Maternal Instinct

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“Aren’t you going in the sea?”
The mother is stretched out on the sand with a novel in her hand. She looks at her son with a weary eye, incensed at having to constantly interrupt her reading to answer pointless questions on the depth of the sea, or embarrassing ones on the portliness of the woman in a swimsuit lying under a parasol, just a few yards away. So yes, she would like to go in the sea. She even has a fleeting vision of drowning, which is immediately buried deep within herself by her upbringing, her principles, and her superego, so that she hardly has time to be aware of it, and certainly not to be shocked by it.
But the little one, unconcerned, returns to the task he has begun several times and never managed to finish. This involves piling up a set of different sand shapes he has made in moulds – a starfish, a boat, a castle tower, and so on – into one tall structure. But the construction inevitably collapses when he reaches the third level and this disaster is inevitably accompanied by little cries of rage and hate-filled blows with the spade.

“Mommy, why is that man hairy?”
Giving up her third attempt at reading the same paragraph, she puts down her book.
“If you don’t want to go in the sea, I’m going.”
She leaves the toddler where he is, thinking she will stay nearby in the water. Besides, the beach is almost deserted and it will not be difficult to keep an eye on him. She moves away, glancing behind her several times and, seeing that her son is once again absorbed in his task, turns her back on him. It is morning, the sea is still cool and she pauses briefly when the water reaches her waist. She turns round towards the beach; the little one has not moved. She can see him pounding the sand angrily with his little spade.

At that moment, without fully realizing it, she hates him, with his absurd questions and compulsive games. She rejoices to see him getting cross far away from her and she looks at him in that rather contemptuous way one looks at other people’s children, when they behave badly. She would certainly be capable of disowning him if the chance ever presented itself. Then she stretches out in the water. The sun, still low in the sky, does not dazzle her and she floats on her back. She relishes this moment of solitude and calm. The water runs into her ears and cuts her off from the world a little more. She closes her eyes. A stronger wave splashes over her, pulling her out of her languor. She stands up, worried at having left the child unsupervised for so long. But he has not moved, and is totally indifferent to her absence, with his spade and his sand moulds. She lies back again and lets herself be embraced by the slow movement of the waves. It seems to her then as if everything is diluted by the water: her boredom, her watchfulness and the bond which links her to the earth sink gently away, while in the sky the sun slowly climbs towards midday.

When she opens her eyes again, she feels as if she has drifted away from the beach. No worries can reach her here, though. She floats without any points of reference and could almost believe herself to be happy.

Regretfully, she returns to the beach. The child is still there.

Translated by Wendy Cross


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