The lady of the house, Madame de Jarjayes, stood at five feet three inches. She was taller in heels, so she often preferred them. It was strange, she thought, that all of her daughters had grown taller than her; surely they had gotten that from their father, even though most of them were no more than an inch taller at the most.
One last child remained at home. The youngest and most capricious of the six Jarjayes children was older than thirty and had not married or even attempted courtship. General Jarjayes would have a fit if he knew the thought was crossing her mind, but all of her other daughters were married already, and had been for many years. Why not Oscar?
Perhaps the blonde woman didn't want to be married, couldn't bear the thought of a husband who wanted her to stay at home and attend to household duties. Madame could hardly blame her for that. No, she had tasted the wine of freedom, and now she wanted to drink her fill of it, much like she did the alcohol in the cellar.
She couldn't lie to herself any longer. Madame de Jarjayes was worried about her youngest child, her daughter who tried so hard to become someone she was not.
Oh, Oscar… You will never become a man. You will never become your father. I don't want you to!
She bowed her head slightly in shame as she quietly opened the door to Oscar's room. It was late afternoon, and the foyer was bathed in the soft light of the setting sun. Her husband's wish was to see their daughter become not simply a man, but a man just like him. The general wasn't a bad man, but… his wife couldn't help but silently object to his decision to raise her as such and force her into a role she didn't need to play, that she was certain her daughter did not want to play.
No, perhaps she did. Oscar had always been obstinate, headstrong to the point that it was almost a fault. She was so much like her father!
The remaining light flickered over the floorboards and across the smooth wood of the piano. The sound of fluttering sheet music caught her attention, and Madame de Jarjayes made her way to the stool, her heels clicking against the floor. Her fingers traced over the music notes on the paper as she stared out of the open window.
The breeze that came through was gentle, and only barely brushed at her hair, but she sighed, enjoying the feeling of it anyway.
Oscar had gone to Normandy.
Her husband didn't know, Nanny didn't know… Why didn't anyone know? Shouldn't she, as Oscar's mother, know? She slowly uncovered the keys of the piano, running her fingertips over the alternating pattern of black and white. There was just something…incredibly lovely about a piano…
The G Sharp made the weight of Madame's finger known by squeaking in protest. Ah, perhaps the majestic instrument needed tuned… After all, it had been awhile since it had last been done. But really, it was nothing of importance. She could not read the music notes and had no idea what they meant or which ivory or ebony key was given what name.
"Oh, Oscar… What reason do you have for leaving, now?"
Even though General de Jarjayes was so harsh on Oscar that at times it had frightened her, Madame de Jarjayes missed the days when her youngest had been…well, young. She'd never wanted to turn the clock back for herself… No, she was older and wiser and knew what she would do differently if she could change things. She always had felt that her mistakes were minor, and could not think of anything in particular she would change for herself. But for her children… For her children, she would do anything! If only turning time back ten or even fifteen years could be possible!
She would do it, certainly she would. She could remember Oscar as a baby, as a toddler, as a mischievous young child that she couldn't spend much time with, as a young lady who had the air of a man about her… Ah, those were the days, though! Despite the severe punishments bestowed upon her most fragile yet astoundingly brave daughter, Madame de Jarjayes truly believed that Oscar had, at one time, been happy.
But what is happiness? she mused. Is it marriage?
Her finger tapped against G Sharp again. No, it is not marriage. Ah, I love my husband, but…happiness is not solely based on that…
G was next. A pause that seemed to go on for a slow eternity, and then G Sharp, G, F Sharp.
Oh! I …I remember…
A young Oscar looked up almost fearfully at the figure standing over her, and the dark-haired head of her companion turned shortly afterward to regard Madame de Jarjayes with slightly shadowed eyes.
"We weren't doin' anything wrong!" he declared, sticking his little chin out and trying to push his friend behind him at the same time.
Oscar would have none of his protectiveness, even at a mere eight years old. "We were just looking," she said, pushing his outstretched arm down so that she could stand beside him. Her chin stuck in the same way her companion's did, but there was an air of pride about her that he could not seem to match.
"We didn't hurt nothin', honest." André's voice was quiet but firm, and Madame was reminded of the punishment Oscar had received early that morning for…well, she didn't know what. Her husband had failed to tell her, but he had said that Oscar had been disobedient. She could not help but wonder what her daughter-pretending-to-be-a-son had done that could possibly warrant a beating, but…
Ah, it was better not to think about it too much. She was not allowed to interfere with her "son's" discipline.
She remembered that day well. Eight-year-old Oscar, nine-year-old André… they were always covering each other's back. If one got in trouble, the other usually ended up being punished right beside them. She smiled a little as she recalled all of the trouble those two had caused in their youth, and her fingers pressed down on the keys again.
G Sharp, G, F Sharp, G, G Sharp, G, F Sharp…
The F Sharp echoed eerily before the sound stopped. Ah, yes… That song… It was the only one she could claim to know, the first song Oscar had learned…and André, bless his heart, had learned it right alongside her.
She wondered if Oscar still remembered how the song went. If she remembered learning it…
"You like this piano?" Madame asked the children, pulling the dusty sheet off of the back of it before taking a seat at the stool. She ran her fingers over the keys that they had already uncovered. "This belonged to my mother."
"Can you play it, Mother?" Oscar wanted to know, her face serious and far too much like a little soldier for her mother's liking. Oh, how it hurt her heart to see her youngest child looking like that when all of the others had laughed and smiled…
"Yes… Well, no." Madame laughed. "I know one song."
"What is it?" André spoke up this time, but quickly shut his mouth and looked down, almost as if he was ashamed, the toe of his shoe scuffing against the floor.
She smiled at the two of them and pulled them closer to her. "Pay close attention," she said, "and you'll be able to play it by yourselves before dinner is served."
She finished playing the short, almost upbeat song, and ran the tip of an index finger down the length of the piano. There was just no chance that Oscar would remember the tune, Madame thought to herself as she let her hands come to rest on the cool ivory keys. It was just a silly song considering the lovely pieces her daughter could play. It was like comparing a children's nursery rhyme to a novel. She smiled and closed the cover of the piano, standing for a moment to watch the horizon.
What is she doing in Normandy? she wondered. It probably didn't matter, but Oscar had a habit of turning away from every problem she encountered. Like the time she'd been twelve and she and André had been wrestling in the house and one of the general's favorite chandeliers had gotten broken… Oh, well, Oscar had run from that problem, and it had definitely been the last…that she knew of.
Perhaps she had found a new problem worth running from. But why, then, was André not with her? A small frown found its way to her face. Even when they had broken the chandelier, they had gone and hidden together…
Shrugging her slim shoulders, she walked into Oscar's bedroom and looked around at the barely lit walls. Her room did not have much inside of it, but that was just like Oscar. She had never been frivolous, even as a youngster. Oh, but…she'd left her hairbrush on top of the dressing table, again.
She smiled fondly as she picked it up and touched the bristles. There were still a few strands of hair tangled within, but she didn't pull them out. As far back as Madame de Jarjayes could remember, Oscar had constantly forgotten to put her hairbrush away. It was almost like she'd left it there on purpose to remind her that she had not changed as much as she thought.
She opened the top drawer and settled the brush in between a comb and a few neatly stacked ribbons that she wondered if Oscar had ever even used. Probably not, she thought, gently pushing the drawer shut. But something stopped her before it could close completely. Perhaps it was the dim lighting, or the fact that something seemed so very out of place at the back of the drawer, but she was suddenly pulling the drawer open completely.
Her fingers grasped something light, and she pulled on it, shaking the material out when she had it in the open. Strange, she mused. It was a shirt. But it was definitely not in one piece. She turned to leave the bedroom to examine the clothing in the better-lit foyer, but was stopped by a light, gentle sound.
She wasn't sure why the thought came to her mind. She could not read music, and she'd never been able to tell one note from another.
Curious now, she lightly stepped towards the foyer and the waiting piano.
There was no mistake. That was the song. But…Oscar had gone to Normandy, so…
Her feet carried her to the doorway, and she peered around to see André leaning over the piano, his fingers gently pressing the keys, turning the song that should have been upbeat and happy into something else… It sounded…
It sounded sad. She smiled and moved a little closer to him, lifting the shirt up so that she could see it better. "André," she said.
He turned to look at her, his fingers continuing the melody despite the fact that he was not looking at the keys, though it only lasted a moment. His fingers slipped on the piano, making a sound not unlike the kind Oscar made when she was frustrated with something while she played. A mish-mash of music notes that did not harmonize. It sounded absolutely terrible!
"M-Madame," he said to her, startled, his eyes fixated on the shirt in her hands for a long moment before he remembered to bow his head.
"What are you doing up here?" she asked. Her voice wasn't accusing, merely curious. André had always been free to walk in and out of Oscar's room as he pleased, except of course, when she'd been confined to it as some kind of punishment—though that was hardly enough to stop him. But…Oscar was not even at home…
"I heard you playing," he admitted. "I thought that perhaps she had come back…"
"No, she's still gone." She walked to the window and noticed the candles André had thought to light as she felt the cool breeze evening brought with it. It was getting late… "Do you know why she went to Normandy?"
"I…" He was hesitating, and Madame de Jarjayes knew André only hesitated when asked a question if he was trying to protect someone or something. He had been that way since childhood, and she doubted such a habit would change.
"It's all right. You don't have to tell me."
Relief flooded his face. "Thank you."
She ran her fingertips around the edges of the large hole in her daughter's shirt. "This can't be mended," she mused, mostly to herself. "I wonder why she kept it…"
"She wants to live as a man."
André's voice did not startle her, but she hadn't been expecting him to speak at all. "Oh?"
"Oscar…is not a man." He lowered his eyes, and Madame was reminded that one of them was indeed blind. "I can't see her as anything other than a woman."
"I see." Gently, she folded the shirt and held it under her arm. "André, Oscar is a woman. I'm afraid my husband and I have been foolish to raise her as a man. She seemed happy at times, and so sad at others that I've questioned our decision to do so from the moment she was able to talk."
"She was happy, sometimes," he admitted. "But if you had raised her as a woman, she would not have had the freedom she has now."
"And you would not have been allowed to stay with her." She reached over and ruffled André's shorter hair, much like she'd done to him when he first came to the mansion. "André… do you think that would have been the better course of action?"
His answer was so quick that she wondered if he hadn't been thinking of it before she even asked the question. "Oscar is well past the marriageable age. All of her sisters were engaged before they turned 15." She smiled at André, but he looked down at the floor. "I can't think of her without thinking of you. The two of you have been inseparable for so long now… That's why… I wonder why she did not take you to Normandy with her."
Silence met her ears, but André's face was burning with shame.
"I won't pry," she finally said, patting his shoulder lightly before making her way to the door. "Perhaps some separation will give the two of you time to think about what to do for the rest of your lives."
He smiled at her, then. It wasn't an especially happy smile, nor an especially sad smile. Perhaps, Madame de Jarjayes thought, it was a bitter smile.
"I have an idea as to what you might decide to do."
"André, keep on loving her."
She noticed his head jerk upward in shock at her words out of the corner of her eyes, but she merely turned to look at him, a smile on her face that was definitely sad. "She's had a shortage of it her entire life. As far as I'm concerned…you're the only one who knows her well enough to have the right to feel that way."
He bowed his head, but said nothing. What could he say, she wondered, to the words she'd just spoken to him? She only hoped he understood.
She closed the door behind her, and made her way down the staircase to throw out the shirt in her hand. Oscar might miss it when she returned, but really, her daughter should not hold onto clothing that couldn't even be worn. It had been a nice shirt, once, but it was torn and impossible to fix, so it was better to throw it out, wasn't it?
She noticed Nanny standing in the hall, and stopped for a quick moment as a sudden thought came to mind. "Nanny," she said, and the older woman nodded her head and smiled at her. "I found this in Oscar's dressing table. I thought maybe you could use it to patch something up, or to make a new pincushion out of. If all else fails, you can just save the buttons for when one of the other shirts needs a replacement."
"Of course, of course. Oh my! I wonder how this happened?" Nanny's fingers found the large hold in the front of the blouse.
Madame laughed and shook her head, walking away from André's grandmother as she continued to muse over the hole in the shirt with some sense of amazement.
Her heels clicked against the hardwood floor as she walked, but before she could enter her own bedroom, almost on the opposite side of the mansion, she heard that sound again.
Oh, that boy… Well, man. André hardly looked like a child any longer. She smiled as she shut her bedroom door behind her, but even after she settled into bed, she could hear the strains of Oscar's piano as they filtered in from under the door.
She wondered if André knew he was acting just like Oscar by playing out his frustration on the ivory and ebony keys. He probably did.
Well… It is a bit strange, I'll admit. I'm a bit fond of this, though. Several things to say very quickly. Firstly, the song André and Madame de Jarjayes play on the piano is a real one, and one that my mother taught me, even though she could not read music or tell the keys apart. It's a fun, upbeat song that can be played to sound sad. It can be played with one hand. (I think it can also be played as a round.)
Secondly, there was a tiny bit of symbolism with Oscar's torn shirt. Madame thinks she should throw it away since it cannot be fixed, much like Oscar seems to think she should do with her womanhood (femininity) after her heart is broken.
I always wondered how André might have felt on the night Oscar went to Normandy, or even the nights in the week before she came back. He joins the French Guards, but it's not certain as to whether or not he does so that very night, or the next night, or when he actually gets into the Guards. Just some speculation, there… Thank you for reading! Feedback is, as always, appreciated.