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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 602

Colette’s good friend Paul Masson senses her loneliness and visits her frequently to cheer her up with his “lies.” One day he tells her about the lady of the library, who has never had a lover. Once she had a husband, but he mistreated her and she left him; nowadays she makes a living ghostwriting cheap novels for a sou a line. This, however, is not another of Masson’s lies—Marco really exists.

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Colette is intrigued by the tale of the struggling, middle-aged writer and accompanies Masson to Marco’s dilapidated apartment. There she finds a thin, graceful woman with beautiful eyes and elegant manners. Marco’s clothing is threadbare, yet she entertains her guests with dignity and tact.

The two women become good friends. Although their friendship is not one of great intimacy, Marco makes a rare confession one day.To be perfectly frank with you, I’m convinced that fate has spared me one great trouble, the tiresome thing that’s called a temperament. No, no, all that business of blood rushing into the cheeks, upturned eyeballs, palpating nostrils, I admit I’ve never experienced it and never regretted it.

On her part, the twenty-two-year-old Colette plays the role of fashion mentor, giving her friend hair and makeup tips. Because of Marco’s poverty, she cannot afford new clothing and toiletries, yet she suddenly receives a minor windfall: Her husband, apparently prospering in America, sends her fifteen thousand francs. Marco accepts her good fortune with composure and prudently uses the money to move to an apartment only slightly larger and more comfortable; she also allows Colette to help her choose a smart new wardrobe.

One evening, Masson, Marco, and Colette compete to see who can write the best response to a letter in the newspaper’s lovelorn column from a “warmhearted, cultured” lieutenant. Marco’s letter piques the lieutenant’s interest, and a correspondence begins between the two. When Marco shows one of Lieutenant Trallard’s letters to Colette, the young woman obliquely criticizes its banality, but Marco is only half listening—her response is to ask Colette for a toothpaste recommendation.

The correspondents eventually meet and quickly become involved in a passionate affair. Marco develops all the symptoms of a “belated, embarrassing puberty”: She describes her lover (who is apparently much younger than she) in idealistic terms, blushes easily, and is dreamily absentminded. At the beginning of the affair Marco is nervous and drawn, but as she comes to accept her new sensuality she begins to gain weight, her plumpness reflecting her now sated, even surfeited, appetites. However, one day eight months later, she announces to Colette that the affair has abruptly ended.

She recounts that while lying in bed with the lieutenant during a rainy afternoon of lovemaking, she playfully placed his hat—the round, flat-topped kepi—on her head in a waggish move. As she did so, she saw something change in the man’s eyes as he viewed his middle-aged lover in her post-coitus dishabille striking the pose of a flirtatious teenager, suddenly setting off her own age in conspicuous relief. She has not seen him since: The affair was terminated as expediently as it was begun.

Colette does not hear news of Marco for some time, until one day Masson mentions that she is back at the library. “So she’s taken up her old life again,” remarks Colette.“Oh no,” said Masson. “There’s a tremendous change in her existence!” “What change? Really, one positively has to drag things out of you!” “Nowadays,” said Masson, “Marco gets paid two sous a line.”

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