If Camus’ Meursault once shocked us with his emotional alienation, opening his novel with “Today, mother died,” Frédérique Martin’s unsentimental narrator takes it one step further in “The Despair of the Roses”: “I sold my mother the other day.” This Translation Tuesday, we present the brilliant fiction leading off our New Voices in French Literature Special Feature showcase in our latest issue. If you are a French reader, hop over to this article page for the French original and translator Hilary McGrath’s note, and consider following us at our newly launched French Facebook page!
—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief
I sold my mother the other day. At the market in Saints-Sauveurs, the one that’s open to the public twice a year like in many large towns. I wanted to take care of the sale myself rather than handing her over to one of the merchants. They may know all the right things to say but they don’t always keep their word. Don’t think that I don’t love my mother. I said to her—I love you, Mum. Don’t ever forget that—but the day comes when you have to move on from your parents and let go of the apron strings. My father has been dead for some time so this question never arose with regard to him.
She was gone by around three in the afternoon. You could hardly say they had to tear us apart. She’s not even that old and is still in excellent health. She wasn’t a burden on me either. It was more a question of weighing things up and finding a balance; when one stage in life comes to an end you need to move on. To leave your childhood behind you, selling your mother becomes a necessary step. I’m not the only one who believes this to be true but I know what some people think about it; they consider it a little too . . . radical. For the most part, they are hypocrites who end up putting their elderly relatives into retirement homes where death awaits them. Some keep them at home but reduce their living space little by little and send them to bed earlier and earlier, knowing that the deadly boredom of the interminable days will grind them down. Some people probably still love them enough to relinquish a space for them, some corner, over there. And wait it out.
I don’t want all that palaver in my house. My mother is affectionate and very active. That’s the memory I’ll always have of her. However, she did weave an invisible, sticky web around me that prevented me from growing up, my heartbeat stuck in a groove that wasn’t my own.