I HAD A HAPPY childhood.
Sunday afternoon, my mother bolts into our room while my brother and I are playing in our separate corners. "Children, do I love you?" Her voice is intense, her nostrils beyond belief. My brother answers straight on, but all I can muster with the confidence of my seven years is to hem and haw. I get what’s going on but at the same time dread what’s to follow. I end up murmuring, "Maybe you love us a little too much." My mother looks at me in horror. For a moment she’s at a loss, then moves to the window, shoves it open, and tries to throw herself from the sixth floor. Having heard the noise, my father catches her on the balcony after she has already stuck a leg into space. My mother yells, puts up a fight. Her screams echo through the courtyard. My father pulls her roughly backward and drags her inside like a sack. During the struggle, my mother’s head hits the wall and goes clunk.
For a long time afterward, there’s a small bloodstain on the wall. One day I draw some circles around it with a black felt-tip pen and use it as a dart target; when I hit the bull’s-eye, I imagine for a brief instant finding again a way to speak without fear.
When my mother met my father, she was sixteen and he was eighteen. It was in 1956, during a surprise party at the house in Bois-Colombes into which my father’s family had moved after the war in ’39. My father brought the party to life by playing drums in a little jazz band made up of fellow law students. My mother helped him do the dishes; a year later they were married and they had my brother, whom they named Olivier for no particular reason I’m aware of.
My father barely had time to see his son; he had to do his compulsory military service. It wasn’t the best moment to be drafted: instead of the obligatory eighteen months, what wasn’t yet called the Algerian War forced him to wear a uniform for nearly three years. He was quartered at Tizi Ouzou, the capital of Algeria’s Great Kabylia region, where, according to him, not much happened.
Getting separated from her husband so soon upset my mother. She quickly made up her mind: to abandon her baby at her in-laws’ and go join her lover in Algeria. Such boldness wasn’t common to most seventeen-yearold girls of the time.
Down there, they loved each other. And they were more — or should I say three times more? —
than happy to do so because an intern at the hospital in Tizi Ouzou fell under my mother’s not unsubstantial charms; soon he’d join them in their romps, and in the midst of such threesomes, I was conceived.
"You’re a love child," my mother would repeat to me throughout my childhood, without my knowing what it meant and whether it was something to worry about. In public she loved to mention my olive skin and the fact that there was no Bouillier in me. Much later, when I asked, she revealed the circumstances under which I was conceived and ended up saying that she’d read in a magazine that when two men ejaculate in a woman’s vagina, instead of competing, their sperm cells fuse to fertilize the egg and give birth to a mutant.
She also told me that my father had great hard-ons and was a homosexual; later she claimed she’d said that to please me.
My mother was acting true to form; she wasn’t yet twelve when her brother, who was two years older, stood up from the table and blurted at the father who was reprimanding him for some petty offense, "You’re not my father!" In fact, he was their uncle; he’d secretly replaced their father in his sister-in-law’s bed after their father had disappeared during the beginning of World War II. My mother, who was born at the end of 1939, hardly had a chance to know the man who’d given her life. She must have sensed it vaguely when she decided to go to Algeria to be with a man who himself had left for war right after the birth of his child. And just as a brother had stood in for another as her father, it was in the arms of two different men that she became a mother for the second time.
From brother to brother, my granny remained with the Pérards, and she didn’t have to change names to keep appearing wonderfully married in the eyes of the world. All in all, it was kept in the family, and administratively it simplified things. Nevertheless, all traces of the one who disappeared had to be erased, which must have taken a certain effort, since it involved silencing a brother, a husband, and a father at the same time. The children were raised according to this little scheme.
For years on end, none of them suspected the truth except the elder, certain of whose confused memories couldn’t be manipulated. In the case of my mother, she still remembers that discovering her life was built on a sham came as "a shock." In saying so, she can look me in the eye without getting flustered.
As for my granddad, he was an affable man, and he adored his little bastard bitch who followed him everywhere like a shadow. He dubbed her Satellite in honor, he claimed, of the Soviet satellite Soyuz,
which means "union"; genitally speaking, this was pretty appropriate, and twenty times a day he could call the truth by its name, which he kept on a leash without anyone suspecting — not even him. When he shouted "Satellite," it came out "Slattern."
In Old French, Pérard means "bad father."
As for Bouillier, it means "small birch forest." Thus I know what kind of fiber I’m made of, which not everyone can say.