously in retreat.  

Never had there been a less romantic reunion: Milner assessing the accommodations and its demerits; Violet directing the placement of his belongings.  “We should have called JP’s guy,” he was saying, and added something about his American Express card, and Violet was absently agreeing and hugging her knees to her chest on the bed and waiting.  Violet had the sense, as she often did in Milner’s company, that she was playing house, just the way she had when she was a girl, and she’d watched her mother leave her father his dinner covered with a damp paper towel on the kitchen counter, a linen napkin to its left, and snuck new pieces of art and furniture into the living room and spoken evasively about when and how they’d arrived there, and sometimes gotten lost while staring blankly at the four carat diamond on her ring finger as she’d grip the steering wheel in their tony Washington, D.C. neighborhood.  Violet had parroted these gestures in the Fisher Price playhouse in her backyard, before it was over-visited by birds and squirrels and dismissed for its squalor.  Her mother had later hosed it down while smoking a cigarette in a white caftan, the torpor of an August in D.C. hanging heavy around her, and given up halfway through.  She arranged instead to have it thrown away by the Department of Public Works, plying the trash collectors to drag it to the curb for her when they arrived the following morning.  “A violation of code” and “we can’t possibly –”  But they did, and she and Violet watched as they carried away her play house from the screened-in porch, Totto barking in anguish alongside.  Violet’s mother had said, “I never did like all that plastic junking up the yard,” and Violet had nodded and rearranged her fond memories of the white and green house that had been hers, and the way its porous white walls permitted the sun to illuminate its interior on spring mornings. Violet was young then, and had not yet learned to observe rather than absorb the ponderousness of her mother’s moods and her father’s absences.  

Violet straightened up, momentarily bolstered by the idea that she was not her mother, after all, and could instead walk barefoot through the town if she wanted, or read the bodice ripper her friend had tucked into her bag, or be gentle with Milner in ways rarely shown to her.

Milner was changing shirts in front of the mirror, and combing back his hair, and Violet put on a black slip dress and her satin heels.  He said to her: “Very pretty,” as if he’d just taken in the sunset on the Chesapeake Bay, but was keen to get back to his book.  

They walked to dinner, and she threw all her best angles at the on-lookers in the bistros, who made no performance of distraction.  She lit up every last light in Toulouse.

They stopped at Cochon D’Or, and Milner held up two fingers and gestured to a table in the front, and the maitre d’ accommodated.  They drank crisp, saline white wine out of pichets, and ordered steaming pots of mussels with saffron and garlic, and halfway through dinner, Violet started talking about Caroline, who was then studying nearby in Lyon, and how empty she felt without her close by, and how she thought maybe they should leave Toulouse early to visit her.  Violet didn’t know if it was the white wine or the Toulouse twilight, but she found herself profligate with her thoughts. “I feel this way any time I travel,” Violet sighed.  “Just so small and insignificant, as though I’m wasting time, but what is it I’m supposed to be doing?”  Milner dabbed his napkin to his mouth.  “Are you asking me what the meaning of life is?”  And Violet blushed and laughed, and refilled his glass.  He’d clipped her, too close to the sun.

Post Scripts.

+More fiction here and here.

+Thoughts on getting started with writing.

+Shaking hands with a blank page.

+A few launches and deals too good not to share as a foot-note:

01. Trish McEvoy is offering 20% off and free shipping. I have been using their bestselling Instant Eye Lift, which is a targeted, pigmented concealer for those of us with dark undereye circles. I think it’s excellent, but I will say it disturbs me lightly to need two separate concealers (one for eyes, one for rest of face). I also love their Eye Base Essentials. Frankly, I prefer an eye base / creamy eye product to an eyeshadow just to even things out

02. Goop just launched a cleansing balm. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become increasingly hooked on the routine of removing all makeup with a balm and then washing with a cleanser. I love the formulas from Elemis and Farmacy, and Goop’s (which I’ve been using for the pas tweek) is neck and neck with both. It’s more similar to Farmacy in consistency (less goopy / oily than Elemis) and works beautifully. I am such a Goop beauty fan girl. I truly love so many of their products, especially their exfoliator and hair scrub, and their Vitamin C when you can get your hands on a bottle! It keeps selling out! I’ve been waiting patiently to jump on a restock. I believe it’s the highest concentration of Vitamin C you can find.

03. Earlier this week, Minnow released an adorable spring collection and I want basically everything for my children. This brand has that rare ability to be sweet and also contemporary and cool. Emory will absolutely wear these patterns and styles! I especially love this two-piece for her (she loves bikinis) and the matching boardies for my son, but this floral print is adorable too and don’t get me started on all the clothes (this, this!)

04. I just ordered this rattan side table and this scalloped tray for the corner in my studio, and these scalloped lucite frames for my photos of Tilly girl. (I ordered this burl style one to frame a Tilly photo for Mr. Magpie’s office.)

05. The J. Crew pointelle tee everyone has been ordering is on sale for 40% off.

06. Updated my Shopbop hearts and blog shop, too!

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10 thoughts on “The Tocsin of Toulouse.

  1. I loved reading this and am very interested in more of this story. Thank you so much for sharing! I think I’ve met Milner in my France travels.

  2. I adore reading your essays with a cup of coffee in the morning but sitting down to read your lovely fiction today was the breath of fresh air I didn’t know my Friday needed. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing, Jen!

  3. your style of writing about a myriad of topics is always so thoughtful, visceral, and emotive, but i find these fiction snippets especially beautiful and transportive. as someone who chooses words carefully (and often gets playfully chided by friends for accidentally using esoteric vocabulary), i especially appreciate your turn of phrase and word selection. cheering you on – please keep at it (and share!).

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