by Daniel Valot
The scene takes place in the vast dwelling of the Chartiers, in Saint-Germain en Laye, near Paris. Dinner is over. Sitting in armchairs in the salon, snifters of armagnac in hand, the guests are happily chatting on various light topics. Armagnac is delicious, yes… but pear schnaps also holds undeniable merit. “The government, this week…” — “No, no, no, my dear, we agreed: No politics on Saturday nights!” Suddenly, Richard Chanteclair, one of the guests, asks the congregation: “Say, you all knew Philippe Simon, didn’t you?”
“Yes, of course,” reply the men, in a neutral voice.
“Oh yes!” answer the women, crestfallen. “We miss him so!”
Some of the ladies have tears in their eyes. “Yes,” says the hostess, “Philippe was a regular at our soirées. Then, a bit over two years ago, he was taken away by a dreadful disease. He was a charming gentleman. We miss him a great deal. Why this question, Richard dear?”
“I learned, last week, a surprising bit of news about him.”
“What news?” ask the guests.
“I will tell you, of course, but first I’d like you to tell me more about this Philippe Simon, since, on my end, having joined this circle of friends only three years ago, I have seen very little of him. In fact, our paths crossed only once or twice.”
“Well, I’ll be glad to tell you,” declares gracious Mrs. Gladys McFarlane. “You said, dear Madame Cha’tier, that he was un homme cha’mant. In fact, he was more than that! He wasn’t just un homme cha’mant, he was un grand cha’meur!”
“That is so true,” confirms Esther Bragance, a beautiful blonde. “I knew him well. He could not see a woman crossing his path without immediately attempting to seduce her. His goal was not at all to ‘conquer’, as people say, but he loved to flatter women, to court them somewhat, make them smile and giggle, and finally see a spark of complicity in their eye. Age didn’t matter. I saw him deploy treasures of imagination to amuse little girls as well as grandmothers. Every time he managed to make them smile, he became the happiest man on earth.”
“It must have been hell for his wife?” asks another of the guests.
“Certainly, at first,” answers Esther. “Early on, Sophie would become furious. But she quickly understood that although he liked to parade around women, he nonetheless had no desire to cheat on her. He was very much in love with her, and not the fickle kind. But he couldn’t help wanting to please every woman he met. Still, all this melodrama, for poor Sophie, was a tedious bore.”
The lady of the house, Amandine Chartier, interrupts: “Dear Sophie has not been attending our Saturday soirées since she became a widow, but we see still her from time to time. But now pray tell, Richard: What is this news you learned just last week, regarding poor Philippe Simon?”
“I went for a walk through the Père-Lachaise, to pay my respects to an old friend. At a crossing in the path, I noticed a gravestone bearing the name of dear Philippe, the former heartthrob. Il was adorned with an incredible epitaph…”
“What did it read?” asks the crowd.
“You would never guess. It wasn’t ‘Our beloved father’ or ‘My dear husband.’ No, it was much more original than that, and completely in accordance with what you’ve told me about the guy. I imagine that his skeleton, even if it now rests six feet under, must chuckle to itself just thinking about it…”
“Be nice,” says the host, “and cut the suspense. What does the epitaph say?”
Daniel Valot is the author of several books and short stories, including Sur Le Plus Haut Trône du Monde, et autres contes (2012). He is a Frenchman living in Switzerland.