“Who are you?” her mother asked.
“I’m your daughter, Alice.”
“I know that. But I mean, who are you?” Her mother’s eyes locked onto hers; she was clutching Alice’s eyes. What... [+]
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He had never seen such a thing.
Seated on the front steps of the little house with the blue shutters, Michael scratches his head, mechanically looking at the file that he already knows by heart: modern kitchen, gas heat, two light-filled, spacious bedrooms, a sunny living room looking out onto a charming little garden with a paved stone path.
The last visitors have just closed the door, with the jaded look of people who have already visited too many houses.
In his twenty-seven years as a real estate agent, he had never seen a house stay on the market so long.
Before him, the "charming little garden" looks more like a botanical labyrinth where the "paved stone path" winds through thick brambles.
He thinks back to the enthusiasm of his first years. To his first showings, his first house sold. A "little farm in an idyllic setting": a house that needed to be totally renovated and was cut off from all civilization. Champagne flowed freely as his parents looked on with pride and his fiancée gave him loving glances.
This little house, on the other hand, is quite pleasant. And he's put all his energy, all his flair, at the service of the owner, who doesn't know how to get rid of his real estate burden. He's done absolutely everything he can think of to spark the imagination of potential buyers with his creative gusto: "Imagine the vegetable garden you could have in this little bit of paradise. The flowers in the garden, freshly cut and placed on the lovely table in the kitchen filled with morning light. Your friends relaxing at the bar in this completely updated, modern kitchen. Did you see this oven? And these ceramic burners in perfect condition? You can already smell the scent of roasted chicken or veal stew simmering on the stove, while their delicate aroma, under the newly renovated roof, rises to reach the quivering nostrils of your children, playing in complete tranquility in their spacious bedroom."
No, he doesn't understand it.
The sky is slowly darkening when he finally thinks of leaving down the concrete steps to go back home.
The next evening, his car climbs the steep road once more and parks in front of the little house with the charming little garden. He takes a lawn mower out of his trunk, to the amused looks of the neighbors who watch his comings and goings behind the sheer curtains in their kitchens. Two hours are enough to give the small green space all the charm that he'd described. Happy, Michael returns to his spot on the steps to admire his work, noticing, however, that the cherry tree really needs to be pruned.
He works on it the next evening and is quite proud of the result, rewarding himself by nibbling on a few fruits sitting at the base of the tree. The sun, which is gradually hiding behind the nearby roofs, surrounds him in a peaceful pink light. When night falls, Michael goes home to his duplex in the center of town, a smile on his lips.
He has the same smile the next day as he puts a few tools in the garden shed, along with some cold drinks behind the bar in the modern kitchen.
Night after night, Michael works at restoring life to the little house. During these few hours every day, he's happy and calm, far from the commotion of his work life, far from tumult, pressure, or boredom. Happy to receive silent and gratifying recognition of his cheerful efforts.
And Michael certainly keeps busy. He cleans, fixes up, nails, saws, paints…. To the point of forgetting everything: time, friends, his other houses to show, and his own apartment.
Day after day, night after night, when he leaves his colleagues or friends, Michael jingles the keys of the house with the garden in the pocket of his wrinkled jacket.
Day after day, night after night, he loads the trunk of his car with various pruners, hammers, screw-guns, packs of drinks, all kinds of cookies, and other necessities, consistently saying to himself the liberating words "just in case."
Then, one evening, after having worked much longer than usual, he is happy to settle down in one of the spacious rooms, on an improvised bed made of towels and clothes he'd found stashed in his car.
In this way Michael organizes his new life: going to the agency every morning to start work after a quick shower in the office locker-room and then bringing work back home, as it were, every night. In the greatest secrecy, by the light of his cell phone, which he recharges during the day, he continues in the silent twilight to make the house more welcoming. While he works, he's in much less of a hurry to post the ad, which is now on page twenty-four of the website, after many a three-bedroom villa with delightful living rooms looking out onto tree-filled yards.
Several days go by like this. A few weeks maybe.
One morning, he gets a call. A man with a serious, determined voice questions him about house number D-392 on the website. The house with the little garden.
Michael is happy, but not that happy.
An appointment is set up to see the house the very next morning at eight o'clock.
However, overnight, there is an unfortunate combination of circumstances. Restless sleep, a poorly-digested dinner, a phone that's not charged, an alarm clock that doesn't ring….
Michael is awakened by weak sunlight filtering through the dirty panes and gently caressing his bed of crumpled clothes.
When he stretches with a yawn in front of the open window, enjoying the refreshing morning breeze, he's somewhat surprised to find himself facing an elderly couple, settled in the little garden and staring at his boxer shorts with a horrified look.
But Michael smiles in the clear morning light, as he savors the happiness of starting a day, and a life, in the house that he now knows is his. Yes, he smiles, while the visitors walk away toward the gate, shaking their heads, muttering that certainly they have never seen such a thing.
Translated by Kate Deimling