- A Stone House
Now that her mother is dying—will, in fact, die very soon—Kit manages most of the time to forget her. She types her dissertation. She weeds the garden. But her mother creeps in anyway: unannounced, unwanted. Kit imagines 1938 , the year her mother's parents rented a stone beach house on the unfashionable edge of Cannes. They took their daughters out of the heat of Paris as if they were any other middle-class French family. Kit imagines the stone house as small, gray, and perfectly square, the kitchen stocked with ingredients for Croque Monsieur, buttered croissants, chocolate pieces tucked in baguettes. Kit's mother, Solange, is perfectly calm, like all French schoolchildren, the part in her hair not the slightest bit crooked. She strokes each stone of the house with her little hands. She is smiling. She does not know what Kit knows: that in less than a year, the war will take over her life, and she will lose her father, her sister, everything. But now—in this last wonderful summer—Solange sheds her clothes, her city skin, and runs down to the water slapping the white sand cold and pure, far from the smelly streets of Paris. It is only 1938. She dips a clean toe into the sea.
This may or may not be the real story, but Kit adds details to the one she tells Jon. She adds a German boy swimming with a blonde girl very close to the stone beach house, so close her mother's heartbeat stops and starts again at the words: Werner, nein. Nein. Kit adds a broken-down train on the way back to Paris, her grandfather searched and taken to Auschwitz, never to return. In the true story, Solange returned to Paris and to school, and the terror, the important things happened later. But Kit cannot help twisting her mother's fate for effect. She's been with Jon for more than a hundred nights, but every night, she spins a tale to capture his attention once again. Her ordinariness is like a birthmark—how can Jon not see it? There is no other dramatic incident to share with him, so she makes the most of what she has.
Kit continues to curl up in the bed, under her mother's old silver comforter. It's true that the stories she tells Jon come from her grandmother, second-hand. Her mother said almost nothing of her life before the war, [End Page 14] before she left France, before she married a dull American who called her So. There are many stories Kit doesn't know about her mother: her first kiss, her first love, what it was like sailing into Ellis Island. I don't remember, her mother says, brushing aside all her questions. It isn't important. Her mother was strong. She had willed her past to evaporate as completely as clear water in a jar.
"That was the last time she felt safe" is the way Kit ends the story of the stone house. Jon is not listening. He comes into her bedroom with carefully washed strawberries and whipped cream in a small blue bowl. It's like a movie scene, Kit thinks, a perfect movie scene of passion. In a movie, however, the stems from the strawberries and the red stains on the sheets would magically disappear.
Jon smiles, but his smile is far away. "Organic berries are the best." Kit understands this is not the first time he has eaten strawberries in a woman's bed. She feels for her heart's relentless pound, buried under clothing and skin, refusing to halt.
There is another story she could tell him, but what would it help? In this story, it is Kit who is nine and at a beach house with her parents. The beach house is in America, not France; it is made of pink stucco instead of stone. Florida, where the sun shrieks all day and the cars are white and turquoise, the color of wind-up toys. Her mother is standing by the doorway, calling for her, unsmiling, impatient. Kit is always late. For the...