Rereading what she wrote about the fire, Marie thinks that she gives the impression that she is exagerating or even crazy. In reality her life is not this complicated, these are highlights of months, maybe even years of existence.
Even though she observes the children, she does not know much about their sexual lives. Their sexuality seems normal but they express it more liberally than her generation through music, dance and comic books. In Marie's time, dancing in couples had passed. No longer was it waltzes or tango but rather bop, the jitterbug and boogie woogie where everyone danced seperately. They got together for the slow songs by groups like Stormy Weather though. The girls would drape their arms around the boy's necks and the boys would hold them close. The bedrooms of the apartment left empty by the parents in honour of the 'surprise parties' were left rarely empty. She has often thought about coming back to the house at an unexpected time. Never has she found a a couple in the corner flirting.
Marie spoke to a teacher of Charlotte's who said that lots more girls were pregnant nowadays than in their time. Marie asked whether it was just that they hide it less and that they have the courage to tell people. She did not think so, she thought that their lifestyle is a lot more lax. Marie did not push the point not having any statistic memorised to back it up, however she remembers that back around the Mediterranean where she grew up, a still virgin girl of sixteen was a very rare thing.
Marie thinks that they are a lot wiser, serious and responsible than her generation was. When they dance they are attractive to see but they dance for themselves, lost in the reverie that the music helps create. They show their bodies freely, something that those of Marie's generation were ashamed to do.
That evening Marie was alone in the house for the first time in months, maybe years. They had all gone out. Marie put Country Joe and the Fish on the record player taking her back to her youth. She was very happy.
She remembered with tenderness the summer Sundays when she was fifteen. How she had to keep up with fashion and look pretty for Jean-Pierre and yet also dress 'correctly' in front of her mother. Avoiding loud colour, dresses that were too revealing. It would occupy her mind from the night before and even afterwards into the Sunday parade. Tight fitting long socks, a boater on her head and always those gloves. Marie cannot stand gloves, they make her hands sweat yet she had a box full of them. Cotton, leather, quilted, velvet always white for the summer with a mother of pearl button or large press-stud.
She liked mass because it meant the start of those long beautiful summer days where everyone ended up on the beach by midday. She would think of Jean-Pierre all through the service. She liked to see him with his stiff collar and tie and his hair brushed and wet down. She knew that she would only see him alone after lunch and until then she would swim and go boating with him and the others. The parents would sit on the beach like they were at the theater on their deckchairs shaded by parasols fringed by white bobbles. Each infront of their own house, the babies with the nurses and the children and teenagers in the sea. She remembers the lunches of salad, fish fruit and ice cream and the closed shutters that would quiver in the breeze when you came into the dining room.
This siesta was mandatory. Marie remarks that she learnt how to lie by getting out of it, what a lesson for life that was. She would first be shut away then Jean-Pierre would call her from the laurel bushes. She would leave the house dozily heading off into woods to meet her friends where there was an old gramaphone and records. They knew the forest from when they played there when they were children. She never had any regrets about lying, only fear that her parents would find this secret place or that they would catch her returning or that she would lose her privacy. She and Jean-Pierre went deeper still into the wood finding a clearing where the trees shielded them from the wind. She never made love with Jean-Pierre in Midi, she had never really embraced him even.
Marie does not undertsand why the parents think the teenagers are less pure than in their day. Youth is still beautiful but now serious. That is what has changed. In her time teenagers were not a talked about thing amongst adults.
The youth of todays know that they are consumers who are themselves fed upon.
On the short path between Marie's office and the house she could see three immense billboard posters. The first shows a woman silhouetted in the light fixed like a statue, completely nude advertising Swiss tourism. Because of the shadow you do not see any of the bits tat you should not but Marie also notes that you cannot see her face. The second poster shows two children walking away and into the sea, their radiant faces looking back at the onlooker over their shoulders. They were also nude. It advertised the newly developed beaches in the Languadoc region. The third was directly opposite the appartment and showed a mother, father and child again all nude but artistically positioned so they covered all their genitalia. It ws advertising life insurance. These poster were three by four metres, coloured yet not repulsive at all. They only made you want to take off your clothes and go around naked.
Three years ago in the September they found a real hidden paradise in Corsica in the Agrades desert. To get there you had to leave the car behind and travel two hours through thorny scrubland. There was not a building in sight. Mountains behind them and the Mediterranean infront with a white beach sand dunes. Near them were pine trees.
Since it was only them there, they did not feel the need for clothes and fished and picked wild mullberries and fig in the nude. Early on morning a man came over the dune. He was small, squat and muscular with his head sat on a huge neck and close cropped hair. His trousers were rolled up to the knee and he had no shirt on. By his side was a clear plastic bag carrying eels he had caught illegally in the creeks leading to the sea. He was a poacher. He addressed them with a serious face asking why they were nude. Marie noted that he obviously thought that this was such a crime that he did not bother to hide his own. To be naked was worse tham being a poacher. Of course adverts promoting airlines, hotels and insurance, is another matter that is respectable...
The children were not fooled by the advertising ploys. They knew that the Beatles knew how to make money more than anything else and that the utopian ideals shown on record sleeves and other media were not realistic. They knew that they did not have to buy records but that they were sold them like drugs. The record marketers despite their youth worked for money not for the young people, they do not mean any harm but the youth to them they is just a market area.
The district thye live in is a poor one. The roads are narrow and the buildings are densely packed. It is all destined for demolition. She thinks in a few years it will be just like Chicago. Many of the buildings are delapidated and doomed to demolition.
The flats that they live in are much more modern with surrounding greenery and Marie likes the twenty floor block of flats that she lives in. It is far from the roads and because they are tall they can afford to use some surrounding space for greenery. Each years birds nesting below her windowsill herald the coming of Spring. She often thinks of the architecture of these buildings, saying that they are perfect for the 'nuclear' family who works at day and sleeps at night. With them though it is often the opposite. Fortunately the walls are sufficiently sound-proofed so that they wont disturb the neighbours with whom she remains on good terms with. She never stops telling the children that they should respect the neighbours like they respect each other and this works.
One day Grégoire saw eight ambulances, police cars and fire engines and he called Marie through. They watched from the balcony as two firement carried a someone small covered in blankets out on a stretcher from the flat opposite. Since they lived on the first floor it was easy to speak to people passing by below. They discovered that a child had crushed himself in a lift. A child not living in one of their flats but one of the ones that was going to be demolished, he could not play on the roof in the forest of television arials and so spent his Sundays in the lifts. He had pushed the button (not very hard obviously) and the lift had stuck halfway between floors. He had kicked open the lift window and was trying to get out feet first but he had not got his head through when someone on another floor pushed the button and called the lift. His skull was crushed like a nut.
When Grégoire was young he was a bit of a daredevil. He said he would never thought about kicking the window down rather just shouting and banging the sides to make a noise. It was because of television productions like Mission Impossible, Zorro and all the rest. He saw impossible feats being performed only it did not work for him.
The afternoon was sombre and the next day film crews journalists came asking all sorts of questions. Have you asked the security guard what he remembers? - No it was his day off they filmed the broken glass of the window and they interviewed passers by, but none of them knew anything. Grégoire asked Marie that although it was sad that he died why are they filming a broken pane of glass and passers by? She replied that it was new and sensational news that made its way into the media. What about Vietnam?...Oh that's too far away.
Odile wanted to stay at the house for the weekend because Charlotte had got some new record for her birthday and Alain who she was now in love with was spending Sunday lunch there so Marie rang her mother. Her mother said that she could not because they were buying a house in the country and that she would be an idiot to not benefit from two days of fresh country air. As for Alain she does not want to hear speak of him and his father even less. She did not come to us for the pill, it's too easily available nowadays.
Marie wondered why she got involved in all this, why she made her life so complicated. In fact it does not bother her. She is only bothered about having not enough money, enough time and a place to live.
For some time Genviève has been sad. She is a long time friends of Charlotte's. It was her brother who reminded Marie of their family's history and why she was in this state. Their parents met twenty years ago and it was love at first sight. He was a through and through member of the JEC (like the YMCA), she was the daughter of a communist. Because of the love she had for him she converted to catholic and started to live her new life as a missionary of Christ. They had five children. As the years passed he started to loose his faith, she however was now deeply rooted in the church. He left to live in the country, she stayed with the children. She was torn with personal conflicts and no longer knew who or where she was.
A few days ago they invited Marie to come for Sunday lunch. They lived in a small pavillion in the suburbs. Charlotte had always spoken about her house as if it was a haven and Marie wanted to know what it was like. From the outside it was nothing special, the usualy ugliness of these suburban houses. Inside the poverty made her lower her head. A narrow hallway with flaking paint, gas and electricity meters, old odd boots, a worn shakey staircase with the plaster crumbling off. Completely colourless the main room was taken up largely by the dining table with wobbly chairs. A faded bed in the corner. In the kitchen there was rust everywhere and a window looking out into an abandoned garden filled with weeds and dotted with old bikes, pushchairs, scooters and other bits of scrap. It seemed as though time had stopped and since then everything has fallen apart. Photos of the children when they were young amongst trees, on a shingle beach, maybe memories from past days out walking. Accumulations of clothes and papers stuffed inside cupboards that could barely shut behind curtains lacking curtain rings. Upstairs a bathroom and bedrooms in the same state of abandonment. They ate a delicious cus-cus and unforgettable apple tart. Marie could not speak with the woman as she scared her. There was a certain acceptance of this misery that Marie thought unhealthy.
On returning Marie asked Charlotte why she likes the house. Charlotte says they only go in the big bedroom upstairs where they can do whatever they want. There are no neighbours.
The reason why Geneviève is so sad is because she is soon going to be left in the house alone with her younger brother and her mother. Her older sister lives wih a poet and is looking for somewhere to live, her older brother who she adores has found work on the other side of the city where he is going to live. It was as if her father had left her again.
Francis told Marie that she cannot stand her mother as she still mourns the death of the relationship which her mother blames entirely on her father. She asked whether she preaches to her daughter but found out that she does not because she is exempt from it.
Another Sunday the father took them all out for a drive, they all returned rosy cheeked with an air of happiness. They had gone along the Seine past the industries and locks and had even seen a corpse which they were retrieving from the river. They watched through binoculars. It was a great day.
Her three children, Cecile and Anne, Sarah, Odile, Francis and Geneviève, Lakdar, Françoise, the Daltons, the Jackson brothers (three well raised, lively half-castes about which she has nothing much to say,) and four or five others Marie has lived with on a daily basis for months. She provided lodging for about fifteen and guessed that she had served up hundreds, even thousands of meals, she does not know exactly becasue they help themselves, cleaning out the kitchen. Aside from cooking her other role is to provide provisions as far as financially possible.
When she can she makes a banquet or a giant pot of stew or Lakdar makes a cus-cus and they all eat together squeezed around a table which is not really big enough. This is a real celebration, usually done on Sundays as that is the only time she has to cook.
So life went on, they were developing, finding jobs and gaining confidence, when the tidal wave that was the Americans hit the houese. A horde of about twenty strangers came one evening with Grégoire, mostly foreign and especially American. The fire in Montréal, the death of her mother, the crisis of Charlotte or Grégoire where nothing compared to this. It drove her to the edge of insanity, wherever she went they were there with loud music, drugs, drinking, Jesus Freaks, vegaterians and practitioners of zen. Lots of smells filled the house like hash and incence. Piles of clothes were all over the place ranging from the super trendy, cowboy boots, clothes from 1925 bought on the flea market, night shoes, musketeer and texan hats, ostritch feathers and sequins for the eyelids, bracelets, collars and Indian scarves. They fascinated the children who shared with, or rather gave to, them all their possessions.
Marie allowed this as she is only an observer, however she thought they were only going to stay for a night. Three weeks later they were still there. It got worse as the filth and nothingness reigned supreme. They would stop here or there to pick up a new friend or maybe loose another, they had the ability to sleep anywhere at anytime. Charlotte was missing more and more of school, Grégoire had found himself two American girlfriends. Alone Dorothée who was always impeccable found the time to do her homework and to get up early enough to go to lessons. She would stand over them like the statue of the Commandeur with wrathful look on her face but Marie did not say anything. She thought for a long time that they had their own unique philosophy and thoughts which she wanted to get to know and understand but it turned out that they did not. They started to get on her nerves. If one farted or burped, another would say something like it's human as if to say that you should not be ashamed of your bodily functions.
Quickly Marie realised it was two Americans that drove the group. They would telephone their parents in New York and Los Angeles to ask for more money. Whilst waiting for the money they would quite literally hibernate. They would eat hardly anything, just smoking and sleeping. It seemed that many were addicts although she never saw one of them inject themself. She thought they sniffed instead.
Marie would have felt bad to have thrown them out so she just let the situation take its course. She watched them like a hawk. One day after having emptied her bedroom, she was hit by a bad coughing fit that would not go away. Some one tapped on the door. It was Burt followed by Frédérique. She was elegant and thin, hair tied up in a bun with an angular nose. They wanted to use the telephone in Maries room to call a taxi back to Frédériques house. It was five in the morning.
Marie spoke to Frédérique and she discovered that she was going to go to Lycée at eight, she just lived one of those lives where she does not sleep. When asked if that satisfied her, she said it did at times. When asked whether her parents worry about her she said yes, especially since they found some hash amongst the roses. After that she left the house by the service door in secret. They would think that she was asleep or being well behaved. She then lost the key and had to wake them up one night. Since then they have let her have the key to the front door hidden under the mat, but they sit and wait for her return now which bothers her, she also has to pass infront of their bedroom wich also bothers her. When asked if they knew what sort of people she goes out with she replied that that prefer that they are strangers, if they came from the same background as they did, it would become known in the bourgeoise circles. They were extremely rich and catholic. Burt did not understand any of the conversation. Frédérique seemed completely at ease with herself.