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HARRIS, Joan



Chocolat

Thursday, February 13.

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Thank God that's over. Visits tire me to the bone. I don't mean you, of course, mon père; my weekly visit to you is a luxury, you might almost say my only one. I hope you like the flowers. They don't look much, but they smell wonderful. I'll put them here, beside your chair, where you can see them. It's a good view from here across the fields, with the Tannes in the middle distance and the Garonne gleaming in the far. You might almost imagine we were alone. Oh, I'm not complaining. Not really. But you must know how heavy it is for one man to carry. Their petty concerns, their dissatisfactions, their foolishness, their thousand trivial problems ... On Tuesday it was the carnival. Anyone might have taken them for savages, dancing and screaming. Louis Perrin's youngest, Claude, fired a water pistol at me, and what would his father say but that he was a youngster, and needed to play a little? All I want is to guide them, mon père, to free them from their sin. But they fight me at every turn, like children refusing wholesome fare in order to continue eating what sickens them. I know you understand. For fifty years you held all this on your shoulders in patience and strength. You earned their love. Have times changed so much? Here I am feared, respected ... but loved, no. Their faces are sullen, resentful. Yesterday they left the service with ash on their foreheads and a look of guilty relief. Left to their secret indulgences, their solitary vices. Don't they understand? The Lord sees everything. I see everything. Paul-Marie Muscat beats his wife. He pays ten Aves weekly in the confessional and leaves to begin again in exactly the same way. His wife steals. Last week she went to the market and stole trumpery jewelry from a vendor's stall. Guillaume Duplessis wants to know if animals have souls, and weeps when I tell him they don't. Charlotte Edouard thinks her husband has a mistress--I know he has three, but the confessional keeps me silent. What children they are! Their demands leave me bloodied and reeling. But I cannot afford to show weakness. Sheep are not the docile, pleasant creatures of the pastoral idyll. Any countryman will tell you that. They are sly, occasionally vicious, pathologically stupid. The lenient shepherd may find his flock unruly, defiant. I cannot afford to be lenient. That is why, once a week, I allow myself this one indulgence. Your mouth is as closely sealed, mon père, as that of the confessional. Your ears are always open, your heart always kind. For an hour I can lay aside the burden. I can be fallible.

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