It needs oxygen. Breathe. Keys in the lock. Shutters being opened. Draughts of air. Doors banging. Taps spluttering. Rustling noises on the stairs.
My house is dying.
It has sheltered the most beautiful summers of my life when it was lived in by people who were loved, with certainties, noise, movement, squabbles, trivia and trifles, frivolity, squeals of laughter, chatter – boys, fashion, trends, the music of the time, the latest films, emotions stirred by novels –, discussions – primary school, secondary school, sixth form –, lively dinners, reassuring words, and loving gestures.
The eldest girl went to Quebec to become somebody else. Without really giving any warning. Too happily perhaps, or with too much relief, to learn about long-distance relationships. She left me. It seems that’s what happens. She forced me to get used to her silence. Canada swallowed her up and froze her. And waiting set in between sweet resignation and enforced patience.
Then the youngest girl left the nest. Another abandonment. Her head and her heart were full of her boyfriend; her time and space full of her girlfriends. She moved further and further away in successive changes of address. She built herself a family. She developed faster than I could keep up.
Their father. He deserted me too. For ever and ever.
I have not been for a walk with my daughters for a long time. I keep waiting for a sign, a word, a bit of love... Like in the old days when I used to take them in my arms... I used to slap great noisy kisses on their cheeks covered in cake crumbs, breathing in their sugary smell. Their eyes would light up as they looked at me, smiling, then our laughter would fill the space which pulsated between us...
My house is shutting down.
I am left with an empty space. Made up of silences, sighs, solitude, oppressiveness, shivers, and sobs. Their comings and goings are no longer announced by the doorbell chimes, a mobile made up of seven little brass hearts that come together and ring with each movement. And in the night that casts its veil of semi-mourning, the walls listen to my muffled crying beside a bevy of dolls who are now orphans.
Now it seems impossible that we could ever get together. They are teaching me to let them go.
In their absence, I crack and break down more quickly.
This whittling away of motherhood is a greater heartbreak than I would have dared to think. I miss not hearing “Mum” anymore. Viscerally.
My house is dead.
My cat is the only living soul that remains of my children, of my past. A survivor of oppression. The only one who keeps purring in the empty nest.
Translated by Wendy Cross