They abandoned me after Edgard’s death. They left me for almost dead, there, in my armchair, waiting for day to turn to night, watching out for the visiting nurses who passed through morning and night without bothering about my moods as a sick person. I was there like a plant, wilting, whose petals have fallen off one by one, leaving nothing but a wizened, puny stalk. They left me to boredom, and to death who, from deep within his gaze, was looking at me a bit more closely every night, straight and proud, whispering down into my dreams, whiling away his wait. Which was also mine?
They forgot me, I who was always by their side, who, from their very first breath, created their greatness, their brilliance, by the strength of my love alone, my demands, my efforts as a mother. They denied me for years by their constant absence which filled my heart with sadness and crushed, with that indifference, this life that I took 85 years to create. They threw me on the scrapheap, with no desire to recycle me. To them, I was only an old woman, just fit to be thrown away. And all the better, it seems, for the environment which is suffocating under the weight of demography. One fewer octogenarian is one meagre pension that no longer needs to be paid!
With every sunrise and every moonlit night, I think about them. About those questions which haunt me. What are they doing, where are they, when will they come? I no longer have the will to manage my daily affairs. Of course, I continue to look after the house, and make it clean and welcoming. Just in case they come. However, they never come and I would bet that when they do cross the threshold there will be nothing left for me to do but pass away.
This morning, there was a loud ringing sound that made me jump. First I panicked, and then I realised that it was my telephone, making that din. The nurse had just left me. Perhaps she had forgotten some medication or equipment? I left my chair painfully to pick up the receiver and answer the call. A voice asked me how I was. I was irritated by this question, which I considered very personal. I only replied after a few seconds of silence which must have seemed very long minutes to the person at the other end. Apart from Edgard and my two sons I knew no other men. Was this one of my children? I was careful not to ask that question. At my age, with strangers, it is essential to be suspicious. However, as the conversation proceeded, I received confirmation that it was indeed my eldest who was passing through the area and would like to see me. No, he would not be bringing his brood with him. Yes, his wife was well. He would be there in an hour? So soon? For things he had to talk to me about very urgently? And he was only telling me about this now? I wasn’t ready! I had not foreseen this! Of course I wanted to see him. I had been waiting for this moment for so long, but to warn me at the last minute! I hang up, very agitated. Roland, my adored son, was coming to visit me at last!
He arrived when he said he would; handsome, tall, strong, with a smile on his lips, dressed in a smart suit with a dark jacket. When I opened the door, thinking that it was one of those salesmen who sometimes dared venture to call upon a doddery old woman like me, I told him, before he had even opened his mouth, that there was nothing I needed. Then I closed the door again just as sharply. You never know. For elderly people, prudence really is the mother of safety. Of course, he rang the bell again, this time saying,
“Mum, open the door, it’s your son.”
Roland, my son, here!
“Why didn’t you warn me?” I said, unbolting the door.
“I called you an hour ago, mother dear. Don’t you remember?” he replied, astonished.
“Oh yes. What was I thinking of? Of course I remember. I have always had an excellent memory. But come in, darling, you’ll catch cold.”
“Cold? At 30 degrees? Really, mother dearest, you are upset by me visiting,” he laughed.
I smiled by way of reply but inside I was thinking that if it was indeed summer, I would know about it.
He came into the house. I took his things, which consisted of only a small briefcase and a tiny suitcase, very light. I offered him a coffee and asked him if he would like to have a wash. After such a long journey, he might have needed to freshen up. He declined my invitation, preferring that I take him to his old bedroom to settle in and get changed. Then he joined me, his face much harder than when he arrived, wearing jeans in place of his suit and jacket. I sat opposite him, in the kitchen, at the formica table.
“So, darling, how are you doing? Are your family all well?”
“Yes, Mum, they’re fine. Aline and I are thinking of separating but it’s all very amicable. The children know about it and they’re not worried because we act so calmly in front of them.”
“That’s good, darling. As long as you’re happy, that’s the main thing. But tell me what’s brought you here. I haven’t seen you for a very long time. You don’t need anything, I hope?”
“I wanted to see you, to make sure you were alright, that you had everything you needed, that your nurses were taking good care of you. And I also wanted to talk to you about my new job.”
“Oh? You’ve changed your job? Tell me about it.”
“I’m still a sales rep but now I buy gold and sell it to the highest bidder. Recently the price of that metal has gone up and people are making a lot of money. I thought that might well be of interest to you.”
“Interest? To me? But why? You know I don’t have anything apart from those few jewels in my dressing table.”
“Exactly. It was those I was thinking of. They could provide you with a better life if we sold them. I know a broker who will get the best price possible. You could triple their cost if I do well and I will do my very best for you.”
“Thank you, my darling, but I don’t need anything.”
“I know, but can you at least go and fetch them to show me?”
“If you like. While you wait, drink your coffee, it’ll get cold.”
I left my son to go to my dressing table that I had not used any more since Edgard had died. It comprised three drawers that I opened one by one without finding anything other than an invoice together with a page from a local paper which carried a photo of my two sons. The invoice was for the sale of all my jewels. As for the article, it recounted the exceptional circumstances of the deaths of my two children. I was thunderstruck. My boys were dead and I had forgotten! I fainted with the shock. For thirty seconds, ten minutes, an hour, I have no idea. Then I heard a door slam. That was when I got to my feet, with some difficulty.
I crept back to the kitchen. I could not understand why, but there was a cup of steaming coffee on the table. I left it there. For Roland. Who should be here any minute.
Translated by Wendy Cross