Since Marie returned from Canada she noticed a change in atmosphere in the house. During her winter absence, the theft of the money, responsibilty of keeping the house in order and other things, the children had evolved. They spoke of baccaleuréat and qualifications at meal times. Charlotte works seriously now. Marie thinks the children are sensing the end of the school year and are facing a tough decision: to pass their exams and enter the system, to not bother and become like the Daltons or to make their own way in life. Marie did not interfere with their choice, not pushing anything upon them that they themselves were not keen on. It is a difficult time and it is their choice not hers. She wanted that they felt responsible for their decisions that they were quietly taking. She merely kept a close watch on them.
Marie's cleaner Rosy left to help her husband who had taken on a business. She is irreplaceable although she does not blame her for leaving, who would not after spending three hours cleaning the appartment. Right from when she first saw the strangers sleeping on the floor in the living room, Marie explained her philosphy on life to her and that she would rather see them there than in bars and bistros. Rosy had gradually adopted Marie's mode of thought and often her comments and opinion helped Marie a lot. She became adept at identifying what was left intentionally unkempt and what was genuinely dirty. She would ring Marie nearly every morning offerring her help if Marie could not manage but Marie always declined.
Since their cleaner had gone, Marie called the children in to consult them about keeping the house in order. They decided not to hire another cleaner as they were capable of managing on themselves and also they could use the money to go to the cinema and buy records etc. Marie also expressed that she did not think that a rota would work, rather they should each do the chore that they least minded. Marie did not mind cleaning the bathroom and kitchen. The others chimed in with their propsed jobs and agreed to get frequent visitors to lend a hand too.
Marie had secret doubts whether this would work although she conforted herself in that she had a good washing machine, however ideally she would have liked a dishwasher.
Sat at the end of Marie's bed, Charlotte talked at length with Marie about decisions before she went to Lycée one morning. Each had a cigarette and a cup of tea.
Crucial decisions have to be made between the ages of ten and eighteen, each coming like the falling of the guilletine blade. Whether to go into sixième or to attend a vocational school, whether to continue with the classic subjects or not at the end of cinqième, whether to go for long or short studies at the end of troisième and the difficulties faced in the final two years. During this time, the fear of falling below average and not managing to secure a place for next years studies forever looms. Even after that they may face years of unemployment. Charlotte was afraid she was not even going to get to sit her bacceleureat, not thinking she would get that far. They did not have confidence in themselves.
Grégoire had started a job editing film, Marie being very happy for him. As Charlotte got up to leave she remarked that she hoped Grégoire kept his job as many of her friends fooled around whilst working and got the sack. Marie replied that they were doing jobs that did not matter to them, if they enjoyed what they did then it would have worked out better.
Anne was present, she had been looking for jobs for a while now and had been having bad luck as she was not academically qualified. She concluded the conversations in saying that when the job you do is bad, you do not perform, to get jobs that are not bad you have to either know someone or have a diploma.
Life was peaceful for Marie for a while. The children were happy and enthousiastic and Grégoire is extatic about his work, saying that working in cinema is the best job in the world. The housework was going well, the house was very clean even if the work seems to get done at unusual hours of the day and night. She comments that she hopes that she has not brought up a bourgeoise family after all, although in reflection she does not see why being clean is bourgeoise.
She wondered at how life would be if Jean-Pierre lived with them. She would not be so available for them. Nothing lasts for long with teenagers, she sensed a change in events and behaviours. Dorothée was entering adolescence in a way Marie found surprising. She was having fits of boredom, but rather than become soporific, she would do everything until there was nothing left to do. An instinct of hers made her do this as if she had taken a purgative. Marie was at a loss as to how to handle this other than just be there in case she wanted to talk to her.
The first wave of enthousiasm passed. Grégoire was not doing his chore any more having contracted the 'male' illness: after returning from work he did not want to anything else other than to serve himself. It was annoying. The other day, Cécile, (a real darling,) who he is in love with said she would like children so he gave her a fish. They kept Aïdée in a Marie's best vase leaving Marie with nowhere to put a decent bouquet.
Lakdar had moved in permanently to the house helping Marie out a lot, although Marie was still worried that he would go back to heroine as he did not have a job, (the potatoe sellers had left.) Lakdar had been brought up with no confidance in himself, having been persuaded that his race was, is and will be inferior. He is the only one in the house who does not adress Marie informally, as for for Marie she surprised herself once by almost ordering him to wash the bathroom, her colonial roots creeping in. She scolded herself as Lakdar tends to dwell on failure which makes him vunerable.
The evening before they spoke about the theft of Dorothée's moped, the conversation gradually turned to death. Lakdar thought death was beautiful. He had seen his father dead, a victim of a car accident, when he was very young. Until that day he had always seen his father with a tired, strained face, yet when he was dead he looked beautiful. That and the fact that he thought he was happy, pleased him. He was not scared of death, he had seen his uncle dead as well, he had died in an ambush in Algeria. He must have been laughing with his friends when he died as he was smiling.
Whilst he spoke to her, Marie got the impression that this was one of the key parts of Lakdars character.
Once the grapes had ripened, they made it known to the raïmas and the douars who would make it known in the areas where they hired. The week before the harvest, the chief permanent workers would inspect the tools and start to make up teams. They were strong and dressed in white djellabas, large rimmed straw hats with multicoloured bobbles, and wore belts with spare gun cartridges in. The workers then arrived in small groups, some walking for several days to reach the farm. In the morning when they opened the gates, they found them camped under the eucalyptus, the same families with perhaps some new friends or cousins. They had known each other for genrations.
Her uncle and the manager sat behind a table would start to write their names in a black register. There would be laughing and joking as they each presented themselves: inquiring how their families were and whilst showing regret at loss of family members, they would remain completely non-plussed and even joked about it with them. The workers laughed with them and were grateful that Marie's Uncle offered help to the sick. This 'friendly' relationship was necessary to get them to work well at the jobs. Workers for other farm owners who did not have this benevolent facade often bore negativity from generation to generation.
Marie learned to be polite to the workers from a very young age. She went to see the workers when the harvest was finished, shaking their hands. She was told that if they did not dare offer their hand then she should offer hers but not to put her hands near her mouth afterwards and if they offer her a sweet, to thank them but not to eat it. When the inspection was over she was to go and wash her hands as soon as they returned. They pushed a straw hat on her head filled with camphor to combat ilness, not that it worked as she fell ill every year.
They would go out amongst the folks. They liked her mother as she spoke to them and looked after them with her medicine bag, inspecting their ailments and wounds. She insisted Marie accompanied her so that Marie could fulfill her Christian role and almost as a lesson in Human Biology, (She wanted Marie to be a doctor,) also it was the best way to show Marie the worst of poverty and to make sure she strived to never become poor.
Marie would thank God in her evening prayers for giving her such a kind mother and would add at the end a ferverent request for her never to become poor herself.
Marie recounts these stories of her past often. To turn her experiences into conversation, to distance herself from her bourgeoise roots which still clings to her, to do what they forbade her to do without qualms, to think for herself and not how she was taught to think, to be close to her children because they interest her and it is with them her life begins. She says it is not easy.
Her mother had an acute, stork-like face possibly the result of upper class cleanliness, she had green eyes and an unfurrowed brow, her hair was like frozen waves of platinum. Her body looked out of place, being rounded from rich living and her legs were still youthful.
This image of her mother was pieced together from ancient memories, some vague, others very vivid. This is how Marie sees her mother now, how she looked when Marie was young not how she looked before she died. Her aging was frightful, her cheeks sagging into her lips, her lips into her chin, her chin into her chest becoming shapeless and bony, a human ruin fleeing from death. A terryfying death, without God, without promise of paradise or eternal rest. She drifted away wanting to confide in a daughter who wanted nothing more to do with her.
Whilst Marie writes, the garlands on the walls, the shadows from the trick lantern and the darkness bring back phantoms from the past. Someone in the appartment complex playing Shubert on the piano took her back thirty years ealier when she was eating a snack of bread and grapes in the kitchen, her mother in the living room behind a diamond-paned glass door playing the piano alone. She had shut the door like she shut the door to her bedroom, so no-one could disturb her, shutting out the rest of the house and Marie.
Marie was only really free after her mother's death when Marie was thirty eight. At forty she realised that few other people of her age had lost their parents. She noticed considerable changes once people got to their fifties, especially in those who lost their parents, it almost always being a liberation and an opening of new doors. It seemed that the notion of the family died during the second world war, the increasing number of lonely, abandoned elderly people seemed sinister proof of this. She wonders how we can still advocate this apparently obvious illusion.
Marie also though at the same time looks back on her life with a certain regret that she has not taken a regular active role in their lives.
Marie comments on a group that started to come to the house at the start of the school year, she says that she was no longer trying to help them because their problem is not to do with a lack of attention, family warmth or confidance but rather that they do not go out. Marie can do nothing for them, not having the ability, time or money. It is up to their parents to take an interest in their children, to abandon their grand plans for them and talk to them.
When Marie thinks of the last twenty years it has been incredible, with the wars with Vietnam, Algeria, Pakistan, Isreal, and Ireland. That has been her childrens past along with the lunar landings, issues of racism, colour television, New York in three hours by air, the pill, atomic weapons, guerilla fighting, cars. For them this is everyday life. There is also pollution, violence, drugs, unemployment, poverty, injustice, the famine in Biafra, The Bahamas, Saint Tropez and sex on the television.
Everything is in bulk, splashed all over the newspapers, pasted on all the walls, feeding young naïve eyes. She wonders how to put all this in camparison with the Resistance, the first world war, traditions and religion and why people think these better. because it is. is no longer a valid reason. Its for your own good. is even less valid as what is 'good' has changed. Things that traditionally parents would not tell their chidlren are now readily avaiable on the television, at the cinema, in comics and especially in the street. Parents are no longer superier beings and keepers of secrets.
These thing are no longer being told for informative purposes but rather to get people to buy. They are no longer moral issues but commercial.
The holidays were coming and everyone was talking about them. They were organising their trips having to visit the American consul ten times before getting their Visa's. Nothing much would be happing in the house until the end of the break. marie described the holidays as like pieces of cake which were super charged with vitamins and nourishment wondering how they would digest it, whether they would gulp it down.
Marie was tired of it all and felt like taking the key from the door on the 1st of July but Moussia's confidence made her think twice. She did not in the end.
Moussia is an escapist and one of the leaders of the groups, the oldest. She has a deteriorating physique. She has changed from the happiest and most communicative to the the most passive and unhealthy. In her black eyes there is both anxiety and laughter. Her mother had told her that she tried to get her aborted to get her to understand that when women have their periods then they can have children. Her mother had married her father but realised later that she did not like him. She wanted a divorce and even asked him for one but at this point she realised she was pregnant. She did not tell Moussia straight away that it was her that she was pregnant with rather telling her everything she did to get rid of her first, taking entire tubes of asparins and quinine as well which made her ill but did not get rid of the pregnancy. She was married young, virgin and naïve, she did not know what to do and dared not to ask her parents. She told her father a pack of lies. She went horse riding and cycling on waste ground and in cobbled streets though it had no effect. Moussia fully understood that she was teaching her to think twice before having sex and that once you have a child it is no joke.
When her mother told her in a sweet voice that it was her that was giving her all that trouble, that shewas pregnant with, but that she was well brought up and she would have no regrets in bringing her up now, it was a tough blow for Moussia. Since then her mother has disgusted her. She imagines her on a horse or bike swallowing her pills to get rid of her.
Marie assured her saying that she should not think about it and that she was sure her mother did not mean to cause harm by what she said. Moussia though felt that her mother never liked her and that she would end up not liking anyone else. Marie said that she was dramatising and that her mother had been clumsy maybe and that perhaps she did not like her liked she wanted her mother to like her but there is more than that in a mother-daughter relationship. She urged her to give her a mother a chance as she could not drag this with her all life. She was lucky to know why their was a rift in the family, others, and there are many, do not have that explained, they just believe they are a chance burden on two people who are perhaps kind but indifferent.
Moussia's father divorced her mother whilst she was pregnant.
One of the reasons Marie wanted to remove the key from the door was that there was a theft of some gold jewelry, money and a photo of Grégoire she kept in a drawer. It had to be someone in the house, one of the youths who came often. Everyone was suspicious and as a result everyone became a suspect but what was worse everyone became became suspect of contempt of all the values of the household.
First of all Marie thought of taking the key away and throwing everyone out but there was Lakdar and Bertrand, both of whom were penniless and did not have a family or shelter to go to. At the same time that would mean having to throw her own children out if she was to stick to the her philosophy of equality. Then she thought about the police but with the same conclusion, if they found footprints of her children then they would be taken away. She does not know what to do. She misses Jean-Pierre terribly, they would have been able to speak together about it.
At midday she gathered her children, Lakdar, Bertrand and two or three other groupie's who were there. She talked about her being distraught and her feeling deceived and the solutions she had come up with. Grégoire started first saying that the Daltons did it, they had not been able to get their own back since she had kicked them out and they had recently bought a new guitar and amplifier which was worth a lot of money. Lakdar commented that the thief could be male or female. Bertrand pinned the blame indirectly on Lakdar saying that as he was an adult it makes the house more like a typical family rather than a community or youths. If people help out or do things they would feel it is to please the adults rather than being responsible for themselves. Lakdar says he understands the view but he cannot leave and does not want to and that Dorothée and Charlotee are really still too young to run the house with Marie. He also went on to say that Marie was an idealist in that she thought better of people than they really desrved. The other day Lakdar had asked Cécile to wash a mug she had just used and she replied that he was throwing his weight around and that only Marie gave the orders in the house and that if he did not like it he should leave, even though she knew full well that he could not. Grégoire was surprised to hear that she said that but said that it was not her fault as she had lived amongst such miserliness. Charlotte asked him whether he thought we ought to be responsible for what we do at sixteen or eighteen and he said no.
In the end the key stayed in the door although Marie is not certain it will stay there for ever. The methods to raise her children in total liberty with respect for others and themselves do not seem to work any more. Charlotte and Dorothée are leaving for the summer tommorow, in the mean time she will manage and find other solutions. In any case it will not be like before.
Marie was given a poem by Moussia and copied it into her book...
On horseback and gallop my girl, go far my little one, can you feel the movements? The little blond girl says, mount the mare and go forth from filth to fields of large eyed foetus. Calvacadons in the rubbish! And when the beast is tired, whilst it is resting, I would take an old rusty bike and I would make you see my motorcross number in the mountains of refuse, in the pestilences of the excretia.
Is it 'great' there my dear, does the hot liquid in which you bath ripple and patter? Do you tremble like jelly? Go then, go and deploy your angel wings and take off. I wish you a good journey in the suffocating gas! Dear butterfly, dragonfly of love! Go like a rocket my girl. Like a rocket I would like to see you make a slow departure then a big explosion in which you would find your power and then not doing anything about it, once you find your own life you will launch yourself into the cosmos, free. You will be free you understand. Light, carefree, eternal my beautiful child.
More launches, hits from a battering ram, attacking blows, my tiny and tender little one, my rose bud, my fine pearl. I hope you are having fun on the roundabout and bumper cars! Say, does it go allright? I confess that I made you go on a beautiful journey in your small golden submarine with the torpedoes exploding all around you like fireworks. The beautiful blue, the beautiful red, the bouquet! The superb storm that I give you there! Whirlpools, the pitching, the waves of the sea, the cyclones! Do you see that! It is not the whole world who has the right to this treatment. It is because of your blond curls and long legs. It is reserved for princesses this treatment, my much-loved.
Quinine, affectionate, mischeivous, muslim, mescaline. You are going to have a beautiful trip which is going to make you do those drugs when your blood will be full of them. You stretch out in the mellowness of dream, you will see how beautiful the chewing gum of poisoned flesh is. You will be a Gulliver, a valkyrie, your lifeless limbs will become like that of an octopus and in a slow movement you will embrace a red world. Red like blood my child. The beautiful blood which flows to purify. The blood of sacrifice. The blood of Christ with whom we get drunk with from full chalices. Blood like the river Ganges. Embark my little girl. Climb into my gondolar covered in brocard. You are going to see what a good gondalier I am as I guide you in the somber canals where lovers pine. You are going to see how I know how to find my way amongst the piles of apples and discarded pork chop bones. You have only done what you want. Have confidance in what I say. Let me go, let yourself go, follow your rhythm. I will send you into the light my little one. And if the journey seems to long to you, if you ever go back to sleep, we will find the resting horse, the rusted bycycle, the golden submarine, the rocket, the quinine and we will restart the awe inspiring dance, the good dance which makes you well. Especially, never loose the small blood source, and that it never dries up. Blood is life. The life you understand, the beautiful life.
The sun in the end. You see the sun! It warms your face. Not drowning, not lost, not melting, saved! There you are nude in the tide of blood, lit by the light of men. Cheekbones and chin turned pink by life. There you are nude in beauty. There you are at the surface. Is the present I made you not splendid? I had promised it to you.
Now, place yourself on the balcony and contemplate. You are everything. Everything!