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21.4.18

Extract: Stories We Tell Ourselves by Sarah Françoise





The stairs are carpeted. Everywhere is carpeted. The carpet was put down by the previous owner to make the house more attractive to prospective buyers. The carpet is too thick to be tasteful, and it’s white, which is just silly. Already around the dining table there are crusty puddles of orange pasta sauce, tears of dried apple juice and Cheerios glued to the pile. They’ve spoken of removing it once Finn is walking, but now Maya isn’t so sure. She knows she’s meant to want the wooden floorboards, yes, but now she’s grown used to treading on the ridge of the step, and it feeling soft under the arch of her foot. Gitsy says it’s like walking on fluffy sheep babies.
Maya goes over to the French doors with the kettle, to empty yesterday’s water out in the garden. She knows yesterday’s water is still potable, but it’s a habit. New water for a new day.
The living room is white. White carpet, white walls, and a green sofa with white cushions and a white throw. On the walls there are two paintings by a rising Kenyan artist. Cole brought them back with him in April, after a three-week consultancy on governance and transparency in Nairobi. One is mostly white, the other is white with a transparent grey geometrical shape in the middle. Finn’s bouncy chair is parked in the corner, filled with the toys she and Cole picked up off the floor last night.
Cole’s ability to work a ten-hour day, get in an hour of water polo, and still have time to be a devoted father amazes her. Frank never had the consistency of a Cole. Maya has no recollection of him ever giving her and Lois a bath, much less playing Rapunzel on the top bunk. Frank’s strength as a father was in grand outings that were devised to be memorable. Not in the small stuff, which took place again and again, and was routinely forgotten.
In the week, he usually appeared just when Joan was about to serve dinner. They’d be sitting on the bench with wet hair and clean pyjamas, and suddenly Frank would come in the front door and take his place at the head of the table. After dinner, he would read his book on the sofa or wait for Joan in front of the television. The children would single-file down the stairs one last time to collect their goodnight kisses from him.
Weekends were different. Frank worked most Saturdays, but was with them on Sundays. There were weekends when he doled out his parenting from morn till midnight, with the same cultish ardour he directed at his research. Maya remembers him rousing them at the crack of dawn to go mushrooming. He filled baskets with plastic bottles sawn in half, and gave them each a pocket knife. They stayed out all day, came home with cuts on their fingers and teary from exhaustion. At night he turned the harvest into omelettes – one omelette per species of mushroom. Dinner would be ten omelettes, which came flying out of the kitchen way past the children’s bedtime. If they found berries too he would let them make jam with him until they were too sleepy to stand.
Other Sundays he disappeared into his study with his books and maps, or took long sitting naps with his mouth wide open.
Maya looks at the white staircase that leads up to where her children and husband are still asleep. She walks over to the bookcase, which is filled with photography books and monographs but almost no novels, and feels for her phone on the top shelf. Two unread messages from Liz.





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