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I remember the day my brother was brought to our house from the children's home, and everything is tinted a lemony yellow. This is not unusual, for I see my momentous childhood memories as though through colored lenses. Red, I identify with illnesses, high fevers, and summer heat. I learned to ride a bicycle on a winter day, and our little street, my clothes, the cobblestones, and the surrounding buildings are tinted steely blue. At four I fell in love with Mathieu, a boy of five who smiled at me and then stuck his hand in my turtle aquarium. My turtles, Mathieu's eyes, his sweater with sleeves pulled up past his elbows, live on in cool shades of green.
My fevers still seem red to me, and happy winter days steely blue. But I do not have other yellow memories, not even of the brightest summer afternoon. Yellow is the day my brother arrived from the children's home.
It might be the fear and jealousy I felt--my parents never remembered the day as having been particularly yellow--but the sunlight seemed blinding outside our long, French windows. We lived on a quai above the Seine in Paris, and the sun glinted so brightly on the river you could not look at it for long or without squinting.
My father stood on the balcony leaning on the railing with a Scotch and soda in his hand. I was restless. I did not have the patience to stand in one place for long, and ran to and from the balcony. Joining my father for the twentieth time, I pushed my head into his hip and tugged at his back pocket. But he was not in the mood to pay attention to me.
"DADDY-Y-Y-Y. Is the little brother coming soon?"
"Any minute now," my father said, not looking at me. He was watchingthe taxis crossing the wide cement bridge.
"DADDY-Y-Y-Y. I changed my mind. Tell him not to come today."
"Will you behave yourself?" he said, annoyed. "I mean, you really do have to behave yourself. He's going to be scared to death."
"Jesus, Bill," my mother said from the other side of the long, cream-colored living room which was bathed in yellow light. She had gotten all dressed up in a pale Chanel suit with matching shoes and she could not sit still, like me. "You want to go to the park with Candida, Channe? Maybe she should go to the--"
"She's got to be here, Marcella," my father said in a completely calm voice. When he said something in that calm, even tone, no one had the courage to contradict him. I ran off toward the kitchen to bother my nurse for a glass of water. She had been told to stay in the kitchen so that the little brother would not be confused by too many strangers all at once. The waiting seemed interminable and everyone, including Candida, was tense and not in the mood to baby me.
"Here. Come here, Channe. Look," my father called from the balcony. I ran to him and stuck my face between two iron bars decorated with iron leaves. A taxi had stopped before the house. The door flew open and a heavy shoe stepped out and landed on the pavement. It was followed by a gray skirt and then a gray head. The woman looked around for a moment and leaned into the taxi and tugged at something still hidden in the car. A little bare leg appeared on the edge of the seat, then another. The woman pulled at one of the knees and a blond head popped out.
My father moved away from the window, removing my hand from his back pocket. Feeling completely abandoned I went, dragging my feet, over to the fireplace and hid beneath the jutting wooden mantle.
Forever, I thought. He was coming to live with us forever and the thought was as confusing to me as the idea of the universe going on forever.
The little brother's story had been explained to me in careful detail. I was three when the decision to bring him had been made, and a year had passed since then. His natural parents had died in a car accident right after his birth. This was not true but I have never blamed my parents for withholding this information, as anything else would have been too much for my intellect and the little brother's as well.
He had spent his first three years with a French couple who had only fostered him, not adopted him, and when the foster mother had killed herself by taking sleeping pills, the father, unable to cope, had put the little boy in a children's home. The couple had been acquaintances of my parents. One day the man called my father and said, "Bill, remember that little boy your wife thought was so adorable? As I remember she said there was nothing in the world she wanted more than a boy like that--well, I can't keep him, Bill. He's in a children's home right now and I can't stand it."
But it was illegal for Americans to adopt French children, and my parents had bribed and pleaded and paid thousands and thousands of dollars to some official to have my brother's birth papers disappear. My mother had even had a private audience with Madame de Gaulle (my father's position as a celebrated American writer living in Paris opened up all sorts of influential doors) and she, the wife of the President of France, had pushed the whole thing through by writing a letter of recommendation.