My mother-in-law and I are lounging on the back porch, sipping le coca and eating pistachios. We chat about tout et rien, while admiring so many wildflowers that have sprung up across the lawn.
Michèle-France has borrowed her son's T-shirt; the words on the front read "Señor Frog's." Under the title, there are four caricatures—all grenouilles. Two of the frogs have on sunglasses, the other two, sun hats. All four frogs are wearing striped swim trunks. My belle-mère's pearl necklace is peeking out of the T-shirt; the combination of frog-T-shirt-with-pearl-accent makes an amusing, if unintended, fashion statement.
"Il fait chaud ici," my belle-mère says, pinching her wool pants. "I don't know what to wear this time of year."
Sitting beside her, wearing a tank top and corduroys, I can relate. "Moi non plus!"
"En avril, ne te découvre pas d'un fil ..." my mother-in-law begins to recite a popular dicton.
I beat her to the finish: "En mai fais ce qu'il te plaît!"
As we laugh I catch a closer glimpse of my belle-mère. Michèle-France's fingernails are painted a glossy red. They are not too long, not too short: simply elegant. The string of gold beads around her wrist adds a delicate touch. My own nails are chipped and rugged. I would rather take a nap than paint them.
"Mothers don't always have time for les petits soins," my belle-mère sympathizes. Her words assure me she's no judge. She knows I am not lazy. Her eyes lock on the wildflowers as her thoughts take her back to early days, to rearing three turbulent children. "Only one year apart in age! First Jean-Marc, then Cécile, then little Jacques." She shakes her head, tapping it comically for effect. Her exaggerated gestures are humorous but, like a clown's tears, they distract us from the suffering heart within. I know she didn't cope as well as she would have liked to. When will she forgive herself?
"Nice shoes..." she offers. Our thoughts drift back to the present.
"These old things?" I tease my mother-in-law, who laughs.
"Well I've had THESE for eons!" Michèle-France retorts.
I look down at her patent-leather loafers, as if seeing them for the first time. Suddenly, they represent so much to me: a lifetime or two (my son's and daughter's), the duration of our belle-mère/belle-fille friendship, and the number of years that I've known my husband. The dainty loafers with the chic square buckle have appeared at marriages and baptisms, as well as funerals and hospital stays. I've seen them buffed, I've seen them battered. But today, oh happy day, how they shine!
Your Edits here please. Thanks for pointing out any grammar, punctuation, or story-construction problems here in the comments box. On the other hand, if it's a smooth read, thanks for letting me know that, too!
French Vocabulary (under construction... anything missing?)
la grenouille = frog
la belle-mère = mother-in-law
tout et rien = everything and nothing
un dicton = a saying
en avril, ne te découvre pas d'un fil, En mai fais ce qu'il te plaît = literally "in April, don't remove a string (of fabric); in May do as you please"; Note: this saying hints at spring weather. A warm day in April can fool people into wearing less clothing (and catching a cold when cooler weather sneaks in!) May temperatures are more stable and one can "do as one pleases".
les petits soins = fussings (little self-care treats)
la belle-fille (f) = daughter-in-law
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