Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: RELATIVES (02/15/18)
TITLE: A Wonderful Riot
By Jan Ackerson
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“The first sheet is your birthmother,” he says. “It’s not good news.”
I scan the sheet. Not good news is right. She died eight years ago. There’s contact information for a Rona Gallagher; I look up, questioning.
“That’s her mother. Your grandmother,” Shofield adds unnecessarily.
I flip to the next sheet.
“Your birthfather.” Shofield names a nearby city. “He’s got a small business there.”
I scan the information, then close the folder and give Mr. Shofield a check.
“Good luck, miss,” he says.
In my “finding my parents” fantasies, it’s always my birthmother who opens the door and falls into my arms, weeping. But when I call the number for Rona Gallagher, my grandmother, I get three things: a long silence, a string of curse words, and an invitation never to contact her again.
Birthfather it is, then. But I’m shaken by Rona, and decide not to toss “Hi, I’m your daughter” in his face immediately. The business on Shofield’s information sheet is a French bakery, and I concoct a plan.
I’m a freelance journalist, so I successfully pitch a story about small businesses to a recent client. A phone call to La Petite Boulangerie and a few other places in the same block, and I have two days to revise my fantasy.
I walk into the bakery early on a Thursday morning. There are several customers at the counter, and I look around, expecting to see a middle-aged man with my hazel eyes, my cleft chin, my mouse-brown hair. There’s just a teenage girl at the counter, though. When it’s my turn, I say, “I have an appointment with the owner.” I hold up my tablet. “For the story? Is he here?”
She turns around and yells into a back room. “Uncle Erik! That writer girl is here!”
The man who walks into the bakery isn’t my father. He’s in his twenties, younger than me, and he’s holding a macaron in each hand. He holds them out to me. “Which color is best?” he says. “I think Steve put too much purple in this one, don’t you?” He holds up his left hand, and a voice from the depths calls out, “No, I didn’t! Those are lavender macarons! They’re supposed to look like that.”
“Um,” I say. “Mr. Garnier?”
“No,” says the young man. “Well, yes, but not the one you want. That’s my dad, he owns this place. There’s a baguette emergency.”
“Oh!” I say. “Could I maybe…go back there? For the story?”
There’s a veritable mob in the kitchen, all introduced to me in a swirl of flour, and all related to each other. Lavender-macaron-Steve is a cousin, the young man who accused him of wanton purple usage is cousin Al, and there are cousins and aunts and uncles of several generations, all unnaturally coated in various edible substances. Staring at a table of overly-browned baguettes, with his arms akimbo, is Erik Garnier. My father.
He’s younger than I imagined him; when the interview finally gets underway, I ask his age. He’s only 47—he was 16 when I was born. A child.
The interview happens in the middle of a wonderful riot—I have to ask my questions while Erik and Steve and Sadie and Marie and Al all hop from one crisis to another. Finally, exhausted, I leave with a parcel of eclairs. Al holds the door for me and says à plus, ma belle. I don’t speak French, but I think he has just called me beautiful.
I interview a few more small businesses, then go home and write the story, knowing I’ll visit the bakery again soon.
Four days later, Al texts me. He’s in the area, wants to see me. I remember his ma belle and hope he’s not thinking we might…he’s my brother.
I invite Al inside and wait, over coffee, while he turns several shades of red. Finally, he looks at me, his coffee cup shaking. “My dad…” he says. “He wonders…” Al puts his cup on the table. “Is it you? I mean…are you her? His…my sister?”
I nod, unable to speak.
To my shock, Al leaps up and runs out the door. A minute later he’s back, and it’s Erik who’s falling into my arms, weeping. Ma fille, he whispers into my hair. Grâce à Dieu, ma petite fille.
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