I remember I was feeling pretty proud of myself because I’d gone to the campsite shop alone and asked for, and got, trois croissants et un baguette in French. Or proud but a little ashamed too that after two years of primary school French I was proud of something so small, though I was only ashamed because my mum had laughed at me for being proud – and you get As in French?
But then when we sat down for breakfast this wasp decided to get involved and my pride and shame kind of disappeared as I watched it head for the marmalade jar, then dad’s marmalade covered knife, then the marmalade spread on his sliced croissant. We were sitting on fold-out chairs outside the awning attached to our twelve-foot caravan, our table spread with my buys, cutlery-scratched plastic plates and those white metal camping mugs with the blue rims. My mum and dad had a cafetiere of French coffee. I had a plastic beaker of orange juice from concentrate. It was hot and bright and sunny.
Dad said, go away, and flicked his hand at the wasp, and it took the hint, but only for a second. It buzzed off, hovered, and then returned, and I saw myself going up to the campsite shop door, pausing by the handle, hesitating, moving away, going back, thinking: could I just tell mum they didn’t have any baguettes or croissants and that they’d been bought up, we were too late? But what if she went in tomorrow and said, in her best Parisian French, hier tu – no – vous n’avez pas croissants, or something like that? What kind of shame would I feel then? But then was the door and its rusty handle dad’s hand and his voice telling me to bugger off? No.
I remember then dad picked up his croissant and was about to put it in his mouth when the wasp swooped or went for it or the marmalade, though in less of a calculated than drunken way, like it wasn’t thinking, it just couldn’t help itself, like me just stumbling into the campsite shop and blurting out my appalling French just to get it over with. He saw, or I saw him see it approach, and with his free hand he went to swat it, but missed, and the jerk his swat made convulsed his whole body so the croissant went into his face, splatting marmalade and flakes of pastry onto his cheeks and chin and upper-lip.
He stood up and swore and my mum laughed.
It’s not funny, he said, and I could tell by the way he said it, it really wasn’t and there was no way he could even consider it funny, even if for us it was, it was full of slapstick, because the way he said it is the way I get annoyed now when I’m thinking, right, I’ve got my tea and biscuit and book, and I can now sit down and relax and concentrate on the book, and lose myself in it, only for the phone to go off or the doorbell to ring.
Dad wanted the croissant with his coffee. It was perfect and it was going to be the perfect campsite breakfast – he smiled and rubbed his hands together when I came back from the shop – but now the croissant was all misshapen, and the marmalade was stuck to his fingers and face, and even if me or mum offered him some of ours it wasn’t going to make anything better. The whole thing was ruined. By a bloody wasp. And if he went to buy another one – or got me to use my amazing French – it wouldn’t be the same, because the wasp and the first croissant would be in his head with every bite.
The moment was gone, and he was angry at the wasp for ruining his perfect breakfast, then angry at the wasp for being a wasp, then angry at himself for getting angry about it – it is only a wasp, after all, what’s wrong with me, getting angry at a wasp, what else is it supposed to do, there must be something wrong with me, not the wasp.
I remember then dad looked at me, and I could tell he was angry for getting angry in front of me too, letting me see his anger at such a petty thing, I shouldn’t have to see that. But then his inner teacher kicked in, and in one look I saw, no, it’s good he sees me like this. It’s a teachable moment. I’m human and he can choose to see it like that, or choose to think, Jesus, why’s he acting like that over something so small, I’ll never get angry over something so small in my whole life, I’ll rise above it (though considering the doorbell, I clearly never have).
Mum said calm down then, thinking that would be the end of it, it’s only a wasp, but that only made matters worse. Dad threw the croissant down on the table. It wasn’t just a wasp. It was the ruined breakfast. It was the fact that he’d got angry over something so small and been seen to get angry. It was being exposed as a petty man. It was the wasp having the perfect breakfast he wanted. It was his inability to laugh it off, but then why should he? Would you laugh it off? Would it be funny if he was laughing at you and I had marmalade on my fingers, my perfect breakfast destroyed?
Dad said, no, I’m sick of this – as if it had been happening every morning when it was our first day there – and he walked over to the ice-box, yanked a bottle of Evian out, twisted the cap off – I prayed it wouldn’t stick and it didn’t – and poured the water out of the bottle and onto the ground.
Mum said, what on earth are you doing, but dad ignored her, dumped the bottle on the table and went back into the caravan.
I had no idea what was going on, and when mum looked at me I just shrugged and waited to see what he would do with the bottle and to the wasp that had somehow been ignored and was now bathing in the marmalade. I tried to flick it away, and it did go for a second, but then it returned in its drunken way, at which point dad banged out of the caravan, a pair of scissors or Stanley knife in his hand, I can’t remember which now, but something sharp anyway.
He picked the water bottle up and began cutting into it halfway up, following the round of the bottle. Mum asked again what he was doing, but there was a stubbornness in his look now which said you’ll see, or I’ve given into the anger and I’m not going to try to hide it or be ashamed about it. He’s a man who gets angry at wasps. Maybe he shrugs off war, famine, murder, but his look didn’t reveal that. He could say it, but it wouldn’t ring true, because in that moment his anger aimed at the wasp was everything, his mind couldn’t have considered anything else.
I remember then mum doing one of those ahs, before saying, I see, a trap, and I looked at her then dad as he finished his cutting, and the bottle cracked in his hands and broke in two. Dad looked at the wasp then and the marmalade and, picking the jar up knifed lumps of it into the bottom half of the bottle followed by the wasp which was now oblivious to everything, happy as a pig in shit, rolling around in the marmalade like it was some elixir or ointment or spa treatment or drug.
I said then, but it’ll just fly out, but dad just smiled at me, watch, and taking hold of the top half of the bottle, turned it upside down and shoved it into the bottom half, the nozzle pointing down towards the marmalade and the marmalade junky wasp. I said, but there’s still a hole.
Dad ignored me, and walked to the other side of the awning and put the bottle/trap on the ground. They can’t get out, he said. They’re idiots. They go for the marmalade but can never figure out how to get out the small hole. My dad did this once. Showed me how to make it too.
And he was right. For the rest of the holiday they went in, bathed, tried to get out and died. If they were going to ruin his breakfast, then they could and they could enjoy it until they died of their joy. By the end of the week it was a massacre.
When we left, I picked the bottle up and asked dad what I should do with it, take it to the next campsite or what? He’d killed loads. I was proud of him. Our breakfasts since the first one had been perfect. I’d branched out to Je voudrais trois croissants et un baguette, s’il vous plait. Mum had stopped laughing at me, and him, at least for having shit French and getting angry at wasps.
Dad said, chuck it.
I said, can’t we use it at the next place?
I walked over to the bin and lobbed it in.