With Love, Frankie


In a deckchair under the late afternoon sun, he sat lazily, writing in a worn leather pocketbook. A pale blue linen shirt hung loosely over his torso, complimenting the dark blue of his linen trousers neatly. His deckchair stood a little off centre on the balcony of La Porte Ouverte, one of the finer hotels that overlooked the River Loire. That is to say it was, prior to its destruction by a German bomber that had ejected its load prematurely en route to Tours at the onset of the war. This would not happen for half a decade yet, and he had no notion of staying that long.

In the pocketbook he was, with a fervent energy, composing passionate declarations of love to women he’d never met, or women he had no intention of meeting again. By this point in the afternoon – a large antique clock over the balcony entrance informed him and twelve other patrons that it was twenty-six minutes past four – he had completed one hundred and twenty-five such declarations, in pieces that ranged from single sentences to polemics spanning a dozen pages. The object of this practice was unclear, but it evidently engaged the man deeply: his attention had hardly left the pocketbook since lunch, save short trips to the bar to order successive gin rickeys. By the bank of the river, a small child reached her hand out to feed a heron which had landed a metre or so into the water. Losing her balance the girl tumbled unceremoniously into the mud before her. Nearby, her parents did not seem to notice. They were, at that moment, preoccupied with the task of cutting slices of brie.

The balustrades that enclosed the balcony were ornately patterned with various vaguely Grecian images – an all but unrecognisable figure of Perseus recovered from La Porte’s wreck now takes pride of place in a local museum – all spaced evenly enough so as to still allow guests an ample view of the river below. A single hollow chime announced the arrival of the half hour. At this the man set the pocketbook down on the rusting table by his deckchair and got up, setting off once more on his, by now quite familiar, pilgrimage to the bar. The book, whose once black covers had grown abstractly brown with continued exposure to sunlight, splayed haphazardly, opened on two open pages constituting an impassioned message to one Miss Delilah June. It was not one of the stronger pieces in the book but displayed, nevertheless, the finely tempered prose on which he so prided himself. At the end of the address was written in a delicate hand,

‘with my love, which clings to you like climbing hydrangea, Frankie Oregon.’

The name was shared by the man who’d written the message. That very same man was now walking back onto the balcony with two gin rickeys, to save himself the effort of getting up later.

Oregon wasn’t really his name. It was simply the first name his grandfather’s father had seen when he’d poked his head out from the boat on which he had stolen a trip out of Manila. And so it became his name. When it came time for him to pass his name onto a son, who would in turn pass it onto another son, who would then pass it onto Frankie, the suggestion of a family name preceding Oregon had evaporated. Great-grandfather Oregon was a man of few words and had never felt his own history to be worth wasting those few words on, so the memory of that previous life died with him. That life in Manila, and whatever name it was attached to, had been lost. By the time Frankie Oregon was sat on the balcony of La Porte Ouverte working on his second gin rickey, he had no family in either Manila or Oregon, as far as he knew. The few relatives he knew of were scattered randomly around the world in ranches and sensible two-bedroomed apartments. The river Oregon had no clear mouth and Frankie hardly cared to seek one out. As far as he was concerned, all he owed to his ancestors was the odd flower on a gravestone, if he should happen to pass by. Beyond that, he was content to be a singular, floating thing. He had floated all over the world in this way. Europe, Africa, Asia – oceans to oceans and coasts to coasts. He had made brief stops in both Manila and Oregon but felt very little in either. Indeed, few places elicited a response from him by the mere fact of his being in them. Of course he remembered the Parthenon and the Taj Mahal and, of course, he could itemise and expound their many intricacies and resonances – he had taken courses in both history and architecture – but, excluding those, the sight of them then, and the recollection of them now, meant practically nothing to him. For Frankie, there was nothing in between the lines.

While Frankie was sat on the balcony, head aimed immovably at the pocketbook, a telegraph had arrived at the hotel’s front desk addressed to him. It was an invitation to the wedding of his sister, Evelyn, in Syracuse. Frankie would not read this message and the paper on which it was printed would one day join the unrecognisably charred rubble that had, at some time or other, been this fine hotel. The concierge who was on duty at the time of that telegraph’s arrival had, most surprisingly, received one himself. In it he learnt that his uncle had passed away from pneumonia in his home in Nantes over the weekend. As such, the concierge — whose real name was Antoine, though everyone called him Tony — abandoned his post for the first time in his decade at La Porte Ouverte and ran off in the direction of a nearby bus station.

Outside, Frankie was nearly finished with his gin rickey. The next morning, he would check out of La Porte Ouverte and take a car to Orleans where he would likely find yet another hotel, or perhaps a café, and another deckchair to sit in. For now though, he persisted in his scribblings. Behind him, in the hotel’s quite extravagant dining hall, tonight’s dinner service was beginning its preparations. A bearded and bespectacled old man in a gravy-stained apron was yelling directions at a fleet of young chefs who, as a rule, wore far tidier uniforms than their superior. This evening, they would be serving a Chicken Fricassee, a dish La Porte’s kitchen was renowned for, with a crab bisque offered as a starter. In a few hours, Frankie Oregon would take the staff up on both of these dishes, as well as a Crème Brulée taken once more on the balcony. By all accounts he would enjoy them too. After dinner he would drink a glass of neat scotch in his room and be in bed by eleven. He might even dream.

As the clock’s larger hand moved towards the Roman numeral V, Frankie noticed something. His pocketbook was full. By a stroke of sheer coincidence, Frankie found that on completing a plea of gentle longing to an unattached book clerk in Somerset, he had reached the book’s exact end. There were now precisely one hundred and thirty-two messages in this book. Without exception, they were signed by the author — though the specific nature of his closing remarks differed throughout. The final words of this last message, and by extension the whole book, were simple ones:

‘with love, Frankie’

If he’d known these were to be his final words, perhaps he would’ve thought of something more exciting, but he hadn’t, so he didn’t.

On finishing, he closed the book and placed it in his left trouser pocket. From his right, he produced a silver cigarette case, out of which he drew one white cigarette. He raised it to his lips and, with a gold lighter he’d picked up somewhere in Warsaw, lit it. After taking two drags he began to walk towards the edge of the balcony. A gentle wind blew through a poplar tree across the river. Frankie gripped the bannister with one hand and gazed down at the Loire as it passed below him, with the other he took the cigarette out of his mouth and tossed it over the balcony, aiming vaguely for a small outcrop of thrushes on the riverbank. After a few moments he reached into his left pocket and took out the pocketbook. For a matter of seconds he observed the book, turning it over once, then twice, before casting it deliberately over the bannister. It spun wildly in an arc through the air, its covers splayed, giving the book the temporary impression of a bird fruitlessly attempting to take flight. After some seconds’ journey it landed noiselessly in the river and was borne immediately by the current downstream where it soon passed a small girl feeding some cheese to a heron before disappearing ultimately and irretrievably into the dark recesses of the water.

Image Credit: Claude Monet

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