Excerpt of Perfume by Patrick Suskind
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The monk poked about in the basket with his finger till he had exposed the face
of the sleeping infant.
"He looks good. Rosy pink and well nourished."
"Because he's stuffed himself on me. Because he's pumped me dry down to the
bones. But I've put a stop to that. Now you can feed him yourselves with goat's
milk, with pap, with beet juice. He'll gobble up anything, that bastard will."
Father Terrier was an easygoing man. Among his duties was the administration of
the cloister's charities, the distribution of its moneys to the poor and needy.
And for that he expected a thank-you and that he not be bothered further. He
despised technical details, because details meant difficulties and difficulties
meant ruffling his composure, and he simply would not put up with that. He was
upset that he had even opened the gate. He wished that this female would take
her market basket and go home and let him alone with her suckling problems.
Slowly he straightened up, and as he did he breathed the scent of milk and
cheesy wool exuded by the wet nurse. It was a pleasant aroma.
"I don't understand what it is you want. I really don't understand what you're
driving at. I can only presume that it would certainly do no harm to this infant
if he were to spend a good while yet lying at your breast."
"None to him," the wet nurse snarled back, "but plenty to me. I've lost ten
pounds and been eating like I was three women. And for what? For three francs a
"Ah, I understand," said Terrier, almost relieved. "I catch your drift. Once
again, it's a matter of money."
"No!" said the wet nurse.
"Of course it is! It's always a matter of money. When there's a knock at this
gate, it's a matter of money. Just once I'd like to open it and find someone
standing there for whom it was a matter of something else. Someone, for
instance, with some little show of thoughtfulness. Fruit, perhaps, or a few
nuts. After all, in autumn there are lots of things someone could come by with.
Flowers maybe. Or if only someone would simply come and say a friendly word.
'God bless you, Father Terrier, I wish you a good day!' But I'll probably never
live to see it happen. If it isn't a beggar, it's a merchant, and if it isn't a
merchant, it's a tradesman, and if it isn't alms he wants, then he presents me
with a bill. I can't even go out into the street anymore. When I go out on the
street, I can't take three steps before I'm hedged in by folks wanting money!"
"Not me," said the wet nurse.
"But I'll tell you this: you aren't the only wet nurse in the parish. There are
hundreds of excellent foster mothers who would scramble for the chance of
putting this charming babe to their breast for three francs a week, or to supply
him with pap or juices or whatever nourishment . . ."
"Then give him to one of them!"
". . . On the other hand, it's not good to pass a child around like that. Who
knows if he would flourish as well on someone else's milk as on yours. He's used
to the smell of your breast, as you surely know, and to the beat of your heart."
And once again he inhaled deeply of the warm vapors streaming from the wet
But then, noticing that his words had made no impression on her, he said, "Now
take the child home with you! I'll speak to the prior about all this. I shall
suggest to him that in the future you be given four francs a week."
"No," said the wet nurse.
"How much more do you want, then?" Terrier shouted at her. "Five francs is a
pile of money for the menial task of feeding a baby."
I don't want any money, period," said the wet nurse. "I want this bastard out of
Excerpted from Perfume by Patrick Suskind
Copyright © 2001 by Patrick Suskind. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a
division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may
be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.