One of these mornings
you’re going to rise up singing
spread your wings
and take to the sky…
“Summertime” like holiday.
It had started as such a good day. I sat on the bluff amongst the pines, looking at the view of the entire island all around me. The cicadas were so loud that their hypnotic cacophony made it hard to hang on to my thoughts. The sea was calm, with a few scattered white sails. I could see the little harbor, with pieces of the village around it. I recognized the Navy fort to my right, and the white beaches to the North, and tried in vain to spot my parent’s house off the Chemin du Langoustier. It felt so good to be out in the warm breeze, taking in the scent of hot pine resin, the sweet loneliness of being with myself and my dreams. One day, I would be up here with someone I loved, and we would kiss in the shadow and protection of the maritime pines, we would own the world.
My old bicycle was leaning on the trunk of a tall pine. The brakes were so bad, that my friends and I had bought some cheap sandals with high cork heels at the Porquerolles market, so we could drag our feet and use the soles to slow us down. I cautiously started down the trail, bouncing the tires over roots, skidding over the pine needles.
My parents had gone their separate ways, and had left me to spend the summer on the island. My father was working in Italy and my mother vacationing somewhere in Scandinavia. I enjoyed having the house to myself. Not quite to myself since I had Sam, my governess to take on all the hard work and boring tasks in the house, and take care of me. It was a great deal, and I appreciated every minute. The freedom was tangible, almost unbearable, and I could only hope I could summon the experiences to make it unforgettable.
Riding through the village, bouncing on all the rocks, I took the one paved road to the left, back to the house. I had worked up an appetite, and was looking forward to sitting out in the courtyard, eating Sam’s delicious food and looking at the bees dancing around the wisteria. I was reading a mystery. I always liked to read while having lunch. At night I would usually discuss the day with Sam.
After parking the bicycle in the service entrance, I knew right away something was wrong. Sam looked worried.
“Cindy! Your mother called!” She said.
“Is she coming?” I said, with a mixture of hope and fear.
On one hand, I was hopeful maybe she was taking enough of an interest in her progeny to come and spend some time with me. But I was also afraid she would come home and start taking away my precious independence.
“No, but she has invited Mrs. d’Alessi to stay here for a week”
I was crestfallen. Francesca d’Alessi was a distant friend of my mother’s, and I also suspected a former lover of my father’s. She was a well known Italian actress currently living in Hollywood.
She was married to Marco d’Alessi, a producer who was much older than her, but who seemed to have been very instrumental in the rise of her career.
I could not believe my mother had the nerve to impinge on my freedom without even coming back herself.
“Why, why is she coming? Doesn’t she have enough houses already? Why does she have to come here?”
“Your mother said she had business in France, she needed the rest, and she wants to be incognito.”
“Fudge! Whatever…”I said.
Sam frowned at the word. I still could not believe it! One whole week!
“When is she coming?”
“Today. Mr. Vernet is bringing her at 3:00.”
“Oh right, like she can’t take the ferry like everyone else…give me a break!”
I liked Francesca. I had never met her, but I had seen some of her movies. I thought she was beautiful, though I could not at the time really appreciate whether she was a good actress or not. She had dark skin, very blue eyes, a perfect face and a flawless body with (what I admired most) straight hair, of a non-descript color with blonde highlights in typical Hollywood fashion. Some of the films, especially the ones directed by the Italian New Wave, were I have to admit, slightly above my head. She looked good in black and white though. Right now, however, I hated her.
Since my father worked in the film business, I had met many famous actresses and actors throughout my fourteen years, and always found them to be extremely boring in person, especially from the point of view of a kid. They seemed to always listen to themselves talk, and usually did the most stupid cutesy things to try to make me smile. I regularly gave them murderous looks, and ran away to my room.
The idea of having to contend with “La d’Alessi” for a whole week made me want to pull out all of my mother’s roses and trample them until nothing was left. I decided I would not have anything to do with her, and continue living my life as close to the way it had been so far this summer as possible. So there.
I ate my lunch distractedly. I was not even interested in finding out the next clue in my book, nor did I care at the moment about who was the murderer. Let him or her go free. Let him or her kill them all for all I care. Once they are all dead, we will know for sure who done it. Sam was busy cleaning rooms, making shopping lists, working hard. I was furious at my mother.
At 2:30, I made my escape. I hopped on the bike, rushed to my friends’ house in the village, and summoned the troops to spend the afternoon at Plage d’Argent. It was me and “the girls”, Ondine and Veronica, and “the boys” Jean-Pierre and Jean-Remy. Veronica was older than her sister Ondine, and did not join us very often. So it was really Ondine and me and the boys, who were brothers. I liked them all, but had a special feeling for Jean-Pierre, whose nickname was of all things, Bambi. I could imagine the name was left over from when he was a chubby toddler, and maybe it was going to follow him into old age. I had a crush on Bambi, and I loved to watch him. He was skinny, but quite strong for a fifteen year old. He had blond hair, curly in places, and it always fell in front of his eyes. He was tanned from being constantly out in the sunlight in a bathing suit. He had the looks of an angel, and the manners of a bad boy. This was probably what attracted me, but who knows… Bambi incidentally, did not return my feelings.
So Ondine and I went to pick up the boys, and off we went. We played a game where we would pull out the old canoe we had hidden at the Plage d’Argent. The canoe leaked, and the game was to paddle as fast and as far as possible before the canoe finally sank. Then, we had to drag the canoe on the bottom, turn it over to empty it and start all over again. Bambi liked to have Ondine as his partner, and I always ended up with Jean-Remy. I did not like paddling with Bambi anyway, as he always yelled at me. My favorite partner whenever she joined was Ondine’s sister Veronica. She knew how to drop the competition aspect, and pretend we were on an island in the Pacific, singing and paddling slowly in unison until we sank.
After all our exertions, we would lie on the silver sand in full sunlight and discuss everything from our parents, to the latest news. We made fun of the people we called tourists. We had houses, we did not stay in hotels, we were locals, yet in our minds slightly above of the real locals, those who lived on the island all year round.
A good day was when Bambi paid some attention to me, other than mocking or yelling. Today was a good day. Bambi even showed me his new zippo lighter.
Francesca wanted to be incognito, so I felt I had to respect her wishes. I mentioned I was going to have to deal with an unwelcome guest, but I did not say who it was.
“Bummer! “said Ondine…“why don’t you come to our house for dinner tonight? We’re having fish, as usual, but you are welcome!”
“Thanks, I will!”
What a relief not to have to face the awkward situation of whether I was welcome to eat with Mrs. d’Alessi or not.
So I called Sam from Ondine’s parents’ house in the village, and told her I would not be home for dinner.
“Is she here?”
Obviously, Sam was not free to talk.
“Is she going to have dinner at home?”
“OK, see you tomorrow morning! Good night, good luck…”
I had a good time with Ondine and Veronica and their parents, and biked home as slowly as I could, as close to midnight as I could.