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  • Ashleigh Ogilvie-Lee

Sugar lumps with Maryse.

I fell in love with Maryse with the kind of love you feel for an innocent creature who loves and seeks love, understanding only that without it, the heart is empty.

One evening, I met my neighbor Sophie in the courtyard of our building. Like most Parisians, she rides a bike. As she dismounts and takes off her helmet, she says quite offhandedly, "Of course, Maryse has dementia. My dad had it for five years.

I wake up in the morning and the toaster doesn't work, but the radio is on. Maryse asks me what color cup I want and then she asks me five times if I want sugar in my coffee. She drops sugar lumps in one after the other in her big cup while she smokes and dips her bread into it. She asks me 10 times in quick succession if the radio is too loud.

I have to buy my own baguette as she forgets, and she only eats madeleines (soft sponge cakes) since her teeth don't fit properly, and she doesn't put the bottom ones in except on special occasions when she remembers. Then, her lower jaw sticks out too far, and she always asks me if they look alright. I say she is beautiful, and she is. She has the fading magic of a truly beautiful soul. She drifts in and out of my room with the packet of madeleines... "Do you want to eat one?"

Gigi rings, and she takes the phone from me and says, "Your mother is a good woman. It is good to live with him in Paris. You will have a baby in four weeks. You will protect him. You're fine, you know. Bye-bye." It is the first time I hear her speak English.

Before I leave, she pats my coat in place and I say "manteau" and she says "mais non, it's an anorak." In French, there is just one word for everything and always a more beautiful way of saying something. How you say something is so important here that on a dating site called Hinge, you can listen to how someone speaks.

Maryse always stands at the door to wave goodbye as I go down the beautiful wooden staircase with a red carpet. We say "au revoir" and "passe une bonne journée" and "tu me manques" (I miss you) about three times to each other as we are reluctant to let each other go in this weird sort of courtship between two lonely people. Josette rings to say she has Covid.

I work hard at school from 9 to 1 and then from 2 to 5. I take the metro home, which is nine stops away. I sit in the square Republique and watch the lovers who seem to be everywhere in Paris and have this extraordinary ability to stare for ages and ages in each other’s eyes without saying a word. There are separate groups protesting, and the starving are lined up for food. Cars stand with their boots open, with food, blankets, and beds for dogs and cats. I watch the world. This is the only time I get to myself. I order a large red wine or two before I go home to Maryse.

When I walk down the Boulevard de Temple, she is waiting for me at the bottom of the apartment building and talking to some Arabs in a shop that sells petrol from two small dispensers on the side of the road. We take a photo, and one of the Arab men squeezes me much too tightly.

Maryse will never leave the people she bewitches voluntarily, and I become like a parrot on her shoulder, saying 'time to go, time to go.' Sometimes I pull her arm gently, and she asks me, 'Why did you pull my arm? Was I talking too much?' I say, 'Mais non,' and she says, 'Liar,' and we both laugh together, and she forgets I have pulled her arm, but it takes a while, and it is uncomfortable for us both.

She tells me that I look tired and to wash my hands, and when I come out, she is sitting on the balcony smoking. She tells me her father (born 1913) was selected from a small country village at 18 to study Mathematics at the Lycée in Paris. His life changed when he was taken from the family in 1943 by the Gestapo for being in the Resistance.

Two cars, like in the cinema, came and took him away in front of my mother and brother. They told him to get his affairs together, and they walked on either side of him out of the house and into Citroen cars. I was only a baby in my mother's arms, and the Gestapo tickled me under my chin. He was held by them not far from Paris for several months. He lost his hair. They slept outside on camp stretchers.

One day, when he was lying on his stretcher, they came up to him and said, 'You can go.' He didn't know why he was allowed to go. 'Why me, why not him beside me?' He came out from behind the big wall, and he thought, 'They will shoot me in the back.' This is the terrible story of my life. He always kept thinking he would be shot in the back. He had been kept 90 kilometers from us. He had nervous depression, and they took blood from his arm and put it back in his bottom. He never smiled at my mother. He never showed the joy he once had. It was very hard on my mother. He woke up all night. He went to the toilet and would not come out of the bathroom. Maman would call, 'Henri, Henri, come to us, viens, viens, viens avec nous.' My father never had an appetite again. He was like a locked door. Mon Père couldn't be a father to his children; he looked after us, but not like a papa. He was vindictive. He was never the same.

The Doctors said he had to work. He was a professor in a

school. Maman was a principal in a primary school. My brother

and I were her students. Marc called her Mada and I called her

Madame. In bed maman read romance and papa philosophy.

My mother loved him and when he died maman died straight


My brother and I went to boarding school when we were 8

years old to have a classical education. Marc studied Latin and

Greek and I studied Latin and German as there were so many


What I want to tell you now is sad but pretty.

I tell you Ashlee one day I was imagining a film where my papa

was standing on the pavement with the great wall of the prison

behind him walking looking ahead but thinking he would be

shot in the back. As I imagined this the windscreen wipers

came on to wipe away my tears .

I turned them on without knowing I was crying.

Ever since the possibility of my coming to say at Maryse’s

arose she has been worried that some men are coming to fix

some water damage in her apartment and I will be there.

On the day before the great arrival Maryse is very anxious and I

have promised for the hundredth time to be gone by the time

they arrive. She asks if it is alright if she reads a book in my

room while they are here .She would never leave them alone in

the house.

I wake in the morning what colour cup?

Do you want sugar ? Madelines? Is the radio too loud?

The men ring.

They are not coming at 8.

But you said 8 Monsieur.

Mais madame we need materials .

She looks so confused as I walk off down the red carpeted

stairs . It’s like leaving my little sister alone while I go into the

big wide world to forage.

Enjoy the photos.

Le Petit Déjeuner with Maryse.

Lovers in the Place de la République.

Punching une durrié.

Yoga Parisian style.

Les classiques waiter and client.

Caring for the people.

Caring for the animals.

Where is Boydie?

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1 Comment

Jun 28, 2023

Juliette je suis tellement heureuse que Maryse ait sauvé ton séjour à Paris!!

Tu étais au cœur de la capitale!! Ce n’est pas Montmartre mais là tu étais au centre de la vie parisienne sans trop de touristes!!!

A bientôt


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