Excerpt of Chocolat by Joanne Harris
(Page 4 of 6)
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After that no one even looked up at my window, though I counted over sixty
heads--scarves, berets, hats drawn down against an invisible wind--but I felt
their studied, curious indifference. They had matters of importance to consider,
said their hunched shoulders and lowered heads. Their feet dragged sullenly at
the cobbles like the feet of children going to school. This one has given up
smoking today, I knew; that one his weekly visit to the cafe, another will forgo
her favorite foods. It's none of my business, of course. But I felt at that
moment that if ever a place were in need of a little magic ... Old habits never
die. And when you've once been in the business of granting wishes, the impulse
never quite leaves you. And besides, the wind, the carnival wind, was still
blowing, bringing with it the dim scent of grease and cotton candy and
gunpowder, the hot sharp scents of the changing seasons, making the palms itch
and the heart beat faster.... For a time, then, we stay. For a time. Till the
* * *
We bought the paint in the general store, and with it brushes, rollers, soap,
and buckets. We began upstairs and worked down, stripping curtains and throwing
broken fittings onto the growing pile in the tiny back garden, soaping floors
and making tidal waves down the narrow, sooty stairway so that both of us were
soaked several times through. Anouk's scrubbing brush became a submarine, and
mine a tanker that sent noisy soap torpedoes scudding down the stairs and into
the hall. In the middle of this I heard the doorbell jangle and looked up, soap
in one hand, brush in the other, at the tall figure of the priest.
I'd wondered how long it would take him to arrive.
He considered us for a time, smiling. A guarded smile, proprietary,
benevolent; the lord of the manor welcomes inopportune guests. I could feel him
very conscious of my wet and dirty overalls, my hair caught up in a red scarf,
my bare feet in their dripping sandals.
"Good morning." There was a rivulet of scummy water heading for his
highly polished black shoe. I saw his eyes flick toward it and back to me.
"Francis Reynaud," he said, discreetly sidestepping. "Curé of
I laughed at that; I couldn't help it. "Oh, that's it," I said
maliciously. "I thought you were with the carnival." Polite laughter;
heh, heh, heh.
I held out a yellow plastic glove. "Vianne Rocher. And the bombardier
back there is my daughter, Anouk."
Sounds of soap explosions, and of Anouk fighting Pantoufle on the stairs. I
could hear the priest waiting for details of Mr. Rocher. So much easier to have
everything on a piece of paper, everything official, avoid this uncomfortable,
"I suppose you were very busy this morning."
I suddenly felt sorry for him, trying so hard, straining to make contact.
Again the forced smile.
"Yes, we really need to get this place in order as soon as possible.
It's going to take time! But we wouldn't have been at church this morning
anyway, monsieur le curé. We don't attend, you know." It was kindly meant,
to show him where we stood, to reassure him; but he looked startled, almost
It was too direct. He would have liked us to dance a little, to circle each
other like wary cats.
"But it's very kind of you to welcome us," I continued brightly.
"You might even be able to help us make a few friends here."
He is a little like a cat himself, I notice; cold, light eyes that never hold
the gaze, a restless watchfulness, studied, aloof.
"I'll do anything I can." He is indifferent now that he knows we
are not to be members of his flock. And yet his conscience pushes him to offer
more than he is willing to give. "Have you anything in mind?"
From Chocolat by Joanne Harris. Copyright Joanne Harris 1999. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.