Postcards from Three Pines: The Cruelest Month
‘So what did Ruth want?’ Olivier asked, as he placed single malt Scotches in front of Myrna and Gabri. Odile and Gilles had gone home but everyone else was in the bistro. Clara waved to Peter, who was shrugging out of his coat and hanging it on a peg by the door. She’d called him as soon as the séance had ended and invited him to the post-mortem.
‘Well, at first we thought she was yelling “fuck”,’ said Myrna, ‘then we realized she was yelling “duck”.’
‘Duck? Really?’ said Olivier, sitting on the arm of Gabri’s wing chair and sipping cognac. ‘Duck? Do you think she’s been saying that all along?’
‘And we just misheard?’ asked Myrna. ‘Duck off. Is that what she said to me the other day?’
‘Duck you?’ said Clara. ‘It’s possible. She is often in a fowl mood.’
Monsieur Béliveau laughed and looked over at Madeleine, pale and quiet beside him.
The fine April day had given way to a cold and damp night. It was getting on for midnight and they were the only ones in the bistro now.
‘What did she want?’ Peter asked.
‘Help with some duck eggs. Remember the ones we found by the pond this afternoon?’ said Clara, turning to Mad. ‘Are you all right?’
‘I’m fine.’ Madeleine smiled. ‘Just a little edgy.’
‘I’m sorry about that,’ said Jeanne. She sat on a hard chair slightly outside their circle. She’d reverted to her mousy self; all evidence of the strong, calm psychic had evaporated as soon as the lights had come on.
‘Oh, no, I’m sure it’s nothing to do with the séance,’ Madeleine assured her. ‘We had coffee after dinner and it must have had caffeine. It affects me that way.’
‘Mais, ce n’est pas possible,’ Monsieur Béliveau said. ‘I’m sure it was decaf.’ Though he was feeling a little edgy himself.
‘What’s the story with the eggs?’ asked Olivier, smoothing the crease on his immaculate corduroys.
‘Seems Ruth went to the pond after we’d left and picked them up,’ Clara explained.
‘Oh, no,’ said Mad.
‘Then the birds came back and wouldn’t sit on the nest,’ said Clara. ‘Just as you predicted. So Ruth took the eggs home.’
‘To eat?’ asked Myrna.
‘To hatch,’ said Gabri, who’d gone with Clara back to Ruth’s tiny house to see if they could help.
‘She didn’t sit on them, did she?’ Myrna asked, not sure if she was amused or repulsed by the image.
‘No, it was actually quite sweet. When we arrived the eggs were sitting on a soft flannel blanket in a basket. She’d put the whole lot in her oven on low.’
‘Good idea,’ said Peter. Like the rest, he’d have expected Ruth to devour, not save, them.
‘I don’t think she’s had that oven on in years. Keeps saying it takes too much energy,’ said Myrna.
‘Well, she has it on now,’ said Clara. ‘Trying to hatch the ducks. Those poor parents.’ She picked up her Scotch and glanced out the window to the darkness of the village green and imagined the parents sitting by the pond, at the spot where their young family had been, where their babies had sat in their little shells, trusting that Mom and Dad would keep them safe and warm. Ducks mate for life, Clara knew. That’s why duck hunting season was particularly cruel. Every now and then in the fall you’d see a lone duck, quacking. Calling. Waiting for its spouse. And for the rest of its life it would wait.