The Hotel New Hampshire
The Bear Called State O’ Maine
The summer my father bought the bear, none of us was born — we weren’t even conceived: not Frank, the oldest; not Franny, the loudest; not me, the next; and not the youngest of us, Lilly and Egg. My father and mother were hometown kids who knew each other all their lives, but their ‘union,’ as Frank always called it, hadn’t taken place when Father bought the bear.
‘Their “union,” Frank?’ Franny used to tease him;
although Frank was the oldest, he seemed younger than Franny, to me, and Franny always treated him as if he were a baby. ‘What you mean, Frank,’ Franny said, ‘is that they hadn’t started screwing.’
They hadn’t consummated their relationship,’ said Lilly, one time; although she was younger than any of us, except Egg, Lilly behaved as if she were everyone’s older sister — a habit Franny found irritating.
‘ “Consummated”?’ Franny said. I don’t remember how old Franny was at the time, but Egg was not old enough to hear talk like this: ‘Mother and Father simply didn’t discover sex until after the old man got that bear,’ Franny said. ‘That bear gave them the idea — he was such a gross, horny animal, humping trees and playing with himself and trying to rape dogs.’
‘He mauled an occasional dog,’ Frank said, with disgust. ‘He didn’t rape dogs.’
‘He tried to,’ Franny said. ‘You know the story.’
‘Father’s story,’ Lilly would then say, with a disgust slightly different from Frank’s disgust; it was Franny Frank was disgusted with, but Lilly was disgusted with Father.
And so it’s up to me — the middle child, and the least opinionated — to set the record straight, or nearly straight. We were a family whose favourite story was the story of my mother and father’s romance: how Father bought the bear, how Mother and Father fell in love and had, in rapid succession, Frank, Franny, and me (‘Bang, Bang, Bang!’ as Franny would say); and, after a brief rest, how they then had Lilly and Egg (Pop and Fizzle,’ Franny says). The story we were told as children, and retold to each other when we were growing up, tends to focus on those years we couldn’t have known about and can see now only through our parents’ many versions of the tale. I tend to see my parents in those years more clearly than I see them in the years I actually can remember, because those times I was present, of course, are coloured by the fact that they were up-and-down times — about which I have up-and-down opinions. Toward the famous summer of the bear, and the magic of my mother and father’s courtship, I can allow myself a more consistent point of view.
When Father would stumble in telling us the story — when he would contradict an earlier version, or leave out our favourite parts of the tale — we would shriek at him like violent birds.
‘Either you’re lying now or you lied the last time,’ Franny (always the harshest of us) would tell him, but Father would shake his head, innocently.
‘Don’t you understand?’ he would ask us. ‘You imagine the story better than I remember it.’
‘Go get Mother,’ Franny would order me, shoving me off the couch. Or else Frank would lift Lilly off his lap and whisper to her, ‘Go get Mother.’ And our mother would be summoned as witness to the story we suspected Father of fabricating.
‘Or else you’re leaving out the juicy parts on purpose,’ Franny would accuse him, ‘just because you think Lilly and Egg are too young to hear about all the screwing around.’
‘There was no screwing around,’ Mother would say. There was not the promiscuity and freedom there is today. If a girl went off and spent the night or weekend with someone, even her peers thought her a tramp or worse; we really didn’t pay much attention to a girl after that. “Her kind sticks together,” we used to say. And “Water seeks its own level.”
Extrait de : The Hotel New Hampshire