I've always loved Chocolat, and Anouk is the most interesting character to me. I watched the movie again recently, and this fic practically wrote itself. Warning: It's a little dark, and it goes in something of a weird direction.
Here is wisdom.
Let him that has understanding count the number of the beast:
For it is the number of a man.
– Revelations 13:18.
Within a few minutes of him walking into their new shop, Anouk starts measuring up the Compte de Reynaud. She doesn't look up from scrubbing the floor, but she listens carefully to his conversation with her mother, and within a few more minutes, Anouk has him figured out. The Compte doesn't like them, doesn't want them in Lansquenet, doesn't approve of Vianne. Anouk doesn't bother to wonder why. She's a single parent, she doesn't attend church, she runs a business – men have no end of reasons to disapprove of her mother.
Anouk's knees ache from resting on the hard floor, and the soapy water stings her bitten fingernails and cuticles. For a moment, the pain distracts her from the hot anger in her stomach as the Compte scoffs at Vianne, "Opening a patiserrie during the Holy Lenten fast..." Anouk recognizes the disapproval in his voice immediately. Disapproval and hate are the two most common looks that men give her mother.
And then there are the men who look at Vianne the way little boys look at the window of their chocolate shop – hungry, practically drooling for a taste. Little girls don't do that as often, look at their chocolates and drool. But then, Anouk has lost count of how many times she's been told that little girls should be seen and not heard.
When the shrill recess bell rings and waves of children spill out of the schoolhouse, several of the boys in Anouk's class run towards her, their heels kicking up dust across the battered playground. She smiles at them, thinking they want to play, until she notices their curled lips and hateful eyes. In the seconds it takes to hide her disappointment, turn her face into a blank mask, they've formed a ring around her – laughing and pointing. They're hunters, and each of them is hungry for a taste of the fresh prey the north wind has blown into their schoolyard.
Anouk turns around once, searching for a gap in the circle of boys, a way out. When she doesn't find one, part of her wants to bury her face in her hands and cry... but then, in her mind's eye, Anouk sees her mother, her head boldly thrown back, standing toe-to-toe with Monsieur Le Compte as he tried to intimidate her. So instead, Anouk takes a deep breath, balls her hands into fists, and flies at the boys surrounding her.
Their eyes widen seconds too late. They had all been expecting and hoping for her to cry, eager to see her broken, but her attack catches them by surprise. You don't really want to hurt them, she tells herself. You just want to stop them laughing. Then all coherent thought flees as she gives herself over to movement and savagery. Her fingernails claw at their freckled faces, her fists aim for their gap-toothed mouths, her legs kick at their skinny knees. Anouk bares her teeth like a wild animal as she feels her blows connect, but over her own pounding heartbeat, the boys' taunting laughter still rings in her ears. "Where's Pantoufle? I'm your kanagroo now!" There are so many of them... and they're so fast...
She catches her breath in the quiet, empty classroom, where the teacher makes her kneel against the wall for the rest of recess. After she calms down, Anouk notices blood trickling from one knuckle – probably from hitting some boy's teeth. She raises her hand to her mouth and sucks on it, grimacing at the coppery taste of her own blood.
Anouk still remembers the taunts in previous schoolyards, far away now, from pimply-faced boys whose names she's forgotten or never knew. "Where's your father? You don't have a father!" She leans her head against the wall and sighs. The boys here are no different. Soon enough she and her mother will have packed up and moved on – again, adds a small, bitter voice in her head – and these boys will be far away and forgotten, like yesterday's trash.
When the knocking jars them awake from a deep sleep, Vianne whispers to her, "Stay here," and creeps downstairs. Anouk wants to stay there, and for a moment, she lets herself feel safe. She ducks her head under the crinkly white sheets, savoring their sweet, soapy smell – her mother just washed them yesterday. But when she hears a woman crying from the chocolaterie below, she takes a deep breath, throws the blankets off, and hurries downstairs.
At three steps from the bottom, Anouk stops and slowly peeks around the wall. Light from the street pours in through the front windows, and she sees Vianne crouched on the floor of their shop with a sobbing Josephine. Anouk's nightgown is thin and her feet bare on the stone steps, but that isn't why a shiver runs down her spine. There are fresh bruises are Josephine's face, in the pattern of a large hand.
Aside from her mother, Anouk hasn't known many grown women who never married. In the chilly night air, she wonders if all married women, beneath their makeup and long sleeves, bear bruises like Josephine's. She wonders if all married women, behind closed doors, are the wives of fists and harsh words.
It doesn't feel like very long before knocking wakes them up again. This time, the knocks are loud and fast, come at a much later hour, and worst of all, are accompanied by angry shouts. Vianne and Josephine rush downstairs to bar the door of the chocolaterie, and Vianne again orders Anouk to stay in bed, but again, Anouk tiptoes after her mother and hides on the stairs, watching.
The scene that plays out before her is terrible – easily the worst thing she's ever seen, and Anouk sobs, puts her hands over her face, even pinches herself to see if this isn't some nightmare. She moves her hands over her ears when Serge, drunk and angry, yells out, "Meddling bitch!" Her stomach clenches in painful knots, like she might retch. Even with her eyes shut tight, she still sees Serge hitting Josephine, then raising his big, rough hands to Vianne's throat to choke her...
Over the sounds of the fight, Anouk hears again cruel taunts of the schoolyard, as if all the boys who ever teased her are suddenly inside her head. Where's your father, little girl? You don't have a father! If anything happens to your mother, you'll be all alone. All alone.
After a few weeks, a few girls in Anouk's class warm up to her enough let her play house with them. The game is silly – Anouk doesn't understand why the other girls want to pretend they have houses and husbands to take care of – but she's lonely for friends and doesn't complain. Two girls, Pascaline and Yvette, seem to really like her; they cover their mouths and giggle daintily at her jokes, and listen in wonder to her descriptions of places she used to live.
Playing with them one day, Anouk realizes she's always gotten along better with girls. So has Mama, she adds, thinking of the fast friendships her mother formed with Josephine and Armande. Out of nowhere, a memory comes to her – she and Vianne strolling through a Vienna park at twilight, when they passed by two women sitting on a bench beneath the trees. The two were holding hands and kissing, just like Anouk had seen men and women do, except they were both women. Vianne had pulled her hand and whispered to her not to stare, but Anouk couldn't help it, and she gaped at the women, her eyes and mouth wide. She had never seen such a thing before, and it made her mind reel with strange new possibilities.
In bed that night, she snuggles close to her mother when the cold north wind blows so hard it rattles the windowpanes. Vianne drapes an arm over her and she feels safe. Anouk listens to her mother's steady heartbeat and slow, gentle breathing – the two most familiar sounds in the world to her – but she can't fall alseep. She lies awake for a long time, her eyes tracing the ghost-shadows of tree branches the moonlight casts on the ceiling, and wonders.
Roux isn't like any other man Anouk's ever seen. His hair is longer than hers, and he wears it pulled back in a ponytail. His voice is soft and warm, like a fresh croissant, and he speaks in an accent that Anouk's never heard before, even in all her travels. She's not usually nervous around new people, but she and Vianne buy necklaces from Roux on the dock by the river, Anouk suddenly feels shy.
"It's so pretty," she breathes, cupping the delicate bead in her hand.
"Ireland's finest,"Roux answers in that rich voice. He nods at her and raises his hand above his head in a strange motion. Anouk realizes he's tipping an imaginary hat to her, and she pictures him wearing a black, three-cornered hat like a pirate. A surprised giggle flutters up from her stomach like a butterfly and escapes her lips. She suddenly feels silly and strangely light-headed.
As she and Vianne are walking back to town, Anouk notices her mother glance over her shoulder at Roux, and something in her eyes reminds Anouk of the bedtime story she sometimes tells her. About the princess who fell in love with the pirate.
I was wrong. That's what Anouk thinks when she watches Roux dancing with Vianne at the party. She thought she knew all the looks men gave her mother – desire; disapproval, like the Compte; hatred, like Serge – but she was wrong. Roux's gaze isn't any of those. His gaze is tender, his hands gentle as they touch Vianne's body and spin her around. It makes Anouk feel warm inside, like the hot chocolate her mother gives her on cold mornings, and she smiles as she watches the two of them twirling together. She's never been so happy to be wrong.
Anouk tries to stay awake to watch the rest of the dancing, but her eyelids grow heavy and droop. Soon the gentle rocking of the boat and soft light of the lanterns lull her to sleep on a mattress beside Josephine. She has a strange dream, a nightmare where the lantern lights turn into a raging fire. Then Josephine is shaking her awake, her voice loud and panicked. It's no dream.
They somehow find their way back to the muddy shore, and amidst all the noise and confusion, there's a moment – just a few seconds – when Anouk thinks her mother is dead. For a few wild heartbeats, it's as though someone has taken a razor to her wrists, slicing deeply into her flesh, and she can only stare at the wound, uncomprehending. But then Josephine pulls on her hand, gasping, "There, there she is," and Anouk sees her mother crumpled beside Roux on the riverbank. The pain is gone before she can even feel it.
I was right. That's what Anouk thinks on the warm summer day when Roux returns and scoops her up in his arms. I was right all along, and it takes her a moment to understand the thought. Then she remembers what she said to the boys who teased her. "I do have a father. I just don't know who he is." She was right; she's had a father all along. And now, Anouk thinks, wrapping her arms tightly around Roux and smiling into his hair, now I know who he is.