Authors: Yasmina Reza
“Does the light trouble you?”
“I'll switch off the ceiling light, if you like.”
“It's nothing, Marie-Thérèse.”
She's already stood up. She presses the switch to the left of the door. The neon ceiling light and a wall spotlight go out. All that remains is the light on the exhaust fan and the strip lights that illuminate the counter, an absurdly intimate atmosphere that, when she asked, he approved, for, he observes, he can find no reason to resist her action, if she wanted to plunge the entire kitchen into darkness he wouldn't perceive it as inconvenient, he has no opinion, as well the glare
of the neon as darkness, he thinks, as well words spoken as fruit cut up in silence. He has said, it's nothing, Marie-Thérèse, and she has gotten up to switch off the ceiling light, a pointless gesture, since he's not troubled by the light, a misguided solicitude, that both touches and irritates him. Instead of saying, It's nothing, Marie-Thérèse, why not admit everything, and even lay it on a bit thick to alarm her, what's the point of holding things back with this phony decorum that's already been undermined by his knitted brow, the Veinamitol, and his pathetic hand pressed to his eyelids, why not create a bit of atmosphere and say, Marie-Thérèse I have a serious genetic defect, at any moment, in any part of my body, one of the blood vessels could become blocked, even as I speak, I already have a thrombosis of the eye that is complicated by glaucoma, it might occur in my heart or in my brain, before the end of our evening together I could, for example, be struck down by a heart attack, and whether you switch your ceiling light on or off, Marie-Thérèse, makes no difference. The same goes for your essential oils, my poor Marie-Thérèse. I bear you no ill will but I hope you can gauge how ridiculous it was to recommend oil of garlic to me. Oil of garlic to a man with
My wife, Irene, also urges miraculous brews on me. In her case
not from ignorance, but from malice. Internal lotions for the venous system, prescribed by the girl who waxes her legs. Irene cannot tolerate my whining. She's the one who talks about
whining. As if I whined all the time, which isn't true, or which may have become true owing to the fact that, never having known the solace of any kind of tolerance in her, I've ended up emphasizing my complaints, even dramatizing them, in the paradoxical hope of being taken seriously, of melting the other, arousing her compassion. It's true that with my wife, Irene, I exaggerate my suffering and in a general way always have done, whatever my ills were, but I did it to attract her to me and that was a great mistake, Marie-Thérèse, because suffering cannot be communicated, any more than the sense of rejection, which is also called loneliness, can be, any more, which is worse, than grief can be, indeed I'm forced to wonder what can be communicated. Until now I've never had anything serious. All kinds of ills, yes. More or less everyday ills, yes. But nothing serious. I didn't tell you in the Wrangler, Marie-Thérèse, but my father had cancer of the colon. A cancer of a hereditary type, apparently. I'd come to accept the idea of cancer of the colon. My hypothetical worst case, since you need to have one, was the colon. The day I had a polyp-free
colonoscopy I told myself, you're in the clear, nothing can happen to you. A little colonoscopy once every five years and you've nothing to worry about. One morning, Marie-Thérèse, I wake up, I have a flickering sensation in my left eye, I cover the other eye with my hand, and I become aware that my vision's blurred. I say to Irene my vision's blurred, she replies that's all we needed. I say to Irene the sight in my left eye's all hazy, she replies it's a speck of dust, it'll pass. Two days later I tell her I have a thrombosis, she sighs and says that's the last straw. The beautician's lotion is a thick, revolting concoction with a base of virgin vine, concentrated silica, and, I read on the label, because whereas you read instructions for electrical household appliances from start to finish, Marie-Thérèse, I read the labels on medicines from start to finish, of
Witch hazel? I timidly dared to ask a woman who is, after all, a project leader at Issy-les-Moulineaux, a space communications buff. Witch hazel, that's right, she replies with an impatient shrug. You've swallowed far worse in your life. Where was I, Marie-Thérèse? What was I saying? You're lighting a candle on the table, we've gone back into the living room, I see, I'll go wherever you want, I'll sit wherever you want, the kitchen, the living room, it doesn't matter. The pathways I love, the
trails that twist and turn who knows where, are far away.
Marie-Thérèse lights a white candle like an altar candle. From the flame she lights her cigarette. Then she says, do you want to see Alice's letter? Adam watches the thread of black smoke disappearing. He says, show me. Marie-Thérèse lays her cigarette down on a trefoil-shaped ashtray and goes off to fetch the letter.
Alice's letter is addressed to Marie-Thérèse Lyoc, Domaine des Hocquettes, Suresnes 92, Francia. Barely legible over the Spanish stamps, the postmark reads 1971.
Adam takes the sheets of paper out of the envelope. Four pages, covered right up to the edges in handwriting that is instantly recognizable and instantly painful.
MALAGA, SATURDAY AUGUST 14
Mujer (my burden!)
There's never any paper at all in the shithouses in Spain or Morocco, it's still as disgusting as ever and even though you wrote to me on some kind of toilet paper, which was a relief because I thought you were turning bourgeois, I don't use it despite my catching dysentery in the south of Morocco! I've got the cramps and heartburn, etc., it's such a “pain in the
ass” that for the past four days I've stopped smoking … cigarettes. I'm here at the station, on the way back to Paris, a lot of hesitating, as I wanted to stay with Nordine at Diabet (a mile and a half from Essaouira, look on the map, dear). You can live on nothing down there, it's a village where the only people are hippies and Moroccans, but they're not stupid pricks, they take no notice of the hippies, don't regard them as strange animals the way people do everywhere else. Not a single tourist, it's really paradise. My parents would never have been able to find me down there, impossible. When I got here I found a letter from my father that starts like this: “The little notice you take of us speaks volumes for your inability to fulfill your most basic obligations. Am I to assume that you take a similarly casual view of your examination at the start of the new term and, beyond that, the year ahead? I must remind you that there's more to life than running after guitar-strumming morons on the beaches of the Costa del Sol.” You can see what that kind of language does for one's morale! The truth is I find it hard to see myself going back to the lycée. To begin with, I've forgotten everything, absolutely everything, and, besides, for the past three weeks I've been stoned, this is the first day I haven't smoked, not taken my little dose of brain vitamins. You knowghita tea, opium tea? In Morocco everyone's high, even the customs men smoke, you smoke with the policemen, who are great, out in the street, in the cafes
everywhere, you never hide and it costs nothing. For seven francs you can get a pound of very good kif The truth is I can't see myself remaining in Suresnes. Nordine wants to come and meet up with me after working in San Sebastian for a month and we'll go off to Amsterdam where he's got something fixed up. He wants us to get married, have a son, and travel. He's very nice, I like him. I've even talked to him about Tristan and also Julio, who's waitingfor me in Madrid to go off to Argentina and do craft work there. He wants a son, too, it's an obsession, I don't know what's got into them, that they all want a son (apartfrom Tristan). I need to make my mind up once and for all which of them is the best for me, and stay with him and forget all the others because things can't go on like this (at the moment it's going fine).
Here we go! I told Nordine I wasn't going to stay in Madrid but I thought it was too ridiculous, after Julio and me writing rubbish to each other for a year not to go and see him and I went, a bit reluctantly and it was the big WHAMMO, all over again. We were together from 10:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. I've just left him, he was weeping, it
stupid to play at ghosts, we really love each other! I think I'm going to go off to Argentina with him. Of course there's
the question of cash. I'll do all I can to get some, I'll make necklaces with the stones from Mauritania I bought, I'll sell everything, you'll help me, I hope, my love, maybe I'll do fashion photos, at the moment I'm a bit of a walking skeleton. I'll look after children (not mine, I hope, I forgot to take the pill once, I was stoned, I took it next morning), I'll take my exam in the fall, behave extra normally at home, pile up the cash and one day disappear. They won't come lookingfor me in Argentina! Two things are a pain in the ass, leaving my burden (you) and then Tristan. I don't know how I'll react when I see him again, I think I really want to make him suffer. I've bought some hookahs and some pipes, I haven't smoked for two days now but my pupils refuse to go back to normal. There I go, ranting on, my love, I'm sorry, all I'm doing is talking about myself but it does me good to get it off my chest, I'm afraid you're always the one who catches it. To answer your question: Adam Haberberg may have been in love with me, like half the boys in the lycée (no false modesty, girl!!!) but first of all, let me reassure you, he's not my type at all, too transparent! You're the one who interests him now, I'm sure. Get your little brain working: Why do you think he walked home with us after the party at Meudon? If it had been for my sake he wouldn't have walked me home first and you second. If he walked you home second it was to be alone with you. He's in love with you but he's shy, you're pathetically shy, the pair of
you. Instead of stupidly crying your eyes out every night when you think of him, make the first move, girl! What's the risk? You're well matched, he's nice, he's good-looking, you'll always have plenty of time to meet sons of bitches, the streets are full of them, and when some son of a bitch takes your virginity, you'll say, “Oh! Where have all the nice guys like Adam gone!” Write me a long letter to Suresnes, I'm going to be alone and the chances are I won't be feeling too great when Iget back, especially if I've no cash for the vitamins a girl needs for her peace of mind. We're just coming to the frontier, I'll try to mail this letter if there's a box. I'm sending this to you at Hocquettes, I've lost your address in Cavalaire-sur-Mer, I hope they forward it. Have fun, my love. Do lots of bathing and if you see something nice, buy it for me.
Alice. Vpeace to you.
Adam folds up the pages. He slides them under the envelope without looking up. The Spanish stamps depict a mournful man dressed in black with a white collar against a black background. Each worth four pesetas.
Marie-Thérèse sits bolt upright on the sofa, smoking yet another cigarette, he thinks, since the previous one couldn't have lasted that long. They can hear the awning tapping outside the window. One of life's
trivial sounds, he thinks, but nothing's trivial right now, he tells himself, as the revelation of an utterly dead past mingles with a devastating confession. If he'd been in a different mood he could have laughed it off (though no one laughs lightly here in the funeral vault of Viry-Châtillon). And if he'd been in a different mood he would have heard nothing melancholy in the rattling of the awning. He's read these pages without suffering any shock, he tells himself. If the past is now turning into this incoherent hubbub, the present is destined for the same fate. Is it the essence of time sooner or later to be nothing more than an incoherent hubbub? Turned to stone in front of her altar candle, Marie-Thérèse pays no heed to these sterile questionings, she's triggered her device and now she waits. But what are you waiting for, Marie-Thérèse, you who up until now seemed literally inoffensive? You've kept this letter for more than thirty years. Could you know that one night of madness I'd come and collapse in your mortuary? In a different mood I'd be laughing about it, as I'll laugh tomorrow with Albert. I'd remark casually and with a mocking air, So, Marie-Thérèse, is that how it was, did I haunt your nights? Tomorrow I'll have a good laugh with Albert. Provided I leave here unharmed, provided I can negotiate what comes next with intelligence. The
pressure on his eyes has now spread right across his face. Adam approves the giant hand pressing down on his temples, the center of his forehead, his cheekbones. That the pain should abandon the fateful territory of his eyes is a victory in itself, he thinks. But why must my body sanction such a completely irrational anguish? In a different mood I wouldn't take a tragic view of an unfortunate development. But I'm not in a different mood. I'm in a mood to take a tragic view of any barrier to my peace of mind. Is it reasonable to blame someone for his mood? To Irene, who is constantly critical of all his ups and downs, he had declared, I see nothing in the constituent elements of a man more philosophical than his mood. What you call contradictions, Irene, are simply changes of perspective. I know I was the one, he'd said, who proposed Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, thinking forty-eight hours with all four of us by the seaside, that's within the reach of any ordinary family, and I reproached you for doing the packing halfheartedly, I reproached you for not seeming happy to be going off with your husband and children to eat seafood on the Cotentin, I said if your family pisses you off you shouldn't have embarked on this adventure, I probably said it in less well chosen words, I no longer recall, I said when you have a family you have to accept the
constraints. At Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue I didn't want to rent bicycles, I criticized the town, the sea, the people, the prices, I criticized the children's upbringing, everywhere I pulled a dour face, you said no one wanted this weekend, it was entirely your idea and you displayed such freakish energy in making it happen, you're the one that dragged us into this nightmare thanks to your sudden faith in harmony, your inexplicable and furious desire for harmony. Irene, at the moment when I'm saying let's go to Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, I really believed that joy is possible in Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, we've hardly gotten onto the staircase with the suitcases when I know no joy is possible in Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue or anywhere else, in the car I bounce back again. I create a good atmosphere, I deliver a lecture on the tides, I say we're going to see seagulls, I say we're going to collect seashells, which is, in fact, the last thing in the world that interests me, I could never give a damn about seashells, seashells never meant anything to me but I sincerely believe we can suddenly make friends with seashells, I sing old chart-toppers and put on funny voices to make people laugh, I buy a water pistol, which you disapprove of and you're right, the water pistol is a stupidity, and we stop talking and we're all unhappy in the car as it continues heading for God
knows where. Maybe one day, Irene, I'll no longer believe that joy is possible in Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue or anywhere else, it'll be no to everything in advance, you'll no longer have to suffer from my moods, there'll be no more doomed departures. The sphinx Lyoc has stubbed out her cigarette. When Adam finally looks at her she's taken off her sneakers and stretched out her legs on the sofa. He still has the envelope and the pages of the letter in his hand. What does she expect? Why did she show him that letter? A woman who doesn't dare cross an empty boulevard with the other pedestrians. What's the significance of this silence and this somewhat languid posture? On top of the thrombosis, the Cotentin, the disaster of his book, did he need Marie-Thérèse Lyoc as a hetaera in Viry-Châtillon? She's left a blue night-light on in the kitchen. The way things are going, he thinks, trapped between the autopsy room and the darkness of the lake, I am being
to respond to a fantasy from thirty years ago. Tomorrow Albert and I will laugh. For an instant the possibility of an embrace crosses his mind. He studies Marie-Thérèse for the first time and notes that, by the flickering light of the altar candle, doubtless enhanced by the oblique backlighting, she has the hint, he thinks, not of a mustache but a goatee. He notices the shoulders, towering
above the Albertian bosom, abnormally vigorous shoulders. She's strong, he says to himself, she's a crusher. I must confess my thrombosis to her. The thrombosis is a valid reason for not going the whole hog. I'm afraid it's no good your hoping for me to be physically compliant and available, Marie -Thérèse… . What if she doesn't understand what I'm driving at? Or pretends not to understand? You can't go in like a bull at a gate. Women want preliminaries. They want to hear words, declarations, declarations of weakness if need be, of uncertainty, of impotence, any old declaration. You thought you were safe from life here in this hideaway in Viry. You didn't foresee life effecting an entry through who knows which door, and compelling you to negotiate, not some carnal and in any case physically impossible issue, nor the resultant humiliation to which you attach no importance, but a lurch toward pity. Pity, he thinks, directed just as much toward Marie-Thérèse as to himself, a funereal pity, reaching out toward the light, to objects, to the cold edges of the walls. A pity, he knows, which he could make use of right now, and which would in some sense be the only valid argument for writing, but which, failing a miracle, he will not, he believes, have either the time or the strength to exploit. It's all happening too late, he thinks. And it
all comes down to the same thing. To have been Adam Haberberg or Marie-Thérèse Lyoc, the faces in black and white in the school yard at Suresnes, the faces now lying there on the table in a row, kept apart by everything in the old days, it all comes back to the same thing. Little by little, he thinks, what we took for reality proves to be an illusion, name, work, the future. Outside the window he hears the gulls crying. Cries from far away arriving to underline the unreal and aberrant silence that must, he thinks, be broken at all costs. How am I going to get home? A taxi? In Viry-Châtillon after dark? It would be better to fake an apoplectic fit and call an ambulance. But it's Marie-Thérèse who stirs. She gets up and walks around the low table. When she reaches him she seizes the pages of the letter and holds them to the candle flame. What on earth are you doing! cries Adam, getting up at once and grasping the pages to save them. Marie-Thérèse hangs on. Stop, Marie-Thérèse, it's idiotic! “What's it to you?” she says, pushing away Adam's hands and clinging firmly to the bundle. Adam fights back, drags at the paper and gathers up the torn fragments. It makes no sense, Marie-Thérèse! he implores, mesmerized by her frenzied action.