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Albert Russo

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Fast food Lisette
By Albert Russo
Posted: Sunday, July 23, 2006
Last edited: Monday, July 24, 2006
This short story is rated "G" by the Author.
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           >> View all 7
French concierge Lisette is retired and she goes for the first time in her life to a fastfood restaurant on the Champs Elysées. Her comical reactions

appeared in Green’s Magazine (Canada)
and Paris Transcontinental (France)

Since Lisette Pingouin retired last summer, having held the position of gardienne for well over forty years in a posh turn-of-the-century building near the Place des Ternes, the adjustment to her new life has proved smoother than she expected. It isn’t in her nature however to acknowledge her good fortune, let alone voice it in public. She and her four-legged companion, Pitou, a salt-and-pepper mongrel, the size of a basset hound with the snout of a hedgehog, had to vacate the lodge for the new Portuguese concierge, her husband and their ten-month-old daughter.
A note regarding the words concierge and gardienne may be called for at this stage. The French adminjotration, which does not burden itself with an excess of imagination, every once in a while, modernisme oblige , undergoes a reform that can be pleaslng to the eye or even to the ear. And so it happens that a prestigious couturier is entrusted with the redesigning of the country's police uniforms, or that a more efficient pooper-scooper is introduced to the pavements of Paris. The concierge, being an institution as manifestl.y French as the cheeseburger and Pepsi Cola are to Americans, only somewhat older, a decision was taken a few years ago to revamp its image. Promoted thus to the rank of gardienne d’immeuble , the concierge not only gained respectability in a profession whose very existence is threatened by the invasion of ever more sophisticated video and electronic alarm systems, but she could now feel unconcerned by the connotation of inveterate gossip which the original word carried.
In the case of Lisette Pingouin, the change in title was especially welcome, for she stopped hearing the two Mangeclou brats on the fifth floor whisper behind their entrance door: “Lisette - Pipelette - Cassette” while she was still distributing the mail. They do, however, continue to bat their arms in an imitation of those clumsy Antarctic birds with whom God knows why, she shares the name.
Like the small but vocal segment of the population that extols the virtues of Jeanne d'Arc, Lisette Pingouin believes that, unless the government takes drastic measures to curb the influx of foreigners - she was appalled to learn recently that there were now more than one thousand mosques dotting the country - France was going to the dogs. She doesn't mind if they stem from other European nations, though she maintains, “Foreigners remain foreigners," some, of course, being more acceptable than others. When Madame Pingouin comlained to Monsieur Collard, the personnel manager of the insurance company that owns the building, that the tenants couldn't understand the Portuguese accent and that they often asked her to act as an interpreter, when she didn't have to intervene in order to avoid mini-disasters , like slipping the wrong invoices or court summonses under a tenant's door. "There's no mystery," she then commented, “they cost you less than the French," adding with a slgh, “today it’s the Portuguese, and very soon the tenants will have to learn Arabic to communicate with their concierge. Look what’s taking place in the schools, with the Muslim girls insisting on wearing their veils, soon they'll want to impose the chador on our own women; it's a disgrace!"
Monsieur Collard appeased her with his customary diplomacy: "I know we can count on you, MadamePingouin, after all you're part of the family." What he did not disclose, however, behind his enigmatic smile and his little porcine eyes, was that he was certain there wouldn't be any need for North Africans in the near future, or for any concierges for that matter: by the year 2000 they will have become completely obsolete. And he good-humoredly acquiesced when she said: "Things aren't the way they used to be, are they?"
Referring to Madame Ribeira, and though she insists she harbors no ill-feeling towards those "poor im migrants", Lisette Pingouin doesn't deem it necessary to call her a gardienne . It’s like the Legion of Honor; one has to earn it," she justifies.
To recompense Madame Pingouin for her loyal services throughout her nearly half-century tenure, the insurance company agreed to let her use, for a nominal rent, one of the three ground-floor studios that glve onto the courtyard. She lamented the fact that she would no longer be able to keep an eye on “her” environment and that, consequently, she could not be held responsible for the hawkers and other suspect-looking individuals whom Madame Ribeira would inevitably let in. The thought of it alone, she admitted, gave her sleepless nights during the first months. In truth, what irked her most was the loss of good-neighborliness with the other gardiennes ; she missed cruelly the morning and coffee-hour chats held over the ledge of the window, while she'd watch the animation in the street. How bleak It was to get up, facing a courtyard and a sulking Monsieur Ribeira lugging "her" trash bin out! Pitou also, in the beginning, took the change badly. Each time he’d walk by the lodge, he’d instinctively bark at the Portuguese family: they were "trespassing" on what he still considered to be his home. Madame Pingouin even had to bring him to the veterinarian because he was pooping and retching all over the studio. Thanks to a special treatment of euphorizers, these bouts of depression eventually faded away, which, however, didn't stop him from growling at the Ribeiras.
Although she'd resided so long in the vicinity of the Champs Elysées, Lisette Pingouin hardly ever took a stroll along one of the world's grandest avenues, for she was wary of crowds and, what's more, the very few occasions - eons ago - she had sat at a café, ordering a drink or a cake, the bill presented to her seemed so outrageously expensive, she had sworn never to frequent those "tourist traps" again. But then one day her attention was caught by a TV documentary about the thriving fast-food business in the French capital. Several of the people interviewed thought these American-style eateries were cheapening some of Paris’ prestigious areas, attracting hooligans and drug addicts. The younger folk claimed that, on the contrary, the burger outlets injected new blood into an otherwise drab scene and that, by bringing people of different ages, classes and horizons together, they served a social function.
Lisette Plngouin decided she would be a little adventurous and go see for herself. What would it cost her to try? The Champs Elysées lay a mere ten-minute walk from the studio, with its famous terraces, its luxurious galleries and its cinemas featuring the most talked abut films in town at half price on Mondays. It wasn't for nothing that the whole world congregated there. She would rediscover the Champs in a new perspective and maybe even shop at the Prisunic department store.
Thus it was that one early Saturday evening in October, clad in her best weekend finery - she wore a rust flannel suit, taken in at the waist as was the style in the ‘50s, though it looked good as new, with a peach-colored blouse, mid-heeled shoes and a matching maroon bag - Madame Pingouln entered McDonald's restaurant, leaving behind her the illuminated Arch of Triumph.
Though she'd spotted a couple of empty tables near the entrance, the place looked pretty busy to her. “Mon Dieu!” gasped Linette Pingouin, as she got inside and saw the long lines in front of the half-dozen-odd cash registers, "This is worse than the Metro during peak hours!" Before she could even sidestep or retreat, she found herself moving along one of the lines, trapped In a human conveyor belt. She had the unsettling impression that if she tried to counter the flow there'd be mayhem. Her gaze crossed a few uncanny stares that seemed to be warning her not to attempt anything of the sort. Then all at once two nasty plops resounded just behind her ears. Lisette Pingouin turned around to a pair of grinning teenaged girls who were whiling away their boredom blowing bubble gum. She puckered up her brows and eyed them icily. Blinking her lashes, the older of the two glrls gave her a moronic look and stuck her tongue half out. If it were not for her sense of propriety and for all those strangers surrounding her, the retire gardienne would have slapped "the Insolent little cows.” A moment later, however, a pimply attendant urged her to spell out her order.
"Do you have some red wine to accompany your Californian salad and fresh baguette bread?" asked Lisette Pingouin. The attendant shook his head with a bland smile. She ventured another question but got the same lackadaisical reaction from the pimply youth.
Over her head a voice whispered, “The lady thinks maybe that she's going to be able to sleep here too.”
"Such imbeciles ought to be locked up!” blurted Lisette Pingouin, frowning at the attendant as if he shared some responsibility in the asinine comment.
With her menu now on the tray, she pushed her way through the crowd and determinedly climbed up the stairway to the non-smoking section. She Scanned the brightly lit room, adorned with framed and potted plants and settled at a table right next to the bay window that overlooked the pavement and it’s effervescence. From this
vantage position, Lisette Pingouin could also watch all the goings on inside without being disturbed. “Imbéciles!” she muttered a last time, somewhat appeased, and, regaining her composure, opened the first of her meal boxes, which contained a Royal Cheeseburger. Too bad for the wine, she thought, sinking her teeth into the thick and juicy sandwich. “Huh, huh, so that’s what they call junk food! The meat is still warm, mmm ... mmm ... Not bad with the melted cheese and the plckles. Of course, it would have been more civilized to let us have a fork and knife, but that’s the style of the Amerloques . Taking the cue from a little boy seated opposite her with his parents - it was amazing how deft his fingers were, extracting the French fries from him paper cone like some magician pulling out midget rabbits - she began to munch at one of her own, then, still glancing at the child sideways, sipped at her Coke. Though she did drink Coca Cola occasionally, this was the first time she was mixing it with a hot meal
“Weird combination,” mumbled Lisette Pingouin, “and I still maintain that nothing can replace a pitcher of good ordinary wine.”
Sitting on the other side of the staircase, she noticed a large family, probably from the Middle East, and by the jewels that both the man and his wife wore, certainly very rich. What is this fat Chador Princess doing in a place like this, for it surely must be a sin for her to mingle with us infidels?” monologued Lisette Pingouin, fascinated by what looked like a real diamond-and-emerald necklace worn over a beige silk scarf. And Monsieur has stones on every second finger that must cost a house each. I now see who is buying our hotels and pushing the real estate prices to the sky. As for the five little pigs, they won't ever need to search for a job; to them the word unemployment must already sound like a strange disease. I just wonder how much their governess gets per month; she looks like an asparagus, English or German maybe, and terribly terribly bored. Who knows, if they come back next time, I could approach them and offer my services - as long as they don’t force me to wear the chador .
Partly concealed by a wide column and tropical leaves, a student couple were kissing pasionately, the girl cupping her hand over her lover's lap. "This is becoming quite interesting,” mused Lisette Pingouin as she licked fastidiously a ketchup smear off the tip of her middle finger while propping herself up against the back of the chair in a gesture worthy of a Vatican censor. Just as risqué as some of the TV films they show us around midnight, only here it is for real. Oh, he’s going under her skirt, the little scoundrel! And would you think she'd resist? There's no sense of shame any more. Only two weeks ago you could walk along the banks of the Seine, all the way down to the Pont Neuf - admittedly, the weather was unseasonably warm - and pass by, flaunting their bare derrières under your nose, half of the city’s gay population. Yould think that with AIDS there'd be less of them. On the contrary, they appear to have multiplied. I really wonder how, unless they've miraculously become hermaphrodites. Pitou got me pretty worried, for he acted in a very weird manner. Instead of showing his fangs as he usually does before strangers, he was sniffing at some of the plumper buttocks with insistence. I hope he hasn't developed any perverse habits. I wouldn’t want a sissy for a dog.
The retired gardienne was biting into her apple turnover when, several tables away from her, she suddenly recognized Monsieur Mangeclou with his ostrich-skin attache-case. He was joined by another businessman and a tall woman whom she presumed was Monsieur Mangeclou’s new secretary.
“Randy bugger!” mumbled Lisette Pingouln, appraising his youngish, bespectacled female companion. "So that's how busy you are while Madame Mangeclou and the brats spend the weekend in the country house. And that business friend of yours is ogling her too. What Is this, a threes me? You, of course, won't ever run the rlsk of being cuckolded by Madame Mangeclou; with her wrinkled bulldog face and her barrel-shaped frame she could easily be mistaken for your mother-in-law. François Mangeclou, really, you could have made an effort treating your secretary out, unless you deem a this to be the least conspicuous of places. My bet is, you're just as stingy with your mistresses as you are with everybody else. You’re the only one among the tenants who bad the nerve to give me a piggybank as a Christmas bonus, with a pink bow tied around and shaking it like an ape in my face as if it contained gold coins. I’d better calm down now, before I get another rash.”
While Lisette Pingouin recalled this unpleasant detail, two elderly Japanese came to seat themselves at her table, giggling, then saying, "Thank you vely much, no mo’ prace.” She kept a stiff upper lip and ignored them.
“I’ll have you swallow a box of nails, you little monster!” Lisette Pingouin fumed a week later, after one of the Mangeclou boys - whose name, appropriately, meant Nail eater - called her Fastfood Lisette.

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Reviewed by Jerry Bolton (Reader) 7/24/2006
Be a little more readable if you'd stick some spaces between the chapters . . .

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