Doll tale 2 : Mireille’s ways
27 September 2014
Simon was a sweet soul. Everyone in his neighbourhood in a small suburb in Geneva loved him because he was always ready to and even volunteering to help anyone who came his way. A slight-figured man with a clean-shaven and very forgettable face, he was nonetheless liked by both the youngsters and the older generation because of his well-mannered and quiet ways.
A consultant in the local insurance firm, Simon knew everything about everyone and was always available to help out with insurance claims even when his boss believed it would not be in the best interest of the firm they both worked for. All knew and recognized that Simon was a decent fellow and had high moral values so his boss put up with his behaviour because ultimately, the boss too was from the same suburb which had once been some sort of a village. He would not have wanted to face the neighbours’ wrath if Simon had turned them off and some smart lawyer from downtown Geneva had enlightened them on the validity of their claims.
Simon had a wife called Mireille. She was all the opposite of Simon. Her hair was always unkempt and the smell that rose from her was often disturbing in the winter and outright unbearable in the summer heat as it turned into a stench of sweat and sometimes, on Sundays, a mixture of sour armpits and some cheap cologne. A sullen, ill-mannered creature with hardly any education, she was always glaring at people from beneath an unbelievably tussled nest of hair that barely left any of her face visible and seldom greeted anyone except the local priest.
All the neighbours never understood how sweet-natured Simon could have married and continue to live with such a woman. Then again, when you knew that Simon and Mireille had four children, you understood that the poor fellow must have got trapped in the marriage and him being such a sweet soul, he naturally must have chosen to “stick around” and make the best of his marriage rather than divorce and expose the children to grief.
Mireille, despite being unkempt and unclean, was somehow perceived as a very religious person, to the extent that some could qualify her as being a bigot. She never missed the Sunday mass except when she was visiting her mother with the children. Those were the only Sundays when Simon would come to the mass and tell everyone apologetically that Mireille had gone off to see her mother with the children and could not be there.
All attending the mass would then nod their heads understandingly and smile at Simon although nobody really understood why he was informing them as nobody really could say they missed Mireille’s presence. It was awfully nice of him though to show up and stand in for his wife despite the fact that everyone knew he had so much work on Sundays and normally could not make it to mass. He would then take some of the mass wine that father Mathieu had set aside for Mireille and go back home immediately after mass.
One fine month, Mireille skipped mass more than one Sunday and it was only on Simon’s uncomfortable fourth Sunday apology for her absence that people actually realized that Mireille had not been to mass the whole of the month. Some whispered amongst each other that maybe her prolonged absence at her mother’s place meant that finally Simon was going to be freed from her. Although some felt that it was a shame for the kids, they believed that it was probably the best for all as Simon would probably be able to file for custody of the children. Many neighbours gathered together that Sunday after mass and discussed how they could approach the subject and be of help to Simon in his future custody battle.
Father Mathieu who was leaving the mass and was passing by the Café-bar where they had gathered happened to overhear their discussion. He stopped and turning around to face the assembly told them that it was their Christian duty not to encourage this sort of a behaviour and that if they were going to let Simon know they would support him in a custody battle then that would equate to instigating his divorce.
Some of those present looked crestfallen but a small group who really empathized with Simon voiced their concerns that Father Mathieu should not have more understanding and support for a sweet-natured soul like Simon who was spending his life miserable in a situation which he should be helped to come out from. They further tried to prove the validity of their point of view by arguing that Simon being already a sweet and helpful soul, surely it could only be a benefit to the Christian community that such a man be freed from his misery to be able to carry out more community work for someone who would at least be thankful for it, unlike Mireille who seemed incapable of gratitude or any other positive feeling.
Father Mathieu said nothing but just stared at his shoes and the crowd, emboldened by what they thought was their successful convincing on their point of view pursued their reasoning and even tried to get Father Mathieu involved in the mission of liberating Simon. At the mention of such a possibility Father Mathieu started as if somebody had poked him with a hot iron and blurted out a sharp “No, I will not be a part of it” before walking away holding his head in his hands and muttering.
“Let him go, that’s the church for you” said Estelle the bar-tender. “They will continue to support even someone like Mireille just because she is supposedly a devout Christian but they will never help someone like Simon because he skips mass “. The crowd then devised how best to help and it was decided with the consent of all including Estelle who had half-volunteered that she would be the one who would be in charge of initiating the talks. As she was a tough stout woman who took no nonsense from anyone, including the late night drinkers that she would throw out herself by their ears, it was felt by all the gathering that she would be able to handle Mireille without much effort and at the same time be able to talk to Simon from equal to equal.
That night, Estelle closed her bar earlier after throwing out the last of the crowd that was still huddled in a corner playing rummy and set off on foot to Simon and Mireille’s house. Upon arriving at their fence she rang a couple of times before realizing that Simon had told them that both the gate bell and the doorbell had to be fixed so she hopped over the small garden fencing and walked quickly to the backyard as Simon and Mireille probably left the backyard door open like most of the neighbours.
On reaching the backdoor, Estelle realized that it was actually locked so she peered through the glazed panes to see if someone was nearby and could come to open the door. A dimmed light from the living room cast shadows around the walls and suddenly Estelle saw a thin bloodied figure dart across the living room followed closely by another less slight figure and even her tough heart skipped a beat as she recognized Mireille more by the tussled nest on her head than from the actual figure as nobody had ever seen her in anything else than very loose slacks and a big shirt that did not show much of her figure. Mireille was wearing a gown that was shredded in many places and through the shreds one could guess in the dim light that it was blood and skin that was oozing out. Behind her, closing in on her was Simon who seemed nothing like the Simon that Estelle knew. She could see his profile cut out against the dim light of the living room and he looked murderous, his hand carrying a belt that he was swishing above his head and at Mireille. At that moment, a small movement in the corner of the room caught her eyes and Estelle realized that it was one of the four children who was crawling towards his mother and tugging the bottom of Simon’s pants to which Simon reacted in a way that shocked Estelle into action as he just shook his leg and sending the child away from him with something like a half-kick.
The backyard door was no match for Estelle’s hundred kilogram massive frame and Simon froze as he saw Estelle burst into the kitchen from the backyard like some avenging Hulk. Estelle grabbed the child whom she put on the couch and then moved on to Simon whom she quickly immobilized against the wall before taking away the belt that he had been using to whip Mireille.
“What the f… is going on here” screamed Estelle who was well-known for her colourful language. Mireille, as always with her stony demeanour, just glared at Estelle and said nothing. Estelle felt the rage bubble inside her and knew she was close to hitting Simon if nobody would break the silence so she dropped the belt on the ground. Attempting to calm herself down, she said again in a loud voice “Mireille, put on the lights and can one of you tell me what the f.. is happening here?”.
Simon, eyes downcast feebly responded “I tried to stop her. She would not listen so I had to take the belt”.
“What do you mean take the belt?” raged Estelle. “I saw you using it on Mireille. She was not the one holding it”
“I tried to stop her” said Simon again
“Are you f.. telling me that she was hitting the kids and you tried to stop her?” barked Estelle
Simon paused, looked at Mireille who was turning on the lights, then looked at Estelle again and his expression softened changing back to the Simon they all knew. “You know me Estelle” he said. “I would not hurt a fly”.
Estelle faltered. She was sure she had seen him kick off his oldest son who had been crawling towards him but then the light had been so dim. Maybe she had imagined it. Could it be that this demented woman had attempted to hurt the children and Simon had then lost it and started hitting her with the same belt she was attempting to use against the children?
What was she thinking? Of course it could not be possible. She turned towards Mireille again who was walking or rather limping slowly back towards them and she got another shock as she took in the swollen closed left eye, the reddened right eye and the gashed cheeks, the slashes across the neck and the cut lips. She felt sick as her gaze went down to the bruised breasts and thighs from the gaping holes in the gown. It was only from Simon’s gasp and Mireille’s cry that she realized that she had increased her pressure against his throat.
“Please, please, let him go” begged Mireille.
Simon, eyes rolling, could not utter a sound and Mireille begged again “Please Estelle, just let him go”.
“What the f… do you mean let him go? Are you going to tell me that you don’t want this murderous b… dead? I don’t know what has been going on between both of you but I have seen enough tonight to know that you should not be here with your children”.
“Where would I go?” said Mireille in an eerily quiet voice
“Anywhere, but the furthest from this f… place” said Estelle. “Are you a f… idiot? Don’t you realize that one day you are going to end up dead?”
“I have nowhere to go” repeated Mireille in her stony toneless voice.
“Of course you have somewhere to go, you can go to your f… mother’s house” yelled Estelle. “Can’t she put you up until the social services find you something where you can stay with your kids?”
“My mother’s been dead for over 5 years Estelle. She passed away before our first son was born” said Mireille in a quiet voice.
“What the f.. “ started Estelle and her voice trailed off as the full horror of the situation started to sink into her brain. She realized then that every time Mireille had skipped mass it was not because she was at her mother’s house as Simon said but it had probably been because she was in no state to be seen.
Estelle stared in disbelief at Simon, marveling at how he had fooled them all into believing he was a meek good natured fellow while all the while this monster had been abusing his family right under their noses and they had all been sympathizing with him for his miserable life with Mireille. She tightened her grip again without realizing it.
“Let him go Estelle, please” Mireille pleaded again. “It is not his fault, he is ill. He loses his temper because of his illness but then he always regrets and makes amends”
“Like hell he is going to be ill when I have finished with him and you better tell me you’re finished with him too” blurted Estelle.
“Let him go Estelle” repeated Mireille in a firmer voice. “One must always present the other cheek and not rise against one’s spouse. Marriage vows are sacred” she continued.
“Are you a f… lunatic or what” Estelle ranted at her. “What other cheek? The one which is torn apart from the belt handle or the one that is swollen from the beating?
“You don’t understand” Mireille said. “He is sick but I can cure him. Father Mathieu said that I should be patient and obedient and that I should do all I can not to provoke him but to bring into his heart the love of Jesus Christ our Saviour. He who has given himself to carry all our sins will also bring peace into Simon’s heart and everything will be alright. What God has united no man can separate”
“Nonsense” screamed Estelle. “I knew that Father Mathieu was up to no good, I just did not realize the extent of it. What idiocy has he put into your brains now? If Simon is indeed sick then he needs a psychiatrist, not a wife whom he can beat every time he feels like it. I don’t know anything about your marriage but nothing justifies what he has done to you and nothing justifies what I saw him doing to your oldest son. You must leave this house now and if you don’t do it on your own, I will make it happen”
“Estelle, please, let him go” said Mireille again in a pleading voice. “Social services will not help us throughout. They will only help in the beginning during the time of the police investigation and then we will be left to fend for ourselves. Father Mathieu has already told me how it will be as he has seen such situations so many times before. I am not educated and it will be very difficult for me to find a job. Simon has a good job, he pays for everything. It is not that bad aside from the weekend. Please, Estelle, let him go”.
Estelle slowly released her grip on Simon’s neck and he adjusted his gait, collected himself into his well-natured mask again and seemed about to say something before he froze under the hatred in Estelle’s look and thought the better of it. He retreated slowly to the other end of the room and sat on the couch where Estelle had placed the child earlier. The child hurriedly dashed out of the couch and towards his mother who winced when he clutched her bare and sore thighs but held him close all the same.
Estelle backed slowly away from both parties until she felt the other wall behind her. Her mind was racing and she could not decide what the best thing to do was. She remembered how in other suburbs there had been cases of drunken husbands and always the children had ultimately been placed in a home because the mother often was deemed incapable of ensuring a decent income for the children or had resorted to prostitution as a profession and the father was considered unfit to take care of his offspring. This could not be happening she thought. Not in their nice quaint suburb with its beautiful gardenias and poinsettias, with its quaint green coloured fences and beautiful hedges. This happened in squalid neighbourhoods where people took drugs and houses were shabby with broken windows and squatter tags across the buildings.
Estelle breathed out a sigh and said in a steely voice “Okay, here is what we are going to do until I have decided what is better. Simon, you are going to ask one of your friends to lodge you for a week or so until I can think more clearly about this whole matter.”
Simon was about to say something when Estelle cut in icily “I don’t care whether you have a friend who will lodge you or not and in fact you can go to hell for all I care but either you are out of this house tonight or I am calling the police immediately. “
Simon grudgingly nodded in acquiescence and Estelle continued “You will change your common bank account tomorrow to Mireille’s sole name and you will open another bank account for yourself where she will wire half what is in your common bank account now and tomorrow first thing in the morning you will also request your boss to systematically wire half your monthly salary into Mireille’s account.” Simon scowled but nodded yes again.
“Now beat it” growled Estelle before adding “and remember, I am not Mireille and I will always know where to find you so don’t try doing anything funny because I will be coming back to this house and checking on everyone every day.”
Simon went up the stairs to the bedroom where she heard him put some clothes together into a suitcase that he came down with and he then walked towards the front door, opened it, looked back scowling at Mireille and then pulled the door shut behind him.
Estelle then went towards Mireille and proceeded to inch her slowly towards the bathroom where she found a first-aid kit and tended to Mireille’s wounds. Passing the corridor she was surprised to see a sunny picture of a very pretty Mireille in a wedding gown standing all teeth flashing in a smile and hair impeccably shaped into curls around her soft and warm face. At that unexpectedly beautiful sight tears rolled down Estelle’s cheeks as she thought of how much they had misjudged Mireille and never given her a chance to feel welcome in their midst. She thought that if only one of them had been more understanding, more welcoming maybe Mireille would have felt comfortable enough to share with them her situation and they could have helped her earlier. She just could not fathom how year after year this woman had borne that monster one child after another and carried on in this living hell. She looked again at Mireille who was also looking up at the portrait of her wedding day.
“I used to be pretty, yes and that sometimes can be a curse. Simon did not like men looking at me. He would ask me to dress less provocatively and not to doll myself up to entice their looks.”
When she caught Estelle’s surprised look she added “Yes, I know, I don’t look like I used to doll myself up but I was quite vain you know. I liked wearing pretty things and having my hair curled up nicely. God help me, I used to like it when men thought I was pretty. I never had a proper education you know so there was nothing else for anyone to admire than my looks. My uncle married me off quickly to Simon right after I finished my apprenticeship and I never had a chance to go even to technical school. Simon has a temper because of his medication you know. He does not mean to be nasty, it is just the medication that makes him lose his temper when we are discussing. He is always sorry afterwards.”
Estelle tried to find something comforting to say but being the tough bartender she was she failed to find something comforting to say and all she could do was grunt.
“Father Mathieu also said that a woman should not bring ungodly thoughts into the mind of a man who is not her husband. He said I should repent from having such thoughts and should try to be a better wife for Simon. He said Simon was not responsible for his behaviour and it was the devil’s work putting these ideas of seducing men into my head which then angered Simon. He said that as I knew Simon’s condition with the medication, I should try to be a better and more Christian wife so as not to provoke him. I tried you know. I tried so hard…” Mireille broke down sobbing. All those beatings she had taken silently but now, staring up at that beautiful picture of herself taken on a sunny morning when she thought her heart would burst with happiness, she could not bear the anguish she felt now. All those years that had gone by while day after day she was less able to feel any happiness and keener to just not displease Simon, all those hopes crushed and how she had slowly turned from that beautiful sun-kissed smiling girl into this sullen, grey woman.
Estelle held Mireille’s sobbing body gingerly trying not to hurt her more than she was already hurt but it was difficult as she was bruised all over. When finally Mireille’s outburst was over, Estelle half helped half carried her up the stairs and put her in bed before tending to the children. Two of them were fast asleep in the big bed in their room and she cleaned up the oldest before putting him to bed with his siblings. The youngest was also fast asleep in his crib and she marveled at the children’s capacity to not be disturbed by the fuss that had been going on downstairs. They probably were used to such noises and grew so accustomed to it that it did not wake them anymore she thought with a pang of guilt. It was also true that she herself had not heard anything much apart from the pitter patter of feet before she had seen Mireille dashing across. Probably Mireille never made a sound so as to preserve her children as much as she could. Estelle was torn between cursing Mireille for letting this go on for so long and admiring her for trying so hard to make things work despite the dire situation. She was not sure what to do so thought she should maybe discuss this with someone who had more experience than her with such matters.
The following morning, I sat at the typewriter, writing down the horrors that came out of Estelle’s mouth as the social worker who had brought me along was not very quick at typing. I was a volunteer at the abused women’s shelter at the local Commune near the suburb where Estelle lived. I watched Estelle and Florence as they discussed various options and typed away all what was being discussed my heart beating at the idea that some women could be living in such slavery and misery just a few kilometers from the heart of our lovely international city. Geneva, the city of neutrality, the city of human rights and human rights’ militants where so many immigrants held a hope of a better tomorrow.
Mireille was awarded full custody of her children and the judge ruled that she would keep the house. She started working with Estelle as waitress and people, as if to compensate for their lack of insight earlier, tipped her heavily. Simon did not lose his job and did not go to jail as Mireille did not press charges and there were no hospital records and no police had intervened earlier to have a case to present the general attorney. He was awarded visitation rights but limited to one hour per week and under strict surveillance but he never used those rights. Simon’s boss maintained his job more to help Mireille than for Simon himself. All those who used to like him before and enjoy his company now scrupulously avoided him as they could not understand how any medication could lead a person to behave like that with his family.
I saw Mireille from time to time when I did my volunteer work at the shelter. I used to take down notes while she talked with the social worker and the psychologist and marvel at how she could continue to think that she was to blame for Simon’s reactions. I never saw Simon and never felt the inclination to go and see what he looked like although I did go to meet Estelle or Mireille’s children a few times when I was not far from the suburb. Every time I entered the suburb I marveled at how people there could have been so oblivious to such human suffering a few meters away from them. I took a seat and looked on from the Café-bar as the sun slowly set and a crowd gathered to play rummy. The scent of gardenias filled the air from the nearby pots as dusk slowly fell and I watched Mireille and Estelle smiling at each other and exchanging jokes. Estelle was the only person at whom Mireille smiled but for all others she would only offer a sullen face. I took out my wallet to pay as I got ready to leave the place and head back home. Somehow, I felt that I too shared some of the guilt this suburb felt each time we looked at Mireille and like many others I tipped heavily and sighed with some sense of relief as I stood to leave.