Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.
I’m putting the final touches on my articles, and I’m rewarding myself with a whole day dedicated to searching for the identities of the man and woman who were the inspiration for the statues in the garden. After breakfast, Philip suggests I begin my search in the attic and shows me to the narrow staircase that leads the the uppermost floor of the house. The natural light from dormer windows makes me feel as though I’ve stepped onto the set of an old film where the world was black and white with only shades of gray to add emotion.
The contents of the attic had been organized into sections dedicated to the different inhabitants of the house over its long history. It doesn’t take me long to find the items which had belonged to Sebastien St. Pierre, conveniently identified with his name on a piece of masking tape across a storage chest. I sit in a chair at a wooden desk and open a drawer. One by one, I pull out the personal documents of the Frenchman and choose three for my purposes. The first is Sebastien St. Pierre’s immigration document preserved in a frame, under glass. Next is his personal journal with 1 January 1790 as the first entry. The final document I select is the sculptor’s proposed design for the sculpture garden. I offer a whispered thank you to whoever organized these items and begin my research right here in the attic at Sebastien’s own desk.
I examine the sculptor’s design for the garden first and quickly discover who the two statues represented. As I had guessed, the man was Sebastien St. Pierre. The woman was simply identified as Keera Lanaghan, an Irish name. With that confirmation of the identity of the statues, I went on to lose myself for hours in the journal, carefully turning each brittle page.
Sebastien St. Pierre was a nobleman in pre-revolutionary France. He was the son of a Baron and was married to the daughter of another Baron. His wife’s name was not Keera, but Adelaide. Sebastien described the marriage as being joyless, but not fruitless. A son and a daughter were born to the unhappy couple. I read of his decision to move his family from France to America and about the purchase of land for their new home. He wrote long about how he met the woman named Keera and how they had cultivated a deeply emotional relationship. I cannot deny that I am moved by Sebastien’s description of his love for Keera and moved to tears when he told of the sculptures he ordered from a French artist. The male statue was purposely designed to not resemble him because it and the Keera statue were to be placed together in the new sculpture garden on the estate.
Keera Lanaghan was an Irish immigrant to late eighteenth century America. After arriving, she moved around until she found steady employment in the kitchen of the St. Pierre estate. Sebastien was a lover of fine foods which gave him an excuse to spend ample amounts of time in the kitchen getting to know the lovely, new cook. In time, he admitted to Keera that he had fallen in love with her. Keera shared some of her overwhelming emotions with Sebastien. She felt guilty for coming between him and his wife, but she was in love with him as well. She understood her place in society as a cook, an Irish immigrant and a woman and that she could only be grateful for her newfound love and good fortune. When she became pregnant and bore a son, she asked Sebastien to always treat the child as an equal to his other children.
I take only Sebastien’s journal and return to my suite where I do an online search for Keera Lanaghan. I find one reference to her in an online archive of old newspapers. In 1793, she had somehow drowned. No details were given.
At dinner I’m excited to tell Philip about my discoveries, but he has news of his own to share with me.
“Nola, I need to talk to you about a very serious issue.”
“Are you okay, Philip? I know you visited the doctor a few days ago. Is anything wrong?”
“No, I’m fine. It isn’t my health. Nola, I have a wife. Her name is Cassandra.
My body feels cold, like all the blood has run out. What had Philip just said? He told me something very important, something about a woman. His wife. Now the tears begin to fall. They land in the creme brulle and form pools in the carmel. I blow my nose into one of Philip’s fine, linen napkins.
“Nola, don’t cry. This doesn’t change anything. My wife is traveling in Europe for the entire summer. She won’t be home for several more weeks.”
“You’re married? And you never told me?
“This is not something to be upset about, Nola. We can work this out together.”
“Work it out? Like a math problem? Or a tooth that needs to be pulled? Philip, you have a wife and I assume you also have children. You’ve been lying to me.”
“I never said a word about this.”
“And your silence was full of lies.” I nearly overturn the table when I get up to run out the back door of the mansion. I run to the garden and sit on the edge of the pool, weeping before the two figures shrouded in darkness. Keera and Sebastien had gone through the same scenario. How had they resolved it?
I cross the flagstones to where Keera lay on the blanket. My breathing catches, my heart thuds in my chest, and I stumble backward into Sebastien. Keera’s arm is raised, shielding her face from some unknown threat, her eyes wide with fear, her mouth gaping so that I can almost hear the scream. I spin around. The beautiful smile of a man in love is gone, replaced by clenched teeth and eyes flaring with rage.
Links to Parts One, Three and Four
- An Unsettled Estate: Part One-Things are looking up for Nola when she suddenly gets a dream job and falls for a man who seems to be everything she has always wanted. But on the St. Pierre Estate, nothing is as it seems.
- An Unsettled Estate: Part Three-Philip has caught Nola in the forest at night. They argue about whether the statues of Sebastien and Keera are alive and about Philip's plan to keep Nola as his secret mistress on St. Pierre estate.
- An Unsettled Estate: Part Four-Nola escapes Philip's grasp and runs through the trees for her car, but she must pass through the sculpture garden first. Philip catches up, but they both are halted by an impossible scene.