Madame let go of my hand and died. As simple as that. I had been expecting it, but it came as a surprise in the end. At times, I had thought it wouldn’t happen, or not for a long time.
I placed her hands on her chest and left the room. As I closed her bedroom door I realized that the house was empty. That I was the only one left.
I went into the office to phone her children, firstly because I had to tell them, and then to hear the voice of someone living.
It was the eldest daughter I called. She had not been to visit for a week and she sounded as surprised as I was. Yet the doctor had told us last time, “She’s only hanging on by a thread.”
She had nevertheless asked for news twice during the week.
I had not known what to say, except that she was just the same. Madame slept a lot, did not eat much, and was not in pain, just the same as usual. She replied, as she always did, how much she and her brothers were grateful to me for looking after their mother, that she would really have liked to do it herself, but that it was impossible because “You know, Mariette, I don’t need to say any more.”
I did not know anything at all, in fact. I was not interested in their lives. Madame was the sole object of my attention, and besides, that was my job. Round the clock care, twenty-four hours a day.
I did as she told me, and called the doctor. “My poor Mariette,” he said to me, “it’s a wonder she has lasted this long, with nothing functioning anymore.” Yet, I thought, she used to smile, and talk to me, and she liked to hold my hand before she went off to sleep. Then he did whatever was necessary to deal with the remains or maybe the children did… I have no idea. It was no longer any of my business.
It was in the evening that the tears came. I went into the kitchen and automatically got some soup ready for her. That was when I was overcome by sadness.
The next day, they all arrived. I left them and went upstairs to pack.
I had spent almost a year in that house, but I was not worried about my future. There is no unemployment in this line of work.
When I came down again, one of the sons asked me where his mother’s solitaire ring was. I said it must be in her jewellery box, but they had looked and not found it. I followed him into the bedroom and saw that the brothers were searching everywhere. Then I remembered that Madame had wanted me to put it on her finger the previous week. It was her engagement ring, but it still fit her; it was even a bit big for her wizened fingers. No doubt she was still wearing it; I did not remember taking it off her.
The sons grew angry. Madame was now in a funeral home. These days, people do not keep the dead at home, and they were afraid that someone might have snaffled the ring. I had the impression that I was under suspicion.
As soon as they got to the funeral home, they saw that she was still wearing the solitaire ring and took it off her. I was relieved they had found it.
The next day, as I was leaving, I went past the office and saw that they were rummaging in there as well.
The elder daughter saw me and came up to me. She took me in her arms. She was crying and she thanked me. She told me that they would write me an excellent reference and said all the things you say at such a time. Perhaps to redeem herself.
After Madame’s funeral, I went on holiday. I decided to take a month off. I needed it before looking after somebody else. I could afford it. I had been given board and lodging with Madame and I had spent none of my salary, I never had the time.
When I had started a new job, I received a letter from a lawyer. A summons to a meeting. I knew the lawyer. He had been to the house a few times.
In the waiting room, I met Madame’s children, but they barely greeted me.
The solicitor took us into his office and informed us that their mother had made a will in my favor. It was a very large sum, as far as I could understand.
Then the children got angry and one of them said that they would take me to court for abuse of a vulnerable person. The solicitor explained to them that it was him who had drawn up the will and that he could assure them that Madame had been in full possession of her faculties at that time. But the children remained furious.
I turned to the lawyer and said, “The people I look after often make wills in my favour, but I always refuse them, and I want nothing from this one either.”
“But it’s a hundred thousand euros,” he said to me.
I insisted; I did not want any of it. Then I stood up, I did not speak to the heirs and I left. I thought of Madame with gratitude. It was the first time I had been left such a large amount.
In the street, I looked around me and wondered if it was obvious that I had just bought myself a present worth one hundred thousand euros. My honour was well worth it.
I stood up tall and went on my way, my head held high. I was happy.
Translated by Wendy Cross