This is the thirteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1150 words.
March 1898. Patricia Froment is unwell.
Patrice Froment loved his daughter dearly. He had even named her after himself. She was such a lovely girl, and a great help to his wife, Adele. Almost fourteen, she would soon be leaving school, and he had plans to get her a job where he worked as a toy maker. Her sewing skills were excellent, and he was sure she would do well as an apprentice to their chief seamstress, Madame Paquet. When he got home from work that night, he was concerned to discover that Patricia had taken to her bed. Adele was looking worried. “She said she met a strange woman on the way home from school, close to the street market. The woman looked at her with a mad smile, and touched her face. After that, her head began to hurt, and her vision changed. She feels dizzy, and doesn’t want anything to eat”.
He went straight to his daughter’s room, and was distressed to see her threshing around in the bed, holding her head. She was talking in a language he didn’t understand, but he recognised some words as German. Although her eyes were open, she didn’t appear to see him, or if she did, she certainly didn’t recognise her father. He rushed out of the house, to run and fetch a doctor, leaving his wife crying in the kitchen.
Doctor Monteil was the son of their old doctor, and had recently taken over the practice. He followed Patrice home, urging him to calm down as they walked quickly along the crowded street. Watched over by the Froments, he examined Patricia, a look of concern spreading across his face. “I can find nothing physically wrong with her. In every respect she is a healthy young woman, with strong lungs, and a good pulse. Her bones are good, and her heart seems to be sound. Has anything like this happened before?” The glum couple shook their heads. Adele spoke up. “Never. Not once. She is a calm girl. A good girl, Doctor”. The young man bit his lip. “I imagine it is her nerves. Perhaps an effect of puberty, now she has become a woman”. Patrice blushed. He didn’t like to imagine his daughter in that way. Standing up, the doctor opened his case. “I will give you this powder. Mix it in some water or milk, and make her drink it. It will calm her nerves this evening, and hopefully you will be able to get through to her. I will call tomorrow, at the same time, and see how she is”.
Patrice showed him out, nodding his thanks, and shaking his hand. Adele was already in the kitchen, mixing the powder into a glass.
They could not get her to drink it. She spat it over them, retched uncontrollably, and fought like a Tiger when Patrice tried to hold her head still. Adele tried to force open her mouth with her fingers, and Patricia bit two of them so badly, she drew blood. After numerous attempts, there was almost nothing left of the potion, except some undissolved white powder at the bottom of the glass. Adele was crying, and sucking her torn fingers. Patrice put his arm around his wife. “Come, let’s leave her to rest. She might be her old self after a good sleep”. They both hoped he was right, but both somehow knew he was wrong.
During the night, they were awakened by the sound of screams. Rushing into the bedroom, they saw Patricia sitting bolt upright. An awful smell pervaded the room, indicating that she had messed herself. But there was something else that caught their noses. Sulphur. Their daughter spoke in her normal voice. “Mama, Papa, please help me”. As Patrice lunged forward to comfort her, she spoke again. A man’s voice in a foreign language. He knew immediately that it was German. “Geh weg, Dummkopf. Beginnen Sie von hier”. When they stepped back but failed to leave the room, the same voice spoke in French, adding a chuckle. “Oh, I forgot. Get away you fool, begone from here”. Adele screamed to hear this voice coming from her daughter’s mouth, then fainted.
He had dragged her from the fetid bedroom, and splashed water on her face. As she came round, Adele looked up at him, wide-eyed. “My God, Patrice, what is to be done? Our lovely girl is possessed”. He stroked her face, fighting back his own tears. “Please don’t say that, my love. She is unwell, that’s all. I will make sure she gets the best treatment”. Even to his own ears, his assurances sounded hollow.
When the young doctor returned the following evening, he was shocked to see the state of the couple. Patrice had been forced to go to his work, or he would not have been paid. Adele was wearing the same clothes as yesterday, her breath sour with stomach acid, where she had not eaten a thing. Dark circles surrounded the eyes of the attractive woman, and her husband was visibly trembling. They had told him that they had been unable to give her the nerve medicine, and recounted some of the events of last night. But not the voices. Nor the speaking in German. He went into the bedroom to examine Patricia, her parents standing nervously by the door. Their daughter was still. Eyes open, breathing steadily. She gave no response to the doctor’s questions, and didn’t seem to notice that he was holding his handkerchief over his face, to ward off the unpleasant stench in the room.
Less than two minutes later, he turned and walked out. “This is a definite case of mental disorder, Monsieur Froment. My recommendation is that your daughter be admitted to the asylum of Sainte Anne”. Adele screamed. “Never! Not there. I will care for her. Thank you doctor, my husband will pay your account”.
After three exhausting months, Adele was looking drained and gaunt. Patrice told her to get out of the house. “Go to the park, my love. Perhaps walk by the Seine. You need a break from this, and some fresh air. I will watch dear Patricia”. She was gone for almost four hours. Upon her return, she ushered Patrice into their bedroom, speaking in a whisper. “I have been talking to my old friend, Madame Rosa. You know her, the Spanish lady. She has told me about some women she knows who could help Patricia. But it must be done in secret, and it will cost a lot of money”. She handed her husband a scrap of paper with an address written on it. As he read it, a terrible cry came from Patricia’s bedroom. A man’s voice, swearing in German.
He folded the paper and put it into his jacket pocket, then leaned over and kissed Adele softly on her cheek.
“Leave it to me, I will go there tomorrow”.