Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Ballad of La Baronne

She had three children, all from indifferent fathers. She raised them in the house of her mother, who raised them with her, in proper Mediterranean style.
Her children were her everything. But men?
When she believed she had finally grown into her wisdom at the age of thirty, she swore she would never look another man fondly into the eye. Men? They were brutal, unreliable good-for-nothings. Men? They were scum.
The children backed her. They jealously wouldn’t ever allow a man in the house. They called their mother la Baronne, and Grandma la vieille. Life was good for them with two doting women.
When they had left the house and la Baronne was left with la vieille, she met a retired carpenter, who did look her fondly in the eye. But she ignored him. She was over fifty, and she was not letting herself into that nonsense! She had sworn celibacy a long time back, and she was going to stick to it!
But the carpenter was amusing and tenacious. He loved her, and he wouldn’t let her go. Finally she decided that looking back into his eye couldn’t hurt. A friendship without sex, what could she lose?
The carpenter was gently patient. He worshiped her. It was something la Baronne had never experienced before. Gradually she was won over. “Love without sex?” she whispered. “I promise,” he said, while he kissed her hand.
She had never known what it was to feel happy. She felt so sheltered and content. He bought her a house in a little village, surrounded by lavender fields. He asked her to marry her, and she agreed. She was happy, so utterly happy.

This is where the story should end, but it didn’t. The carpenter fell ill and was diagnosed with lung cancer. It happened all very quickly, and before la Baronne realised what was going on, he was dead. She buried him the day before her wedding date, in the little village where they were going to live among the lavender fields.
So she is still living in the house with la vieille, who is really old now. Her children visit from time to time.
The rest of her days she regrets ever to have met the carpenter, ever to have known true love.

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