Milk and Honey: Chapter Four

***Please keep in mind, as you read this, that this is a very rough draft of what will, one day, be a novel… I am currently revising/rewriting…***

Luc begins to eat.  The town doctor, initially worried about the state of the child, has informed Marcel and Odette that he would check in on Luc frequently to check on his progress and to make sure that Luc was gaining weight quickly enough.  Sometimes, the doctor said, premature babies have to be force fed in order to gain sufficient nutrition.  Luc was at risk for a number of ailments due to his early delivery.  The doctor was soon encouraged by the fact that every time he knocked on the Louis’ door, Odette would invariably have Luc attached to one of her nipples.  Luc was growing into a huge parasite living off his mother’s milk.  The doctor soon stopped his weekly visits.

At first, Marcel and Odette were encouraged by Luc’s insatiable appetite.  The frequent cries from midnight’s cradle, which announced the dawn of Luc’s hunger were met by both parents happily rising from their bed to console and feed their new-born son.  As the weeks went on, however, Luc’s demands became outrageous.  1:00 AM—weeping.  2:30 A.M. more weeping mixed with a low, sustained drone for milk.  3:45 A.M., the same.  Odette’s eyes, soon framed by tremendous black circles, cringe at Luc’s cries which punctuate her life more and more frequently.  Marcel takes mercy on his wife and would often try to pacify his son’s lactose tyranny.  He would cuddle, rock, and speak in fatherly-low-tones to his son, but Luc would continue to wail and Odette would eventually come to his aid.

On a particularly cold evening in January, Luc’s familiar wail breaks his mother’s spirit.  Marcel awakes to a duet of wails—his wife, with her head buried in pillow, throbs with sadness beside him.  “What’s wrong, honey?”—reassuring embrace blocked by mattress.  “This child of yours is not content to drink my milk; he wants to drink my very heart’s blood!”  Marcel chuckles, but quietly enough not to be heard by Odette.  Whenever his wife is emotional she becomes one of her beloved poets.  “I have not slept since Luc was born.  My own mother tells me how hideous I look—my breasts can’t keep up to his lips and that fucking moustache of his is ripping holes in my flesh and my very soul!”  Marcel conceals another laugh; his wife sounds like the Bible.  “And what do you think he does with all of this milk?  He paints his fucking diapers with it, that’s what he does!  You go off to work and have a good time with the boys while I have to stay at home with this awful shitting monster of yours who would eat me alive if he had the chance.  I want to shove one cork in the little fucker’s mouth and another in his ass, that’s what I want to do!  I’m not feeding him again tonight!

So, Odette snores now: just for a few seconds as she begins to sleep: exhausted breath.  Marcel listens to the screams of his son intensifying by the minute.  He thinks of his encounter with the angel, or whatever he was, and wonders how such an important child could be so fucking abrasive.  He has often considered telling his wife about the visitation, since she seems to harbor a lot of resentment towards the boy, but she probably wouldn’t believe it anyway: Marcel is much more open to superstition than his wife: she reminds him of this constantly.  Marcel quietly walks on the balls of his feet to his son’s crib, and Luc looks up at him in disappointment.  The screaming continues until Marcel returns with a sizeable jar of cream from the ice-box.

At first, Luc isn’t sure how to accept his father’s offering.  He has no experience with an open vessel to drink from, and is used to the pink, closed breasts of his mother.    While most of the thick, white liquid pours down Luc’s chin and belly, the remaining portion that gets past his lips and down into belly pleases him immensely.  Luc has never tasted milk like this before.  Luc coughs as some of the thick potion gets into his lungs, but sharply rebukes Marcel with a scream when he tries to take the jar from his lips.  His mother’s milk has, in recent days, become thin and watery—especially the brew from birth-marked breast.  But this!  This is heaven!  By the time Luc finished the last dregs of cream from the jar, he has mastered the art of drinking—skips the sippy-cup stage entirely: breasts are now obsolete.  His tongue now wrings the final remnants of cream from his moustache but the smell remains to remind him of the elixir every time he awakes.  “You are going to be one fat bastard Luc,” Marcel whispers with a chuckle.

The next morning, the sun shines upon a peculiarly quiet Louis house.  Odette is surprised to se the sun beaming through her window when she awakes.  It has been months since she has awoken to sunlight across her face instead of howls of hunger in her ears.  She rolls over to find only a divot in place of Marcel’s stocky frame: “gone to work, I guess”.  Odette becomes frightened, and neglects to put on her slippers as she runs to check on her baby.

Luc is sleeping on his belly as usual; Odette gently guides her fingers around his belly and flips him over like a reluctant trout.  His moustache is covered in white dust: his belly, the same.  Odette’s heart races until she notices the empty cream jar on the side of the crib: she now understands why Luc didn’t wake her with wails this morning.  “So, daddy’s got you drinking coffee cream now, eh?”  Thank God.  Odette puts on her slippers and walks into the kitchen to stoke the fire her husband left in the hearth for her.  The fire leaps to meet Odette as the hinge squeaks open.  Soon, water is boiling and Odette dips a tea bag into steam: it has been months since she last enjoyed this ritual in peace.  She sips the tea, and reads poetry from an anthology Normand had let her borrow and feels pale sunlight on her face; Luc doesn’t wake until 9:00 when the other two kids are running out the door to school.

With Marcel and Odette now sharing feeding duties, the next couple of months go by much more easily for the Louis household: Luc grows exponentially.  At six months, Luc has tripled his birth-weight.  Thick rolls of fat soon appear about the belly of the infant’s midriff.  Sweat gathers in these folds, as Luc abandons the sweet aroma associated with babies for a thick and heady smell, comparable only to his father’s work boots.  Odette bathes Luc three times a day in order to make his hourly feedings tolerable.

At Mass, the priest competes with Luc for attention, though Luc is remarkably quiet and well-behaved in church, seemingly entranced by the liturgy and incense.  Luc’s mere presence causes people to shift in their seats in order to get a better look at the diapered Buddha in their midst.  Luc quickly outgrows the clothing made for him by women’s sewing circles, only wearing diapers, roll-folds and his own sweat.  He is not yet bothered by being called “petite walrus” and by having his belly poked and prodded by people in pews who laugh at his size, shape, and of course, his moustache which Odette waxes and curls upwards for Mass.  When full of cream, Luc is delightful, laughing uncontrollably at the attention he receives from strangers: Luc is a sensation in his own small town.

The excitement soon spills over the edges of the small town, however.  Marcel and Odette soon welcome strange visitors, who have heard about their son, into their home coming from as far as Newfoundland.  People have heard, and want to see with their own eyes.  A strange, yet predictable formality develops around these visits.  Gifts are brought.  Usually the gifts are quite humble: a loaf of rye bread for the family or a pouch of tobacco for Marcel’s pipe.  But the gifts intended specifically for Luc, tend to be more opulent.  Luc’s cradle is soon surrounded by golden icons.  Soap is another common gift.  Luc’s aroma, or stories of it at least, have spread throughout the land.

Visitors are surprised by the Louis home.  Far from a palace, the home was constructed as a small hut for fur traders at the turn of the century.  Its walls are thin; lined with old skins, which are not strong enough to hold back the coarse language and arguments of its occupants.  Domestic disputes often greet visitors on their pilgrimages.  “Marcel, how am I supposed to clean your son’s fucking diapers when you use all of our water to clean your fucking feet?”  “Ahh, give it a rest, bitch, I’ll get some from the well as soon as I’m done cooking us some fucking dinner!”  “That’s not good enough, Marcel, by then the fucking diapers will be frozen to the floor-boards!”  “Well go get a fucking chisel: tabernac!!!”  Even more surprising to the visitors, is the overwhelming love and affection the owners of these voices show to one another when the guests are welcomed inside.

The man, short and stocky, constantly places his fingers on the small of his wife’s back and caresses her in the most sensual way.  She returns his caress with sultry glances and almost imperceptible sighs.  The older children do not flinch at the sight of their parents’ unorthodox way of colorful communication; for them, cursing is inextricably woven into the fabric of love’s language, and they have trouble trusting anyone who refrains from cursing.

At the center of all this mayhem sits a child.  His high-chair has become a throne, surrounded by lit sticks of incense, fine soaps, and various iconography depicting a Madonna and child.  The smell of incense intoxicates Luc, and his laughter bores holes in his parents’ constant bickering.  Music also helps his mood.  One visitor from New York brought Luc a phonograph with an assortment of scratched vinyl.  Beethoven intensifies Luc’s gluttony: by the time the first half of the Fifth Symphony has been touched by the needle, Luc has usually consumed about a quart of coffee cream.  Brahms makes Luc comatose and populates his mind with silver and gold.  But, by far, Luc’s favorite composer is Mozart.  The fury and tenderness of this music finds passages other than the two obvious ears into Luc’s small body.  He sits, entranced, in his high-chair like an opium eater—taking in every note, pause and crescendo. And then he drinks.

Luc also receives visitors from the animal kingdom.  Before his birth, the odd stray cat would wander onto the Louis’ property in search of food-scraps (usually provided secretly by Marcel), but in recent days, the place is over-run with felines.  Short-haired calicos, long-haired Persians, mysterious Siamese—all strays, and all, seemingly, in heat.  The painful sounds of cat consummation force Marcel and Odette to reveal the mysteries of sex to their two eldest children much earlier than they had originally planned.  Odette’s late-night giggles now make sense to the children, but are not nearly as captivating or as uninhibited as the screams of the cats at night.  Quite often, Luc looks toward window-sill to see a heavy-set tom-cat peering in: seemingly standing guard all night.  Luc smiles, and reaches out in vain to try to touch it.  No dice: his mother would never allow the dirty, spermy things over the threshold of her home.

Crows also show up, but are content to line the branches of oak—far from the reach of other visitors.  While Marcel is secretly partial to the cats, having been brought up with them as a child, he is less welcoming to the black-winged visitors.  The constant jabber of crows irritates Marcel, and they often swoop down at his children as they walk to and from school.  Marcel keeps one of his shot-guns at the front door of the house and the other on the step of the outhouse.  He hunts these birds out of boredom, mostly, though he sometimes mixes their white breast meat in with his stew to thicken it up a bit: nobody ever notices.

Luc is immeasurably blessed by his father’s prey, however.  He respects the scavengerial quality of the birds, and learns from them.  Before he is old enough to speak French, before he masters English, Luc learns the language of Crow.  His first word is crow.  His first joke is told in crow.  His parents and siblings laugh at him, not knowing that the crows, who hear voice from the holy high chair, understand its tones, its dialect.  The back-yard crows bow to Luc as he is carried out of the house en route to Mass every Sunday morning.  Luc’s first words invite the crows and Marcel’s shotgun drops them into a pot.

Fortunately, Luc’s fixed vantage point has never allowed him to see the devastating effect his father’s shotgun has upon the population of his black friends.  He often hears the birds talking to one another and to him: he grins excitedly.  Suddenly, Marcel rises from the table: loud bang from front porch.  Nobody flinches: the sound as predictable as the morning sun.  Luc begins to catch on though.  It seems to Luc that his friends are intimidated by the sound issued from big black barrel.  They, humble and meek, refuse to compete with the furious noise of his father’s shotgun.

One rainy afternoon, Luc looks through window and watches a crow friend singing from a tree.  The rain has transformed his friends’ jackets into dirty oil: thick, lustrous and mighty.  The bird and his friend discuss recent finds—whole rotten oranges, carcass of skunk and raccoon.  Marcel gets up— two bangs from the front porch: friends fall from tree.  Marcel returns to his paper, lights his pipe and hums.  Luc looks at tree, searching for familiar black hole voice: vacancy.  He sees his father there, muttering profanities under his breath.  No music now: no cream, either, just the avalanche of smoke falling from Marcel’s lips.

And how does it feel to be born one million miles away from home?  How does it feel to be taught to call imposters “father” and “mother”?  How does it feel to lie between the cold, damp sheets of a crib meant for someone else?  To smell the wrong kind of wood in the hearth?  To scream invocations at a deaf, blind father whose face has never been revealed?  To be born into a land so barren and strange one wonders why anyone would choose to inhabit it.  How does it feel?  How does it feel?

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