11

Where the author spends the day alone with her mother.

The first morning that I'm alone with Mother, from my bed I hear a brief, almost whispered conversation in the foyer, then the front door closes softly. During breakfast I ask who it was. Mother tells me that she has just given Father's X-ray photos to a recycler who recovers the silver nitrate. She didn't even show me the X-rays before giving them away! Nor ask me if I wanted to see them! I would have liked to see what lung cancer looked like. And to destroy Father's X-rays so soon after his death... but it's too late.

While washing the breakfast things at the sink I tell her that I have stopped sniffing cocaine since 1988. I'm rather proud of myself and expect some congratulation but all she expresses is stupefaction with a tinge of indignation, as if by stopping drugging myself I was letting her down. "But how did you stop?" she asks in that tone. "Well, I just stopped taking any more, that's all."

Her mother's sapphire ring is lying against the wall between the sink and the drainboard. It will be here the whole length of my stay.

Later she takes me to the small rural cemetery where my father was just buried. The grave is overflowing with bright flowers. While I say a silent prayer for my father's soul, Mother, all dressed in black, busies herself rearranging the flowers, removing the dead ones and watering the live ones. She has pushed her sleeves up to her elbows and the wind has made short work of her coiffure. Maybe it's because she keeps her arms away from her body as if she didn't want to stain her clothes, but I have a flashing vision of my mother's bared arms covered with blood.

While we're there Mother also shows me her parents'grave and I pray at their grave too, thinking that they are the only two people in the whole family who had made me feel loved. As we walk back to her car Mother says lightly that not long ago (it must have been before Father's funeral) she was backing out of the same parking spot when a car appeared at the bend and slammed into her car. From the description the two persons in the car must have been badly injured and there must have been exten- sive damage to the cars but she doesn't say anything about that. All she says is "It was my fault," with an air of slight irrita- tion and self-condemnation.

Back at the house, while preparing lunch together, I decide to play Mozart's Requiem which I had bought for her when I was still living in France. I note in passing that my entire record collection has been integrated into the family's: I had color coded all my records with small fluorescent stickers on the edges. Playing a requiem for my father gives me a deep feeling of triumph and exaltation. A nebulous thought forms in my mind, that it wasn't by much that I missed being the object of a requiem myself, and by playing it I am asserting that I am alive. Maybe there's a half-smile on my face, Mother interrupts my meditation. "Could you turn it down? Or could you play something else?" she asks as if she can't take it anymore.
"What's the matter?" I ask, surprised. "I thought that you liked Mozart's Requiem!"
"I like it but it's this choir that's getting on my nerves. They shout more than they sing."
And I have to admit that she has a point, the female voices in the high register do sound a bit strained and tired... but given the intense emotions evoked by the work, I wouldn't have let it bother me. I had trusted Deutsche Gramofon and Karl Boehm to deliver, at the very least, an acceptable performance when I bought the record. Surely she remembers that I gave it to her.

Later, while inspecting the family photographs arranged on a shelf to the right of the fireplace I see that there are pass- port-size photos of all seven children in tiny individual frames. I am amazed to see, hidden in the back, what photo of me has been framed: I had this photo made just when I returned to Paris after Mother evicted me, just before I turned 29. First the identity- size prints were stolen from the photographer's studio just minutes before I came to pick them up. He suspected me of course, because who else but me could have any use of the photos? But I was as surprised and disturbed as him. He must have seen that I was sincere. I needed the photos and asked him to make another two dozen prints. This time I got them and paid for them but within a week after I got them, before I gave any to anybody, they were stolen from the sublet I was living in at the time near Paris. I didn't even have one left for myself. And now this photo was in the family. I looked beautiful in it. I pulled it to the front of the display.


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