Authors: Yasmina Reza
In the kingdom of the couple the mild voice with no memory is no more. Adam thinks again about that analogy between couples and houses, an idiotic analogy, like all analogies, what can Goncharki know about couples, drunks have no business putting forward theories on any subject, even though drunks have a greater lust for theories than anyone else. Apparently the ostrich is a great seducer, he's just read this. The male ostrich has a harem, which he apparently assembles after performing an irresistible courtship display. And you, poor creatures, thinks Adam, observing the pair alone behind the wire netting, do you occasionally make some kind of wild display, you poor creatures, trembling there under the drizzle in that cement enclosure? Irene would have liked to live in the shadow of a man. For Irene a successful life would have been subordinating her own to a man's success. That was what Irene had dreamed of, to be a powerful man's bondwoman. Being a vilified writer's wife was for Irene the worst possible scenario. Before he was vilified, Irene had supported him with all her strength, she had stimulated and encouraged him, she had everywhere extolled his excellence, and she had, Adam thinks, truly believed in his excellence. Could she go back on this? Could she accept society's verdict without going back on her own? Not least because
society's verdict doesn't come all at once. Society's verdict is insidious. The first book had had a mainly favorable reception. The second had been totally demolished. The latest had been ignored by everyone except Theodore Onfray, who had alluded with a note of skepticism to the miraculous praise accorded to the first. Irene was trapped, it was her duty to maintain solidarity with the vilified poet against the world. She whose most secret dream was to sacrifice herself for a man. To sacrifice herself for a man who won recognition would have been a kind of achievement for Irene, she would never, in any case, have spoken of sacrificing herself, since she would have sacrificed only the social part of herself, her useless part. Instead of which she'd had to resign herself to the path in life for which her randomly oriented studies had prepared her. After the Higher National Telecommunications School and several years of professional experience, while pregnant with their first child, she'd done an MBA on space radiocommu-nications systems and was now working as project head at France-Télécom's Research and Development Department in Issy-les-Moulineaux. As for a brilliant career, Adam thinks there on his bench, an expression that often comes to mind, and in exactly these words, Irene Haberberg is the one who's had one.
“So how was Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue?” says Albert, who's just called him back. “Catastrophic.” “Of course.” “Where's Martine?” “In the supermarket.” “Are you outside?” “Yes.” “So you've got fuck all to do.” “What do you mean I've got fuck all to do? What about you? At least you ate some oysters?” “Sure. They're the best on the whole North Atlantic coast.” “Who told you that?” “My friend in Cherbourg.” “The best are Cancale.” “Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue.” “Cancale or Marennes-Oléron.” “Oléron is way down south!” “The best are Cancale or Oléron, everyone knows that.” “OK, you're getting on my nerves.
A woman emerges from the shop. At the top of the steps to the big cats' house a woman has emerged from the shop. She sets down her two bags and opens a folding umbrella. Adam watches her walking down the steps and as she walks down the steps it looks as if she's watching him. Adam turns back toward the ostriches. It looks as if she's coming toward me, he thinks, staring hard at the ostriches. He takes a sidelong squint. She's coming toward him. A woman on the verge of smiling, encumbered with two bags and an umbrella, is approaching him. Marie-Thérèse Lyoc. Marie-Thérèse Lyoc, Adam thinks. And immediately thinks, no, not Marie-Thérèse Lyoc here,
today, no. And then he thinks, for such is fate, yes it is.
“You recognize me?”
She stands there, unable to get over it and bursting with energy.
You couldn't call her ugly, thinks Adam. You couldn't have called her ugly thirty years ago, nor today either, he thinks, what you could have called her at the time, as now, was insignificant, even though at the time, he thinks, it would not have occurred to anyone to describe her at all, if it occurs to him today it's because by appearing from nowhere, by taking the form of a happening during the course of a day set aside for lethargy and gloomy thoughts, Marie-Thérèse has suddenly become somebody.
“This is great,” she laughs.
There's a silence. And then a sudden squall blows everything toward the Crimean pine, including the umbrella, which is transformed into a feather duster. Adam gets up to help her, trying to put the ribs the right way round. Marie-Thérèse laughs in the wind, struggling with the fabric; he doesn't hear her very well as she says, You see, I've not changed, clumsiness incarnate!
“You don't need it, it's stopped raining,” says Adam.
The umbrella resumes its shape and the wind blows itself out.
“I know. In fact I never use an umbrella. I generally have a little rain hat. And the day I forget my rain hat, there's a howling gale, my hair's blowing all over my face, and I run into Adam Haberberg.”
You run into Adam Haberberg, himself bald, puffy, soon to be blind in one eye, my God, he thinks, how time wrecks us.
“So, Marie-Thérèse,” he says with a start, “what's new, Marie-Thérèse, a thousand years on?”
“You want some hot news? I need glasses. That's a fact, from this morning.”
“What kind of glasses?”
“For farsightedness. That's the truth. Do you wear glasses?”
“What frightens me is that this is only the start.” She's wiped the damp bench with a tissue and sat down beside Adam. “I can still read everything, you know, I get slight headaches, there are times when I have to frown but I can read everything, and I have the feeling that as soon as I start wearing glasses it's going to get worse in no time at all. The optometrist says no, but everywhere you look there are people who start
wearing glasses and within a year they can't even decipher
a restaurant menu.”
“Well, that's true… .”
“But you're going to tell me, OK, we all come to it.”
“And you, what about you?”
“Are you married? You have children?”
“And what do you do?”
“Are you making it?”
“I'm making it,” he says, thinking, What vulgarity.
“And are you making it? What are you doing these days?” thinking, did I ever know what she was capable of doing, did I ever know she existed.
“I sell merchandise.”
On top of the thrombosis, the failure of the book, and the weekend on the Cotentin did he need Marie -Thérèse Lyoc? On top of the rain, the wind, and the wretched animal from the forests of Asia, after
considerable efforts to keep his head above water, did he need Marie-Thérèse Lyoc selling merchandise? Marie-Thérèse opens the larger of her two bags.
“I work with zoos, amusement parks, and museums. We're in a zoo here, so it's all customized to relate to animals; I have mini fridge magnets, traditional fridge magnets, magnetic words, a pocket flashlight, look, an unbreakable ruler, there's a giraffe motif on this one but at Giverny there'd be a picture by Monet, a ballpoint, same thing, a different theme for each site, all kinds of pencils with heads, here you've got a parrot, a bear, they used to do little animals but they don't do them anymore, they get all this stuff from Asia.”
Adam switches on the pocket flashlight, he bends the unbreakable ruler, he stares at the eraser, the little notebook, the key ring, and he seems interested in the box of mini magnets, she tells him I'll give it to you, she says how many children do you have, he says two, she says right I'll give you two of them and two bookmarks, the cat and the frog, she says you're a writer, would you like a ballpoint, here, Gustav Klimt, that should suit you, Adam tries the ballpoint in the air, he finds it unpleasant at the end of his fingers but he says terrific, that shop didn't exist, Marie-Thérèse says proudly, then one day I came to the
menagerie, I met the person in charge of promotion but the menagerie had no structure for buying products. I pestered them for months and that's how the shop came into being, Adam says fantastic. She closes up her bag of samples, which is like a box of toys, in a few minutes, he thinks, the world has changed, the spectacles, the eraser, the parrot, he puts the mini magnets, the bookmarks, the ballpoint, the soothing world of Marie-Thérèse Lyoc into his pockets, he feels like a sick person who sees people on the sidewalk in the distance and envies the ordinary passerby.
“And what were you doing here?”
“Nothing. I was watching the ostriches.”
“Oh my! I've been coming here for months and I never noticed the ostriches.”
Marie-Thérèse smiles into the void. She doesn't seem perturbed by this disjointed exchange. He turns toward her, finding really nothing to say to her, then smiles as well and she becomes radiant, and Adam Haberberg feels a mounting inner confusion. He says, I've become bald, haven't I? She says, just a touch. A great big touch. Just a touch but it suits you. I ought to get up and walk away, he thinks. I ought to get up and say good-bye and good luck, Marie-Thérèse. He says, I've put lotions on it, I've battled with it, but you can see how it is. She bursts out laughing, Oh my,
what a fuss you make about it! He has a memory of her, he sees her again in a corridor at the Lycée Paul-Langevin, in a time now gone forever, in a corridor he'll never walk in again, wearing her pinafore dress, day after day wearing that same pleated dress he remembers, Marie-Thérèse Lyoc, the faceless girl, trailing along in the same class as him for several years, and with whom he would finally walk down the street or board a bus. One day she turns up with you in a café because Alice Canella, whose slave she has become, says, make a space for Marie-Thérèse, so you make a space for Marie-Thérèse, who doesn't exist, who's neither brunette, nor blond nor anything. She says what kind of books do you write?
“Popular fiction series.”
That's what he'll do in future, he thinks, thinking about himself as if he were a character escaping from his own control. And it's so easy to say it, he thinks, I manufacture pulp fiction, as you might say, I manufacture chair covers, it's direct, it's frank. It's anonymous. Marie-Thérèse says, so what are popular fiction series?
“Series, you know the kind of thing? Bob Moräne?
The Famous Five? Remember?”
“Oh yes, the Famous Five.”
“Francis Coplan, Agent OSS 117.”
“Well, there you are.”
On the deserted pathway a child walks past with its mother. One of the ostriches straightens up and fluffs out all its feathers. Look, cries the child, it's pooped! Oh yes, says the mother. The ground in the enclosure is covered in pools of water, the birds make their way around them, everything is gray. In one of the first Blade stories Goncharki wrote, Adam remembers, Goncharki had used the words
Don't ever say tommy gun, the publisher was incensed, you say machine gun or machine pistol, you're writing for men who'll be reading it in the train on the way back to barracks. The men who read me, Goncharki had said, are the guy on the station platform, the guy alone in his room in the provinces, all loners.
“And Alice Canella?” says Adam. He would never have wanted to say, and Alice Canella. In fact it was the last thing he would have wanted to say. Luckily the cell phone rings.
“Riec-sur-Belon.” “What the hell's that about?” “Ouistreham.” “Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue.” “No one's heard of them.” “How do you know?” “Martine
asked the fishmonger.” “Tell her the fishmonger's crap.” “You still in the Jardin des Plantes?” “Yes … with a woman friend of mine.” “Do you make all your assignations at the Jardin des Plantes?” “I didn't have an assignation. Where's Martine?” “At the dry cleaner. Have you just picked her up?” “No.” “Pretty?” “No.” “Screwable?” “By you, yes.” “Introduce me.” “You've got Martine.” “What's that to do with it?” “OK. I'll call you later.”
Don't repeat the question, he thinks, don't say, and have you seen Alice Canella again?
“And have you seen Alice Canella again?”
“Didn't you hear?”
“Hear what?” “Alice is dead.”
Above the entrance to the building there's a kind of Soviet-style bas-relief. From where he stands Adam can see a woman carrying a stag suspended by its legs from a pole. Alice Canella is dead. “When?”
“Twenty years ago.”
He also believes he can detect the sound of a fountain away somewhere on the right. What I should do, he thinks, is go and see if there really is a fountain behind those bushes.
“She threw herself out the window.”
Marie-Thérèse Lyoc discreetly presses her legs together. She leans on her bag of samples and endures the wet wind without stirring. Marie-Thérèse doesn't dare say any more. But then she says, she was heavily into drugs, you know, after that she kicked the habit and became fat.
“Yes. Really fat.”
Up in that attic room, thinks Adam, Alice Canella used to dance with her long blond hair and her slender legs, we listened over and over to “Little Wing,” she danced to “You Got Me Floatin' “ in front of the boys smoking on the bed, we were the kings of the future.
“I can't imagine her fat.”
He puts his hand to his left eye. He has the feeling that a moment ago things behind the eye suddenly deteriorated. It feels to him like a maelstrom, a generalized extravasation—he recalls the word—caused, he thinks, by the rupture of the collateral vessels, that he ought, he reproaches himself, to have had analyzed and subjected to laser treatment, having been perfectly well alerted to the fact that this temporary cirdilatory
network would be of poor quality and shouldn't be relied on to sustain the white heat of life, nor its deep shadows, nor life itself. All right? says Marie-Thérèse. He takes his hand away and stares at one of the two ostriches. It has an endearing head, he thinks, a long, slender neck and a tiny head in relation to its body, he can see it clearly, he notices, just as clearly as before, he takes the ballpoint out of his pocket and can see that clearly, likewise the frog bookmark, he sees them clearly, just as clearly as before, apart from the unreality engulfing the whole day. The disturbance hasn't had any physical consequences so far, he thinks. He can get used to internal spasms, if he has to, provided they don't interfere with the functioning of his senses, provided everything remains in good order.