“You can’t throw everything away, of course,” her mother said just before Anne took off to Paris. “After all, those items are memories of your grandparents.”
“Whom I never met. Who never cared to meet me,” she replied while she tried to get the attention of a yellow cab driver. New York was hot and humid.
“Oh well, do whatever you want with it then. It is your inheritance, after all. Not mine.”
Anne grinned when she saw the sobbing expression on her mother’s face, it was the last thing she saw. Her mother would take care of Anne’s cats and stay in Anne’s tiny appartement while Anne was absent.
On the plane to Paris the reality of the whole adventure started to sink in. She had inherited everything her grandparents owned, and according to her mother, the Legrands were loaded.
Pierre Legrand, her father, had left France at the age of eighteen to see a bit of the world and he met Anne’s mother a few months after his departure. He got her pregnant, but the relationship ended when Pierre found out he liked men more than women. He went to live on an island in the Pacific and died when Anne was five. After his dead, Pierre’s parents sent a card to Anne’s mother to tell her of his death. It was all they ever sent.
So Anne grew up without a father, but with the love of her mother, who was half German, half Italian. She worked as a waitress to make ends meet, and to get Anne a fine education. Now, at the age of twenty-three, Anne Sontag was working in a very well-known art gallery, run by a good friend of her father’s, which she loved to do.
The man who was sitting next to her in the plane seemed a bit nervous when they took off.
“Is this your first time flying too?” she asked. He shook his head.
“No, but every time I worry.” He had a French accent. “I worry that there are dogs in the plane. I am afraid of dogs.”
“Oh, you are French right? Do you live in Paris?”
“In Amiens, actually. And you, are you going on a holiday?”
“I am going to collect my inheritance,” she said frankly. “My grandparents have died, they were in a car crash.”
“I am very sorry.”
“I never knew them. They didn’t want to know me.”
“O, that is awful. And you are so pretty!”
“So what did you inherit?” he asked. “Oh, sorry, that is not very polite of me.”
“That is okay. I have no idea, really. I got a letter from a solicitor that said I could claim their belongings. The letter was written in rather poor English and a lot of French. I have no clue what it said, to be honest and neither did my mother. I just go for it. Wait, I’ll show you.”
She took the letter out of her purse.
He put on a pair of glasses and started reading. His face showed his dislike.
“I think you might be making the trip for nothing,” he said. “This says that there are some boxes, that is all.”
“No houses? A banking account?”
“Boxes it says! Two stupid small boxes, that is your inheritance! O my god, why didn’t you have the letter translated before you booked your flight!” He looked upset.
“It doesn’t matter, I needed a holiday anyway,” Anne said, but she felt a bit of disappointment.
She tried to read the letter again, but the plane started to have some turbulence.
The Frenchmen took some pills with water that a stewardess got him and soon dozed off.
When they landed, it was early in the morning local time. Anne exchanged her dollars for euro’s and got a taxi that drove her to the address in the letter. She was excited to be in Paris and watched the people on the sidewalks. This was the city where her father had lived. She vaguely remembered him, a tall, slender young man with blue eyes and black curly hair. He was an artist. He liked to paint, but his paintings were never sold.
The taxi stopped in front of an old building in the centre of the town, it was the solicitor’s office. It looked important and impressive.
Anne paid the driver an amount she could not believe and as she carried her bag to the door, she realized it was only seven o’clock, she was way too early for her appointment. Maybe she should have gone to a hotel first, but she had not booked one. She was already running out of money. This trip would cost more than she had anticipated.
She discovered a café across the street that was already, or still, open and she decided to have a coffee.
There were some people who obviously had been partying all night. They were loud and laughing and looked curiously at Anne.
Anne didn’t understand what they were saying, ordered a coffee and tried to ignore the pushy guests.
“Hey you!” A woman, not much older than Anne, came towards her with a challenging look on her face. “You don’t want to speak to us, huh? You are too good for us?”
“Fanny! Vien ici et ferme ta geulle!” a man shouted angrily. He came after the woman and slapped her face. She hit him too and they started to fight.
Anne was shocked. She wanted to leave, but to get to the door she would have to pass the man and the woman called Fanny.
She saw a backdoor and slipped out with her bag. She now was in a dark alley and trying to find her way back to the street, she stumbled over a garbage can and fell. She hit her head.
“Hey you, what are you doing?” Fanny must have followed her outside. She pulled Anne back on her feet. “What is it with you?”
“What is it with you!” Anne replied. She shook Fanny off. “Leave me alone!”
“I only want to help. Are you looking for a hotel?”
“As a matter of fact, I do. A cheap one. Nearby. Do you know one?”
“But of course cherie. Come with me.”
Fanny took Anne’s hand and helped her back to the street.
They went into another street, and another, until they were in front of a small hotel that looked as if it could use some paint.
Fanny showed her in. There was a reception desk with a tired looking woman behind it.
Fanny asked her something. The woman answered in rapid French.
“You can’t get a room yet, but you can leave your luggage here and come back at three. Is that okay?” Fanny translated.
“How much? How much for the room?” Anne asked.
“Sixteen euro. Or do you need it all night?”
“Yes, all night.”
“Fifty. If you pay now, the room will be reserved. You understand?”
Anne nodded and paid. She left her bag at the desk.
“Thank you Fanny.”
“Have a good time. Bye.” All of a sudden Fanny was in a hurry. She left and Anne felt alone.
She went outside. It took a while before she knew her way to the solicitor’s office.
By then it was almost half past eight. She sat down on the stairs and waited. A few moments later a man in a black suit opened the door with a key.
“Are you monsieur Hinaut?” she asked. He seemed afraid.
“I am Anne Sontag from New York.”
His face changed. His attitude changed too.
“Oh! You are here already!” he said.
He shook her hand.
“Come in, come in,” he said. “This is a great day! To meet the granddaughter of monsieur Legrand!”
Anne followed him in an art deco elevator, and some moments later they were in his office.
“Can you identify yourself?” he asked. “Just a formality.” She showed him her brand new passport.
“That seems to be in order. Well now. Your grandfather had made a will, of course he didn’t know he would die only sixty-four years old.”
“What was he like? Did you know him well?”
“Oh yes, I knew him. He was very friendly. He and his wife only had one son, your father, who died of#3p Well you know that.”
“He had aids.”
“Yes. Very unfortunate.”
“Do you have pictures of my grandparents? Of my father?”
“Yes, yes. You shall get them all of course.”
He couldn’t take his eyes of off her.
“What is it I inherited?” she asked when he hadn’t moved for minutes.
“It was all in the letter!” he said.
“Well I didn’t understand the letter.”
“We shall have to go to the house. You will see for yourself.”
“The house that now is yours!”
Anne was confused. The man in the plane had told her she would only get some boxes.
He showed her a key.
“All is still there. Come! You shall sleep in your own house in Paris tonight!”
“But I have just booked a hotel.”
“It is around the corner. ‘La Vie en Rose’?”
“Oh my god. That is not a hotel! It is a brothel. You can’t stay there!”
“My bag is already there.”
“We shall get it for you. Oh my god. Did you not notice the red carpets, the red lamps etcetera?”
“I had no idea. Some girl called Fanny took me there. I met her in the café across the street.”
“Do you know her?”
“Yes. I do.” He sighed. “Come on.”
She followed him back to the brothel. The old woman was not very happy that Hinaut wanted to cancel the reservation. There was a discussion, then in the end the woman gave him the fifty euro’s back and Anne’s luggage.
She yelled some curse in their direction as they left.
Anne followed him. He had a car parked nearby. He took her to another area of Paris. Anne could not believe what she saw.
“This is a huge villa! Is this mine?”
“Yes yes. All of it.”
He opened the door. Anne walked in as in a dream. The house was almost a palace in her eyes.
Room after room was filled with beautiful art and furniture.
“Oh god!” Anne exclaimed. “This is grand!”
“And there are six bedrooms. You pick any you like.”
Anne opened doors and was in constant excitement. Then she heard barking.
“What is that?”
“Your grandfather’s boxers. They come with the inheritance. I have fed and walked them daily since the accident.”
He took her to the back of the villa. In a room, there were two dogs. They jumped up and down, wiggling their tails.
“They need to go for their walk I think,” Hinaut said.
Anne smiled. Boxers. Not boxes. The man in the plane was afraid of dogs. That made sense!
“They seem to like you a lot,” she said.
“Oh yes, yes, and I love them. I shall miss them.” He dried his eyes.
“If you like, you can have them,” Anne said.
He was over the moon with joy.
That afternoon Anne called her mother.
“You woke me up,” her mother said sleepy. “And? What is it like?”
“It is fantastic! A villa! And there is money too, mama, I am rich!”
“What will you do with it? Sell?”
“Not yet. I think I want to live here, if you will take the cats. Open an art gallery of my own. Or a brothel!”
“Never mind! I am going through the family picture albums now. I look like my father.”
“Yes. Yes you do.”
“Actually, that was all I wanted to find.”
“Please do come back,” her mother said. “The cats are miserable without you.”
The doorbell rang.
“I must see who it is. I shall talk to you later.”
Anne opened the door. An old woman looked at her and touched Anne’s face.
“I am glad to meet you,” she said. “Anne. Pierre’s little girl.”
“And who are you?”
“I am your grandfather’s sister. Mimi. Hinaut told me you were coming. That you own the house now. Hinaut has always been kind to me, you see.”
She looked like the faces in the family pictures.
“Can I please stay for a minute?” Mimi asked. “I just wanted to meet you but it is far by foot. I can’t afford a car or a taxi you see. I live under a bridge.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I am not rich like my brother was. And his wife didn’t want him to help me.”
Anne had bought some wine and bread.
“Would you like some?”
“Thank you dear. The house hasn’t changed a bit. I grew up here, you know.” She looked at the photo album. “See, that is me, that girl there.”
Anne liked Mimi. After Mimi had told her everything that had happened to her in life, Anne asked her to stay in the big villa. After a week, Anne and Mimi were the best of friends. And then Anne got homesick. She missed her cats and her mother.
Anne left Paris a week later. Mimi stayed in the villa. All Anne took home with her, was a photo of her father. Mimi would live in the villa for many years to come.