Conversations with Mme El

Ihave had many conversations with Mme El, learning a lot about her life, even if her memory has been gradually fading over the years, which does not impair her ability to think when dealing with the issues of the present, like for example incidents with Léonine or with the nurses or comment on newspaper reports we’ve just read.
Mme El is frank, straight-forward, you know where you are with her, she has principles, clothes don’t matter, she doesn’t deceive, hates gossip, sizes up her fellows pretty well, philosophizes about life – ‘es atal’- and has no intention of leaving this funny world with its Ukraines, Syrias, etc. just yet.
She appreciates my company and I hers, my human contact here, and I see a great deal more of her than her son, a busy musician whose sphere of competence is mainly outside the house. 
Léonine was complaining to me about her mother-in-law.
The following, I heard, had happened, but I don’t know how it came about : Mme El had wee weed on the pretty shoes of the young and insolent nurse Odile, one of the nurses who come in three times a day to help with the care. And instead of apologizing for this deplorable incident, Léonine told me indignantly, Mme El, when upbraided for her misdeed, had answered: ‘That’s the risk of the trade!’ It made Steve laugh when I told him, but not Odile and Léonine who were fuming at the outrage! I gather, Odile and Mme El don’t get on, the reason being clear to me: the young woman, younger than Mme El’s grandsons, is just a bit too cheeky or disrespectful, inspired by the domestic example, for referring to Mme El’s tired looks, dark around the eyes, did she not ask whether Mme El had been “celebrating during the night”! – and what exactly she did to enable Mme El who only moves with great difficulty, to get her own back, I haven’t a clue. It wouldn’t
have happened with Clare, I said to Léonine who agreed, but was adamant that Mme El had behaved abominably.
I left it at that and didn’t tell her Mme El’s comment on the death at the hands of the enemy of certain young soldier who was being mourned in the press nationwide. She said ‘when he signed the contract, he knew it might cost him his life’. I said nothing in reply and she ‘I’m being wicked’, with a questioning look. I told her she was realistic.
Mme El, who worries about having been too hard on her son in his early years – does he bear her a grudge by any chance and for this reason never spends any time with her? Is the unasked question -, has to bear her packet like everyone else. Wouldn’t it be good if her heart gave in at home, like her father’s did one night after a good meal? Heart or not, she’s got to pull her own clothes down and up again for the loo-business, once more wetting the whole area, but was not reprimanded, I was there when it happened.
At our last meeting I challenged Mme El on her understanding of ‘pardonner’, to pardon. What exactly does the word mean?
She gave the explanation ‘passer l’éponge’, forget it.
I had wanted to gradually approach the thorny subject of marital fidelity, but we never got there for the simple reason that she didn’t need prompting but volunteered ‘je ne pardonne pas!’. If anybody harms or hurts her, that’s the end of that person, she won’t have anymore to do with that one.
I believe she meant deliberate harm and I was trying to think of examples in my own life, the man with the sledge-hammer.
Indeed, the issue of pardon had never arisen. Somebody would have to ask for it, of course. Then I was thinking of neighbour Rose. Behaving nastily is not the same as harming. I couldn’t say that I was harmed or hurt, she had upset me, it is true, but I had calmed down again. I didn’t get anywhere with Mme El on this subject. For her the case was clear: no pardon ever from her, even if the church preaches it, but she isn’t of the church, she points out, much as she insists on seeing T.V. mass on a Sunday and answers my challenge in this respect by saying ‘it’s to spend time’, with a questioning look. Rock-hard and uncompromizing, hard and straight, two words she likes to use, quite awesome really and no doubt not appreciated by some.
Mme El read a newspaper article to me about the Mayor of Pamios (Pamiers)4Pamios (Pamiers), the largest city of the Ariège department, centre of the Inquisition in the thirteenth to fourteenth centuries., who is her age, eighty-eight.: he has had donkeys years at the helm and wants to be candidate for another term in the forthcoming municipal elections. The job keeps him alive.
How much longer? Mme El says at her age it’s time to go, but adds that she doesn’t really feel like it. Destiny will rule, anyway.
Mme El’s doctor had been to give her a check-up before she goes into the rest-home for a fortnight while her people are away on their cruise. He found his patient in very good condition, even if nothing can be done about the loss of memory which Léonine calls ‘perdre la tête’, ‘go nuts’. Léonine was in good spirits because the good result was entirely imputed to her care, not altogether unjustifiedly so, and to that of the nurses, keep it up. As for Mme El, she was quite bewildered by all this talk about her health, but she certainly understood the significance of the doctor’s findings. ‘What about me?!’ she said, ‘I’m the one who’s happy!’ and so be it.

Mme El, now turned eighty-nine, wants to stay in her chair, doesn’t want to move on her legs because that’s difficult and painful, but she must because it makes life easier for her ‘carers’. She protests that she doesn’t want to ‘go’, but wants to stay around, indefinitely? She hasn’t given it a thought, she lives in the present and with a shudder applies herself to her favourite column in the newspaper, the ‘carnets’, a bashful designation for deaths. Most people of her generation have ‘gone’, she is holding the fort!

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    Pamios (Pamiers), the largest city of the Ariège department, centre of the Inquisition in the thirteenth to fourteenth centuries.