Fiction · Francais · Memoir

Le Jardin du Mépris

Cher père, 

Tu méprises ta propre fille, et ça me désole. Je te souhaite quand même santé et bonheur et un anniversaire merveilleux dans ton Jardin du Mépris pour moi !   Tu as énormément travaillé pour en faire un espace luxuriant, alors tu mérites de pouvoir d’en profiter ! 

Au fait, ta propriétaire m’a appelée hier alors que je faisais la queue pour acheter un timbre international pour poster ta carte de quatre-vingt-cinquième anniversaire. Son coup de fil m’a surprise car tu m’avais laissé croire que c’était toi qui détenais le titre de propriété. Mais elle m’a expliqué que les parcelles dans le Jardin du Mépris pour ses propres enfants ne peuvent que se louer à vie, pas s’acheter. Elle m’a également dit que tu avais contracté énormément de dettes sur ce terrain. C’est une somme énorme que je ne peux régler pour toi. Elle m’a assuré qu’après ta mort personne ne viendrait frapper à ma porte. Ça m’a soulagée car je ne suis pas responsable de cette dette que tu as contractée avec un terrain qui ne t’appartenait pas en contrepartie. Et puis elle a voulu savoir si je désirais t’acheter un cadeau d’adieu.  Je ne savais pas, et je lui ai dit que, de toute façon, tu n’avais jamais apprécié ce que j’avais à offrir, mais elle a coupé court à notre conversation. Elle était sur le point de rencontrer la nouvelle équipe de direction (elle vient de vendre son entreprise), mais avant de raccrocher, elle m’a fait promettre de me rendre jusqu’à l’entrée la plus proche du Jardin du Mépris et de demander à parler au Cerbère qui patrouille le périmètre de la parcelle que tu laboures depuis ma naissance. Elle m’a dit que ce n’était qu’à quelques minutes en voiture de chez moi. 

Là, j’ai commencé à douter.  Je me suis dit que la propriétaire était sûrement quelqu’un qui me faisait une farce. Pourtant, en un clin d’œil et sans que je me souvienne des routes que j’avais empruntées, j’étais face au portail d’entrée. Il y avait une énorme pancarte qui disait « Jardin du Mépris – Nouveaux Gérants ! » Je me suis rapprochée du portail en fer forgé et j’ai lu ce que disaient tous les petits signes. « Pas d’entrée ni de sortie sans paiement comptant. Remboursement obligatoire du montant total de vos dettes. Toute personne surprise en train de sauter la clôture sera électrocutée. »

Des milliers de parents allaient et venaient de façon frénétique. Ils parlaient l’américain et beaucoup d’autres langues, tout comme les gens ici à Los Angeles, mais ils avaient tous l’air affligé.  Il y avait aussi des taupinières un peu partout. Certains parents, à bout de souffle, sortaient la tête et hurlaient car le reste de leur corps était coincé dans les tunnels souterrains dont ils ne pouvaient plus s’extirper.  J’ai pensé que, puisque tu avais toujours craint de prendre l’avion, tu avais peut-être toi aussi creusé des milliers de kilomètres sous l’océan Atlantique et le continent nord-américain pour te rapprocher de moi.  Subitement terrorisée de faire un faux pas et de glisser en territoire hostile ou dans tes terrains de chasse français, je n’osai plus bouger. 

La concierge du Jardin du Mépris, qui ressemblait à ma mère, m’appela par mon prénom et commença à me parler en français, ce qui me ramena à la réalité. Je lui répétai, en anglais, ce que ta propriétaire m’avait dit. La concierge me demanda alors de la suivre dans son bureau, qui était minuscule mais fraîchement enduit à la chaux et qui ressemblait étrangement à l’appartement dans lequel j’avais grandi avec ma mère (cette garce). J’ai commencé à expliquer que tu essaierais de convaincre les nouveaux dirigeants d’annuler ta dette (ma mère était méprisable, moi aussi, ta nouvelle femme pourrait en témoigner, et tu avais bien payé la pension alimentaire établie par le tribunal), mais le Cerbère arriva avant que je puisse m’attarder sur tes compétences incomparables en matière de manipulation et sur tes antécédents d’évasion fiscale et de fausses déclarations de revenus.

« Alors, tu veux acheter un cadeau d’adieu à ton père ? » demanda le chien à trois têtes. Il me regardait à travers la fenêtre du bureau. J’ai compris qu’il devait rester dehors sinon son envergure aurait fendu les poutres du toit. Je suis donc sortie le voir. Il m’a expliqué que je pouvais acheter un gâteau d’anniversaire de fin de vie d’une valeur de 20 €.  Un billet de 20 $ ferait l’affaire puisque les euros et les dollars étaient maintenant presque à parité.  Il m’a rappelé que, 20 €, c’était le montant, converti d’anciens francs en euros et ajusté sur l’inflation, que tu avais versé en pension alimentaire chaque mois jusqu’à mon dix-huitième anniversaire alors que toi et ta nouvelle femme viviez dans une maison d’architecte neuve et imposante pour bien refléter ton statut social.

J’ai acheté un gâteau d’adieu et j’ai choisi une décoration de crème fouettée biologique. Le Cerbère vous accueillera en personne la prochaine fois que vous viendrez, ce qui devrait être bientôt. Quant à ta femme, qui pousse maintenant ton fauteuil roulant dans les allées du Jardin du Mépris, ne t’inquiète pas pour elle. Le Cerbère m’a assurée que le gâteau serait assez gros pour deux personnes.

Published in English by Literally Stories on April 28.

Announcement · English · Francais

New Feature: Versions Françaises

The VERSIONS FRANÇAISES tab was just added to my author’s website. Under that heading, you will find my French versions of the stories that I originally wrote and published in English.

French is my native language, but I now write primarily in English, a foreign language that I started learning in middle school. Again, many thanks to all my publishers! The time has now come, however, for my written creations to also exist in my native language, thus the need to create space for them on my website.

Over time, American English has acquired the texture of a native language in my daily life in California. Nevertheless, creating French versions of the stories I published in English is neither easy nor quick. Here is how I go about it. First, I run the English version through a free online translator. It does save me time because I get an instantaneous rough draft of that story in French. That rough draft, however, is far from being an accurate and publishable French version of my original story. It needs some steeping time, much like my tea. But it takes hours and days, not minutes, to steep the French rough draft. And it’s not like I can forget about it on my kitchen counter while it works its own magic. I must meddle, and that takes much time and effort!

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

L’onglet VERSIONS FRANÇAISES vient d’être ajouté sur mon site d’auteure. Sous cette rubrique, vous trouverez mes versions françaises des histoires que j’ai initialement écrites et publiées en anglais.

Le français est ma langue maternelle, mais j’écris maintenant principalement en anglais, une langue étrangère que j’ai commencé à apprendre au collège. Encore un grand merci à tous mes éditeurs ! Le temps est cependant venu pour que mes créations écrites existent également dans ma langue maternelle, d’où la nécessité de leur créer un espace sur mon site Web.

Au fil du temps, l’anglais américain a acquis la texture d’une langue maternelle dans ma vie quotidienne en Californie. Néanmoins, créer des versions françaises des histoires que j’ai publiées en anglais n’est ni facile ni rapide. Voici comment je m’y prends. Tout d’abord, je me sers d’un outil de traduction en ligne gratuit. Cela me fait gagner du temps parce que j’obtiens un brouillon instantané en français. Ce brouillon, cependant, est loin d’être une version française exacte et publiable de mon histoire originale. Il a besoin d’un peu de temps d’infusion, un peu comme pour mon thé. Mais il faut laisser tremper le brouillon français des heures et des jours, pas de simples minutes. Et ce n’est pas comme si je pouvais l’oublier sur le comptoir de ma cuisine pendant qu’il opère seul sa propre magie. Je dois m’en mêler, et cela prend beaucoup de temps et d’efforts!

English · Essay · Memoir

On Near Death Experiences and IANDS

On February 8, 2023, I attended a webinar hosted by International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS). This was my first time attending an IANDS webinar. What took me so long? Even if you haven’t experienced a Near-Death Experience (NDE), you will benefit from the depth and breadth of information from IANDS’ forty years of delving into human consciousness at the limits of life and death. It is at those moments that we come face-to-face with essential questions such as “Why are were here?”

I was a member of IANDS in the past, but I had somehow let my subscription lapse. Thankfully, at the beginning of the year, they reached out to me via email to advertise both their 2023 conference in Arlington, VA, and their upcoming webinars.

My most recent visit to France in November 2022 profoundly affected me and I’d been mulling over the meaning of my life’s journey and the role that my two near-death experiences had played in it. I simply would not be alive today without them. And I’m not saying that lightly. So, I took IANDS’ reaching out to me via email as a call to action and did two things:

  • I submitted a proposal for the IANDS conference whose theme is HAS YOUR NDE OR RELATED EXPERIENCE INSPIRED YOU INTO A NEW WAY OF BEING IN THE WORLD? Whether or not my proposal is accepted, I’m grateful to have taken it to heart as the questions that I had to answer helped me formulate what I need to write about.
  • I attended the webinar titled WHY ARE WE HERE? hosted by Janice Holden, EdD, and featuring author Sandi Taranto who wrote Dandelion Child.

I’m grateful to Sandi for sharing her experiences. She suffered horrific abuse in the foster system and has powerful things to say about the meaning of life and the role of her NDEs in her own life. I’m also grateful to her for raising the following three important points:

  • The memory of the NDE doesn’t change, but our interpretation of it does.
  • The problem comes when you describe to others what you experienced during an NDE.
  • The problem is not just one of word inadequacy but resides within the narrative structure.

Thank you to all the people involved in IANDS from the start! I found my tribe!

Photo by Diana Orey on Unsplash

English · Essay · Memoir

Vision Corrections

My stepmother informed me by email that my father was in critical condition after a fall occasioned by a stroke. He is in his eighties. Sorrow did not overtake me. This is not a Hallmark card.

The week prior to his fall, my father had called me in the middle of the night to hurl raging insults at me. Seriously. Barely hello. I was a monster, evil, the worst piece of this and that, etc., spiked up in hateful expletives — in French.

He doesn’t do that often, not even once a year. The problem was that, on that first night of October 2022 when my cell rang, I felt utterly defenseless. I had been sound asleep, farther into safety than the Atlantic Ocean and the entire North American continent. A daughter made
new by exile. In that state, I had no need for psychological defenses.

Before I could even think of hanging up on him, he had done much damage.

Much like a dictator does, or a recent US president.

Within minutes, my left eye was in pain. I experienced sudden vision loss like when I was four. Or six. I couldn’t remember exactly. I told my optometrist, who told me that the link between trauma and vision was now well-established and who explained that the sight difference between my left and right eyes was now so large that my brain had difficulty balancing the two extremes.

I did not expect that my father would still have the power to damage my body. I pondered what I had written in my essay, Revenge Savings. I decided enough was enough and booked a flight from Los Angeles to Bordeaux.

When I arrived, my father was up and walking about. His wife lifted his shirt to show me that his back was still purplish-black from the fall. I told him that I was losing my vision in my left eye, just like when he was going to make me love me since my mother would not when I was four, or six, no five, maybe, at the time when he and his new wife were getting engaged.

No end-of-life apologies for me but I did not back down. I went for the metaphorical kill. I even managed to, in real-time, point out his reactions. Reactions that “perpetrators of wrongdoing, particularly sexual offenders, may display in response to being held accountable for their behavior,” Reactions which can be summed up as Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.

On the day of my departure, I stopped by his house one last time. My father refused to come out of his bedroom. His enabling wife said that he wasn’t feeling well. She would not allow me into his room out of concern for his health.

Cowardice!

The vision loss in my left has now stabilized. I do hope that this healing sticks.

English · Essay · Memoir

Secrets of WWII 

I recently visited Secrets of WWII at the Reagan Library There, I explored “over a hundred rare and unique stories and hundreds of artifacts” that were “not even made public until recently.” Particularly touching to me were the panels dedicated to the horses, birds, and dogs who had been forced into the war. What I saw and read, however, felt somewhat removed from my personal life experience until I happened upon a glass case that contained a German helmet and a telephone that the Germans used to communicate.

“They forgot the Waffen SS boots,” my grandmother and I thought. « Les bottes noires des boches, tu les vois ? »

My grandmother Marinette, deceased for three decades, was standing with me by that glass case, asking me, in French, if I could see the black boots. No longer was I standing in the lower level of the Reagan Library in 2022: Marinette and I were both frozen in dread in the cellar of the family live-in store in the early seventies in a remote village of the Auvergne region of France.

Marinette suffered from then-undiagnosed PTSD, the result of her active role in the French Resistance. For her, WWII had never ended, and to hide us both from the Nazis, she would rush me down to the cellar throughout my youth and well into the early eighties. From the diminutive, street-level rectangular window, she could still see the dreaded boots march by the store.

My maternal grandparents Marius and Marinette were both members of the French Resistance. Records about their service are archived in the French Defense Historical Service in Vincennes, near Paris. They had put themselves in grave danger, and many of their friends had died. Marinette’s closest cousin Yvonne, also a Resistance member, had been caught and deported. She miraculously survived Ravensbrück from August 1944 until May 1955. Here is a link to a short story that I wrote about Yvonne https://thecentifictionist.home.blog/2021/05/10/yvonnes-parakeets/

 My maternal grandparents also raised me for the first few years of my life starting in the mid-sixties. Twenty years after the end of WWII, they still lived and worked in the same tailoring shop in the village’s main square by the 12th-century church. Their trusted friends from their time in the Resistance continued to stop by to reminisce around homemade pastries and tart cherry liquor. They told stories high in color in patois Auvergnat, which is a local dialect of the Occitan language, the language of the French peasantry. My grandfather, who hailed from the south of France (an area with a different dialect of Occitan) was not as fluent in patois Auvergnat as his wife and fellow résistants, so he’d switch to his southern-accented French when the actions recounted required words said in rapid-fire.  

My grandmother was especially vocal about les collabos. Those people were either supporting or full members of La Milice, which was a paramilitary organization created in January 1943 by the collaborationist French government to combat la Résistance. Those were people she had also grown up with. They were even more dangerous than les boches, she said, because you were prone to assume that you could trust them, but you could not.

Silent dread set in once their résistant friends left. My grandparents would usually drown themselves in work, then, while I often went up to the attic to scrutinize the remnant of the bleach-resistant blood stains on the unpolished pine floorboards. The attic was where they had hidden wounded résistants and British paratroopers. Tonton Mabrut, head of the resistance for the region and a medical doctor by profession, would sneak in under cover of night to remove exploding bullets from mangled limbs. My grandmother was the one to assist in the operations because my grandfather would faint at the sight of blood.

Once my grandparents retired, they sold the store to move into a brand-new house. Perhaps they hoped that the physical move could make them new also, that it could remove their dread and even the painful parts of the lives that they had lived so far. I took it a step further and moved to America. But dread takes more than relocation to dislodge.

English · Essay · Memoir

What’s a Monarch Got to Do With It?

Queen Elizabeth II died a few days ago. I am not British and do not like the monarchy as an institution, and yet the queen’s image has been one of the watermarks that has shaped the landscape of my life.

When I was born in France, she was already queen across the Channel. By the time I was a teenager, her son, now king, was already hunting with hounds on horseback, and his mother let him do it. I remember seeing photos in the newspapers and thinking that there was no difference between the English and the French nobility. I liked neither. I did not like hunters, period. For that reason, I also did not like French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, an avid hunter. While still in high school, I concluded that there was no difference between aristocracy and republicanism as both their respective representatives showed off their power by romanticizing ritualized violence against those with limited to no means of defending themselves.

I was myself a misguided romantic when I moved to the USA, however. In middle and high school, when I started learning English as a foreign language, people of the Commonwealth were still called British subjects. I knew with certainty that I would not move anywhere that would require me to become the subject of any queen or king, so I chose the United States of America as my terrain of exile. And to those who tried to oppose my move, I would say that everyone in the USA was naturally good and courageous enough to crush the forces of evil so prevalent in the old world. What’s strange is that I was a good student, one who had already learned in books that I was wrong, and yet I couldn’t stop myself. I had to believe that there was a Good God in the USA.

I’m older now. I’ve traveled out of the old world, and I’ve also traveled out of the new world, both literally and figuratively. Here is the conclusion I have reached:

Is there a monarch out there, anywhere, who can ritualize genuine kindness towards the earth and all its lifeforms? Is there a monarch out there who will steadfastly brandish that torch and keep it lighted as we blow life into our dying earth? To that one, I will bow.

Announcement · English · Memoir

From “Revenge Savings” to “Breaking the Ties That Bind”

My parents, who split up before my first birthday, hated each other with a passion and disagreed on everything except on one matter of importance: that I should never have been born. My father told me that it would have been better for me. My mother told me that it would have been better for her. I believed them both. It is not that surprising, then, that, around the time of my sixteenth birthday, I became paralyzed and nearly died. I did go to the threshold where you can no longer return to your body, and I stayed there a while pondering my future. I understood that if I kept traveling farther from the hospital room in which I lay, however, my new life would be worse than if I returned to live on as the kid who should never have been born, so I grudgingly reintegrated my quarters. During my out of body trip, I also learned that I was supposed to figure out what I had come to do in life and do it, but I was clueless about how to proceed with my newfound mission.

I learned that both my parents were wrong: my life was not in error. I also learned that I was supposed to figure out what I had come to do in life and do it. At sixteen, however, I was clueless about how to proceed with my newfound mission. How was I going to learn how to want to remain alive long enough to figure out what I had come to do in life and do it? It would take over a decade to find the answer to my question. “Breaking the Ties That Bind,” my newest creative nonfiction story [Mothership — Talon Review Volume 2 Issue 6], explores that moment when an unexpected, horrifying confrontation with a transgenerational monster becomes the catalyst that allows me to envision the meaning of the rest of my life.

“Breaking the Ties That Bind” started its story life with fewer than three hundred words and was promptly rejected by a couple of magazines that publish short shorts. The story grew to a respectable 1,500 words, but I was still hesitant to send it out to publishers. The subject matter – fighting an intergenerational matrilineal monster – was taboo. But then again, I had already published “Revenge Savings” which is about another taboo subject in Tangled Locks Journal. Since Teresa Berkowitz, the publisher, had steadily boosted my confidence while helping me develop an online presence, I had learned to trust her editorial input. With the help of Teresa’s editorial feedback, “Breaking the Ties That Bind” found a permanent home in Mothership — Volume 3, Issue 6 of The Talon Review.

Much gratitude also to the editorial team at UNF’s The Talon Review. “Breaking the Ties That Bind” found its perfect home!

Announcement · English · Fiction

The Next Page

I recently completed page 140 of The Next Page Book Project, which put a pep in my step. The Next Page Book Project is a wonderfully original concept created by Samantha Pearlman, a school-based therapist and photographer from Saint-Louis, Missouri. In her own words, “The concept of this project is to have a book written by 150+ people. The story will be passed one page at a time to the next writer. The proceeds of this book project are going to be donated to mental health charities.”

During the first half of this year 2022, I shifted my focus away from writing to take care of more pressing matters including my health, which thankfully improved. Now I feel like I am waking up from a long physical and metaphorical slumber that lasted much longer than six months. I can no longer recognize the United States of America, the country I moved to in the mid-eighties, and where I still live. Some days, I even wake up wondering if I should obtain a different passport to keep on living here! I’m also older and no longer look like the photo I chose for my Twitter account and this website. That photo was taken about two years ago, but I have since embraced my gray hair which makes me look my age. I’m fifty-eight years old already!

It’s time for me to write my own passport for a different type of entry into my inner and outer worlds. I’ll be writing an autobiographical novel next. It will be in French, and I’ll probably also do the translation in American English once the book is completed. It will be the book I wish I could have read when I was a teenager desperately searching for the meaning of life.

Announcement · English · Fiction

Women’s History Month, Bullies, and My Latest Publication

An acquaintance recently reached out to me, distraught. Her child kept getting bullied at school, so she had transferred the child to another school district. “But why should we be the ones who leave?” she asked, in tears, “instead of the bullies?” School officials had done what they could, at least, she explained, but the parents of the bullies didn’t seem to be genuinely sorry and even made excuses to explain away their children’s unacceptable behavior. “It’s like with Putin,” she continued, “nobody stopped him when he took Crimea, but now look at the horror that’s unfolding!”

We spoke of the discrepancies between the masks that people put in public and who they truly are once the masks come off. “I work in a very PR-savvy industry,” she confided. “They all wear blue and yellow, yet so many of them are real jerks!” I didn’t want to know names. “If you truly want to support Ukraine,” she continued, “then don’t just pretend to be a good person, be one.  Otherwise, you’re no better than the dictators and the bullies of the world!”

The theme of the destructiveness of deception is one that I’ve been working on through my writing. It is at play in my newest publication, “Looking for Mr. Goodbar Version 2022.” It is a 100-word story, and you can read it here Looking for Mr. Goodbar Version 2022, by Dominique Margolis – Friday Flash Fiction

“Looking for Mr. Goodbar” is the title of a book published by Judith Rossner in 1975 and adapted for film. The 1977 crime drama starred Diane Keaton, Richard Gere, and Tom Berenger. “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” is based on the true story of Roseann Quinn who was murdered in her late twenties by a man she brought home from a bar, and it served as a warning to women at the height of the sexual revolution in America.

In my 100-word story, however, the woman “disappeared” in the end. It is possible that the pregnant woman may still be alive. She may have left town to start life anew without Mr. Goodbar in it. Another possibility is that Mr. Goodbar’s sex addiction, compulsive dishonesty, and disregard for his pregnant wife’s needs may have killed her spirit.

In a future story, I will focus on the woman’s resurrection.

Announcement · English · Fiction

Revenge Anthology and the Minimum Requirements for a Healthy Human Relationship

“Snapshots of Deception with Sunset,” my newest flash fiction piece, has just been published in Revenge, an anthology of short stories edited by Akshay Sonthalia. This new anthology was published by Poet’s Choice/Free Spirit Publishers based in Mumbai, India. More information about the anthology and how to purchase can be found on Goodreads

“Snapshots of Deception with Sunset” explores the themes of adultery, broken trust, and narcissism. The idea for the story came to me as I was watching one of Dr. Ramani Durvasula’svideos on YouTube. Dr. Ramani is a clinical psychologist and the author of two books on narcissism. She is also one of my favorite Youtubers.

When I watch Dr. Durvasula’s videos, I learn about what I did not learn from my parents and from my school and university years in both France and the United States. As the title of one of her books indicates, we need to know “how to stay sane in an era of narcissism, entitlement, and incivility.” To do that, we need to know how to treat ourselves well. 

How do we accomplish that when we did not receive any template for decent treatment? Too often, children of narcissisticparents learn how to navigate the world from their parents.

In schools, there is not enough focus on teaching children and adolescents about boundaries, about what toxic behavior is, and about how to walk away when people are treating you badly. Few people learn that “the minimum requirements for a healthy human relationship are respect, kindness, compassion, mutuality, self-awareness, and growth.”

Fortunately, we live in a time when we have access to free, top-notch information about how to cut the ties that bind us to a toxic past to create the future we were meant to live. I encourage anyone who struggles with toxic relationships to explore resources like Dr. Durvasula’s lectures.