Corner of the Sky
Author’s note: In the French alphabet, the letter “Y” is referred to as “I grec”, which translates to “Greek I”. As in English, it tends to be a letter of little use, occuring mostly as a pronoun to replace phrases beginning with “à” and at the ends of words. Montparnasse has far more reason to dislike the letter “W”, which is “double V”, as it figures only in imported words, but “Y” has a better adjective with which he can play.
Spring rains drove everyone indoors again, and it was little wonder Babet had returned to sodden evenings preying on the drenched homosexuals who used the Rue de Rivoli as a meeting place. He often returned to the tavern quite late at night, soaked to the skin. Feuilly considered assault to be beneath his dignity, but as Babet had no dignity left, it was as appropriate a manner of making a living as any other. The “poofs”, as Babet always called them, were unlikely to bring charges, and even if they did, the police were likely to think them complaining of being overcharged or robbed by the male prostitutes who were a part of the evening scene. They were safe targets for those who had learned the lesson presented by Claquesous’ mask. Brujon waited for another housebreaking, as he preferred not to pay the price of assault or murder. The rains brought Montparnasse back inside, too, and Feuilly began the lessons yet again, determined to force some form of learning into the child’s stubborn brain.
Montparnasse knew that Feuilly’s presence meant education, but it also meant wine, because Feuilly was the only person who paid for him to drink anymore. He paid for his food and drink by learning his alphabet.
Each day he came in, a few more letters would be added, and only when he had said them through would Feuilly pass his wineglass and summon one of the owner’s daughters to bring Montparnasse a plate of food.
“Come here,” Feuilly would always have to order, pulling over a chair since the boy had grown too big to sit in his lap. An order obeyed sped up the process of posturing and pacing that would inevitably result if Montparnasse were left to his own devices. He would always try to reach for Feuilly’s glass, and Feuilly would always have to guard it carefully. “Say your alphabet first.”
“I know my alphabet.”
“Then say it.”
“Abcdefghijklmnopqrstuv,” he ran together quickly. “There.”
“That isn’t all of it.”
“It’s all I know.”
“Y [‘I grec’].”
“Why is it Greek?”
“Because it is.”
“Why is there a French one and a Greek one, then? What good’s the Greek one?”
“It’s very useful.”
“You’re just saying that.”
“No, it truly is. The phrase ‘Il y a’ [There is], for example. ‘Il’ - I-l - ‘y’ - Y - ‘a’ - A.”
“Why isn’t it just ‘I’, then? Why the Greek one?”
“Because it is.”
“It would easier to have one less of the damned things.”
“Perhaps it would, but it exists. And there’s one more. Just one more. Z.”
“Z,” Montparnasse repeated reluctantly. “Good enough?”
“Say it all the way through.&rldquo;
“Abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvw . . . x . . . Greek thing, z!“
“Good enough.” Feuilly passed his wine glass over, only to watch it be drained in one gulp. “Now, you’ll see what those last few look like.” He pulled his blank book out of his pocket, and on the page reserved for Montparnasse’s alphabet, carefully printed the last four letters of the alphabet. “W, X, Y, Z. You see? The Greek one looks different to the French one.”
“I still don’t see why it makes any difference. Sounds the same, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, but it looks different. Now,” he pulled the book back to himself, and on a fresh page, quickly printed a line of letters. “Read these to me, and you’ll have your dinner.”
Parnasse glared at the page. “This isn’t the right order!“
“That’s because you are going to read them off to me. You know they are out of order, so you know what they are.”
Parnasse sighed. “P - F - C - Q - D - T - M - O - X - V - S - A - N - B - E - Z.”
“Very good.” Feuilly motioned over the daughter who was acting as waitress that evening, and she knew immediately, from the past month’s experience, what was required.
“How much is it now?” she asked as she set the plate in front of Montparnasse.
“The whole thing,” Feuilly answered for him. “Soon enough, he’ll be able to pick out words.”
“You have the patience of a saint.”
“It’s probably true. Hey, Viv, remember what you asked me?”
“Yeah.” She bent down to his height, so he would not have to stand in order to keep the conversation quiet.
“Is this good enough?”
“What is that? You drawing for money now?” Brujon asked.
“It’s not for money, and shut your mouth.” It was a pencil sketch of a handsome young swindler who spent quite a bit of time in the tavern. “Will it do?”
“Oh, absolutely!” Viv cried, her eyes shining. “You got to let me give you something for it!”
“Parnasse’s meal. That’s all I’ll ask.”
“And you’ll get yours, too, then. I insist, if you won’t take money for it!”
“I’m not profiting off your little crush. You don’t even know his name.”
“Probably better that I don’t.”
Feuilly pulled out his knife and carefully cut the page from the book. “At least you have some sense.”
She put it in her pocket and refilled his wine glass. “You can’t let the kid drink you dry!” With a grin, she went back to the kitchen, still stroking her apron pocket.
“What else have you got in there?” Brujon asked.
“Oh good lord, give it a rest, will you? I just got myself a free meal, that’s all.”
Brujon grabbed the book out of his hands and ignored Feuilly’s protests to start flipping through it. “Jesus, boy, these actually look like people.”
“I should hope they do. Now give it back. I don’t want Babet to know.”
“He’s got a point, saying you’re going fairy on us.”
“I’m not going fairy on anyone. Just don’t tell him about the book, please!”
“You’re leaving again, aren’t you?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Who draws pictures for a living anymore? Only people who already knew rich people. Notre Dame and her kin are all dead. I’m in. Just don’t tell Babet about that book. He’ll think I’m out, too.”
Brujon handed it back. “Fine. I’m sealed.”
“Parnasse, that goes for you, too.”
“Wha’d’I care?” he replied with his mouth full.
“What do you care? I’ll make you care, by god!” This threat, however, was delivered with a broad grin. “No one says a word. Deal?”
“Deal,” Parnasse replied.
“Now, tell me your alphabet again.”
“I already did!”
“I know you did. That’s why I said ‘again’.”
“‘I grec’, not ‘Greek thing’.”
“‘I grec’, z. There.”
“Good enough, I suppose. Brujon, tell his holiness when he comes in, if he does, that I went home early. I’ll be around longer tomorrow night, and I’m in for any job he has going. I’m running short on funds.”
“I’ll tell him,” Brujon nodded.
“Now Parnasse, you be nice to these people here, you hear me?” The boy responded with a look somewhere between pity and a glare. Feuilly laughed. “Do it for me, all right?” He kissed Parnasse on top of the head before leaving, ignoring the little boy’s squirming.
Another evening gone. Idleness drags out time, and Feuilly was sick of it. Still, one gets through the dull as well as the good, he thought.
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