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I am 8 or 9. A well-behaved little girl, dressed in a tartan pleated skirt and a navy blue sweater (hand-knit) contrasted with the round collar of a white blouse, I’m going out to buy ten inches of binding tape to make a belt for my doll, or perhaps tie a ribbon in her hair.
The notions store that’s about two hundred yards from where I live is called « Les Galeries de Neuilly ». But nobody ever calls it that: they just say « Chez Marcille ». I think it’s a nice sounding name for a notions store.
Marcille is the owners’ name. Selling notions has to be a thriving business, it seems, considering it is the livelihood of Monsieur and Madame Marcille — who are old enough to be my grand-parents — and their two daughters, one of whom is a widow who brings up her own three daughters by herself.
The store is long and narrow, with walls covered with rows upon rows of dark wooden drawers. Through the glass lid of the counters, one can see the button-cards, the lace, the ribbons. At the far end of the store, that’s knitting wool territory, where they put the lights on only when a customer wants to buy.
Madame Marcille herself attends to my needs, with a somewhat tender smile full of patience, just as the boulangère when she sells two centimes’ worth of sweets to the kids after school. She treats me a little as if I were her grand-daughter. I would personally prefer to be treated like a grownup.
I am 15. One of the Marcille grand-daughters is in my class. We share the same interest in sewing, but that’s about all.
I am 20. I study at the university, and I make my own dresses. I find it relaxing.
I go to Marcille’s to find some thread that will match the material I’ve just bought. Monsieur and Madame Marcille are no longer there. Their daughters and grand-daughters are now looking after the store.
They all have a remarkable gift to find immediately the colour that will make a perfect match.
After a single glance at the sample of fabric, Mademoiselle Marcille turns to her drawers and, with a determined gesture, pulls out the reel with the appropriate colour. Sometimes, I’d like to make my own choice, and so I express some doubts: perhaps a little darker? Perhaps a little brighter? But when she pulls out the other colours, I have to admit that she was right.
One day, I find my old schoolmate behind the counter. We exchange a knowing smile, a bit embarrassed: we don’t have much to tell each other.
Since then, I have got married, I have moved out and I have never returned to « Les Galeries de Neuilly ». I didn’t have the heart to see how the store might have changed. No doubt the rows of drawers must have disappeared, giving way to display shelves where customers help themselves. Was there still a trained eye able to find at first glance the right colour of thread or button?
Yesterday, I have noticed that the notions store had gone, replaced by a clothes shop.