February 25, 2019
My old Paris apartment was on the fifth floor of a building in the 11th arrondissement. It overlooked the courtyard and provided a bird’s eye view of what went on in the lives of my neighbours. The building at the back had only four storeys. I could see what they were doing but they could only see what I was doing from the chest up and then only if they craned their necks.
This didn’t prevent Madame Madot from observing my every move from behind her lace curtains. She was in her eighties but in her working years she’d run an assembly line at a Citroën factory. She was originally from Strasbourg and had small, piercing blue eyes with thickly pencilled eyebrows, and something of a frank, Germanic nature.
One day, there was a commotion on the passerelle (shared balcony) of the third floor. The door to the small end apartment was open and two policemen were standing outside, talking in an animated way. There was a shout and then a scuffle as the bigger of the two shoved the smaller policeman through the open door. The smaller man reappeared almost immediately with his arm over his nose, pushing aside the shovey policeman who was now laughing with his mouth open.
It was September, the tail-end of a very hot summer. No one had seen the elderly woman who lived in the end apartment for at least two months. Her body was only discovered when the couple on the same passerelle complained to the police about a foul smell.
I found out all this later from Madame Madot. She’d been through the war and had seen things. Madot didn’t waste time on niceties. She liked to call a spade a spade.
‘It’s been hellishly hot these past two months,’ she said. ‘Those floorboards will be ruined.’