A Folk Tale from Belgium

Rewritten by Phillip Martin

Everyone in the village knew about the old man and the old woman.  They fought all the time and were both so stubborn.  But still, nobody was prepared for the day they made porridge.  Of course, how could anyone expect it?

"Woman, I'm hungry," cried the old man.  "Make me some porridge."

"Make it yourself!" snapped the old woman.  "I'm not going to make it."

"What? What do you mean you aren't going to make porridge?"

"I mean just what I said," answered the old woman.  "And, if you want to know why, I'll tell you."

"I don't remember asking why," mumbled the old man.

"Well, I'm going to tell you any way!" replied the old woman.  "I'm not making any porridge today because I don't want to have to wash the pot tomorrow!"

"I'm not washing it either," replied the old man.

Now, if you think the old couple was in a bad mood, that was only the beginning of their argument. It went on for a long time.  When all was said and done, the old woman finally made the porridge, but only because she was hungry. However, neither of the old people would wash the pot.  The fighting started up again after the meal.  They finally agreed that the next one of them to speak would have to clean the pot.  No surprise at all, they went to bed without saying good night.

The next morning when the rooster crowed, he was the only one making noise. The old man looked over to see his wife glaring at him.  He glared back.  Neither of them said, "Good morning," and neither of them got out of bed.  Seven o'clock, eight o'clock, nine o'clock came and went.  So did twelve o'clock! And then, one o'clock and two o'clock.

The neighbors were used to arguments throughout the day.  The silence was so unusual.  While the old couple glared at each other, saying not a word, their neighbors began to worry.

"Are they sick?" wondered their closest neighbor lady.

"Or, did something happen to them?" asked her husband.

"If they are this quiet," decided their neighbor lady, "I think they killed each other."

"We better check on them," said the man.

Nobody answered their knock at the door.  If the old couple wasn't talking to each other, they surely weren't going to talk to their neighbors.  But, their silence really frightened the couple at the door.  They were so worried that they broke the door open.  But, what they saw next didn't calm them down at all.  They saw the couple, still in their bed, and still glaring at each other.

"What's the matter?" asked the neighbor lady.  "You've been in bed way too long. It's time to get up."

Of course, it comes as no surprise that the old couple didn't say anything to their neighbors.  They just continued glaring at each other.

"I'm not sure what the problem is, but I think I'll go get the priest," declared the neighbor.  "Maybe they need confession?"

"Or last rites?" added his wife.

The priest came, but it did no good.  There were no confessions.  The old couple didn't look at the priest or their neighbors.  They only glared at each other.

"I'll come back later in the day to check on them," said the priest.  "Please keep an eye on them."

"Yes, Father," replied the neighbors.

When the priest came back later in the day, the news was the same.  "Father, they haven't said anything.  They've remained in their bed all day, just glaring at each other," reported the neighbor woman.

"Well, someone needs to stay here and care for them," said the priest.  "Can I count on you to do this?"

"Of course, Father," said the neighbor woman, "but . . . "

"But, we need to be paid," her husband finished the sentence.

"You will be paid," replied the priest. "This old couple might not have much money, but I know she has a good coat.  Take it to the market and sell it."

Finally, that got the old woman's attention.  She broke eye contact with her husband and glared at her neighbors.  "Take your own things to the market and sell them, but keep you hands off my coat!"

The neighbors stared at the woman, until her husband cried out.  "Ha! I knew you'd speak first. Now go out there and wash that pot."

That's just what the woman did.  But, while she washed the pot, the old man had a long story to share with the neighbors and priest.  And, it wasn't really a confession.