Home > The Paris Apartment

The Paris Apartment
Author: Kelly Bowen






Paris, France

10 June 2017


The woman was nude.

Painted in a swirl of angry scarlets and oranges, the woman’s arms were flung over her head, her hands outstretched, her hair a cloud of midnight floating behind her. Caught in the shaft of light that fell through the open apartment door, she gazed out with dark eyes from her canvas, angry and accusing, as if she resented the intrusion into her space and privacy. Lia froze in the open doorway, one hand clutching the heavy key and the other gripping the packet of neatly organized legal papers that said she had every right to be here.

And that this unknown apartment, along with all its contents, now belonged to her.

It is an incredibly valuable property, the lawyers had assured her. Your grandmother must have adored you, the administrative assistant had said enviously as she had examined the printed address. And Lia hadn’t replied to any of them because Grandmère’s motives in death were as murky as they had been in life, and Lia couldn’t be sure that adoration had figured in either.

“Utilities should be on,” the building’s concierge said from the top of the stairs behind Lia. The property caretaker was a surprisingly young woman with a close-cropped pink bob and a quick smile who had introduced herself simply as Celeste. Lia had liked her immediately. “I’m not often in the office but I’m always around if you need anything else. Just ring me.”

“Thank you,” Lia replied faintly, slipping the key into her pocket.

“You said on the phone this place was your grandmother’s?” Celeste leaned casually on the stair railing.

“Yes. She left it to me when she passed.” Or at least that was what the lawyers had said when they had summoned her to their offices and laid a steady stream of documents before her. And while the flat had been paid for and maintained from an account with Grandmère’s name on it, as far as Lia knew, Estelle Allard had never lived anywhere other than Marseille.

“Ah.” The woman’s expression softened. “My condolences on her passing.”

“Thank you. It wasn’t unexpected. Though this apartment was a…shock.”

“Not a bad one as shocks go, I think?” Celeste remarked. “We should all be so lucky.”

“True,” Lia acknowledged, playing with the enameled pendant at her throat. Until this morning, the antique necklace had been the only gift Grandmère had ever given her, presented without fuss on her eighteenth birthday. She considered the concierge. “How long have you worked here?”

“Six years.”

“I don’t suppose you know anything about this apartment? Or my grandmother? Estelle Allard?”

Celeste shook her head. “I’m sorry, I don’t. While I’m familiar with most of the tenants in the building, in truth, I had no idea who owned this apartment, only that it’s been unoccupied since I started.”

On impulse, Lia jammed the packet of paper under her arm and unzipped her portfolio bag. From inside, she withdrew a small painting, about the size of a legal document. It was a vivid, if somewhat clumsy, painting of a manor house surrounded by clumps of emerald trees and silhouetted against a cobalt sky. Along with the key to this apartment, the painting had been the only other thing her grandmother had specifically left her.

“What about the name Seymour? William Seymour? Does that sound familiar?” Lia asked, holding the painting toward Celeste.

Celeste shook her head again. “No. May I ask who he was?”

“No clue. Other than the artist who signed this painting.”

“Oh.” Celeste looked intrigued. “Were you thinking that he was once a tenant here?”

“I have no idea.” Lia sighed, sliding the little painting back into her bag. She hadn’t really expected an answer but she had nothing to lose by asking.

“I can check the building’s records for you if you like,” Celeste offered. “We have archives going back a lot of years. If a William Seymour lived here at one point in time, I might be able to find out.”

Lia was touched by the kindness of the offer. “No, that’s all right.” She didn’t want to waste this woman’s time. At least until she had done a little research of her own.

“Sure. But if you reconsider, just let me know.”

“Thank you. I will.”

Celeste seemed to hesitate. “Are you planning to live here?” she finally asked.

Lia opened her mouth to answer and then closed it. The simple answer was yes, at least temporarily. But beyond temporarily? Lia had no simple answer for that.

“None of my business.” The woman ducked her head. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Lia smiled. “I haven’t made a decision yet.”

“I hope you stay,” Celeste said sincerely. “It would be nice to have—”

The sound of a lock being released, accompanied by a brief torrent of hysterical barking, made Lia turn. An elderly woman emerged from the apartment across the landing and shuffled toward her. A small bundle of writhing white fur was clamped under one arm, a pointy cane clutched in her other hand. She was dressed like a model from a midcentury American advert peddling soap or vacuums, in a wide-skirted floral dress with a pinched waist and a string of heavy pearls at her throat. Her white hair was curled around a liberally powdered face, her lipstick an angry crimson. Color had bled into the deep lines that tracked outward from her lips, and the whole effect was rather macabre. Unbidden, Aurelia could almost hear Grandmère tsk in disapproval.

One should never notice your cosmetics, Lia. Unless, of course, you only wish to be noticed but not seen.

At the time, an adolescent, lip-gloss-loving Lia remembered being annoyed by the cryptic, critical comment. Now, Lia couldn’t say Grandmère had been wrong.

Lia’s neighbour was now shuffling across the marble floor, her eyes fixed beyond Lia at the tall, nude painting propped up inside the apartment and visible in the meagre light. She looked as shocked as Lia had felt when she had first opened the door, though that shock was fading into clear condemnation. Lia pasted on a smile and stepped more fully into her doorway, blocking the view inside.

The woman scowled and craned her neck, trying to peer past.

“Good afternoon,” Lia said politely, her ingrained boarding-school manners demanding that she make some sort of greeting.

In response, the dog resumed its frantic tirade, the shrill noise bouncing mercilessly off the marble floor and plaster walls. The woman’s face soured further, and she produced a piece of sausage from somewhere in the folds of her dress. That silenced the barking, two beady eyes now fixed not on Lia but on the prize held in clawlike fingers.

“You own this apartment?” the woman asked into the ensuing quiet with a voice like sandpaper.

“Yes.” A fact that was still so new and novel that it was hard to answer with conviction.

“I’ve lived here my entire life. Since 1943,” the woman said, her eyes narrowing.

Lia’s smile was slipping. “Um. That’s a long time—”

“I know everything that goes on in this building. And in all that time, no one has ever gone in or come out of that apartment. Until now.”

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