It was the sound of birds, chirping and singing – not just cooing pigeons – that woke us. The bright sun streamed in through the square skylight, hinting at the beautiful day ahead. No school. No clients. No phone. No rush. I do love waking up at the country house.
Buddy-roo, who’d opted last night for a sleeping bag at the foot of our bed rather than sharing a bed in the other room with Short-pants, slithered out of her nylon nest and climbed in between De-facto and me. She was still half-asleep, and the three of us hovered in that barely-awake state.
“Do you know who’s in the semi-finals?”
“No,” I said, into my pillow.
“Not one name?”
“Come on, you can’t name one well-known tennis player?
“No, a current champion. Can you name one?”
I couldn’t. I am not an avid spectator of sporting events, tennis and golf least of all. Since I don’t care, I don’t track on the names. My brain is so far from sticky and there’s already too much data that I’m trying to hold on to with my maternally-challenged mind, I have to push out all non-essential pieces of information. I put tennis in this category.
“You’ve never even heard of Federer?” I detected more than a hint of disdain in De-facto’s voice.
“Yes, I’ve heard of him.” This was true. I’ve heard this name volleyed about in the company of real tennis fans or on the sporting news. De-facto gave me the synopsis of his career, how he holds the record for major titles and if he wins the Open that would give him the second grand slam of his career.
Since I couldn’t come up with any other modern tennis greats, he filled me in on the other three of the four top-seeded players who’ve made it to this year’s semi-finals: Nadal, who’s aiming to tie Bjorn Borg’s record of six French Open titles, Djokovic, who broke the winning streak record shared by MacEnroe and Lendl, two tennis players I have heard of – and the underdog Murray, who just wants to win a French Open after three near-misses. I can see why Roland Garros is the place to be this weekend, though I’m very glad to be here at the country house instead.
“Am I supposed to be listening to you guys talk,” Buddy-roo protested, “or are we going to have a morning cuddle?”
It wasn’t her admonishment that quieted us, but that De-facto and I were trying not to laugh at her irritation. I didn’t mind, though, the end of my little tennis lesson.
This weekend is a long one, due to school and bank holidays. France is famous for its pont weekends, when an official day-off falls on a Thursday, so people take the Friday off to bridge it into a long weekend. These usually happen in May; the Ascension and Pentecost guarantee two long weekends, and if labor day falls propitiously, there can be three pont weekends in one month. This year, because Easter fell so late in the year and labor day was on a Sunday, May was holiday-free and all the long weekends have been pushed into June.
We decided to take advantage of the extra days off to see how the garden we planted last April has fared in this spring’s drought. It’s a 4-hour drive to the country house, not worth it for a regular weekend but by sneaking out of Paris on Wednesday afternoon (with every other Parisian, ergo the slog of traffic we endured) we get at least four sleeps in the country air.
Short-pants hobbled in to our bedroom, her long, lean bones still creaky with morning stiffness. She slipped under the covers beside me so that I was now sandwiched between my two daughters.
“Why is there no school today?” she broke the silence that had ensued after the abrupt end to the tennis talk.
“It’s the Ascension,” I said, “or the Assumption, or some religious holiday that starts with an A.”
“The Ascension,” Buddy-roo clarified. “Because it’s when Jesus went up, like in an ascenseur.” (That’s the French word for elevator.) She went on to tell the story of Jesus rising from the dead. “He looked around and he said, ‘My work here is done, people,’ and then he went up to see his father.”
“And Murray, he’s really funny,” said De-facto. “He says, ‘if I win a tennis match, then I’m English. But if I lose, then I’m Scottish.’”
“I’m talking about Jesus,” said Buddy-roo, irritated, “I don’t want to talk about tennis.”
“What do you mean?” he said, “Jesus was a huge tennis fan!”
“Papa, they didn’t have tennis back then.”
“Are you kidding? Jesus loved tennis.” De-facto flattened his voice like a sportscaster: “Jesus goes into the corner, skidding on the clay, and he loses his sandal!”
“You’re right about one thing,” she said, “he did wear sandals. And a dress.”
“He had a wrathful backhand,” said De-facto.
“Stop!” Buddy-roo screamed. “Jesus didn’t play tennis. I’m the one who goes to Éveil Chrétien. None of you go. I’m the one who knows.” You can tell she’s still a little angry that her sister is excused from the class to go to her viola lesson.
“I used to go to Catholic religious classes, too,” I said, “and I even had to go on Saturday mornings!”
“I thought we were Jewish,” said Short-pants, “because of Grammy.”
“According to the Jewish religion you are,” said De-facto, “but your mom only celebrates when it’s convenient.”
“I grew up going to church every Sunday,” I said, “but it’s your Papa who went to a Jesuit high school, where he had priests for teachers! He knows something about Jesus.”
“How come there are so many religions?” Short-pants asked.
I explained how, over time, different people came up with different ways to believe in God, and how some people even believed that there was more than one God, and how maybe all the Gods were the same God, just with a different name – nobody knew for sure, and how unfortunately a lot of wars were fought because people thought their God should be the only one. It’s like fighting over who’s the best tennis player. They’re all good. You could just take all the top-seeded Gods and send them to Roland Garros each year to see who wins the title. It’ll always be an exciting match.
“That’s ridonculous,” Short-pants said.
“What? Fighting a war over God, or getting the Gods to play tennis?”
“I’m telling you,” Buddy-roo said, “Jesus did not play tennis.
Oh, but if he did.