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Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Marie Blanchemain. You may call me whatever you like. I expect you will. I expect you will call me many things.

That I have had some education, you can tell by the way I speak, and that I did not come from some wretched home by the the way I hold my head. I am a woman, as they say, of a certain age, which gives me a certain credibility.

I was married once, Pierre and I lived here, in this little house. We had a son, Adrien. A beautiful child. We were very happy for a time.

One day I walked into the living room to tell Pierre his lunch was ready. He stood with his ear pressed to the wall. Palms flat, as if he were straining to hear.

He turned his head to look at me. Murmurs, was all he said, and I did not know then it was only gathering its forces. Come, I said, have your lunch before it gets cold.

The brain swells, a searing pain, there were times when it made him scream. The disease marched on and he was, by turns, violent, and like a child.

He died when Adrien turned fifteen. It had been years since he knew either one of us. I had loved Pierre, deeply. I missed my husband, and Adrien missed his father. But Pierre had not been either, for some time. We were sad and we were weary. Adrien and I spent our evenings quietly, at home.

My son was tall, fair-haired, as handsome as his father. He wrote poetry and Adrien was gifted, he had a poet’s ear for words. On cold nights I made cocoa, he brought in wood and we made a fire. As the flames behind him danced, Adrien read his poems out loud.

I worked needlepoint while he read. I studied the holes in the cloth. The last poem Adrien read to me was about an orchard in the snow. He stumbled over the words. When I looked up, he was trembling, his face was red. He bit his lip and cried. He stared at the page in his hand as though it betrayed him.

He never read to me after that and never left his room. When he spoke, it was to the walls. The disease marched on as it had before; he was violent. And he was my child.

Blanchemain. My given name. It means, “white hands”, or “clean”. Empty, perhaps. Hands that give too many things.

I gave Pierre my heart, to Adrien, I gave my soul.

I gave them both to the fire. To the orchard, and to the snow.