I’m the best thing mama ever did. At least that’s what she claims.
“You’re a miracle, my little miracle,” she used to tell me in a fit of sadness.
The miracle wasn’t me, or my name, or my face, but the happiness I reminded her of. The miracle was that I looked so much like the person she loved, the person who had left her. The miracle was that I lived on after their love was dead, that papa continued in me. It was that commonplace wonder — a father diluted in his child.
When she took me in her arms, she would study my face for a sign of his face, his smile, his glance. For a long time, she clung to these coincidences, to the ways we looked alike. Papa was still there in me. Through me, their lives were bound together, the splendor and misery of that love.
And then, it was my turn to leave her. I was seven years old, I had to get out, so I ran away, more or less. I know she felt it as a terrible defeat. And by leaving her that way I really think I lost her. How long has it been since she stopped holding me close to her heart? I miss it.
Her tenderness is somewhere else now. I perceive it from time to time, glimmers of it, in her laughter, on the telephone, in the way she wears her gray fox coat, the perfume in the fur. That perfume — is it the only thing I have left of her?
A message, yesterday, on my answering machine: “Hello, pet, I’m back from Kuala Lumpur, I have a lot of silly little things to tell you. Would you meet me at the Escritoire, in the Place de la Sorbonne, tomorrow at eleven? Kisses and hugs, my kitten.”
“My kitten.” Okay. Other people would say “my baby,” “my angel,” “my dear little girl,” but she says “my kitten.” The main thing is to get along with each other.
Right now she’s late, as usual. I should be quite clear about this: Mama is a chronagnostic; time exists, but she doesn’t believe in it. That’s the way it is. However, she always feels the need to vindicate herself. So she makes up something, anything at all, as quickly as possible. She was pursued by a hired killer. Went to vote by proxy for an old aunt with a cold. Saved a cat from drowning. Didn’t wake up. Went back to sleep. Took a sleeping pill instead of a vitamin. Was bitten by a lady in the post office.
When I was little I needed her lies, even if they hurt me. Now what discourages me is that I don’t believe her anymore. So I pretend, because I’m so tired; she doesn’t even bother to do a good job of lying anymore. What she says is always improbable, but she sticks by it.
Mama lies. There. It’s her cure for depression, her remedy for the disease of feeling unimportant. Reality bounces off her, nothing matters: she smokes a joint at breakfast, forgets to have dinner, falls asleep on a bus.
“Oh, yes, pet, I know I’m strange — it’s a sort of profession.”
Last summer, on one of “our” Sundays, which we we were to spend together, we had a date to go visit some of her friends in Chartres. Mama was driving. Suddenly she made a right turn.
“This way looks nice.”
“I should hope so!”
In the end, we found ourselves back in Cannes. We never saw those particular friends again.
Once, just once, I asked her to explain it to me. How can a person live outside of everything, within a complete illusion?
“You know, my kitten, the illusion of happiness is always the happiness of an illusion….”
Mama, the great sage in the presence of the Eternal.
The fact is, she will come. That’s the most important thing: Mama always comes in the end. She’ll order a draft beer, draw a heart in the foam with her finger. She won’t drink it: The only thing she likes about beer is its color. I think I know her through and through. And yet how many times I’ve said to myself, seeing her arrive: That isn’t her!
She’ll come, and when she enters the cafe, she’ll attract every eye, and silence will fall around us.