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“The baseboards can always be painted over.”
The sentence played over and over again in Margot’s head. A seemingly innocent comment, spoken in an undertone on the front steps by one of the real estate agents, but it stood out. Who knows why, but it went round and round, insidiously and perniciously, echoing in Margot's ears. Now this beautiful sunny September afternoon seemed sticky and cloying, like end-of-season grapes that leave a lingering sugary taste on your fingers and tongue.

Why did they both notice the baseboards?

Their car passed through the gate. Margot sat down on the top step under the porch and went over the afternoon in her head: the real estate agents admiring the furnishings and layout, making remarks, tapping the walls.

She decided to check the baseboards herself, going from one room to another on the second floor. It was true that in some places the wood had unattractive black streaks from being bumped by furniture or banged by a broom or vacuum cleaner. A sharp contrast with the new upholstery and recently-repainted walls.

Margot was kicking herself. How could she have neglected this detail that now seemed incredibly ugly and could even impede the sale of the house?

Widowed for three years, she found it hard to part with the family home in Normandy. She loved it dearly but could no longer afford to maintain it. Her salary paid the rent on her apartment in the Paris area, but although this country house was a wonderful weekend getaway, it had become a money pit. She still didn’t know how she finally made up her mind. She must have thought the time was right, with the real estate market picking up a bit.

Letting go of these thoughts, she picked up the phone book. She had to find a carpenter who could replace all the baseboards. After several dead ends, she managed to get an appointment with someone named Pierre Laroque for the next day. A miracle, she thought, since contractors are always so busy!

The next day, around ten o’clock, Margot was sipping a cup of coffee at the little table under the arbor, enjoying the sun’s rays on her skin. Suddenly, she was startled to see a man who had approached noiselessly and was watching her. Embarrassed, she felt her cheeks burning.

They introduced themselves, and she showed Pierre Laroque the house and explained the reason for her call. If he could get the work done quickly, she’d be very grateful. She explained that she had two more weeks of vacation and offered him a cup of coffee under the porch. He listened and observed, casting a knowledgeable glance over the attractive house. He could begin day after tomorrow and wanted to get an early start if she didn’t mind. After they said goodbye, she noticed the way he walked as he left the grounds and his attractive build, before being jolted out of her reverie, a bit off balance from this rush of feeling.

The work took one week. Pierre Laroque often had lunch and dinner under the arbor with Margot. The garden had not echoed with the owner’s laughter in a long time. Once or twice, the owl living on the rooftop was even disturbed by the light from candles on the little table.

The “For Sale” sign disappeared from the yard.
 

Translated by Kate Deimling

232

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