by Caroline Couderc
Mother has left. Her house is empty.
I slowly walk up the hill, following the directions my father has given me. He visited her years ago, right after the divorce. I was never invited.
“It’s the last house, on the top of the hill,” he said. “You will find it easily. No other house is hidden behind bamboo.”
This early in the morning, the light is very soft. It’s late spring, and the sun feels mild.
Several houses are scattered over the hill. They all look similar— light wooden constructions with a lot of glass.
There is only one that stands out because the bamboo grows so high that you cannot see the house. You see slices of my mother’s house whenever the wind moves the stalks and leaves.
All the houses have stone paths that lead to their front doors, even my mother’s house. The bamboo hasn’t overgrown the path but weeds and moss cover the stones. My shoes sink into this moist cushion.
The key doesn’t turn easily; I need force to open the door. Once inside, I stand at the foot of the staircase and look into the empty hallway.
I move from room to room, amazed, admiring the airy spaces. The sunlight streaming through the bamboo gives the rooms an underwater feel.
This is where she lived. This is where she spent all these years without me.
A sparkle catches my eye. There’s a tiny, glistening object on the floor, underneath the radiator. She lost one of her perfectly round mother-of-pearl buttons that adorned all of her cardigans. I briefly feel sharp pain as I remember how the soft wool felt against my cheek and how lovely its dewy smell was, the touch and scent of my childhood.
I walk up the stairs, from corridor to guest room, from dressing room to bedroom. The bamboo gently sways in front of the bedroom windows like seaweed. Her desk has left marks on the wallpaper, darker than the rest. This is where she sat in the mornings. This is where she wrote.
“I found one of her diaries,” my dad had told me on the phone. “Do you want to read it?”
I didn’t want to read her diary; I only wanted to see her house.
“You will lose me if you don’t let go,” was the last thing she said to me. “I only stay as long as I want to.”
I had called her cruel because she had told me her secret but wouldn’t change her mind about it.
And then, one evening, I snuck into her old house while she was sleeping, and searched it. I never had her beauty, let alone her grace and so, unsurprisingly, I lost my footing on the landing, crashing against the glass fishnet floats that hung from the ceiling.
She threw me out, without a word; a month later she moved away from the city.
Her bathroom is bathed in shades of sea foam, mint, and verdigris. Tiny slants of sunlight are filtered through the bamboo in front of a small window. I climb into the bathtub and imagine her lying here in the water. Was she homesick? Was she lonely? Did she really go for good? I need to know.
That’s when I see the scale near the plughole. It’s the size of a nail, but softer. I pick it up, admiring its perfect oval shape; its flexibility and tangy scent; its coruscating colors.
Now I know.
Caroline Couderc is a multilingual writer and translator living in Switzerland and the UK. She has degrees in French Literature, Linguistics and Cultural Anthropology. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Boston Literary Magazine, The Vignette Review, Ink in Thirds, Shotgun Honey, War, Literature and the Arts, and others. You can find her online @BeautyandtheCat and http://beautyisasleepingcat.wordpress.com.