Klara was already seated at the breakfast table when Izzy finally came to join her. She looked up from her dish of eggs Benedict. ‘I’m sorry but I’ve started. I was starving.’
Izzy stood at the buffet and helped herself to coffee. After deliberation, she chose a croissant and pain au chocolat and sat down opposite Klara who had returned to her food.
She sighed and glanced round the room, taking in the piano in one corner, the unlit black stove in the fireplace, with an odd sense of recognition.
‘Sleep well?’ She asked Klara.
The other nodded. ‘Like a log, the bed was very comfortable but even if it wasn’t, I was dog tired.’
‘I just couldn’t get off. Too excited, I suppose. And there was something out there that kept making this strange noise. Goodness knows what it was.’
Klara grinned. ‘A fox, I guess. I always forget you’re not used to the country.’
‘Well, we do go out to Donohue Woods sometimes. That’s pretty wild.’
‘But you’ve never actually lived in the country.’
Izzy sipped her coffee. ‘Ugh no! I like the city life far too much. It’s so quiet in the country and you have to wear such sensible shoes.’
She watched Klara for a moment. How rooted she was, feet
squarely planted in the physical world, understanding current affairs, studying literature. If only I could be like that. But I always feel restless, searching for something though I don’t know what exactly. Maybe my father, whoever he was.
Mother was always so evasive whenever she asked the question. ‘It’s not important, darling. You’ve never lacked anything, have you? He was just a man who let me down.’
‘Penny for them, Izzy?’
She smiled. Klara understood her only too well. ‘I was thinking about Mother.’
‘She’s just wonderful, isn’t she? I mean the way she copes. You’d never think…would you?’
‘Oh yes, she’s amazing, of course. But I wish she’d tell me about my father. It’s all so mysterious. There are no photographs in the house, not a trace of him.’
‘Maybe you were the result of an immaculate conception,’ Klara remarked, wryly. ‘Or Venus born from the sea.’
Izzy smoothed the sleeves of her crepe de chine blouse. ‘I might just as well have been. But it’s hard, Klara, you don’t know how hard it is. You have a solid family life and brothers and sisters. There’s only mother and me. You can’t know what it’s like.’
‘Brothers and sisters can be a mixed blessing,’ Klara replied, ‘Especially when you’re trying to write. What I’d give for a little room all of my own where I could keep my books and my writing materials. Virginia had the right idea.’
‘I guess none of us is satisfied,’ Izzy sighed. She rose to refill her coffee cup and changed the subject, ‘What shall we do today?’
Klara had her guidebook open on the table. ‘A bit of sightseeing, I thought. Apparently there used to be a lot of Yanks in Giverny at one time and they stayed here, in the Hotel Baudy. I had a prowl round the garden early this morning and there is an old artists’ studio. Funny thing is, it looks as if someone is still using it. There was a canvas on an easel and it looked only half done. We shan’t be able to go into the Monet house and gardens unless we can wangle an invitation. Apart from that there is the village church and Claude Monet’s tomb, of course. ‘
‘Hey hey!’ Izzy laughed, holding up her hand. ‘If we’re going to do all that I think I’ll have a plate of those eggs Benedict, myself!’
Outside, the air was gentle and the sky blue. They linked arms and sauntered along the road, Klara began to hum and then to sing Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Izzy joined in. She was conscious of the glances she attracted from passing young men and the not so young, too. She knew she had inherited her mother’s magnetism which, even at forty-seven, still turned heads. It amused Izzy but she wasn’t really interested. She had no intention of any involvement, let alone marriage. How could she settle to a calm existence with all these unanswered questions in her head? What kind of a man was her father? What did he look like? Had Mother loved him? She worried at them like a dog with a bone.
‘You’re being stared at, Izzy,’ Klara remarked.
There was not a trace of jealousy in her voice. But then Klara was clever, she wrote, she knew exactly what she wanted out of life.
‘I know and I wish they wouldn’t. They’d soon fly away if I gave them the sharp end of my tongue.’
‘Oh, don’t spoil their fun. I bet they don’t see someone like you every day of the week.’
As they walked, Izzy had a strange sense of déjà vue. Time and again, she had listened to her mother describe that brief period when she had visited this village and her meeting with the great man himself.
‘I sat in his studio and he told me about his life. And he drew me, Claude Monet actually drew me.’
There had been a man called Robert who was her particular friend.
‘Such a darling, so gentle and kind but then you know what queers are like, they have so much of the feminine side.’
How odd it seemed to imagine Mother walking down this same street. I wonder what she was wearing. Something by Chanel, no doubt.
Klara caught her eye. ‘Day dreaming again?’
‘Yeah, I’d give anything to see those sketches Monet made of Mother. She doesn’t think they were ever put on view.’
‘What a story that would make, huh? Discovery of the unknown Monet sketches after so many years…maybe an interview with one of the family? We’ll really have to see what we can do.’
They had arrived at the church and went inside. Klara crossed herself and curtseyed to the crucifix. Izzy gazed round at the simple interior, up to the stained glass windows, fragrance of an arrangement of white lilies filled her nostrils but there was also another smell of musty incense on the air. She had never liked churches.
Outside once more, they clambered up the uneven stone steps to the big white tomb to read the inscriptions.
Klara who had done her research explained. ‘Alice was his wife, his second one and Suzanne was one of his stepdaughters. He did a lot of paintings of her. She wasn’t very old when she died.’
Approaching footsteps made them glance up to see a rather stout, elderly woman carrying a posy of spring flowers.
‘Bon jour,’ she muttered and they made way for her.
‘Bon jour, madame,’ Izzy replied.
‘Mon Dieu!’ the woman stopped short and stared at her. She looked amazed. ‘Judith! But no, it is not possible.’
Klara nudged Izzy.’ ‘Let’s go,’ she murmured.
The woman held up her hand. ‘One moment.’ Her voice was firm. ‘Tell me your name, mademoiselle.’
‘Izzy!’ urged Klara
But Izzy held fast. ‘Certainly, madame, my name is Izzy…that is Isabelle.’
‘Isabelle. Isabelle. And what, may I ask are you doing here?’
‘We’re just visiting, madame,’ Klara put in. ‘Now come on, Izzy!’
‘Visiting.’ The woman appeared to find these simple replies too complex to absorb.
Izzy was beginning to find the whole thing quite amusing. She certainly wasn’t going to be hurried away.
‘May I enquire from where do you come?’ the woman now asked.
‘Why, New York, of course.’
So what was so awful about that, Izzy wondered. The woman’s expression looked dumbfounded.
In the pause that followed, Klara gave an exaggerated sigh and walked a short distance away, turning her back on them to stare intently at a horse and cart passing by in the road.
The woman took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a second. When she opened them she stared directly at Izzy.
‘Are you related to Judith Goldstein?’
Izzy laughed. ‘Sure I am. She’s my mother.’
The woman held out her hand. ‘Good afternoon, Mademoiselle Goldstein. My name is Blanche Monet.’