[Translation from the French by Brian Evenson]
So lived Medusa: each morning, before brushing her hair, she took care to feed the one-thousand nine-hundred and twenty-eight snakes quivering on her head. She called them by name—Thorium, Argon, Rubidium, Strontium, Cadmium, Titanium, Helium…— lavishing them with a few flattering words and then, by feel, sliding a dead fly into each of their mouths. Digestion was immediate. When their bilingual hissing evoked nothing but an innocuous gas leak, she could then attempt to arrange the fauna that was her moptop—as a child, Medusa buried her face in anthills and counted to a hundred, lips shut, eyes closed, and from this monstrous apnoea experienced something like pleasure. But most often she was content to coat her hair with a barbituate-based pomade, waiting twenty minutes or so and then enshrining the greasy bouquet within a woolen cap. Her toilette was long and painful. Nude on the tiled floor of the bathroom, she rubbed newsprint rolled in a ball and moistened with gasoline over her arms, then washed them with soapy water and, when they were dry, polished them with a shammy. The process had to be repeated every day, or else grayish-green stains reappeared which had to be eliminated quite quickly with hot vinegar or with lemon juice infused with coarse salt. Which was inevitably followed by long warbled howls, which awoke the snakes, who flew into a rage; everything had to be done over. Most of the time, she went back to bed and stayed in front of the extinguished TV for hours, without answering the telephone, spying on her ashen reflection in the dead screen. When she was an adolescent, eating was a nightmare, her boar tusks knocked over the carafe, scratched the dishes, got stuck on the bread. She had to pull them out herself and cauterize her gums with hydrochloric acid so they wouldn’t grow back. Once upon a time there was a girl called Medusa who each evening, to fall asleep, counted the cadavers of her petrified lovers. These latter, like certain of the living at certain times, preserved in the hollow of their navel a minute quantity of sperm, which formed a plug, the proper return of things. After which, duly turned to stone, they ended up in the garden of her small suburban home, more vertical than ever. Except when fucking, Medusa never removes her sunglasses.
Medusa owned a mirror, shrouded in black velvet and stored in the only drawer of her bedside table. It was an extraordinary object, ovoid and convex, whose tain had hardly suffered the stings of time—what you’d call a sorcerer’s or a banker’s mirror, depending on the level of gullibility you grant yourself. Sometimes she would take it out of the drawer and rest it on her knees for several hours. She even went so far as to slide her hand beneath the velvet to caress the shine. The temptation was there, always, within eye’s reach. In the evening, she turned out all the lights of her room and slept with the forbidden object. Slowly, her fingers prickling with fever, she made the fabric slide off the mirror and ran it over her breasts, over her stomach, then arranged it between her thighs. One night, she dreamed that a man dressed in a white coat opened her throat with an immense scalpel and that two young hoods gushed out of her red and volcanic aorta and did as they pleased. In the morning, the ringing of the alarm clock was so brutal that she got up in a bound and the mirror broke. She didn’t count the pieces.
¶ The medusa floats and travels in the undulations of the ocean like an oneirically-oriented structure in search of trauma. Its dome is a shield bombarded with innumerable edible bytes that it processes and instantly digests. Sometimes it opens while giving the impression that it is closing; and then closes in such a way that one would swear it to be opening. Its sensations follow a spiral forever starting anew. The boredom which animates it is of an extreme meticulousness and closer to a chain reaction than to a paradoxical sleep. The medusa is, in turn and simultaneously, the space that its body occupies and the place that it leaves vacant with each undulation of the ambient surroundings. ¶ The medusa is 99% water, but the 1/100th of organic matter that animates it is more powerful than the most powerful nuclear reactor, which not even 9/10ths water would know how to hush up in the case of accident. This improbable 1/100th (of organic matter) comes down to two layers of cells surrounding a gelatinous substance, which cannot help but recall the percentage of hypocrisy by means of which we varnish our sordid aspirations. The body of the medusa offers a radial symmetry, which is to say a symmetry in relation to a central axis, from which radiate its tentacles, over which is superimposed the visible symmetry of the number and arrangement of stinging tentacles. The only other living organism on earth to benefit from radial symmetry is, by all appearances, the reader of a book in his non-reflexive phase (free phase).
For lack of a name, and since a name would have caught him out, thus backwards, in the back, or better, right in the nape of the neck—the locus of all his condensed hatreds and aspirations—he allowed his person to condense into an appellation at once waterproof and absurd: ghost-sniper. From now on he would be no more than this: the ghost-sniper. Had he derived it, this name, through a digital or oneirical route? He didn’t know anything about that. This opaque mask had neither the streaked vigor of the word “samourai” nor the brown roughness of “mercenary,” but it had the advantage of withdrawing into itself like a Rorschach test between blind hands.
After having sorted out his memories, the ghost-sniper erased nearly all of them and reached the following conclusion: Our mothers have stopped being our mothers, our fathers have stopped being their husbands, sons have denied their sisters, sisters have forgotten their brothers, their remains between us no more than a vague cousinhood, let’s stop seeing one another, let’s stop talking to one another, and let’s promise to not recognize one another if by chance it so happens that society shuffles us and deals us again into the same hand—or else, let’s cut off that hand.
[LIFE IS GOING TO MATURE, EVENTS PLAY OUT, SPIRITUAL CONFLICTS BE RESOLVED AND I WON’T TAKE PART. I HAVE NOTHING IN STORE EITHER PHYSICALLY OR MORALLY SPEAKING. FOR ME IT IS PERPETUAL SUFFERING AND DARKNESS, THE NIGHT OF THE SOUL,
AND I HAVE ONLY ONE VOICE WITH WHICH TO CRY.] These last words crossed out in a different ink. No mention of the author. Such is the message that the ghost-sniper left on the coffee table of his living room before leaving for good. Just this phrase: “Life is going to mature, events play out, spiritual conflicts be resolved and i won’t take part. I have nothing in store either physically or morally speaking. For me it is perpetual suffering and darkness, the night of the soul, and i have only one voice with which to cry.”—but already see how it’s dead, this sentence, its wings pinioned to the wood of language; we don’t know what to do with it, because it isn’t intended for us, unless it is we who are dead and pinned, and this sentence is the only one to dream from the bottom of its chrysalis. Held up for comparison, it dissolves. Like us. Like whoever reads it.
This message—life is going to mature, events…—was accompanied by a diagram and a key:
[father breeds father breeds father breeds father
breeds father breeds father breeds father
¶Cyclopes have no memory, or rather yes they do, but it’s a question of a cylindrical memory, similar to a tube or a passageway, which they discharge every night between the thighs of the Two-Eyes. Each section suffers the fate of a ring of calamari: split, stretched, flattened, simmered slowly. ¶Memories don’t withstand this treatment for long, and what Cyclopes have lived dwindles and quickly becomes a gelatinous concoction. Furthermore, life being only a mosaic of more or less colored incidents, certain contrasts are hateful to them and it is with a reddened eyelid that they shut out the world.
Medusa’s mother had been beautiful, but her beauty, like an epithet fallen into disuse, only parodied itself now and, from lack of regular use, became blurred under makeup. The bags under her eyes, which one of her lovers had kindly described as jewel cases, resembled now, but in miniature, those stoup collars which are like an aesthetic compromise between sable and wrinkles. The corners of her mouth, deformed by bursts of laughter less and less justified by the life of her organs, had come to the end of the firmness of her cheeks. Teeth, which always end up biting their master, exacted vengeance on the lips, and her ass hardly knew any longer how to settle down and sit. She had retained a fairly good voice, but was wary of certain too serious lieder that might have revealed in her the advancement of necrosis. Medusa lived with her mother.
Medusa maintained with her mother a, for lack of a better word, a dyslexic relationship, a relationship based on a moral and physical gap—each was the other’s unbeliever. In the morning, Medusa took a long time to acquire all the signs of life, she entered as if backwards into the slurry of the day-to-day, her thoughts still in a state of erasure. In the evening, she mastered the trite machinery so fully that she became irritated. As for her mother, she evaded each chore from sunrise onward, and did so with military efficiency, then she hobbled along calmly toward noon, after which she dwindled—a pocket with a hole in it, a chapped lip—into a fanfare of hiccoughs seasoned with regrets. At one o’clock, the two women felt their energies eye each other up and down, forming a perfect cross.
¶Medusas live in the ignorance of and fascination for blood. Their frequent wounds, caused primarily by coral, industrial waste and moray eels, washed and cauterized by the ambient surroundings, are mediocre receivers which transmit to the control center of their fear only one or two percent of the pain, which in addition is in a synthetic form, purified, deceptive. When they pass into sleep—which for them is only a digression, a transit zone—medusas take advantage of it to sketch out virtual slaughter; they imagine blows, crashes, captures, penetrations, attribute quotients to them, calculate their loss of energy. ¶ Density is for them the most sonorous of abstractions.
To close the door on the past: this picturesque expression, despite its domestic workmanship, summarizes in absentia the founding act of the ghost-sniper. From one day to the next, he left everything. He parked his car, a Daewoo Nubira with 80,000 kilometers on the odometer, after having taken off the license plates (460 LCP 75) and filled the gas tank with valproic acid in front of his neighborhood police station, with, slid under the windshield wiper, an envelope containing matches. To his last employer—the manager of a print shop—he addressed the following letter: [I DON’T WORK FOR YOU ANYMORE. ERGO: I NEVER WORKED FOR YOU.] The rare individuals that he saw socially received, as for them, a copy of the newspaper they normally read, bearing in thick pencil the following imperative: “OUTDATED!”
BRIAN EVENSON is the author of seven books of fiction, most recently The Open Curtain. He directs the Brown University Literary Arts Program. He has translated work by Chrstian Gailly, Jean Frèmon and Jacques Jouet. His novel, Last Days, and a new collection of stories, Fugue State, are forthcoming in ‘09.
Claro is the author of several books of fiction,including Electric Flesh (translated by Brian Evenson)Ezzelina, Livre XIX and Enfilades. He is a prolific translator of North American and international fiction from English into French, including the work of Laurence Gough, Michael Turner, Salman Rushdie, James Flint, Sandra Scoppettone and Thomas Pynchon.