The short ceremony was coming to an end. The young woman felt she was beyond tears, a hard block of insensitivity. A small crowd had accompanied her mother towards nothingness, close family, friends, strangers, some of whom came to introduce themselves: colleagues of the dead woman, members of associations to which her mother belonged, an old man that she considered senile as he repeated while shaking her hand: ‘She was singing, she was singing.’
Before that, the young woman had had to identify her mother’s body. An ordeal.
The enquiry into the causes of the accident had begun. What exactly had happened? What were her mother’s last moments? A civil case, she could have sight of the copies that her lawyer made from the various statements. A witness said that he had followed with his eyes her mother’s Twingo from the last red light and had seen a car going at high speed the wrong way up the motorway slip road, then he had heard a crash, a screech of tyres, the roar of engines starting up again, and another crash, but he had not been able to see the collision itself, hidden by a thicket, and under his eyes there was no car any more. He wondered where the car going the wrong way had gone. He had run, but not very fast – it was his heart – and had with horror recognised the woman’s car; he had taken some time to dare to go near and call useless emergency services from his mobile. He gave other superfluous details. Very upset, the young woman realised that this man was the last person to have seen her mother alive, apart from her killer – but had the latter seen her at all? Immediately, feeling nervous, she decided to meet this witness of those last moments.
He lived, at a few tens of metres from the last traffic light before the motorway slip road, in a delightful little house at the foot of quiet council flats, at the edge of gardens whose peacefulness did not seem to be affected by the low density traffic. To her great surprise, the noise of the motorway seemed to her to be softened, while she had imagined it would be unbearable; she noticed a protective wall, broken for the slip road to pass through. The old man asked her to come in. He spoke to her about this woman who was her mother, told her that she shared his life for some months, from the day he had noticed that she always went by at the same time. He was pleased when the lights were red, as then he could, for a bit longer, see her and above all, hear her.
‘Yes. Mind you, only in spring and in summer when it was fine.’
‘What did you hear?’
‘Well, she used to sing. She was – and even when the car windows were closed and I couldn’t hear her – my ray of sunshine for the whole day. Sometimes – I suppose that then she wasn’t going to her work, I suppose that she practised a profession – I didn’t see her for a few days and even a few weeks, and it was as if I were suddenly a widower, forgive me.’
‘You knew her? You were…’
‘No, no, no, don’t believe that… We never spoke to each other, we never met. Maybe she didn’t even know I existed. I don’t think that she ever noticed me. You know, she was driving. She drove well, she didn’t look at the landscape. I was part of the landscape. Sometimes, at the red light, she looked to the right, to the left. But would she have noticed an old fool in his garden first thing in the morning, who was looking, not at his flowers and his vegetables, but at a young woman at the wheel? Forgive me, your mother looked very young, to me. Enamoured with a young woman driving along… I must seem ridiculous to you.’
‘No, no, no,’ she protested.
‘She would sing. Often even at the top of her voice. I used to hear her when her windows were open at the red light. Besides, it’s because she sang that I noticed her, one morning when, as I like to do since I’ve been able to acquire the garden just beside my home, from the council – without pulling strings, I assure you – one morning when I had gone to taste the air, that’s my expression. I heard a truly resonant voice, deliciously unaffected. I thought about Ulysses’ sirens, the Lorelei… but kind…’
He hesitated on the edge of the explanation. The young woman indicated to him that she had understood.
‘On the day…., that day, was she singing?’
He nodded yes. With a lump in her throat, she left without saying a word. This stranger knew more than she did about her mother, knew a facet of her that was not known by her daughter. But indignation rumbled on inside her. She was sure she had never heard her mother sing. Although, maybe, when she was small, otherwise from where, from whom did she know those lullabies, those nursery rhymes, those children’s songs that she didn’t remember having learnt and that she herself had sung to her own daughter?
Later on, on any old excuse, she rang her sister.
‘By the way, it’s just come to me, Mum, she sang?’
‘What do you mean, she sang? I…Why? I don’t know. No, I…It’s stupid. Now that you… I don’t remember having heard her sing. Maybe when I was small… I know some children’s songs. It must have been her who…’
‘Leave it, it doesn’t matter…’
The young woman asked the other members of her family the same thing. She asked her mother’s friends if, among her extra-professional activities, her mother was a member of a gym club for example, or of a choir where she sang…
‘Sing? No… I don’t think I ever heard her sing. But that doesn’t mean that she was gloomy or dull. On the contrary, your mother was quite cheerful, smiling…’
They all confirmed what she knew, what she was sure of: her mother didn’t sing. The old man was maybe a bit deranged, or had too much imagination. He heard a siren when there was only a woman…A woman. Her mother. Not a siren, but kind.
“She Was Singing”
Danielle Picard, Felicity McNab (Tr.)
2007, Comma Press