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Dimanche après-midi avec Tatie Micheline
Dimanche après-midi avec Tatie Micheline

Dimanche après-midi avec Tatie Micheline

JPYoungJPYoung

Somewhere in Sydney, the mid 1960s

His maiden Aunt never failed to surprise him...

Over the years the relationship between Phil Danté and his Aunt, or Tatie, Micheline became closer and closer since her permanent arrival to Australia in 1963 when he was thirteen. After spending Saturday afternoons with his schoolmates at the cinema he dressed in a suit and spent frequent Saturday evenings with her. They would attend a film of her choice, and afterwards as she prepared their dinner and they dined together, they discussed the film and its relationship to real life, for she revelled in cinema, cooking, and conversation. Late dining, a glass of wine, intelligent discussion, passionate embraces and kisses, as well as being driven to and from her home in her Renault Caravelle cabriolet sports car that she had shipped from her native France made him feel like a sophisticated adult, unlike his life in his own home.

On Sunday after attending Mass together and lunching with his family she would drive him to her home. Sometimes they went for outings and other times they would just converse for the entire afternoon in her flat with the spectacular view of Sydney at its best and her sanctuaire du souvenir that fascinated him just as much.

In a tiered glass case were her decorations, medals, and parachute wings she earned from several nations. There were framed photographs of her wearing different berets and camouflage jackets or native dress holding various automatic weapons standing with groups of French Resistance fighters, commandos, paras, and Foreign Legionnaires, British Special Forces officers, American OSS agents and paratroopers, Vietnamese counter-guerrillas, and Loyalist Harkis and Pieds Noir from the Algerian war. She stood beside Phil's father, both in khaki berets and battledress with ribbons at la fin de la guerre and alongside Phil in his school cadet uniform with her wearing her medals, parachutist wings and FANY beret on ANZAC Day, though she didn't carry an automatic weapon in the latter pictures.

A portrait photo of her in her French Army uniform read, Nom de code: QUEENCOBRA.

On top of the case was a folded black cloth where she would cover her museum like the statues in church during Lent if she had less adventurous visitors.

They never tired of each other.

He loved being treated as an adult as much as he loved her. His time with her made him believe that everyone else he knew were loud without meaning and banally stupid with their lives being dead end futility. Everyone else Phil knew regarded him as a standoffish bore.

She was the epitome of élégance et grâce. Any item of clothing she wore looked stylish; even the apron she put on when she worked in her kitchen appeared chic.

Tatie was not only his best and most intelligent and worldly friend as well as his confidant, but she was his tutor in ways of life beyond Australia and conventional society. She was incredibly candid, but never crass on matters other adults would never talk about in the 1960s; she was extrêmement sophistiqué but down to earth, unpretentious and incredibly practical. She was the outside world...

He was glad that she seemed to either have no friends, or most likely, she was courteous enough to not have them present when they had their times together, He wanted her for himself; she was his maîtresse intellectuelle.

His sister Jean would tease him when he would go on his 'dates' with Tatie by singing,

'Oh, we are having tea with Auntie Weirdo...'

Tatie had lasted for half of her first British Ex-Serviceman's Club meeting. According to her brother who brought her to his club, a retired Colonel who either had or pretended to have had too much to drink pinched her derriere and shouted,

'Oooh la la!'

She brought him unconscious to the floor with one blow.

'You, ha ha!', she laughed.

Micheline then reassured everyone that there was no need to worry because she had a knife and a pen in her handbag so she could do a tracheotomy if needed...

The club members had question marks over their heads until she explained clearly, concisely and graphically what a tracheotomy was; again, there was no need to worry, because during the war behind enemy lines she...

Everyone frantically worried...

Until he was taken away by an ambulance, she continued a non-stop tirade on the subjects that the society should be called the British Ex-Schoolgirls Club et société de la ancienne grande dames and the three types of people the world was better off without were les chochottes, those with bad manners and Freemasons. Sadly, those types of people ran the Club.

Though she was surprisingly open about some things, she was very modest or secretive about others. One of the latter was why she never married nor seemed to have any male romantic partners. He respected her privacy, there were so many other things to talk about. His parents were glad that he and Micheline were good friends; he once overheard his mother telling one of her friends that the pair needed each other.

Suddenly their pleasant Sunday afternoon conversation had come to an end.

Phil had committed one of his infrequent faux pas and had crossed the line with his beloved Tatie. As always, he never realised the fact until it was too late.

He had a reputation from his home and school for making unexpected and sometimes hilarious bons mots sarcastique. Though he never intended to do so, sometimes he hurt people's feelings. Tatie wouldn't accept misbehaviour, especially from someone she loved. She would never send him away, instead her view was that if her nephew acted like a child, then she would treat him like a child...

In her mass of contradictions, when he found himself acting unacceptably, she would manage him in a way he had long outgrown with his own parents. She provided him with un rendez-vous avec sa brosse à cheveux et bâillon avec une conférence incluse that rectified his shortcomings.

Today was one of those times after one of those remarks...

'Comment oses-tu!'

When she drew the blinds in both meanings of the phrase and displayed that facial expression, he knew that he was in for it.

He stood up, but his sincere apology was quickly and brutally cut off.

Whether it was her British Special Operations Executive or French Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage training, she spun him about and he found his arm in a one handed painful wristlock with her other hand tightly over his mouth.

'Marche!'

She paraded him into her bedroom where he found himself looking wide eyed in the mirror of her tiroirs de la commode. She removed her hand from his mouth, quickly opened one of the drawers, produced an intimate item of apparel that she wadded up and stuffed in his mouth that effectively stopped his apology.

'Mains!'

He crossed his wrists and held them out to her; she tied them with her black neck scarf from another drawer. For her pièce de résistance, she tightly tied her blue scarf with white polka dots over his mouth.

He had no idea whether this was the way of the French convent school she attended before her family emigrated to Cornwall, or whether this was how she treated her prisoners of war or espionage, but his fate was completely and literally in her hands. He had transformed from a high school student with pretensions of being a sophisticated adult to a naughty child...or a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition.

As she once said, the game of life was Snakes and Ladders...

He watched her pick up her wooden hair brush...His eyes were widened, he shook his head; she narrowed her former and nodded her latter, then pointed to where they had come from.

The miniscule procession returned to her parlour as he felt her silence en colère. His fear increased as she prepared the next humiliating step of his ordeal.

She pulled down his trousers and underwear to his ankles. As he silently stood in trepidation, she prepared her record player to accomplish the twin tasks of putting her in the mood and preventing any telltale noises from being heard outside her flat.

His terror reached its height when he heard the sound of her turntable starting and the record dropping as she held up his shirt tail with one hand...

The first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony...

He nearly passed out with the pain as her blows from the hairbrush held in her other hand perfectly matched the music; tears were coming down his face.

As the movement finished, she left him to stop the music. His shirttails mostly covered his embarrassing bits.

The next part of their ceremony began.

Though she had spent most of her school years and her SOE training in England, she spoke with a French accent with the surprising exception of her enseignement de la discipline et des bonnes manières, where she lectured him in an upper class English accent. He had no idea how she spoke when she taught her high school history classes, but she confided that when she performed her opérations d'infiltration in the then Tangier International Zone, Italy and Monaco, she would pose as an English schoolteacher or journalist. She mostly wouldn't say what she did, but she let slip the most incredible things that made Modesty Blaise sound like a Brownie...He understood and maintained her secrets, and she well knew it...

The lecture on his comportement méchant inacceptable followed with him nodding his head at the requested parts.

'People regard their personal feelings as more important than their health, wealth, or reputation. You have no right to cause a hurt that could last forever with a laugh that would be soon forgotten, Phillip.'

To Tatie, 'Phil' the name he was known by in his world, was mon cher, 'Phillipe' was mon beau cher, 'Phillip' was mon enfant terrible.

She concluded,

'A gentleman will never unintentionally give offence.'

The next part of the rite occurred.

The record changed to something tranquil...an orchestral arrangement of Debussy's Réverie.

She relaxed in an overstuffed chair, poured herself a Johnnie Walker, placed a Gauloise in her mouth and lit it in order for her to calm down as the contrite Phil silently watched her. The pain of her spanking had transformed into a tingling feeling, as if he had a hot towel on his derriere. He was more pained by her expression of disdain for him.

The first time she had performed her ritual with him was when she was staying at their home. Jean, his skilled tennis playing older sister was going away to compete for the weekend; Phil didn't want to go with his parents to see her play. Phil's mother sought her sister in law's advice who replied that the weekend was their daughter's, not their son's, and it was a fine idea that he remain behind. She offered to stay at their home for the weekend to cook and keep Phil company. His mother told her that he had acted beastly towards his sister; though both his parents were born in France, they felt they had to atone for that by speaking and acting more English than the English.

All went well with the pair food shopping, playing cards, watching television, and conversing. Things changed when Phil invited her to go to the cinema with him that afternoon; she loved Westerns. She replied that they both promised his parents that due to his poor behaviour, he would not leave the house except for their walks and attending Mass together the next day.

'We both gave our word to your Mother.'

'What they don't know, won't hurt them.'

'Is that what you believe, Phillip?'

'Of course.'

'Then I believe that what I do know will hurt you...'

After she had her way with him, he found himself in the condition that he was now, but lying on his side on his parent's bed where Tatie was sleeping. She laid down on the other side of the bed behind him, sipped her Scotch, put her arm around him...then she slept until teatime.

On the return of the rest of the family on the morrow, Phil gave a sincere apology to Jean that she sincerely accepted. Tatie made omelettes et salade for the travel-weary family as Jean related her tennis adventures.

Mrs. Danté gushed,

'I honestly don't know how you make Phillip behave so well!'

After finishing her Scotch and cigarette, Tatie leisurely reloaded, pouring another from her bottle with the red label, producing a second cigarette from her blue packet of Gauloises, then lit it with her S.T. Dupont lighter that featured a cobra...engraved Mille mercis, Queencobra.

His maiden Aunt never failed to surprise him...

She instantly was hysterically grief stricken and shrieked,

'Why can't you behave yourself?...Why couldn't you behave yourself! Why???'

He had never seen her like that since he first met her when he was four years old. He was more frightened than he was before due to her instantaneous unpredictably. He recalled Jean's remark,

'When we say, "She's French", other people say "She's a madwoman".'

She immediately returned to tranquillity. He had a vision of her in a children's playground where she played going to and fro on the mood swings.

Her Debussy continued with Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune; she took a drag on her Gauloise, then a sip of Johnnie Walker. He rarely saw her drink spirits or smoke, but when she did, she savoured them. Her eyes entered a different place and time...

'Cliff...his name is of no importance...He was an Américain...you would call him a playboy, a man playing at being a boy; if only he were...He was un homme romantique, un grand rêveur, a dreamer. A dreamer is worse than a fool. Mon beau cher, dreamers are très dangereux, the most dangerous people in the world; they are especially dangerous to themselves.'

A drag, a sip, a glance towards her captive audience...

'His family was very wealthy; he had a number after his name to show that he was continuing a wealthy family's tradition. He did not serve in the war, and he avoided the war in Korea, C'est dommage. When men do not have a war they find something else to prove their courage and manhood, mostly something stupide...'

'We were at war with the FLN terrorists in what had been a part of France since 1830. They murdered those who wanted a successful and peaceful life...yet outside France the newspapers made them sound like Robin Hood and Zorro...'

'He had his own yacht that he would sail from Monte Carlo to Tangier that then was like Monaco, a separate nation, une zone internationale...a mixture of intrigue, tax evasion and unspeakable debauchery, things no decent nation would tolerate...My assignment was to befriend him, to become his companion...'

Phil could well imagine what that involved...and she knew he knew it...

Another drag, another sip, another glance...

'I met him at the Casino...I let him feel that he won me...', she laughed, 'He was a poor gambler and did not know what he was doing...I built up his ego, then held him off to increase his appetite...then we met again...'

She turned to him,

'Some day you must go to Monte Carlo...Do you remember the film To Catch a Thief? That was Monaco then...that was us then...Before Grace Kelly few Australians had ever heard of Monaco...'

She faced away from him and returned to her past, but now a smile came on her face,

'Oh, he so made me laugh! It was so easy to laugh with him, but it was so hard to keep from laughing at him...'

Her sideways glance told him, he was just like you...then her smile vanished...

'I had to listen to his stupid beliefs that he was Humphrey Bogart or Gary Cooper gunrunning to 'the good people'. France were the Nazis and it was the communists who were victimised and persecuted! He had no feelings against the FLN terrorists and their atrocities against their own people...He had no convictions except his own selfish adventures and ego. He did not even do it for money! He had more money than the entire town where I lived.'

'My rôle was a simple easily impressed English schoolteacher in search of adventure...I imitated an Englishwoman as I had the correct hairstyle, clothes, and deportment...'

She turned to him and gave an expression that resembled an English actress from the old films, then she looked back...

'I sailed on his yacht with him around the Mediterranean where I learned as much as I could on his activities; my companions learned as much as they could. Our plan was to arrest him and seize his yacht on his way to Tangier when he had his cargaison de la mort aboard and try him in France with the weapons as evidence...all of us prepared for that...'

A drag, a sip, a glance towards him, but her mood had changed when she returned to her story,

'Everything changes, everything always changes...everything always changes at the last minute...As he was a wealthy Américain, it was thought his arrest on international waters and his trial in France would be portrayed in la presse étrangère as an attack on France. Pourtant, the weapons could not reach our enemies and kill our own men, women and children...We placed Limpet explosives under his yacht; they would detonate after his yacht picked up the weapons he would transport.'

Drag, sip, this time an angry glance; she turned her head back, back to another time and another place with another man...

'He had been warned! Twice, and he laughed in the face of the person who tried to save his life. I started an argument that would get me out of sailing with him, he would be at sea when...'

Tatie blew a cloud of smoke and glanced at him sideways, she was un cobra royal qui tue de sang-froid...

'I was preparing to depart, when there he was at the door of my hotel room! He came to me begging my forgiveness. I asked him to wait outside to give me a few minutes to think; I telephoned my superiors to tell him he was with me. They said that as his yacht that was at sea would be destroyed, and he was supposed to be on it...

Drag, sip, glance...

'I told him I forgave him and asked him into ma chambre...'

She slammed her empty glass on the table, crushed her cigarette in her ashtray and looked at him with an expression that he would never forget...then she faced her past again...

'He was not to leave my hotel room...a team would be sent as soon as possible to take him away. We made love...when he slept...I slit his throat, à la Marocaine...'

She suddenly leapt to the floor from her chair with her Fairbairn-Sykes 'letter opener' he had not seen, made a motion of slitting a throat and screamed at the floor where she had made the motion,

'Why can't you behave yourself?...Why couldn't you behave yourself! Why???'

She turned to him...he had never seen anything more terrifying than her facial expression...She leapt to her feet in a frenzied instant then ran shrieking towards him with her commando dagger...

He raised his bound hands and put them around her back. She hysterically bawled in his arms like a hurt and frightened child as they held each other tightly...

His maiden Aunt never failed to surprise him...

FIN

Author Notes: I am the author of three Extra Dimensional/Ultraterrestial military science fiction novels MERCENARY EXOTIQUE, OPERATION CHUPACABRA and WORK IN OTHER WORLDS FROM YOUR OWN HOME! as well as two travel books THE MAN FROM WAUKEGAN and TWO AUSTRALIANS IN SCOTLAND (all from Lulu.com). I live happily ever after with my wife in paradise (coastal Kiama, NSW Australia).

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JPYoung
JPYoung
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