My Body and I

(translated from the French by Robert Bononno)

I

The Time of others

Dinner is served early and eaten quickly in the small hotels in the mountains.

            I was alone at the table.

            I am alone in my room.

            Alone.

            This trip, I have wanted it so badly and for so long that I have often doubted it would ever come to pass. But this evening, my desire finally realized, I find that I am here with myself. No bridge connects me to the others. Of those I loved most and best, all I have to remember them by is a flower, a photograph.

            The flower, a rose, is almost done wilting in the toothbrush glass.

            Yesterday, at the same time, it was resplendent on my coat, the buttonhole high enough for it to surprise my face at the slightest tilt of my head. But with every movement, my late afternoon skin, before astonishing itself with the plantlike softness, had a recollection of carnation. An entire winter, an entire spring, didn’t I deliberately confuse happiness with those petals with their torn edges, against the nocturnal obedience of a piece of permanently turned silk?

            An entire winter, an entire spring. Yesterday.

            In a train station, eyes shut, a flower condemns me to go on believing in carpets, bare shoulders, pearls.

            Therefore, I no longer dare hope that solitude is possible.

            Yet it was solitude alone that I sought so desperately in the theaters, where the red velvet on the seats for months seemed to me the very color of boredom. Solitude alone I searched for in the streets, when the houses at the end of day grew bright for new temptations, their stone blouses a complicated pattern twisted into unreality.

            I entered places where people dance and drink, greedy for alcohol, for jazz, for anything that intoxicates, and got drunk, indifferent to what I heard, danced and drank, but happy to hear, to dance, to drink, so I might forget the others who had confined me but had not yet saved me.

            Yes, I remember. Two in the morning. The bar is tiny. And very hot. The door opens. Cool air at last! Someone says hello. A hand pats my shoulder. I am happy, not for the voice, not for the hand, but the air that has surprised me is so soft.

            I say hello to the coolness, without having need of the words human creatures make use of for their greetings. Unfortunately, there is more than just cool air that has taken advantage of the open door. I had forgotten about my fellow men. Some human creature is trying to get me to remember who it is. It insists, we embrace. Decorum is needed—this is where the simulacra take shape. “Hello, mind clothed in a body.” I like the expression, repeat it. The mind is indeed like that. I would like to recreate the purity of a chess player, not renounce joy but live, act, take pleasure in thought. No human contact has ever prevented me from feeling alone. So what’s the point of dirtying my hands? The pleasures (?) of the flesh are over with.

            For a third time I repeat, “Hello, mind clothed in a body,” thus illustrating the extent of my new confidence to anyone who enters.

            Unfortunately, misfortune sees to it that I am in the presence of a body that believes it is sensibly clothed.

            People laugh, I grow annoyed, note the contrast between the other and myself: “My mind is clothed in a body but your body pretends to be sensibly clothed.” I anticipate the slap, parry it, am struck just the same. Hello. Goodbye. I am going to see how the sun rises over the Bois de Boulogne.

            I walked. Dawn was hanging strips of innocence on the trees. A small boat finished rusting, abandoned by mankind. Happy to be. Alone like me. Alone. Another illusion. It seems that the other has followed me. I can hear his voice. “You see that yacht, it belongs to the actress who drowned herself in the Rhine.” Yes, I remember. Remember. Again, always. My philosophy professor was right then when he claimed that the present doesn’t exist. But that is not the question. A yacht has been abandoned on the Seine. Who would dare live there after an actress, following a night of wild partying, jumped overboard and drowned herself in the Rhine?

            I believe it was in the summer of 1911.

            1911. The year of my first communion. “A night of wild partying” the cook kept repeating, commenting on the suicide that may have been murder. In my dreams toast rhymed with Host. Why were such guilty or unhappy creatures offered to my love? I wished damnation upon the rivers, the canals over which that barge had been brought to the Pont de Suresnes, the last human habitation of a woman that my childhood, with its faith in curriculums and L’Illustration, believed to be happy. A friend of my mother, who loved pageantry, liked to remark, “She’s the queen of Paris.”

            Did she also feel, her as well, abominably free in her public solitude since, without concern for her guests, one night of drunkenness, that is, of courage, she threw herself into the waters of the river?

            Fairy with Amazonian feathers, who reigned during the age of pants-dresses, I deny the other’s presence to dedicate my solitude to you, on this bridge, on the verge of the Bois de Boulogne, at dawn one day in June.

            I loved you dearly. You and the lady with the bare neck.

            I still love you, but—I must admit—I loved the lady with the bare neck more.

            During my childhood, a woman’s décolletage was seen only when she went to a ball. Sometime in early 1914 a citizenness of Geneva warned me of the upheavals that were certain to stun my adolescence because of the décolleté to be seen on the Côte d’Azur. Since she always wore a hermetic dickey of black silk, her country remained immune to any danger.

            The lady with the bare neck was several years ahead of the elegant women of 1914. She also had a bad reputation. She was the most celebrated woman in the world; she was accused of having murdered her husband, and her mother, and for her we would buy the newspapers in secret.

            In truth, in the eyes of my friends, who were beginning to neglect their stamp collections for the geography of the body, what was most interesting about this affair was the name of the young valet de chambre, which was no less surprising than an oath spoken in public and, through its evident triumph, avenged the students for their clandestine and frequently unfruitful research in the seven-volume Larousse, racy weeklies, and penny songbooks with their naked women, whose faces, breasts, and calves bled with printing ink that never dried.

 For me, Rémy, in spite of his patronymic, was of little interest. He was worth no more or less than any Couillard, whose lineage he proudly continued, a short, conceited man, on the front page of the newspapers.

            I loved the lady with the bare neck and I loved her because she was the lady with the bare neck. I succeeded in acclimatizing myself well to my passion, believed it to be absolute and circumscribed by the only argument I raised, ignoring the principles of relativity, the glory of science, the joy of worldly gatherings, the agony of the heart.

            “The lady with the bare neck is the lady with the bare neck.” As a child I wrote that sentence in letters that I alone could read on the wallpaper in my bedroom. This prevented me from growing bored.

            I was eight and was the only one to defend her without exhibitionism, without the hope of profiting when the gates of the prison opened. I can see her now as she appeared in the magazines.

            She was on the witness stand, a small, frail thing beneath a bundle of crepe. She was pictured in full view, or with her head turned to the right, or left, fainting, her veil stronger than her muscles. At other times the pain on her forehead carried the emblems of her twofold grief all the way to her hands.

            But whatever her movements may have been, their mystery, all of it, had but a single fulcrum.

            Before my mirror I recreated the shudder that ended at the motionless head on her collarbones. The judges were unable to condemn a woman whose gestures were so graceful between her chin and shoulders.

            Once acquitted, the lady with the bare neck published her memoirs. Out of respect I refrained from reading them.

            She married a foreigner of high birth. I wanted to write to the husband, “Leave lingering kisses on her neck, her pretty, bare neck.”

            Now, of course, age demands the lie of hermetic collars during daytime, the artifice of too cleverly arranged tulle in the evening. In this way the woman I thought to be unique, the woman whom I hoped would always remain identical to herself, in my memory, is already nothing more than an egg in its shell.

            The disappointment of Perrette in the fable of La Fontaine was no greater.

            I became a man, and the lady with the bare neck was no longer the lady with the bare neck.

            And now it is early morning in the Bois de Boulogne.

            The trolley cars, trying to force me to believe that day is dawning, exaggerate their cries, their yellow make-up. Confirmation of a suburb that winks and offers nothing that means anything to me, I recall that a philosopher found that “To die is to lose interest.”

            Barely tangent to the world, why am I unable to crumble into dust at once, right here, two kilometers from the Porte Maillot?

            But since God the Father wants nothing to do with me in His Paradise, the same as yesterday, I must go on using objects, earthly creatures. Today, however, I am not inclined to make advances.

            Fortunately the other is here to save me.

            The other feels that thinking has gone on too long.

            I hear: It’s time to go home.

            It’s true, dawn leads to love.

            Let’s go.

            At home, I touch this body, as I have already had the honor to touch others, wishing only to rid myself of my most specific desires, without the hope of satisfying any, or the wish to prolong them.

            So, although at one time I condemned myself to taking detours, I have, to be honest, always been ashamed of those zigzags that never lead to anything exalting for a man (as it seems to me now that solitude can, must lead) but leave him in a dense fog, surrounded by others in whom he is unable to find joy.

            So the cry, accidentally escaped from the mouth that wanders over my naked skin, the cry, “kill me,” when it answers my prayer unacknowledged out of modesty, is for my sorry secret both comfort and exaltation, for the urge to act directed against a physical organ alone, the odd or even side of the individual, fully clothed or unclothed, visible or figurative, a mass, a people, has never seemed to me to arise other than from the need for evasion.

            And certainly if science offered a means of killing oneself that was, if not agreeable, at least clean and sure, I would never have attempted love any more than those departures, the last of which resulted in these thoughts, this evening on the mountain.

            Today it is no longer myself that I claim to be escaping, but others, through whom I had begun by wanting to lose myself. My friends, my enemies, are responsible for the cruelest obsession: their eyes, my eyes, liquids of different density that are superimposed and can never really interpenetrate or merge. Their eyes, I agreed to love them, proud and naïve at the same time, for I wanted to find myself in transparency, and then, I had desired them for so long, with the certainty that they would avenge me for the lack of mystery in the mirrors of my childhood. It meant drowning myself, Narcissus. Along the walls, a frozen river did not want me. Boulangerie appeared in large gold letters and, on the mirror, a scattering sheaf. The vertical river of shops had born with them neither the blades of straw nor the wisps of dream.

            From then on I had resolved to place my joy and pain somewhere other than in myself, but my madness was such that, along that dreary road, of every creature I encountered, I asked not amusement, not some exaltation, which through my past loves I might have touched, but the absolute.

            The absolute? I have lost my way. Should I have blamed myself for my pride or claimed, on the contrary, in my defense that I was looking for the revelation of a universal soul in those creatures? Alas, I was barely able, from time to time, to rediscover this little pile of bones, pleasure buds, confused ideas and clear sentiments that bore my name.

            Lakes of disappointment I had thought were mirrors, how can I continue to love the eyes of strangers?

            Yet one day, through their transparency, what I saw, in my own eyes this time, was their eyes, the others’ eyes. The others whom I no longer thought existed and who continued to triumph over me.

 

From then on how could I not long for the moment when, freed of all thought, it would be possible to strip myself of memory itself?

            Which led to the labors of day and the distractions of night.

            Unfortunately the mosaic of simulacra that could not be sustained, the actions of day-to-day life, whose combination appeared at first glance to be so capable and so sure, broke apart to reveal the underlying evil.

            Work and celebration were filled with painful surprises.

            A singer—as strong drinks, a good record player, and a sprinkling of desires scattered around two rooms begin to introduce a bit of magic into a most banal gathering—when she asked me what I thought of her repertoire, and when I, intoxicated by the alcohol and two quite beautiful eyes that encouraged me to seduce the body to which they belonged, responded that her art was unworthy of her, impatient to justify her career by explaining it and making excuses without managing to defend her couplets, having run out of arguments, stated, “Yes, I know my songs aren’t worth much, that everyone here isn’t worth much, everyone we need to see, but…”

            She didn’t finish her sentence. She had just realized, caused me to realize, that an activity that does not provide us with a lasting oblivion can never provide consolation through some peremptory sensation sufficient in itself, such as the feeling of grandeur or truth.

            And yet, that singer and I never underestimate ourselves, even and especially when we admit to doing so.

            So she, her face cracked with fear, a face on which the transparent disaster of makeup revealed the most secret decay, in spite of the willfulness of her eyes, she, her hands like sick flowers on that velvet chest already hollowed by weariness, the body rebelling against the leap that the mind commands, she, very slowly, with the gravity of a judge issuing his final verdict, affirms, “I do everything with modest means.”

            Touched by those simple words, I wanted to genuflect, kiss the ground beneath her feet.

            I repeated, “Everything with modest means.” I would need that gray light of morning that rejoices in acknowledging a bad complexion and shallow ideas to ask myself: but isn’t she confusing her modest means with those that are indirect? Is the life of a singer a modest life for a woman who only wants everything? She learns to despise others but not esteem herself. She accepts the false comparison of words. And how will she grow reconciled to herself while she tries, not to limit herself, to define herself, but to disappear.

            She lives with others, reaches out to others, all of them, everyone. But reaching out to everyone is not the same as reaching out to everything; on the contrary, it leads to nothing.

            Such an example is a warning.

            And so, with those words, I had resolved that I would soon be alone, truly alone.

 

II

Truly alone

 

            This evening I am alone.

            Alone in a hotel room.

            It is now that the moment should arrive, if it is ever to arrive, when, freed of any presence, it is possible for a man to be rid of memory itself.

            So why am I reminded of the existence of others? Is it that I like myself so little—at least not enough to satisfy myself, to stand being with myself. Solitude, the loveliest festival, will your miracle arrive? I have to keep repeating that I do not like myself this evening and never will, any more than I can recognize myself in this room. The hotel room where I am alone.

            As if it were some grievous sin, I accuse myself of thinking of others, and not myself.

            Me, the others?

            As soon as there is nothing of myself, they become indispensable to me, and if I am ready to detest this hotel room, it’s because I find no trace of their existence in it. I would easily repent for our earlier arguments and announce that each of them was a revelation to me, and the more distant they are, the more dazzling they appear.

            I lack the strength to find in myself the promise of necessary surprises and cannot imagine what vacuum has sucked from this room the comfort of a bit of dust, even the memory of human warmth.

            I ran my finger over the marble of a chimney. It was bare and so cold that I could only conclude that this mist on the mirror could not have come from the breath of any breast similar to my own. Damp, rootless flowers, without soul, without color, that is the garden of my dreams this evening.

            I flexed the muscles on my back to crush the first shivers, for I am cold from being alone.

            Already.

            Between the four walls of pink roses on a pale background I organize a reconnaissance mission. A waste of time. There is no one and even, since there is no living thing, nothing with which I might want to become friendly. The armoire is made of blond wood and in this armoire not a single one of those papers that conscientious travelers arrange between their shirts and the shelf that must support them. The dresser has four ordinary drawers whose indifference has allowed the faint trace of perfume to slip away. On the windows, the curtains—as if they had never been raised—hang straight. No trace of an earlier presence, no object that can help me imagine the unknown traveler, the thought of whom helps lessen the fear of the sleepless darkness.

            Outside it is night.

            I part the curtains, open the window, lean out. The night is cool, a well-mannered but insignificant girl, and there is no vaunted silence to draw us in or terrify us. Below, thirty meters down, a stream swaggers and in the darkness becomes a pompous and vain marching song.

            The stream lies at the foot of the mountain.

            This mountain, in daytime, upon my arrival, started out green, became gray, and ended up white, although it was impossible to determine how it went from green to gray, from gray to white, or even from white to this blue, so aptly called sky blue, whose mass fell entirely on the final period of its highest peak. All the wonder was in the gradation of color, and this too easy symbol of the intellectual prism (consciousness, dream, sleep) and that other, of the rainbow of the heart (indifference, love, hate).

            I wish my destiny were of superimposed colors and truly deserved to be seen as the queen of horizontal surprises. In this way my hours would be divided into minutes, which, taken as a whole, would call to mind geological strata.

            Dress of time, dress of space, let my life range from royal blue to bishop’s purple, from bishop’s purple to cardinal red, from cardinal red to canary yellow, from canary yellow to emerald green and—with the help of songs and the layer cake of grass, stone, ice, sky—unveil the presence of the mountain and assert itself like hot and cold.

            Will it create a world? I close my eyes to believe that great white clouds escape from bodies deeply loved and, finally souls, flower with peremptory lethargy. But why this sudden urge to fight? These barely tangent candors clash and penetrate one another, and every blow deforms them, painfully. Pugilist souls will mingle hatreds and desires, the truths that shame us, like that other match, muscles, sweat, blood, thighs, biceps, and the loving anger of skins the faintest veil of down would reveal as being strangers to each other.

            Does happiness arise from blows given or blows received, and unhappiness from those that were not given, those that were not received? It’s a strange question to ask, eyelids closed, when you have just asked the June sun, the glaciers’ air, for the most intimate and most solitary metamorphosis. Unfortunately, a body requires seven years to renew itself. The mountain changes color without our noticing. But what good are the symbols of a primary and reassuring alpinism when this evening I will not reach the blue, the blue that is called, quite aptly, sky blue.

 

III

The Last Presences

 

            On the floor a partially open suitcase.

            Books, sweaters, linens, and ties uselessly English for this chosen solitude are scattered about pell-mell. I bend, plunge my hands into the midst of this disorder and recall that just yesterday they were laughing at my clumsiness.

            They?

            Who, exactly?

            Of course there were not many who gave me the impression that the stage, where by day new tragicomedies were attempted, was not completely empty, there were not many. Now, it is no longer a question of struggling through a rehearsal but of forgetting the syllables of a name, a mouth.

            Yet when I choose energy, even when it is directed at me, even if I am the only one involved, to avoid betraying my imperious will, I must first declaim in a thunderous voice.

            Resolved to hide the too well-known accents and reject the embrace of a memory for which I have already shown too much complacency, I roar, “Enough…Enough… Enough.”

            Morality: the chambermaid knocks on my door. The cries must have given her hope that some incident had occurred. “Did you ring, Sir?” I take my revenge and, as if the importunate woman were nothing but a simple maid, I call her Marie. “No, Marie, I didn’t ring, I don’t need anything, Marie. Don’t worry if I talk a bit too loudly. I am not feverish; I am not delirious. I am rehearsing my parts, Marie. Think of me as an actor. Do you like the theater, Marie? I’ll give you some tickets, Marie.”

            On the other side of the door, she groans with disappointment. Damn, how, all by myself, could I have offered her a crime of passion? Poor Marie. Oh well, maybe another time.

            Released from that fool, I declaim a few more Enoughs, then, in silence (here, Marie, is our dear crime of passion) I tear up a photograph and, as if I could strip myself of memory by hiding the pieces, beneath the brochures, the vests, I bury dissimilar cardboard stars.

            Tomorrow I will open the suitcase to grab a novel, a sweater, but I won’t glue together the pieces of the past, of yesterday, of that yesterday whose shadow might be called tomorrow, the obsessive fear of which must not crush today.

            Today, so empty, so blank, so alone.

            To ask for help from outside presences is to believe in the miracle of exchanges. Yet the creatures assembled are considerably attached to one another and give nothing of themselves. So where will the spoils of reciprocal larcenies go? I would like to believe in some intellectual nest egg, in the heritage of humanity. And yet, concerning this humanity, I continue to form an idea only when, freed of all foreign contact, I am finally a man alone. And who has not felt that to be a man, to be, one had to be alone. I am, only to the extent that I distance myself from others and, becoming incomprehensible to the gaze of their intelligence, make them equally incomprehensible to myself.

            Therefore, it is only to encourage the most certain hopes that I repeat, “Today, so empty, so blank, so alone.”

            There is no noise in this hotel.

            Will the silence allow my heart to hear its beating?

            This heart, now, when it has beaten (pardon my romanticism), when my heart beat through others, for others, among others, it did not beat time for itself, but every beat served only to indicate a moment of disorder.

            Yes, I’ll say it again, all my efforts were pretexts to dissolve myself, destroy myself. At night, if I devoted myself to certain bodies, it was to forget the weight of my own, and if I was curious about the souls passing by, I admit, that my own was itself incapable of any uplifting surprises.

            Condemned throughout the day to ignore the sensation of being, because condemned not to be alone, at night, when I was finally free, I did not have the time to grow accustomed to myself. To escape the initial discomfort of meeting myself, I continued to accept presences. And in this way, so the initial anxiety of encountering myself might dissipate more easily, I sought some other so that, when the hour of sleep had finally arrived, there might escape, be transposed, without any chosen means, the most hidden part, the reality of my being, which had been revealed to me by states and not by images or sensations.

            Nights without gestures and without words, nights that were unfamiliar with nightmares. A parallel sleep prevents the painful surprise of dreams. But those cruel dreams have sometimes been bouquets of torture with which they delighted in tormenting me; and it is because of my dreams that my pride enjoys looking for reasons. I am not Hercules. And since I have not undertaken the twelve labors, why agree to throw myself at the feet of Omphale? Why agree to sleep between the arms of a human creature, the tentacles of the most relentless octopus?

            Because I rebelled at having given in, after hours in someone else’s bed, I hated the body in whose shadow I had come to rest. I also hated the foreign mind nourished with my own—and which, moreover, died at least for a few moments, for having fed on it—the mind I had taken to be a mirror in which I had not seen myself, in which I had not drowned myself.

            I condemned the last presence, got up, got dressed, left. But always my good resolution had come too late. I had begun by giving in.

            It was to better avoid temptation that I tore up the photo, that I also decided to have no pity on the rose that had wilted in my toothbrush glass.

            Yesterday it was in bloom on my coat.

            A friend had taken it from the bouquet in a Persian bowl.

            She left with one of my friends that same day, at the same time, from the same station, but not for the same place as me.

            I could have tried to go with them.

            I hadn’t wanted to. I watched them both. My eyes were so sad that they overwhelmed me with promises—“We’ll send you postcards.” The large clock struck eight and my ears could not help thinking of a bell tolling. The knell of departure. I want to believe in my sacrifice, and that those I am willingly leaving deserve my regrets.

            It must be admitted—both of them are handsome and big-hearted, broadminded. This woman, this boy, my favorites, why have I decided to leave you? Already a large cube of dust, the station offers one of its surfaces to the unknown. We arrived a half-hour before the train’s departure. The clock again strikes eight. Therefore it is eight o’clock.

            Would that make it eight in the afternoon or eight in the evening?

            The cities ignore dusk. Night falls on them, but never descends. No vapor has ever eased me so gently toward the shadows as the illness of someone much loved by death. Large, very round lights tremble. Beyond the platform black lines end too quickly, no longer going two-by-two gleaming on the ground. The colors are all suddenly dead. The copper curtain rod that runs along the windows of the car has left a sad odor on my fingers. A whistle and those two presences, they too, will have ceased to be.

            So, determined to lose nothing of the final moments, I rectify the position. My body cut the door diagonally. Now it is straight. I have become attentive again.

            The friend speaks.

            If you were to see Ceres while traveling, you would have a good laugh. She always brings a cheese with her! I repeat:

 

Ceres travels

with a cheese.

 

Is that a sentence or a distich?

 

Ceres travels

with a cheese.

 

            Is there something funny in that sentence, that distich? I do not laugh, am surprised not to laugh. I am already no longer with men. I am not yet alone. The others, about whom nothing leaves me indifferent since I have decided to escape them, have not finished keeping me enslaved.

            Will I then never achieve that beautiful and brand new freedom, my pride?

            If I leave without bringing someone from whom I can ask for the help of the flesh, of speech, or the intellect, it is because I have abandoned anecdotal consolations. In my previous attempts I was finally led to understand that I was unable to obtain any sensation of grandeur or truth. Clown, in my pride I received the sad reward of feeling my heart break. I offered the pieces to some of the others and, between two bursts of unconvincing laughter, I had the audacity to believe in my misfortune. Of that pretense, only solitude can wash me.

            Only solitude can wash me?

            Yes, providing that the precise anomalies are forgotten and that anxiety is not frustrated, my beast with the beautiful teeth.

            At least I decided it would be so for me.

            Unfortunately, in spite of my resolutions, it was a fearful surprise when the rose, in a station, at eight in the evening, brushed my cheek.

            A rose that terrified me. Did my chin believe itself guilty? I asked my friends: “Have you no sense of sin?”

            The woman feels pity! Our trains don’t leave for another twenty minutes, dear. Let’s have a drink!

 

The buffet of the Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée at eight in the evening. A staircase modeled after the staircase at the Opéra leads the diners to their sumptuous destinies. We would like to go upstairs. But there you have to eat. We are condemned to the ground floor. The porter indicates the café below.

            “What are we going to drink?”

            She decides: “champagne.”

            My hands conform to the glass they bring to my lips. Ordinarily, I hate champagne. This one seems to be exceptionally delicious. Is it so it will be easier to feel pity for that woman in black at the neighboring table, a solitary woman of indeterminate age, without beauty, drinking the cheerless tea that she comforts with no sugar, lemon, rum, or milk, a tea that is neither English nor Russian and free of clouds like the sky on those overly bright days from whose light we are unable to determine if it’s hot or cold.

            A woman alone drinks cheerless tea.

            My glass is filled.

            I drink.

            Is everything going to become incomprehensible again?

            I am astonished out loud! Champagne in the buffet of the Lyon train station in late afternoon? Late afternoon—excuse me. It is eight in the evening. Eight fifteen, in fact. Between these two companions I could easily think of myself as a clock, a clock that was too sentimental to have any concept of time. And yet it has no other purpose. An inaccurate clock between two torches. And if the clock were sold? Would they remember me only a little? Conscientious, I look right and left. To one and then the other, very softly, I acknowledge, “I love you.” And in a slightly louder voice I beg, “You must love me forever.” A woman’s hand, a man’s hand share my ten fingers. With her free hand my friend brings her own glass to my lips, “Drink, darling.”

            This could be called happiness.

            I know of no two words that are more gentle to the ear than two names. The whole world might be saved by the grace of the right syllables. However, Notre-Dame just now, between the two poplars on its banks, grew heavy with the furrowed stones, sorrowful as the folds of a widow’s dress in the countryside.

            Why was I raised to follow the precepts of a religion that exalts sorrow and suffering? Yet my nose is as innocent as any snout. If I had been an animal I would have been very successful. But a man? What have I done with my life before arriving at the buffet in this station on the PLM line?

            This champagne that has made me sentimental, will it perhaps provide other miracles?

            I love the rose in my buttonhole, my friends, and should they again ask me to go with them, I will not refuse.

            They offer me nothing.

            We leave the restaurant.

            I climb into my car.

            Goodbye.

            The train has left.

            The rose in my buttonhole is all I have of their friendship.

            The rose in my buttonhole has become, after twenty-four hours, a poor twisted thing in a toothbrush glass. But I am unforgiving. I pluck the leaves the way I tore the photo. Brothers of the cardboard stars, the petals fall, meager rain, on the sweaters, the books.

            The veins beat in my temples. The obstinacy of those bells in my head, must I say they are tolling? Their knell like the clock in the Lyon station twenty-four hours ago.

            Goodbye to that winter, this spring, the bridges I was unable to cross without happiness, when the sky was so fragile above the Tuilleries that the clouds made themselves lighter to remain suspended; goodbye stores, trees, gas spigots, and this patrolman, not only impermeable but in love with the water and sky, since in spite of January’s snow, February’s rainy insistence, the March squalls, the April showers, the storms of May, I always find him at his spot and not even a little liquefied. Brave little enameled cop, a river has been flowing at your feet, your pride was no greater but, for sure, you afforded curious temptations to this friend who dreamed of watching you make love with a little sister of the poor. Daphnis and Chloé of homespun and rough cloth, you fly above the houses, the churches, the towers, angels of the city. But, like the other angels, those of my childhood whose body was so soft you would have thought they had no bones, like all angels, you are already the past. The past of old people. We must leave that behind: we must be wise.

Contributor

Rene Crevel

Rene Creve played a key role in the surrealist movement and wrote several novels and essays.

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