For a Few Days
I’m tucked under the comforter of my bed, the space heater generating barely enough juice to keep my hands from freezing, the children tumble into a world of instantaneous imagination in the living room below me. They weave stories as they go, shouting out commands to each other – it’s always in the past tense, “and then you were calling for help” – turning the plot into a new direction. A wood-crafted puppet theater becomes the television, Buddy-roo pretends to change the channel, a box of chalk as her remote control, and Short-pants performs a feat of improv, acting out each program: a news report, a weather forecast, a show about dancing animals, a documentary about the first woman doctor, Elizabeth Blackwell.
When the puppet theater accidentally falls over, the two of them shift seamlessly to a new scene. Buddy-roo calls a repairman on her pretend phone, Short-pants runs out the side door and comes around to knock on the front door for her next role. “What’s the problem ma’am?” She says in her deepest alto voice. Buddy-roo explains the catastrophe: her TV has fallen and broken and what will she do? The repairman inspects the damage. “I’ll have to take it to the shop, for a few days.” The damsel in distress cries out in despair and faints on the couch. (Art imitates life.)
There are so few toys at this country house, mostly remnants of broken ones, old board games and puzzles (with pieces missing) handed down from the neighbors down the road, a few old Barbies and a their torn dresses, a small plastic stove, some costume jewelry that the mother-in-love brought after a major paring-down-of-her-possessions. But it is enough to amuse them for hours. We have more toys and more books at home in Paris, but the “I’m bored” cry is heard there, and not here, in the country.
In the country we wake up naturally, without an alarm. There is no school. There is no rushing through breakfast. There is no out-the-door-you’ll-be-late. There is no internet (unless I walk down the road to borrow our neighbor’s wi-fi). There is nothing but the slower rhythm of time that is more natural, more civilized than what motors us in the apparently civilized city. I do not know if I could take this suspended pace all the time, but several times a year, as it coincides with the school holidays (it’s winter break now) it is just what the country doctor ordered. Fresh air. Deep sleeps. Long walks. Manual labor. Less media.
In the evenings after dinner as night lays down around us, we huddle around the wood stove. There is no checking of the email or watching a DVD or answering the phone or Skyping with a client in a far away time zone. We sit, the four of us, around our stove and talk. And laugh. We play Mille Bornes. We tell stories. We look at each other. We’re a family together, we four.
Did I say the four of us? I am mistaken, because we have an extra body here. As we were packing she caught my eye. I was startled by her as is often the case, there’s something so wrong about That Big Doll, something about her height coupled with her anatomical proportions and those oversized, alien-like eyes – if I catch sight of her out of the corner of my eye I jump a mile. “Should we bring That Big Doll?” I asked. The girls hopped up and down, cheering.
I had to get her out of the apartment. That Big Doll has become a liability. The boy guests at our house are a bit too fascinated that something their size could have such breasts, and the conversations she is provoking amongst my children, though hilarious and manageable, are conversations I’d rather have a few years from now. Removing the object of their origin may not thwart those discussions – Pandora’s box has already been unhinged – but I’m sure we’ll all live happily ever after if we don’t have to look at her every day.
That Big Doll made the car trip on her back (her preference, I suppose) on the panel under the rear window of our rented car, evoking interesting glances from cars on the auto-route. She was a bit out of sorts in the country at first; clearly she’s a girl used to the streets of the city. She quickly acclimated, however, and has shown herself to be quite the nature girl. Who knew?
Short-pants peeks into the bedroom where I’m working and hands me a piece of paper. Please come to the show ‘The Four Accidents’ at 3:30 pm. Signed, the Puppeteer. She watches while I read, waiting for my response.
“You’re going to do a show!” I know my enthusiasm is important to her.
She nods her head, her two front teeth like barn doors in the middle of her smile.
“Is it going to have a beginning, a middle and an end?” I ask.
She nods again. You may think me harsh on this count, but if you’ve sat through any of those homemade productions that go on forever with no clear plot line, you know the pain I’m trying to avoid.
At 3:30 there’s murmuring in the living room, as the crowd of three plus That Big Doll assembles to view the advertised performance. The puppets dance on her fingers as the four accidents are revealed, one by one. There’s a wizard, a princess, a knight and a chef, all of whom suffer in their own way. When a dragon sets the castle on fire, a repairman arrives to rebuild the castle, with his invisible team of helpers. But between each accident, this narration: “And they live happily ever after for a few days.”
It seems our little playwright has a practical streak.
Tomorrow we return to Paris. I’d stay another week if we could; I’m thoroughly rested and relaxed from the fresh air and slower rhythm of life. But work calls and for that a more steady internet service is required. It’s true if we installed a connection here, we could stay on and work from the country house as easily as we do in Paris. But then we wouldn’t have the feeling of being truly unplugged. Our afternoons wouldn’t be surrendered to walks in the woods, visiting the lambs down the road, pruning in the yard, plastering in the new room. We wouldn’t linger around the wood stove every night with the same feeling of freedom and peace that comes from having no other option, really. I wouldn’t want to be here forever, without the Internet, but I can live happily ever after without it…for a few days.