Open Book

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                                                                           RED--from Marie-Jo's memoirs in progress


I have two sisters. I replaced the dead one.

            « Among all your brothers and sisters, you were the only one who was not an accident,” Mom tells me. But to be the most wanted child is a big responsibility. When Nadia dies, a sixteenth month old baby, she can be nothing but perfect. So that’s what is expected of me. Perfection. And for the first years of my life I will be that---pig tails and short bangs and pink ribbons and obedience.

            I will try to know Nadia along the years. But she will be forever distant despite my attempts to reach out, a plump baby with dark hair, not fully smiling, a prisoner behind the polished glass of her sole framed picture kept in the cold air of the guest room. Not even her gold earrings, placed along her black and white image, manage to bring the warmth I desperately need from a sister. Claudie, the other one, the older one, always on Mom’s side; the one with quick steps and quick kisses, Claudie will always be nine years older.

            There will be visits to Nadia’s little white stone grave as well, sometimes with my friend Estelle, who loves cemeteries as long as she can see open graves and a few bones. I just want to say my sister’s name, wherever, whenever. Will I find a soul, her soul, if I say it? Nadia, such a beautiful name. Can it be my name? Could we join, could we talk somehow if I called her?

            I do not like my own name, so common in the Basque Country.  But I am called Marie-José for Mary and Joseph, for the protection of the Holy Couple.

            My life is devoted to the Virgin Mary, an added protection.

            I will only wear only blue and white, the colors of the Holy Mother, so that completes the protection.

            I can hardly move amidst so much protection.

            Except for these pale pink ribbons attached to my pigtails, my smile and my perfection, the world is basically colorless. Just white and blue, day in, day out, for a little girl who sees her friends wearing bright colors but is not allowed color. It has been framed, that perfect shot captured by that passing German photographer one summer, that image of the little girl kept on the living room buffet. On the other end of the buffet is my younger brother Dominique who paused for that same German photographer. His eyes are mischievous. I am not sure what color he is wearing that day. The photo, like mine, like any photo in the 60’s, is black and white. But he could get out of the picture. He is not part of the mausoleum.

            But some day, I will get out of the picture too. I will stop being erased with incessant blue and white. And that happens on September 14, 1963, when I am five and Mom hands me my birthday present with a big smile.

            Of course, Mom’s smile is also a present. She doesn’t have smiles that big very often.

            I open my present. And I hear a sound, a long, long sound of joy!

            And things are moving. It’s me, shrieking and twirling!

            Red. I see red.

            A red dress!

            Red, just for me.

            Red, to let me be.

            Red, to be perfect.

            Red, to be imperfect.

            Red, to --

            Let me put it on!

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