Claire and Evangeline, After Ko Un by Lindsey Trout Hughes

by Mark Chmiel

At night
I sing my child to sleep
And the song begins with

Claire Fontaine,

Born in Saint-Vincent-des-Pres, Saone-et-Loire
Who skipped town in the 80’s
With a baby girl in her belly

Decided to give it a go
Selling her art at fairs and festivals
In the states

Set up shop at an outdoor market in Florida
With her infant daughter held close

Where a handsome mechanic bought a painting
And then another and another
Before asking her to dinner

She declined, as the man only had a motorcycle
And Claire would not leave her baby girl
With another soul

So the man sold his bike and bought a car
And a carseat
And took both girls to dinner
And that was that

Claire and her daughter stayed
Moved into the mechanic’s apartment
Above the garage

Time passed
And the baby turned three
And it was that summer
That they found the tumor in Claire’s brain

Before she died
She asked the mechanic
To adopt her daughter
Which he did
Raised her as his own
In the apartment above the garage
Which he converted into an art gallery
To showcase Claire’s work
Shifting her many paintings around every few months
Sometimes arranging them by color
Sometimes chronologically
Sometimes in the arc of a memory

 

And

Evangeline Fontaine,

Born in Paris
To a young painter
Who ran away from home

Opened her home to me
So that we might recover from heartache
As a team

Gave me my first cigarette on my 25th birthday
Said, It’ll make you feel better.
Said, I’m sorry. My French is showing.

Shared her fold-out couch with me
In the studio apartment too small for a proper bed
Painted an imagine of me on a small canvas
Peering into a fountain at dusk

We spent the nights
Sleeping with the window cracked
And found out too late
The open window would let in the bugs
That would cover our bellies with welts

We spent hot days
Sitting on the front stoop
Chain smoking
Drinking Jim Beam with cream soda
Reading Murakami and Chekhov
Respectively

Crying often
And talking at length
About the two-woman show
We would never write
In which she would play Joan of Arc
And I would play Mary Shelley
And together we would fight the patriarchy
Alongside monsters of our own imaginings

She showed me me the interview
That the local PBS station did with her mother
Claire
While she was pregnant
We watched the screen crackle
As Claire talked from somewhere far off
About the experience of painting the ocean
While her baby girl swelled and tossed in her belly

Later we
Evangeline and I
Poured over letters
The man who had raised her found
In a locked secretary drawer at the back of the garage
Letters from Claire detailing disappointment
Love triangles
Thwarted ambitions
Soft descriptions of the garden at noon

We wondered out loud to each other
What words our daughters would read

Evangeline’s family has kept the cottage
In Saint-Vincent-des-Pres
Where her mother loved to paint
And she sleeps there when she visits
After drinking wine with the mayor

On the hottest night
Of the summer we shared
She sang me the tune
That her mother was named for
In her native French

A la Claire Fontaine

At the clear spring

Il y a longtemps que je t’aime
Jamais je ne t’oublierai

I have loved you for a long time
I will never forget you

And I use those words now
To sing my babies to sleep
With gratitude
For women who paint seascapes
And give with fervor

 

–Lindsey is in the Writing Rejuvenation online class.

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