“I have to do a roll,” she said, holding up the film. “Wanna help?”
Margrite could see the desperation in Claudia’s eyes and the tension between the two cousins who stood stiffly in the hall, so she nodded and followed Claudia into the kitchen. Michael went into the bedroom and closed the door firmly. He was exhausted and longed to sleep, but he was aware of his cousin in the next room and of her anxious voice seeping through the walls like water stains.
In the kitchen, Claudia and Margrite covered the window and the cracks of light around the door. Claudia switched on the red light near the sink and pulled a bottle of wine from the cupboard. “I need a drink,” she said and poured for each of them.
As she got her developing equipment ready, she described her visit to the gallery and her cousin’s patronizing barbs. “It’s like he thinks he needs to be my father, always sizing me up, criticizing me. And what did he mean by when he said he’s not hiding anything. Was he implying that I am?”
“You are,” said Margrite. She had a soft, lilting accent influenced by the many languages she spoke. But the voice that usually soothed Claudia only grated her further.
“I’m not going to come out to him if that’s what you’re suggesting,” she said coldly as she flicked off the light and began unwinding the film from its spool. She heard Margrite sigh behind her.
“It’s not just that,” Claudia said slowly. Her words seemed heavier in this darkness. “It’s the fact that my French isn’t perfect, that I don’t play tennis, that I don’t know where I’m going to work once I’m done school. It’s like I suddenly have my parents here. In everything he says I hear them, hear what they would think if they saw me here, living in this tiny apartment, earning money under the table.”
Claudia turned the red light back on. “I wanted my cousin to see my life here – but now I don’t like the way he looks at it.”