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It’s Monday and, like every Monday, I went over to Madame Burlaud’s. Mme Burlaud is old, she’s ugly, and she stinks like RID antilice shampoo. She’s harmless, but sometimes she worries me. Today she took a whole bunch of weird pictures out of her bottom drawer. They were these huge blobs that looked like dried vomit. She asked me what they made me think about. When I told her she stared at me with her eyes all bugged out, shaking her head like those little toy dogs in the backs of cars.
It was school that sent me up to see her. The teachers, in between strikes for once, figured I’d better see somebody because I seemed shut down or closed off or something . . . Maybe they’re right. I don’t give a shit. I go. It’s covered by welfare.
I guess I’ve been like this since my dad left. He went a way long way away, back to Morocco to marry another woman, who must be younger and more fertile than my mom. After me, Mom couldn’t have any more children. But it wasn’t like she didn’t try. She tried for a really long time. When I think of all the girls who get pregnant their first time, not even on purpose . . . Dad, he wanted a son. For his pride, his reputation, the family honor, and I’m sure lots of other stupid reasons. But he only got one kid and it was a girl. Me. You could say I didn’t exactly meet customer specifications. Trouble is, it’s not like at the supermarket: There’s no customer-satisfaction guarantee. So one day the Beard must have realized there was no point trying anymore with my mom and he took off. Just like that, no warning. All I remember is that I was watching an episode from the fourth season of The X-Files that I’d rented from the video store on the corner. The door banged shut. From the window, I saw a gray taxi pulling away. That’s all. It’s been over six months. That peasant woman he married is probably pregnant by now. And I know exactly how it will all go down: Seven days after the birth they’ll hold the baptism ceremony and invite the whole village. A band of old sheiks carting their camel-hide drums will come over just for the big event. It’s going to cost him a real fortune— all his pension from the Renault factory. And then they’ll slit the throat of a giant sheep to give the baby its first name. It’ll be Mohammed. Ten to one.
When Mme Burlaud asks me if I miss my dad, I say “no,” but she doesn’t believe me. She’s pretty smart like that, for a chick. Whatever, it’s no big deal, my mom’s here. Well, she’s here physically. Because in her head, she’s somewhere else. Somewhere even farther away than my father.
© Hachette Littératures 2004
English translation © Sarah Adams 2006
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