Copyright©June 2017 Suzy Stewart Dubot
An Anglo/American who has been living in France for over 30 years, she began writing as soon as she retired. It is a passion discovered late in life, but lived to its fullest.
Before retiring, she worked at a variety of jobs. Some of the more interesting have been: Art and Crafts teacher, Bartender, Marketing Assistant for N° 1 World Yacht Charterers (Moorings), Beaux Arts Model, Secretary to the French Haflinger Association…
With her daughters, she is a vegetarian and a supporter of animal rights. She uses words when she’s not protesting in the street. She is an admirer of the British abolitionist, William Wilberforce, who was also a founding member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (S.P.C.A.).
Her website :
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
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Cover design: Suzy Stewart Dubot
Marie was one of those larger-than-life characters who belonged to a neighbourhood; familiar with its residents as they were with her. She also belonged to a rare species known as the ‘Parisian Concierge’ who was on its way to extinction.
As a rule, the concierge’s lodge was located on the ground floor where he or she could survey the comings and goings in the building and distribute the post. Sometimes, it was they who opened the inner door to allow admittance to the apartments above, once they were satisfied the visitor was not an undesirable — a vendor or burglar.
With the change in economic conditions, it had become cheaper to engage a cleaning company to deal with the general maintenance of the communal parts of an apartment block. Employing a live-in concierge meant paying a salary and supplying social coverage. The use of an outside organisation also avoided having to provide accommodation.
Concierges were replaced by an electric code on entrance doors which then gave access to the inner hall where interphones with cameras were connected to each apartment. It had become the resident’s own job to vet the caller and give admission.
Marie had lived in the 16th arrondissement for longer than anyone could remember. She was of an indeterminate age being small and wiry, but one might suspect she was in her late seventies, simply because she had been around so long. Short bleached-blond hair and eyeliner added a little panache to her appearance if one didn’t notice her missing teeth. A colourful apron was the uniform she had chosen to wear. It added another touch of gaiety to her general appearance.
In the mild months, she kept her eye on her building from the street, where she spent a lot of time sweeping the path leading into the building’s entrance or sitting opposite it on the bench under the horse chestnut trees, her scruffy terrier sniffing at all the trunks. People going by would stop for a few minutes to pass the time of day, or to catch up on the latest developments in the area. She knew the names of the children of the adults whom she’d also known as children. Her memory was excellent, and she was prepared to discuss any subject, general or personal. Concierges are acknowledged gossips, knowing everything that’s going on and everyone’s business, so people were also drawn to her when they wanted information.
Her decline began with the death of her dog. He had reached the admirable age of seventeen without anyone in the neighbourhood realising it, but despite his age, it had been a shock to her. She was now too old to take on the responsibility of another animal.
The coup de grace, the final blow, arrived the day she was informed by the owners of the apartment block she was no longer needed, and she was given notice to leave. She was at a loss as to what to do, not having much in savings and certainly not the wherewithal to handle renting somewhere else. In her mind, she’d seen herself finishing her days in the lodge which had been her home for decades. The life-altering change forced onto Marie, weighed her down, made her shrink and look much older.
The bad news spread like wildfire in the district, but the building’s owners were within their rights once they had completed the legal requirements for her dismissal. Any local outrage served no purpose.
A petition was taken up by local citizens to request she be relodged by social services, and surprisingly, it worked. A new two-room apartment just across the river Seine in the 15th arrondissement was available for a case such as hers. The cost of rent, with a government subsidy, would be well within her finances, and the apartment would be ready for her by the time she had to quit her lodge. Another service would take charge of moving her belongings.
The neighbourhood had every right to pat itself on the back for its judicious intervention which had achieved its goal.
Felicitations came too soon, though.
Marie was found dead in her dilapidated lodge.
With her death, it became apparent why the building’s owners had wanted her out.
The single room, where she had lived for nearly fifty years, did not conform to modern housing requirements. It did not have proper sanitation nor running water. The inner courtyard provided her with a water tap and, a relic from pre-war days, an old-fashioned ‘toilette à la turque.’ The residents had not appreciated having to pass the toilet, even if it was behind a locked door.
Marie’s death had also revealed other aspects which no one had suspected.
She was eighty-nine-years old.
Although her lodge was relatively clean, it was cluttered from years of accumulated memorabilia; boxes stashed under her bed, pictures and photographs hanging on every square inch of the walls.
The little woman hiding behind the apron of a concierge had been in the resistance in Paris during WWII. In a box in one of her drawers was the ‘Médaille de la Résistance’ with an accompanying letter in her name.
She had known how to keep secrets when it mattered.
The coroner said that she’d died from a heart attack, probably brought on by the recent stress. There are those, however, who suspect her heart broke rather than leave her neighbourhood and the dozens of people she enjoyed each day.
Life wouldn’t have been worth living in her new accommodation on foreign territory, surrounded by strangers…