* The coffee shop was loud. Crowded. Hissing espresso machines, ice clanking in tall glasses, customers laughing–all sounds that CJ adored about this place. It had been years since she’d been here–in her old home town. Yes, she had been born here, but her real experience with this coastal tourist town had been limited to her first five years of life. And a few return trips on weekends during college.
It was here–Café Noir–that she had practically cut her first teeth. Her mother (whom she affectionately called “Mam”) and grandmother (Noni), had shlepped her here from as early on as she could remember. They met after work, before Saturday market, for Sunday brunch. Anytime either of them grew weary of life’s daily grayness.
She looked around with pleasure. The place had grown, she observed wistfully. That must mean business was good. A smile snuck across her face as she set her bag down and nestled into a chair at a corner table. She pulled out a lightweight cardigan, remembering that these southern coastal restaurants were so inordinately over air-conditioned during the summer months.
CJ hoped to find solace in this town for the next two, possibly three days. She had a publishing deadline by the end of the week, and her home turf was not proving conducive for writing right now. Here she could relax–her identity concealed, as she was nearly a household name now in her current neighborhood, and definitely among abnormal psychology novel enthusiasts around the globe.
Peering into the screen of her sleek tablet, her mind meandered back to another day, in this town, when her mother’s brand-new boyfriend, James, had announced that she, Camille Jeanna Pelletier would no longer be known as Camille, or Milly—as Mam used to teasingly call her. James resented her French-born father, who, he claimed, was nothing more than an uppity deadbeat dad. Mam had argued that point vigorously at the beginning of this romance, but James’ jealousy would tolerate no challenge. So, while her surname would still reflect her paternal side, her initials, CJ would replace her lyrical given names, Camille Jeanna.
She remembered how horrified she had been at this prospect as a small child. How could someone–anyone–steal her name? It wasn’t right! She was Camille, and that was that! In her childish innocence she, too, had fought the newly imposed regime. Hands on hips she had declared bravely, “But I don’t want to have the name CJ. That’s boring and…
James had interrupted sharply, “Girl, I don’t care what you want. I’m not going to remember that bastard every time I hear your name.”
Camille–CJ– had been deeply humiliated and frightened, having had no idea what his words meant. She had begun to sob out of the sheer horror of being ignored. And insulted. Mam had always listened to what she wanted, even when she couldn’t actually have what she desired. And Mam didn’t scream! Or interrupt.
Even now CJ could feel the terror—how she had felt stripped bare. Separated from … from what? She hadn’t known then. But now CJ was quite aware of the onion-like layers of alienation she had been subjected to. It had begun with herself. That day. She had been denied the right to continue being herself. And that had only been the beginning, she recalled, a spreading shadow darkening her young face.
All of the turmoil and torment she had experienced over the years had inspired her to study psychology. So she went to the Université Paris Descartes–a bit of French spite, she acknowledged bitterly. She had been only nineteen. She had studied feverishly and had mastered French. It was here that she had begun to write stories. Many stories. A great multitude of stories. Most of them had been her own personal stories, long trapped within, now pouring forth like water, gushing from an overflowing drainage pipe after a spring thaw.
Continued in Behind Each Face*
*Because this story appears in the recently published book, it is subject to restrictions as to where it can be posted in its entirety.
* revised and edited, 2015
© Julia Penner-Zook, Behind Each Face