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The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell- Now available in quality paperback

The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell
Southern Novel by Loraine Despres

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The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell – A story of murder, adultery and regular church attendance. The year is 1920, prohibition is in full-swing, women are clamoring for the vote, and a narrow-minded intolerance is on the rise. We meet Belle Cantrell as a beautiful young widow with a rebellious streak, years before she will become grandmother to Sissy LeBlanc. Belle’s shocking conduct and desire to get on with her life rocks her small Southern town. Sexy, sassy, with laugh-out-loud humor and a cast of witty characters you won’t be able to forget, The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell is a page-turner. But on a deeper level, this is a story about a woman struggling to find her moral center and stand up to the forces of intolerance that are determined to destroy the soul of the town and the people she loves. ”

Historical Musings And The “True Truth”


A lady shouldn’t do something she’s
going to feel guilty about later.
The Primer of Propriety


Belle Cantrell felt guilty about killing her husband and she hated that. Feeling guilty that is. A lady shouldn’t do something she’s going to feel guilty about later, was a rule Belle kept firmly in mind, along with its corollary: No sense in feeling guilty about all the little pleasures life has in store for you.

But Claude’s death hadn’t been a pleasure at all. She’d fallen in love with him at fifteen, galloping down clay roads with the leaves of autumn swirling around them. They’d discovered the nooks and crannies of passion in his high-ceilinged parlor on a rolling sea of dark wine velvet amid a flotilla of lacy-white antimacassars, when his parents were away.

By sixteen she was pregnant. They married before the baby was born and in spite of numerous and persistent offers, Belle had never had, nor wanted, another man in her sixteen years of married life. It wasn’t as if she aspired to sainthood. She didn’t even know if she’d have felt guilty about committing adultery, but she knew better than to take the risk. Now after a year and a half of mourning, a peculiar, guilty longing floated around in the back waters of her mind, swamping her at odd moments.

She decided to bob her hair.

She squared her shoulders as she approached Arnold’s barbershop, housed in the Nix Hotel, where traveling men slept on dirty sheets, laundered occasionally, but always freshly ironed between guests. She’d never been inside a barbershop. She’d read about exotic places called beauty parlors opening up in big cities, where they applied youth-restoring creams to a lady’s face and knew all the secrets of curling irons, but if you wanted a haircut, you had to go to a barbershop. And in Gentry, Louisiana, that meant Arnold’s.

She paused on the street. Red and white paint was flaking off the barber pole, showing the wood beneath it. Why hadn’t she noticed it before? She peered through the plate glass window, streaked with grime. A balding man sat in the second chair, hidden under shaving cream, while Arnold scraped his face with a straight-edged razor. Belle took a deep breath, drew herself up, and, with head held high, opened the screen door. The odor of day-old ashtrays and cheap cigars assaulted her. Arnold looked up, his razor raised. His gaze was not welcoming.

At that moment, her step-father, Calvin Nix, owner of the hotel, sauntered in from the lobby. Mr. Nix was only five feet two, but he was quick and clean. He sat down in the first chair for his morning shave and Arnold’s all-important, stress-reducing, laying on of hot towels. A shoeshine boy crouched in obeisance at his feet. Through the brown-speckled mirror, he saw his step-daughter standing in the doorway. “What you doing here, sugar?” His voice was a shade too welcoming.

The smell of sulfur impregnated the air.

Belle’s mother, Blanche stepped out of the hotel and onto the brick sidewalk. With her fine posture and thick salt and pepper hair arranged in an old-fashioned upsweep, she’d become one of Gentry’s leading Matrons for Morality in her latter years. “Belle! What in tarnation do you think you’re doing? A barbershop is no place for a decent woman.” Her voice wasn’t welcoming at all.

A high pitched whistle shrieked.

Belle turned and saw the nine-thirty train to New Orleans rumble into the depot across the street, belching out great clouds of smoke. She had fifteen dollars in her purse. A girl shouldn’t skimp on the important things in life. She let the screen door bounce behind her.

Two hours later she was standing in the barbershop of the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans, where gleaming plate glass mirrors reflected brass chandeliers and expensive after-shave lotions perfumed the air. A rotund barber turned. If he was surprised to see her, he didn’t let on. Belle pulled herself up into her best imitation of a grand dame. “Does anyone here know how to bob a lady’s hair?” Her voice was clear. It didn’t break once.

“Yes, ma’am. I surely do. Now you just sit right down,” the barber said, patting the first chair. What hair he had left was beautifully manicured.

A little boy shrilled, “Look, papa, a lady–” He didn’t get a chance to finish before his father shushed him.

A man under the razor in the second chair strained to look at her, causing the barber to nick his cheek. Belle pretended not to notice, but a spot of blood spread over the virginal clouds of white shaving cream frosting his face. It seemed like an omen.

A bad omen.

Belle swallowed hard and climbed into the first chair. The barber shook out a big white cape. “Wait,” she said.

All activity at the barbershop stopped. The bootblack looked up from the shoes of the man being shaved. Scissors and razor were held in suspended animation. Everyone turned toward Belle.

She pulled a picture out of her purse. She’d cut it out of Vogue Magazine two weeks before while she screwed up her courage. Underneath, the caption read: “Bobbed hair is the mark of the new woman. Young, easy to take care of, it’s for a woman who wants to get on with her life.”

“Do you think you can cut my hair like this?”

“Don’t you worry none,” the barber said, winking at his colleague.

Belle hated it when someone told her not to worry. How dare he tell me how to feel. She took one last look at her thick pompadour of deep brown hair that had never known scissors. The barber spun the chair around so her back was to the mirror. She felt him pull out her combs. Hair pins scattered in reckless abandon across the floor. Her rich mane dropped over her shoulders and spilled down her back. Her right hand caressed an innocent lock that slid over her chest.

She startled at the first click-click of the scissors sneaking up behind her. She felt the long blades penetrate her thick tresses. They fell in mounds over her shoulders. Then, one by one, piles of dark hair dropped around her onto the barbershop floor.

A trumpet wailed. Saxophones took up the dirge. Trombone and clarinet joined in. A bass drum boomed. Through the big glass windows Belle saw a horse-drawn hearse move slowly down Royal Street in somber procession to the graveyard. Behind the hearse and jazz band, mourners on foot filled the street.

It had been a year and four months since she’d killed Claude.

It happened the very night he came home safe from the Great War. She’d wanted to take the train to Chicago, to meet him for the honeymoon they’d never had. Her friend Rachel had told her about the museums, the concerts, and the theaters. She’d shown her pictures of skyscrapers and of a park with trees covered in snow. That’s what Belle wanted to see most in the world. Snow. She tried to imagine what it would be like to stand in a snowstorm, to watch all those flakes fall down from the sky, to touch them, to taste them on her tongue.

She bought a suitcase.

But all Claude wanted was to come home. So Belle put the suitcase away and decided she really wasn’t disappointed. After all, her husband was coming home to her. They could travel later. They had the rest of their lives.

She spent days getting ready for him. She’d never felt rich enough to spend cash money on store-bought underwear, especially since Claude was always so quick to take it off, but for his homecoming she bought beautiful red silk and creamy lace. She whipped up a diaphanous camisole and clingy bloomers, all the time imagining him unhooking the hooks, slipping the camisole up over her head with his rough, calloused hands, or pulling the bloomers down over her pale thighs. She had to leave her sewing machine and lie on her chaise longue just to catch her breath.

Along with the silk, she bought some practical navy-blue wool to make herself a sensible dress to wear over it. After all the Primer of Propriety ruled: A man likes his wife to look proper in public, which worked just fine for her, because she added a short corollary : as long as she’s bawdy in the bedroom.

That seemed to work just fine for Claude, too.

The night before he was expected, she wrapped her hair in sweet almond oil and washed it with lemon juice. As she pinned it up the next morning she added a drop of jasmine scent, remembering how he loved to pull the pins out. She longed to lean over him in bed, swishing the tips of her fragrant hair across his naked chest until he grabbed her around the neck and pulled her down on top of him. Nice girls aren’t supposed to enjoy sex. Now that was an example of a rule, from the Primer of Propriety, that Belle just couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for at all. She figured she never would be what you call nice.

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