pearls around the neck • 47
done wrong and walks on certain cobblestones, the ground opens up and swallows you whole, sending
you straight to hell and the Devil. Isn’t this just terrible?”
I was scared to death, terrified. Although my conscience was quite clear, I wasn’t entirely convinced
that one stupid thing or another that I may have done wouldn’t be misinterpreted by the Devil.
It was therefore an immense relief for me to enter each morning the fourth grade class at the ‘Ladies for
Christian Education’ primary school. The Mother Superior was far less cruel than Clarisse!
But as I grew up, I became less gullible and did, little by little, venture to experiment with
wrongdoings. A small lie here, an innocent pilfer there and yet the cobblestones still didn’t open under
my steps. Quite encouraged by this discovery, my sins went crescendo at the same tempo as my fear of
the Devil was fading away.
When I was a teenager, I discovered that I was pretty. I understood that by the way people looked at
me. Clarisse no longer took me to school. Our lifestyle had changed. Having speculated on the price of
colonial commodities during the Great Depression, my father had been forced to sell his business and
our large house. Father had invested the rest of his fortune in life annuities. Since then, he had been
spending his time parading in town, his good looks earning him a modest success with women. Idle,
submissive and sullen, my mother spent her days brooding dejectedly in the new house, which was
located somewhat far from the town center. The atmosphere there was dark and gloomy.
To entertain and amuse me, my parents had bought a piano; however I was far less enthusiastic about
the instrument than I was about the teacher who came to give me lessons twice a week.”
Reaching that point in her story, she paused. The pastel she had been holding fell out of her hand.
“I can’t go on”
“Why not?” I insisted. It was the fifth time, the fifth time she had dictated the same story. “This time
you have to go on, otherwise I’m giving up. Is it the piano teacher who is causing you such anguish,
paralyzing you so?”
I took her in my arms, trying to soothe her. She had started shaking and broke into tears, but what I
saw in her eyes was an expression of hatred, which suddenly frightened me. An expression I had never
seen before. Her face had lost its usual features; her muscles seemed distorted.
“You are right,” she said, having regained some composure. “Let’s stop this silliness, I will never write
this book. Anyhow, it would devastate the family and my husband would never forgive me. He has
been good to me and I don’t want to put his reputation at stake. You know how attached he is to his
“But you could keep it anonymous, turn your story into a novel somewhat remote from your own life;
an author can take any sort of liberty with her characters. The piano teacher could become a painter,
your father could be the headmaster of a school, I don’t know, there are thousands of ways to hide
behind a character.”
“I know. I’ve thought about it,” she answered with a weary sigh, “but I don’t seem to be able to do
so. Plus, those who know me will still recognize me. Let’s not talk about it anymore and let’s drop my
writer’s ambitions right here. All things considered, I am more gifted with drawing, which is another
way of expressing oneself, less openly maybe, and more secretly than with words. And there are no
words for what comes afterwards in my story.”
So, we left things there.
Afterwards, she spent most of her time drawing, mainly copying works of art. When she became ill, she