Shine! (part three)
All the rancor and indignation of a child turned itself towards her guilty father. From the depths of clouded memory she saw again his height and strength, as he lifted her playfully to his shoulder. She heard the voice of her mother ring with gaiety. But a red-haired woman had shown herself one day in the sunlight of the doorway. And soon Alain Le Goël was gone from the family hearth. It was for that he had died far away; for that, that Marceline had, ever since, vegetated into a quasi-insanity.
“Yes, that was the cause of it all!” Annie repeated to herself. These bitter recollections diluted her happiness. But thinking of the past led to a fairer view of Clélie, who also had cause for complaint. Oh, well! This old woman, sour and worn out, would learn to know better the child she had treated so severely. She would have her share of better fortune; her closed nature relax, then, into kinder feeling.
From the lindens and elms, with their new unfolding leaves, sprang the voices of birds. The breeze was saturated with the odors of springtime, and of gillyflowers. What astonishment to feel one’s soul in harmony with the joy of it all!
A generous wish to express this joy to others lifted Annie. She nearly ran to reach her neighborhood, her home, where a sign half-worn, bannering the narrow façade, informed the street: Fine Breton Linen.
In the shop, her uncle Augustin unfolded a piece of toile before a customer. Annie crossed to the attached kitchen where they dined. On the courtyard doorstone she saw Clélie kneeling, plunging her hands into a tub of soapy water, gently washing some lace.
Annie could recall herself bounding with pleasure, racing to show her family the cross won at school. No one had paid her any attention, no more than to the red and gold volumes and laurels given her on Prize Day. Would it be the same today?
She shooed away the thought. “Aunt, please read this letter.”
“My hands are wet. You see that. Read it aloud.”
“It’s such good news! I’d rather you read it yourself.”
“I don’t have my glasses. Read! It will be just the same, go on!”
Already chilled, Annie stammered: “You know, aunt, how the Conans recognized the imagination in me, how easily I took to composition… I’ve been at work, secretly. I took a chance…I mailed off something to a contest, one of the quarterlies, and I’ve won first prize. Three thousand francs!”
“Three thousand francs!”
The wrinkled hands interrupted their kneading for a moment; then, emptying the soapy water in the drain, Clélie muttered between her teeth:
“Fie! You’ll be putting on airs!”
Annie recoiled, as though struck by a blow to the chest. Clélie added, pushing the tub under the spigot: “That will help with your mother’s fees at Saint-Méen. There, I think, we’ll soon have her back. She’s been in a fit all afternoon.”
Without answering, Annie went to the stairs, eyes clouded, her fingers pressed to the wall as she climbed. In the upper chamber, she found the ill woman dragging herself from furnishing to furnishing, making infantile protests.
“You’re late! You abandon me like all the others. Everyone abandons me…has a woman ever shed so many tears!”
For a long time, Annie submitted herself to these broken lamentations. At last the disturbed woman collapsed into an armchair, falling silent. Her blue eyes, wet with tears, closed, and her silvery head, delicately lovely, fell back on the cushion.
And before the poor sleeping figure, the victorious laureate, whose name was soon to be printed in the Paris newspapers, felt overwhelmed by the absurdity of her fragile glory and the persistence of her misery.
(2020, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)