The magical world of mad.., p.1
The Magical World of Madame Métier, page 1
Copyright © 2017 by Daphne Rose Kingma
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available on file.
Cover design by Erin Seaward-Hiatt
Print ISBN: 978-1-5107-1926-2
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-5107-1927-9
Printed in the United States of America
Maybe fifty years ago.
Place: Here and There.
Ici and La bas.
Madame Métier, Mademoiselle Objet, and Monsieur Sorbonne
Madame Métier was a middle-aged widow. Her husband, a doctor, had died untimely, leaving her with no insurance, when they had been married fourteen years. They had had a daughter, who had also died. She was born still, with no breath, a tiny pink rosebud that would never unfurl. Madame Métier liked to think of her now as the prettiest pink rose in heaven.
Madame Métier had many talents. They lay in botanical realms. When she was young she had used them, inventing medicinal cremes, but during her marriage, she had misplaced them, or rather, her husband had served to estrange her from them. It wasn’t suitable, he said, for a woman of her social position to be carrying on with botanical cremes. She was a doctor’s wife after all, destined for much better things. And so, at his insistence, she had given up her inventions and devoted herself to being a wife.
Wifing was always an effort for her, for although she had much to bring to the task—she was beautiful, she had a sweet mellifluous voice that was charming at parties—in a far, small corner of her heart, she was distressed. She thought there should be more to a life than just making a good appearance.
Mademoiselle Objet had grown up in a madhouse. Everyone around her was constantly losing their marbles. Tearing their hair out. Screaming. Throwing pans. Her father, a sous chef, was an alcoholic and could be found on most summer evenings asleep with his head in his plate.
Mademoiselle Objet found solace in moving things around, putting her pencils in line, making sure that each strand of her hair was perfectly arranged, dividing her time into blocks that she wrote down in squares on white calendar paper, filling the blocks in with words that stood for various activities. Which, depending upon the degree of her upsetness when the time came, she either did or did not do.
Monsieur Sorbonne was very handsome. He had been given away by his mother and father when he was a very small boy, to his wealthy uncle and aunt. His real mother and father had been strange and interesting. They wanted a strange and interesting life—travel, art, music, parties—and it soon became clear that they could never have such a life if they also had to look after a child.
Monsieur Sorbonne, therefore, had been raised by his uncle and aunt, who were rich but not the least bit interesting. They did, however, buy him very expensive toys, and it was these with which he played. As a child, he played with children’s toys. As a young man, he played with boats and planes and hang-gliding wings. He had microscopes and telescopes and hockey sticks and skis. He loved the stars. He read about astronomy. He had a fine mind, a gifted eye, and a prodigious curiosity.
Madame Métier and Her Work as a Young Woman
Madame Métier had come to the profession of making cremes, their concoction and various uses, through her father, who had been a botanist. By walking with him through his gardens when she was a little girl and listening to him as he recited the names of the plants and discussed their particular properties, she had learned many things. It was this knowledge that she applied to the manufacture of her cremes. She began this work when, as a girl of sixteen, overdogged by her mother about her untidiness habits, she ran away from home.
After leaving her parents’ house, she had lived for several years in a sizeable mansion owned by a landlord who let out rooms of various sizes. The only room she could afford was small, but it had an alcove balcony window with a deep windowsill, upon which she set out the pots of the various plants she was growing. It was there that she began her work, experimenting with fronds and pollens and seeds, distilling the myriad essences from which, in combination with natural oils and emulsions, she first created her cremes.
All this delighted her. She loved to handle the flowers. She loved their fragrances. She loved the oils and emulsions from which she developed her cremes. She loved the bottles and jars in which, eventually, she packaged them.
As regarded her work, she had only a single problem: it was that in her mesmerized excitement, she was often unable to keep track of time. She could become so engrossed in the invention of a creme that hour after hour would fly softly by. She would work all afternoon and then look up at the windows to see that dark night had fallen and the stars were shining in. It was then, in the dark, it seemed, that her work became most magnetized. Transfixed, she would work until three in the morning, smelling, mixing, and stirring until the new compound was perfected. When at last it had attained perfection—often just before dawn—she would retire to her bed, allowing her petals and crumpled leaves, her stalks and pollens and seeds (to say nothing of the dozens of opened jars of essences and liquids), to sit on her table exactly where she had left them.
This sometimes troubled her, for no matter how often she promised herself, she had never been able, in spite of her numerous resolutions, to learn—as her mother had always instructed—how to “pick up after herself.” She would often state her intention to be tidy, but then, instead of allowing time to clean up, she would find herself inventing another creme. She would go to her bed exhausted, and late the following morning (for that was when she would ordinarily wake up), she would return to her table with a new idea for another creme. Before even thinking of clearing up the previous night’s disaster, she would set in to work with new fronds and petals and stems until, once again, she had only elaborated upon the mess that was already there.
This had gone on for several years. Because of her enthusiasm, she had already invented—and let out into the world—a great many cremes. In a small little way, she was beginning to be known. The more she was known, the more they (the “they” who establish an inventor’s reputation) requested her cremes, and the messier her workroom became.
Madame Métier Meets the Doctor
It was in this small apartment workroom that her husband, the doctor, first encountered her. Tall and verging on handsome, he had a beard, which camouflaged, she guessed, a weak chin. He had learned of her from one of his patients who claimed that one of her cremes had healed a hideous surgical scar. The doctor therefore had come to her for some “youthifying” cremes. “To make me look young,” he exp
The doctor was most disappointed to hear this, and although he was somewhat put off by the chaos of her workroom (it needed major surgery, in his opinion), he was quite stricken by her beauty. In spite of the odd unusualness of her work and her unwillingness to help him, he decided to romantically pursue her.
In spite of her initial somewhat negative reaction (a vain man was somehow even more disturbing than a vanity-clogged woman), Madame Métier found as time went on that she was surprisingly susceptible to him. He brought her flowers, for one thing (which of course delighted her—she could use the wilted petals in her cremes). He admired her for being entrepreneurially successful (which made her believe that she could go on with her cremes). He admired her beauty (which pleased her as a woman). Twice he took her dancing (which, deliriously, she liked). Several times he brought her home to his fine big house, which had, on its second floor, a very large sunroom with windows that looked out on an apricot tree and the vacant bowls of a long-abandoned rose garden.
The size of his house intrigued her. Perhaps if she had a large room to work in, things wouldn’t get, as her mother had always said, “so terribly out of hand.” She had lived alone and been self-employed for many years; she had stayed up alone numerous nights until three in the morning; her father had died long ago and her mother had used up his funds before dying herself; it had been years and years since she had been provided for by anyone but herself—because of all this, when finally, the doctor proposed, she decided to marry him.
Madame Métier’s Work After Her Marriage
When Madame Métier was married, her husband the doctor was able, quite handsomely, to provide for her, and this he quite preferred to do. He didn’t want her to have a profession or money of her own. He wanted her to belong to him (he had after all, acquired her), to be in a sense his possession, to serve as a fine reflection of him and his undertakings. He wanted her beauty as his asset. He wanted her as an object he could be proud of. He also wanted her to make him feel important, to brag about him to all her friends. He wanted also to impress her with his medical expertise, his long Rx prescriptions, his many terminal patients, his expensive surgeries.
Although he was a doctor, he really believed in neither healing nor death. He believed in what he called “medical corrections.” He didn’t believe that diseases could be cured. Malignant organs could be cut out, removed, or chemically repealed. Pills could be given also, in order to take away the pain, but once a disease had staked its claim on any particular organ, it was destined to take over. His mission as a doctor was to monitor, with scientific accuracy, its progress through the body.
Just the same, in the early days of their marriage, he allowed Madame Métier to carry on with her cremes. A doctor’s wife should have a hobby, he opined. It made her look legitimate, an amusing society column item. And so, with his blessing, she moved her botanical items into the sunroom.
In the morning, when he left for work, she would shut herself up in her room and happily make up her cremes. For the doctor she had completely changed her schedule, doing her work in the mornings now, and the early afternoons, so she could cook his dinner every evening.
In the late afternoons on Tuesdays and Thursdays she would go out and distribute her cremes. Her old cremes, “familiar cremes” as she called them, she would deliver to health stores and herb pharmacies, while her new cremes she would give out to strangers and friends who were suffering this ailment or that. And although she still thought of them all as merely experimental, her friends would often report astonishing improvements.
News of this came to the doctor and it made him nervous. In fact, he was greatly disturbed. As time went on, it was becoming apparent, even to him, that her cremes indeed had healing properties. And it was when more and more people—total strangers now, no longer mere friends—began requesting her cremes, claiming they had medicinal powers, that he began to put a stop to her.
He started by criticizing what she did, mocking what he called her “frivolous pursuit.” “Witch hazel here, columbine there, what difference does it make?” he would stride into the sunroom and say. “How can a twig cure anything?”
Furthermore, it wasn’t appropriate, he said, “this poppycock about cremes,” for a doctor’s respectable wife. He wanted her to behave like a wife—not have a life of her own. He had married her, after all; that was all the identity she needed. Besides, she didn’t have to work; he gave her everything she wanted, didn’t he?
Eventually he insisted. It wasn’t good for his reputation, he finally said, point blank; and so would she now please put all her plant things away, attend a charity ball or two, or put on a rummage sale?
Because he had been generous with her—he had given her the sunroom, after all—(which now of course she couldn’t use) and because she believed what everyone told her, that she was lucky to be married to a doctor, after grieving for seven days, she packed up all her petals and fronds in a green striped hatbox, put it up high on a shelf in the closet, and quietly gave up her work.
From then on, as he asked, she attended bazaars. She had her hair, as he insisted, washed twice a week and curled professionally. She took up tatting and knitting, at which, because of her manual dexterity, she was extraordinarily proficient. Still, a certain small part of her felt sad—what would she do with all her father’s botanical knowledge, and what would become of the strangers and friends who had benefited from her botanical inventions?
A Change Comes to Madame Métier’s Life
In her own way, Madame Métier had loved her husband very much. And so she was saddened one day to learn that he had died in a high-speed accident. Madame Métier was still in her young middle years when he died, and she was still quite beautiful. She had actually been beautiful all her life, but knowing this had escaped her. Her parents, both understated Europeans, had never thought to tell her. They were of the school that believed that children, complimented, might get an inflated view of themselves, and so they were very conscientious in relieving her of this possible burden.
In all her life, they never uttered a single beauty-praising word. This made her a perfect candidate for the doctor’s attentions, who wanted, for his own reasons, to keep her somewhat subdued. This he had done by providing her with various criticisms. He often compared her (unfavorably, of course) to current movie stars, and proved to her time and again (by holding her face in the mirror next to magazine photos of ingénue starlets) that she couldn’t hold a candle to them. He also insisted, when they had been married a year, that she give up all her lipsticks and rouges. They gave her face an unnatural look, he insisted, and so she should get rid of them.
Madame Métier had wanted to love her husband, and although this too seemed to make her life less fun, with only the littlest sigh, she set all her make-ups aside. Sadly, from time to time, she remembered her former faintly glamorous days. She lost the lilt in her step, and when she looked in the mirror, her face seemed to be not so bright as it had always been in the past.
When Madame Métier’s husband died, she was at first quite shocked by the news. He had driven his low black sports car too fast and scrambled himself, like an egg, all over the road.
When they had gathered up his pieces from the asphalt and arranged them all in a more or less human form on the slab in the morgue, Madame Métier was called in. Although his body was now quite beyond recognition, because of his beard, she was able, quite quickly, to identify him.
She had his remains boxed up and buried. She stood alone in the rain as they lowered his casket down and wondered if she would toss a flower in the grave or if, (since, it occurred to her now, he had really been quite unkind), she should simply let bygones be bygones.
Mademoiselle Objet and Her Husband
Mademoiselle Objet h
Mr. TV, as Mademoiselle Objet preferred to refer to her husband, had turned out to be supremely boring. When he had finished with work each day, made good with all his accounts, and done the dishes and dusting, he would plant himself down in front of the television tube on his brown Barking Lounger chair (two items with which he had made his small fortune) and sit there pasted like an octopus to the glass side of an aquarium until sleep would, nightly, overtake him.
Night after night she sat, as it were, at home alone. In order to escape from the sound of Mr. TV’s TV, she went to another room in the house, a pink room, from which, amazed, she contemplated him. There she read poems and organized and reorganized the objects of her desk (the pencils and pens, the tablets with lists, the bills, old letters, and old Valentines) all like the endlessly rotating contents of a fine kaleidoscope, in hopes that finally—if only she could arrange them right—she would find peace.
This, however, did not occur. For the more she heard his TV, the more deeply she perceived his octopus-like boringness, and the more she perceived his boringness, the more fiercely she became upset. When she became upset, her hands developed a rash, which she presumed had been caused by so often handling the various sharp edges of her objects. This drove her to tears, which, when she cried them into her hands, caused her rash to redden and her to scratch it miserably until it began to bleed.
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