The Two Sisters

This is another piece of work for the M.A. course. My remit was to write something purely fictional, not a piece of life writing, something that could be identified as pure fiction.

I took some memories of Brittany, and also its folklore, and wound them togther to come up with the following, set in small-town Brittany………… Any resemblance between the lead character and my ex-mother-in-law, is, of course, purely incidental………

Div C’hoarazed –The Two Sisters
As the bells rang out across the town square, Ninie looked up from her knitting and motioned to Néné.
“That’ll be Monsieur Serandour. I said he wasn’t long for this world”
Néné grunted assent, head bowed to her crochet. They sat on the worn armchairs with the crocheted cushions in the window of the house on the Place St. Sauveur. The light was fading, and they had lit the lamp that illuminated the window to the square, for the shutters were still open, and the shadowy pink geraniums were still tapping the glass outside.
Ninie continued.
“I said that Sévérine would be the death of him. Those old men never listen.”
“But she was only five years younger than him-“ Néné began hesitantly.
“Baah non, that’s what she said, Mark my words, there’ll be a new one there by All Saints Day. These flighty pieces are all the same. Another one to add to her list.”

Across the square in Hubert’s café, James looked over to see the charming vision of the two ladies working by the lit window, as he had every night since his arrival in Haut-Cozenay. He felt the depth of his own loneliness, seeing this intimate scene replayed nightly until the smaller of the two women hobbled outside to bring the metal bar across the blue-painted shutters, and hide the ladies and the geraniums from his view.

It emphasized his own isolation from this small community. It seemed like looking onto a lost memory, but was it a real memory, or just an idyll of a time, which for him, had never been.
“Another?” Hubert called along the bar.
“No thank you. I must be going. Good night. ” James fastened his overcoat against the rapidly cooling night, and ducked his tall form under the low archway of the cafe and out into the blue-tinged twilight. Behind him he could hear Hubert and the regulars calling out ‘good- nights’ as he walked across the cobbled square and up the Rue de l’Eglise on his way home.

Home. Now that was a strange concept. Since when had Ar-Ty Kozh become home? He had reached his front door, low like all in Haut-Cozenay, and as he turned his key, he automatically ducked his head under the date of 1498 carved in the weathered stone.

Morning dawned bright, as bright as it ever did in October in this part of Brittany. Ninie and Néné were up early, as ever, Néné furiously scrubbing the worn step in front of Div C’hoarazed, while Ninie alternately rubbed the window panes with a duster and tweaked the already perfect geraniums to within an inch of their lives. At Div C’hoarazed nothing was out of place, from the lace that hung at the windows to the freshly picked out 1698 above the door.

As he crossed the square from the baker’s, James could not help but notice the form of Ninie as she scrubbed at some imaginary stain on the window. She was younger than he, and alone at that age, with no-one but Néné for company. Such a waste! She was an attractive woman still, a little severe, in the local style, but with a neat figure amplified only by that of Néné by her side, easily twice her size.

He saw the Kure Guivarc’h coming out of the church. Div C’hoarazed stood two doors away from the giant edifice, garlanded with triskels, proof to the world that Brittany was once great in his own right. The Kure Guivarc’h was another.
“Demat, Gwreg ar’Le Flohic, Gwreg ar Kerguelen” he said, raising his hat to the women as he passed. The Kure, part of the local Breton militia, didn’t miss an opportunity to use Breton whenever he could. Much to the amusement of the locals, who dismissed him as ‘Brezhoneg Kernevad- someone from Cornwall’, but only when he was out of earshot.

He heard amusement rise from Ninie and Néné, but only when the Kure had passed safely into Hubert’s cafe. Kures still demanded a certain amount of respects in these parts, however eccentric. The weak sun made Ninie Kerguelen’s fair hair glow, and he was struck by how youthful she looked in the light of day.

Later that day, he again took up his post at the window of Tempus Fugit, Hubert’s little cafe across the square. There were more cafes in Haut-Cozenay than shops, but after a careful process of elimination, he had settled on this one. He had once asked Hubert why his cafe had such a strange name.
“Eh bien,” said Hubert, scratching his head, “because it’s written above the door.”
It was, carved just above the date. Little changed with time in Haut-Cozenay.

As night fell, the sisters lit their lamp, and began their tranquil vigil by the window. James found himself smiling as he watched them knitting and chatting in the golden light, offering him a window on their lives. He was a shy man, but he knew he had waited long enough.

“Hubert,” he began, “what do you know of Madame Kerguelen and her sister?”
Hubert guffawed. “That’s never her sister, Néné Le Flohic is her c’hoar-kaer, her sister by marriage only.”
“So how do they come to be living together?”
“That’s a very long story. Néné Le Flohic is a little simple, so maybe it is better to be living with Ninie Kerguelen than shut up at Plougernevel, gast!”
Another voice came along the long wooden counter.
“And maybe she’s not, Hubert Gicquel.”
James recognised this as the voice of Gwenole Le Goff, the fishmonger.
Hubert intervened “Leave the poor old Mamm-gozh alone, Le Goff!”
But Le Goff did not want to be silenced. “Mamm-gozh ar gwall” then noticing James, translating, “an evil grandmother. You know nothing about it Hubé Gicquel, you were away at school at Quintin.”
James moved, disquieted, back to his window seat. There were many disputes around here, over sheep, but sometimes over women, and he did not wish to join in. Behind him the conversation rose and fell, now in French, but peppered with the guttural sounds of swearing in Breton, he heard ‘monetg’an diaoul’, go to the devil, more than once. He preferred to sit and watch the gilded Ninie at her window, spinning her webs of delight with her sister-in law. He wove Ninie into his dream of France, the dream he had brought to Haut-Cozenay with him when Mado died so unexpectedly. When Néné hobbled out to close the shutters, his vision was clipped once more, and he picked his way back home along the Rue de l’Eglise.

The next morning, he was at the baker’s when he heard Ninie Kerguelen enter the shop behind him.
“Demat , Iwan Mahe” she said to the baker “Demat, Yann ar Morgan, Good morning, Mr Morgan.”
How did she know his name? He felt himself blush.
He struggled, with the tongue even more unfamiliar than French.
“Demat, Greg a Kerguelen.”
She smiled at him. “Gureg you say, gureg aar Kerguelen, but well done.”
She had a nice smile. This morning, she was wearing a frock of green wool that made him notice how green her eyes were. He decided to dare a response.
“I am obviously in need of some classes in Breton, Madame Kerguelen”
“We will have to see what we can do,” she laughed, and the bell jangled afresh as she made her way back out into the Place.

“Oh, that Ninie!” Mahé the baker was sighing. “Fifteen times I have proposed to her, and fifteen times she has said no. Never looked at another man since all the tragedy at Div C’hoarazed, never” he raised his floury palms to the heavens in mock despair.
“Tragedy?”
“Oh yes, bad business, bad business, some even say that the Kerguelens are cursed, daonet. But I say she is an angel.”

James was getting more and more intrigued by all of this, and Ninie Kerguelen’s part in it. Saint or sinner, he had to find out.
He soon got his chance. As he walked past the church, there was a poster outside inviting everyone to a Fest-Noz a few days hence. It was to be held in the square, dancing, grog, and krampouezh. He kept his evening vigil at the cafe, willing the days to pass.

He was not alone in watching. Others were also watching him. At the back of the bar, big Gwenole le Goff was deep in conversation with the wizened little Konan Cairou, who still held a little farm up at Le Faöuet.
“She was beautiful as a girl, that Melusine le Korrigan, when she came down from St Ygeaux, or was it St Gilles-Pligeaux?” Old Cairou began elegaically.
“Ninie not from Cozenay then?” replied Le Goff, poking the fire.
“Baah non, she was from the villages. From nothing, the Korrigan lived twelve to a house with the pigs. But she was something different was Melusine, soon caught the eye of young Deniel Kerguelen.”

Le Goff looked puzzled. “But I thought she married Andreu? Who is this Deniel then?”
“That was the elder brother. Strong boy, until one day he fell from his motor-bicycle with Ninie on the back. Never woke up the next morning. Broke Grandma Kerguelen it did. She didn’t have the heart to stop her marrying Andreu after that. Six months later she joined Deniel in the vault.”

“So why is she still in Cozenay?” Le Goff had heard rumours, but never found anyone willing to confirm them. It was true that Cairou descended rarely enough into Cozenay these days. He reached into his pocket for his pipe, and settled down for a good tale.
“Ah, that’s a long story and part of it Néné le Flohic’s – Erenné le Flohic is the Kerguelen sister. Never a beauty, she married old Le Flohic late with the the farm up at Le Faöuet as a sweetener, she set to having babies but they were never quite right until Erwan arrived. She loved that boy, but he spent more time at Plougernevel than at home. Some say that’s where she should have been all along …”
“But what of Melusine? How does she come into this?”
“Having babies too, though everyone said they were like no Kerguelen they’d ever seen. First Deniel, then Loïc, then the baby Fañnch, all the image of Ninie, the green eyes, the pale hair.”

Old Cairou placed his empty beer glass on the table until Le Goff should fetch him another. Le Goff rose unwillingly, pulled into the story. As he paid the next two demis, the lights were gradually coming on across the Place St Sauveur as dusk fell.

“Le Flohic and Kerguelen went off to the wars, a lot of it about, Algeria, Indochina, every time they were on leave, a new baby. The Kerguelens flourished as the Le Flohics withered.”
“So what of Le Flohic? And the son?” Le Goff couldn’t understand how a family could just fade away. He had always suspected that Ninie of something, but this added a whole new depth to her depravity.

“There was some argument over the farm. Next thing Le Flohic’s found down the well. Mind you, he was a drunk, that one, and no gift to Néné anyway. So Erwan takes over the farm, only fifteen and not quite right in the head. Killed all the pigs and then himself, thought he had failed his mother. Should have kept him up at Plougernevel, they say he blew his own head off in the barn.”
Le Goff cut across him. “I knew about the husband, but not about all this..”
Old Cairou wheezed a laugh. “Oh, you’re long from finished yet- tragedy sticks to Ninie like a crepe to a pan.”

By now Hubert was listening, and all three fixed their sights on James, gazing across the square to the lights of Div C’hoarazed, and the forms of Ninie and Néné neatly framed between the darkening blue shutters.
“Nothing like an old fool-“ began Hubert
“There’s nothing like an English fool,” chucked Konan Cairou, now struggling to keep his beer down “With any luck, he might take her back with him. Stop him clogging up the cemetery with the rest of them”

Le Goff smoothed his thick black moustache. He had always wondered at the heavy population of Le Flohics and Kerguelens by the calvaire, with their marble angels and ceramic wreaths. Now he felt a little closer to understanding.

As the shutters of Div C’hoarazed closed, on the dot of nine, regular as clockwork, James too had developed that rhythm. But the cold wind that heralded James’ departure tonight signalled the arrival of a newcomer. “Joell Pouliguen?” wavered Old Cairou “Marz’an Doue, by the name of God, is it you Joell Pouliguen?”
“Konannen ar Cairou? Gast, thought you’d be long dead, bumped off by Intañvez Kerguelen many a year ago!”
Hubert was mystified “Pouliguen? But there’s no more Pouliguen in Cozenay, not for years.”
Old Cairou laughed. “This one escaped, off to seek his fortune up in Paris, imbecile!”
The newcomer butted in. “Still making the finest crepes this side of Montparnasse, Cairou!”
Hubert was even more puzzled now. “But who’s this Intañvez Kerguelen? Her son?”
Now it was the turn of the two old men to laugh “Intañvez du Kerguelen! The black widow Kerguelen.”
Pouliguen continued. “The merry widow still playing her dance, then Cairou?”

Many beers later, the shutters of the cafe closed, the fire rising high in the stone grate against the chill night, they were still ruminating the story.
Le Goff could not wait any longer. He had to ask.
“What happened then to old man Kerguelen?”
Pouliguen took up the story. “Found him, didn’t she, hanging from the rafters at Div C’hoarazed, in his own attic.”
Then Cairou followed on. “Took her an hour to ring the sapeurs-pompiers, and what a time to cut him down. Poor Andreu, knew him from a baby, and to see him so.”
“She wept for weeks and drove good Doctor Guegan half-mad with her tales of depression.” Pouligan alternated “Then old Néné Le Flohic hop out of Le Faöuet, up and sold, the Grandma’s house and all, and installed in Div C’hoarazed before her brother was cold in his shroud.”
“But why would he do it? It was his house was it not?” Le Goff chipped in “What could she have done to make him do such a thing?”
Pouliguen and Cairou’s faces fell. They looked deeply into their dark beer, in the darkening bar.
“There are some that say she knotted the rope herself-“ Pouliguen said, still staring at the table. “But I say it was words that killed him.”
“The worst. She told him that they were not his. Not Deniel, his first-born, he loved and carried everywhere with him, not the bright little Loïc, not his darling baby Fañnch.” Cairou intoned.
The men around the table looked solemn. Any man’s worst fear.
It was Le Goff that spoke it first “So the Kerguelen are no more. They die with Néné,”
Pouliguen sounded the final knell. “Yes. Bad business we said. She’d made sure that the boys gave up all rights before he died. One by one. Threatened to tell their father they were bastards. She had it all.”

It was the night of the fest-noz, and the town square shone with an icy beauty. The church overlooking all, like a glacial fairy palace. As James moved across the square he could hear the plaintive call of the biniou, the Breton bagpipes, and see the women in their traditional dress describing the complex circle dance of the An Dro. And through all of this, he could see Ninie Kerguelen. Her costume embroidered black and white, the bigouden on her head starched high, white and lacy, she seemed transfigured, from another age.

James stood by waiting with a warming rum grog in his hand. Across the circle, munching on their galettes, he was observed by Pouliguen, Le Goff, and Cairou.
“She’s coming in for the kill” whispered Le Goff between mouthfuls of galette.
James walked towards her, holding out the glass of steaming grog.
“Noz vat, Gwreg ar Kerguelen, Good evening Madame Kerguelen.”
“Noz vat, Yann ar Morgan, Good evening Mister Morgan.” she smiled, accepting the cup. “You really are becoming a kendervh a Berzh-Doue, a Breton cousin. They do say the Bretons and the English are closely related.”
“That’s what they say, Madame Kerguelen”
“Even your name, Mr Morgan – Mor for sea and gañ for born, born of the sea. You have green eyes too, very Breton”

Even his guardian angels had abandoned him. “He’s old enough to know what he wants, gast!” cried Hubert, taking another cider and admiring the buttocks of the youngest Le Clec’h girl. Le Goff was inclined to agree with him on both counts.
Cairou and Pouliguen were too busy talking about medical insurance and galette recipes to notice the departure of Madame Kerguelen and Mr Morgan.

They passed down the Rue de l’Eglise, then as they rounded the corner of the deserted Allée du Calvaire, Ninie suddenly grabbed him and pinned him against the wall.
“Do you think they’ve guessed?”
“Ninie darling, don’t be so ridiculous. What is there to link the nice English gentleman and the Black Widow? When I find poor dear Néné dead in her bed tonight, it will be such a shock that they will all worry for my health.”
“Rather like when I found dear sweet Mado drowned in her bathtub, poor thing.”
“You have rung the boys to say we will be out in a couple of weeks?”
“Just give me the time to sell up and I’m all yours.”
He now pulled her into his arms, the lace of her coiffe crinkling against the tweed of his jacket.
“I am the only match for you Ninie, and you for me. Now ,at long last, we get to enjoy it all.”
They walked slowly back to the immaculate house on the Place St Sauveur, and turned the key slowly in the lock.

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