Archives for the Date July 4th, 2018

Brianna travels to Paris after Claire goes back through the stones. There she visits Jared’s house and seen a portrait of her parents.

The loss of Claire Randall to the past was not Brianna Randall’s first loss, but it was the first loss that she had to push through without her mother by her side.

The memories Brianna had of her mother and father (Frank Randall) were detailed, vibrant, alive. They moved and breathed in her mind. They smiled back when she smiled first. They were only a photo album away when she needed to refresh her recollection of the particulars: how her father’s earlobe met his jawline or whether he had two or three small lines around his eyes when he smiled, the way her mama and father looked at each other when they were joined by laughter at something their silly daughter said or did, whether the freckle on her mother’s neck was on the left or the right side of her throat.

But Brianna could not clearly visualize the man who drew her mother away: Jamie Fraser.  

All she had was her brain’s crude sketch. A collection of minor details layered in with smudges based on her mother’s idealized descriptions based on memories that were decades old. Brianna never had the heart to tell her mother that the descriptions relied more on feelings than physical traits.

Brianna did not have the anchor of memory like her mother, nor did she have the guidepost of photographs. And as for her feelings about Jamie Fraser (for Jamie Fraser), those were indefinable. Brianna’s vocabulary had not yet evolved to contain the words to describe her feelings. Her feelings remained noisy and red, with an undercurrent of static.  

If reduced to paper, Brianna’s image of Jamie Fraser would simply be a more masculine version of herself.  Once sketched, she would have been staring at a stranger, unable to say whether the nose should be wider along the bridge, the eyebrows closer, the jaw squarer, the lips set in a straighter line.

On the ninety-seventh day after Claire Randall chose to return through the stones to her life as Claire Fraser, Brianna woke alone in a hotel room in Paris. She blinked and rubbed the sleep from her eyes, her limbs heavy and cold.  It took her a moment to orient herself to place and time.  

Paris. She was in a hotel. She was here to go to the Fraser House.

When they had been searching for traces of Jamie Fraser in history only a few short months earlier, Roger had been the first mention Jared Fraser’s house in Paris. “Could Jamie have gone back there, then? To Paris? To Jared Fraser’s house?” he had asked, holding up a piece of correspondence sent from Paris to Scotland well before Culloden.

“No, we won’t find anything about Jamie after Culloden in Paris,” her mother had responded, her answer quick and her tone short.  Her mother’s voice was firm and her pale skin had flushed pink.  It had a tone of finality that Bree knew well.  “Jamie would never go back there. There was nothing there for us after we left.”

Claire Randall had then artfully changed the subject.

Neither Brianna nor Roger ever again mentioned Jared Fraser or the possibility that Jamie Fraser may have returned to Paris after the Rising.

Brianna left her hotel with only a hand-drawn map, the key to her room, and some loose change in her pockets.

She wandered the streets nibbling on a pastry and sipping strong coffee for what felt like hours.

She checked her watch compulsively and bummed a cigarette off of someone sitting outside of a café.  

She walked, smoking and only sometimes inhaling. She took more comfort in her thumb compulsively flicking the butt or her forefinger tapping ashes off of the tip.

Considering time as a linear proposition in which each person has a discrete lifetime measured in years, twenty-something years had passed since her mother had been to Paris. But centuries had passed in those same decades, entire lifetimes and generations.  Her mother had walked these streets – Claire Fraser (not Claire Randall). But when?

Brianna wondered if she was retracing her mama’s footsteps, her feet landing on the same cobbles and rising over the same stairs. She wondered if she was merely retracing her mother’s footsteps decades (centuries) later.

Brianna arrived at Jared Fraser’s house fifteen minutes before the museum opened to the public. She sat on a bench outside of the courtyard, letting her nervous fingers wrap around the cold stone seat, wondering what she was looking for and if she would find it inside.  

Brianna shielded her eyes from the sun and looked up at the house in front of her. She felt like she was looking through a fogged up windshield.

The house had outlasted the onslaughts of the French Revolution, world wars, the coming and going of centuries, and countless inhabitants.  She wondered if the cobblestones in the courtyard were carpeted with moss when her mother lived in the house or whether they had been fresh and bare.  She wondered if her mother had stepped through an entryway illuminated by light from the gas lanterns on either side of the door or whether it had felt like she was disappearing into shadows when she returned home at night.

For a moment she thought about Jamie Fraser, too, not just her mother.  

There had been something intimate about the quietness with which her mother had told her about their coming to Paris: Black Jack Randall (her father’s great-great-something grandfather) and what he had done to Jamie Fraser. Jamie Fraser’s bones were still broken and his skin still growing back together when they arrived in Paris.  When telling Brianna about those months after Wentworth Prison, her mother looked somber. It was as if she were betraying a sacred confidence hundreds of years old. 

“Jamie was present, but not quite there,” her mother had explained, eyes glued to a spot well past Brianna.   His mind had been adrift, the parts of him that made him human hidden away under lock and key.

This was the house that her mother had lived in, with him, when they fought to destroy the cloak of darkness tossed over their young marriage.  They had slept under this roof, both too idealistic (her mother’s turn of phrase) and fighting for each other and for their life together. They were both reckless (also her mother’s word) in word and deed under this roof and on these streets. They fought to stop something that fate, in all of its bloodlust, had inexorably put into motion.  

Culloden.

The thought of her mother in those early days in this house, trying to fix Jamie Fraser’s pain (all the way down in the marrow of his bones and the contours of his soul), made Brianna draw her knees up to her chest in an effort to fight back a feeling a lot like seasickness.

At precisely 10:00 a.m., Brianna paid three francs to enter the house and, after emptying the contents of her stomach in the toilets, guided herself into the museum.

On the main level, she read about Jamie Fraser’s cousin (her cousin, too, she supposed).  The details fell through a sieve and barely stuck.

She saw Jared Fraser’s desk, his collection of maps (“an enthusiast of cartography,” a plaque explained), portraits, and knick-knacks excavated from the bowels of the house.  

She saw Jared Fraser’s bedroom with its imposing black oak four-poster bed and blood-red velvet curtains.  She studied the patterns in the bedroom’ thick carpets (“imported from Turkey”) and a huge fireplace charred by fires that had roared over centuries to ward off the cold on rainy Paris nights.  She wondered if her parents ever sat in front of that fireplace, hands held out to melt the chill out of their joints.

Brianna craned her neck to look at ornate candelabras pitted with the outline of dripping wax long scraped away.  The fixtures were retrofitted to illuminate the rooms using electricity; she wondered what the corners of the rooms would look like in the low, flickering glow of overhead candlelight.

She saw bills of lading and contracts signed at the bottom by J. Fraser. The signature had a flourish on the bottom of the “F.” Brianna allowed her fingers to rest on the glass protecting a yellowed paper marked by him, her head feeling like it was floating away from her body.  

It was almost hidden in the transition from one room to the next.  She gave it only a cursory glance at first, her eyes scanning over it and skipping almost immediately to a grander portrait on the wall next to it.

But then she stepped back.  

For a moment, she was struck by the sensation that she had just seen someone she knew in her peripheral vision. Someone who was not really there.

Brianna’s breath caught and she stuffed her hands into the pockets of her jeans.  Her left hand fisted around her hotel key, her grip tight enough that its teeth scored her flesh.

A portrait.

She swallowed hard, barely aware of the tickle of cold sweat blossoming along her hairline.  She stepped closer and read the plaque on the wall. She did not blink or look up at the portrait itself.

James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, Lord Broch Tuarach

Claire Elizabeth Fraser, Lady Broch Tuarach

Lord and Lady Broch Tuarach resided in this home beginning in 1743 until the fall of 1744.  James Fraser, Jared Fraser’s cousin, briefly served as the master of this home and managed Fraser et Cie, Jared Frasers trading company. James Fraser moved into the home with his wife, Claire, after they journeyed to Paris from Scotland. Under James Fraser’s management, Fraser et Cie, flourished and made several significant international contracts for trade with merchants in Spain and Portugal.  The deals were lucrative for the company and the business relationships forged lasted well into the nineteenth century.

While in Paris, James and Claire Fraser were integral in efforts to raise support for the Jacobite cause in Scotland, an effort supported by Jared Fraser himself. 

Wrong,’ Brianna thought smugly, her mouth curling into a smirk. The last thing James and Claire Fraser did in France was drum up support for the Jacobites.

She kept reading, her smirk falling away:

In the fall of 1744, both James and Claire Fraser returned to Scotland where James Fraser fought in the Battles of Prestonpans and Culloden. 

This portrait, found in storage when this house was deeded by private owners to the Pont de Camps National Museums Trust in 1949, was painted in late-spring 1744.  

The pose, intimate and unorthodox for the time period, shows Claire Fraser pregnant with the couple’s only known child. 

Brianna swallowed hard, her eyes focusing on her mother’s name.

Claire Fraser.

She found herself unable to look up, knowing at once that she was not growing inside of her mother in the portrait.  The time period was all wrong. This long before Culloden; it was too early for her mother to be pregnant with her.  

Brianna felt her knees lock and her vision go blurry at the edges.

Another visitor coughed behind her.  She stepped aside, muttering, “Sorry.” She could not find the apology in French.

She finished reading the plaque:

According to contemporaneous writings of house staff, Faith Fraser, the couple’s only daughter, died shortly after birth.

Brianna fought to take a deep breath but found her lungs unable to draw air.

The cold sweat along her hairline began to trickle, rivulets streaking down her temples and collecting in her eyebrows.  

Brianna counted to thirteen, her eyes closed.  

Then she looked up at the portrait. She really looked this time.

It depicted her mother– clear whisky eyes, long neck, pale skin, dark hair lifted off of her face in large curls and pulled back with jeweled pins. Her cheeks were rosy and her lips were parted, turned up at the corners only slightly.  She was obviously pregnant – her stomach round and breasts full under layers upon layers of frothy pale blue material.  Her mother’s finely-boned hand, on one finger a tiny silver band, rested on top of a larger hand with long fingers and squared off trimmed fingernails.  Both hands rested on the crest of her mother’s belly.  

Her mother looked younger and more beautiful than Brianna could remember her ever looking.

Brianna stared at the hands, tears burning along her lashes.

Faith.  

“Oh mama,” she whispered, wiping the tears off of her cheeks with the back of her hand. She ignored the blood bubbling along the faint gouge marks in her palm.  

The feeling of betrayal over an unknown sister faded almost immediately. It was replaced by an overwhelming desire to hold her mother again. The desire to rest her head on her mother’s shoulder and whisper: “it’s okay, you can share it with me.

After a moment, Brianna brought herself to look at the other half of the portrait.

Jamie Fraser.

Almost instantly the crude, smudged sketch of the man in her head disappeared.  The man in the portrait replaced it.

She saw her face in his face. He was handsome, for sure.  His shoulders were broad and he made her mother look so small. Only Jamie Fraser had a higher forehead, a stronger jaw, and a slightly sharper nose than Brianna. His eyes were trained on her mother. It was as though he was unable to see anything other than her.  It was love that Brianna saw in the centuries-old portrait.  

She wondered for a moment how long they had to pose for the artist to capture that look in his eyes, how many times the brush had to stutter and restart to get it just right.

Brianna studied Jamie Fraser’s cheekbones, his ears, his lips.  

She touched her own cheekbones, her ears, her lips.

Brianna studied the set of his jaw and the light indentation above the cupid’s bow of his mouth.

She touched her jaw, the indentation above the cupid’s bow of her own mouth. They were different. Her cupid’s bow belonged to her mother. It was something that she had known even before she touched the skin there.

She felt a flash of disappointment at the dissimilarity between her mouth and her father’s mouth, knowing it was ridiculous to feel that way. But it felt like the difference engrafted another decade or two onto the centuries that separated them.

Swallowing hard, Brianna noted that Jamie Fraser’s eyes were slanted and blue, deep set and framed by auburn lashes. Just like hers.  

Jamie Fraser’s ears, slightly too small for his head, matched hers.

Brianna stepped closer to the portrait, her face only inches away from it. She was close enough that she would probably receive a thorough (and not undeserved) dressing down if one of the museum attendants were to come into the room.

She did not care.  Unable to take it with her, she needed to memorize the details.

The Claire Fraser in the portrait bore a striking resemblance to her mother’s likeness. On no other basis, Brianna concluded that the portrait likewise captured Jamie Fraser’s likeness.

It followed, then, that she owed much of her appearance to Jamie Fraser: her stature, her nose, her red hair, her ears, her eyes.

It was just as her mother had told her.

Brianna stepped back and looked around before lowering herself to the floor in front of the portrait.  She pulled her knees up to her chest and just stared, her mind working at warp speed.

It took a long time for her to stand again and even longer to wipe the tears off of her face.

Face dry, she closed her eyes.

She could see Jamie Fraser in her mind, clearly now.

“Jamie Fraser,” she said. Her voice was hoarse. She tried to swallow but her mouth was dry.  She barely heard herself whisper, just to try out the sound: “Da.”

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