Pouilly-Fume, Chardonnay, Pouilly-Fuisse, Sancerre." I chant my mantra in the backseat of our white rental car, Josephine, as we speed through the Loire Valley countryside, past chateaus and vineyards and endless rows of grapevines.
It's not fair that all my friends get to be normal and go to the beach, and I have to go to France and be a total Albino. I barely ever see the sun because my parents are constantly dragging me and Dee through every museum, church, and restaurant in France. We spent two whole days in the Louvre!
On the road I lean as much of my body out the window as I can without attracting my mother's attention. At least today we'll be outside, not during peak tanning hours, but God, I'll take it. I love that feeling of sun soaking into my bones. My dad says the sun turns the grapes' blood into sugar. "You can taste the sun in the grapes," he says, "the way you can taste dirt in a tomato."
Dad is speeding because we're racing to make the tour of some vineyard where they produce a prized Pouilly-Furn.6 (whoop-de-do) and a brandy called Pear William (ditto the whoop-de-do). My mother has been dying to go to this chateau place ever since she "discovered" it in Gourmet magazine. You know, she showed me that picture three times before we left. Each time I saw the same thing: a bunch of pear trees with wine bottles roped to their branches, and inside each bottle a tiny pear was supposedly growing . I tried to make out the pears. I never could, but I guess a magazine wouldn't lie about a thing like that.
My little sister is eating a yellow pear out of a handkerchief. My mother says that's how the French eat them. Their skins are so soft they bruise brown when you touch them and rip open so easily they nearly dissolve in your mouth. Big deal. All I know is Dee is getting the whole backseat sticky and drawing flies. As far as I can tell, anything good draws flies.
Dee eats only fruit, bread and butter, and pommes frites. Oh, sure, she'll say, "Yes please, yes please," when my parents offer her poached salmon in béchamel sauce or foie gras on toast. Dee always says yes-she wouldn't want to disappoint you-but Dee, she won't eat one mouthful, and because she's so cute, so small and blonde and pretty, with her big blue doll-baby eyes, she gets away with murder.
My dad's going to put us into a ditch if he doesn't slow down. It doesn't help that he's got his arm around my mother, who is wearing her Jackie 0 sunglasses and a black and purple silk scarf tied around her long blonde hair like a gypsy. I'm just thankful she's not wearing her toe ring. I can't wear an anklet because "it looks tacky," but she can wear a toe ring. Explain that to me. She's just showing off because she has feet like the statue of Venus de Milo. My dad pointed this out in the Louvre. "Look," he said, dragging us over to inspect the goddess of love's feet. "See, the second toe is slightly longer than the big toe, it's perfection."
He even made Mom take her shoe off in the museum and compare. She acted like she was embarrassed, you know "Oh, Chas, honey, stop stop"-but she did it. For Dad. I bet she's sorry now she didn't pack that toe ring. It's not like she'd need it. France is like Spanish fly to my parents. Ever since we got off the plane they've been pawing each other. More than usual. Which is saying something believe me.
Dad looks mostly normal. His black hair is a little on the long side, but he's dressed in a regular Levi's denim work shirt, jeans, and the sneaks he wears to cut the grass. The only problem is that my father, who has shaved every day of his life, even on weekends, is now growing this horrible little black beard for my mother. With her head scarf and his beard, they look like pirates who've escaped the suburbs, taking me and Dee along as hostages. It doesn't help that my dad is also wearing these black wraparound sunglasses that my mother bought at a gas station. I've never seen my dad in sunglasses. It's creepy. I know he's wearing shades in case we get pulled over for speeding, so the cop can't see his eyes are all bloodshot from drinking wine at lunch. He also reeks of cigarettes because he and Mom smoked Gauloises after lunch. The thing is, my parents don't even smoke!
"We're getting close," Dad says, and leans over to kiss my mother on the mouth. Josephine jerks to the right, and Dad accidentally flips on the windshield wipers for only about the hundredth time. He shouts, "Jesus Christ, I'd like to strangle the guy who engineered this car!"
Dad should have both hands on the wheel, seeing as how he drank almost a whole bottle of red wine at lunch. Mom had just half a glass, it gives her a headache. Red wine and frog's legs, you can't have one without the other, according to MY father, who it seems has read every book about France ever written, so he must know best.
My dad is on a quest to cram culture into us, so we don't have to pick it up late in life like had to. See, Dad never went to Europe as a kid. It wasn't just that Grandpa was a plumber and so there wasn't lots of money for travel, the family never went anywhere, except to the lake, or hunting.
Excerpted from Use Me © Copyright 2012 by Elissa Schappell. Reprinted with permission by HarperCollins. All rights reserved.