Small white Card 48

Un peu du vocabulaire des rues de Luc : « moron ». C’est ainsi qu’il appelle le mari de sa mère. On peut le traduire par “connard”.

 

48

 

 

As he sped through the deserted night streets, Luc worked out the finishing touches to his plan. For one it would drive his mother up the wall, for two it would get him in the cripple and the pest’s good books and for three, and this was the end result he was really looking for, it would almost definitely spell goodbye for the moron. He was gonna make that arsehole eat his tie.

Father Christmas was coming early this year…

 

Gabriel simply could not believe his eyes: a quad bike! He gazed at it, speechless. A brand new shiny quad bike, right there in the middle of the lawn. Luc was watching him, a faint smile on his lips.

“So, what are you waiting for?” he asked.

“Is it for me?” asked Gabriel, still not able to believe it.

“Who else would it be for, your pathetic father? Go on, climb up!”

Luc made no move to help him. Gabriel wheeled over to the quad bike and heaved himself into its seat.

“Ignition!”

“I… I’m not sure how…”

“Bloody well work it out then!”

Gabriel turned the key and the machine lurched forwards, knocking the boy off his balance and onto the ground. Luc roared with laughter. Gabriel crawled back onto the quad bike. I can do it! Like at the swimming pool. I will manage!

Wondering what on earth was making all the noise, Amélie came running out of the house. She stopped dead when she saw Gabriel on the death-machine.

“Gabriel!” she gasped. “Get down off that thing immediately!”

“Don’t be so bloody boring!” said Luc, holding her back by the arm as she tried to dash over to her son.

Agathe had come running at the noise of the quad bike too, and was looking at Gabriel with admiration. When the engine roared to life again she clapped her hands with excitement.

“Go, go , go, Gabriel!” she shouted. “You’re going to win the wheelchair race, yours is the smartest!”

Amélie was still terrified.

“Make him get down, Luc!”

“Piss off!”

Small white Card 47

L’expression du jour : « I do see », ce « do » devant un verbe renforce le sens du verbe : I see what you mean = je vois ce que vous voulez dire. I do see what you mean = oui, je vois parfaitement ce que vous voulez dire.

 

47

 

With these words Amélie burst into tears. Grandpa got his handkerchief out of his pocket because furtive wiping was no longer enough. Whilst telling her story Amélie had been staring at her coffee cup. Now she lifted her eyes to Marie-Reine who was looking at her but who still said nothing. Poor Mrs M. And poor Gabriel! A young’n like tha’ watchin’ life go by from his wheelchair and waitin’. Mind you, if it’s waitin’ ’e needs, then it’s waitin’ ’e needs. Tha’s what Mrs M said, and she should know, she’s ’is mother!

Amélie’s hand was lost from sight, softly enveloped by Marie-Reine’s great paw.

“Seems to me we should ’elp ’im find wha’ ’e’s waitin’ for then. Cos ’e an’t got a problem wiv ’is framework. The doctors told you tha’. ’Is framework’s fine. S’like wiv cars: you ’ave to see wha’s wrong wiv the engine.”

Amélie, bewildered by her neighbour’s chatter, turned to the old man in the hope that he might explain. He blew his nose one final time.

“I think Marie-Reine is quite right. If there is no clinical explanation for Gabriel’s infirmity then we may assume that the reason lies elsewhere. Perhaps, and pray do not be offended by my suggestion, but perhaps he has stopped walking because in his head he does not want to go forwards. Perhaps he is frightened to go forwards. Perhaps there is, or perhaps he sees, an obstacle before him, something hindering his progression, a wall too high and if he is waiting, as you so rightly pointed out, perhaps he is waiting for this insurmountable obstacle to be removed.”

“But he hasn’t got any obstacles in his way”! cried Amélie. “I do see exactly what you mean, your suggestion makes absolute sense, it just cannot apply to Gabriel! He’s got everything he needs, we organize everything for him, even private lessons to help him with his school work. I don’t know of one single other child who has more than he does. We in fact smooth out all the obstacles he might encounter. We’re going to do everything we can so that he gets a university education and a good job despite his handicap. Don’t you think it’s wonderful when parents do their utmost to enable their children to get a good job?”

“Course it is,” Marie-Reine put in, “specially when they end up wiv a job they enjoy.”

She frowned in order to collect her thoughts before going on.

“Tha’s right, sometimes we reckon we should put the pots ’n’ pans jus’ there on the ground, we reckon tha’s the righ’ place for ’em, cos there’s food in ’em an’ the kids can ’elp ’emselves when they’s ’ungry but as a matter o’ fact they trip over ’em or bump into ’em cos atchly wha’ they wanted was t’get t’the sink cos y’see they wasn’t ’ungry after all, they was thirsty. S’nimage!”

Marie-Reine, talking in images! It was even worse than how she usually talked. Amélie was met with the vision of one of the enormous cauldron-like pans Marie-Reine used sitting in the middle of the hallway at home, stopping Gabriel getting past. Seeing that once again Mrs M was having a hard time catching her drift, Marie-Reine went on.

“You ’as to shift them pots an’ pans wha’s blockin’ ’is way. ’E ’as to be able t’see ahead. See where ’e wants t’go. If someone’s plonked some pots an’ pans in front of ’im, ’e can’ even see the paths, an’ we all know ’ow many paths there is. ’E ’as to find ’is own, dunne.

Small white Card 46

L’expression du jour : “I can’t make head or tail” = je n’y comprends rien / j’en perds mon latin

 

46

 

 

It was happening again, Amélie just could not make head or tail of what her neighbour was saying.

“They an’t got a job,” went on Marie-Reine, pushing Amélie’s mug of coffee towards her. “Brought you one too, Grampa.”

“Splendid,” replied the old gentleman, pushing his glasses back onto his nose just before they fell off.

“Oh yes of course, they can’t find a job, it’s very difficult at the moment,” said Amélie.

“They’s young. They an’t decided wha’ they want to do yet. Got time. ’Elp our Roger a bit, an’ then they got their music. One sings an’ one plays saxophone. Sometimes in bars. Or jus’ like tha’ in the street. Norbert wants to be a teacher. ’E’s only fourteen but ’e’s always known wha’ ’e wanted to be when ’e growed up. Might change. See I wanted to be a singer, but I an’t got the time wha’ wiv the kids an’ all specially Théodore oo’s still small. Now Anselme, ’e likes ’ammerin’ an’ sawrin’ things, ’e ’elps Grampa, dunne, Grampa?”

“Absolutely! He is extremely nifty with his hands. Splendid work with a saw.”

Amélie was trying hard to take in everything her neighbour was telling her but it was difficult. She decided her safest bet was to pick up on this last piece of information.

“So Anselme will be a carpenter, will he?”

“Ooh we don’ know tha’ jus’ yet,” replied Marie-Reine, “Likes other things too.”

Amélie suddenly saw Gabriel in her mind’s eye.

“With his handicap,” she heard herself saying, “there won’t be a wide choice of jobs available to Gabriel.”

Marie-Reine looked at her with her big, marble-round eyes but said nothing. Mrs M needed a good ’eart to ’eart, tha’ was for sure, she needed to talk. So let her talk! The old man quietly continued with his peeling, carefully placing each skinned potato in the bent old aluminium colander. As if no longer linked to her mind, Amélie’s voice went on.

“No one knows why he stopped walking. One morning, just like that, a bit more than two years ago now, he couldn’t get up. His legs wouldn’t move…”

Choking slightly on these words, she paused. Pushing his glasses up his nose again, Grandpa furtively wiped his eyes.

“Of course we got the doctors, and then we had to get a whole series of tests done, blood tests, scans… everything! But they came up with nothing! According to all the doctors, all the specialists we got appointments with, he hasn’t got any physical problems. A mystery, that’s what they all said, but that hardly gets our child walking again, does it? His legs have gone all thin, as if they’re wasting away, and he never says anything, he just sits there in his wheelchair as if… as if he’s waiting for something.”

Small white Card 45

Le mot d’argot du jour, mais pas grossier : hunky-dory = parfait, au poil.

 

45

 

When Amélie got home, there was the neighbours’ dilapidated dwelling, as usual. And there was its garden, or the wilderness they called a garden, jutting into their property, as usual. The hovel belonged to the Council, and Gauthier had tried to use the fact that he knew people in high places to purchase the plot of land and arrange for the demolition of the buildings, but all he had obtained was vague promises.

“Come on in, tin’t locked!”

Warmth washed over Amélie. The wood-burning stove, crackling quietly to itself, filled the kitchen with a comfortable coziness. Sitting opposite each other Marie-Reine and Grandpa were peeling a mountain of vegetables.

“Hello, my dear,” said the old man.

He had stood up to greet Amélie, though this had made little difference to his height.

“Hello.”

“Sit y’self down, Mrs M, jus’ made some coffee.”

“Thank you.”

Amélie was not quite sure how she had come to be there but it somehow felt right. As she sat down her foot came into contact with something under the table. She looked down and saw the Labrador fast asleep with a baby doll between its paws.

“That’s a very contented dog with its toy,” she said, smiling.

“Tha’s not a toy, tha’s Théodore,” said Marie-Reine bringing over the coffee.

Amélie leaned over again to look at the dog-basket. It really was the baby, as fast asleep as the dog. She did not know what to say. Putting your baby to bed in a dog-basket! With the dog in it! Whatever next!

“An’ ’e’s ’unky-dory like tha’ wiv the dog keepin’ an eye on ’im,” added Marie-Reine.

Amélie refrained from mentioning the fact that the dog did not seem to be keeping its eye on much at all. And anyway, it was obvious that the Poquet children thrived – how many of them were there again? She thought of the ‘twins’.

“How are the twins?” she asked politely.

“They’s fine! They’s always fine when they’s together.”

“Ah, they work together, do they?”

“No.”

“Oh well they’re probably not together right now then.”

“Yes, they is.”

Small white Card 44

Le mot du jour : as though = as if = comme si

44

 

 

As Amélie drew up in front of the school, Gabriel’s wheelchair appeared as if by magic. Three boys were hurrying it towards the car.

“Hey there Gabriel!”

“I didn’t know you went motorbiking!”

“Who was the cool guy with the bike?”

“My brother,” replied Gabriel, getting into his wheelchair.

“Your brother? You’ve got a brother?”

“Yep.”

“A big brother with a motorbike, woahh!”

“Lucky you!”

The words gradually became more indistinct as Gabriel moved away, carried by… by what, exactly? By his friends? Not really because he was manoeuvering his wheelchair himself. By the words? Gabriel carried away by words? It didn’t make sense. What on earth was she suggesting? It felt like Gabriel was disappearing, as though she no longer had any control over him. Stupid thought! Gabriel was a child. He had been somewhat disoriented by Luc’s bad behaviour but that would pass. He would do what he was told, and that was that. Good thing she’d found his poetry books hidden behind the encyclopaedias! That was what was giving him these ridiculous ideas of wanting to ‘write’! She’d taken them away without saying anything. He hadn’t dared ask her about it, proof that deep down he knew she was right. Gabriel was a child who needed constant guidance. He didn’t seem to understand what life was about. To think that he had wanted to go to a school where he could add football to his O levels as an option! Good thing she’d put a stop to that straight away! Especially as it had been right at the end of the holidays that he had been struck down by his illness. You could hardly play football in a wheelchair, could you? And it would have been too late to apply to his public school, anyway. It was about time he stopped imagining he could do anything other than scientific studies. It was for his own good. She was going to have to look after him all his life so he should jolly well try to make it as easy as possible for her. He was already a burden as it was… Amélie, a little ashamed of this last thought, was somewhat relieved to be brought back to reality by Agathe.

“Mum, are we going now?”

Gabriel had gone. Amélie got out to take Agathe to the infant school. Her daughter followed, hugging her arms to her middle.

“What’s wrong? Have you got a tummy ache?”

“No.”

“Why are you holding your arms like that? Don’t you feel well?”

“It’s alright, Mum, I’m fine, you can go now.”

Agathe ran off, the frills of her Fairy Dress peeping out from beneath her coat.

Small white Card 43

L’expression du jour : “it’s a piece of cake” = c’est facile.

 

43

 

 

“What’s the matter? Scared I’ll kill her, are you? It would be a piece of cake, look, I’d just need to grab her here and squeeze.”

He put his hand on Agathe’s neck and tickled her, which set her off giggling uncontrollably. Amélie’s face drained of all its blood. Where was reality? She was walking along the edge of a precipice, hard ground on one side, an abyss on the other: on one side Gabriel’s ecstatic expression and Agathe’s laughter, on the other a terrifying demon.

“Throw him out!” yelled Gauthier, bright red with anger, looking at his wife.

Sitting on a chair, since his wheelchair was at school, Gabriel turned his limpid eyes to his mother.

“I really enjoyed it on the motorbike. You should have seen my mates’ faces!”

“He’s fooled you all,” announced Gauthier, his anger having turned to deep bitterness. “Can’t you see how dangerous he is? He wants to kill you and your sister.”

“Crrrkk,” said Luc, pretending to wring Agathe’s neck.

“He has overstepped the limits,” said Gauthier. “Either he goes, or I go.”

There was a heavy silence. No more shouting. Nothing. Amélie, as empty and hollow as a dried husk, had no more words, no more thoughts. A single swelling question blanked out everything else, reproduced by a question mark curl on her forehead.

Luc stood up slowly, still holding Agathe in one arm. In one split second she found herself perched at the end of it.

“D’you like playing aeroplanes?” he asked the little girl, whose only answer was screams of laughter.

He held her up to the ceiling a moment longer, just to torment Gauthier, then dumped her in her father’s arms.

“There you go, moron,” he said.

And left.

 

The meal was a mess: stodgy rice, burnt onions, overcooked omelette, further weighted down by the unpleasant atmosphere. Once the children were asleep Amélie had a quick wash and slipped into bed, as close to the edge as possible so as not to come into contact with her husband. She lay there in the dark with her eyes open, and thought about Gabriel’s pink cheeks, about Agathe’s happy screams, and behind each picture she saw the demonic face of Luc and heard his heartless laughter.

“You can take the children to school yourself tomorrow.”

Amélie did not answer. She did not sleep either.

Small white Card 42

Le mot du jour en langage informel mais non grossier, cependant : “spin” veut dire un tour en voiture ou là, en moto.

 

42

 

When Gauthier got home, the meal was not ready. Just a few weeks earlier that would have bothered Amélie. Now it had no effect on her, and nor did her husband’s unpleasant frame of mind.

“Can you please tell me what that motorbike is doing in front of the garage? It’s in the way of me driving in!” he said, the corner of his mouth twitching with loathing.

Luc smiled, but said nothing. Of course his motorbike was in the way. That’s why he’d put it there.

“Is it his?” Gauthier barked at Amélie.

“Yep, it’s his.” replied Luc.

“And where did you find the money to pay for a motorbike like that?”

“It’s kind of you to concern yourself with my bank account but it’s okay, thanks, don’t worry about me.”

“He bloody stole it!” exploded Gauthier.

“And what the fuck has that got to do with you?” replied Luc calmly.

“Teacher says we mustn’t say ‘fuck’,” came Agathe’s voice.

“You, shut up!” shouted Gauthier.

Agathe wrinkled her nose but did not answer back. If it was like that then she’d go on saying ‘fuck’.

Gauthier grappled with his tie, loosening it. His anger, and the atmosphere, were suffocating him. This good-for-nothing lout was getting worse and worse. As for Amélie, she had only one thought in her head: Gauthier must know nothing about how Gabriel had got home from school.

“Hey, Little Bruv, you enjoyed that spin on my bike, didn’t you?” said Luc, looking at his mother.

“Yes,” answered Gabriel whose cheeks turned pink again at the thought of how they had swooped past his friends.

“No! Don’t tell me this yob had the impudence to sit Gabriel on that motorbike!”

Amélie did not reply.

“Can’t you see what’s going on?” continued Gauthier, deliberatly excluding Luc from the conversation. “He wants to kill our children! How come you can’t even see what he’s scheming?”

“If you go on shouting like that, I’m gonna get on that fucking bike too!” said Agathe, pointing an accusing finger at her father.

Luc put back his head and burst out laughing.

“She’s got balls, Little Sis,” he said, grabbing Agathe and pulling her onto his knees.

Sitting on Mr Wolf’s lap, Agathe felt emboldened.

“I’m gonna get on that fucking bike too!” she repeated before Gauthier could react.

Her father leapt up to retrieve her from Luc’s knees but Luc’s arm, holding her firmly, did not shift.

 

 

Small white Card 41

Une autre façon de dire ricaner : “snigger”

41

 

“Happy now?” she demanded aggressively.

“Me, yes. And you?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Luc sniggered but said nothing.

“He is an invalid! Paralysed!”

“So what?”

“He is a child! My child! I’m his mother!”

“Sorry mate, dunno what that means, a mother. Dunno what you’re talking about.”

That hurt. Really hurt, like a knife stabbing deeply into her. Before, she had not imagined anything could hurt so much, that she could feel anything so deeply. But that was before. If only she could turn the clock back.

Luc was looking at her, his eyes a sombre, unblinking stare.

“If I hadn’t been able to walk, they’d have kicked me along like a dog.”

Amélie looked at him. Sarcasm had totally disappeared from his black eyes but had been replaced by something different, an impenetrable look which, without her really understanding why, upset her even more. Her thoughts were a jumble, a mixture of how angry she was because of what Luc had done and how scared she had been for Gabriel. And now on top of that he was listing her past faults.

“Don’t you ever go anywhere near the children again.”

This provoked another burst of sarcastic laughter.

“Well I certainly can’t get anywhere near one of them right now, that’s for sure.”

He had seen Agathe scooting off next door as soon as the car had driven up.

“Because you’ve got two kids here,” he added, seeing his mother’s look of incomprehension, “but not the two you were thinking of.”

Suddenly realizing she had no idea where Agathe was, Amélie felt as if her heart had stopped beating. She rushed up to her daughter’s bedroom, then into Gabriel’s. Agathe was not there. Having hurried back downstairs she found the living-room empty. Luc had gone. Complete panic was just beginning to take hold of her when, through the big bay window, she saw Luc coming back, carrying Agathe on his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, except that you normally hold a sack of potatoes. He was not holding Agathe, and she was wriggling and giggling like anything. Amélie held her breath. If her daughter fell she could break her neck. Luc’s behaviour chilled her. He knew no limits. Gauthier was right.

Luc came into the living-room and, bending over the sofa, tipped Agathe off. She was breathless with excitement. Amélie could find nothing to say, either to her daughter, who, she now understood, had run off to Marie-Reine’s house, or to Luc. Things had spiralled out of her control. Numb, she went into the kitchen. She did not know which drawer she was opening or which pan she was stirring. The meal was going to be a disaster, but she was past caring. There was nothing left inside her except a grotesque merry-go-round of Luc’s aggressive remarks, turning, turning, turning.

Small white Card 40

le mot du jour : “sneer” = ricaner

 

40

 

 

The sight which met Amélie’s eyes when she opened her living-room door left her momentarily speechless: Gabriel was sitting in one of the big leather armchairs. It was the first time since the beginning of his affliction that she had seen him anywhere other than in one of his wheelchairs. It came as a shock to find him sitting like somebody normal. Luc, sprawled across the sofa with his feet on the coffee table, caught his mother’s reaction. He smirked but said nothing. It was Gabriel who broke the silence, his eyes shining with a light which had been absent for too long.

“Luc brought me home on his motorbike.”

“Gabriel, your cheeks are bright red, you must have a temperature. I’ll phone the doctor!”

“Mum, I’m fine, it’s because of the motorbike ride.”

“The doctor,” sneered Luc, “Why not an ambulance? And I don’t recall you phoning for the doctor for me when I had red cheeks at his age.”

Amélie, still livid because of what Luc had done, was about to let fly a string of insults, but Luc did not give her time.

“Oh no, that’s right, I forgot. You weren’t there.”

And he gave a hollow laugh.

“You really are a monster! Gauthier was right, I should never have let you in!”

“I’d just like to remind you, Dear Mother, that I let myself in,” came the jeering answer.

“Were you trying to kill Gabriel, is that it?” screamed Amélie.

Me trying to kill him? I thought that was your job. He was already half-dead when I got here.”

Gabriel was not in the slightest bit put out by what his funny new brother was saying. In any case, all that mattered to him was how exciting the bike ride had been, and what his friends were going to say the next day about the whole thing, especially the drive around the playground. How cool can you get?

Amélie, however, was appalled.

“Gabriel, go to your room,” she said, oblivious of the fact that he could not go anywhere at all.

“Yeah go on, go to your room,” said Luc, “otherwise you might overhear someone mentioning the fact that you can’t walk – like you hadn’t noticed.”

Furious at Luc’s cruelty, Amélie suddenly realized that Gabriel could not get to the electric stairlift. Despite his being remarkably light for a fourteen-year-old she knew she would not be able to carry him. She looked at Luc.

“You could at least carry him to the stairs!”

“You’ve got to be joking! He can bloody well carry himself.”

Gabriel slid to the floor and began to pull himself along. I can do it! I can do it! Like at the swimming pool…

Aghast, Amélie watched him go, and moments later heard the sound of the stair lift.

 

 

 

Small white Card 39

l’expression du jour : pick a fuss = faire des histoires

39

 

Her remark went unheard: Amélie had ears only for the account of the outlandish sequence of events which had taken place only moments before. The headmaster, also very shocked, informed her that he was going to call the police straight away. But while he had been talking Amélie had suddenly realized what must have happened. Luc. It was obviously Luc. Who else could have snatched a child from a wheelchair? It was the work of a demon, of this demon she knew, who was perfectly capable of appearing by motorbike, capable, it seemed, of anything. Thoughts sped through her mind. One thing was clear: they should not involve the police. With a forced laugh she looked at the headmaster.

“Oh, I’m so silly, I completely forgot…”

Having no immediate inspiration as to how to finish her sentence she stopped and stood there shaking her head to give herself time to think.

“Yes, that’s right, today was the day a friend agreed to pick Gabriel up, of course! How could I forget?”

The head-master looked at her, clearly perplexed.

“A friend was supposed to pick Gabriel up by motorbike?” he asked somewhat abruptly.

His tone of voice left no doubt as to how absurd the suggestion sounded to him. Mrs Monroy had kicked up a terrible fuss the day the sports teacher had included Gabriel in the class outing to see a football match, saying that it had been an irresponsible act, and now she was arranging for him to be picked up by motorbike?

“Yes, that’s right. I do apologize.”

She turned and marched out of the school, still dragging Agathe along behind her.

“You’re going too fast, Mummy! I’m not wearing high-heeled shoes, so I can’t go as fast as you. You see I need a pair of high-heeled shoes too!”

Amélie did not answer. She had not heard her daughter’s words. They got into the car and she drove off. When they got home she saw a motorbike parked in front of the gate. Relief and anger swamped her simultaneously.

“Whose motorbike is that?” asked Agathe.

Mummy didn’t answer. She wasn’t talking to her any more. Well if it was like that she might as well be off! She got out of the car and ran to Marie-Reine’s house while Amélie hurried up to the front door.

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