The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 15, No. 1

French Lessons

by Johanna Skibsrud

When Martha first arrived in Paris—before she met Charlie, and settled down, and her real life began—she stayed with blind old Madame Bernard on the Left Bank, in an old apartment with narrow rooms, which linked themselves like train cars all the way back. Madame took her coffee in bed, and at exactly 8:00 a.m. Martha would fix it and carry it in, to where Madame, already raised on her pillows, would be reading books in Braille, her fingers skimming the surface of the page, making a whistling noise. If not for the morning coffee, Martha perhaps never would have been hired at all, because that was, very nearly, the extent of her duties for the day. She tidied the place, but more or less of her own accord, and sometimes she wondered if Madame would even notice if she let things go. This was absurd, of course—Madame noticed everything.

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