jeudi 26 février 2009

Forgive and forget (me? not)

The balcony, in place


Me? Of course. I jest, for that, I suppose, is the second greatest lesson the church I mostly ignore teaches. Forgive.

I have already given up on loving everyone. I just can't. Don't worry, I know perfectly well how much better my life would be were I able to bring myself to give up the satisfaction of not loving some people.

Forgiving works, though. Or it helps, anyway.

But I am not entirely happy. Ask Audouin. I called him last night when I arrived at the house after 7 1/2 hours on the road (Sam drove like an old hand, while I tried to stay awake, since I am supposed to be paying attention to how he does), looked at the balcony up over my head for the first time and saw all the things wrong with it.

Yes. I can see them in the dark, even. It's hell being an architect and doing your own house, especially here in France, where no one listens to you. Not even when you provide them with detailed drawings to follow and make yourself available for questions. First off, you have no idea who the sub for the balcony is. Second, you're not going to get shop drawings. What were you thinking? You are instead assured that the guy is the last of the Mohicans for this type of work, you are exceedingly fortunate that your contractor knows him, and with a nearly 120% overrun on cost, you're damn lucky to get such a fine balcony at all. Surely it will be perfect, you tell yourself.

Not that I expected that it would be. Not after the last few months. Something would certainly be wrong. What I wasn't expecting were four things wrong immediately obvious in the perfect dark.
  1. The diagonals were missing in the motifs in front of each of the three French windows.
  2. The top rail was not a handrail.
  3. The postcap details had been ignored and/or discarded, the caps reduced to shallow pyramids that disappear altogether when looking up from the garden.
  4. The worst. Maybe. The end double post had been eliminated, cutting short the return on the balcony at Sam's bedroom window. It looks truncated. Mean. It's too late.
I was yelling into the phone. Poor Audouin. It wasn't his fault, but it wasn't helping either that he was suddenly defending the contractor, as he has tended to do since they showed up on Monday, and Joaquim retold his Eric saga all over again, for two hours on the phone. I was so upset that I couldn't go on. I just hung up.

He called back.

"Pourquoi tu ne réponds pas? Jacqueline?" I.just.couldn't. It had nothing to do with him. I just couldn't talk about it anymore. Instead, I put away the leftover groceries we brought back with us. 10 minutes later I called him back, intending to apologize, and started all over again. He listened, and then I heard, "Capucine --"

"Elle est debout?" It was 12:40 am.

"Oui," he hesitated. "Elle est -- un peu malade." As usual.

"Je te laisse." I didn't want to talk anyway. I was still fuming. The phone rang. I didn't answer. He didn't leave a message. Wisp followed me up the stairs to bed and settled herself across my neck, pressing her nose into my cheek, purring.

Welcome home.

She held onto me, paws around my neck, all night and into the morning, until the voices in the garden announced the arrival of Georges and José, and I had to get up.

I was watching the x-country ski world championships when Georges knocked on the door.

"Bonjour, Madame de Floris," we looked at each other. I am sure it was written all over my face. My mother always said that I am as transparent as Scotchtape, and I wasn't even really trying to appear bright and sunny, or happy to see them. "Ca va?" I breathed in.

"Oui -- ça va."

"Vous êtes sure? Ca n'a pas l'aire. Le balcon, ça va?" I sucked in more air.

"Bon. Il y a -- quelques choses qui --"

"Ne correspondent pas au documents?" finished Georges.

"Oui. Enfin, ce ne sont pas grandes choses, mais --"

"On peut les voir ensemble? On peut monter les voir?"

"Oui, Georges." He followed me up to the bathroom on the stair landing, and watched as I struggled to open the French door, my feet caught up in Audouin's old weights and bar.

"Laissez-moi faire, Madame de Floris. Je peux l'ouvrir pour vous." I was cracking. I can't stay angry with Georges or José. Joaquim is another matter. He's a whirling dervish of nervous, talkative, furious energy that tires me out and makes me want him to go away. Especially when he gets onto his... how shall we say?... frustrations. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink. He is divorced, and no matter how solidly embedded is his discussion of them in an intellectual basis, it's just not something about which I want to hear one single word. Ever.

They will see to making proper post caps and affixing them, and the missing pieces of the motifs in front of the three windows will be added. Maybe I will insist on a handrail, like on the small balcony, too. The extra length on the balcony is to kiss good-bye with a tear and a sigh. The whole thing will be treated with a tar-based substance that protects the wood and gives is a silky-matte charcoal color.

The window went into the stairway. That makes a huge difference. The horrible, over-sized fake leaded stained-glass window is history.

"Vous voulez qu'on la garde?" asked Georges, surprised that I didn't respond right away. He knows how much I detest it.

"Bon, si j'hésite c'est seulement parce que la fille de mon mari nous a fait savoir que sa mère trouve ça triste que nous la fait sauter. Elle l'aime. Je pourrais lui la donner."

"Elle vient toujours ici?" s'étonna Georges.

"Non. Surtout pas. C'est la prise qu'elle garde sur la maison --"He nodded.

It will go to the place where all happily discarded junk goes: the dump. Another step toward the future and a transformation that makes this house mine. Ours.

Yes, we are territorial, and, yes, we do prefer our own children. Or those of perfect strangers, like the adorable boy with the dry sense of humor and twinkle on les oeufs at Grands Montets, who made even Sam's lips compress into an attempt to conceal his amusement as he answered the questions of some woman who was probably an aunt. Très drôle, en effet.

The scare of the day came when Georges knocked late in the afternoon. I thought he was going to merely wish me a nice evening, but no.

"Madame de Floris, je suis désolée de vous déranger, mais, est-ce que vous savez où est l'ancienne boite aux lettres? Joaquim m'a dit de la prendre pour la réstorer." I told him that the old mailbox we had discovered when we removed the old stucco was still over under the shelter they had built for their tools. He said that no, it wasn't.

"On a bien cherché partout avant de vous déranger avec ça, mais on n'a rien trouvé." I asked if they had looked in the rooms of the petite maison. Oui. The garage? Oui. I started to panic. This is the old mail box that dates from 1868. It's valuable, and it is very important, not only to us, but to a number of people from Moosesucks and the neighboring village who know about it. I researched it and learned that it is one of the very first ever made in France. It is the same as the yellow boxes you find attached to walls throughout France today, the purpose of which is to receive letters for the mail person to pick up. Just like the blue ones on the sidewalks of the United States.

The three of us continued to search high and low, while I dialed numbers on my cell phone. The answering service on Audouin's cell phone. The same on Anne-so's and my mother-in-law's. I made a mental note to get their home number back on my contact list.

"Je crains qu'elle ne soit volée," said Georges, as we crossed one another in our to and fros, "Beaucoup de monde parle de cette boite aux lettres."

"Je sais," I said. It has become the symbol of the renovation of the house. One neighbor asked when we will be having the opening for the mailbox.

"Le garçon avec les cheveux," he made a sign with his hands to indicate a puffy ponytail of long hair, "m'en a parlé aussi."

"Je sais." What we both worried was that enough people had talked about this old mailbox that we intended to place back in the wall and make a part of the house again that word had gotten to someone who wanted it enough to scale the wall and hunt it down.

Absurd. This is Moosesucks. Who would do that? Why would they even imagine that we'd actually leave it where they could get their hands on it?

Because people do that all the time.

"J'ai pensé à la mettre à l'abris," I said. It was one afternoon, when I was raking leaves nearby and it caught my eye. I made a mental note to move it inside, and forgot.

"Moi aussi," dit Georges.

"Attendez. Je pense que je sais où trouver le numéro chez mes beaux-parents." I ran into the house again and typed "amazon.fr" and clicked on "mon compte". "Adresses contactes". The first one that came up was my father-in-law. I dialed the number. My mother-in-law sounded either unhappy to hear from me, or very distracted. She handed the phone to her son.

"Tu ne saurais pas par hasard où se trouve l'ancienne boite aux lettres?"

"Mais oui, c'est moi qui l'ai avec moi."

Ah bon. He had the old mailbox. Just like that. The week they decide to take it to do the work to preserve it, he takes it to work on it, figuring he'd have the time. Or, the week that he decides to take it, figuring that he'd have the time to work on it, they look for it -- after 4 or 5 months -- to take it to work on it.

That was a relief, to say the least. I didn't know what I'd have said to the retired man who walks past the house every day on his way to walk around the lake for his heart, and all the others who are waiting to see it installed in its place of honor, not to mention what I'd have had to do to sooth my own fierce disappointment.

I understand that our president addressed a joint session of congress for the first time the other night. I really need to pay attention.


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