She is visiting her daughter in Nice, her first visit there in years. Her son will fly out from the United States to spend a few days with them, on the way to some conference or other. It interests her, this confluence of dates. She wonders whether there has not been some collusion, whether the two of them do not have some plan, some proposal to put to her of the kind that children put to a parent when they feel she can no longer look after herself. So obstinate, they will have said to each other: so obstinate, so stubborn, so self-willed—how will we get past that obstinacy of hers except by working together?
They love her, of course, else they would not be cooking up plans for her. Nevertheless, she does feel like one of those Roman aristocrats waiting to be handed the fatal draft, waiting to be told in the most confiding, the most sympathetic of ways that for the general good one should drink it down without a fuss.
Her children are and always have been good, dutiful, as children go. Whether as a mother she has been equally good and dutiful is another matter. But in this life we do not always get what we deserve. Her children will have to wait for another life, another incarnation, if they want the score to be evened.
Her daughter runs an art gallery in Nice. Her daughter is, by now, for all practical purposes French. Her son, with his American wife and American children, will soon, for all practical purposes, be American. So, having flown the nest, they have flown far. One might even think, did one not know better, that they have flown far to get away from her.
Whatever proposal it is they have to put to her, it is sure to be full of ambivalence: love and solicitude on the one hand, brisk heartlessness on the other, and a wish to see the end of her. Well, ambivalence should not disconcert her. She has made a living out of ambivalence. Where would the art of fiction be if there were no double meanings? What would life itself be if there were only heads or tails and nothing in between?
“What I find eerie, as I grow older,” she tells her son, “is that I hear issuing from my lips words I once upon a time used to hear old people say and swore I would never say myself. What-is-the-world-coming-to things. For example: no one seems any longer to be aware that the verb ‘may’ has a past tense—what is the world coming to? People walk down the street eating pizza and talking into a telephone—what is the world coming to?”
It is his first day in Nice, her third: a clear, warm June day, the kind of day that brought idle, well-to-do people from England to this stretch of coast in the first place. And behold, here they are, the two of them,…
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