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Later that evening Claire poured herself a large glass of red wine. She had finally finished sorting out the last of the house sale documents, tax forms and remaining papers to do with her mother’s estate.
The real estate market was booming which meant that the sale had brought in a large amount of money which would keep her going for quite some time but instead of being happy, Claire felt guilty for profiting from her mother’s death. “Enough, stop! I have to get my act together,” she spoke aloud to herself. “Make a plan like Nadia says.”
Claire picked up a cardboard box containing the few of her mother’s things that she chose to keep. In the box were a few pieces of jewellery, some framed photographs, her mother’s precious bible and rosary beads. Claire put on the old pearl bracelet that had always been her favourite piece. It took her back years ago when as a child she would wear this same bracelet on her skinny wrist, the pearls feeling soft and slippery and exotic. Now it fit her perfectly. She picked up the cross that her mother always wore. The staff had made her mother take it off at the hospital. Claire held it in her palm tightly, hoping to feel something emanating from it but it just felt cold. The cross had a double bar on the vertical column. It was dull gold on a delicate chain. She fastened it around her neck. She decided she would wear it. Crosses were a fashion statement at the moment.
She picked up the bible and flipped through its old worn pages. She was going to trash it but was secretly afraid that such a heinous act might invoke the fires of hell. Her mother had actually made notes throughout the bible in her tiny perfect script. Claire was convinced that her mother’s religious fervour bordered on obsession. There was some paper jammed in the back sleeve of the bible cover. Claire gently pulled the paper out. It was an old envelope folded in half, addressed to her mother at a street name that Claire didn’t recognize. It was the return address that widened her eyes. René DuClaire, 23 Place du Tertre, XVIIIe Arrondissement, Paris.
“Oh my God,” Claire said aloud, her hands trembling. She opened the envelope carefully and drew out the one-page letter and an old sepia-toned photograph that curled at the ends. Her mother, so young, probably in her early twenties, stared back at her with an enormous smile. She had long golden hair and giant hoop earrings and was wearing a sheepskin vest. Claire had never seen her dressed like this. It hit her then that she had never seen her mother look so happy, but here, captured in this moment, she was. The young man with his arm around her so protectively was tall, almost gangly, with long, dark curly hair. They looked like a couple of hippies. Claire was stunned. The thought of her mother as a flower child was unfathomable. In the picture, Emily looked lovingly at the boy. Of course, it must be him. She started to read the letter. “Ma chère Emily,” it began. Claire’s heart was pounding, she took a deep breath and read.
He wrote of his love and longing and the loss of their child. My God, Claire thought, he’s talking about me! His words were crafted in an old-fashioned, stilted English. He sounded so earnest and caring. How could her mother not have responded to this degree of love? His signature was written at the bottom with a flourish, René. That’s my father’s name, René DuClaire. So she named me after him. Claire re-read the letter a few more times and then without quite being conscious of it, a decision was made.
She was going to Paris and if he could be found, she would find René DuClaire...