Rendezvous from Cruels, 13, short storiesby Luc Lang
I love her – madly – desperately – bask in her light – she enshrouds me in the aura of her electromagnetic field, her touch suffuses me with a sweet and tender warmth like that of her belly and inner thighs – my breathing is affected by it to the point of suffocation when we are in each other's arms – but the other night as guests at the house of some friends we found ourselves in a long corridor embracing, taking advantage of a few moments alone – there was this damned mirror, and I made the fatal error of raising my head instead of leaving it safely nestled at her throat in the balm of her hair – and then suddenly I perceived us as, yes, a couple in fusion, reflected in the glass – nothing but an empty image – I was shattered, assailed by a devastating stupor, no longer in her arms, distanced from myself, from her, from us, in the most brutal way – that image has become an obstacle for me, a boundary-line, and I can no longer hold her close to me, as though the reflection's glacial magic had somehow established an unbridgeable gap between us – And so I, who used always to be on time, if not early, for our appointments, began coming late, or more accurately on time but given to hiding and, yes, watching her waiting for me before appearing by her side – formerly she was wont to spot me even before approaching with her light step, as though with winged sandals on her adorable feet – the first time she waited for me, alone for five minutes on the Avenue des Gobelins behind a bus shelter's glass partition, I had the chance to observe a sort of astonishment, not to say a wave of anxiety creep across the chiseled features and well-defined bone structure of her face – at my second late arrival I got the feeling, and it upset me, that she was irritated and that her innocence, so well disposed to love, was compromised by the shadow of a doubt – but, driven by who knows what devilish mechanism, little by little I increased the length of her wait, progressing from five to fifteen minutes during May – I watched dark shadows accumulating on the sweet contours of her countenance, her smile fading, her élan deflating – her walk altered, she became slow-footed, hesitant, in silhouette hunched slightly, her skin's vitality gone, and her body, once so free, so attuned to what the next moment might bring, so brim-full of euphoric energy, was transformed into the afflicting scene of happiness in its death throes, while I, lurking behind a tree, a car, or sometimes ensconced in a dark corner of a café, resisted joining her and felt ravaged by a malaise that was reducing my being to rubble – sometimes, when after too long a wait she left for home, or went to the devil for all I knew, after contemplating her retreating back for a moment I trotted in pursuit and caught up with her out of breath and feeling each time as though I were climbing a higher and higher mountain – and then, in the middle of June, I watched her for nearly twenty-five minutes pacing up and down the sidewalk outside a pharmacy opposite the Salpêtrière Hospital, consulting her watch and trying to call me several times on her cell phone - I had become aware that she was especially agitated, indeed in a cold fury, when all of a sudden she stopped pacing and set off at a run, taking big strides, with all the intensity of sheer flight, and disappeared as she turned right into the Boulevard de Port-Royal – my drink was paid for and I barged out of the café, shouldering my way past two customers and almost overturning a table as I went, and started running myself, inhabited now by a horrible panic - I covered a hundred yards at top speed before plunging down the Boulevard and spotting her at last, two minutes ahead of me, with her yellow dress flapping in the wind – I caught up with her, grabbed her arm, so terribly sorry my darling, you have to forgive me – she started in fright and scrutinized me with great green eyes – you are out of your mind! what's the matter with you?! – Oh, excuse me, excuse me, Mademoiselle, I was mistaken! I took you – she stared at me, I could see the fear in her look, then she shrugged and went on her way – contemplating her back, its fine curve, my loins urged me to catch up with her again – but, for God's sake, she can't have just vanished into thin air! Vulture-eyed, I scanned the Boulevard once more – ah! there she is! that's her! yes, in a red pleated skirt and a black leather jacket – I dashed across the street, scrambled past the hood of a car braking in a screech of tires and resumed my chase before she was swallowed up by the metro, getting to her finally, seizing her arm – so very sorry, my darling, please, please forgive me, I – leaping aside, she choked back a scream and turned to me breathlessly: are you crazy? you gave me a fright! you must be nuts! – oh! pardon me please! it's – I mistook you for someone else – yes, but then, did she ever come? – will she never come again?
Copyright © 2008 by Luc Lang. English translation copyright © 2008 by Donald Nicholson-Smith. All rights reserved.
Luc Lang is the prize-winning French author of, among others: Voyage sur la ligne d'horizon (Paris: Gallimard, 1988; Prix Freustié); Furies (Paris: Gallimard, 1995); Mille six cents ventres (Paris: Stock, 1998; Prix Goncourt des Lycéens; published in English translation as Strange Ways (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000; Phoenix, 2002)); Les Indiens (Paris: Stock, 2001); Cruels, 13 (Paris: Stock, 2008; Prix Ozoir'elles; two stories from this collection, "Face?" and "Lord's Day" appear in translation in Fiction #54 (Brooklyn, 2008)). Lang has also published the startling autobiographical work, 11 septembre mon amour (Stock, 2003). He writes widely on contemporary art and on the art of the novel and teaches aesthetics at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts de Paris et Cergy. Cruels, 13 is forthcoming in English translation from the University of Nebraska Press.
Donald Nicholson-Smith's translations include works by Guy Debord, Jean Piaget, Jean-Patrick Manchette, Paco Ignacio Taibo, J.-B. Pontalis & Jean Laplanche, Thierry Jonquet, Henri Lefebvre, and Raoul Vaneigem. At present he is at work on Apollinaire's Letters to Madeleine, as sent from the trenches of Champagne in 1915. Born in Manchester, England, Nicholson-Smith is a longtime denizen of Brooklyn.