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News & Features » March 2015 » “The Christening” by Paul Renault

“The Christening” by Paul Renault

Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.

This week, Paul Renault meets a mysterious girl in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

PRThe Christening
by Paul Renault
Grand Rapids, Michigan

I heard footsteps on the stairs and looked up. It wasn’t the librarian.

“You aren’t supposed to be down here,” I said.

“Is this where they hide all the dirty books?”

“Why don’t you come over and see for yourself?”

I expected the girl to run back upstairs. No, she came right over.

“What language is that?”

“Polish,” I said.

“Who has books in Polish?”

“This is the old Polish neighborhood,” I said. “The West Side used to flood, so the land was cheap.”

“Are you the local historian?”

“I’m a page, that’s all.”

“Is that what they call you, a page in the library?” She looked me over. She’d been hit in the mouth and tried hard not to smile.

“I’d like to take some pictures of you,” I said.

“Naked?”

“As you are,” I replied. “I’m a photographer, or I used to be.”

“Where’s your camera?”

“In Guatemala City, last I knew. A boy took it.”

“Why?”

“Why do street kids take anything?”

She leaned back against one of the bookshelves. It wasn’t going to hold her. Her eyes got big, and she almost jumped into my lap.

“Sorry,” she said.

“It’s all right.”

“What’s that building that looks like Notre Dame?” she said. “I saw it from the highway. I got dropped off downtown, said I was going to GRCC.”

“You’re not?”

“No. I always wanted to see Notre Dame. I only came in here to get warmed up.”

“It’s the Basilica of St. Adalbert,” I said. “I’ll show it to you after I get off work, if you like.”

The lights flickered.

“Closing time,” I said, and I followed the girl upstairs.

There was the librarian, glaring at me. “I need to talk to you,” she said.

I said to the girl, “Why don’t you wait outside? I’ll be right there.”

The librarian waited for the girl to leave.

“She’s new in town,” I said. “I was downstairs pulling books for the dumpster like you asked me to, and she just started talking to me. She wants me to show her the Basilica. She’s waiting for me.”

“Do I have your current address?”

“I haven’t moved, if that’s what you mean.”

“I’ll be mailing your last check.”

“All right, then.” I punched the clock, threw on my coat, and went outside.

I didn’t see the girl right away. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d left. But she came out from around the building with her arms crossed.

“Cold?” I asked.

“Freezing.”

I took off my peacoat and wrapped it around her. “You still want to see the Basilica?”

“I just want to get warm,” she said.

“They won’t let you into St. Adalbert’s.”

“I’ve got nowhere else to go.”

“Why’d you come to Grand Rapids, then?”

“I don’t know.”

“Come on.”

We crossed the bridge and climbed the hill. She wasn’t wearing any makeup. I put my knit cap on her and tucked her hair up inside.

“How do I look?” she asked.

“We’ll see.” I took her into the old YMCA. The guys behind the counter didn’t stop us from going up to my room.

After four years of high school French, she knew François Villon’s “Ballade des dames du temps jadis” by heart, and I loved the sound of her voice, though hushed.

“What does it mean?” I asked.

“It’s about finding a bunch of women lying dead in the snow.”

*

I cooked red beans and rice in a Crock-Pot. We drank a lot of cheap white wine from the bottle and played around when she felt like it. I brought in a bucket for her to use so they wouldn’t catch her in the bathroom down the hall.

After a while I cashed my last check from the West Side library, and we got thrown out of the Y just before the money ran out.

By then she was a little pregnant, and we both felt lousy about it. We huddled by the vent behind the laundromat on Bridge Street.

“What are we going to do?” she said.

I kissed her red, chapped lips until they cracked and bled.

She downed the last of the wine and gave me this look like she was trying hard to remember my name, then hurled the bottle at my head. She missed—maybe she’d meant to—and glass shattered on the wall behind me.

“Time to go,” I said. “You coming with me?”

***

PAUL RENAULT’s credits include “Bush Meat” in the British science magazine Nature and “The Last Stud,” “Idle Hands and the Devil You Know,” and “Take Two” in Akashic’s Mondays Are Murder.

***

Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Mar 30, 2015

Category: Mondays Are Murder | Tags: , , , , , , , ,



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