9

Where the author meets her family.

I say that I arrived from New York this morning and I'm tired because I haven't slept for the last twenty-four hours. In this family, the truth doesn't wash. Like it or not you're just compelled to lie. When we turn into the driveway the family starts to gather on the steps of the porch. My six siblings, my mother, my godfather.

My nephew takes my suitcase from the car but I carry a heavy shoulder bag in my left hand. All eyes are on me as I baby-step from the car to the porch. It takes for ever and nobody moves toward me nor says anything. When I've climbed the first step of the porch my godfather moves two steps down and closes his arms around me as if we were two lovers reunited after a long separa- tion. Yet he and I had never established a special relationship. And he doesn't let me go, he keeps squeezing me in his arms while the bag hurts my hand and everybody is looking on with frozen smiles.

At last he releases me and I start to kiss my siblings hastily to make up for all the time spent in my godfather's arms, from the one on the lowest step to the one on the highest. I am aware of a total absence of warmth between me and them. My mother is at the top so I kiss her last, and she doesn't need to embrace me since my godfather just did it for her and, after so many years all the demonstration of affection we can muster is "une bise", a peck on the cheek. Then everybody gets into the house.

My mother gives me a chair at the head of the table and offers me some food but the sight of the table at the end of the meal turns me off. Everybody is in a pretty good mood for a funeral lunch and I don't see a lot of black clothes. My mother wears black and white.

Once again I'm late for a family reunion but, to my secret surprise, nobody says "You're always late!" I tell my mother that I'm not hungry and I'm tired because of the time change. I turn my back to the table toward the living room. Sophie chooses this moment to ask me arrogantly where I was for six days because when she called me in New York a man told her that I had left. I had told Arturo to say "Elle est sortie," (She is out), not "Elle est partie," (she has left). I'm not going to argue the point. I don't answer.

As soon as I'm sitting down the verbal attacks start. Several persons denigrate New York though they've never been there. One of my cousins from Brittany even asks if what he heard is true, that New York stinks of fish. And this young man lives in a fishing port! I answer that nobody is asking them to go live there.

My godmother, my mother's younger brother and his wife and other members of the extended family remain on the terrace and don't come to see me. Later I'll se this uncle cross the room while hiding from me by stooping behind other people and slink away.

Then Bernard, my mother's older brother, standing in front of me, asks me with a dubious air that I find insulting if it's true that I broke my leg. I feel obligated to lift my pant leg to show him my disfigured knee while my mother, standing next to him, gives me a piercing look and a smile that pretends to be embar- rassed, as if she were really the one that doubted this broken knee story but she didn't dare ask me so she asked her big brother to ask me for her.

Then Sophie's boyfriend acts like he's irresistibly attracted to me: he buttonholes me as I'm about to leave the room and doesn't let go for the better part of the afternoon, asking me boring questions about New York and looking prodigiously inter- ested, invading my private space. Although I don't show any enthusiasm in his company he starts on new subjects and he sticks with me in full view of everybody. I wonder why my sister doesn't do anything to pull him off me, out of sheer jealousy at least.

For the night Mother gives me a small bedroom with two beds. I chose the one that has a box spring but I can't sleep because the springs amplify the smallest movement and bounce me endlessly. With a deep sigh I get up and lie down in the other bed that's a mattress on the floor, wedged between a wall at the head and an armoire at the foot. But this bed is too short, I cannot fully extend my body and I still cannot sleep. I'm getting angry. I get up again and pull the mattress off the box spring onto the floor and, lying on it I finally fall asleep. The next morning I tell my mother of my sleeping problems and she says I have a lot of nerve to take the mattress off the box spring and put it on the floor. I ask my oldest sister who has supposedly slept in that room and she swears that she didn't have any problem.


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