THE LITTLE GIRL FROM NEXT DOOR slips through the fence and knocks at my parents’ sliding door. She sits herself down at the kitchen table and asks for a biscuit. We’re not really used to having neighbours, but we’re getting better.
“Voilà,” my mother says, handing her a chocolate digestive, and Manon begins to nibble it.
Her mouth grows slick with saliva, and every now and then she delicately turns the biscuit this way and that, unsure of her line of attack.
“How did you learn to speak English?” she asks finally, unable to conceive a world beyond this little town in Brittany. Unable to conceive a non-France.
“The same way you learned French,” I say. “When you were a baby, it was the language you learned from your parents. I learned English from Rosie and Jay and they learned from their parents.”
“Oh. Like when you were in the tummy?”
“Where are your parents, Rosie?”
My mother puts on her matter-of-fact-face and says, “Ils sont morts.”
“Oh,” says Manon and continues to eat her biscuit.
“Are they in the cemetery here?”
“No, they’re buried in the mountains of Zimbabwe,” says Ma, deciding it’s easier to say buried than sprinkled, because then we’d have to explain cremation.
“I kind of know what buried means, but could you tell me again?”
“Well,” I say glancing over at Ma, “when you die you get put into a big box called a coffin and they dig a really deep hole and then they put the coffin in the hole and cover it over with earth.”
“And they throw beautiful flowers in too,” says Ma with a big smile. “White ones and pink ones and yellow ones.”
“Ah bon,” says Manon, her eyes magnified by her tiny pair of pink glasses, crumbs all around her mouth, “And red ones too?”
Suddenly she pops the rest of the biscuit into her mouth, jumps off her chair, zips into the office, and comes back with a piece of paper and a pencil. Her mouth is still bulging with soggy digestive as she sketches a smiling person in a long box surrounded by flowers.
“Like this?” she asks and turns the page around to show us.
She turns the page back, her pencil poised.
“Should I cover it over with dirt now?” she asks, starting to scribble over the picture.
“Non, non!” I say, “It’s perfect just like that.”
“Do you know who it is?” she asks.
“Qui?” asks Ma.
“MANON!” she says with a grin and pens her name onto the paper with the cursive letters they teach French kids.