My pink cactus is probably going to flower
A rejection of note
In 1911, the following letter was sent by the mother of French author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (more commonly known simply as Colette) to Colette’s husband at the time. In 1928, it was reprinted at the beginning of Colette’s book, Break of Day (La Naissance du jour), along with the text that follows.
You ask me to come and spend a week with you, which means I would be near my daughter, whom I adore. You who live with her know how rarely I see her, how much her presence delights me, and I’m touched that you should ask me to come see her. All the same, I’m not going to accept your kind invitation, for the time being at any rate. The reason is that my pink cactus is probably going to flower. It’s a very rare plant I’ve been given, and I’m told that in our climate it flowers only once every four years, Now, I am already a very old woman, and if I went away when my pink cactus is about to flower, I am certain I shouldn’t see it flower again.
So I beg you, Sir, to accept my sincere thanks and my regrets, together with my kind regards.
Sidonie Colette, née Landoy
This note, signed ‘Sidonie Colette, née Landoy,’ was written by my mother to one of my husbands, the second. A year later she died, at the age of seventy-seven.
Whenever I feel myself inferior to everything about me, threatened by my own mediocrity, frightened by the discovery that a muscle is losing its strength, a desire its power, or a pain the keen edge of its bite, I can still hold up my head and say to myself: ‘I am the daughter of the woman who wrote that letter—that letter and so many more that I have kept. This one tells me in ten lines that at the age of seventy-six she was planning journeys and undertaking them, but that waiting for the possible bursting into bloom of a tropical flower held everything up and silenced even her heart, made for love. I am the daughter of a woman who, in a mean, close-fisted, confined little place, opened her village home to stray cats, tramps, and pregnant servant girls. I am the daughter of a woman who many a time, when she was in despair at not having enough money for others, ran through the wind-whipped snow to cry from door to door, at the houses of the rich, that a child had just been born in a poverty-stricken home to parents whose feeble, empty hands had no swaddling clothes for it. Let me not forget that I am the daughter of a woman who bent her head, trembling, between the blades of a cactus, her wrinkled face full of ecstasy over the promise of a flower, a woman who herself never ceased to flower, untiringly, during three quarters of a century.’