By the end of that afternoon in July, the heat was pressing down upon the house, and we remained cloistered behind the shutters that were supposed to protect us from the sauna outside. Nevertheless, as the temperature indoors crept inevitably towards the much-dreaded marker of thirty degrees, the two ovens were hard at work: guinea fowl and fruit tart for the evening. You really needed a strong sense of self-sacrifice to work like that when the weather forecast was more for encouraging you to sit down and put your feet up. I would have prefered an evening barbecue under the pergola, but it would not be long before the storm broke. This evening, to my great dismay, we would be eating indoors. Yet I dared hope that our guests would agree to leaving the windows open. I will make my case well... I know how to do it... to allow the cool in... but above all to drink in the sky’s anger pounding on the arbour.
My hands were swollen and my legs heavy, and I could feel the sweat dripping down from my head and running into my eyes, blinding me with salty tears that I angrily swiped away with the kitchen towel. I had finished at last!
I took my book, fleeing the hell of the kitchen. Down below, in my garden, it must be lovely... But the terrace, imprisoned by its white walls, was nothing but a furnace. As you went down the steps you began to feel the stifling atmosphere losing its grip. The ivy, clinging to the façade, hiding the ugliness of its gray uniformity, held the rays of the sun at bay. Here the air was moving. At the foot of the steps, I slipped into my garden of salvation, my oasis in the middle of the desert, sheltered beneath the almond trees, the palms and the bamboos. Under the weeping willow, my garden chair awaited me.
It was time. Time to contemplate, time to commune, time to grow calm. The wilting hydrangeas were suffering but they would soon recover. The other flowers, proud day lilies, bold hollyhocks, valerian and gaura languorously entwined, poppies lightly embracing cornflowers, blooming freely, invading the little garden with impunity under the shy gaze of the timid bleeding hearts. They were all making the best of this heatwave. The horsetails were also watching out for the rain to arrive, trembling in anticipation, leaning imperceptibly towards the pond whose fountain amused itself by teasingly impersonating the rain.
My chest swelled with a breath of joy. A caress of perfection strangely tinged with anxiety, with something indefinable no doubt related to the ephemeral nature of the picture in the midst of which I found myself. A sigh of gratitude towards this garden which was so generous, towards these beings, so tiny and yet so complex, who had chosen this place to come and shelter from the town, so dangerously close. How could I preserve this beauty and this atmosphere for ever? So many times, I would have liked to paint my Giverny, doing as Monet did, endlessly reproducing the same scenes, until I touched perfection. But even if such a gift had been bestowed upon me, it would not have sufficed. How could I have been capable of transcribing everything I could see, to the smallest of details, especially those which are hidden, those you only sense, those little nothings that make up life, that of an ant or a cicada, all that life teeming behind the weeds that I allowed to wander between the stones? How could I suggest the wind making the canvas shade flap like the sails of a ship, the flutter of wings and hungry cries revealing new inhabitants in the huge privet hedge? Or capture the fleeting crystal crowns in the water sparkling in the pond? I sighed in anguish at so much impotence. At not being able to etch for ever these delicious moments. Such painful frustration.
Through the thujas I could make out the houses all around, antiseptic prisons inhabited by deaf and blind telly addicts, unaware of life proliferating around them. Curtains drawn and shutters closed. They had no idea that outside, at this very moment, happiness was floating in the air, hazy and transient, yet not impossible to grasp. Was I the only one who knew how to reach it?
I was overcome by the insane desire to pass on all these delights that my garden gave me, so that they could be talked about later, their memory serving as a refuge, their beauty as a source of wonder, to be delved into when pleasure was in short supply, to make a gift of them to posterity. It was too much for one person! What is the point of happiness if you can’t share it?
I placed a garden chair next to mine and took up my book. Then I waited, afraid she would not come. I maybe have a tendency to be too pessimistic. Too often disappointed, that’s true... Then I heard her coming down the steps. Holding onto the rail, leaning carefully over, she was trying to spot me through the spirea. She laughed impishly and sang out to me, “Ah ha! I knew you’d be here.”
But she disappeared as quickly as she had come, fleeing like an elf. I hoped she would come back, that she had just gone to fetch her flip-flops, that wild little girl who always went barefoot.
Closing my eyes to better perceive the clues that would break the silence of her absence, I once again caught the magical sound of her footsteps slipping secretively out of the house, then clattering joyously down the steps. Skipping over the Japanese stepping stones that formed the path, she was coming towards me. Serious once more, she looked at me, then, her book in her hand, she came to sit in the too large garden chair that I had placed there for her to serve as an incantation.
Looking all around, sniffing the air softened by the breeze, all her senses alert, she let out a long sigh of well-being that emerged from her little body lost in the depths of the chair. She took my hand and smiled at me.
“It’s nice here, Granny.”
Translated by Wendy Cross