Jeanne doesn’t realize that her husband and her mother have wandered off with Jude until she finds herself alone with her father.
She hasn’t discussed her mother’s condition with him for some time. She does not want to tell him or her husband how earlier in the week, when her mother was visiting, she’d forced herself to go out and sit by the pool while her son was napping. As soon as she put her feet in the water, she glanced up and saw her mother watching her from the terrace. Her mother looked bewildered, as though she had no idea where she was. Jeanne was in the middle of a phone call with James. She ended the call quickly and ran upstairs, and by the time she reached the apartment her mother was standing by the door. She pushed the door shut, grabbed Jeanne by the shoulders, and slammed her into it. Had Carole been bigger, she might have cracked open Jeanne’s head. Jeanne kept saying, “Manman, Manman,” like an incantation, until it brought her back.
“What happened?” her mother asked.
Jeanne wanted to call an ambulance, or at least her father, but she was in shock and her mother seemed fine the rest of the day. Jeanne avoided her as much as she could, let her watch a talk show she liked, and made sure that she was not left alone with Jude.
The next day, her mother showed up after James had gone to work and began shouting at her in Creole. “You have to fight the devil,” she yelled. “Stop being selfish and living for yourself. Start living for your child.”
Those incidents have made Jeanne afraid both of and for her mother. She agreed to go through with the christening in the hope that it might help. Maybe her mother was only pretending to be losing her mind in order to get her way.
Sitting next to James on their living-room sofa, with Jude in her arms, Carole appears calmer than she has all week. Paul is sitting on the other side of her, and the three of them seem to be talking about Jude, or about children in general. Then James’s friend Marcos joins them, and Jude reaches out for his big cloud of an Afro.
Jeanne wonders how her brother could fail to notice that their mother is deteriorating. In all their conversations about the christening, he never mentioned Carole’s state of mind. Was it because he was used to seeing her as a pious woman, not as his mother but as his “sister” in the Lord? Paul has never paid much attention to practical things. He spent most of their childhood reading books that even the adults they knew had never heard of, obscure novels and anthropological studies, the biographies of famous theologians and saints. Before he officially joined their mother’s church, when he was a senior in high school, he had considered becoming a priest. He was always more concerned about the next world than he was about this one.
Her mother motions for Paul to scoot over, then lowers Jude into the space between them on the sofa. Jude turns his face back and forth and keeps looking up at the adults, especially at James.
“How are you these days?” Jeanne’s father asks. As he speaks to Jeanne, he’s looking at her mother in a way she has never seen before, with neither admiration nor love but alarm, or even distress.
“O.K.,” she says. Usually that is enough for him. Her father, like her husband, doesn’t usually push. But this time he does.
“Why do all this today?” her father asks, though he already knows the answer. “Did you have this child for her, too? Because she won’t be able to take care of him for you. You’ll have to do it for yourself.”
“Of course I didn’t have my son for her,” Jeanne says.
“Then why have him?” he asks. “It doesn’t seem like you want him.”
This, whatever it is that she is feeling, she wants to tell him, isn’t about not wanting her son. It’s about not being up to the task; the job is too grand, too permanent, even with her husband’s help. It’s hard to explain to her father or to anyone else, but something that was supposed to kick in, maybe a light that was meant to turn on in her head, never did. Despite her complete physical transformation, at times she feels as though she had not given birth at all. It’s not that she doesn’t want her son, or wishes he hadn’t been born; it’s just that she can’t believe that he is truly hers.
She’s desperate to change the subject. “What’s really wrong with Manman?” she asks.
“We’re not done talking about you,” her father says.
“What’s wrong with her?” she insists.
“She’s not herself,” he says.
“It’s more than that.”
“What do you want me to say?”
“We need to know the truth.”
“We,” he says, pointing to her mother, then to himself, “already know the truth.”
Jeanne hears her mother laughing, softly at first then louder, at something that either James or Marcos has said. She realizes that possibly there have been doctors, a diagnosis, one that her parents are keeping to themselves.
“What are you saying?” she asks.
“I’ll soon have to put her somewhere,” he says.
She thinks of the expense and how her mother will not be the only one who is dislocated. Her father may have to sell the house in order to afford a decent place where her mother won’t be neglected or abused. She thinks of the irony of her family’s not being able to take care of her mother, who has dedicated so much of her life to them.
“I’m not saying it will happen tomorrow, but we’ll have to put her somewhere one day.”
Jeanne hasn’t seen the pain in her father’s face before, because she hasn’t been looking for it. She hasn’t been thinking about other people’s pain at all. But now she can see the change in him. His hair is grayer and his voice drags. His eyes are red from lack of sleep, his face weathered with worry.