In the driveway, a car shook with its engine. Miss Babette was climbing out of the passenger seat; the light only picked up the underside of her features: the dark beneath her eyes, her mouth, her nose. Miss Babette lifted her gloved hand to someone in the car and waved, and the car pulled away, and Miss Babette became a shadow, an outline of her dress.
Someone came from the house – another shadow. This shadow was shaped like my father, wore his suit, scratched my father’s famous head. He approached Miss Babette. He offered her his shadow-hand. Miss Babette used this hand to tow her body to my father’s shadow, and the shadow accepted Miss Babette, draped his shadow-arm around her. Their shadow-heads pressed together, until they were one dark, shape.
I’m unsure how long I was awake, listening to the sounds of the house. It was quiet – the house was so old, but the landscape was still. Not even the trees moved in the wind.
I tried to listen to Miss Babette speak to me, somewhere deep in my mind. She said: Yes, Olga. I listened to her say: Yes, Olga.
I heard it: Yes, Olga. Yes, Babette. That’s what I would say: Yes, Babette.
Miss Babette was born a peasant in a small French village, South of Paris. Her grandmother caught her, while her mother pushed, squatted inside of their house. It was an easy birth. Her father was in the fields pulling a plow when he heard the news of his daughter. When he came home, the baby was already asleep. When he held her, she didn’t wake up.
It wasn’t until she was sixteen that Miss Babette met Alain. He was older by two years, and handsome. His hands were rough and calloused. He was wandering for work, sending money to his family a few towns over. Alain was known, but Miss Babette discovered him so handsome, lounging in the shade of a tree. They were in love – Babette and Alain – yes.
They walked together in the fields, past where Miss Babette’s father farmed, and into the forest where they shared everything: the frustrations, their aches and pains. Miss Babette would often massage Alain’s sore muscles, push on the tissue until it unwound itself. When she was finished, they would lie beside each other, and work their hands over the other’s skin, and Alain would kiss Miss Babette.
Miss Babette only noticed the baby when she felt how tender her ankles had become. They were swollen and heavy; her whole body was heavy. Her mother wept. They didn’t want it, they said. They couldn’t bear anything made out of shame. Alain didn’t return to the forest. When she went to find him, Alain’s farm was busy with a host of new workers, none of the Alain. The one room of her mother and father’s house was like a desert to Babette, barren suddenly, even though both parents were home. They didn’t speak to her.
This is how Miss Babette appeared in Paris: one dress, two shoes, and a cloth bag that carried a straw doll, a pressed flower hidden in a children’s book, a hammer, and a loaf of bread. She found a house, run by nuns, for unwed mothers. She gave birth, easily, to nothing – just a baby half-made, and dead.
I forced myself to picture it: the dead baby. I wanted it to sit at the front of my mind – like a still from a movie. I wanted to keep it, but the image slid away. It was such a good story; my father had said this to me. Miss Babette, he said, now, she’s got a life.
In bed, I imagined this future: I am in France, somewhere warm, where the plant-life is lush. The house – I’ve decorated it exactly how I like it: bright colors, thin blankets, and paintings. I live alone, but the house has many rooms, and all the rooms are windowed. I find Miss Babette’s address. She is still stuck, somewhere, nannying an inconsolable baby. I write her this letter: