Small white Card 17

Le mot du jour “a whatnot”. On emploie ce mot pour parler de quelqu’un dont on ne connaît pas le nom ou dont on ignore volontairement le nom. Alphonsine est fâchée contre Antoinette qui fait semblant de ne pas comprendre de quoi elle parle et, ici, on pourrait traduire en Français par “l’autre vieille, là”.

 

 

  17

 

After a while Alphonsine could bear it no longer.

“So?”

“So what?”

“Where is he?”

“Don’t know who you’re talking about.”

The old whatnot was pretending not to understand. She’d known it was going to be like that. Alphonsine managed not to get irritated and said the words she knew would soften Antoinette.

“Luc, your Luc.”

“Gone.”

“Gone where? Come on, you can’t keep me in the dark like this.”

“Yes I can, you’re just an old busybody!”

With this, Antoinette bent over her work again. But only a few minutes passed by before she could no longer resist the temptation to tell her story.

“He decided to go to the address on the card.”

“He didn’t! But then again it was to be expected, wasn’t it, Toinette?”

“We even said that’s what he’d do.”

“It was the obvious thing to do: he wanted to see his mother. I mean his biological mother, as they say, because you can’t call someone like that a real mother. When I think it was you who heard him crying, a tiny, new-born baby. Tell me how it happened.”

“I’ve already told you that story a hundred times,” replied Antoinette who was longing to tell it again.

“Well tell me again.”

“Oh alright, if you insist. It was getting dark and I went out to feed the rabbits. We used to have rabbits. My Raymond used to cut grass for them during the day, or go and fetch their straw, he used to bring back a little bundle on his bike, he did, it was in the days when my Raymond was still alive…”

“Yes, I remember your husband, he died soon after I got here. A lovely man. That was a long time ago.”

“You can say that again, Alphonsine, it was a long time ago.”

“So. You’d got as far as the rabbits.”

“I know I’d got as far as the rabbits. So out I’d gone to feed the rabbits, when I heard this funny little noise. I said to myself there’s a poor cat stuck in that house because it sounded like miaowing. And it wouldn’t have surprised me to find a cat had been left in there because the people who lived in that house before you, they were a bit odd. Not that I’d be the one to complain about the neighbours mind you, it takes all sorts, but that chap was a bit of a hippy, big fella with long hair.”

“No! Long hair? A man? He must’ve been, y’know, what d’you call it, homosexual?”

Small white Card 16

L’expression du jour : “an old bag”. C’est de l’argot et c’est péjoratif pour parler d’une femme. On pourrait traduire par “vieille peau, vieille sorcière”.

 

16

 

 

No one would need a hearing-aid to know that Alphonsine was clopping over the flagstones. Antoinette, however, ignored her when she came in. That’d teach her to be late. And she certainly wasn’t going to mention the fact that she was late, oh no, not this time and not ever again, she had to realize for herself and apologize. Who did she think she was?

“Are you there, Toinette?”

No answer. Antoinette remained bent over her work at the room’s only window. Alphonsine, three yards away, looked at her, annoyed by her neighbour’s lack of enthusiasm.

“Aren’t you going to answer? You gone deaf?”

“I’d rather be deaf than late!”

Alphonsine smiled. Antoinette must already be embroidering, because every time she did embroidery for Madame Duchâtel, her language took on a more refined hue. Whatever her friend’s obscure reasons for this, Alphonsine did not complain because she came over for chat every afternoon and her neighbour was easier to follow when she talked in coherent sentences.

“What are you doing sitting with your back to me like that?”

“As you can see, I’m working. I have to finish this table-cloth for Madame Duchâtel,” answered Antoinette without looking up. “Some people have work to do, not like you Parisians.”

Alphonsine did not rise to the attack, so Antoinette went on.

“Those Parisians with their servant-girl’s pensions.”

“I’ll have you know I was a housekeeper not a servant-girl if it’s me you’re talking about.”

“And what did you ‘keep’, the washing up and the dirty clothes?”

Her neighbour did not answer. Antoinette was just a jealous old bag. And it wasn’t the moment to create friction because Alphonsine had come to find something out. She pulled over a chair, picked up a needle and thread, took her thimble out of her pocket and, carefully taking up a corner of the cloth, she set to embroidering. The two old women worked in silence with remarkable dexterity, their knotted old fingers producing tiny, precise, beautiful stitches.

 

Small white Card 15

L’expression du jour : “a bun in the oven” = un polichinelle dans le tiroir.

 

 

    15

 

 

“Ha!” sneered Luc, “a bun in the oven and blind drunk! Got rid of the baby like you were throwing up last night’s binge, did you? Trouble is, see, that puke, that was me!”

“I was very young. I was practically unconscious when I ‘puked you up’ as you say. I remember nothing else.”

Luc was hanging on her every word, his anger apparently evaporated.

“And you just pissed off and left me there?”

“Yes.”

Amélie was looking away now. A heavy silence filled the room where she stood with this person she could not understand or accept was her son, this person who had suddenly landed with a crash on the game-board and scattered all the pieces. And from the look in his eyes it was clear that he did not care that he did not belong in this game. Nor that he was going to destroy it.

Luc had still not moved a muscle. He was still looking at her. Bloody hell, this was his mother Right there in front of him. And she still didn’t friggin’ want him. What the hell, who needs a mother? He’d got on alright so far. But he wasn’t going to let her off lightly. She’d come looking for him and now he was there she was telling him to piss off. Well he’d see about that!

Amélie was lost somewhere between yesterday and today, between an uncontrollable urge to be rid of this demon and the need to know what had happened to her child, the baby, not this man for whom she could still only feel violent repulsion just like when she’d first seen him. How could the two be one? She looked up at him.

“Were you adopted?”

“What the fuck do you care?” came Luc’s scathing, knife-edged reply.

“I was just wondering…”

“Wondering what happened to me? Should’ve stayed around then, shouldn’t you? But you didn’t give a fuck then, so don’t bother asking me now. Bit late, isn’t it? And anyway there’s no point pretending you’re interested now because you still don’t give a fuck. I’m a nuisance, remember, Dear Mother?”

The ironic half-smile was on his lips again.

“Tough, here I am back in your life. Pain in the arse then, pain in the arse again now!”

The smile became a laugh, an empty, mirthless laugh. A weapon whose sole purpose was to hurt. Amélie’s desperate need to be rid of him grew stronger still. He had to go. He must disappear and never come back.

Luc was looking into the sitting room now.

“Really nice house you’ve got here. I can see I’m going to be very comfortable.”

“You can’t…” she gulped.

“Can’t I now! I’m off to have a shower and then I’m going to take a nice nap. Don’t worry, I’ll find everything I need.”

He laughed as he went upstairs but the thorn which was lodged deep inside him, and which had been there a long time, was hurting. His laugh chilled Amélie to the bones. She looked hopelessly around. What was she going to do? What was she going to tell Gauthier? And her children? Gabriel? Agathe? Luc was going to destroy everything. He’d come to get his own back. He wanted to destroy her life, and he would doubtless succeed. Amélie suddenly felt very alone. Alone with her lie, her twenty-year old lie which had just hatched out and was calmly settling itself under her roof.

Small white Card 14

Allez, on agrandit son vocabulaire de grossièretés : Luc dit dans cette page “bloody hell!” On pourrait le traduire par “putain!”. Il y a plusieurs façons d’exprimer en Anglais ce juron français. Rassurez-vous, avec Luc on les verra toutes.

 

14

 

 

She’d friggin’ well better take him in this time! He wouldn’t leave her the choice. She owed him. He was going to wait until that wimp left with the kids. Then he’d be alone with her. Alone with his Dear Mother. In that friggin’ house which must be worth a pile of money, where they were all comfortably together while he was out in the rain hiding in the neighbours’ garden, watching them. He grimaced. Bloody hell! His Dear Mother who couldn’t give a monkey’s toenail for him. She’d left him to die. He must’ve been a right pain in the neck if she’d got the hell out straight after giving birth! Bloody hell! But those others, the cripple in the wheelchair and the little pest, she’d kept them. But not him. And she still didn’t bloody well want him. But he wasn’t going to put up with it any more. He was the one holding the cards now, and if there was one thing he knew how to do it was to play cards. He’d ripped a lot of people off at poker. A faint smile appeared on his lips. Yeah, he’d be the one dealing the cards now, and he knew how to play.

There was that cretin driving off with the brats. His move.

Luc waited until the car was out of sight, climbed over the high gates into the garden, picked the lock of the front door with his penknife and moved silently up behind Amélie. For a moment he watched her, imagining how much he was going to make her jump.

“Alright?” he said casually.

Amélie jumped and spun round. The blood drained from her face. Luc looked at her without speaking. Her speechless horror amused him. What was she going to do? Scream? Faint? Try and get away?

“What do you want?” she managed to whisper.

“I’m your son: you should be able to work out what I want!”

That sneering half-smile was back on his face.

“I’m a nuisance, aren’t I?”

“You mustn’t come here. Go away and don’t come back.”

She turned away as she spoke, but Luc grabbed her by the shoulders, twisting her back to face him.

“Is it the way I look you don’t like? Did I look like this when I was born? An ugly baby was I? Answer, damn you!”

He was staring straight into Amélie’s heart, sparks of anger in his black eyes. Suddenly he let go of her shoulders, but his expression did not waver.

“I was drunk,” Amélie breathed.

Small white Card 13

L’expression du jour : le pronom “we” peut être utilisé pour se moquer de quelqu’un. Amélie dit à Gabriel : “Oh so we’re interested in mechanics now are we?”, ça pourrait se traduire par “Ah, parce qu’on s’intéresse à la mécanique maintenant?” Par ce “we”, sa phrase a un ton moqueur.

 

 

13

 

 

Roger’s van arrived, clanking.

“Thank you. I’ll get the children outside as I go.”

“As y’like.”

Stepping into the back yard Amélie saw Gabriel holding himself up by his arms and peering under the bonnet of the van.

“Gabriel, sit down. Come along now, we’re going home.”

“Mum, I’d just like to see what Roger’s doing to the engine.”

“Oh so we’re interested in mechanics now are we?”

Gabriel had heard the slight sneer in his mother’s comment. Yes, mechanics interested him, especially when Roger was explaining, because he knew such a lot about it. What could he say to make his mother let him watch a bit longer? Nothing. She never listened to what he had to say. Over here they listened. And he could talk to Grandpa for hours. Grandpa knew so much about books. He knew poems off by heart. He’d recited ‘The Albatross’ and when he got to the last line, ‘His giant’s wings prevent him from walking’, he’d said he was convinced Baudelaire had written the poem for him because he had giant’s wings just like the poet Baudelaire compares to an albatross. Grandpa had explained all that to him.

His mother’s voice brought him down from the sky where he had been soaring like an albatross.

“Gabriel, are you listening to me? We’re going!”

Instead of wasting time looking at some filthy old engine, her son would do better to concentrate on his maths homework. There had doubtless been little encouragement to do schoolwork at the Poquets’ house. Mechanics! She hardly saw her son leaving school at sixteen and training to be a mechanic! She’d have to be careful though, he was still very immature and didn’t seem to realize that with his illness few doors would be open to him.

Agathe ran past into the house, grabbed the old doll by its one remaining leg and joined her mother in the yard. Her mother looked at her. What on earth was she wearing? Some old gypsy dress?

“Agathe, go and put your clothes on and give that dress back to Marie-Reine.”

“No! Aunty gave it to me. It’s my Fairy Dress.”

“Agathe, do as I say!”

“No!”

Amélie managed with difficulty to stop her annoyance bursting out. She did not want to have an argument now, not here in the Poquets’ back yard.

“Let’s go home now, children.”

She simply had to get away from this madhouse. Get back to her life, forget this stupid digression, slot back into the routine she was used to before.

Small white Card 12

Le mot mignon du jour : “agog” qui veut dire : impatient.

 

12

 

 

“Oh… er, hello.”

Amélie was now so confused that her words seemed to stick in her mouth.

The old man smiled benignly and disappeared into his armchair again.

“Abandonin’ people, now there’s a crime!” exclaimed Marie-Reine indignantly, her hands on her hips. “Good thing our Roger found ’im! Y’know what, ’e was goin’ to jump off tha’ bridge cos ’is kids told ’im they didn’ need ’im no more now ’e was old. Can you believe it? An’ us, we ’an’t got anyone old at ’ome, cos y’know kids need someone old, an’ I don’t mind ownin’ it up, we’ve grown fond of ’im. So our Roger splained to Grampa ’e wasn’t allowed to jump cos us, we needed someone old. An’ so Grampa agreed t’come. But ’e knows jus’ as soon as ’e wants, our Roger’ll take ’im back there to jump.”

“Take him back to the bridge?”

Amélie was agog to find out what happened next in this extraordinary soap opera of a story.

“Course! There in a jiffy in the van!”

Amélie suddenly realized that the old man could overhear everything they were saying. She leant towards her neighbour.

“He can hear!” she whispered.

“Course ’e can, ’e’s not deaf,” replied Marie-Reine loudly. “And why shouldn’t ’e? ’E knows our Roger promised, and tha’ a promise is a promise.”

Amélie couldn’t believe her ears. What was this alien world she’d walked into when she’d crossed the threshold of her neighbours’ house?

Grandpa smiled in his armchair.

Small white Card 11

Le mot du jour : “Lawks!” qui exprime la surprise. Lawks vient à l’origine de “Lord” (Seigneur)

 

 

11

 

 

Was that the ‘job’ she’d been talking about? Was that why she was so ‘busy’? Wondering whether her baby was going to catch hold of something to pull itself up? She had not been mistaken in her initial impressions of this woman – there was definitely something missing. She hoped Roger would hurry back with the children so that she could get out of this nightmare.

“Well cos y’see,” went on Marie-Reine, completely absorbed by Théodore’s unsuccessful attempts, “if ’e dun’t use the chair, could be ’e wants t’manage on ’is own. An’ tha’s important t’know your little’un’s like tha’. Then again mebbe ’e’ll use the chair cos ’e sees s’better tha’ way, or cos ’e’s not sure of ’isself. S’important t’know tha’ too. What d’y’reckon?”

Not having managed to follow Marie-Reine’s line of reasoning, Amélie found it impossible to reply. She would out of courtesy have liked to make some non-committal comment, but really it was impossible to communicate with this woman.

“Y’see, s’hard t’say, innit?” continued Marie-Reine, “I dunno neither, but not t’worry, ’e’s still little, there’ll be time t’watch ’im some more. In’t tha’ right, Grampa?”

Alarmed, Amélie looked to see who Marie-Reine was talking to. Grandpa? Was there someone else in the room?

A black Labrador, stretched out comfortably on the sofa, acknowledged her interest with no other movement than the briefest blink of two golden eyes.

“Found ’im,” said Marie-Reine.

“He looks a love.”

“Too righ’ ’e’s a love.”

“Had he been abandoned?”

“Yep, our Roger found ’im. Four years ago, on a bridge. Nobody t’look after ’im, so our Roger brought ’im ’ome.”

“It’s very wrong to abandon animals like that.”

Marie-Reine’s huge eyes rolled beneath her fringe.

“I in’t talkin’ ’bout the dog, I’s talkin’ about Grampa!”

At which point the head of an old man appeared from behind the back of another armchair.

“Lawks love,” went on Marie-Reine, “dog’s a pedigree. Didn’t find ’im, people don’t jus’ abandon pedigrees, y’know!”

The ideas she ’ad in ’er ’ead tha’ Mrs Monroy, thinkin’ you jus’ come across pedigrees on bridges!

“Good day to you, madam,” said the old man politely.

Small white Card 10

le mot du jour : “a yob” ça veut dire un loubard, une petite frappe. C’est Luc, quoi…

 

10

 

 

A few days went by. The leaves had still not been cleared up and Luc had not reappeared. Having agonized for hours over the idea of him coming back, Amélie had now convinced herself that he had gone for good. She certainly hoped so. She bitterly regretted having let herself be snatched up by the winds of yesterday where forgotten voices whisper without warning, where forgotten passages of your life are recited with terrifying, unambiguous clarity. The debris of the undertow thrown at your feet, memories you must follow. And she had followed, like Orpheus. She had looked back instead of looking forwards and, like him, she was devastated by the disaster resulting from her looking back. One stupid, thoughtless move which might well wreck her life. What would Gauthier say if he discovered the existence of that… yob? How could she explain? She shook her head to chase her thoughts away as if they were flies buzzing around her. She was going to get her children now, and stop thinking about all that. He had no reason to come back.

She knocked on Marie-Reine’s door.

“Come on in, tin’t locked.”

Her neighbour was sitting in an old armchair in the corner.

“Terribly sorry to bother you, Mrs Poquet, I’ve come to pick up my children,” Amélie said as calmly as possible so as to hide her inner turmoil.

“Mrs M! You in’t botherin’ me even if I is very busy. Look, you can ’elp me wiv my job, two’s better ’n one.”

“Help, yes of course, what were you doing?”

Marie-Reine looked at Amélie in surprise.

“Obvious, innit? I’s watchin’ ’im.”

Mrs Monroy couldn’t even see what she was doing – she must still be tired. Didn’ look too good, tha’ were for sure.

Amélie looked down to see what Marie-Reine was watching and saw a baby on a blanket trying to stand up.

“You’re watching him?” she enquired, hoping for more details.

“Tha’s righ’! Takes time, but kids, it’s like tha’, you ’as to watch ’em. Sit y’down, y’can ’elp me, waitin’ for Gabriel and Agathe. Won’ be long. Our Roger took ’em walkies.”

Confused by the incoherence of her neighbour’s words, Amélie sat.

“What y’reckon? ’E wants to stand up but ’is bottom ’alf keeps pullin’ ’im back down. So wha’ I was wonderin’ was if ’e’d catch ’old of the armchair to ’elp ’isself up or not.”

 

 

Small white Card 9

Le mot (grossier) du jour : “ piss off ” veut dire “dégager, foutre le camp”. Bienvenue dans le vocabulaire de Luc. Vous allez en apprendre de belles, c’est moi qui vous le dis.

 

9

 

Luc’s expression hardened still more.

“I see I’m a nuisance,” he said, “and not for the first time.”

In an absurd fit of desperation Amélie tried to snatch her visiting card off him, but Luc was too quick for her: lifting his arm, he made sure it was out of her reach.

“Tut tut tut,” he sneered, shaking his head. “That’s my birth certificate.”

Amélie dashed up the steps and into the house, but when she tried to close the door a hand stopped it shutting. Luc walked in.

“Shi-it. Very cosy. Perfect!”

“No, you… you can’t stay. Go away!”

“Shi-it, woman, what is it you want? First you leave your card saying you’re looking for me, and now you’ve found me you’re telling me to piss off. Is it my face you don’t like? You think I’m an ugly bastard, is that it? Answer, damn you!”

Amélie was unable to breathe, let alone reply.

She had wanted to know about her child, she had just wanted to be told he was alright. Then she could have left her feelings of remorse to settle. Her child… it had been a child she was looking for. Not a man. Not this coarse brute whose expression scared her. Luc was still scrutinizing her.

“Okay okay I’ll piss off. But I’m warning you, I’ll be back!”

He went. The rain beat against his cheeks. Good thing too, dammit, because it was a long time since he’d run out of real tears.

Amélie stood paralysed by what her past had just regurgitated at her feet. She had brought this upon herself. Why had she gone and stirred up this cesspool? What was she going to do if he came back? What was she going to tell Gauthier? Why, why had she done that? Why had she invented a stupid lie, and gone back there?

She sat down on the doorstep and wept, the spilt, damp, messy leaves watching her in silence.

Small white Card 8

Le mot du jour : “a lout”. Ce mot désigne quelqu’un de grossier, mal éduqué.

 

8

 

The piles of dead leaves were still littering the steps up to the house. With glazed eyes Amélie stared out past the messy, wet heaps, struggling unsuccessfully to chase away the image of the small white card tucked under that dilapidated door. Sighing, she put on her mac, picked up a dustpan and brush and went out into the rain to clear the steps. She worked mechanically, moving down backwards as she brushed each step. She was completely lost in her thoughts when she bumped into something. Alarmed, she swirled round, spraying wet leaves. Before her stood a young man. As she looked him up and down he neither spoke nor moved back, had not moved at all in fact even when she had bumped into him. He loomed there in his shirtsleeves, immobile, apparently unaffected by the rain and the icy wind. Despite the half-smile on his face, his dark-eyed, unwavering gaze was stark. Deeply shocked, Amélie could find nothing to say.

“Heard you were looking for me,” he said pulling a small white card out of his pocket. “I’m Luc, your son.”

These last words were laden with a mixture of irony and disgust.

Her son… this long-haired lout with holes in his jeans and such a grim expression. But what had she been expecting twenty years on, a child? She was abruptly gripped by violent repulsion. He had the same demon face and the same black eyes as his father, as the man she had both loved and hated. The same body as his father: tall, broad, powerful. He scared her. It was the Devil standing in front of her. The same devil that sometimes haunted her nights with remorse, that prevented her from sleeping. It was the embodiment of her mistake. Why oh why had she pushed her visiting card under the door of that old building where the beginning of this nightmare had been lurking?

“How did you get in?” she whispered.

Luc pointed at the high, solidly locked gates.

“You might sound a bit more friendly, I am your son.”

“Go away.”

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