The Nightingale

August 1939

Vianne Mauriac left the cool, stucco-walled kitchen //and stepped out into her front yard.// On this
beautiful summer morning in the Loire Valley, everything was in bloom.// White sheets flapped in the
breeze //and roses tumbled like laughter //along the ancient stone wall that hid her property from the road. //
A pair of industrious bees buzzed among the blooms; //from far away, she heard the chugging purr of a
train// and then the sweet sound of a little girl’s laughter.

Sophie. //

Vianne smiled. //Her eight-year-old daughter was probably running through the house, making her
father dance attendance on her //as they readied for their Saturday picnic.

“Your daughter is a tyre =]” Antoine said, appearing in the doorway. //

He walked toward her, //his pomaded hair glinting black in the sunlight. //He’d been working on his
furniture this morning — sanding a chair that was already as soft as satin //— and a fine layer of wood dust
peppered his face and shoulders. //He was a big man, tall and broad shouldered, with a rough face and a
dark stubble that took constant effort to keep from becoming a beard. //

He slipped an arm around her and pulled her close. “I love you, V.” //

“I love you, too.” //

It was the truest fact of her world. //She loved everything about this man, //his smile, //the way he
mumbled in his sleep //and laughed after a sneeze// and sang opera// in the shower. //

She’d fallen in love with him fifteen years ago, //on the school play yard,// before she’d even known
what love was. //He was her first everything //— first kiss, first love, first lover. //Before him, she’d been a
skinny, awkward, anxious girl given to stuttering when she got scared, which was often. //

A motherless girl. //

You will be the adult now, her father had said to Vianne as they walked up to this very house for the
first time. //She’d been fourteen years old, //her eyes swollen from crying, //her grief unbearable.// In an
instant, this house had gone from being the family’s summer house to a prison of sorts.// Maman had
been dead less than two weeks when Papa gave up on being a father. //Upon their arrival here, he’d not

held her hand or rested a hand on her shoulder or even offered her a handkerchief to dry her tears. //

B-but I’m just a girl, she’d said. //

Not anymore. //

She’d looked down at her younger sister, Isabelle, //who still s****d her thumb at four //and had no
idea what was going on. Isabelle kept asking when Maman was coming home. //

When the door opened, a tall, thin woman with a nose like a water spigot and eyes as small and dark
as raisins appeared. //

These are the girls? the woman had said. //

Papa nodded. //

They will be no trouble. //

It had happened so fast.// Vianne hadn’t really understood.// Papa dropped off his daughters like soiled
laundry// and left them with a stranger. //The girls were so far apart in age// it was as if they were from
different families. //Vianne had wanted to comfort Isabelle //— meant to //— but Vianne had been in so much
pain it was impossible to think of anyone else, //especially a child as willful and impatient and loud as
Isabelle. //Vianne still remembered those first days here: //Isabelle shrieking //and Madame spanking her. //
Vianne had pleaded with her sister, //saying, again and again, //Mon Dieu, Isabelle, quit screeching.// Just do
as she bids, //but even at four, Isabelle had been unmanageable. //

Vianne had been undone by all of it //— the grief for her dead mother, //the pain of her father’s
abandonment, //the sudden change in their circumstances, //and Isabelle’s cloying, needy loneliness. //

It was Antoine who’d saved Vianne.// That first summer after Maman’s death, //the two of them had
become inseparable. //With him, Vianne had found an escape.// By the time she was sixteen,// she was
pregnant; at seventeen, //she was married //and the mistress of Le Jardin.// Two months later, //she had a
miscarriage //and she lost herself for a while.// There was no other way to put it.// She’d crawled into her
grief// and cocooned it around her,// unable to care about anyone or anything //— certainly not a needy,
wailing four-year-old sister. //