Grand-Pa had had his accident two years earlier, and nobody apart from Mima had noticed the signs of life she talked about.
When he was sitting in his chair, in the living-room or on the terrace, Pauline and I had never seen anything move other than his eyes. Most of the time, Grand-Pa stared at a fixed point somewhere, which must have been floating in the air. But sometimes his gaze would cling desperately to your own and then, in his eyes… I don’t know if it was anger, fear or hatred, but what is certain is that, whatever it was, you really wouldn’t have wanted to have that shut inside yourself.
Mima would settle Grand-Pa on the terrace, whenever the weather was good enough. He often had his afternoon snack there. Pauline, who was very attentive to him, would spread slices of bread with black cherry jam for him. Mima made dozens of pounds of jam with the fruit the big cherry tree in the garden, and Grand-Pa had always loved it. Pauline would cut the soft bread into little squares and slip them into Grand-Pa’s mouth. He would chew them, rather like an automaton, and sometimes a piece would fall out of his mouth onto the serviette tied round his neck. Then Pauline would catch the piece and slip it between his lips once more. I thought that was disgusting. I couldn’t help pulling a face, and Pauline would frown a reproof in my direction.
My job, during this snack time, was to take care of the wasps the jam never failed to attract. I would set traps – I put jam in the bottom of plastic bottles and then placed the top part upside down, like a funnel –, but that did not prevent some from getting through all the same. My prayers were granted. With a tea-cloth in my hand, I could got them in mid-flight.
That day, a wasp stung Mima. Because of me. A big wasp, heavy in flight, a survivor from last year. It was when I tried to hit it with the dish-cloth that I sent it over to Mima.
“It’s your fault,” shouted Pauline, “you’re useless!”
Our grandmother tried to play down the gravity of the incident, but I could see she was struggling. She had turned white, and her teeth were clenched. I cried as I begged to be forgiven, Pauline looked daggers at me, Mima was pale and Grand-Pa continued to make empty chewing motions for the pellet of bread stuck to his serviette.
No doubt because it was the only thing that came to her mind to release the tension, Mima said:
“Children, I must take your grandfather to the bathroom.”
Grand-Pa had not been capable of going to the bathroom for a long time. When Mima said that, it meant she was going to deal with the bag that was fixed under the chair.
“Anyway,” she added, “there’s a storm getting up. You’d better go inside.”
There was always a storm brewing there in summer-time, so Mima could not go far wrong in saying that. She pushed Grand-Pa inside, and Pauline and I cleared the table.
The wasp was still prowling in the vicinity. “I’ll get it, the little devil,” I said, but Pauline retorted that I had done enough for one day. So I shook the table-cloth, folded it and closed the garden door behind me.
Mima was in the bathroom with Grand-Pa, and after Pauline and I had washed the dishes and put them away, we got out the colored paper and the origami book. It seemed to me that Mima and Grand-Pa had been in the bathroom for a long time, but I kept that to myself as my sister did not seem in the mood to take any of my remarks seriously. So I concentrated on my swan, which seemed to be carrying the whole world on the end of its neck.
It was when we heard a noise of breaking glass coming from the bathroom that Pauline and I looked at each other. Normally, Mima would have said something to reassure us. “It’s nothing, children. Clumsy me!” Something like that. But now there was nothing. We could not hear any noise at all. That was why Pauline shouted, “Mima? Is everything all right?”, and we both rushed up when no answer came back to us.
We pushed open the bathroom door without bothering to knock – Pauline in front, me behind, according to the implicitly agreed order of siblings – and we saw Mima lying on the floor. She was not moving. Pauline ran to phone for an ambulance. She shot me a dark look as she passed.
Later, when Mima was recovering, lying on her bed, the doctor was to say that nothing indicated there was a link between her collapse and the wasp sting. Pauline would hiss through her teeth, just loud enough so that I alone could hear, that nothing could prove there was no link either.
But, for the moment, what was occupying my mind were the broken pieces of the object whose fall had summoned us to our grandmother. The fragments of the toothbrush glass were scattered over the tiles, near the washbasin. At the other end from where Mima had fallen, but next to Grand-Pa’s chair.
Then I noticed how his chest was filling and emptying rapidly, like when you’ve been running for a long time. Grand-Pa was staring at me, and there were tears in his eyes. I went up to him and wiped them away. I took his hand, that was hanging, inert, between the chair and the washbasin, and I said,
“It’ll be fine. She’ll be alright, don’t worry.”
Translated by Wendy Cross