Imprisoned: part three
Every several days afterward, when he returned from the pit, Feriet fell on the house like a cloud of ash; his largeness seemed to suck the oxygen from his wife’s lungs. He emerged, and she sank. Alone, Honoré’s sister could check her ire, be fair to the children, generous, when moved to it―though she did not love her young siblings, or want them in her house.
But, let Feriet once fling wide the door, cross to the kitchen, throw himself into his chair by the stove, his heavy steps cracking the floorboards, the toes of his boots and his loud voice clearing a swath before him; let him once order her to withhold supper, or to fetch the strap…
She became his servant, with no heart to defy him.
Somewhat to his shame, Honoré was unsure he knew the baptismal name of this eldest sister. Already before his birth, she had been married and gone with Feriet to this house in Liège. She was so many years older that she might have been Honoré’s mother. A harsh mother. A red flush simmered beneath her pallid cheeks. He had called her madame, and apologized for eating her bread. This was much to the Feriets, these three mouths to feed, foisted upon a childless couple; worse, Michel all the while was fading, ill as their mother had been.
“I allow it, and that’s enough. You will have to buy cheaper.”
As to bread, Feriet gave his wife this answer; he would, he said, come home again before the month’s end, if he were able. And, no, not either could he leave money for the doctor. He waved off this second plea, using the same reasoning he’d applied to the first. “I am not your father, madame. I will not promise to pay what I can’t afford. You will find out what price the doctor hopes to get…and if we are too unprofitable to him and he refuses to help, ask for the priest.”
Claudette, at the age of four not a full year younger than Honoré, could be of some small help to Madame Feriet; and madame said it was best she learned her chores. “Because if you marry one day, you will keep your husband’s house, and if you never marry, what will you do but keep house for someone else? For a poor woman, the work is all the same.”
Claudette could wipe the table clean with a rag, she could pull a stool to the stove, and stir the pot. Madame’s temper was strong concerning the stove. She chased the children into the parlor before lighting it, and had once, doing so, smacked Honoré for “coming up behind her”.
“Be careful on that stool! Mind you don’t fall in the fire!”
(2017, Stephanie Foster)