Tuesday, February 28, 2006

We are five now, our family. The three year old, the sixty something year old, the nineteen year old. We are the first.

And: H and E, twenty one and twenty five! my replacements. They will last six weeks.

A sightseeing day, a first day, tourism.

E comes to my bedroom in the evening. She says, goodnight, can you rub this into my back, I’m burnt. Her skin is hot and red, freckled, boneless, under my fingertips. I too have caught the sun. I am pink cheeked.

H is but muscle and chicken wire. She's miserable, says E. She's really miserable. We're washing up the mugs and the cups. We're so tired; we've been talking all night. They grew up on Orkney. I’ve questioned them. Oh, please tell me stories.

I am childish. I daydream of the seas and of the storms, with my hands in the dish water. They talk to me of whales and of 50ft waves.

H says, an old ship carrying crockery and pottery sank ages ago. I used to live by the beaches. For weeks, we found strawberry shaped teapots washed up on the shore.

We talked in the sunshine next to the castle, eating sandwiches. We moved from café to café. We sat on the grass and waited for the bus. A man walked over, wanted our numbers, a drunk, vous êtes si gentilles.

(A collection of days,

1. We walked around in the rain. We waited for the bus at the bus stop with French kids. I said, come on time, come on bus. I took my pink hot water bottle with me, under my coat and on to the bus.

2. The rain got much heavier. We were soaked. I won't see my favourite shop ever again. We sat in little bars for hours. It rained and it rained and it rained.

3. We walked down to the market, it's lovely, it reminds me of York, imagine how nice it would be in the sunshine.)

There's a fight just before supper. H is quiet. We can hear the child crying upstairs.We get the chicken out of the oven. We heated up cans of creamed spinach. The child will only eat the chicken skin. I pick all the skin off the carcass. H and E laugh at me. We are hysterical. I have chicken fat all over my fingers, chicken guts all over my hands.

We went to Champion. We bought apples and oranges and nectarines and tomatoes. H bought beer, shampoo, crisps, a loaf of bread. E bought strawberry fromage frais, pretzels, conditioner, crabsticks, muesli.

Madame E is in the kitchen, a bone to pick. I am tired. I picked at a carcass last night, bones, bones, bones. I'm taken to the fridge, Olivia, what's this, what's this, what's this. I buy the food here. What nightmares we are.

Madame E says, I'll get some rest when I'm in the cemetery.

All the days, incidents, an agenda

I'm a darling, a sweetheart. I translate. I am a translator. “Wash the dishes, the table, inside all the cupboards, the floors, dust the windows, dust the sills, dust, dust, dust, and definitely do not let the child swallow the bleach.”

At supper he wants my food. He won't eat. I feed him, chat to him. The girls are tired. E is drunk. She drops her knife and she drops her fork. Madame E eats bread and she eats cheese while the child eats and not eats.

They are both in H's room, getting drunker and drunker. They'll run away to Italy or Spain. They'll escape.

I translate and wait and hang around, the child clinging to me. E and H clean the kitchen, the bathrooms and the floors. They are tightlipped. They finish working and I finish translating.

They all sit on my bed, so sweet and at home. Julie comes over and she is beautiful with her hair, eye make up and sleeves pulled over her fingers. It's a mess. Je veux toi, je veux toi, says the child. Julie flicks around on the computer, unimpressed with Madame E, the child, with me too probably. We, Julie and I, go to the library and it is lovely and quiet.

I'm holding the child in my arms. He spits on my face and pulls out my hair. I've never been so angry with him. Everyone is quiet and shocked and watching me. I say nothing and the child says nothing.

I carry him upstairs and put on Wallace and Gromit. He is sleepy. H, E and I go outside to our bench to smoke, we are all tired and shocked and hateful. We laugh at how terrible it all is, what a mess.

The child wakes up very late: sweet and sleepy, long eyelashed. I take him downstairs for breakfast: hot chocolate and a biscuit with butter on it. The girls are working. We play upstairs. I bathe him. I dry his hair.

Je veux toi, je veux toi, said the child. He, clingy and fussy, wants only to be in my bedroom, always wrapped around my legs and around my waist. I carry him downstairs and upstairs. We cut out paper snakes and paper butterflies and paper snowflakes on the kitchen table.

At lunchtime Madame E and the child put a card under my bedroom door.In the envelope under my door there was a note that said thank you for looking after the child and I'll never forget you and there was 50 euros.

I went down to the basement to find her and I said thank you very much, it was very kind of you and the basement was very warm and bright.

There was a dead bird in the road. I sat on the bench with E and H while they smoked and looked at the ants and the mosquitoes. I was bitten to bits. I'm worried that they are outdoing me in letters. H writes thousands. I am tired.