Dear Norma,

I am writing from San Juan, from the one and only hotel here. I visited Mother this afternoon—a half-hour drive along a tortuous road. Her condition is as bad as I had feared, and worse. She cannot walk without her stick, and even then she is very slow. She has not been able to climb the stairs since returning from the hospital. She sleeps on the sofa in the living room. She tried to have her bed shifted downstairs, but the men said it had been built in situ, could not be moved without being taken to pieces first. (Didn’t Penelope have a bed like that—Homer’s Penelope?)

Philadelphia Museum of Art/© Succession H. Matisse, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Henri Matisse: Interior at Nice (Room at the Beau Rivage), 1917–1918

Her books and papers are all upstairs—no space for them downstairs. She frets, says she wants to get back to her desk, but can’t.

There is a man named Pablo who helps in the garden. I asked who does the shopping. She says she lives on bread and cheese plus what the garden provides, doesn’t need more. Nevertheless, I said, couldn’t she get one of the women from the village to come in and cook and clean? She wouldn’t hear of it—she doesn’t have relations with the village, she says. What about Pablo? I said—Isn’t Pablo part of the village? Pablo is my responsibility, she said. Pablo does not belong to the village.

Pablo sleeps in the kitchen, as far as I can see. He is not all here, or not all there, or whatever the euphemism is. I mean, I think he is an idiot, a simpleton.

I didn’t raise the chief subject—wanted to, but didn’t have the courage. I’ll do so when I see her tomorrow. I can’t say I am hopeful. She has been cool to me. She has a shrewd idea, I suspect, of why I have come.

Sleep well. Give my love to the children.


“Mother, can we discuss your living arrangements? Can we talk about the future?”

His mother, seated in her stern old armchair, built no doubt by the same carpenter who built the immovable bed, says not a word.

“You must know that Helen and I worry about you. You have had one bad fall, and it is only a matter of time before you have another. You aren’t getting any younger, and living by yourself in a house with steep stairs in a village where you are not on good terms with your neighbors—frankly, it doesn’t seem a viable existence, not anymore.”

“I don’t live by myself,” his mother says. “Pablo is with me. I have Pablo to rely on.”

“I agree, Pablo lives with you. But can you really rely on Pablo in an emergency? Was Pablo any help to you last…

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