The Salt Roads, originally titled Griffonne, was my third novel. It was published in 2003. Conceptually, it was the most complex piece I'd taken on. You could describe it as an historical fantasy that takes place in three different time periods, three different countries (none of which I knew much about when I started), and in one timeless space.
Here's an excerpt:
The waiter fairly threw the dish of soup in front of Maman. A green tongue of it washed over the lip and back into the bowl. He'd been sneering ever since Charles entered with the black lady and her blacker mother on his arm. Maman ignored him, used to such as him. She was as starved as I for good food. She snatched up her spoon and began eating as quickly as manners would allow.
Charles hadn't noticed. His colour was high and he seemed merry, agitated. He hadn't yet tasted his own soup. "Did Ancelle open the letter, Jeanne?" he asked me.
"He had some other matter. He said that he would see to yours presently."
"You didn't read it on the way there?"
He never would completely trust me. I met his eyes. "It was sealed, Charles. You said it was for Ancelle's eyes." I likely wouldn't have been able to make it all out, anyway. Such big words Charles always used.
He favoured me with a sudden, strange smile. "Yes, that's quite true. Good, then. Good." He drummed his spoon on table, loud. A fat burger and a fat burger's wife at the table beside us stopped their meal to stare at Charles. I don't believe he even saw them. He said, "I was in the garden of the Tuileries three nights ago."
I put my spoon down. "You were? But there was some excitement there, wasn't there?"
He laughed. "Oh, yes. Excitement. There were more than fifty men, the papers say," he told us.
"Huh," was all Maman would reply.
"The gendarmes beat them out of the bushes in the gardens of the Tuileries palace, and before they could take them into custody, the mob set upon them. Stones, caning, blows. The gendarmes had to run for their lives. I saw it from where I was sitting, on a bench by the water. I had gone to watch them, those men. I sought them out in the dark, to see their bodies as they came together, to..."
People were staring at us. "Charles!"
He looked right through me. His eyes glistened with excitement. He shifted in his chair, fidgeted.
"And the men?" I asked. "What became of them?" The soup was delicious. I took my time to inhale it, then sip it, to let it linger on my tongue.
Charles shrugged. "Some broken limbs, I'll warrant. I saw two of them helping one of their fellows away. He was bleeding from the scalp. They'll all be more careful where they play buggeranto next time."
Maman laughed heartily at that. Charles fell to eating his soup for a time, then grinned up at us. "Next morning I was walking by the gardens, and I saw a pair of breeches hanging from the gate. A prize claimed by one of the righteous mob, no doubt. Waiter, more wine here."
It was all sport to him. He strolled through the Paris streets, always looking, looking. Eating up what he saw. We were all just food for his eyes, for his pen. Fodder for making stories with. So strange he was this evening! His cheeks were flaming as though they'd been rouged, and he couldn't seem to sit still for an instant. He put his spoon down again, and stared so deeply into my eyes that I became uncomfortable. His own were wet with tears. "You are beautiful, Jeanne," he said. "I will tell you that you are beautiful so long as I'm here to do it."
Chagrined, I broke his gaze, but he reached across the table and took my chin in his, so that I was forced to look at him. "And when I am no longer here," he told me, "I want you still to remember how you pleased my senses."
"Charles!" I hissed, "You embarrass me!"
He held my gaze. "You will not want. I have seen to it."
"Huh," said Maman quietly, shaking her head. She could pile more scorn into one 'huh' than any sailor could cram into an hour of cursing.
The Salt Roads was written with the help of a grant from the Ontario Arts Council. My profound thanks to the OAC for its support.