The Spinner. (A Short Story)
We used to meet once a month around a good meal and a bottle of grand cru. Discussions were going on, we scrambled everybody’s anecdotes, and most of the time they were excuses for great outbursts of uncontrollable laughter. The most prolific of us was without doubt Jerome. It must be said that his profession of forensic pathologist made him encounter many incongruous situations. He never shrank from an opportunity to tell us one or two little crunchy stories highlighting the deepest meanderings of the human soul. He was very eloquent and knew how to keep us in suspense. Intelligent and respected in a lively and timely manner, he was able to approach any topic of conversation with relevance. However, he was suffering from a physical complex. He had a club-foot. This disability had been in his family for generations and generations, for some hundreds of years. He never talked about it. None of us dared to question him on this aspect that we knew was delicate for him. We accepted his silence and respected his decision. He was our friend after all. He had never spoken of it until the evening of May 18, 1924. I still remember, we were sitting in front of a stuffed poularde, which we had accompanied with a Bordeaux red vintage. The aroma led us to discuss the many dishes we had tasted together. Among us was a new guest, a relationship of Jerome precisely. A captain in the merchant navy, he was soon integrated, for, as you can imagine, such a person who traveled all over the world was a wealth unmatched in terms of anecdotes. After telling us stories from the land of the Amanites, he had let out a phrase that had troubled Jerome.
“Has Jerome already told you the story of his great-great-grandmother?”
Our doctor friend had suddenly curled up on himself. At the utterance of this relative of his, he had suddenly lost all confidence in him. The other comrades, curious and fond of all sorts of narratives, then urged our new friend to utter by word of mouth the story of this ancestor whose existence we did not know. I was the only one, no doubt, to notice the uneasiness suddenly appeared in our beloved doctor.
“You do not mind Jerome if I mention this anecdote?” Don’t you? We are friends after all.” Outbid the new guest
“I would prefer not to to tell you the truth.” Then Jerome had stopped again, his head bowed like a wounded dog.
“Come on, come on, dear friend. It is customary to tell strange stories. Whether they were true or not …”
This remark came from my neighbor on the right. A lawyer at court.
“ I would not prefer, I assure you …”
“So do not be so shy Jerome….” Finally, all the guests in one voice said… All, but me …
Jerome had noticed my hesitation and my great empathy for him at this moment, which seemed delicate in his eyes. He looked at me with a suppliant air, as if he were waiting for me to take some position, that I defend him. However, I did not open my mouth … My hesitation for a few moments left the time for this friend from the South Seas to take an initiative, which seemed to me inopportune, but which today, has been revealed as a tragedy.
He began his remarks thus:
“First of all, I must point out that Jerome and I are old friends. It is true that my profession as a seaman forced me, for several years, to move away from his lands, but, I must say, we have maintained a regular correspondence. And, in one of these, he entrusted me with a very strange story, which I do not doubt, will delight you all …
I was watching Jerome, he was pale and seemed to lose all control of his mind. As if his body had finally detached, flying over all this scene.
“ We are listening to you carefully my dear …”
“So our friend, here present, is from, and surely you know, of an old provincial bourgeois family. His ancestors had made a fortune in the trade of wool and cloth. A trade, it is true, very fruitful. Thus, enjoying a considerable fortune, they had, as early as the 1790s, established their fame on the quality of their fabrics. Whether they were of silk, wool, oriental cloth, India, they sold only the best. Happiness and ease, then turning towards Jerome. “Stop me if I’m wrong …”
However, Jerome was far away, not physically, but he paid no attention to what the man said. He was staring at me with an empty, dull look, his hands resting on the table, inert …. He was waiting for the end.
On his side the sailor continued.
“ To put it in a nutshell, become rich, his family was respected by the whole region … They were visited from all over France, each wanted to have the privilege of being dressed by them, to be seen in their company … It was in 1815 that was born, in this very honorable family, Jerome’s great-great-great-grandmother … And it is said that she was magnificent. A balanced waist, black jay hair. In short, a flower in the middle of a garden … Three years later, her younger brother came into the world. The birth of such a being in this kind of family, you will understand later, was experienced as a curse. He had a club-foot … Yes, a club-foot, just like our friend. At the sight of this child, it was decided that he would be hidden from the face of the world. No one should ever know of his existence. He was therefore installed at the top of the house, and was given a place in the attic. Only his sister was allowed to visit him. She, a true saint, spent most of her time with her younger brother. She was playing with him, keeping her company. A very innocent and normal practice for brothers and sisters. Both of them ended up with a quasi-fusional relationship. He considered her as a way of replacing his absent mother, and he saw in his sister’s body the representation of a woman, the only one he had ever been able to catch a glimpse of. This lasted until the nineteenth year of the girl. Indeed, one day, without warning, the young man showed himself aggressive towards her, a little too enterprising, if you understand me, until the rape … And, she was pregnant. The parents, learning this infamous misdeed on their tender daughter, decided once more, that shame and contempt should not befall their family, and that the girl should be secluded until the birth of the child. The brother, for his part, was forcibly confined in a lunatic asylum. On the day of his confinement, he cursed the family, crying out that all male offspring would be afflicted with his illness, as if to avenge himself on his life as a recluse and a quasi animal. It is true that this poor child had lived without education or care, notwithstanding those given by his sister. Nine months passed, and when the child was born, he had the fault of his father… A club-foot … You can imagine that the child was again taken to an orphanage in total anonymity.
As to the girl, she was gradually wasting away, she was growing thinner, overwhelmed by the double pain: that of having lost her only playmate, her brother, and her son and nephew. Nothing seemed to soften her trouble. Her parents were worried about her. The only consolation she found was in the caress of the wool. She spent her life finding and collecting the smallest piece of wool she could find. In a house where this fabric was legion, she never failed to find a new one every day…. Her parents knew nothing of this mania, for she did not ascend the least rank. She had never shown any appetite for the art of knitting. However, she picked up her wool, tirelessly. Without ever missing a single day, a single hour, a single minute … Always she went in search of the smallest piece of wool. Obviously, Dr. Freud had not yet laid the foundation for what would enable us today to have an explanation as to this phenomenon. However, her intrigued mother, searched her room one day, she discovered that all the pieces of wool had been hooked together to create a kind of rope. Multicolored, sweet, and warm at the same time … But, apart from this strange object, nothing could explain her passion for the fleece spun. The story goes that it lasted nearly twenty years … Twenty years to weave a long woolen thread, without anyone ever knowing what it served for. Then, one day in 1854, she was found hanged.”
The assembly did not utter a single word. Then, realizing that our friend was suffering from the same disability, we understand that Jerome considered this sad story to be a curse, a secret he would have liked to keep for himself forever … He must have regretted having confided himself in such an unworthy friend … He looked at him then and, without losing his composure, he said, as serenely as possible.
- Thank you for this story … Suffer now that I retire …
He rose, greeted us, and left, without another word. We remained silent, and each one in our turn very quickly took leave of one another.
Two days later, in the newspaper, we discovered that a famous medical examiner had hanged himself with a woolen thread.