Sunday, November 21, 2021


Thursday morning in the library:

A little while ago, going down the hotel stairs, I heard Lucie, who, for the hundredth time, was complaining to the landlady, while polishing the steps. The proprietress spoke with difficulty, using short sentences, because she had not put in her false teeth; she was almost naked, in a pink dressing-gown and Turkish slippers. Lucie was dirty, as usual; from time to time she stopped rubbing and straightened up on her knees to look at the proprietress. She spoke without pausing, reasonably:

“I’d like it a hundred times better if he went with other women,” she said, “it wouldn’t make the slightest difference to me, so long as it didn’t do him any harm.”

She was talking about her husband: at forty this swarthy little woman had offered herself and her savings to a handsome young man, a fitter in the Usines Lecointe. She has an unhappy home life. Her husband does not beat her, is not unfaithful to her, but he drinks, he comes home drunk every evening. He’s burning his candle at both ends; in three months I have seen him turn yellow and melt away. Lucie thinks it is drink. I believe he is tubercular.

“You have to take the upper hand,” Lucie said.

It gnaws at her, I’m sure of it, but slowly, patiently: she takes the upper hand, she is able neither to console herself nor abandon herself to her suffering. She thinks about it a little bit, a very little bit, now and again she passes it on. Especially when she is with people, because they console her and also because it comforts her a little to talk about it with poise, with an air of giving advice. When she is alone in the rooms I hear her humming to keep herself from thinking. But she is morose all day, suddenly weary and sullen.

“It’s there,” she says, touching her throat, “it won’t go down.”

She suffers as a miser. She must be miserly with her pleasures, as well. I wonder if sometimes she doesn’t wish she were free of this monotonous sorrow, of these mutterings which start as soon as she stops singing, if she doesn’t wish to suffer once and for all, to drown herself in despair. In any case, it would be impossible for her: she is bound.

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