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I first heard my mother’s heartbeat from inside her dark, surrounding womb. It mingled with my own heart’s rhythm, then changed to a harsher, more strident beat. It was then that I had my first and most famous vision of a man kneeling in a purple cassock and biretta. I could see him as if I were looking out a window made of glass. He was framed by curtains that fell in crimson folds around my mother, who lay beneath him on the bed. His face was as clear to me as the blood vessels inside her womb, his skin foxed with a tracery of veins. I looked straight into his eyes and they were as hard and blue as lapis lazuli. I kicked with all my might to drive him off.

When I was older and further from my mother’s heartbeat, I told her this vision to bring her close to me. After my grandmother Conmère left to boast about me to the cloth-workers along the canal, my mother picked me up to kiss behind my ear.

“It was the eightieth day of your life, Solange, the day your soul entered your body. You moved inside me, telling me that I was carrying a daughter. This means we will soon have a finer place to live, a bed of riches in another chamber. Now that the Pope and his men have come to Avignon, Fortune will spin her wheel to raise us up.”

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