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That winter mother Coupeau nearly went off in one of her coughing fits. Each December
she could count on her asthma keeping her on her back for two and three weeks at a
time. She was no longer fifteen, she would be seventy-three on Saint-Anthony's day.
With that she was very rickety, getting a rattling in her throat for nothing at all, though
she was plump and stout. The doctor said she would go off coughing, just time enough
to say: "Good-night, the candle's out!"
When she was in her bed mother Coupeau became positively unbearable. It is true
though that the little room in which she slept with Nana was not at all gay. There was
barely room for two chairs between the beds. The wallpaper, a faded gray, hung loose
in long strips. The small window near the ceiling let in only a dim light. It was like a
cavern. At night, as she lay awake, she could listen to the breathing of the sleeping
Nana as a sort of distraction; but in the day-time, as there was no one to keep her
company from morning to night, she grumbled and cried and repeated to herself for
hours together, as she rolled her head on the pillow:
"Good heavens! What a miserable creature I am! Good heavens! What a miserable
creature I am! They'll leave me to die in prison, yes, in prison!"
As soon as anyone called, Virginie or Madame Boche, to ask after her health, she
would not reply directly, but immediately started on her list of complaints: "Oh, I pay
dearly for the food I eat here. I'd be much better off with strangers. I asked for a cup of
tisane and they brought me an entire pot of hot water. It was a way of saying that I
drank too much. I brought Nana up myself and she scurries away in her bare feet every
morning and I never see her again all day. Then at night she sleeps so soundly that she
never wakes up to ask me if I'm in pain. I'm just a nuisance to them. They're waiting for
me to die. That will happen soon enough. I don't even have a son any more; that
laundress has taken him from me. She'd beat me to death if she wasn't afraid of the
Gervaise was indeed rather hasty at times. The place was going to the dogs, everyone's
temper was getting spoilt and they sent each other to the right about for the least word.
Coupeau, one morning that he had a hangover, exclaimed: "The old thing's always
saying she's going to die, and yet she never does!" The words struck mother Coupeau
to the heart. They frequently complained of how much she cost them, observing that
they would save a lot of money when she was gone.
When at her worst that winter, one afternoon, when Madame Lorilleux and Madame
Lerat had met at her bedside, mother Coupeau winked her eye as a signal to them to
lean over her. She could scarcely speak. She rather hissed than said in a low voice: