mistakes. I stole a hammer from the barn, my father’s tool chest, yes. Well, yes. It’s hard to be. A peasant, yes.
A peasant? I asked.
That’s not what I. What I meant was. Yes, a peasant. I suppose. I didn’t even need the hammer. For what I was going to. Yes, what I was going to do. My grandmother was dead by that time. Yes, I stole the hammer. My mother had yelled. So loud. I was. I cried. I was so sad, yes, so sad, but why? I don’t remember. Yes, I stole the hammer. I stole the glass vase. It was my grandmother’s and so I cried as I smashed it, yes. I cried. Yes. And you’ve never felt. Oh, Olga. You’ve never. I would never. My mother smacked me. Spanked me. I was red all over, yes. I wailed and wailed, yes. My first sin of. My first sin of many.
When Miss Babette spoke, she turned her head left and right, as if she were shaking dirt out of her hair. She seemed to constantly adjust the skin of her face, as if it were, somehow, not so much dependent on the curve of her skull, but instead a clay mask she could mold and refit anyway she liked.
At twelve, I felt like a pig stuffed into the shape of a person. I was a shadow, inhabiting a shadow-life. I picked dirt from beneath my nail.
I want to visit France one day, I said.
Yes, she said. One day you should visit.
When you live there, not here.
Yes, Miss Babette said. When I live. But I may stay here forever.
Why, I asked.
I do miss it – where I grew up, she said. Why? Oh, I don’t know.
You can visit me too, I said.
Oh, Miss Babette said and pulled a few pieces of dead grass from the dirt. And where will you be, Olga?
The city, I said. Or, I don’t know, maybe just here. Or maybe I will live in France.
Miss Babette laughed. She said, here is very nice. She petted the ground.
That night, I listened to Babette say “yes” in my head, alone in my bed, and I listened to it like I was listening to the radio. I decided to try out not finishing my sentences. I said aloud: I love. I go to. The music is. No, I won’t be attending when. Yes, I will be. So very. Isn’t it all too?
Miss Babette slept downstairs. I slept upstairs in the room across the hall from my father. Over my head, my father paced back and forth in the attic. He was discussing something with himself in German. He played the part of the writer so well, I thought. I imagined myself being asked for an interview. I would wear a grey suit. I would say, sitting across from the host, Yes, my father locks himself in the attic, thoughtfully and often, and sometimes he even asks me advice. He’s devoted to the craft.
My father and I walked to the market. Before we reached the sidewalk, somewhere in the Sweet birches, a man stopped us to ask for directions. My father told him to head West, then follow a series of abandoned houses to the road beside the river. As the man left, he said: I am a big fan, by the way. My father bowed his famous head, like a monk so devoted. At the market, we bought a carton of strawberries. Finally, they were in season. The sun was warmer than it had been for months.
My father claimed he was born inside of hill back in Germany. His accent, at this point, had faded to a string of implacable turns of phrases and emphases.
It was a hill, Olga, he said. With a house carved into it.