by Laure Baudot
Catherine wants what Richard has: a richly decorated house, and a perfect, lavished-upon baby. Catherine also wants Richard: a disaffected diplomat whose true passion is for cinema. But Catherine is only the babysitter, and her envy—and its fallout—come to the fore when Richard is accused of a crime, and she must decide whether to help exonerate him.
“Laure Baudot’s prose is exquisite, patient, and sophisticated. In the Afternoon immerses you in the fascinating and complicated mind of a babysitter who is wise beyond her years, yet dangerously impulsive at the same time. This story is irresistible and heartbreaking.”
— Sarah Selecky, author of the 2010 Giller Prize–shortlisted collection This Cake Is for the Party
THE LAST TIME I saw all of them together, they stood in their beige, marbled vestibule: Jackie, clouded in Givenchy, and Richard, in a charcoal suit, bending to kiss the baby, Suzette, who was sitting in the crook of my arm as if it were a rocking chair.
I wanted them to go. It was always the same: my regret that Richard was leaving, and my eagerness at becoming the mistress of his house.
But Richard turned to me. “I want to show you something,” he said.
“Richard,” said Jackie.
“Un petit moment. Come, Catherine.”
Jackie looked at me and rolled her eyes, as though to confirm that we both knew how Richard could be. Back then I liked her pretty well, though I disdained her a bit, too. I felt she didn’t have much control over her husband. It was only later that I realized that really, where Richard was concerned, she had always been more powerful than me.
I gave Suzette to her mother and she protested but then turned placid. She was an easy baby, which I only appreciated once I had my own kids a few years ago.
I followed Richard up the stairs. Richard was tall and had a kind of middle-aged professorial handsomeness. He had a lick of untamed hair on the top front of his head. He wore wire-rimmed glasses and expensive suits. He was a diplomat who’d landed in diplomacy by accident because his father had been in the business. He didn’t like his work, but he was good at it: he had an attitude of respect for his elders in the job, a stance that bordered on subservience but didn’t quite make it there. He was a political man, too, and he could, when required, become rapidly dissembling.
We went into the spare bedroom, which was cluttered with the things the family no longer used. It was where Richard kept his stash of videotapes. They were stacked haphazardly, on bookshelves, on dressers, and on the floor. Some of their boxes were open, with cassettes peeking out like turtles from their shells.
On a stand, the VCR radiated heat from having been on for some time. Richard reached for a remote. “Look,” he said.
He showed me a clip. “It’s a film about Artaud. The playwright.”
Onscreen, Artaud and a friend ate soup while a woman in peasant clothes watched. “That’s the friend’s mother,” whispered Richard.
As I watched, the friend talked about what seemed to me to be an obscure philosophical point. But Artaud ignored him and slurped the soup, which was the colour of frog skin. “What is in this?” he asked the woman. “It has a velvety texture.”
Onscreen, the woman smiled.
Richard turned to me. “You see,” he said, “his friend wants to make abstract conversation. But Artaud is showing him the appreciation of the moment. He wants to savour every particle of that soup.
“Here,” he said, shutting the film off, ejecting the cassette, and handing it to me.
about the author
LAURE BAUDOT is a Toronto martial artist and writer. Her work has appeared in publications such as Prairie Fire, Existere, and The Fertile Source, a literary ezine. She blogs about martial arts and motherhood at pregnantladydoeskarate.com.
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