Every Friday morning she gets her hair done. When she leaves the house, she pats the spot on the back of her head with a calloused hand. Her flattened hair will come back fluffy and voluminous: ready for whatever life throws her way this weekend. When she returns, she drives her Peugeot minivan onto the sidewalk in front of her house, easing over the curb as if it were a simple speedbump. She parks her car there on the sidewalk, two steps from her front door and only a few paces from the local gendarmerie. She takes her chances.
There are always mouths to feed. She has a rotating collection of keys and people come and go as they please. Today she prepares a meal for five. Cigarette teetering on the edges of her lips, she stirs her béchamel, listening with one ear to talk radio and the other to her sister, whose voice, repeating the ins-and-outs of her day, resonates from the countertop speaker phone.
She is tired. Leaning against the laminate counter, she closes her eyes and closes her lips tightly around the cigarette, inhaling. She is going over her list of things to do. It’s a list she has memorized, and she rarely forgets. She knows her brown-haired, brown-eyed granddaughters’ horseback riding, ballet, and violin schedules better than they do. Sometimes she calls to remind them, and she is never, ever late. Maybe she has to run a red light or cut someone off, but she gets those girls to their extracurriculars without fail.
And then she returns to her houseful of rotating keys.
I like to watch the evening news with her when I am there, sitting next to her in silence. She asks rhetorical questions like, can you believe that? or did you hear what she just said? “C’est fou, ça!” she exclaims. Crazy. Crazy that prices at the supermarket are on the rise, crazy that the euro is under attack, crazy that the world is in economic stalemate. The cat digs his claws into her knees when she gets worked up, but she doesn’t push him off. She apologizes and quiets down momentarily. She lights another cigarette.
When I call her I hear the familiar sounds of her routine in the background. The radio. The oven. The door slamming. Tires screeching. She knows how to multitask. “How are you, ma grande?” she chirps, her raspy voice upbeat. “Qu’est ce que tu peux me raconter de beau?”
What good things do I have to tell her? I smile. Despite the million tasks she must accomplish in one day, my news — always “good” — is of abiding interest to her.
“Oh, nothing too exciting,” I respond. “I have an interview next week…is it okay if I stay?”
“Do you have your key?” she asks in response.
I imagine the little silver key, attached to a string of faded blue plastic beads, in the outside pocket of my purse.
“Well then, the door is open! Let yourself in and tell me if you’re staying for dinner.”
When I hang up the phone, I can’t help but giggle. C’est fou, ça, I say to myself.
For Marie-Amelie’s translation into French… Continue reading