A charming standalone work that reunites readers with the touching and much-loved characters first found in The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman, The Postman’s Fiancée is an enchanting, poignant and bittersweet love story that will move readers, young and old alike.
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About the Author
JOHN CULLEN is the translator of numerous books from Spanish, German, Italian and French, including the international bestseller The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud (Oneworld, 2015). He lives in New York.
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The Postman's Fiancée
By Denis Thériault, John Cullen, Nomoco
Oneworld PublicationsCopyright © 2016 Denis Thériault
All rights reserved.
Beech Street, rue des Hêtres, was for the most part lined with maples. As a matter of fact, beeches were a rare sight there, and this toponymic incoherence hadn't escaped Tania Schumpf's notice the first time she walked down the street, although she didn't let it bother her much. Despite the botanical inaccuracy of its name, the street was charming, with its multicoloured facades, its quirky gables and its double line of high exterior staircases, which gave the Saint-Janvier-des-Âmes district such a particular character; Tania loved walking along rue des Hêtres on her way to work each morning. She was a waitress at the Madelinot, an unpretentious restaurant located at the corner of rue des Hêtres and rue Sainte Gudule.
It was summer in Montreal. The weather would never be better than it was that August, when Tania was twenty-three.
* * *
Mornings were slow at the Madelinot, but the restaurant would fill up in the blink of an eye after the firing of the noonday cannon. Then Tania showed the full measure of her talent; the noon gun announced her big moment, when she would turn into Super Tania, the fastest waitress this side of Mexico. Two plats du jour for table four – two poutines and a Hawaiian pizza for table seven – one cottage pie at the counter – a tomato sandwich for Mr Grandpré, table two ... Tania made sure to satisfy all those hungry mouths diligently and courteously, but she didn't stop there; she went above and beyond the requirements of her job, as if driven by the ambition of elevating the waitress's profession to the level of art. You had to see her, moving with such agility, shuttling light-footed, even while loaded down with dishes, between the kitchen and the narrow aisles in the dining room. Adroitly juggling plates and glasses, she'd clear a table and set it for you in less time than it took to say, 'Would you like to see the menu?' Then she'd spring behind the counter like a gazelle and pour coffee with sure, graceful movements. Watching Tania float about that way was like seeing an acrobatic ballet danced to a soundtrack of masticating jaws and clinking silverware. Rarely in the history of the Montreal restaurant business had patrons been privileged to admire a waitress so lively, so radiant, at work. People often asked Tania how she managed to be everywhere at once, and always attentive. Some attributed her extraordinary efficiency to her German genes, for Tania was, in fact, from Bavaria; she'd spent her childhood in the Munich area, and if you listened closely, you could hear a slight German accent. Others suspected her of practising some sort of magic or of being blessed with the gift of ubiquity, suspicions that made Tania laugh. Because for all that, the explanation of her daily performance was quite simple: she loved her job. She liked the ambience in the Madelinot, she respected her customers and she made it her duty to satisfy them.
Tania had arrived in Montreal five years before, ostensibly to attend university and perfect her French – her second language, which she'd learned in high school – but the real reason for her coming was to be with a boy she'd met on the Internet. The boy had disappointed her; the city, however, was very much to her taste, and she'd decided to settle there. Perhaps Tania wouldn't be a waitress all her life. At some point in the future she'd probably complete her studies, even though boredom had caused her to abandon them for the time being. But that wasn't a pressing concern; for the moment, working at the Madelinot gave her a sensation of happy equilibrium, a feeling of harmony with the universe.
* * *
Tania Schumpf lived on a peaceful street in the Villeray neighbourhood. Her apartment was small but stylish, painted in warm colours and furnished with a fireplace. Tania spent pleasant evenings there, reading novels, watching movies, daydreaming in complete tranquillity. She seldom went out, and then solely on Saturday evenings with her confidante Noémie, who was, indeed, her only real friend. But close as they were, Tania had never told even Noémie her big secret, which had been chiming like a bell in her heart since spring: there was a man in her life. Tania was secretly in love.CHAPTER 2
He came through the door every day at noon, impeccable in his postman's uniform. He was tall, rather thin and not exactly handsome, but his gentle eyes and timid smile made Tania go weak inside. His name was Bilodo.
He didn't know that Tania was in love with him. He was a shy young man, as shy as she was, if not shyer.
Whatever the weather, he would infallibly show up on the stroke of noon, and Tania, a punctual girl, loved that regularity. He wasn't like the other postmen from the Postal Depot, the nearby post-sorting facility, who would come in for lunch in noisy packs and try to chat her up and tell her dirty jokes. Bilodo was different. He rarely joined his boorish colleagues. He preferred to sit at the counter, where he'd eat his meal without disturbing a soul. Tania found his presence reassuring.
After dessert, Bilodo would turn his attention to his favourite pastime. He'd take an exercise notebook and some pens out of his bag and devote himself to the practice of calligraphy, the delicate art of beautiful handwriting. Tania would observe him out of the corner of her eye while he assiduously copied certain portions of the menu or a few lines from a newspaper article. Bilodo had long, nimble fingers, and Tania never tired of watching his pen as it turned and glided in their grasp. One of Tania's duties required her to inscribe the menu of the day on a slate each morning, a task she performed with great care, writing in her prettiest hand and hoping that Bilodo would notice. Having done some research on calligraphy, she'd draw up his bill in Uncial, a script he seemed to favour, and sign it with a 'Tania' embellished with discreet flourishes. Bilodo must have appreciated her work because he always left her a large tip.
Ever since Bilodo came into her life, Tania had had the impression that her bed was growing a little bigger each night, becoming as vast and frosty as the Gobi Desert. When the twittering of the birds awakened her in the morning, his smile was the first thing she thought of, and at night, before she fell asleep, her last thoughts were of him, of his pianist's fingers, so skilful in manipulating the pen; and she would blush, imagining them exploring her body ... During the quiet periods when the restaurant was empty and she'd be standing idly near the till, her reveries would focus on him, and it was because of him that she'd dash into the ladies' room at ten to twelve to check her hair and refresh her make-up. The image she saw in the mirror left her dissatisfied. Tania found her chin too long, her breasts too small. She was sorry she wasn't sexier, but she guessed Bilodo knew how to look past appearances. She made an effort to compensate for the ordinariness of her charms by being abundantly kind. When it was time for dessert, she always served him a double portion of lemon tart.
* * *
He was hiding something, Tania's intuition told her. Was there some tragedy buried in his past? Had some great misfortune befallen him? As Tania engaged in such speculations, it was borne in upon her that she knew almost nothing about him. Nonetheless, she did know one thing, a fact of paramount importance: Bilodo was a bachelor. Tania's knowledge of this was due to his postal colleagues, who often teased him on the subject. How did Bilodo occupy his heart? What did he do with his nights? Tania could happily imagine him leading a monastic existence dedicated to calligraphy, saving himself physically and spiritually for the fortunate pilgrimess who would know how to find the pathway to his soul – a role for which Tania considered herself eminently qualified. But what about him? Did he feel anything for her? Tania felt she had grounds for believing that she didn't leave him indifferent – otherwise, why did he always sit at the counter, close to her? But the truth was that she couldn't be sure of anything, given the chronic timidity that muzzled them both. Should she look upon Bilodo's smile as an invitation, or was he just being polite? Since she was unable to make a conclusive assessment, Tania confined herself to uneasy suspense. Afraid of scaring Bilodo away, she was waiting for him to make the first move.
She'd been waiting like that for nearly six months, and the strange status quo might have continued ad infinitum, had Fate not suddenly intervened, wearing a grimacing mask and bringing death to rue des Hêtres.
* * *
It was a stormy day, the last day of August. Shortly before noon, the sky, having grown heavier all morning long, had finally burst, discharging rain in torrents and filling the gutters to overflowing. The elements were just beginning to calm down when Tania, busy at her work, heard the sound of a passing ambulance. A quick glance at her watch revealed that it was already ten past twelve, which surprised her, because this was the first time that Bilodo had ever deviated from the chronometric exactness of his arrival. Then Ulysse, a homeless itinerant frequently to be seen in the Madelinot, burst into the restaurant. In great agitation, he shouted that an accident had just taken place: someone had been run over and killed, by a truck, not far away, further down on rue des Hêtres.
Aware that Bilodo's postal route included that very street, Tania became alarmed. When she demanded more precise facts from Ulysse, he reported that the victim was a regular customer at the restaurant and confirmed that some postmen were on the scene. Tania's legs buckled. She was assailed by the terrible certainty that Bilodo had just been snatched away from her, that it was all over before it had even begun. Then Ulysse revealed that the dead man was 'the guy with the beard and the red flower'. Only one person fitted that description, and Tania began to breathe again, appalled to learn that the accident victim was Gaston Grandpré, a customer she was fond of, but above all relieved to know that Bilodo had been spared.
Bilodo came in around quarter past one, closely followed by his colleague Robert, who worked in post collection. Tania's joy at seeing the young postman unharmed was so keen that she nearly flung herself into his arms. There were bloodstains on Bilodo's uniform. Robert, a great talker, was happy to explain that they'd witnessed the accident. It had happened right before their eyes, in the pouring rain, in front of a postbox the collector was hurriedly emptying of its contents, and he reported that Grandpré had dashed out of his apartment building and into the deluge, rushing to post a letter. He'd run across the street, failed to see the truck bearing down on him, and BANG! The poor man was already breathing his last when they reached his side, and he'd died in their arms.
Bilodo looked shaken. With tragic eyes, he gazed at the empty place near the window where Grandpré had been wont to sit. Tania shared his affliction. She was going to miss the deceased man. She would regret Gaston Grandpré's kindness, his refined sense of humour. He was a literature professor with the dishevelled look of a mad genius, and every day since she'd started working at the Madelinot, he'd come in to eat his perennial sandwich, wearing a red carnation stuck in his buttonhole, and before leaving he'd plant the flower in the sugar bowl – an odd little ritual with which Tania had graciously complied. It was awful, what had happened to Mr Grandpré, but if she had to choose, it was better that he was the one dead rather than Bilodo ... She caught herself thinking such thoughts and felt a little ashamed.
* * *
That night Tania dreamt about Gaston Grandpré, just after the accident, as he lay on Beech Street in the pouring rain. Except that it wasn't Grandpré at all, but Bilodo, covered with blood and breathing his last on the flooded asphalt. With one trembling hand, Bilodo pulled out the red carnation that adorned the buttonhole in his postman's jacket and offered it to Tania, imploring her not to forget him – and then she woke up, frightened by what turned out to have been only a nightmare.
Reconnecting with reality, Tania remembered that Bilodo was alive and well. She switched on her bedside lamp and simultaneously experienced something like an interior illumination: interpreting her dream as a portent, she was suddenly aware of the fragility of life, of its terrible brevity. Then it was that Tania realized she could procrastinate no longer: 'What are you waiting for, Tania Schumpf? If you want Bilodo to belong to you, hurry up and take the initiative before it's too late,' she railed at herself, feeling the urgency to act. Tania's heart went out to Gaston Grandpré, to whom she believed she owed this revelation. She begged his pardon for preferring his death to Bilodo's and thanked him for having contributed, by his passing, to opening her eyes.
The next day, on her way to the Madelinot, Tania bought a red carnation at the florist's, and when she got to the restaurant, she planted the flower in the sugar bowl on Grandpré's favourite table as a posthumous homage. 'Take the initiative, right. But how?' she wondered, contemplating the solitary carnation. How could she build a bridge to Bilodo? What means could she use to draw them closer to each other?
That question quickly became obsessive, haunting Tania's every waking hour. Luckily, it didn't take her too long to find the answer; an opportunity presented itself when Bilodo developed a sudden passion for Asian poetry. One September day around noon, he showed Tania a book titled Traditional Haiku of the Seventeenth Century and spoke enthusiastically about those charming little poems, which contained only seventeen syllables. As the days passed, it appeared obvious that Japanese lyrical art was Bilodo's new hobby; he abandoned calligraphy and from then on devoted himself to haiku-writing. It was the chance Tania had been waiting for: exploring the labyrinths of the Internet, she immersed herself in everything she could find about haiku.CHAPTER 3
in butterfly's eye:
peak of a distant mountain
As this fall day dawned
the mirror I peered into
held my father's face
offer a respite
to those in love with the moon
Under the wild grass
warriors' wild dreams
still restlessly quivering
The first of these four haiku was written by Buson, the second by Kijo, and the last two by Bash?, all classic masters of the genre. Composed of three lines – two of five syllables and one of seven – and a total of seventeen syllables, each haiku sought to juxtapose the immutable and the ephemeral. Restrained and precise, a good haiku had to contain a reference to nature (kigo) or to a reality that was not exclusively human. The art of the haiku was the art of the instantaneous, of the detail; a haiku was a concrete poem, making its appeal to the senses rather than to ideas.
Captivated by the apparent simplicity of this concept, Tania tried to compose some haiku. It didn't take her long to find out that such compositions were far from easy. She brought an anthology of Japanese haiku to the Madelinot and had Bilodo read the ones she considered the most beautiful. He was agreeably surprised to discover that Tania shared his interest in haiku, but he refused to show her the ones he wrote, using the excuse that it was a personal matter. Nevertheless, Tania had succeeded in getting his attention. It was a start.
Tania downloaded a selection of Japanese songs, and every day at five to twelve, she pressed play. After learning the basics of ikebana and origami, she decorated the restaurant with floral arrangements and populated it with pretty little animals made of folded paper. These manoeuvres had no apparent effect on Bilodo, but they didn't escape the notice of his colleague Robert, who had guessed some time previously that Tania had a crush on the young postman.
One day at lunch, Robert took her aside and said, 'I have to admit, I don't understand.'
'Don't understand what?' asked Tania cautiously, for she was wary of this particular postal worker.
Conceited and loud, Robert reigned over the boisterous pack of postmen, whom he ceaselessly regaled with updated tales of his female conquests and fabulous sexual exploits. Believing himself to be a kind of Casanova, he had undertaken to woo Tania with increasingly frequent insinuations and innuendo, to which she was careful not to reply.
Excerpted from The Postman's Fiancée by Denis Thériault, John Cullen, Nomoco. Copyright © 2016 Denis Thériault. Excerpted by permission of Oneworld Publications.
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