I’m seated comfortably at a table in a restaurant.
The setting is idyllic: low table, cocktails, leather armchairs, soft lighting.
The scene is set for a lovely evening, except that two pairs of eyes have been staring a hole in me for two full minutes.
Two pairs of eyes that belong to an authentic odd couple.
Introducing Amandine, my mother, and Charlie, her friend.
They are usually so…lively. This evening, I can’t get a word out of them. I’m lucky to catch a glimpse of a raised eyebrow or a fleeting look.
My mother, who has always made a point of having me call her by her first name, is an old hippie who experimented with a “bourgeois marriage,” then reinvented herself as a manager for a retreat for adults.
So Amandine rocks a seventies look, is hooked on funny cigarettes, and lives a communal life in a small town in Eure-et-Loir.
But when she leaves her “nest,” as she puts it, to come to Paris, she becomes a real “Rive Gauche” Parisian woman. She spends hours making sure her outfit doesn’t look like she spent hours on it, then tops it off with sophisticated mannerisms and feigned kindness.
Amandine is irritating. She irritates me. Amandine leads a bohemian, left-leaning life, between liberal and libertarian, but deep down, she is conservative.
Seated to her right is Charlie, whose real name is Charles. A failed writer, but fortunately independently wealthy, he always sports a fedora, an indispensable accessory he uses to disguise his shyness. Charlie once had the love of his life, but he lost her to a deadly disease that I won’t name here. Still, he thanks heaven every day for having allowed him to know pure love. Aware of how fortunate he has been, he doesn’t want to sully that love, so he has decided to behave himself for the rest of his life.
And so Amandine and Charlie are not lovers. They’re life-long friends. For ten years, they’ve carried on a sort of mutual admiration society and a platonic love affair.
I rest my elbows on the table, hands clasped in front of me, chest forward, in a reassuring but protective posture. I look around at the other customers, then back at the two statues in front of me.
No turning back now. For two weeks now, I’ve been planning out what words to use to announce my decision to them.
I gather my courage. I lean back just enough to touch the back of my chair and let out a victorious “Voilà!”
No reaction. My fingers tap the table feverishly. I can’t take it anymore. I want to scream at them to say a word. Just one word.
Finally, Amandine speaks up.
“In short, you take us out to a restaurant to announce that you’re moving to Chicago. Right. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. You have to have your own American experience too! (Silence.) Janis? Janis! Are you listening, dear? »
Janis… does the name ring a bell? Amandine named me for you-know-who. The story goes that my mother-to-be met my father-to-be at a Janis Joplin concert at Woodstock. When I was conceived, she was transported back to that moment, and the name stuck.
Charlie finally chimes in, tears in his eyes, his voice trembling.
“You must have your reasons. (Silence.) You don’t have to explain yourself. The main thing is to live your life. The way you want to live it…I’ll miss you.”
There it is. I was dreading his speech. He is always so dramatic. He goes on, his voice cracking:
It’s in your blood, Amandine’s and yours too. You’re free, passionate, independent…That country is perfect for you. The Americans are going to love you!
Charlie. What can I say? He’s always like that: to the point, with a touch of sensitivity. Charlie is like mustard: he makes your nose tickle and your eyes water a little.
Lost in thought, I hear Amandine shout “This calls for champagne! Waiter! Three glasses, please!”
All right, my decision is accepted. No question. Nothing.
Translated from french by Kenneth Barger 🙂