For Children

Allie Blankenhorn

Madame's Umbrella

2008 5th-6th Grade Prose Honorable Mention

I am sitting where I always am, in the window. Madame has not come down yetóshe rarely does before nine. When she comes down, for she lives only one floor above the shop, she will come down in her silk violet robe. She will make a pot of coffee, and about the time the second pot of coffee is ready Jean will come over from the bakery across the street and deliver two fresh croissants: one for me, and one for Madame. I am looking over there now and it must be about six o'clock because I smell the breads baking and can't help but think, as I snuggle up on my cushion, that this routine must have gone on even before I came. I have been here since I was but a three-week-old kitten.

When Madame comes downstairs I hop down from my usual spot and rub up against her leg, then she lifts me into her arms and while stroking my fur she puts up the first pot of coffee, and lastly, my favorite part of the morning, opens the shop. Madame owns the umbrella shop on the rue Cherche-Midi. Now, the reason this is my favorite part of the morning is that Madame carefully inspects the shop, checking for any sign of dust, she inspects each section of the tiny shop, opening the beautiful umbrellas. There are three sections: silk, velvet trimming, and cotton. Lastly, she puts me down and walks over to the "not for sale" umbrella. This umbrella sits in the middle of the room, in its own glass case. With extra care Madame turns on the lamp over the umbrella and, and with oh so much care cleans the case and then, lingering there, looks at the masterpiece. There is a story about this umbrella with the hand-carved handle which makes this umbrella very important to Madame and she would not part with it for anything in the world. Then Jean walks in with the croissants and my hot chocolate. Madame takes the goods from him and breaks up my croissant and soaks it in the hot, frothy chocolate for about five minutes, and we breakfast together. Then, at last, I take my midmorning nap in my favorite spot, my cushion in the window.

Now, it only seems fair that I permit you to know my excruciating yet important job, one that only I, M. Laszlo, am capable of doing: greeting and entertaining our patrons until Madame is ready. There is hardly any moment that gives me greater pleaser than when a customer, typically one of the rich elderly ladies of Paris, should happen to stop in our little shop. I appear before their feet and the customer bends over to pet me and says "what a darling little cat!" Only then will Madame come out from the back room with the tray. The ladies love this and settle in comfortably while Madame tells them all about hand-made umbrellas and the great Hungarian tradition passed on to her by her father. She tells them what shade of umbrella goes with brown hair, what shade with blond, how to hold an umbrella and the proper use of a parasol, all the while serving them coffee and caramels. With my duties performed, I take my early afternoon nap.

That is how my days proceed: stress-less and blissful, my ideal life. But one night I was sleeping in my favorite spot, when I was awakened. A man entered the shop. This man looked exactly how a Frenchman shouldn't. What he did next is hard to imagine. He went over to Madame's umbrella, the special umbrella, the not-for-sale umbrella! With a greedy look in his eye, he took Madame's umbrella and left. Madame's Umbrella. But what was I to do? Was I dreaming? No I wasn't.

The worst part was that not even I, Laszlo, knew what to do: whether to set off into the streets of Paris looking for that man or to throw all my energy into making Madame feel better. When Madame came downstairs that morning she let out a dreadful shriek. She then locked the door of the shop. FermÈ.

Madame returned to her room upstairs. After that, she liked keeping me in her lap all the time, and much as I do love Madame's lap I confess I prefer my cushion. The umbrella shop was going through a time of crisis and without any more caramels to sooth the nerves.

This went on for several miserable days. Then suddenly I became aware that there was a man staring at me. He had kind eyes and he was looking at me and the shop. And then I saw that he was holding Madame's umbrella! He rang the bell but Madame didn't answer. I started to cry to get her attention. She came down the stairs and her eyes went from me to the man outside to the umbrella held out towards her. Madame recognized the man, let him in the shop, and quickly locked the door again.

The man handed the umbrella to Madame. He wasn't the thief, but who was he? The stranger recounted how he had worked with Madame's father, Laszlo Esterhazy, when he made this umbrella during those last days in Budapest. "I was there at the train station when you were a little girl leaving and I was there when your parents were taken by the Germans. I found this in a stall by the Seine and I saw your label inside. I came immediately." They sat silently at the breakfast table.

Then Madame unscrewed the handle of the umbrella and took out a letter and a photograph. I quickly jumped off my cushion in the window and onto the breakfast table and saw that it was picture of a little girl with her parents at a train station.