LGBTQ+ Historical Fiction Happy


There was something about Gérard’s eyes that Marie-Claude didn’t like, but she had never brought herself to look at them long enough to figure out what it was. As she stood at the altar, though, with the slightly-too-squeaky voice of the priest grating her ear, and the eyes of a hundred relatives and complete strangers searing into her, it occurred to Marie-Claude what it was: Gérard’s right eyeball, and only his right eyeball, had a single, spidery vein that ran from the inside corner of his eye to his iris. This was the first time she had been forced to maintain eye contact with him for a sustained length of time, and she wondered if she would need to do so again in the course of their life together. She hoped not. 


All seven of her siblings were here, and she wondered too if this would be the last time she would see them all together. Tomorrow, the rest of them would go together by train back to Saint-Edouard, but Marie-Claude would stay in Montreal, with Gérard, forever.


Felicité, the next oldest sister was excited that Marie-Claude was getting married because now there was no obstacle to Felicité herself marrying, and Felicité had talked about nothing but weddings and babies for years. 


Marie-Claude felt no excitement though. She didn’t like boys in general, and didn’t care for this one in particular, but she had understood that this was the necessary thing to do. She was 19, and thus already at the peak of her marriageable years, and Gérard Beaudoin was likely the best suitor for whom her parents could hope.  She had arrived in Montreal only two days prior to the wedding, with the chest that contained all her worldly possessions. It was the first time she had been to the city --to any city -- and she wasn’t sure if she was more overwhelmed by all the new sensory experiences, or by the daunting prospect of marital life. Her mother had told her only a few weeks earlier about what would...happen on her wedding night, and Marie-Claude was still somewhat confused.


The floor of the Church of Saint Paul the Apostle was dull, grey, and solid, and Marie-Claude’s eyes kept landing here throughout the ceremony, as the priest droned on, and the people in the pews stood up, sat down, stood up, sat down, all while Marie-Claude remained standing in full view of everyone. Occasionally, she looked up into Gérard’s eyes, and he looked back, intently, as if trying to will her to be happy. She could only withstand his gaze for a few seconds before her eyes instinctively darted away. 


She scanned the humble throng in attendance. The church looked empty, even though most of the pews were occupied. The ceiling here was so much higher than any she’d seen before that it seemed to engulf part of the sky, but the mortals in attendance were all clustered on the ground, no closer to the heavens than a constable on horseback.




Wednesday morning was Amara’s favorite shift to work at the library. For whatever reason, almost no one returned books to the overnight drop box on Tuesday nights, so there were fewer books to reshelve the next morning. Moreover, each of her favorite library regulars usually made an appearance on Wednesday morning. First was Josée, an older woman with hair dyed a shade of red as deep and as unnatural-looking as the pomegranates at the supermarkets in this country. She came every weekday except Friday to read the newspapers, sighing intermittently and constantly checking her giant wrist watch, before neatly folding each newspaper up and returning it to its rack. She was the tidiest and most polite of the regulars, and her colorful outfits always brightened Amara’s mood.


Next was Fernando, a septuagenarian who brought his own CD player, with thin metal headphones from the 1990s, and listened to the library’s music collection for hours at a time. He would park himself in a semi-comfortable desk chair, and listen to disc after disc. He looked so thoroughly immersed in the music, that Amara could almost hear it through the expressions on his face. Sometimes he would smile and sway his head from side to side, sometimes he would close his eyes in contemplation, and sometimes, Amara thought, she could see tears winding their way down his cheek.


There was also Theo, the big bearded man who Amara suspected was currently homeless, but also suspected might be some kind of holy man or mystic. He usually took a stack of books from the 177-199 shelf, and would read for several minutes before he started to nod off. Amara would always leave him in peace, even though some of the staff took it upon themselves to prod awake anyone who fell asleep in the library. 


Others of the eccentric library regulars were given to murmuring to themselves or making other unexpected noises, which drew reproachful glances from staff and other patrons, but never from Amara. This library was still the quietest place she could imagine; the high ceilings easily absorbed Josee’s muffled wheezing, Fernando’s dissonant humming, and Theo’s inexplicable chuckling as he read Schopenhauer. For Amara, who was accustomed to the multigenerational cacophony of her family’s apartment, these occasional library sounds barely even registered as sounds, much less as a nuisance.


The library usually became slightly more animated in the afternoon, with the arrival of students just released from classes, but even then, the noise rarely rose above a hum. The older students came with their laptops, put in their earbuds, and did that amazing thing that Amara had never seen before she came to Canada: they sealed themselves off in public space.



Marie-Claude looked up at the stained glass windows in the transept of the church, trying to find the beauty in them, but seeing only a translucent, even more lifeless rendition of the same images she had seen every Sunday of her life up until now in the church in Saint-Edouard. When she had come with her family the day prior to visit the Church of Saint Paul the Apostle, her mother kept commenting on how beautiful these windows were, how moving the paintings, how glorious this church. Later, Felicité poked Marie-Claude and giggled at how handsome Gérard was. Everyone else seemed enamored of Marie-Claude’s new life, and Marie-Claude herself was so thoroughly underwhelmed.


Gérard’s family was also from Saint-Edouard, but Xavier Beaudoin, his father, had left in 1929 to work on the construction of the Beauharnois Canal and Dam, leaving his wife Yvette to raise Gérard and his six siblings for several years until eventually moving the family to live in Montreal. 


The Beaudoin family still came back to Saint-Edouard regularly, and Gérard had, over the past few years, made a point of always coming to visit Marie-Claude’s family. It would only be a few months after her wedding that Marie-Claude would come to understand that Gérard was an unremarkable marriage prospect in Montreal - yes, he had been in formal schooling until the age of 16, but that was not as uncommon in the city, and the closest thing he had to family connections was his father’s job at the power company. 


In Saint-Edouard, however, where the options were far fewer -- not just for marriage partners, but for life in general -- it was not hard for Gérard to convince Marie-Claude’s parents, in February of 1939, to give him their daughter in marriage.


Now, three months later, Marie-Claude stood at the altar, facing Gérard, but not looking at him. 


She quickly scanned the pews, her focus jumping from face to face, until she crossed gazes with a woman sitting in the penultimate pew in the nave, right next to the aisle, on the Beaudoin family’s side. 


The woman had eyes that were kind, yet arresting, and Marie-Claude thought this was the most beautiful face she’d ever seen. She wore a grey felt hat crowned with roses, and her jet black hair fell in neat tresses all around. Marie-Claude had no idea who this woman was -- she didn’t know who the majority of the people in this church were -- but she felt safe and warm in her ocular embrace. The woman smiled ever so gently back at Marie-Claude, who could almost feel her own lips beginning to pull outward at the edges. All other heads in the pews bowed, and Marie-Claude knew that she too should bow her head, but she managed to maintain eye contact with the beautiful stranger, who reciprocated, lowering her head slightly but continuing to look at Marie-Claude tenderly and affectionately. 


Something was communicated in those precious seconds that their eyes remained locked, and although Marie-Claude would not be able to articulate what it was, she felt understood, reassured, less frightened about life in a city she did not yet understand with a husband she did not yet love. 


She would spend the rest of her life wondering who this woman was.




Truth be told, Amara felt more comfortable with the troubled eccentrics and mystic hobos who hung around the library than with the students and other young people who came in the afternoon, even though Amara herself was much closer in age to the latter group. The young people all seemed like they must have a place in society waiting for them once they had finished here, and their entire comportment suggested confidence in this fact. But Josée, Fernando, Theo, the elderly Asian man who sometimes offered her slices of fruit he brought with him, the person who wore floral dresses and a baseball cap with a veil that enshrouded their face -- these seemed like people for whom this society had not found a clear place other than the library, and Amara sympathized with them. 


She had been trained and worked as a nurse, but her qualifications weren’t recognized in Quebec, and so she was working at the library until she could make enough money to enroll in courses to get her certification, while also taking care of her ailing grandmother, who told her at least once a day, “Amara, my heart, go and find a husband, that I may die in happiness.”


Amara realized she wasn’t paying attention to what she was doing. She had already dropped one book, and had almost started reordering books on the 301.7 - 328.9 shelf alphabetically by author instead of by decimal number. She took a deep breath and tapped her temples before continuing. The next book to be reshelved was a large statistical almanac, so before picking it up, Amara found the spot where it belonged on the shelf, and pulled the books on either side apart to create an opening, parting the dense sea of numbers. 


She was startled to see a face turn to look at her through the opening in the shelves on the other side. 


Amara almost instinctively averted her gaze, but she was captivated by the eyes looking back at her, and couldn’t seem to look away, even though it felt impudent to keep starting. She could only see the eyes, forehead, and clipped bangs of the woman looking back at her, but Amara felt kindness and gentleness emanating from her.


Amara reluctantly slotted the almanac into the opening on the shelf, thus closing the brief window to the neighboring aisle. She looked down at the next book to be shelved but couldn’t concentrate. 




Marie-Claude later asked Gérard who the woman was that had been wearing the grey felt hat crowned with roses, sitting on his family’s side of the church, but he said he hadn’t even noticed anyone in the pews because he only had eyes for Marie-Claude. She tried describing the woman’s face, but Gérard couldn’t formulate a guess based on her description.


For the first few years of their marriage, Marie-Claude looked forward with some anticipation to extended family gatherings of the Beaudoin family, thinking that perhaps the mystery woman was a distant relative of Gérard’s. She never appeared, though, and Marie-Claude’s enthusiasm for these gatherings dampened over time.


A much more constant presence in Marie-Claude’s life than Gérard’s family, though, would be the Church. Marie-Claude would return to the Church of Saint Paul the Apostle almost every Sunday for the next two decades, hoping for nothing else than to see the woman who had been at her wedding, but she was apparently not a parishioner. Marie-Claude’s enthusiasm also diminished for the Church, and its unwavering insistence that all married women spend the entirety of their childbearing years either pregnant or nursing, a precept that was not just preached, but also enforced through annual clerical visits to each household in the parish.


Marie-Claude’s life in Montreal had started at an unusual time. The following year, Canada would join World War II, and the city would be emptied of many of its men, although not Gérard; men whose wives were pregnant were exempt from conscription, and Marie-Claude would birth three children by the war’s end. 


The men who’d survived the war returned in 1944, and the postwar period would later come to be known as the Grande Noirceur, the Great Darkness, for its cultural and economic stagnation. But it would only be in retrospect that Marie-Claude and others would come to realize that they’d been living in a Dark Age, only after the Revolution Tranquille or Quiet Revolution that dramatically altered life in Quebec starting in 1960. The reduction in the power of the clergy, the introduction of universal public education for children up to the age of 16, the granting of full legal autonomy to married women, the nationalization of electricity -- these would all reshape the world around Marie-Claude in ways both tiny and small. She rejoiced for her children, especially her three daughters, who would all have at least a few more options in life than she herself had had. And Marie-Claude would occasionally visit the Church of Saint Paul the Apostle on a normal Sunday to look on in satisfaction at the dwindling herd, the. 


The clergy had lost their grip on the institutions of society, and in the decades following the Quiet Revolution, many parishes had to sell their church buildings, so many of which were still beautiful, but could no longer be maintained with the tithes of the diminishing flock. A commission was set up to ensure that this architectural heritage could be preserved, even as the functions of the buildings changed. Some were restored and turned into concert venues, some into condos, others into gyms. 


On a Sunday in May 2004, the week after what would have been her 65th wedding anniversary, Marie-Claude asked for one of her children to drive her by the church where she had been married. There was a fence around its perimeter, and a sign announcing that construction work was underway to renovate the church and convert it into a library. Marie-Claude stared at the sign for several moments, scrutinizing this news and rolling it around in her mind. Finally, she pursed her lips and nodded her head, satisfied with this outcome of history. 




It was less than an hour until the library closed, and the sun was now pouring in through the stained glass window in the west transept. Amara was finding every possible pretext to walk by the row of desks where the young woman she’d seen through the opening in the bookshelves was now sitting. Amara was convinced that she recognized this beautiful stranger from somewhere else, outside the library, but where else could she possibly have seen her?


Amara had now gotten a better look at this captivating visitor: she was wearing a black beanie hat, and a grey sweatshirt with an image of a cat that looked just like one Amara had had when she was eight or nine years old. The woman was typing on a laptop, and had a stack of three books next to her: A collection of poems by Rumi, a graphic novel called Fun Home, and the autobiography of Angela Davis. It was a seemingly random assortment, but Amara had read all of these books and felt there must be some connection between her and this woman.


She wanted to know who this person was, and wanted to make sure they saw each other again. Amara distractedly went about her work, trying to decide whether she should try to initiate a conversation with the young woman and what she should say, rehearsing possible dialogues. 


Finally, the woman stood up, unplugged her laptop, and nimbly wrapped the power cord around her wrist before sliding her electronics into her bag and carrying the books toward the self-checkout kiosk in the nave. Amara knew she now had only a minute or two to act, or to decide not to act. 


She waited until the young woman got her receipt from the kiosk, and timidly approached, still not knowing what she would say. As the young woman turned around, still trying to fit the books into her bag, two of them slid from her grip and on to the floor, right in front of Amara.


Amara crouched to pick up the books, and as she stood up to hand them back, their eyes met again, and Amara felt enveloped in warmth and understanding. They both smiled nervously, and then, seeing the other’s nervous smile, softened. 


“Amara,” she held out the books. 





March 19, 2021 18:00

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Steve Stapler
14:07 Mar 26, 2021

Dear David, For me, this story was about missed connections. You do a really nice job of developing that shared value within the parallel time frames throughout the piece: "The woman had eyes that were kind, yet arresting, and Marie-Claude thought this was the most beautiful face she’d ever seen. " "She could only see the eyes, forehead, and clipped bangs of the woman looking back at her, but Amara felt kindness and gentleness emanating from her." You also incorporate two similar character traits to both "protagonists" within the parall...


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Cookie Carla🍪
20:03 Mar 24, 2021

Hiya there!! I just wanted to say that this story was beautifully written. You had my attention from the first line all the way to the end... good job!!


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