Right now this blog is pretty much just a repository for the occasional Terrible Minds challenge, and I have no problem with that. This week, Chuck asked us to write the end of a novel, and since I recently wrote the beginning of a novel for a different challenge (one that made it seem prudent to NOT post what I wrote here), I thought I’d go ahead and end that same story, and maybe win a mug or something. It’s 1100 words, two scenes, and other than that I’ll let it speak for itself.

MADAME ANTOINE’S END

Rosalie cried all night, but tears won’t stop the sunrise, and all too soon the morning came. At seven o’clock she composed herself as best she could and went to Madame Antoine’s chamber. Her heart felt like a rock in her chest, but at the same time there was a certain euphoria in the knowledge that this moment she was participating in was a tremendous moment in history. This was a day that people would remember and remember and remember, although they probably wouldn’t bother remembering her. She wondered how many days there were like this, days that history grabbed on to, and tried to think if she could remember any herself. The death of Caesar was one, she thought, and the burning of Jeanne d’Arc. The crucifixion of Christ, not that Antoine was anything like as good as Christ, no matter how much Rosalie loved her. Did history remember any happy days?

She arrived to find Madame Antoine already awake in her black dress. She lay on her bed, facing the wall, but she had two small lights burning. As always, there were gendarmes in the corner, keeping a watchful eye.

“Madame,” Rosalie almost whispered. “Madame, I am here. Will you take some breakfast?”

“Ah, no, Rosalie,” she replied, not turning. “It is all over for me. I want nothing today.”

“But Madame, you will need your strength,” Rosalie insisted. “Please. I have some bouillon and some pasta for you. It will do you good.” It will do me good, she did not say. Please take it, so I can know that I did this for you, the only thing I could do and I did it.

“You may be right,” Antoine conceded. “I will have some broth.” But she only managed a few spoonfuls before she was too overcome by emotion to swallow.

At eight o’clock it was time to dress. It had been agreed that the prisoner would not be allowed to wear black to the guillotine, in case the crowds were upset by seeing her in mourning, so a simple white dress had been provided in place of the usual black one. Antoine still chose to dress herself, but as the gendarmes would not excuse themselves, she motioned for Rosalie to block their view of her as she disrobed. Unfortunately, the man on duty – one that Rosalie had seen before, and never liked – simply changed his own position so that no matter how the two women positioned themselves, he always had a full view of the older woman.

“For decency’s sake, Monsieur, allow me some privacy, please!” Antoine finally cried out, exasperated, but he simply replied that his orders were to keep his eye on the prisoner at all times. Rosalie thought she saw some malevolent glee in his face; all of Antoine’s beauty had long since fled, so it was doubtful he was trying to look at her for any puerile reasons. No, he simply enjoyed causing suffering, even to a sick and helpless woman in her final hours. Rosalie hoped very hard that he would fall into the river and drown, even if that wish meant she would have to join him in Hell.

But there was more humiliation to come. Samson, the executioner, arrived with large, frightening-looking scissors to cut off what remained of Antoine’s hair, so that it would not catch the blade. The concern at this point was more for the smooth working and maintenance of their death machine than with the dignity of its victim. As far as everyone but Rosalie seemed to be concerned, she was already dead. Finally, they bound her hands, despite her assurances that she would come willingly. She seemed so weak and broken, it was hard to imagine she would do anything else, but no, they said, her hands must be bound, and so they were, and it was time for the Widow Capet, Madame Antoine, formerly Marie Antoinette of France, to bid farewell to her last friend.

“Thank you, my sweet Rosalie,” she said. Her voice was faint but strong. “Do not follow; I do not wish you to see the rest.”

“I do not wish to see it,” Rosalie replied, and realized it was the truest thing she had ever said. There were no tears in her eyes now, but her throat felt like it was in a vise. There was nothing left for her to do now. The gendarmes led Antoine away.

When prisoners left the Conciergerie, it fell to Rosalie to make an account of what they left behind. In Madame’s case it was a short, sad list: two pairs of black stockings, some handkerchiefs and garters, a headdress and some crepe for mourning, a few corsets and other underthings. There was a box of pomade and a box of powder, not that it had made sense for her to use either one in her final home, but then, Antoine had once been known for the pains she had taken with her appearance, and Rosalie supposed that old habits must die hard.

She gathered these things together in a large wicker basket. They would be distributed among the remaining female prisoners as a means of saving money on supplies. A few of the chemises were of rather fine linen, but otherwise there was nothing very much nicer than anything a prisoner at the Conciergerie might have expected to own, and certainly nothing of a quality that, if you handed it to a stranger, would have made them think that its owner had been a queen.

Her life was a good deal worse than mine at the end, thought Rosalie. It was not schadenfreude. If the Queen of France, with every advantage and all the world before her, should have to suffer so much, it was only a reminder that no one was ever very far from pain. The pain of having lost a friend, for example. The pain of having lost a mother before that.

Rosalie would not be allowed to grieve for long, she knew. There was too much anger in Paris, and she did not have the means to leave the city or the courage to call herself a Royalist. She was lucky though, because she had a job to do, and time spent working is time that is not spent mourning. She would be distracted from her grief, and she would forget about the red, white, and blue sash she wore in support of a Revolution that today, she wanted nothing to do with.

But no one had ever asked her whether she wanted the Revolution. It was happening. The world would change and she would change with it. Maybe someday she wouldn’t mind so much. She would grieve, but she would live. She couldn’t think of anything else to do.

Her basket wasn’t even full.

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