— Psst! Kiddo!
Mary continued to walk straight on, looking right ahead of her.
Who was that? Where did that whistle come from?
She turned her head. Nobody there. Nothing but the... [+]
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Today, for my twelfth birthday, Mom gave me a pair of binoculars to watch the birds and a leatherette notebook with a chain. Notebooks with chains are for girls, and I didn’t even know what leatherette was until this morning. Mom said to me, “You can tell it all your little secrets." I don’t really have any little secrets, but I do write all the same, because I am dying of boredom in this town where I don’t know anybody. I hate this ground-floor apartment with cars going past practically at the foot of my bed. And the binoculars will be no use here. There are no birds to watch, just the gray of the street and the dirty walls of the building opposite.
Saturday, 8:57 p.m.
Gloomy weather, it has been raining since yesterday. Nothing on TV, the hours feel like centuries. Not touched my novel for 96 days, although I’ve nothing better to do. I miss Hortense. Gustave the cat hasn’t come back from his latest expedition.
It’s weird writing to nobody, so as you are a notebook covered in leatherette, I’ll call you Rett. It’s not too girly, Rett, it sounds like a cowboy, I really like it.
So, hi Rett!
It’s dark and the car headlights are making patterns on my ceiling. On the ground floor of the building opposite, there’s a gray, old man who spends his days sticking his neck out of the window, he seems to be looking for something or waiting for somebody. Sometimes I try to look into his flat with my binoculars. He sits in his kitchen, I can see him from my bed. He writes in a big notebook too. Maybe he’s an avatar of me in the future?
Sunday, 5:42 p.m.
Gray weather but mild, no desire to put the TV on. Not touched my novel for 97 days. I miss Hortense. I have put a photo of her dressed for the beach in a silver frame on the dresser, that was when we were on vacation in Portugal two years ago. Still no trace of Gustave the cat, I am starting to get worried.
Sometimes when I am watching the car headlights slide over my ceiling, I imagine that one of them is going to stop. I imagine that it’s Dad coming to fetch me to take me to Corsica to live with him and Romina. Out there, there is the sea and loads of birds to watch, Romina told me so. Then I realize that the lights are still sliding past and that no one will come. Then without really meaning to, I look at the old man opposite, and I see that he’s watching me, too, although he’s pretending not to. I think he’s as bored as I am. Yesterday he spent two hours moving a picture frame about before putting it back where it was to begin with. Later on, I looked at it through my binoculars, it’s a photo of an old lady in a sundress. Perhaps she’s the one he’s looking for every day through the window?
Monday, 5:32 p.m.
Mild, dry weather, the TV has broken down. Not touched my novel for 98 days, I miss Hortense. The publisher called this morning, he’s starting to get impatient. A new family has moved into the Colbeau’s old apartment, a woman on her own with a boy of eleven or twelve. Gustave the cat is still not coming when I call, perhaps I ought to put up a poster.
It is one o’clock in the morning. The light from the headlights is projecting weird figures onto the ceiling, it looks like a monster that opens and shuts its mouth without saying anything. I can hear meowing outside, I’m frightened of having a nightmare. Mom has enrolled me in the local school for the new term. I don’t want to go there. I would really like to find a friend, I mean a real one, who would talk to me and invite me to stay at his place, way above the cars. From there we could really watch the birds.
Tuesday, 11.:40 a.m.
Clear weather and cold sunshine. Not touched my novel for 99 days, I miss Hortense. I thought the photo would bring me a little comfort but it’s quite the opposite, when I look at it I can hear her laughter in the streets of Lisbon, and it breaks my heart. The publisher called again, I picked up my manuscript but nothing came to me. Looked everywhere for a photo of Gustave the cat for the poster, but couldn’t find one. I am trying to draw him, but already I can’t remember the exact color of his fur.
My wish has come true, I have a new friend! When I woke up this morning, an old ginger cat was meowing and scratching at my window. Now he is purring in the sun on my desk while I write. I think he can only see out of one eye, but he is very sweet-natured.
I’ve always wanted a cat, but Mom didn’t want me to have one. Dad would have said yes if she had. I wonder if Dad has a cat in Corsica with Romina.
Wednesday, 11:16 a.m.
Weather difficult to describe, not touched my novel for 100 days. I miss Hortense, in the end I put the photo away in the drawer. So that’s 100 days that she hasn’t been here. I think I will never again be able to write anything other than these few lines I write every day. I feel empty and dried up like an old tree, Gustave the cat must have felt it, that must be why he left. I’ll have to go out to stick up the posters.
My new friend is called Gustave, it’s a stupid name. I know it’s his name because this morning I saw the old man opposite outside for the first time, he was sticking posters up in the street. I got my binoculars and I could read “Lost, ginger cat, 16 years old, answers to Gustave, small reward."
I don’t care about the reward, I just want to keep my friend. But Mom will find out in the end, that’s for sure, and she will throw him out. What would you do if you were me?
Thursday, 1:20 p.m.
Beautiful sunny spells. I have not touched my novel for 101 days, but Gustave the cat has come back! I was surprised to find the child from across the road hanging about outside my door, holding him in his arms. In the end, he put him on the windowsill and went off, he looked really sad to leave him. I am almost envious of Gustave the cat for those few days of vacation he had. I must find a small reward for his young benefactor.
Last night, the old man opposite came round to thank me for bringing Gustave back! It was strange to see him here, and Mom had no idea what he was talking about. He gave me a wonderful book about the birds who live on the lakes in Africa, with beautiful big photos and loads of information. He told me I could go and see Gustave whenever I liked, because I was his benefactor. When he left, Mom looked at me for a moment with a strange expression, then she said “You’re lucky, it’s not every day a new friend comes and knocks on your door.” When I go round to see Gustave later on, I’ll take my binoculars. I bet the old man likes them.
Friday, 1:17 p.m.
Brilliant sunny sky, Gustave the cat is purring as never before. This morning, managed to start work again on my last chapter, almost as a matter of course.
When I was looking in my bookshelves for a book to give the boy, I came across the articles I wrote in my youth, my first novels, and so many marvelous things to read that I hadn’t thought about in ages. That book about the water birds of Tanzania, I had completely forgotten it. Yet writing the text had given me so much pleasure, it was such a lovely project… I hope the boy will like it. I have a tart baking in the oven to give him for tea this afternoon.
Until then, I should get back to my novel, some great ideas are coming to my mind and I don’t want to lose the magic.
Translated by Wendy Cross