excerpt: Complete Fiction

Brushing’s not enough and the comb would pull too hard. In plunging my fingers into your hair to untangle it, I rediscover the sliding of the fresh-water plants of my adolescence: you’d part them with your hands as you swam and you’d feel them brushing along your whole body. But now I’m far from a page boy. I’m like a mule hitched to a millstone, going around in a circle for the benefit of philistines. The blinders make my eyes deader than the eyes of the blind, since I can’t imagine anything: all I can see is you, you.

You love your supple hair, which has to be cut regularly to retain it’s beauty. In our time, women kept their hair for themselves; a Berenice doesn’t offer it to Venus anymore, even for Callimachus or Catullus. But men have to have theirs cut; it’s supposed to be for their own good. An old David ends up pursuing an adventurous Absalom who always dies with his beautiful hair caught in the branches of an oak tree… And yet, now that I’m standing here holding a pair of scissors, don’t you consider, with my fingertips gently stroking your neck, don’t you consider the possibility that three or four bites of these scissors could, in retaliation, quickly ravage your hair and take away the power of its charm? It doesn’t matter—it’s too late to shake the columns of the temple.

I work carefully, making the curls even. I go from lock to lock, leaving not a single split end. Then I brush it until it shines. My role is modest and transitory, but it gives me the privilege of seeing the down on your nape. I’m neither your valet nor your service man. I can’t offer you white pages with polished and elegant words, only the cajoling chitchat of hairdressers.

Packed in its cottony husk, a horse chestnut. Under the sheets, under the covers, it’s pleasantly warm, and the true source of warmth is that other body, beside you. Above the roundness of shoulder and the wavy hair spread across the pillow, you see the window’s rectangle where day is beginning to rise. Outside, the wind makes the trees rustle, and you hear the rain, too. It’s nice, it’s warm. But beyond the shoulder, the glimmering at the window has an airport blinking in the early morning. In the airports, it’s still night or already night. You arrive or leave again alone. The raw, impersonal light, the searchlights, the brightly lit ramps, the colored runway lights can’t part the ambient darkness, the good, the true night. A memory comes back: an inscription on the lintel of a manor house window in Loire-en-Cher: Before leaving.

Day is about to break. It’s a bit cold in the room, but a lot warmer in the bed, dovetailed into each other. My legs follow the angle of hers: the backs of her thighs, the bent knees, the calves. The lower part of the belly is packed, with an animal pleasure, against the roundness of her behind, and the chest against her back. The temperature of the two bodies is the same and the contact is so close that neither can tell where the bodies end. One of the arms lies across her body, the elbow pressing against her hip and the forearm on her belly that rises slightly in the rhythm of breathing. Her two hands hold the wrist pressed against her chest, the hand closed over one breast, as if holding a beating heart.

You start to see, as daylight begins to filter through the window. It’ll be day soon. For the moment, the eyes make out, a few inches away, only the whiteness of the sheets and a dim mass of hair. You can plunge your face into the warm scent of the hair to look for a little leftover night, or press your lips to the base of the nape to feel her hips move and her hands squeeze the arm tighter against her breast.

Day breaks. You hear cars. You’d like to ignore it, to stay like an animal. Any moment the alarm will go off, and already a hint of distress is working its way between the bodies. You have to get up, go, and pick up living like a man again.

The point is not, you say, to take a nice trip so you can write a book: I have to draw up a detailed and itemized report of my mission. When I turn in this report, they’ll see about paying me, this fact being quite secondary when they’re dealing with a writer. I’ll have to justify my comings and goings to the accounting office, which will determine the amount, because there’s no way they’ll simply pay me a flat fee. Since I don’t keep a diary, I’ve done so many things that I no longer know which I’ve actually done and which I’ve dreamed. For one long month on the road I have only a few sentences scribbled in a notebook, some ideas and impressions I promised myself I’d continue or develop later, but now, like the dream you forget by the end of the day, I no longer know what they refer to or for whom they were intended. Lost among names and telephone numbers that have lost their meaning. By contract. All that remains of my contracts are quick impressions and notations that have become enigmatic:

I won’t be the good Samaritan who’ll help you get rid of yourself, that is to say your father, your mother, your sisters, and a few other people you envy, scorn, or despise. Hell is the Dallas airport at a perpetual three A.M. Hardness of the dancers thighs in their impersonal roundness. I’m such a stranger to myself that even my own smell disgusts me when I go to the crapper. Two big paintings and a smaller one with colors very… Do I stand there stock still, if time has no space, or am I a cycle? Or else a line? In fact, my time, my life is cycloid. SECOND DRAFT. I will watch you in the gait of a passerby, the figure of an assistant in a store, the profile of a stranger sitting next to me on the subway: you can go now; you will never be gone. There is a draft: I will close the door when I leave. In the train an old lady says to her husband, "Tous les noisetiers ont des chatons." All the hazel trees have kittens? Die Hazelnuszsträucher haben Kätzschen? Avellanos con gatitos?

Furthermore, on a stale-dated check stamped Nov. 16 ’76, the word THANATOS in capital letters. Also:

As her mouth is contorted on the harmonica and the sun on her bandanna.

That’s all the marvelous anthology pages I’ve brought back from a nice trip. If by chance a sentence is good, it’s probably because it was copied from something I read. And here I am at the end of a pointless odyssey, head empty, pockets empty, but with contracts fulfilled for you. And I’m not the first one, either: "To speak French with you, you must open your hand. Thus my wallet becomes for me the sole organ through which I can clarify the difficulties of the Bible, and make the Centuries of Nostradamus as easy for you as the Pater. Finally, miss, it is of you alone that verily it may be said ‘Nothing for nothing.’" At actual cost. I traveled at actual cost and now I must assemble tickets, receipts, notes, bills: for 1,311 miles, gas vouchers from Gulf and Texaco, Huybensz and Lipucci, and fifty toll receipts, two Surtram tickets, stubs from parking lots in New Haven, Washington, Philadelphia, and San Antonio. But I can’t find the rental contract for the Oldsmobile, so I won’t be reimbursed for that. Two L.I. Railroad tickets: I’ll have to explain that I have only the outbound tickets because the conductor collects the tickets on the way back into New York. Two Greyhound tickets. And airline tickets, reimbursable or not: American Airlines, two Delta, Texas International, two Braniff, Eastern, two TWA, three Cruzeiro, two Varig, Avianca, two Air France. And then receipts, bits of nondescript paper stamped Caracas, Sulphur Springs, Berkeley, Stedelijk Museum, Annandale-on-Hudson, M.A.S.P.: Di Cavalcanti. I have carefully collected whatever I have been able to learn of the story, as Goethe says. (Ah, Charlotte, Charlotte! Where are you? Help me. Charlotte, I haven’t forgotten the blondness of your hair. Idiot: Charlotte is an airport where the gawky silhouette of your friend Padgett is waiting, it’s a city in North Carolina. Carolyn! Carolyn! I haven’t forgotten the blondness of your hair. Completely insane, this guy.) I say no more. Don’t let yourself be mad at me. "The only courtesy I ask of you is that you tear me so gently that I can pretend not to feel it."

Translated from the French by John Ashbery and Ron Padgett

Contributor

Serge Fauchereau

Serge Fauchereau is the author of over thirty books (fiction and essays), most of which have been widely translated. "Complete Fiction" was published by Black Square Editions in the Fall of 2002.

ADVERTISEMENTS