Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review

Buffleheads

Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review

Buffleheads

Article excerpt

Liliane heard about the young woman's death from Henriette, her close friend since high school, fifty-odd years ago. The young woman had drunk a bottle of Nyquil and sunk back into the driver's seat of her Volvo, which was parked in her closed garage.

"Her husband was at a conference in Boston for the day. He's a student at the university," Henriette reported.

"Was she from a French family?" Liliane asked.

Henriette sounded like a tire losing air on the other end of the phone as she exhaled - a foolish windup to the coup de grace of the gossip.

"Liliane, she's a Thibodeaux."

"Oh, heavens," Liliane said, despite herself. All at once, an image came to mind: a thin woman, a girl, dressed in khaki and brown, dark hair cut into a short bob, a pallor that came from more than a diligent rejection of the sun. She'd almost run head-on into Liliane and a colleague as they'd exited the publications office at the local university, where Liliane had worked as an editor for years. Liliane and the coworker had been on their way to meet with the Dean (that ornery New Englander) about alleged misprints in the osteopathic newsletter. The young woman had looked down at the floor as she walked quickly past them toward the occupational therapy department. "That's Luc Thibodeaux's niece," the colleague had told her. "Married a graduate student here."

"The Thibodeaux family must have bad luck," Henriette said to Liliane now.

This was an insensitive thing to say, and it annoyed Liliane. She suddenly felt protective of her dear younger sister, who had died while married to Luc Thibodeaux. As if her sister's death could be reduced to bad luck.

"Okay, Henriette, I'm going to go now," she told her friend.

Liliane crossed her arms over her chest and pinched a bicep with two fingers - a habit of late, a layman's way of measuring her old body's diminishing muscle mass. She walked slowly to the living room, to the bay window. The sandbar that led to the island was underwater. High tide. Years ago, Liliane's husband, Vince, had suggested they move to the beach when the outpouring of sympathy - which had been painful enough, a constant reminder of her loss - turned into thinly veiled inquiries into just how her sister had done it, and finally, into dismay over how a woman could abandon as decent a man as Luc, un homme sympathique. As if her sister, Genevieve, were indebted to him for marrying her, as if a woman should feel gratitude toward a man who didn't beat her, a stance their mothers had silently, at times explicitly, conveyed. And for nearly thirty years now, the tentacles of such beliefs had too often managed to stretch the several miles from town to the beach and sting her right in the heart.

Liliane felt an old feeling resurfacing: it was as though everyone in town seemed to think she, Liliane, should apologize to Luc Thibodeaux.

When Liliane heard Vince pull into the driveway, she sat down on the couch with her book. When she saw him in the doorway, holding a white, glossy box from Buffleheads, she knew that he had heard the news too. Typically, they bought gourmet pastries from the small restaurant down the street only on special occasions.

Today, Vince had chosen their favorite, the éclairs with the coffee-custard filling. He did not speak until Liliane was slicing one into halves on the cutting board.

"Ah, I heard something disconcerting on the golf course . . ."

Liliane took their éclair to the table. Vince was leaning forward in his chair, hands clasped beside his napkin. His cheeks and neck seemed to droop with fatigue. At seventy, they could no longer count on long naps or brisk showers to erase a few years. She sat down before speaking. "I heard, Vince. Henriette called."

Vince exhaled through his nose, producing a small whistle. He stared at her. She squeezed the end of her half-pastry, forcing a little custard to poke out the other side, and started to bring the éclair to her mouth, until Vince stopped her, his hand on hers. …

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