Florence Gerard Ducasse
I will call her Florence. This is not her real name, of course.
I was a newly qualified doctor at the time and that was in the early sixties. Trite as that may sound, she reminded me of the Madonna of Raphael, as she bent over her newborn child. She was a single mother, and single mothers in those days were tolerated if they behaved with sufficient humility and did not flaunt the obvious: that they had borne a child out of wedlock. She had brought her baby boy to my office. He was only two weeks old. She was herself about eighteen years old, maybe. She lived with an aunt. The father of the child had disappeared from her life.
Thereafter, she would bring her child regularly for his development checks, and for the sundry ailments all children suffer from. She was always well dressed, but with a quiet chic. She spoke in a measured and calm voice. She had beautiful black eyes, a sweet, charming smile, and a liquid radiance hung about her person. I am sure my heart beat a little faster, every time I saw her with her baby in the waiting room.
As the years went by, I saw Florence and her boy every now and then at the office. He was a healthy boy and, as he grew older, I saw less and less of them. She was as perfect a mother as one would wish. It seemed every fibre of her being was bent to her child’s development and happiness, and yet, she did not dote upon him. Her love was not exaggerated or silly. She was always poised, reasonable, warm, loving and lovable. I suspected that she worked for some “couture” business in town, for her dresses were always in such perfect taste.
I think that her boy must have been about four years old, when the dark secret that clothed her life was revealed to me. One evening, I had been invited to dinner by a friend of mine, who was staying at one of the city’s hotels. After dinner, he left me in the hotel lobby to get a newspaper. As I sat in a corner of the lobby waiting for his return, my attention was caught by a group of young women, escorted by some young fellows, who were leaving the hotel to board a limousine. The women wore slinky dresses with deep décolleté. Some of them had slits on the side of their dresses running up to their thighs. They laughed loudly. Some smoked cigarettes from long thin amber-colored cigarette-holders. They exhibited an air of nonchalance and sensuality. Their escorts’ hands slid on their bodies without any apparent show of resistance on their part. They aired their noisy good humor as they walked towards their waiting limousine. I suspected they were a group of escort girls entertaining their clients. Intrigued and curious, I got up and watched them board the limousine. One of the girls, as she got into the car, turned around, looked in my direction and our eyes briefly crossed. She was Florence.
She never brought her child to my office again.
Years later, late one night, I was called to the emergency department of our hospital, to see a boy who had been brought in unconscious. He had been knocked down by a car. The boy was about eight years old. Luckily, he was only concussed. He had a minor fracture and a few bad bruises, nothing really serious. The mother of the child arrived soon after. It was Florence. She looked older of course, but she was still very beautiful. She was very worried. She feared the worst for her child. I reassured her and explained that we would admit her boy, to set his fracture and to keep an eye on him for the night. I invited her to stay with him, and she eagerly accepted. Next morning, the young fellow was discharged home, as lively as a sparrow. As I wished her good-bye, I remarked that I had not seen her for quite a while. We shook hands. She smiled shyly, and left.
A few days later I received through the post a folded card, illustrated with a very delicate picture of one of Raphael’s Madonna. Life has these coincidences. The sender had not written anything in it, but had enclosed, within its fold, a dried flower. It was pale blue, very transparent, with thin fine veins. I held it against the morning light and blew on it. The soft breeze carried it away.