Originally published in French in the collection En enfer, mon amour, Editions de l’Aire, 1990.
Story appears in both French and English.
I first encountered the work of Marie-Claire Dewarrat when I read her novel Carême, the story of a grieving father which the author wrote following the death of her own daughter. I was entranced by the book’s sweet strangeness and the way it wove dark, violent realities into the slow rhythms of grief and healing. In the short story collection from which “Rising Sap” is drawn, that darkness often takes a fantastical, surreal turn. Dewarrat’s fiction is deeply tied to season and landscape, more specifically to the countryside of French-speaking Switzerland where much of her work is set. Her wise, often teasing narratorial voice playfully and skillfully blends poetic language with informal, local turns of phrase, vividly conjuring that particular place.
You are that boy. The boy I met in Switzerland while herding my siblings up the long, steep hill to the closest school cafeteria for our free lunch.
It took me exactly two hours. Two hours for most Swiss children to go home to a hot lunch and a motherly kiss. Two hours for non-Swiss me to make my way across town, pick up my brother and sisters at their school and coax them all up that hill, to get them fed, then back down to drop them off and then catch a city bus to my own school, and my breath, if I have money that day.
Under our mother’s dictatorship, we had one liberty. Each market day, she bought a crate of Golden Delicious apples and tipped the Swiss vendor to lug it up the three steep flights of stairs that led to our immigrant’s cramped apartment. The full crate barely fit on the bottom shelf of our small pantry, where it sat for us all month. These apples were our only snack, but we could eat of them without restriction.
Our grey Swiss building has ceiling moldings in the shape of flowers. These were white once. Before we immigrants took over most of its floors. The only natives who remain are very old. They have no children or pensions large enough to help them flee our foreign invasion. Like Madame Belet, who lives one floor down from us and gives me old, melted chocolates when I run errands for her.