Before Madame Fantasque came to sit at our table – joining Madame Gabon, Madame Portu and me – Madame Gabon said, “She’s always changing tables.”
Madame Fantasque had been in the clinic a long time. I thought it unsurprising she wanted different dining companions from time to time.
I had noticed her previously at physiotherapy. She dressed stylishly and wore striking jewellery. Her husband came to the clinic every day to have lunch with her. They sat at a table for two.
“Il est tres prévenant envers sa femme,” said Madame Gabon approvingly in her strong, sing-song accent.
Madame Portu rattled off something in an incomprehensible mixture of French and Portuguese. I assumed she was agreeing that Monsieur Fantasque was very attentive to his wife.
I hoped Madame Fantasque would be easier to understand.
That evening, Monsieur Fantasque wheeled his wife into the dining room and settled her at the table. He wished Madame Gabon, Madame Portu and me Bonsoir! and Bon Appetit!
He kissed his wife. “A demain, Chérie!”
I thought him charming and attentive.
Madame Fantasque talked non-stop at high speed. Mostly about herself.
She told us about the fall beside the swimming pool that resulted in multiple fractures. She told us about her operations. She regaled us with stories of her travels with her husband. In Asia, in South America, in the Caribbean.
She told us about her great job in Paris. She’d had several great jobs in Paris. Her husband had been transferred to the Bordeaux region. She wasn’t happy. She didn’t like the Bordelais. They were unfriendly.
Madame Gabon went home. Madame Ecole arrived. She spoke beautiful, clear, slow French. Hurrah! She too, was impressed by Monsieur Fantasque and his solicitude for his wife, whom, she drily observed, appeared more interested in her own life than in the lives of her dining companions.
Monsier Fantasque continued to lunch every day with his wife, to visit her again after work, and to accompany her to the dining table.
Madame Fantasque was allowed home from Saturday mornings to Sunday evenings. She told us she cooked a week’s worth of evening meals for her husband and left them in the freezer.
“My wife is a wonderful cook,” said Monsieur Fantasque.
She was always tired when she when she came back to the clinic. She’d cooked, cleaned, done the washing, the ironing.
I imagined her whirling around the house in her wheelchair.I asked her why she didn’t employ a housekeeper.
“Never! I want to do things my way. They never do things the way I want.”
“She’s very demanding,” said Madame Ecole.
One evening, when her husband had installed her at our table, Madame Fantasque asked him to fetch something for her.
“Quelle capricieuse,” he muttered under his breath.
Madame Ecole heard him.
“So did his wife, “ she told me. “I heard her telling him to “fout le camp” (bugger off).”
A couple of evenings later, when Monsieur Fantasque had, as usual accompanied his wife to the table, kissed her and left the dining room, Madame Fantasque burst out, “I don’t care. He can divorce me if he likes. I want a divorce too. He puts on a show here. But he’s not like that at home.”
She told us her husband had had an affair. She couldn’t forget it. She couldn’t forgive him. The emotional storm lasted throughout dinner. We listened in silence. What could we say? Besides, there was no space in which to say it.
The next day, Monsieur Fantasque arrived as usual to lunch with his wife.
That evening, as usual, he installed her at our table, wished us Bonsoir! and Bon appétit! kissed his wife, and went home.
Next day, Madame Fantasque was her usual highly-strung, talkative self.
She left the clinic a few days later. We wished her goodbye. And good luck.
I think they both need it.