translated from the French by Alison Anderson
When I met my husband, he promised we'd live the good life. We both loved to travel and had, in fact, met in Iran while I was buying a carpet. One simple joke about flying carpets and my husband could later boast to his friends how he seduced me with his sense of humor. We were married at my parents' place—they have an estate in the Touraine—and then moved into a house with a garden. People said it looked like an English cottage. Drinking wine with dinner one evening I shared my greatest phobia with my husband: that a masked man would come into the bedroom through the French doors. My husband put me to bed, promising to have shutters installed, but, of course, the next morning it was all forgotten. I don't tend to worry much, by nature. In fact, men have always appreciated my placid temperament. You can take me anywhere, I adapt to the temperature and the population, I always fit in, find my stride. I'm a real chameleon. We've even lived abroad, going here and there for my husband's job, and, every time, I've found my niche and enjoyed it. New acquaintances, new surroundings, new activities have never cramped my style. On the contrary, I have an optimistic nature, I know how to go for it, it's my credo to make a success of my life. Even after we moved back to France we continued to travel all over the world together because my husband is allowed to take his spouse along on his business trips. I have neither a career nor a dog; I keep myself totally available for him. And, I don't know what your thoughts on the matter might be, but I have my own theories about what a man gets up to when he's alone on a business trip. More than four days on his own, and the wife gets cheated on. Oh, don't make such a face! Have you ever looked into it yourself?
The only territory where I've never been prepared to go along with him, and I'm the first to admit it—I'm not being judgmental, but I do recognize the fact—is in his desire for a child. When he suggested having a baby, it was as if the sky had fallen on my head, I even laughed, I was so sure he must be joking. He didn't mention it again for a while, but it was brewing. He'd dawdle like a schoolgirl outside stores with baby carriages and make this silly grin whenever he saw some sweet little baby doll wiggling in her daddy's arms. Survival instinct or not, I was afraid he might go somewhere else for what he wanted, so, after some negotiating, I agreed to become a mother. I warned him that I would only have one. He looked stunned, but that was the way it had to be, I was agreeing to it out of my love for him, and on the condition we have a daughter. Sooner or later I'd probably grow attached to her, otherwise she'd have to make do with distant affection. My husband was over the moon. I got pregnant very quickly; he treated me like a queen even before my stomach began to swell. I was completely spoiled and I even got a necklace. It was one of those, what do they call them, diamond rivieres, I think, though the diamonds were fake, of course, there was no way he'd give me real ones, but this looked just as good! I remember one dinner party where the women trooped over to my table to admire my gorgeous necklace. And no, I didn't admit that it was fake, it was none of their business.
So where was I? Oh yes, pregnant. What a fuss! My stomach blew up all at once, I was on the verge of despair, after almost forty years of my life spent standing up straight so that I wouldn't slouch like my fellow creatures. They ran some routine tests, and that's when they realized I was expecting twins. I asked right away whether they were Siamese; the idea of having two children joined at the shoulder or the foot or the spleen really disgusted me. Good looking as we are, my husband and I, I can't see us carrying such a burden. And he's not much of a handyman, so it wouldn't exactly be a piece of cake for him to retrofit a baby carriage or a bed with the right dimensions. It was while I was thinking about all these little everyday things that I suggested—and perhaps I might have been a bit abrupt—getting rid of one of them. The doctor assured me that there was no possible comparison between Siamese twins and regular twins. For some reason he looked appalled while he was explaining the difference.
Children aren't exactly a specialty of mine, but they nearly became so. Can you imagine? A woman nearly forty wakes up one day to find herself having to put up with two screaming brats? Even my husband, who has the reputation of a saint, baptized them the bed wetters. I don't mean to tattle on anyone, but I would like to point out that the miserable rat is not beyond reproach in this business.
Two daughters, what a mess! And what a fright just imagining the mischief they'd get into as teenagers! But they were growing nicely. People would look at them in the street and ask all sorts of idiotic questions to which I'd give any old answer. I wasn't about to tell them what order the girls had been born in or if I'd been in much pain: I didn't have the faintest idea—I was asleep. And then it took me forever to learn how to tell them apart. At last I found a nifty trick thanks to the little callus on the thumb each one sucked. One sucked her right thumb and the other sucked her left one, and the one who sucked her right thumb had the letter R in her name. Enough about their infancy. As you can see, two kids was a lot to deal with.
When they turned three it was time to take them to school for the first time. Up until then we'd always used my husband's sedan, but he chose the perfect day to be away on business. Honestly! So I'm the one who got the girls ready. They'd been up for six hours, overexcited at the idea of wearing their little backpacks for the first time. They'd swapped their dresses and were squabbling over some little barrette, so I had no choice but to break it in two. Of course then they began to cry, refused to have breakfast or put their jackets on or walk out to the car. I struggled with the R one, she was clinging to the sofa cushions—so I had to carry her. And me with my bad back. Then, one thing after another, of course they wouldn't fit right in my smart car. I tried to squeeze one of them into the trunk but it was full from the strollers. Finally, I just sat one on top of the other in the passenger's seat and got on the road. They were screaming as loud as could be, so I couldn't hear a thing on the radio. Great way to start the day. I opened the car door and I threw the one on top out onto the beltway. And to be honest, I wasn't very pleased with what I'd done because I threw out the better behaved of the two.
Let me make one thing clear: I warned my husband. I didn't play any underhanded tricks. I did say yes, but I said one.
© Claire Castillon
"I Said One" ("J'avais dit une") appears in the short-story collection My Mother Never Dies (Insecte), Librairie Arthème Fayard, France, 2006. English translation by Alison Anderson, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. This electronic version is published by kind permission of the publisher. Book ordering available through amazon.com and amazon.co.uk
This story may not be archived, reproduced or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.
The Barcelona Review is a registered non-profit organization
Claire Castillon dropped out of the university to pursue her dream of writing. At age 25, she published her first novel, Le grenier (2000), and has since published almost a novel a year. In 2004, she won the Grand Prix Thyde Monnier for Vous parler d'elle. Her other works include: La reine Claude (2002); Insecte (2006) —which has been translated into over 12 languages and published in English as My Mother Never Dies (2009); On n'empêche pas un petit coeur d'aimer (2007); Dessous, c'est l'enfer (2008); and, most recently, Les cris (2010). In 2005, she took part in the "litté-réalité" experiment, 48h au Lutetia, in which she and seven writers were locked in the Hôtel Lutetia for 48 hours in order to produce a short story on the theme of sleep.