Mairie de Montrouge

4

Madame and Monsieur LeBrun are in very good health for their age. Indeed, the nice young lady doctor at their local clinic would probably be surprised if she knew just how old they were. Still, old age comes with certain discomforts, and one of these is the loss of old friends.

Paris has a number of cemeteries, many of them carefully laid out and surprisingly beautiful. It is a melancholy pleasure to walk along their groves and avenues, but once or twice a month, the LeBruns find themselves in a mood to remember those they still hold dear, and so Madame’s pedometer directs them to whichever cemetery they have not visited recently.

Madame always brings flowers, though not from her garden. She has had some success with bulbs this year – anyone can keep a jonquil alive – and nasturtiums are virtually impossible to kill, of course, but one cannot make a bouquet from nasturtiums, and the bulbs reached the end of their season weeks ago. As for other flowers, well, the less said about Madame’s other floral efforts, the better. She never has had the knack of growing plants that are purely ornamental.

Monsieur often brings a book, of poetry, or philosophy, or short stories. It is the LeBruns’ custom, when visiting friends who are gone, to stay for a while at the graveside, weeding around it if the caretakers have not been keeping the grave up to Madame’s standards, and talking to them as if they can still hear. And when the conversation begins to fall into silence, Monsieur will take out his book, and read aloud while Madame weeds, or while she simply sits beside him, her head leaning against his shoulder, and a faint smile on her face.

They both bring their ultra-light, folding stools, the ones that Madame bought on special from the camping shop and uses for gardening. Monsieur’s knees really cannot stand sitting on the ground for any length of time, and Madame finds it easier to weed while seated. The stools have useful little carrying handles, so it is really quite convenient to bring them.

The LeBruns do occasionally get odd looks from other visitors. Perhaps it is because they are so comfortable settling down for a long visit with the dead. The LeBruns are not concerned by such looks. Their visits do no harm, and they find them comforting. And perhaps the dead are comforted, too. Even Madame cannot be perfectly sure that their friends are not aware of their visits.

Madame Bernard was laid to rest at the Cimitière de Montrouge six years ago. She was a good neighbour to the LeBruns, and they still visit with her daughter and son-in-law from time to time. The LeBruns have not visited her for nearly six months, which is really longer than they would like, but it has been an eventful few months for them, and the living must take priority over the dead, however beloved.

Madame Bernard never did like poetry, so Monsieur has brought a collection of the Lais of Marie de France, in the edition by Paul Tuffrau. She did like yellow roses, so Madame has brought a bunch of those. The Commune de Montrouge takes good care of its cemeteries, so little weeding is required. The LeBruns unfold their stools, and settle in for a nice, peaceful visit.

The peace lasts for approximately four minutes.

“No – please, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to–“

The voice is male, and sounds very young, and rather panicked.

The LeBruns look at each other, and Monsieur rises from his stool, reaching a hand down to Madame.

“Really – I didn’t – Look, I was gutted when you died! I was – please, don’t make me do this!”

If anyone is answering the young man, the LeBruns can’t hear it. Then again, given who he seems to be talking to, this is not entirely surprising.

“That way, I think,” murmurs Madame, folding up the stools. “In amongst those trees. I can’t see anything – can you?”

Monsieur shakes his head, taking the stools from her. “Not from here. But I think I hear violins… Come, we should hurry.”

The young man seems to think so, too. His pleading is becoming more desperate, but also strangely breathless.

“I didn’t know you liked me! I swear – oh, please Giselle! You know I can’t dance – and everyone knew I was with – oh God, I’m going to break my neck! – I thought you knew, truly – Look, can’t we just talk about this? Just you and me, not – please, somebody help!”

The LeBruns hasten around the corner and stop short.

A young man, his face red with exertion, is pirouetting and leaping among the graves to the sound of an invisible orchestra. His movements are like a marionette being pulled by strings – there is no grace to them, only force and desperation.

A group of women, dressed all in white, look on, silently, fingers pointed accusingly at the dancer.

None of them are alive.

Well, the man is, but the women seem to be bent on fixing that particular problem. Madame and Monsieur exchange glances. At least one half of this problem is simple. Monsieur pulls out his phone.

Madame clears her throat loudly. “Young man, what on earth do you think you are doing?”

The young man does not stop dancing, but his eyes fix on the LeBruns whenever his leaps and pirouettes allow him to do so.

“Please, I can’t stop! They won’t let me! I swear, I never meant to hurt anyone!”

Madame fixes him with a stern gaze. “You most certainly can stop. For one thing, you are trespassing. This cemetery is closed to anyone who is not a guest, and judging by your disrespectful behaviour, you are no guest.”

The music stops abruptly, but the man continues to spin, beginning a series of pirouettes that look certain to end in disaster. Madame shakes her head. He’s right about one thing, at any rate. He really can’t dance.

Monsieur has pulled up the cemetery by-laws on his phone. He begins to read aloud, his voice firm and clear. “A person in a public cemetery must not act in a way that causes unreasonable disturbance to any other person,” he states.

“Your behaviour is definitely causing a disturbance,” Madame informs the hapless dancer. “We were trying to visit our friend, and now we have had to come and attend to you.”

“I can’t help it! Please, they won’t let me stop!” The dancer’s voice is a whisper now, but he dances on, leaping onto onto a headstone to perform a wobbly arabesque, before performing a pas de chat to the headstone beside it and pirouetting anew.

Monsieur continues to read from his phone.

“A person in a public cemetery must not act in a manner that is likely to cause danger to any person or property.”

“You’ll be lucky not to break your ankle, and those headstones were never designed to have people balancing on them. Get off there at once,” instructs Madame.

The dancer screams silently as he performs a grand jeté that takes him from the headstone, over the grave and to the middle of the avenue. The ghostly women part to make way for him, then surround him in a circle as he performs a series of emboîtés within it, as though trying to escape.

“A person must not engage in any sport or play any game involving physical activity in a public cemetery without the prior written approval of the cemetery trust,” finishes Monsieur LeBrun.

“I don’t imagine anyone gave you approval to dance around like this,” adds Madame LeBrun, and the dancer collapses to the ground, weeping.

The women step forward to surround him more closely, but Madame puts up a hand to stop them.

“A person must not hunt or set up snares, traps or poisons in a public cemetery without the prior written approval of the cemetery trust,” reads Monsieur LeBrun, hurriedly.

They glare at the LeBruns accusingly, but do not move further.

“How long did you lie in wait for this young man to visit Giselle’s grave?” she asks them.

And with a despairing cry, the ghosts are gone.

The young man is exhausted and shaken but uninjured. This is something of a nuisance, because now he wants to ask questions.

Madame is firm. “We need to know what happened, first,” she tells him, and he finds himself obeying.

“I didn’t know Giselle liked me like that,” he explains again. “I’ve been going out with Bathilde for months. Well, I was. She broke up with me after – anyway, everyone knew I was in a relationship. I didn’t know Giselle didn’t.”

“So there was nothing between you and Giselle?”

The young man squirms a little. “Not… not like that. Well, once. But only once. But Giselle was very intense, you know? Beautiful, but crazy. I mean, I know that sounds terrible, but it’s true. Still, it was awful, what happened to her. She didn’t deserve that.”

“And what did happen to her?”

He sighs. “Hit and run driver. She was on her way to university, and he ran a red light.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

The young man looks uncomfortable. “Well, it wasn’t really my loss. But I did feel bad about it. I freaked out a bit when I heard she had died so suddenly. I thought she might have – done something stupid, you know.”

“You thought she might have killed herself because you seduced her and then went back to your girlfriend.” Madame sees no need to sugarcoat things.

“Yeah, pretty much,” he mutters. “Mind you, the whole vengeful ghost thing was a bit of a shock. I just wanted to say sorry. I felt really bad about it, you know? I still do, really.”

“I don’t think your apology was accepted,” says Madame.

The young man frowns. “Should I try again, then?”

“I think that would be very unwise,” says Monsieur. “Right now, the only apology Giselle is going to accept is your death. If you want to live, you will need to do so without the benefit of her forgiveness.”

That which we sow takes life only through death.

“He is a cad, of course,” Madame LeBrun remarks to her husband later that evening, “But he did not cause Giselle’s death. What he did should not have been enough to summon the Wilis to that graveyard.”

Monsieur nods. “I agree. I looked up the police statement about the accident on their website, and it was certainly an accident – or, rather, negligent driving on the part of the driver. Not suicide though, by any means. Something woke the ghosts before Giselle got there.”

Madame sighs. “Well, we never did get to visit properly with Madame Bernard. I think we should take another walk around Montrouge, and see what is going on.”

Madame Bernard is all too willing to tell them. This is concerning in and of itself.

“Graffiti,” she tells them firmly. “It’s those teenagers with their ‘tags’ or whatever they call them. I don’t mind the artistic stuff so much – though it really doesn’t belong in graveyards – but the tagging is the outside of enough. I’m trying to rest in peace here, and between those dancing girls on the one hand and the communists on the other, I might as well be trying to sleep in the middle of the Place d’Étoile. Someone had better do something about it before we have another revolution on our hands.”

The LeBruns look at each other. “Maybe you should show us the graffiti,” Madame LeBrun suggests.

There is quite a bit of it, in fact, scattered around the graveyard. Most of it is on the paths and walls rather than the tombs themselves, but it is still unacceptable. Madame mentally revises her opinion of the Commune de Montrouge. They may be doing well at weeding, but they have been decidedly negligent about cleaning up the paint.

“It’s not the tags,” mumurs Monsieur, after Madame Bernard has left them. “Well, not just the tags, anyway.”

Madame nods. “I agree. That’s a rather nice bit of trompe l’oeuil over on the wall there – how did they even manage that with spray paint? – but it’s definitely part of whatever is causing this. Whereas that red tag there is certainly not. I don’t see the pattern, though.” She gestured around her. “And I don’t think it’s the work of one individual, either.”

“No. The tags involved are all different, for one thing, and the picture on this wall is completely unlike the metro-Mona-Lisa over by the east gate.”

“Do you think it is intentional, then? I don’t see how it could be, frankly.”

“Nor do I. But intentional or not, it can’t be allowed to continue.” In the distance, a ghostly fencer was going through a series of basic sword moves, watched closely by four veterans of the Franco-Prussian War. “Most of the people here just want to sleep, but the others…”

“Are dangerous. Come. Let’s go home. I’m going to give Melissa Boulanger a call. She’s based in Issy now, and that’s practically next door. I’m sure she will know who to contact at Montrouge to get something done.”

Back at home, Madame argues her way through the Conseil Municipale d’Issy’s telephone tree until she reaches Melissa, while Monsieur prints out a map of Montrouge cemetery and begins to mark the various instances of graffiti on it, comparing them to the photographs from his phone.

He brings the results over to Madame, as she waits on hold. “Have a look at this,” he says. “If you ignore all the graffiti that is in colour, and just plot the ones which are all black or have black outlines, there’s a definite pattern.”

Madame shakes her head in disbelief. “A sigil for raising the dead. What are the chances?”

“Ridiculously low. But the good news is that if you can get the council to clean up just one or two of the graves up at the west end of the cemetery, that should erase enough of the sigil that the ghosts will go back to their graves.”

“The graffiti is a disgrace and the council should be removing all of it as a matter of priority, but – Oh, hello Melissa, dear, it’s Madeleine LeBrun. How are you doing? Now, dear, I know you don’t really work at Montrouge, but I’m wondering if you can help me…”

So all things on earth pass away / Wit, beauty, graces, talent /  Like an ephemeral flower / That the slightest breeze can overturn.

“Look on the bright side. Madame LeBrun obviously thinks very highly of you.”

Melissa sighs. “I’m not convinced that is a bright side, Eric.”

“And yet, you gave her your direct number in case she needed to call again.”

Melissa frowns. “I honestly have no idea why I did that.”

“Because you secretly admire her quest to keep Paris free of graffiti, overgrown gardens, and fire hazards in fleamarket stalls?”

“It’s good that she cares. I just wish she didn’t care quite this much.”

“You wish she didn’t care quite this much at you.”

“Hmm. She does have a point about the cemetery, though. I may not share her view that graffiti is going to bring about Armageddon, but I do think that people should leave the graves alone.”

“And their gardens tidy, and their stalls safe for passers-by, and…”

“Just get me the number for Cimitière de Montrouge, would you?”

It is a clear, still evening, and the Cimitière de Montrouge is quiet, the dead tidily tucked up in their tombs as they should be.

Madame and Monsieur LeBrun had visited Madame Bernard the week before, and were pleased to find the graffiti gone and their erstwhile neighbour quietly at rest. But tonight, they have a different destination.

Arm in arm, Madame and Monsieur LeBrun walk along the central path of the Cimitière de Bagneaux. From time to time, Monsieur consults the map he held in his right hand. The Cimitière de Bagneaux is considerably larger than the Cimitière de Montrouge, and it has been some time since they last visited their old mentor. It would not do to become lost.

The stone says simply: “Edouard Luc LeNoir. 1832 – 1918. Mort pour la France.”

The dates are wrong, of course, but nobody would have believed the correct ones. The inscription is true enough.

Madame kneels, and arranges a bunch of lilacs in the vase beside the headstone. She closes her eyes and her husband, still standing, lays a hand on her shoulder. Somehow, it has never seemed right to sit at this particular grave.

“He was a good man,” she says, at last.

“We were lucky,” agrees her husband. “Not everyone is fortunate enough to have had our training.”

They remain in silence for several minutes, then Madame sighs, and reaches up a hand to her husband. He helps her to her feet, and she brushes the dust from her skirt.

“I think we must assume that something has gone wrong,” she says. “Someone really should have arrived by now.”

Monsieur nods. “I agree. We shall have to train a new apprentice – and keep him or her with us, this time. Paris is too large to be properly served by just the two of us.”

“Indeed.” She sighs. “I only hope that we may we do as well by our apprentice as M. LeNoir did by us.”

Silence falls between them for a long moment, and then Madame frowns. “Do you hear music?”

Monsieur cocks his head, and looks around. “Perhaps… yes. Someone is playing the trumpet.”

“In a graveyard.” Madame shakes her head in disapproval. “He really ought to know better than that.”

“He’s quite good, though, don’t you think?”

“So much the worse for all of us.”

In the grave beside LeNoir’s, a young woman sits up and yawns, rubbing her eyes. LeNoir does not stir, but a few graves down, an older man slowly pulls himself upright, glaring about him.

“For the trumpet shall sound,” murmurs Monsieur.

“And the dead shall be raised, yes, I know. But not tonight, I think.” Madame pulls her phone out of her handbag, and glares at the young man opposite until he lies meekly back down in his grave. She hesitates over Melissa’s number, then shakes her head and dials the number for emergency services. Not everything is a matter for the local council.

“Hello? Police, please. Yes. Thank you. Cimitière de Bagneaux. I would like to make a noise complaint…”

 

station

Mairie de Montrouge is one of the newest stations of the Paris Métro, having opened in March 2013. It is located just outside the Boulevard Péripherique, just south of Paris’s 14th arondissement, in the Commune of Montrouge.  It is named for the nearby Town Hall.

Like all the Mairie (Town Hall) stations, this story features the LeBruns, a retired couple who keep an eye on supernatural disturbances around Paris and deal with them by using the dampening powers of bureaucracy.  You can find their first story here, or a list of all their stories on their index page here.

In this particular LeBrun story, I also borrowed from the ballet Giselle, by composer Adolphe Adam and choreographers Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot.  One of the more memorable aspects of this ballet is the Wilis, the ghosts of girls who died of broken hearts, who take their revenge on any men who enter their domain by dancing them to death.  This makes for some powerfully disturbing choreography for the corps de ballet (for an example of what it looks like, check out this video) but also seems like something that would be very much against the by laws of any respectable cemetery.

I wasn’t able to find any Parisian cemetery regulations online, but I did find the ones for Victorian cemeteries, and it seems safe to surmise that the sorts of things that are forbidden would not differ greatly between countries.  Most cultures are pretty much in agreement that it isn’t polite to do loud or destructive things in graveyards, no matter what the ghosts are demanding. (I am still regretful that I was unable to find a way to work in the fact that it is an offense to fish or bathe in a public cemetery, but I rather suspect that is a particularly Australian offense, so it may be for the best.)

The two cemeteries mentioned in this story are the Cimitière de Montrouge and the Cimitière de Bagneaux.  Neither of these are actually in Montrouge.  The Cimitière de Montrouge is just inside the Boulevard Péripherique, and belongs to the Commune of Montrouge.  It is sometimes known as the communist cemetery, as it has a strong working class background.  One of the more famous people buried there is fencing champion, Alphonse Kirchoffer, who won silver for France at the 1900 Olympics.  He got a little cameo.  There is probably a Mme Bernard buried there too, as Bernard is a very common surname, but I did not have anyone specific in mind.

The Cimitière de Bagneaux is a much larger cemetery, located just south of Montrouge.  Mairie de Montrouge is one of two possible Métro stations you might walk from to get there, so it seemed like a good choice.

The trumpeter at the end is definitely playing the trumpet solo from ‘The Trumpet Shall Sound’, one of the bass arias in Handel’s Messiah.  I know this because I have had it as an ear worm ever since I started trying to think of ways to accidentally raise the dead.

With the exception of the last image, which is a detail from a photograph by Sharon Mollerus of the Resurrection Angel on Nôtre Dame Cathedral in Paris from Wikimedia Commons, the other images are all mine.  Alas, none of them are of the relevant cemeteries, which I am embarrassed to say I have not yet visited!  The sleeping statue is from Père Lachaise cemetery; the two epitaphs are from the Paris Catacombs (and the translations are mine); the graffiti Mona Lisa on the Métro map was from somewhere in the Marais, and the tomb with the feet is from the Basilique de Saint Denis.

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fleur4left Mairie de Montrouge
fleur4right Porte d’Orléans

 

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