22

Where the author spends a few days at her godfather's; where she's encouraged to bathe her leg in high-tide water and where she returns to New York.

We go to their house. It used to belong to Marie-Louise's parents, who were farmers. The house is large, very old and made of beige granite stone. The walls are very thick. Another stone building across the central yard, with its back to the street, used to house the farm animals: cows, pigs, horses. The compound is enclosed by a high stone wall.

When my godfather retired they bought the house from Marie- Louise's other siblings and renovated it entirely. Now it looks like Architectural Digest is only a step away from doing a feature article. The stables have been converted into bedrooms for the children and their offspring when they visit. On the first floor of the main house is a very large dining room with a farm table that can accomodate twenty and where the three of us take our meals. Carpets, hanging tapestries and antiques warm the stone walls and tile floor; there also is a small, comfy TV room with a luxurious leather couch where we will watch a stupid German detective series that my godfather wouldn't miss for the world, and a state-of-the-art kitchen that communicates with the central courtyard by glass sliding-doors. Here the color scheme is a pleasant grey and yellow, with the occasional gleam of stainless steel. A huge refrigerator is filled to the gills.

On the second floor are the master suite, my godfather's office and two other guest rooms, one large and one small. "This one is Bruno's room" my aunt says about the large one, meaning nobody else but Bruno has the right to occupy it. (What about the children's rooms in the converted stables?) And the small room is graciously put at my disposal.

At dinner that night my godfather asks my aunt to buy those huge crabs and sea-spiders that Brittany is so famous for to make a special dinner in my honor.

In the morning my godfather offers to show me the deep-water harbor from where the cross-Channel hovercrafts arrive and depart. The area is rather deserted at this time of the year but we've hardly gotten out of the car when a man approaches us and offers to take our picture with my camera. From his tone of voice he takes us for lovers and he's acting like he's godsent to immortalize a touching reunion. So my godfather and I pose for a snapshot, a hand on each other's shoulder and thank the man. After dinner I mention the man who took our picture to my aunt: "He seemed to believe that we were sweethearts but I don't care." And I see my godfather suppress a jump.

Later, while I'm leafing through some magazines my godfather comes near me and starts a monologue in a rather mumbling voice. All I can catch is "Maman", which means "Mom" or "Mommy". I perk up my ears. What is he saying about his mother? But then, from the context, I understand that it can't be his mother that he's talking about. It can't be my mother either because he always calls and mentions her by her first name, Claire, and besides I'm not a toddler who would not understand if her mommy was mentioned by any other name but "Mommy". I'm totally confused so I ask my godfather: "When you say 'Maman', are you talking about your mother or about mine?" He gives a start, makes no reply and walks away.

Mother. She's been calling almost every day at Henry's and every time she asks if I have bathed my leg in the seawater. It's an obsession with her. I always answer the same thing, which is the truth: "The tide is low, there is no water during the daytime." And she sounds upset, like she cares about my injury more than I do, like this low tide is really thwarting my progress to recovery, as if only seawater could benefit me and somehow she blames me for the low tide. Her trademark double whammy: She decides what I need (something that's unattainable) only to make me responsible for her frustra- tion (real or feigned). First she usurps, next she accuses. One day I lose my cool and ask her to stop pestering me with the seawater bath because the tides are beyond my power. I actually have to say this to her.

The last day of my stay, my godfather and aunt take me to visit the house where I spent so many summer vacations. That's where my grandmother and grandfather used to spend half the year, my grandpa returning at the end of his life to his first occupat- ion after making a fortune in real-estate in Paris: growing wonderful vegetables, which I was too young as a child to appre- ciate. Every year he gave us huge sacks of potatoes to feed the big family. He was a man of very few words and didn't need our compliments to quietly perform his magic in the kitchen garden and the orchard.

Now the house belongs to me and my siblings. On the road my aunt asks me if I remember the plush doe that she and my godfa- ther gave me when I was three years old. "Oh it was you that gave it to me! I loved this doe!" It was true. The doe had such an adorable expression on its face, it had a bit of red felt tongue sticking out of its mouth, beautiful eyes, it was beige with a white belly. I used to hug it a lot and take it to bed with me. "But you know what happened?" I asked her, "Agns made me give it away. She said that there was a toy collection at school for poor children and she made me give away my doe. I gave it to her. I missed it a lot after that." We arrive at the house. I like its white- washed walls and rough-hewn slates where ocher lichens grow. My godfather takes the key from the neighbor across the road and I see that the kitchen and the dining and living room have been enlarged by annexing the tool shed that previously was accessible only from the outside, when my grandfather was gardening.

On the second floor a shower-room had been installed where the linen -room used to be. There used to be a sink and a bidet in two of the five bed rooms, plus four sinks in the hallway. They have been removed. That house doesn't look half as rich as my godfather and aunt's. There is something flimsy and cheap about the wallpaper. It looked better when the attic rooms were just painted white.

My grandmother's crocodile handbag is still in the foyer closet after all these years, and it still doesn't open. I take it and try compulsively to open the clasp while my godfather and aunt look on in silence.

Then they offer me a tour of the neighborhood which, as I remember it, is only farms and fields, with dirt-roads bordered by hedgerows. They take me on the road to the beach, among fields of cabbage and artichokes. Until then I have seen the sea only from the Roscoff harbor so I don't know if the tide is normal or special but now I can really see how high the water is: it's so high that it reaches the dirt road where we are traveling parallel to the beach, and the beach is twenty feet below the road and twenty feet underwater. I've never seen the tide so high at this beach! In spite of all these arguments with my mom, they had not told me that the tide was a special one. Surprise!

Because the beach is in a cove and there is an island in front of it, the water is as quiet as a pond. We get out of the car. There's only the three of us around here. My godfather and aunt stand at the front of the car and face me ten feet away. They say nothing. They look at me, they look frightened, they seem to be waiting for me to do something. What? Be a good girl, do what my mother wants "for my own good" and take off my shoes, roll up my pants and walk into the water?

It laps gently at the grass on the shoulder with the noise of wet kisses. It is opaque, all muddied by the dark soil but I have a good memory, I know that the embankment starts right at the edge of the road. I would be in deep water within two or three steps. Now you see me, now you don't! "We used to go to this beach every day with my sisters" I say, pointing my chin in the direction as if the beach was visible at our feet. "There was never anybody except us and we were so bored! There were always clouds that came and hid the sun and we had to put our sweaters on and off, while you and my cousins went to the Roscoff beach with all your friends. It was much warmer there than here and there were plenty of people and white sand."

They sigh, don't say anything and we get back into the car. When we're back in Roscoff my aunt and I go to a supermarket. I let her do her shopping and I wander in the aisles, curious about what a French supermarket looks like in the toiletries depart- ment. For dinner we have breaded fishsticks from the frozen foods section, swimming in a pool of margarine. So much for crabs and sea-spiders! And she needs a million dollar kitchen to fry some fishsticks! And she uses a ton of fat but is always on a diet!

I return to Normandy the next day. My godfather waits for the train with me. I don't have a warm feeling toward him like I wish I had. There is something unsaid about me that he wants to keep unsaid. I ask him for addresses and phone numbers of Brittany relatives but I know that I won't communicate with them. It's only to say something. I know that there is no room in their life for me. At last my train arrives.

Before leaving to Paris and the airport I give Mother the bottle of fake champagne that Sophie gave me. She protests that I should take it with me, not deprive myself of it but I insist as if I, in turn, were giving her a rare present. If it had been real champagne I would have drunk it with her. She takes me to the train station and when the train starts moving I start to cry and I see that there are tears in her eyes too.

In Paris I go to the bank where I opened an account to pick up my checkbooks but I'm told coldly that the bank doesn't want to do business with me, that there are no checkbooks for me and that a hundred and fifty francs fee is charged against my deposit, which is then returned to me.

I spend the night at Norbert's apartment. He's cool and makes me feel barely tolerated. "Don't worry, tomorrow I'll be gone," I think. He leaves the apartment in the morning with barely a word to me and I don't see him again. I think about writing him a friendly note before leaving to the airport but although I would like to be affectionate, he was not with me so I don't write him anything.

It's October 21st, I have stayed five weeks with my family and there has not been a single serious meeting of all the heirs with the notary.

In New York I find Arturo in my studio. I want to be alone but he begs me to stay just that one night. He has forced open a file drawer where I stored my other camera which is now missing. He says that he had pawned it and gives me the ticket. I pick it up the next day and paid fifteen dollars. I also get one of my two stereo loudspeakers back from my neighbor to whom Arturo lent it. Then he's out.

I fall into a deep depression. My emotions are raw, I feel like I'm covered with burning napalm only it's not my body, it's my soul that's writhing in agony and the fire can't be put out. It's as if my entire family has been wiped out in a catastrophe. The people I have seen, although they looked like my family members, are inhabited by alien souls full of hatred who have done every- thing in their power to harass and humiliate me.

Instead of being comforted by my stay with my close family I feel drained, even more drained than before I went to France. So I get drunk on Ballantine's whisky, I smoke marijuana until I'm out of my mind and I spend the days prostrate on my bed. With money in my bank account and time on my hands, I can't bring myself to pick up my guitar and practice. I stare at it on its stand. It's getting dusty and makes me feel guilty. My pitiless superego harangues me:"You used to complain that you didn't have enough time to practice. Now you have the time and you don't practice. You're full of..."

On December 12, the notary sends me a letter requesting my presence at a meeting of the heirs scheduled for January 17, 1991.

* * *

End of Part One

Start of Part Two

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