“What in God’s name do you think you’re doing?” Mariane almost spat the words in his face.
“Nothing. I don’t know why you’re reacting like this.” Morris was staying calm.
“Why I’m reacting?”
“Yes, why you are upset about nothing.”
“That’s rich. Upset about nothing.” She was angry. “Do you really think I don’t know what’s going on?”
“Nothing is going on.”
The voices rumbled down the hallway like thunder. Corinth could hear the argument from her room. It wasn’t the first time her parents had been angry with each other, but this sounded worse than before. She stood with her bedroom door ajar, listening. It was clear her mother was upset and that her father was attempting to calm things down, denying there was any problem.
“This isn’t the first time.” She continued her attack.
“What do you mean by that?”
Morris attempted to rebuff his wife’s accusations. He insisted she was misinterpreting things, but Mariane was having none of it. She told him this time he had gone too far. Worse it was here, right under her nose. He insisted she had got things wrong, but she would not listen.
Then he pleaded with her for an explanation. “What exactly am I supposed to have done?”
“Done! With my own sister. I can smell her perfume on you.”
“So? Your sister uses a strong scent.” He was flailing under the onslaught.
“Oh please, Morris. Don’t make excuses.”
“This affects everybody. Not just you and me. The whole family. The kids. What about our daughters? Milo? Did you even think about them?”
Corinth knew something was seriously wrong. She understood what they were arguing about, and it was a shock.
“I need some air,” Morris said.
The door down the hallway banged shut. Corinth listened to her father’s footsteps. She heard him go downstairs. Quietly, she closed her bedroom door and flopped down on the bed. Would they separate? Get divorced? There were girlfriends at school whose parents had split up. It wasn’t so uncommon. But she never imagined it might happen to them. Should she go and see her mother? Corinth lay there, trying to think through what might happen. Perhaps nothing?
▪ ▪ ▪
Milo spotted Uncle Morris walking down the steps of the veranda. He watched him get into the car and start the engine. The tyres threw up a cloud of dust from the dry ground as the car pulled away. For a moment, he wondered where his uncle was going in such a hurry. But his thoughts quickly returned to the subject of his preoccupation, Estevo. He would be here today. Milo decided to hang around the house and wandered down into the garden.
In reality, the label ‘garden’ no longer applied, the bushes had grown wild, the plants that pushed up through the baked earth were those that survived without watering, mostly weeds. The outline of what was once a splendid garden, like the house itself, was still there. You just needed to look hard to see it. Milo wondered what his father wanted Estevo to do. One person alone could not reverse years of neglect.
The sun was reaching its zenith. Lunch would be on the veranda, but no one was about. At least he saw nobody, until he found his way to the rear of the property. The grass was taller there, interspersed with weeds and gorse bushes. Those needed to be dodged to avoid the sharp prickles which would scratch and cut your legs. A path of sorts existed, leading towards the back door. Actually two doors side by side. A wooden step led up to the rear entrance of the house and another door led into the basement.
Milo had been into the basement. As a young child, it offered mystery and adventure, but it was an empty space that an adult had to move through bent double. The uneven earth floor and low beams meant you could not stand up. The basement was another part of the house long since abandoned. Left as a home for the bats.
He was surprised to see Corinth sitting alone on the rear step. He had imagined making a tour of the outside, he might find Estevo. He had not seen him arrive. As he drew closer, his cousin looked up and wiped her eyes. It was obvious she had been crying.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
There was silence. Milo took a seat on the step next to her. He sat a while before speaking again.
“Is something wrong? Did something happen?”
Corinth turned her head away but otherwise did not move. Milo was almost touching her.
He decided on a different approach. “You know I like both my cousins. Even if you both tease and play about.”
It seemed she relaxed a little. Although she didn’t look directly at him, she did turn her head back, but still kept silent.
“What do you think we’ll have for lunch?” He was trying hard to lift her spirits but was obviously not very good at it.
“I couldn’t care less,” she finally replied. “I don’t care.”
“I think my parents are getting divorced.”
That statement came out of the blue, like a summer storm, a shock. A shock for Milo, but not for Corinth. A summer storm was at least predictable. You could see the storm clouds gathering, you just didn’t know when it would hit.
“What happened?” Milo shuffled a little closer. He wanted to give his support.
“They were arguing. It’s been going on for some time. Before we got here.”
“Arguing about what?”
Corinth felt the touch of the other body next to hers. She stared out across the overgrown lawn.
“I think it was about my father and your mother.” She didn’t want to be too brutal. She didn’t want to straight out tell him it was about them. Even though she knew, she’d heard the argument.
Now she turned her head and looked at him. “You sure you want to know?”
“Of course, I want to know.” Why would she say that? he thought to himself.
“Something’s going on between your mother and my father.”
She sighed. “Milo, you can be so slow sometimes. It’s easy to tease you. You never see anything. Don’t get it,”
“Don’t get what?” He was a bit annoyed.
“My father, your mother. Together.”
He still had to think about it for a moment or two before the penny dropped. “You mean they’re…” He didn’t know how to finish, but if he understood her, she was telling him his mother was having an affair.
“With Uncle Morris?”
Corinth felt exhausted by the explanation. “You got it.”
“No, no, can’t be true. I’m not falling for your games.”
“Whatever. You asked. I’m not playing. Not making it up. I heard my parents arguing about it.”
At first, he didn’t reply, but something felt different. This time he believed her. She was serious. She’d been crying about it. Before he even got here.
“Okay. What if I do believe you?”
“Nothing. Nothing, Milo. I’m just saying what’s going on. It upset me. Not at first, but thinking about what might happen. If they do split up. What will happen now? This summer? It seems like it might be over before it starts. I can’t see us staying here all summer together. Can you?”
He thought about it, “No. I suppose not.”
Corinth turned to face him, moving her head closer. She moved her arm onto his back, leaned forward and kissed him on the lips. She caught him off guard. He was contemplating the revelation, not paying attention to her. The first he knew, was the soft, moist touch of her lips against his. He jumped back, surprised. It took Milo a moment to recover.
“Look, Corinth, I wasn’t lying about liking you both, you and Amelie. But I like you like cousins, sisters even, not in any other way.”
She didn’t push herself on him but instead shuffled further apart. “Okay, sorry.”
“Forget it. No problem. Just so we understand each other. Okay?”
“Okay,” she gave him a weak smile. “And I’m sorry for teasing you and all that.”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s all cool.”
“Still, why wouldn’t you want to kiss? It doesn’t mean we’re in a relationship or anything. It’s only a kiss. Boy, girl.”
Milo felt himself blush. “I just don’t want to do that. We’re not kids anymore.”
“All the more reason. Just try kissing between grownups.”
“Well, I don’t think we’re grownups either. And it doesn’t feel right doing stuff with my cousin.”
Corinth was silent. She was again staring out across the once fine lawn.
After some time just sitting there together Milo spoke, “Have you seen the guy who’s working on the house?”
“Oh, my father employed this young guy to do some work here. I haven’t seen him around and was wondering if he’d shown up.
“Well, I haven’t seen him either. Let’s go take a look.”
It was amazing how quickly his cousin could slip from one mood into another. From one person to another. Perhaps a unique quality given to some but not others, he thought. They stood up together and smiled at each other. It seemed to Milo that they’d reached a new understanding. He hoped everything wasn’t as bad as the picture she painted.
“Which way?” She asked.
“I’ve done the tour of the outside. Let’s take a look around inside.”
They turned, opened the door, and went into the house.
Corinth led the way along the narrow hall. There was music playing in one of the rooms. The radio was on…
Qui a le droit, qui a le droit
Qui a le droit d’ faire ça
A un enfant qui croit vraiment
C’ que disent les grands
On passe sa vie à dire merci
Merci à qui, à quoi
A faire la pluie et le beau temps
Pour des enfants à qui l’on ment
(Who has the right, who has the right)
(Who has the right to do that)
(To a child who really believes)
(What the adults say)
(We spend our life saying thank you)
(Thank you to who, for what)
(Bringing the rain and the good times)
(For the children we lie to)
Corinth turned into the open door with Milo right behind her. The large room was empty save for the ladder resting against the far wall with the young man halfway up it, singing. Singing along with the radio. Milo thought he had a beautiful voice. Estevo was shirtless, stretching, scraping the old wallpaper from the wall. The floor was spotted with scraps of wallpaper showing pictures of faded flowers that had once weaved their way around the room. Bare floorboards gleamed with a shiny dark wetness from the moisture spilled off the wall. One large strip of paper, soaked and damp, was all that was left of the decoration.
A toi aussi, j’ suis sur qu’on t’en a dit
De belles histoires, tu parles que des conneries!
Alors maintenant, on s’ retrouve sur la route
Avec nos peurs, nos angoisses et nos doutes
(And to you as well, I’m sure they told you)
(Beautiful stories, all bullshit!)
(And now, we’re left alone)
(With our fears, anxiety, and doubts)
Corinth approached, bent down by the ladder, and turned the large knob on the black and chrome transistor radio. Patrick Bruel faded into the background. Estevo stopped, turned his head, and looked down at her.
“How long have you been here?” Milo demanded.
Estevo glanced across the room before turning his attention back to Corinth.
“Not long,” he replied.
“You must work quickly,” Milo was watching him. Watching him looking at Corinth.
“What are you doing?” Corinth smiled up at him. She was quite taken by the lean, tanned young man in faded jeans and old sneakers.
He laughed and held up the scraper with which only minutes before he’d been tearing off the last remaining vestiges of wallpaper.
“Isn’t it obvious?”
His smile was contagious and brightened Corinth’s mood. She was no longer thinking about her parents or Milo. Milo, on the other hand, was less pleased. It seemed there was something between the two of them, Estevo and Corinth. In any event, it was certain that Estevo was more taken with her than him.
“You’re here all day?” Milo asked as he was leaving.
Estevo looked at him. “Yeah, I’m staying here. To get the work done for your father.”
Milo thought that was typical of his father. The house was falling apart, and he’d asked Estevo to decorate an empty room that they didn’t even use.
“I’ll see you later then.” He walked back out, leaving Corinth and Estevo alone.
As he reached the end of the hall and went back outside, he heard the radio once more, blaring from the house.
Milo wondered if he was jealous. But why? What of? He walked along the overgrown path back around the house, towards the hammock.