The woman who pinches sits in the family car on the way to Sunday mass.
Her fingers clasp an umbrella handle, each long white digit standing stiff at its cardinal
points. Her name is Caroline.
Her daughter asks “Do birds eat their own feathers?”, which Caroline routinely
ignores because she’s thinking about her mother, her own stiff mother, who is coming for a
don’t-go-to-any-trouble supper, and she ticks off all the things she’ll have to do to make it
“Quoi”? asks Pierre-Julien behind the wheel of his polished Scenic.
Don’t put too much sugar in the tarte au praline. Make sure the children say ‘ne’ and
‘pas’ when they use negatives. Ask mother the Latin name for the Columbine flower.
She observes the droplets of rain on her window, dropping, as droplets do, in lines.
They join others to form a circle, or a noose, and when her thoughts fly to the fourth child
inside her, her fingers loosen.
Her belly is her haven, away from the bickering boys, the inconsistent braking, sporadic
spinal damage from the child-pendulums behind her, the eternal smell of apples no matter
the scrubbing and the scented sprays, and Jeanne’s questions (why so many questions!).
Just Caroline and her fetus, upon whom she can pin dreams and shush to sleep.
Once upon a time she’d done the same for the others, when they were bellied and
microscopic. For Edouard she’d spent months painting him podgy pink and holy, wrapped
in white cashmere, the baby magnet at family gatherings that shut her sisters up and made
her father glow.
For Thomas she’d pictured him prettier, less boisterous than his brother, less pasty too,
and he’d sit still on the wooden pew and she’d dress him in lace and he’d look like a
cherub, and even Marie Laurence would say il est ad-o-rable!, but she’d been given
Thomas with all his learning difficulties.
After two boys she’d dreamt of a third, and in the confines of her insides he was pure
sunshine and he’d sit still, always, and he’d be balm for the tempestuous duo who bit and
bled. But Jeanne was a girl.
“Can’t believe it” says Pierre-Julien who’s had to brake hard, snaking the back end of
the car onto the cobbles.
“Didn’t even indicate. Am I supposed to be telepathic?” he says.
Caroline whispers “don’t” and her fingers grip her umbrella again. She forgives the rude
hand gesture her husband makes at the BMW which has now parked up on the pavement
of Montée de la Grande Côte, turning the Blessed Family into potential prey, immobile
behind a set of red lights. Humbly regard others as more important than yourselves.
“You’re not seven and a half, you idiot!” says Edouard to his brother.
“When’s your birthday then?”
“October the tenth”, Thomas replies.
“Well that makes seven years and two months.”
Caroline’s other set of fingers are located on her belly, and as she watches her husband
look right, she taps an unknown rhythm to an unknown song.
“I’ll tell you when it’s green, papa” Jeanne says.
“Maman, can I say I’m seven and a half?” asks Thomas.
Caroline doesn’t answer, for she is inhaling air through her mouth and drumming her
This one is going to be a boy and he is going to be mute. He’ll have a golden Missal and
will love the passages Caroline loves and the others will see the silent bond between
mother and their mute brother and they’ll be choked with jealousy, so they’ll start paying
attention to the Abbé Rabany and bring quotes to supper and the Blessed Family will savour
the slow-cooked sourid’agneau and they’ll be grateful, they’ll be fucking grateful.
“Maman, can I say I’m seven and a half?”
“For fu... if he wants to say he’s seven and a half, let him!” says Pierre-Julien, at the red
light that won’t go green, the clutch and revs rocking the family wide awake.
From the edge of her eye, Caroline sees the door to the BMW swing open and the man
get out of his car. He’s big and from the banlieue and he’s closing in on their Scenic! If God
sends too many sufferings, it is because he has great plans for you, great plans.
“I’m seven and a half” says Thomas and he sticks his tongue out, prompting Edouard to
lift his fist over the sister-buffer and hammer it down on his younger brother’s head.
“Why does Marie-Laurence always start singing before everyone else?” asks Jeanne, but
The woman who pinches turns around slowly and hands each of them a small white pill
which they suck in silence, because rules are rules, but alas, there’s no relief for what’s
happening outside in the rain, no remedy for the dark figure approaching umbrellaless
now - Toi qui regnes avec Le Père et Le Saint-Esprit, maintenant et pour des siècles et des
siècles - no way of preventing the probable scene from unraveling, in which the man places
his dirty working-class hands on the family car and Pierre-Julien says something awful and
gets a dislocated jaw and Père Michel sees blood and judges and Caroline starts loving her
husband even less.
Alert, swift, unwavering, Caroline’s fingers come down on her husband’s genitals and
“Drive,” she says.
Caroline has always had a knack of restoring calm, as no one says a word for the
remainder of the journey. And just as Jeanne begins to protest “but papa, it wasn’t green!”,
her mother presses her bone white finger against her lip and Jeanne is a silent little
Kik Lodge is a teacher/translator based in Lyon, France. Her flash has featured in Litro, The Moth, Tiny Molecules, the Common Breath, the Cabinet of Heed, and Reflex Fiction and she is currently working on a short story collection based on the churchgoers next to her flat. Twitter: @KikLodge