After Bastille Day, you see more of the Morieuxs, sharing the occasional meal with them. Seated at the kitchen table, wearing overalls of the same blue as a Ford tractor, Monsieur Morieux shifts his weight in a puzzled fashion. His grandfather face has the sculpted form of a dry, overripe plum tomato. As he ponders and clamps his Gauloise, his aged eyes sparkle and his voice fizzes like cider into an indistinguishable stream of Norman dialect. He looks like a Gallicised, wrinkled Stan Laurel. Madame Morieux has a permanently harried look etched into and tightening about her face. She sees everything as an insoluble problem, constantly bringing an indecisive hand to her chin, cheek and mouth. Only rarely does she allow a smile to relax the skin of her face and unwrinkle her brow. She hovers between the table and the range, interjecting worried remarks into the conversation, which is on this occasion about your living conditions. You must be a major source of wrinkled brow for her, by so obstinately living in a place unfit for human habitation. This is the worry that prompts her to offer you, during the appropriate periods of ripeness – and how you are grateful for them – dressed lettuce, onions, runner beans, strawberries and raspberries. You never see her without an apron on, save for when she cycles into town each week for the few essentials that the non-car owning family do not produce themselves.
Losing the thread of the conversation, you look at the baby turtles in the small glass container, which, far from being an aquarium, is no bigger than a box of shopping. Bénédicte coo-coos them, then raises her voice when they rise to the surface and nip her finger: aïe, ça pique! She explains, when you ask, that the bitter and huffy-looking turtles are another example of home-nurtured produce.
You would not for the world be a girl of fifteen with nineteenth century parents, however loving, in a country heading as fast as any other towards the 21st century. Bénédicte seems not to be at all embarrassed by her father’s habits, or her mother’s inability to see the funny side. Although she is athletic, she must look ungainly and old fashioned next to her more petite and relatively sophisticated counterparts at school. A giant, and not a slender one, it is not hard to draw the suspicion that she is teased there. The mole upon her cheek that is too big to be Monroe-beautiful would not help her. But three or four years from now, when her proportions will have righted themselves, she might well have the last laugh, though she is unlikely to be the kind to want it.
She is shy of the unlikely young man who has so suddenly appeared in their lives, and is teased by the younger adults of the family because of this. Whether you have redefined her romantic dreams, and how sensibly or insensibly she carries those new dreams, you cannot tell. In any case she seems to burn up the flames of any adolescent yearning in inexhaustibly running about the garden with her twin nieces, or by running favours for her mother. You wonder whether her obvious intelligence and energy will take her away from this loving but limiting life. Whether she goes or remains, godlessly you pray for her, willing her happiness.