Across the Bridge

Free Across the Bridge by Mavis Gallant

Book: Across the Bridge by Mavis Gallant Read Free Book Online
Authors: Mavis Gallant
rugby teams. He was allowed to watch rugby on television. His parents did not care for soccer: the players showed off, received absurd amounts of money just for kicking a ball, and there was something thematter with their shorts. “With all that money, they could buy clothes that fit,” Pascal’s mother had said. Rugby players were different. They were the embodiment of action and its outcome, in an ideal form. They got muddied for love of sport. France had won the Five Nations tournament, beating even the dreaded Welsh, whose fans always set up such eerie wailing in the stands. Actually, they were trying to sing. It must have been the way the early Celts joined in song before the Roman conquest, the magistrate had told Pascal.
    No one at table could have made a rugby team. They were too thin. Dédé was a broomstick. Of course, Pascal played soccer at school, in a small cement courtyard. The smaller boys, aged six, seven, tried to imitate Michel Platini, but they got everything wrong. They would throw the ball high in the air and kick at nothing, leg crossed over the chest, arms spread.
    The magistrate kept an eye on the dish Abelarda was now handing around: partridges in a nest of shredded cabbage – an entire surprise. Pascal looked over at Dédé, who sat smiling to himself, for no good reason. (If Pascal had continued to follow his father’s gaze he might be told gently, later, that one does not stare at food.)
    There was no more conversation to be had from M. Brouet, for the moment. Helping themselves to partridge, the guests told one another stories everybody knew. All the candidates were in a declining state of health and morality. One had to be given injections of ground-up Japanese seaweed; otherwise he lost consciousness, sometimes in the midst of a sentence. Others kept going on a mixture of cocaine and Vitamin C. Their private means had been acquired by investing in gay bars and foreign wars, and evicting the poor. Only the Ministry of the Interior knew the nature and extent of their undercover financial dealings. And yet some of these men had to be found better than others, if democracy was not to come to a standstill. As M. Brouet had pointed out, one cannot wash one’s hands of the future.
    The magistrate had begun to breathe evenly and deeply. Perhaps the sunlight beating on the panes of the shut doors made him feel drowsy.
    “Étienne is never quite awake or asleep,” said his wife, meaning it as a compliment.
    She was proud of everyone related to her, even by marriage, and took pride in her father, who had run away from home and family to live in New Caledonia. He had shown spirit and a sense of initiative, like Dédé with the wasps. (Now that Pascal is fourteen, he has heard this often.) But pride is not the same as helpless love. The person she loved best, in that particular way, was Dédé.
    Dédé had come to stay with the Brouets because his mother, Pascal’s grandmother, no longer knew what to do with him. He was never loud or abrupt, never forced an opinion on anyone, but he could not be left without guidance – even though he could vote, and was old enough to do some of the things he did, such as sign his mother’s name to a check. (Admittedly, only once.) This was his second visit; the first, last spring, had not sharpened his character, in spite of his brother-in-law’s conversation, his sister’s tender anxiety, the sense of purpose to be gained by walking his little nephew to school. Sent home to Colmar (firm handshake with the magistrate at the Gare de l’Est, tears and chocolates from his sister, presentation of an original drawing from Pascal), he had accidentally set fire to his mother’s kitchen, then to his own bedclothes. Accidents, the insurance people had finally agreed, but they were not too pleased. His mother was at the present time under treatment for exhaustion, with a private nurse to whom she made expensive presents. She had about as much money sense as Harpo, the

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