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G e t t i n g   It   W r o n g

 novel from the screenplay

  Peter loves Maggie.

 Maggie loves Peter.

 Alice loves Peter, too.

 Mary, Maggie's mum loves her daughter.

 Maggie loves her mum and Louisa also

loves Maggie's mum.


And Brandon, he loves money even if it isn't his.


It got tangled!


London, 1948. The city is putting itself together again after the Second World War, and people and families are trying to find a way forward. It's a struggle for all.


Peter is a young man who works at the library. He has hopes and dreams of one day being a novelist. His dreams and fantasies help him escape his day to day life where his somber habits inhibit his ways with women. But then he meets the woman with the bright red lips like a movie star.


Maggie is a young woman of prominent cheekbones and startling ambition, who wants to be a film star – or, failing that, a novelist. She's about as predictable as a thunderstorm.


Alice is the girl next door and works for a literary agent. She loves Peter's writing – and Peter too. But will she find the courage to tell him so?


In a slippery tale of stolen hearts and purloined novels, secret loves and hidden ambitions, these lives become irretrievably tangled.


Who will end up with whom? Who will end up rich and celebrated? And will art – and love – win out in the end?









  "I found the writing, subject matter and

general direction very powerful!

  This writing is astonishing beautiful

and sensitive — exceptional images."


Elizabeth Bedell


 Founding Editor













T H E   R E V E N G E



(formerly Another Color as screenplay)











There's a lot of interesting details in this part and an ominous, spooky atmosphere that primes readers to feel dread at the situation depicted.  Sensory details like the light on Severine's hair catch attention, and the character portrait of a desperate mother is effective.


The dialogue is vivid and interesting; having more characters for Severine to interact with definitely seems like a great choice. The story picks up once Jane leaves and has a lot of interesting beats.










Albin had long known his way through those alleys. So dark were they that at times he could see little beyond his hand. He held it in front of his face, knowing that when the shadows stirred, the darkness could bleed evil. Like others along those old canals, Albin carried a knife tucked into his boot. He could reach it even in the dark. Yet the darkness never stopped him from finding his way to her.


Severine's people had long lived in New Orleans. No one cared where they came from, although rumors had it that they were from France. Yet didn't they all claim French descent in the Quarter? Most even knew enough French to argue their claims. Still, there are tales to be told in all languages. Yes, along the canal, lies were built upon lies until, over time, they were shaded to resemble the truth, or so it was said. But even that was a lie. But who was looking?


Time and circumstances drifted until Severine found herself driven deeper into the shadows. From there, she remained ever vigilant for the dangers that could send her reeling to the next alley or to the very edge of the canal itself. Yes, she too knew her way around the French Quarter. Along with every quick exit.


At the marketplace, Severine made her way through the crowd with her covered basket and so little else. To disappear among them, she'd pull her golden-brown hair up under a tattered, long scarf she wrapped around her head. It never seemed peculiar to her as many domestics wore it this way to protect against the sun. And then wouldn't that rag serve to conceal her beauty from the men who strayed? When she noticed eyes following her, she'd tug her scarf down and wrapped the end around her mouth and long neck. 


There, at the marketplace, Severine moved fast and grabbed what she could when the vendors weren't looking and quickly tucked it under a rag in her basket. Perhaps two or three potatoes, if she could grasp them quickly enough. Small ones, her thoughts triggered, despite the magnitude of her hunger. She once tossed a fish in there. The fishmonger chased her forever. Forever, it seemed, because even days later, she still looked over her shoulder to see if he was gaining. In so many ways, he was.


When Severine was frightened she easily conjured the faces of her little ones, Marbella and Petite Mere. But that was yet to come. These little ones would one day be the reason she risked the wrath of fishmongers. It was for their smiles. Didn't they beam when she returned to their shanty near the docks with enough in her basket for potato soup or fish stew? And, on a good day, maybe an orange to share. Their smiles were what she lived for, even if there'd been something else. But there wasn't. Severine was dying. The hourglass ticked louder as the days floated away along with her weakening breath. Still, she didn't need no clock to see what lay ahead, as there was nothing there to look for.  So, what in the final days and afterwards would become of her jeunes filles, Marbella and Petite Mere? It haunted her every thought until finally it became a living nightmare. Could she silence the ticking of time long enough to glimpse what might lie ahead for her two girls when she was no more? No, it kept ticking in her thoughts. No, again and again. There was nothing up ahead for these children. No better days to hope for. All Severine's prayers were used up. She'd long lived on 'what if's'. Like what if she could somehow hold on to her closing hours until her babies were safely protected? What if blessings truly come to those most in need as the priests said? And still, the days pounded on her exhaustion.




It had been hard for Severine even before the babies came. They were born together; Marbella arrived an hour before Petite Mere, who was tiny, but demonstrated from her first days a strong will for preservation. You see, Severine had no husband. It was always hard for those women. Where do you go, if you can still run? All the same, who'd hear your pleas even if you got there? Not through the din of desperation from those crowding the edges of the canal. Desperation can plunge you over the embankment and into the brackish water when there's no other place waiting for you. Quickly, and without one last thought, drop yourself over the edge, breathe in the black water before you can smell it and all will be quickly over. The voices in her head told her so, and when she tried not to hear, they spoke louder. Was your stumble to the edge of darkness because they couldn't hear your stomach growling?  It never stopped passing through her thoughts. But they won't hear your splash either, echoed back. To escape these ruminations, there were places where Severine let her thoughts wander. But just as quickly, she'd turn and head in another direction as thoughts of a better place only serve to make the pain sting greater. Still, the voices follow; always there and always growing louder. Let the chains of shame drop off as leaving one's past behind is one way, perhaps the only way, to survive. No, you can't carry all that bondage wandering down alleys when it's only your hopes that might come to deliver you to one more day. Nothing else in your pocket's gonna do it as there's nothing there. Maybe that's a blessing. Count them when you see them, but then double the numbers when you don't. It's for the better. It's not always easier to have no history, no recollections of past lives, but then still no pain dragging you down. How long will you hear your own splash when it's all that's left for you? The canal offers no answers, only solutions. Still, you beg for peace. You keep wondering; how long will it take after the water folds over my head and my life falls under the currents? Tick, tick, tick slowly goes the hourglass, and it's starting to rhyme with the rumblings in my head. You can't count the days ahead as they don't belong to you, and the seconds you still own will quickly become invisible before you can possibly count them. "Jump", the voice keeps ringing. Painlessness is only a step away. Jump. And the ticking in your head will then stop. Finally. And then all that's left is to drift under the currents for a moment or two. But is that a promise? How far away is the edge of everything? Can I even get that far? How long are the voices' lies? So, what then if they're longer than my prayers? Jesus, where are you in this darkness?


One morning, long before Jesus gave her Marbella and Petite Mere, Severine wandered far from the alleys over to the French Quarter without her basket. All its emptiness had grown too heavy for her. The dizziness that hunger brings does that. If anything was going to come her way, there across from the Rampart was the only place it might. But truly? She clung to the hope she'd find something to eat. Over there. Surely. Although her thoughts were often pierced with jabs of hunger, she could still see a loaf of bread sitting in that kitchen window she'd never come upon before, and yet, still held to the hope she'd pass by one day. If she was blessed, by that many days. Bread, sitting in some rich person's kitchen window cooling. Maybe there'd be two loaves and no one looking. Two, one she could sell. But that day there was no open window with bread waiting. Alas, there was little else but thoughts of the canal. These thoughts kept jumping ahead of her. Maybe they aimed to trip her over the edge.


But then Severine saw a tub woman as she stepped into the alley to dump her tub water. The woman motioned to her.


"Hey, you are over there!"


At first, she glared at Severine.


"You a whore?"


"What…?" is all that Severine's throat could summon. She knew whores were chased off just as fast as they were chased after by them Frenchmen with a coin or two in their pockets. How could it matter which way you ran? It didn't matter if you were not one of those women. All the same, Severine had no run left in her.


The tub woman looked Severine up and down, perhaps like a priest counting one's sins as if they were stains running down her threadbare dress The stains of sin. But this Black woman, with a bandana tied around her head like a tub woman was no priest and harbored other thoughts.


"You come over here." The tub woman motioned Severine through the back gate and into the garden. Severine obeyed.


"I got a sick lady up there," the woman gestured to the big house that loomed behind her. "I need me some help with my tubs. I can't get to 'em and do all my house chores. I got no money, but I feed you. I feed you good. My lady up there, she's rich. She gots plenty of food in there. I feed you," she repeated. The last time Severine heard her for real.


Severine had no plans for the day, and her hopes had already gone looking for the canal. She followed the woman over to the wash house. Inside, piles of sour-smelling clothes awaited someone desperate enough to roll up her sleeves and attend. Yet Severine backed off at the sight, as she could hardly stand upright. Even with the morning light streaming through the broken washhouse window, her vision blurred as though it was suddenly growing dark; the blur that comes when your blood drains to your feet, even as they struggle for an exit. Or perhaps to put a foot down in the next life.


But the tub woman knew why Severine could barely stand. All tub women know the signs. Been there, haven't they?


"I got food. I feed you good!"


Severine placed a wager on the moment, one she had so little to back. If she could make it to the next meal, she might make it to the next day. Yes, there was only one plate of food between her and the canal. She slowly tugged her sleeves up and went to work. As soon as the tub woman saw that Severine could work a washboard, she left. But soon returned with a tray.


"Food," the woman said. "Sit down over there on the cot."


Severine sat. No, she fell over onto the cot. "Put your fears aside," the voice that shadowed her whispered, "the canal will always be there." The woman set the tray next to Severine and pulled the cloth off. Half or so of what had been left of a roasted chicken, boiled red potatoes, and bread. It was still warm. There was plenty of butter, too. She could eat the apple later and slid it into her pocket as she'd done with the one from the market. The one she'd eaten days before or even before that. The instinct to steal never leaves those who hunger. It goes sharp on you when your pockets are empty, and no priest is gonna change that with prayers to redeem your soul. Was it redemption from the hell that life along the canal tendered?


"Right here," the tub woman said. "You sleep here. Ain't nobody gonna bother you in this here washhouse. When I 'member, I come out at night and latch the gate to the alley. That gate's for tradesmen.  Me, I used to sleep right here, but my lady told me to come up and sleep on the rag rug next to her bed. Maybe she gonna need a glass of water middle of the night. It don't matter. It's warmer up there come winter."


How'd she know? How long had it been? How did this tub woman know that she'd hardly slept in days? Been there, hadn't she? All the same, she ate well that morning and later slept peacefully.  How long had it been?




Severine got through that day and so invited more to follow. It had been a while since she had eaten more than once a day, and even then only here and there. But then she worked hard for what she got, knowing she had that cot and a door to shut out the bleak night of the alley. But there would come a night when she would find not all of it.


Early one morning, Jane, the tub woman, came in and dumped a pile of her lady's laundry at Severine's feet.

"First, we go to the church. Come, we go now 'fore it gets hot."

Severine shook her head. She wasn't going to no church. She hated the way the priests looked at her, not like they looked at them rich women at Mass. No, their smiles went stiff when she knelt at their feet with hands uplifted to receive the host. Perhaps she didn't pray hard enough. Church is a place to wonder about such things while pondering the Lord's resurrection, along with what those long burnt-out candles were truly thinking. Before their flicker went out, did they convey the prayers of the suffering to Jesus as the priest claimed?  Maybe he lied. Else why am I still here? she wondered, when the canal still beckons?


"Yeah, you come alright," Jane said again. "Today, they hand out clothes. Things them fancy French women don't want no more. They leave 'em off in a pile at the door thinkin' they's goin' to heaven for it. Huh! They ain't goin' no place but down."


She pointed to the dirt at her feet, the depths of which, in Jane's mind, was where hell awaited the rich.

"Come, we get there early and find something good for you 'fore the others pick 'ems over."


Severine nodded. From the door of the shed, Jane looked up to see if her lady was standing at the window up there. But her drapes were still pulled. Jane smiled and nodded to Severine. It was going to be a good morning.


"What's the matter with your lady up there?" Severine asked once they were out of sight of the big house.


"Miss Marie? Ain't nothin' wrong with that woman. She's just lazy as a sow pig, is all. I reckon she done had somebody come dump her chamber pot all her damned days. And let me tell you, folks in the quarter say she's a kept woman. Don't know, do I? 'Cause I sure ain't seen no man 'round. Nope. But she doin' fine whatever she doin', ain't she now?"


Jane's laugh was hearty from the gut.


"Then why you stay with her?" Severine asked.


"Like I tol' you, she gots food. They brings something or 'nother by every other day or so, don't they now? Yep, right through that back-alley gate."


"What? Who?" Severine had never heard of such a thing. "Who brings food by?"


"You name it. She done got herself rich woman's accounts all over the Quarter, don't she? Yes, Ma'am. Grocer come by and put it on the table just after dawn. Miss Marie, she don't come down, so she don't even know what they brung, and she don't care none. Well, then she hardly ever leaves her room, do she?"


About then, Severine's stomach growled from hunger. Jane chuckled.


"We go over to the fish shack down at the docs to fill your empty belly after we get you a blouse or skirt at the church. Yeah, we get us some fried fish."


"You got money?" Severine asked.


"Money? I tol' you. She don't never know what they brung by. I sell a few things here and there. That's all there is to that!" Jane replied. But was it to Severine's question?


The fish shack was down at the docks, near where the fishing boats came in. There, the man would fry up the best of the catch what come in that morning. Severine smiled. The fish was good. It was rolled in cornmeal and fried right there. Got even better when he brought another plate of it. Jane grabbed pieces with her fingers. The Black man, tall with broad shoulders, called Albin, winked at Jane and she shot one back with a giggle. Severine and Jane left without putting no money on the counter. Well, well, Severine thought. Well, well indeed.


So, the following week, Severine worked the tubs for her cot and a plate of food, and watched closely as Jane showed her how to survive on her side of the Quarter where someone brings food 'round and nobody thinks a thing of it. What else mattered but working through those piles of clothes? The smell of Jane's cooking easily brought the answer. Severine knew that later, when Jane could get out, she'd bring a big plate of it back to the wash house along with some bread. And sometimes an apple.




Long days spent bent over a tub is a good time to chase down your thoughts, as there ain't nobody else to talk to but yourself. You keep asking, like how could that old lady up there go through so many clothes and linens in a week? That is, if what Jane had said was true; that she never left her bedchamber. And didn't she also say her lady was blind and deaf? So, maybe the old woman kept secrets. Don't all rich folks dwell somewhere on the other side of their secrets? Severine wondered. She had a dress and a few things she'd picked up at the church with Jane. She wore them for days on end, and when she had it left in her, she'd stay up late to wash and iron them dry for the following day.


Early one morning, when Severine had barely started her first tub, Jane flew in with a pile of laundry, which she dropped at the washhouse door, and quickly walked off. But soon, she returned with a big piece of buttered bread and a crock mug of coffee. Severine smiled. It had sugar.


"Eat," Jane said. "Later we go to the market and then to the docks. Albin, he gonna have a good piece of fish for us. Big one."


Severine smiled again, took another bite of her bread, and went back to her tub. It was another morning when thoughts of the canal all but floated away, perhaps like driftwood that had no past life anyone cared to remember.

But late afternoon came around, and yet Jane hadn't. Severine figured maybe she'd forgotten their plans and wandered off by herself. But then Jane opened the back door and whistled as she swept off the stoop. That was the signal for Severine to get ready, as they'd soon be hightailing it off through the back gate and down the alley. Guess Miss Marie was lost somewhere in her afternoon nap. Still, they slipped out to the alley quietly. But why thus? One mustn't disturb the secrets… pierced Severine's thoughts.


"I go to the fish shack to see my man whenever I can get away. Don't you know, we're gonna be taking off soon."


"Taking off? Where?" Severine asked. Taking off was another notion she'd never held as she'd long thought there was no place to take off to. Who'd told her that only a swamp full gator existed past New Orleans? She couldn't remember, and yet feared the very thought knowing that in the Quarter lies were stacked upon lies until they crumbled at your stumbling feet.


"Goin' to Natchez. I got a sister there. Yeah. She gonna take us in till my Albin gets work. Maybe he get it down at the docks there. They pay good and pay up ever' day. When we got enough saved, we gonna get married. That's what we're talkin'."


"How you gonna get there?" Severine asked. "You said the old lady don't pay you but scraps off her table."


"Oh, she pay me," Jane said. "She just don't know she do or how much."

Jane chuckled and opened the burlap bag she was carrying for Severine to see. It looked like a small smoked ham, a block of cheese that she could smell, and some apples. Other things were wrapped in tissue. Jane handed one to Severine and winked. Severine unwrapped a tiny bar of fancy soap.


"Where you sell these things?"


Severine held the soap to her nose. French lavender.


"I show you," Jane replied. "On the way to the fish shack. Got me some ladies over that way who pay good for what they brung by Miss Marie's. And she don't never know what's missing and she don't care none when she do. No, she sure don't. I give every penny what come from selling my goods to Albin. He say he gonna keep it safe for after we get married and get a place of our own. Yep, come one day, I gonna have a home of my own. Me and my Albin."


"The old lady don't know what's missing?" Severine asked incredulously.


"She never had an empty belly in her life. She don't care none about food, do she?  No, she don't care 'cause she's white like you."


Jane laughed out loud. But there was nothing the same about Miss Marie's whiteness and Severine's. Well, maybe but then again. Still, these virgin thoughts were fleeting. Because what if the priest had heard? Like he said, he heard Jesus talk about our sins. No, Severine was not like no rich woman. Ask the priest.


Severine saw little of Jane in the days ahead. It seemed as though Jane headed out whenever she had her burlap bag weighed down from Miss Marie's cupboard. And then it seemed as if Jane no longer invited Severine to come with her. Maybe that meant no more fish at the docks. Severine didn't think nothing of it. After all, Jane had shared how good Albin was, how hardworking, and her schemes for their lives together once they were married. She guessed Jane needed to weave her dreams with her man alone. Still, she wondered if Albin really dreamed alongside of Jane as there seemed to be something broken between them. Like when the truth is broken between two, and he can't seem to look you in the eyes because of it. Severine sensed it. No, the man couldn't look Jane in her worshipful eyes. Still, he could look into Severine's.  There were moments when she wondered if he was gathering her dashed thoughts. No, she thought. Only the priests can do that.


But for Severine there was no man and little to look forward to beyond a plate of food scraped from Miss Marie's table of bounty. Certainly nothing that might make her as giddy as Jane. Not much of anything beyond keeping her head above the canal water. Well, perhaps from time to time, a fleeting dream of the day when she too would have a husband to dream alongside of. To feed that poetry, she went regularly to the church on the days when they put castoffs out for the poor. Here, and there, she'd find herself a nice blouse before the other tub women got their hands on it. Maybe the kind a man might find pretty with mother-of-pearl buttons and fancy topstitching, but always with a stain or two. She could dream they weren't there as though they'd fallen off as easily as the mother-of-pearl buttons. One at the collar. One on the fancy French cuff. Gone. But still… there was some beauty left. Along the canal, beauty was shorted for those who struggled.


Then before the sun rose and Severine was sound asleep, Jane came in and shook her.


"I got me a ticket for the coach to Natchez! The early one what gonna take the mail. Gonna leave in an hour," Jane said. "Albin went and bought it yesterday. He say he wants me to go ahead."


"What? Alone?"


"Albin, he gonna follow me when he gets his money. He say the boss man gonna pay him up real soon, Maybe next week if they get a good catch. You think?"


"Are you afraid of goin' without him?" Severine asked.


"No, I ain't. I go straight there and then get things ready for Albin at my sister's. It's best to do what your man says. Then you got peace between you."


"I go, too?" Severine asked.


"To Natchez?"


"No, I go from here? Maybe the old woman will chase me

off. Get the law down on me like a vagrant? Yes?"


"Yeah, maybe. But you stay till she do. It don't matter none. I seen her. Seen Miss Marie looking down at the wash house when we's talking. She even saw me take food out the back door, ain't she? I knows she has. You think?"


"You said she's near to being blind. So, she ain't seein' much of nothin'."


Jane laughed at that. Or tried to.


"No, she ain't blind. Not for real. She just don't see me. Anyway, why it matter? Who gonna dump her chamber pot when I'm good and gone?"


This time her laugh stymied at the back of her throat. Jane knew the path to nowhere, didn't she? She'd traveled it too long by then. Her sleeping on that rich woman's floor and all, and it stuck in her craw. Maybe like she'd swallowed a knife.


"You fed me. I'll pray for you!" Severine vowed.


"I got to make the coach; else Albin be mad I wasted his ticket."


Jane reached to hug Severine but pulled back. At that, Severine felt that to Jane she was no better than the old lady simply for being white.




Without the food that Jane spirited out the back door, Severine had nothing. Well, nothing but a cot and a door. Still, she'd found another old basket and put it aside for a rainy day. Those days always come in the end, don't they?


The next morning, she grabbed her basket and headed to the market to see what she could see with the notion of stopping by the church to say a prayer for Jane and maybe ask the priest, if he didn't turn his back on her, when there'd be clothes left for the poor?


At the market, she walked about, and here and there, grabbed something for her basket. The bruised fruit and vegetables were always at the edge of the stalls, which made it easier. When the vendor looked away, she'd knock something to the ground and then quickly grab whatever landed at her feet. It was at the market that she ran into Albin. He came upon her with a big smile. Seemed like the man was always smiling.


"You know, Jane, she's got to be at her sister's place by now. Maybe tomorrow, hey?"


Severine had never been on a public coach. She'd never gone anywhere beyond New Orleans. Still, she nodded in agreement.


"You shopping for that rich lady?" he asked.


"No. They bring things by. I peeked in the window this morning. But maybe she don't come down to look it over."


Albin glanced into Severine's basket and saw two bruised red French pears and a small potato. They weren't for Miss Marie, were they?


"You 'member where the fish shack is?"


"What? I think," she replied.


"Down that way. Turn down the third street." He held up three fingers, so she'd know how many streets away.

"Turn that way and walk down to the docks. Follow the squalls of them seagulls. Down there, I fry you a piece of fish. Maybe some shrimp, if the boat come in."


"How far did you say?"


Albin chuckled.


"You come with me," he said. "I show you. Then you know when you want to eat my cooking."


Albin's smile had grown since she'd last seen the man. Along with the glint in his eyes.


"You know I done bought the fish shack," he remarked.


"What?" Severine wondered then when would Albin be joining his woman? Had she misunderstood Jane's musings all along?


"Yeah, I finally got my hands on enough money to put a down payment on it. Yes, I sure did."


Albin took her basket, and they started off.


"You follow behind. Hear?" he added. "So, them Creole women don't say nothin' about you coming alongside."

Severine fell back a few paces, and Alban went on whistling.


There, at the fish shack, Severine had a good meal with all the fried red potatoes she could eat. Alban tossed aside her bruised pears and filled her basket with this and that, pulled from under the counter. Severine left with a smile, a full basket, and a full stomach.




At times, Severine lay awake at night, wondering how long it would be before Miss Marie sent her packing. Maybe she gonna get the law down on her like they did vagrants, she kept thinking. 


But that's not what happened.


It was late one night, a few days after Severine came upon Albin at the market. From the humidity, she couldn't sleep and stood at the washhouse door, looking up at the stars. It was then that she heard a garbled sound, a moan of sorts. Sounded like it was coming from Miss Marie's open window up there. She heard it again. What if the old woman was sick? Even worse, what if she was dying and Severine was still in the washhouse when her time came? Would she be guilty? But of what? Severine reckoned that the poor are always guilty, and the rich never are. They're the ones who built the jails. Yes?


She went across the garden to the kitchen door and found it  unlatched. She'd never been in the kitchen. As she looked about  she heard the faint moans and followed them up the service stairs and finally to a door. Severine put her ear to it. The moans grew louder. She opened it. There she saw Miss Marie sprawled on the carpet. Looked as though she'd fallen out of her bed. Severine carefully turned the old woman over onto her back.


"I'm Severine, Madame."


"But where's Jane?" Miss Marie stammered. "I told her to go fetch me a glass of water."


"Jane's gone. Over a week ago. Can you stand if I help you?"

Miss Marie struggled to get up. With Severine bracing her, she made it to her feet and back to her bed.


"I go fetch you a glass of water."


Severine sighed with relief as the old woman wasn't dead and went back down to the kitchen for the water. No, the law wasn't gonna be coming after no one. At least not tonight.




The next day, Severine woke up with her nightmare still clinging to her thoughts. What would she do today? She wondered how long the food Albin gave her would last. And then where would she grab her basket and head to next? All over again, she could smell the canal where they dumped their chamber pots along with the empty souls; those poor women who'd lost hope of ever seeing a better tomorrow.


But the answer was there when she opened the washhouse door the following morning. There at her feet was a small pile of clothes to launder. And two apples laying on top. At first she had a mind that Jane had returned. But, no. Jane hated Miss Marie and had said she'd never be returning. Severine put her sorted piles into her tub to soak and then slipped the apples into her basket under her cot where it readied for the time she'd be driven back into the alley from whence she came.


The day was long, but the night would be eternally longer. When the last candle burned out, Severine put the iron aside and fell over her cot exhausted.  How long had she slept when she woke to see a man standing in the washhouse door? The moonlight flooding in from behind blurred his face. But she knew the voice well enough.


"Jane, she gone and she ain't never comin' back 'cause she ain't got no money for it."


Albin pulled off his shirt.


"And ain't never gonna get it."


Albin's grin jolted Severine. Leaving the door open to the hot night he went over to the cot and cupped her mouth with his big hand. He pushed her legs apart for it. It was more than a smile that he delivered this time.


There was nothing she could do even after the violation. Albin lay there snoring with Severine wedged tightly between Albin and the wall. See the knife, which had fallen out of his boot at the side of the cot, kept her from screaming. But anyway, scream for whom?


A few hours later, without a word, Albin got up when the morning's sun streamed in through the open door blinding him. He rubbed his eyes and pulled his clothes back on and headed out without a word to his victim.

But standing there scowling was Miss Marie. She knew, didn't she? He knew she did but still chuckled in her face.


"Get out of my way, old woman."


"I know you," Miss Marie said looking up as if he was near twelve feet tall. "You got a fish shack down there you just put money on. It don't matter 'cause you gonna wake up to see hell one night. Soon. You know what I mean, huh, stupid man? What's your wife gonna do with you? She ain't gonna take you back, is she? No, she don't need you now, do she? Well, she ain't never needed you. Folks talk, don't they? The woman already gots to open her legs to feed your kids. What kind of man is that? Your kind, ain't it so? And now look what you had done to Jane! Another stupid girl who can't see. No, that girl couldn't see even when she looked you straight in the eyes! See you don't gotta a soul, hey stupid man?"


Miss Marie looked past Albin to Severine with her hand over her mouth to hold back her shrieks of fear. Seemed like Miss Marie's words had also brought fear to Albin. His face dripped with cold sweat.


"Now you get off my property, stupid man, else I put the law on you and then they find you floatin' down the canal to where them hungry gators is waitin'. Yep, you know how them gators love a good hog carcass, don't they now?"


Miss Marie laughed loud in the man's face and she put it all in his face.


Albin wiped his brow and walked around Miss Marie. No, this tiny woman wasn't gonna step aside for him. So, what were Miss Marie's other secrets? Well, Albin would soon be finding out what Jesus had whispered to her.


"Severine, I 'member your name from when I had my fall. Now you go upstairs, child, there's a foot basin up there, soap and towels. Go on up and clean the smell of that fish man off you. Then put away the food what they brung by earlier."


"Oui, Madame."


Well, Jane was long gone, and Albin had disappeared back down the alley, but Severine was still there.  For now, her basket would remain stashed under the cot. Waiting.




Severine did as Miss Marie bid and went upstairs. Next to the room Severine had found Miss Marie laying on the carpet, was one with a large foot bath. On the white marble-topped commode was a large pitcher of water and a Chinese porcelain bowl with soap. She stepped into the basin and slowly poured water over her shoulders. But did Miss Marie mean for her to use her soap? Severine held it to her nose.  It had lavender oil. The smell of Albin had been killed. Later, she figured, she would go pour the after-death out in the alley. Then she had nothing to do but wonder what might come next. But for now, Severine decided to head back down to the kitchen where she found Miss Marie looking over the baskets and parcels that had been delivered earlier.


"First, you eat, child. Then you start putting these things away."


"Put them where, Madame?" Severine looked about the kitchen with all it's half-open cupboards and shelves stacked with dry goods.




"Why does it matter?" Miss Marie asked. "I done sent a message to a man. He's coming 'round to talk to me about some work I got for him. You be lookin' for him. When he comes  'round, you send him up. Theory is name. He knows."


"Oui, Madame."


"There are six bedchambers upstairs. You pick one that suits you."


"You don't want me to go?" Severine asked.


"Why should you leave? Where would you go?"


At that, Miss Marie went back upstairs to wait for Theory. Severine pulled an apple out of the burlap bag, slipped it into her pocket, and started going through the morning's delivery.


It was late that morning when the man answered.


Miss Marie's summons. He came through the rear service door. Theory was maybe French, or at least spoke with an accent. Maybe Creole French?


"Oui, Monsieur?


"I am Theory. Miss Marie has work for me."


"She said to attend her upstairs."


Miss Marie's direction seemed strange to Severine as women in the Quarter did not meet men upstairs, day or night, other than their husbands. He went up where he seemingly knew which room. From down in the kitchen, Severine could hear his footsteps to Miss Marie's bedchamber which looked down into the garden and over to the laundry house.


Severine was still examining all the bounty the vendors had delivered when he came back down.


"I start tomorrow," Theory announced.


"Start?" Severine was puzzled.


"Tomorrow." He grabbed a French pear from a large wooden bowl Severine had just filled along with the bottle of wine that she'd pulled out of a wood crate packed with sawdust.


Theory glanced at the label on the bottle.


"From France," he said and smiled. He slid the bottle under his arm and headed to the door. There he paused and held up the bottle. "Miss Marie said."


Without having anything to do after putting things away, Severine wandered back upstairs to see if she could be of service to Miss Marie. But her door was closed. Perhaps she was resting. Hadn't Jane painted the picture that the old woman seemed to nap all the time? Maybe. But then maybe not. Time would tell.


Upstairs Severine went down the long hall opening doors to bedchambers, all kept as though guests were imminently expected. Perhaps Miss Marie had a large family. But then perhaps she simply had secrets. Jane had said nothing on it, but then she'd really said nothing about Miss Marie that stood. There always seemed to be more between Jane's utterances about her lady than what Severine saw herself. Perhaps it was the way Jane grimaced when she talked about Miss Marie. Severine wondered. If Jane slept on Miss Marie's floor, why did the old lady offer Severine her choice of bedchambers? In so many ways the numbers didn't add up. But then again, like so many tales that never stopped breathing in the Quarter, they never do.


Door after door, Severine made her way to the end of the hall. She opened a door to a small room that was not as well appointed as the others. Could it have once been the maid's? She figured she'd sleep there until Miss Marie had decided what to do with her.


Severine fell over onto the down-filled bed. The sheets were soft as beaten linen and smelled like lavender. From under the pillow, she discovered a small sachet. It was filled with crushed French lavender flowers and cloves.

The fragrance, so distant from those of the wash house, intoxicated her. She fell asleep where her dreams conveyed her to another place she'd never known or smelled before. Perhaps one of those distant places where daydreams are tucked away with scented sachets and lavender grows in rows along gravel paths as it does in the South of France. But still, her basket was safely stowed under her vacant cot.




It was barely daybreak when Severine woke to hear men talking out on the street. She peeked through the curtains. Down there on the street was a big wagon drawn by four horses. The men were headed to the back carrying sledgehammers. One was Theory, so she didn't worry much until she heard the crashing sound of splintering wood.


Severine ran downstairs and out the rear service door. There she found Theory and his men knocking down the wash house. It frightened her. They went about hammering the thin walls to splintered pieces as though possessed by demons. Just as Severine was about to run back into the house for Miss Marie, she noticed her gazing down from her bedchamber. From her window she nodded. She then knew what Theory was doing. As the men carried the splintered wood out to the wagon, Severine again wondered about the secrets rich folks seemed to keep stashed away for the right moment.  She went back inside to boil an egg for Miss Marie and herself. Theory never seemed to notice Severine. She put extra butter on her egg. The deconstruction continued. In what seemed like only moments before her eyes the wash house was no more. And yet Albin still was.




Preparing a soup for Miss Marie and herself gave Severine time to think. How did Miss Marie know that Albin was not welcome back at his place? How did she know of his wife even as Jane had not? Did someone come and tell her? And why would they have? No, he'd been out late too many times, Miss Marie had shared. Albin's wife stopped listening to his lies when he told her he was cleaning fish well into the night. The woman, Miss Marie declared, locked him out. That left Albin no other choice but to sleep on the floor of the fish shack. Down at the docs it was cold, and the ground hard and greasy but that never kept Albin from his sleep. He used a bag of cornmeal to rest his head on.


Late one night, Miss Marie tapped on Severine's door.


"Oui, Madame?"


"Get dressed, child. We go now to light a candle."


Miss Marie genuflected.


"A candle, Madame?"


But she walked away sans a reply. Severine heard Miss Marie's footsteps on the old creaking floor.
Severine's thoughts tossed about as she grabbed her clothes. Given the hour, perhaps Miss Marie was, as Jane had warned, a little doddering. Still, Severine got dressed. As she did, she glimpsed through the window. Down on the street a carriage awaited.


At the entrance, Severine met Miss Marie who held two candle jars. They were from the church; the kind the priest sold so when lit one's prayers would ascend to Jesus in the smoke. If you'd paid enough, that is. She handed one to Severine and they entered the carriage.


"I don't think the church doors are unlocked this hour, Madame."


"No? But child, I find God everywhere," she said. "Even now as we seek the one who will not be expecting us."


"Who be that, Madame?"


"The Devil. He will not be expecting us."



 "You see, I plan everything most carefully. You must learn to do the same, child. Then you will survive. Our power must not be visible. No, as it derives from what they do not see and therefore could not possibly be expecting when it is leveled on them. That is your weapon. Don't you see?"


But Severine didn't and the words did little to calm her fears as to what was about to transpire.


The carriage headed down to the quay and was soon at the docs. Severine glanced out the window. Miss Marie did not. It was as though she knew what awaited. Severine hardly could have.  At a distance from the carriage stood Theory with his men alongside the big wagon still loaded with wash house debris.


What were they doing over there? Severine asked Miss Marie who held her head defiantly high and yet remained silent. Yes, with her hands folded on her lap, Miss Marie sat quietly like she was waiting for Mass to begin.


Severine watched closely. Her eyes darted back and forth from Miss Marie's somber expression to Theory waiting at the dock. Through the fog, it appeared the men were unloading the broken boards and were piling them around the fish shack. But why were they so quiet? Only the sound of the sea pounding the dock pilings could be heard. Along with a flock of angry seagulls early on the hunt for fish scraps.


When they were finished, Theory went to the back of the shack and quietly opened the door to find Albin snoring away. He went back around and bowed to Miss Marie waiting at the street. There she stood twisting her rosary through her fingers.  She nodded. The men returned the gesture and departed. Miss Marie reached into the carriage for the candles.


"Come child. We pay the Devil his due. Yes, we will send him back into hell for his violation."


Severine looked about and felt confused.


"Why are we here, Madame?"


"Child, as I told you, we are powerless once they do not fear us."


"Who? Who should fear us?"


"Come, child. Let me take you to the very edge of hell. There we will looking down its depths and still walk away with our souls."


Severine followed Miss Marie holding her lit candle.


"We will throw light at the Devil", she added. Her cape whipped in the wind.  "And never again will he return to bother us in the heavy dark. No, child. We will destroy the darkness he brings with our fire."


Miss Marie placed her lit candle in front of the pile of wood and genuflected.


"Place the candle as if this was a desecrated alter dedicated to the Devil," Miss Marie exclaimed.


"A what, Madame?"


"The Devil savor the flames, n'est pas?"


Deep in the glass jar the candle ignored the wind and burned brightly. Miss Marie gestured for Severine to follow suit with the other candle. Severine's eyes followed Miss Marie and she, too, crossed herself.


"Come, child. We have completed our mission. God will now bless us and set fire to the Devil's dreams. That will drive him back into hell."


Severine followed Miss Marie back but then heard the shattering of glass. She turned to see that the wind had blown over the jars with their glowing candles.  At first, there arose a heavy smoke but then fire spread quickly through the splintered wood. It raced up to the roof of the old fish shack. The acrid smoke choked the old lady. The seagulls quickly disappeared in silence, but the black crows came to celebrate over the scraps.


Severine stood with her hand over her mouth.


"Don't fret, child. The Devil knows fire. He is from hell."


She turned to smile at the flames. But Severine did not smile. She heard his screams. Miss Marie turned and walked back to the carriage with hands folded as though egressing a Mass.


Albin ran out of the shack moments before the flames soared and the shack fell to ashes. He'd escaped hell once more but still Miss Marie had served him fire as she'd vowed.


Miss Marie turned back one last time and smiled at the stupid man before entering her carriage.


Albin looked dazed and defenseless. But then he'd left his knife by the bag of cornmeal, and it was gone too. So, now, as  Miss Marie predicted; he could feel the heat of hell cursing at his backside. Maybe it would catch up with him in the end.


Life takes many revenges. Severine had witnessed but one. There were to be many more to come. She could not hope to survive them all.