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Nicole turned off the tap, left the breakfast dishes in the sink, and went out onto the patio. Her mother-in-law, frail in figure, white hair, back-to-front blouse, old slippers, and slender wrists, did not respond to her calls. She stuck her spade in the grass, lifted out a small clod, and threw it on a mound she had already amassed.

Nicole approached the old woman and repeated firmly, “Stop that this instant, Marguerite!”

No reaction received, she reached out and grabbed the handle. The old woman clutched the tool with such ferocity that Nicole surrendered it to her. In an instant, the fury vanished from her wrinkled face and the spade resumed its monotonous task.

Marc's face when he sees his lawn ruined like this... Most importantly, he shouldn’t blame her... She was already doing all the chores... Like listening to the chattering of the care assistant, a real gossip that one, and when she was off ill, who was left taking care of Marguerite? Not Marc, who, with the pretext of having a serious job, left early and came home late. She cast these unfair thoughts from her mind. Her husband’s salary gave them a comfortable standard of living, while hers was more like pocket money in comparison.

Marguerite had once enjoyed knitting, baking, and watching reality television shows. In her old apartment, she nurtured a collection of potted plants. Twigs poked casually into the soil were transformed into lush bushes with her magic touch. It had been so long since she had had any interest in anything. She had lost weight and wandered aimlessly around every room in the house. In search of her scattered collection, perhaps? When she entered the office, she would wait there motionless and, in the hope of finding her words, stare at her daughter-in-law in tormented silence. This gardening exercise kept her occupied at least. Nicole retraced her steps, finished the dishes, and boiled some water.

“Come sit by me, Marguerite. I’ve made you a nice cup of tea.”

Eliciting no response, she took a sip and sighed. What a beautiful day for some yard work. Somewhat reluctantly, she walked to the office and turned on her computer.

When she checked the time, she realized two hours had flown by and she rushed outside. With her clothes, slippers, and hands soiled with dirt, Marguerite continued in her appointed task. Her face, with her cheekbones red, glistened with perspiration and strained with the effort. Nicole tried to take the spade from her, but Marguerite dodged and, with a frightened look, pressed the tool to her heart. Nicole went to find a side table and set it up on the lawn. She put a plate of chocolate waffles on it. Not very good for the glycemic index, but in her condition, her mother-in-law might as well enjoy them. She offered her some iced tea. Without letting go of the spade, Marguerite took the glass and drank from it greedily - the liquid trickled down her chin and soaked her blouse - before getting back to work. Despite the streaks of mud, the glass glistened in the sunshine beside the untouched plate.

“Things aren’t going well at all with your mother.”

“I’m in a meeting, just try to figure it out, I’ll call you back later.”

“She’s been acting differently.”

“Then call the doctor...”

“I’m telling you Marc, she's really worrying me.”

“What's going on?”

“She's digging a hole in the yard.”

“You overreact all the time... She's just getting a bit of exercise.”

“Exercise? An eighty-year-old woman digging for three hours? She’ll die of exhaustion!”

“Three hours? And you’ve let her?”

“I’d like to see you do better. Come and talk to her, maybe she’ll listen to you.”

“I’m busy...”

“If you don't come, I’m going out.”

“You wouldn't dare.”

“Come on, Marc! This is your mother, after all!”

What did he think? That he was doing her a favor?

“Well done, Marguerite! You’ve done such a great job. How about a little break? What do you say? Can you hear me?”

It would take months for the lawn to get back to how it used to look.




“Oh my! You’ve made quite a mess, Mom.”

Marguerite looked up and smiled at her son. He often managed to cheer her up.

“Come on. Let’s head back inside.”

When she didn’t move, he grabbed the handle of the spade and pulled it towards him. The smile vanished, her face contorted, and a wailing escaped through her cracked lips.

“Come on, Mom, be reasonable. You’ve had some fun, that's enough now.”

She no longer looked at her son but clung to the handle with all her might. He pulled and relented as if he were studying the impact of his gestures on the intensity of her laments. He finally gave in. Marguerite went back to work with even more fervor, as if she regretted losing those precious minutes.

“What are we going to do?” asked Nicole.


“What do you mean, nothing? She can’t go on like this!”

“Why not? She’ll give up eventually.”

“What are you, nuts? She'll work herself to death.”

“No, she won't. We’ll give her food and water. She’ll stop when she’s tired herself out. Go do your work. I’ll take care of it.”

All while Marguerite clung on to her spade, he managed to get her to drink a glass of water and swallow a piece of buttered toast. He disinfected the blisters on her palms, applied plasters, and put gloves on her hands. He sat in the conservatory with his computer. From time to time, he looked up to watch her. He heard the sound of the front door being opened, followed by the hammering of anxious steps.

“Dad, you won’t believe what happened to me! I parked my car like normal in the college parking lot and... What’s Granny doing?”

“She decided to re-landscape the yard.”

“She did?”

“Yes. She’s digging a pond.”

“No way... Why?”

“Because she wants to.”

“Oh... So, like I was saying, some jerk scratched my car in the parking lot.”

“How bad is it?”

“It’s awful! My car’s ruined. Come take a look.”

“I’ll check it out later.”

“But I’ve got to head out now. Juliette’s waiting for me. I just stopped by to get changed.”

“The car still runs, doesn’t it? I'm staying here to keep an eye on your grandmother. She’s really giving it her all...”

“I didn't know you wanted a pond on the lawn. You could have paid for some professionals. Anyway, I'm off. I won't be back tonight, I'm sleeping over at Juliette's. Will you take care of the car tomorrow night?”

“Sure. Have fun.”

She walked away without answering. Later, he heard the door slam shut. Marguerite looked tired but kept up her work pace. In a way, he preferred this to her sleepwalking... A lost expression, an unfulfilled expectation, and an immense... void. This sudden animation reminded him of when she still possessed all her memories. The hours passed by without Marguerite’s resolve weakening. Nicole joined her husband, opened a bottle of wine, and improvised a meal of bread, tofu, and avocado, while Marc kept his mother fed with the buttered toast she loved. When night fell, he brought her a jacket, which she agreed to put on.

“I think,” said Nicole, “we need to get her to stop.”

“Look at her. I haven’t seen her this peaceful in years.”

“She's going to work herself to death.”

“You know how much Mom used to love sports.”

“But she hasn’t had any physical activity in years, other than wandering around the corridor.”

“She’s wandered many a mile...”

“And if she spends the whole night out there?”

“I’ll keep her company. She’ll stop eventually.”

Nicole tidied up the table, filled the dishwasher, and announced she was going to sleep. Marc, wrapped up in his coat, had settled on a deck chair. She brought out blankets, two glasses, the bottle of wine, and put the second chair next to her husband’s. Only the monotonous sound of the spade disturbed the silence. She held a sip of the dark liquid in her mouth for a few moments. The fresh air, the scent of earth and martyred grass enhanced its bouquet.

“This is nice, we should do this more often.”


“I’m cold.”

“Come on.”

She slipped in under the blanket beside him and looked up at the stars. When was the last time she had looked at them? The full moon illuminated the yard with an austere glow.

“Isn’t your mother cold?”

He got up and she missed the comfort of his warmth. She curled up against him when he returned.

“It's all right.”

“Are you going to let her work all night?”

“She'll stop.”

“How do you know?”

“I don’t know a thing, I just hope so. Get to sleep.”

“I'll stay with you a little longer.”

She drifted first into a slumber, and he soon fell asleep too. Marguerite’s head was sticking out of the pit, too deep and narrow for an artificial pond. The spade hit an obstacle, the support beam of an underground tunnel. The old woman cleared the opening, then hoisted herself onto the lawn and, spade in hand, shadow sentinel in the night light, approached the embracing couple. She placed her tool at the foot of the sleepers, then left. She sat down on the edge of the hole, let herself slide down and crawled into the tunnel. She settled as best she could in the narrow space and rested her head on the soft earth that surrounded, warmed, and protected her. A fog enveloped her in its silky rags. She closed her eyes.

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