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72

FINALIST
Jury Selection

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In the drawer of the table, there was a piece of paper that they had both drawn up together. A list. The list of what they would have to do when the time came. They had written it together, when Justin had come out of hospital, and Louise had copied it out carefully. It had been there, in the drawer, for more than two years, they didn’t even think about it any more.

1. Telephone the retirement home to tell them that we accept the place they are offering.
During Justin’s stay in hospital, Louise had made the necessary arrangements to obtain a small apartment in the ‘Golden Fields’ residence, in preparation for the day when, too weakened by age or illness, they would really have to make up their minds to leave their farm. “A two years’ waiting list, at least...Well then! It wasn’t going to happen tomorrow...”, she had thought at that time, not without relief.
2. Ask Marius to lend us his van. He doesn’t mind.
3. Get everything ready that has to be taken. See other side of sheet.
“You can bring your own furniture,” the manageress had told them. “In fact it’s better if you do. Then you’ll feel more at home...”
4. Give the hens to Jules.
They hadn’t had any cows or goats for a long time, and they hadn’t had a dog since their old Captain had died. It was better that way. You can give hens away, they don’t care, but the dog, he would be too unhappy seeing us leave, and we wouldn’t be able to take him with us.
5. Leave the key with Juliette.
She will come by from time to time to check that everything is alright.

The list on the back of the piece of paper had given rise to discussions, hesitations, and regrets too. What should they take? What could they keep, out of everything that had been their life, on that farm, in that village where they had been born?
Their eyes had swept all round their bedroom.
“The bed.”
“The closet? No, impossible, it’s too big, too cumbersome, for a little apartment in town. But I think there’s a cupboard in the bedroom, we’ll have to ask again.”
“The spinning wheel? Oh yes, I can’t let that go! It was my mother’s and it’s like a piece of my youth, you know.”
“The chest.”
The old wooden chest, where they had always kept important papers: their school-leaving certificates, military record, birth certificates, deeds of purchase of a few pieces of land, the envelope containing Louis’ certificates, his A levels with the excellent grades, his degree from one of the top universities. Their pride at the great career as an engineer which awaited their son, after his military service, had gone a long way to make up for their sorrow at not keeping him near them, on the farm. In the same envelope, they had also put, broken-hearted, the page from the local paper with the article about the death of Lieutenant Louis Anselme at the wheel of the jeep he was driving in Algeria, through the Aurès Mountains...
So many papers that had punctuated the course of a whole life.
“The photo.”
The most important thing, of course, the photo of the two of us with their boy as a soldier... 
Taken just before Louis set off for Algiers. All three of them had gone to the photographer one morning and the sitting had taken a good quarter of an hour, in great high spirits. Never imagining, of course...
“The clip-frame.”
The clip-frame that Grandad had made himself to keep all his medals from the Great War in. The glass was cracked, but it was very precious to them.

In the kitchen, choosing what to take to the retirement home had taken longer. There was no question of moving the heavy oak farm table and the benches. The manageress had said that that they have a stock of furniture for those who wanted it and she could easily find us a table and two chairs. But write on the list the little chair where you sit at night, to knit in front of the fire... 
“The little chair.”
And put the salt box hanging on the fireplace as well, as a souvenir. Grandad made that too, just before he got married. In the end, he used to put his tobacco in it.
“The salt box.”
“And don’t forget my pipe!”
“Justin’s pipe.”
“Our knives with the wooden handles.”
“The coffee grinder, the coffee pot. We haven’t used the grinder for a long time, but it’s a nice souvenir of our past.” 
“Our blue bowls.”
“The kettle.”
“The kettle, do you think so? You’re right, you never know.”
They kept picking up an object, writing it on the list, rubbing it out, hesitating, each of them having their own preferences.
“And then, if we miss something, we can soon hop on the bus that comes up here every day and fetch it.”
It was as if they were both going to leave together, even if they knew, deep inside, that perhaps only one of them would be tearfully gathering together a few pieces of their life, the ones they had written on the list...

That evening, the paper trembled in the hands of the old man, alone, stooped by sorrow.

Translated by Wendy Cross

72

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