At the far end of Isabelle's backyard was a wooden gate. Seeing as though she didn't know how to open it, she crawled underneath to get to the flower-filled meadow. A little river ran along the far side of the meadow. Our friend was already five and a half and didn't think twice about crossing it.
Still, on that day, she went along the shore towards the little wooden bridge upstream. She didn't want to get her nice yellow overalls and her blue canvas sandals all wet.
She was making her way through the tall grass when she was surprised to see a fallen tree lying there, uprooted. The last storm had been violent. The truck made a kind of bridge over the water.
"Poor tree," Isabelle thought.
By walking carefully over the trunk, it was possible to cross over the river without getting wet.
The little girl managed to heave herself up onto the trunk. It really went from one bank to the other. She placed her feet carefully so she didn't slip. To keep her balance, she spread her arms as she had learned in gym class at school.
Getting to the middle of the trunk, she saw a large hollow, filled with ladybugs. Several of them fluttered in the sun. A few even landed on her hand. Isabelle was a little worried and so waved them away with a quick gesture from her other hand. Then she turned right around and went back to her house.
"Mommy," she called out, "a tree fell across the river. I found a hole in it filled with ladybugs. One of them even landed on my hand."
"Good," Mommy replied. "Did you make a wish?"
"A wish? What do you mean?"
"When a ladybug lands on your hand, you can make a wish. You know, ask for anything you want, even something that seems impossible. You need to hurry and make your wish, before it goes. Because when it goes, it goes fast and you won't see it anymore. Back in the Middle Ages, people would say that the ladybug went back home where they lived with Our Lady, the Virgin Mary, that she had sent them. Back then, people used to call them beetles of Our Lady. Sometimes, she listens to your wish and answers it."
"Ah, okay," Isabelle said quietly. "I didn't know. Next time, I'll ask for something."
"Now, go wash your hands. We're about to sit down to eat. And call your brothers. We're eating a bit early because Daddy and I are going out tonight to visit some friends."
When all the children were sitting around the table, their parents asked Bertrand, the eldest, to watch over the others. Our friend had three big brothers: Bertrand, nineteen, Benoît, thirteen, and Benjamin, seven and a half.
"Impossible tonight," Bertrand replied. "I have a big math test tomorrow, and I still am not getting some of the equations. I need all the time I have to study. No way I can do any babysitting."
"We're really counting on you, Bertrand," Daddy insisted.
"Okay, fine," he said reluctantly. "But they all have to be in bed and be quiet. I don't want anyone disturbing me."
Seeing as though they were going out, neither Daddy nor Mommy had had time to make anything for dessert. They gave four chocolate cookies to Bertrand, and told him to share them with the others. He kept one for himself and then passed the rest to Benoît. Benoît took one and gave the last two to Benjamin. And that greedy guts kept them both for himself.
"Give me my cookie," said our friend.
"You don't need one; you're too fat."
But Isabelle, being very smart, knew how to take care of herself. It was something to have three big brothers! She knew how to hold her ground.
In a quick motion, she tried to grab one of the cookies from her brother's hand. Benjamin managed to hang on to them and pushed his little sister back. She lost her footing and bumped against the old china cabinet in the living room. On top was the vase Aunt Esther had brought back from China. The vase rocked from left to right and finally fell to the floor. It shattered into a dozen pieces with a loud crack.
Her parents were in the entryway, about to leave. They heard the noise and went back into the living room.
"Who just broke this vase?" Daddy asked in a loud voice.
"Isabelle," Benjamin answered. "She threw herself against the cabinet."
"Because of him," she replied right away. "He pushed me."
"You just broke the vase?" Daddy repeated.
"Yes, but it was because..."
"I don't want to hear any 'yes, but...' " Daddy shouted. "Isabelle, go to your room. Right this minute."
"It's not my fault..."
"That's enough. You know the consequences."
Our friend left the room. She slammed the door hard to show she was mad and then she ran up the stairs.
Halfway up, she turned around and yelled that it wasn't fair, that she was just a little girl and that no one ever listened to her. She went into her room and sat on the edge of her bed.
All of a sudden, a ladybug flew in the open window. It landed on the back of Isabelle's hand. She watched it for a moment.
"I can ask a wish," she told herself.
She took advantage of the occasion to get revenge.
"Little ladybug, I would like my brother, who ate my cookie, to be really sick. There, now you can go back home."
The ladybug flew out the window.
Half an hour later, Benjamin came into the room himself. He shared the room with his sister. They had bunk beds. He had chosen the top bunk and Isabelle had the bottom bunk. Before climbing up the ladder to bed, he murmured:
"Sorry, I wasn't very nice before. Please forgive me."
Our friend turned her head towards the wall and pretended to be sleeping. The boy climbed up and into bed.
Isabelle woke up in the middle of the night. What time could it have been? She had no idea. She didn't have a watch yet. But it was pitch black. She heard a strange sound, like a groan.
She sat up and listened. It came from above her. She climbed the ladder and looked at her brother, Benjamin. He was sweating a lot and could hardly speak.
"Get... Get Mommy and Daddy. I'm very sick."
"It's your fault," his little sister replied. "You're being punished because you ate my cookie."
"Get Mommy and Daddy," the boy begged.
The girl went down the ladder and went to her parents' room right away. She opened the door and went in.
"Mommy, Daddy, come quick. Benjamin can hardly breathe. Maybe he's going to die."
Her parent rushed into the children's bedroom in a panic. Benjamin's condition looked worrying so they decided to drive him to the hospital.
Even though it was so late, a sliver of light shone out from under the door of the next room, the room of the two older brothers. Daddy went in.
"Bertrand, it's one in the morning and you're still up..."
"Dad, I'm not getting this math. And I've got a big exam tomorrow. I'm worried. I'm not going to get anything."
"Listen," his father advised him, "stop now and get some rest. You've worked enough. I need you to watch your little sister. Benjamin is very sick. Mom and I are going to drive to the hospital."
"Fine," Bertrand sighed. "Go. I'll watch her."
The parents left with their sick son. Bertrand got into bed and tried to fall asleep. Two minutes later, Isabelle knocked on her older brothers' door, her stuffed bunny in her arms.
"I'm afraid all alone in my room."
"Go back to bed. You have nothing to fear. I'm taking care of you."
"But I'm still scared," the little girl insisted with a little tremble in her voice.
"Okay, fine," Bertrand said quietly. "Go get your duvet and your pillow. You can sleep here, near us, on the rug."
She got her things and came back.
"Good. You can sleep there. Wrap yourself in your duvet. I don't want to hear a peep from you."
Her big brother turned off the light and then went to sleep himself.
Two minutes later, Isabelle who hadn't fallen asleep yet, called to her brother.
"What do you want?"
"Do you think Benjamin is going to die?"
"Of course not. He's not going to die. They're going to give him a needle at the hospital and tomorrow he'll be better. Now go to sleep."
Two minutes later:
"He's sick because of me."
"No, he isn't, Isabelle. Getting sick isn't anyone's fault. Sleep."
Two minutes later:
"I made a wish with a ladybug and wished that he'd be punished because he didn't give me my cookie. That's why he's sick."
"No. I explained. It's not your fault. Go to sleep now."
Two minutes later:
"Can you be quiet? What do you want now?" her big brother asked, putting some emphasis on the "now."
"I know what to do to make Benjamin better."
"I have to go onto the tree trunk that's fallen over the river. There are lots of ladybugs there. One will land on my hand in a second and I can make a wish so that he'll get better."
"Perfect. Get going," Bertrand said, annoyed.
Two minutes later:
"Bertrand, I don't want to go there all by myself. It's dark. Do you want to come with me?"
Her big brother understood that he would never have any peace from her unless he went with her to find those bugs. Little sisters are usually great but sometimes they can be pretty annoying.
"I'm giving you thirty seconds to get dressed."
She ran to her room. She put on her overalls and did up her sneakers.
"I can't find my T-shirt. I think that Mommy put it in the wash."
"Too bad. Wear what you've got. C'mon, let's get going."
They left by the kitchen door and set the lock so it didn't fasten on its own after them. They went through the yard and then out into the meadow of flowers.
What a beautiful night! The moon shone brightly, surrounded by thousands of stars. Isabelle took her big brother's hand. She walked, pressed up against him.
"Bertrand, I'm tired. Can I have a piggyback ride?"
"Climb on up," said her brother with a smile.
The boy had hardly taken a step before he felt the head of his little sister resting on his shoulder. The little girl had fallen asleep.
"I'm being a total idiot right here now," Bertrand thought to himself. It's past one in the morning. I'm carrying this twerp on my back to go find a ladybug so we can make a wish that Benjamin gets better. And tomorrow morning I've got that big math test and I don't understand any of it. On the other hand, if I bring her back home without her making her wish and she wakes up later, we'll have to come back in three or four hours. So better just keep going now."
He got to the tree trunk and climbed up onto it. He took three steps to get his balance and then spotted the ladybugs. Two of them flew and landed on each of his hands. Bertrand looked at the first one.
"Ladybug, ladybug, here's a message from my little sister who's sleeping on my back. She would like our brother Benjamin to get better fast and come back home. Understand? Good, so you can bring that wish back home."
The little insect flew off and disappeared in the night.
Bertrand looked at his other hand and saw the second one.
"Go on, get going. No need for you."
But the ladybug stayed right where it was. She didn't look as if she were ready to go.
"While I'm at it," Bertrand said quietly, "you know what I'd really like? To get twenty out of twenty on that math test. But I'm warning you. You'll have a hard time with this wish because I don't understand anything."
It flew off and also disappeared.
Bertrand did an about-face and returned home quietly. He went into his room and gently placed his sister on the rug, her head on her pillow. He covered her in her duvet, then got into bed himself and fell asleep.
The next day when Isabelle woke up, she was surprised to find herself in her big brothers' room. They'd already left. And she'd slept in her clothes!
She got up and went down to the kitchen for breakfast before going to school. Mommy told her that Benjamin was doing much better. He was already almost completely over whatever it was. Our friend felt happy and was quite reassured.
When she returned home at four o'clock that afternoon, her brother was feeling like his old self.
At around five, the door opened and Bertrand came in. He called our friend right away.
She came running. Her big brother opened his arms wide.
"Let me give my little sister a big hug. What a wonderful little girl! I can hardly believe it but just now I got twenty out of twenty in math. And I still don't understand any of it!"
Little sisters and little brothers are sometimes exhausting. But it's great to watch them live, to listen to them and then dare to make incredible wishes with them.
Translation : Andrew Gordon Middleton