(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story begins in a hospital at the northern edge of Paris, which has made a bed available to Magdalena. To everyone’s surprise, this frail, elderly woman not only has remained alive but also has remained spirited enough to ply her troublesome roommate with tranquilizers and even to hit her with a pillow. Although Magdalena has visits from an assortment of upper-class Hungarian women, it is Edouard who comes dutifully to the hospital, bringing along magazines to amuse her, allowing her to tease him, and reminiscing with her about the past.

Though Magdalena insists that she does not remember ever seeing Juliette, who eventually became Edouard’s second wife, Edouard can recall every detail of that day in September, 1954, when the three had lunch together. Juliette thought the outing would be a good time for Edouard to ask Magdalena for a divorce. However, after he made a comment about Auschwitz, Edouard noticed that Magdalena had placed her left hand on his arm so as to display her wedding ring. Edouard did not mention divorce that day, and when Juliette did so, Magdalena pretended not to hear her. Magdalena never gave in. It was much later, after the Catholic Church had changed its rules, that Edouard and Juliette were married.

Edouard thinks back to how devastated he was when Juliette died. From Magdalena, he got no sympathy, just demands that he come immediately to the hospital and take his true wife home with him. Eventually, the faithful Edouard went to see her, carrying a bottle of champagne so that they could celebrate his being decorated with the Legion of Honor. Though Magdalena did comment on his ribbon, as usual she immediately turned the conversation to herself. What she really wanted to know, Magdalena said, was whether Edouard had ever loved her. When he could not assure her that he had, she began to complain about old age and death, and Edouard became furious. It was Magdalena’s fault, he said, that Juliette had not been able to marry him for so long and so had been deprived of children. In essence, Magdalena had ruined her life.

After his angry outburst, Magdalena stopped begging Edouard to take her away. When he visits her, Edouard now tries to avoid meeting her eyes, in which he would see her unfailing but demanding love.