April 23, 1833
There’s a moment, Cosette realizes, when pain does subside into numbness. But it doesn’t bring the relief she was hoping because the lack of pain doesn’t improve anything it only leaves her feeling empty. There’s just a gap where emotions are supposed to go.
There’s a hole in her life where he Papa was meant to go.
She’d been so hopeful when Marius had told her where they were going. She’d been worried and preoccupied over her father and couldn’t understand why he’d leave so suddenly. He’d been her whole life and he couldn’t just leave like that.
But he could and he did because finding him hadn’t done anything. The old fool had left because he was growing old and frail and, now at last she finally knew, had never stopped running from secrets. She’d known, of course, that he had them. But she’d never guessed. How could she guess?
Growing up she’d assumed that the insults Madame Thernadier had thrown around had been nothing more than cruel words, just another way for the nasty old crone to strike out at an innocent child. But no. Her mother was exactly what she’d been told. Her mother had suffered every indignity possible and God hadn’t even allowed her to survive long enough to see her only child one last time. The note in her hands said that much. Her dear Papa had been planning to bring Cosette to her mother but she’d passed on too soon.
And the worst is Cosette knows it was probably for the best. Once the truth had been exposed, once she knew who her mother and “father” were she couldn’t blame them for their actions. She was grateful. That shamed her more than any details of their parentage.
“Marius” She’d turned to him with tears in her eyes. “What you must think of me now.”
But he hadn’t seemed disturbed or sad. He hadn’t seemed ashamed or surprised. He’d simply taken her hand and led her from the monastery without a word. One they were in the carriage, as she was crying, he held her close.
“What you are, my wife, if every bit as brave as your mother.” She looked up at him with a smile and nodded.
If her mother could survive what she had, Cosette could survive as well.
April 23, 2013
It starts with a picture.
Jean has it stashed with the copy of her birth certificate. And she finds it on accident after work one day because she’s looking for something that would have her social security number on it. It’s old and faded but perfectly preserved, even the corners undented or dinged. The woman in it is unfamiliar, sad and lonely with hollow cheeks and dirty skin. Her eyes are large and Cosette, maybe because she instinctively knows who it is, decides she sees a spark of something left in there.
What shocks her the most and has her rocking back on her heels is the hair on her mother’s head. Cosette has precious few memories with her mother and her most prized, most clearly remembered, is burying her face in the soft fragrant mass of her mother’s chestnut hair.
But in this it’s not. In this its near shaved, close enough that Cosette can see scalp in some places. That combined with the scarf she can tell Fantine had started to wrap around her head makes it clear that the woman in the picture is absolutely ashamed of how she looks. The way she faces the camera, her direct gaze and the set of her jaw, make it clear that she doesn’t care. She is broken and sad and beaten but she is not weak or fragile. There’s a complete lack of vanity there that Cosette almost envies, knowing that she is probably overly conscious of her own looks.
She takes the picture and tapes it to her mirror. As a reminder.
The next morning she wakes late, having had a difficult time sleeping. She only seemed to be able to see the pile of cosmetics on her vanity or the closet bursting with clothes. Even in the dark she felt like they were pressing in on her. Her hair, her biggest point of vanity and the thing her mother had taken from her, seemed to be swallowing her whole. The result is that she wakes tired and frustrated with herself.
Later, while curled with a glass of wine and Marius on the couch, she’ll admit it was rash decision, and probably not her best. She’ll probably need to go to a professional to fix the damage. But there were three boxes of clothes sitting in the donations holder at the Salvation Army and she felt instantly lighter. And there were roughly eight inches of hair in her trashcan that made her feel free.
She might not be her mother. She might not be completely free of regret when she looks in the mirror and sees her hastily chopped hair. But for one day she didn’t care. She didn’t wear makeup or heels or put styling gel in her hair. She was ready to leave the house in under ten minutes.
She’d frame her mother’s picture for the lesson it taught her. Because for once she was free.
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