Authors: Yasmina Reza
“Yes, all right,” he says.
“What are you doing now?”
“Right away. We're not going to stay here.”
What do you mean, we're not going to stay here? Could he have foreseen a more extravagant remark?
“I'm going home now, you're welcome to come if you're free.”
“Where do you live?”
“Beyond Orly airport, heading south.” Adam thinks again of Albert waiting in the parking lot at Eldorauto in Lognes. Why does he remain dangerously silent? There are thousands of ways of avoiding Viry-Châtillon. He must be at death's door if he's hearing himself being offered a visit to Viry-Châtillon.
“Do you live alone?”
On the other hand, he thinks, what's the alternative to Viry-Châtillon? The children in front of a cartoon, sprawled across a floor strewn with the remnants of Kiddy-Treats and Napolitain cookies, the rude shock of switching channels, the shouts of fury mingled with the start of the news bulletin, Irene's shouts when she gets back because they're not in bed, because they're not wearing slippers and dressing gowns, Irene's exhaustion, the battle over their teeth, the battle of bedtime, the lesson in motherhood from Irene leading her heroic, solitary life at his side, her only conversation being about domestic matters. Alice Canella is dead. Alice Canella became fat and threw herself out the window. So is it yes? says Marie-Thérèse.
She gets up.
“I have my Jeep here.”
“You have a Jeep?”
“It's that little Wrangler.”
She points to a black Jeep on the parking lot. Marie-Thérèse has a Jeep.
“Are you allowed to park on this lot?”
“Oh yes,” she says, “I have a permit. I even drive the car into Versailles. I've had my photo taken there in the summer, because when a woman in sunglasses with a car like mine drives through the gate of honor, the Japanese say, Hey, that must be someone important.”
There is indeed a fountain behind the bushes. A hidden fountain with an ancient, patinated lion towering above it. I should call home, Adam thinks. He moves away from the sound of running water to call the babysitter. He's cold. The daylight is beginning to fade. In the Jeep Marie-Thérèse says, it guzzles quite a lot of gas, eighteen miles to the gallon, but that's normal for a big engine, the interior's completely washable, you can run a hose over the inside, it seems strange the first time, I've always liked four-by-fours, I don't act like a four-by-four in my car, but I feel safe in it, I do so much driving in the course of a year.
Adam feels at ease in the Jeep. He's happy to be high up, happy to be driven. Irene never takes the wheel when they're together. He's happy to be alone in the world, heading toward Viry-Châtillon. In the car driving over to the Cotentin he'd had the thought, this family, just an ax and a moonless night, I'll soon polish them off. Irene had remained mute until Caen. The older boy wanted to hear “Les Loups” for the fifteenth time. Is that Madonna, Daddy? the little one said. He's a complete moron, this boy, that's Serge Reggiani, you can tell it's a man singing. Now listen to this, children, Sonata Number 5 in F Minor, the most beautiful sound in the world. I generally take the throughway, says Marie-Thérèse, but we'll take Route Nationale 20 because I have a little shopping to do in Sceaux. At this time of day it doesn't take much longer. I want “Les Loups” right now! Learn to be silent, children, and look at that castle, it'll be gone in a flash. I can't wait till we get to the thingy where you're going to buy a pocket ball. Here's what happens in
, right, there's this girl, right, she's brushing her hair and her brother comes in and he's got a knife hidden. I don't give a damn, I don't give a damn about your stupid pocket ball and
, I'm listening to Bach, who reassures me of the fact that a superior humanity exists. Thanks to
you I'll have swallowed sixteen vanilla-flavored licorice cough drops and you're supposed to eat only one every two days! They turn into the Boulevard de l'Hôpital. Passing the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, Adam thinks about his very first publisher, the only man who ever had faith in him. It's no small thing in life, a man who has faith in you. It gives you strength and courage. Adam recalls him, his tousled hair, his implants sticking up in all directions, his hospital gown split up the back over his white shorts—in a garment like that you can talk only standing up face-to-face or in profile, otherwise you're in trouble. There he was in his room in the cardiology unit at the Pitié-Salpêtrière, somewhere in the depths of those buildings, saying, everything's fine, guys, the medics say I'm going back to Paris at the end of the week. You never
to Paris and here I am heading toward God knows where. Look what's become of me, was that what you had in mind? A man who has faith in you, that's something that keeps your head above water. Adam thinks about his publisher, now dead and gone. Dying had smartened him up. The funeral director's staff had dressed him in a new jacket chosen by his wife. He looked heavy. Heavy on his bed, absurdly smartly dressed with gleaming shoes. Does one have to be dressed? thinks Adam. Who'll
dress me? With a bit of luck it could still be you, Irene. Because we won't do anything, people don't split up, people don't split up, they stay together locked in tedium and dementia. Marie-Thérèse has stopped at a traffic light. The windshield wipers slide groaning across the glass, night falls, it's hard to tell if it's still raining or not. How does she arrive at that hairstyle? thinks Adam, noticing the presence of a woman at the wheel of a red car beside him. Does she sit down and say give me a Joan of Arc haircut? So are you well-known? As a writer? Excuse me for asking, says Marie-Thérèse, I'm always behind the times. These days, Marie-Thérèse, as you should know, but you do know it, as your question sadly proves, the worst calamity is to be nobody. As a result of this, Adam continues, not knowing from where exactly inside him these orotundities are issuing forth here in the Place d'Italie, everyone produces books, this still being the least hazardous recipe for moving from nothingness into the light. Nowadays fame via literature is the most widely shared aspiration, a new social reflex, you see. Some succeed, some fail, I personally have failed. I'm a failure. Marie-Thérèse turns right. They proceed down the Avenue d'Italie. Adam stares at the signs as if he were passing through a foreign city. The word
strikes him. Marie-Thérèse
drives the Jeep in silence—it's clear she likes driving her Jeep—then she says, what have you failed? She turns a distressed face toward him. In the distance Adam becomes aware of the Charléty Stadium in a misty glow. Marie-Thérèse pushes buttons. Adam accepts the fog. There we were, walking along that street in the Suresnes district and Alice Canella stopped and said to me, you're my best friend, Adam. I'd have given her, if she'd wanted it, my time, my dreams, my life. She wanted nothing, you're my best friend, Adam, she said. What have you failed? asks Marie-Thérèse. And he hears himself replying, maybe nothing that was worth the trouble.
“What a strange way to talk. We're still young,” says Marie-Thérèse.
“I don't think so.”
“We're not even fifty.”
It's imperative, thinks Adam, to leap out and escape into the traffic. Instead of which he extracts a little notebook from his pocket and records Marie-Thérèse's remark with the Gustav Klimt ballpoint. Then he says, where do the zoo animals go at night? Do they take them in?
“Why should they? They stay outside in their natural state.”
“They're not in their natural state.”
He again pictures that solitary animal from the forests of Asia in its pathetic enclosure, feeling an affinity for this dejected creature. With a bit of luck the mist will have blanketed your pathetic enclosure, the noise of cars along the Quai Saint-Bernard will be like a distant rumble. In the mountains one can rise above the mist, he thinks, in the mountains one climbs high into the clouds and at every step the landscape changes, as do the light and the smells and the weariness and the joy that have no place in time, for they are things outside of time, he thinks, now stationary on the Boulevard Kellermann. I've never written about the mountains. When it comes to the footpaths and trails I love, I'm tongue-tied. So what's this thing about popular fiction series? says Marie-Thérèse.
“I don't write popular fiction series. It's a friend of mine.”
“He's called Jeffrey Lord. He generally writes about ten books a year.”
“That's a lot.”
“Yes. That's why I sometimes give him a hand. I write one or two for him.”
Adam studies Marie-Thérèse's remark in his notebook again.
We're not even fifty.
He has circled the
He circles it again. Adam was putting his latest book behind him. In seeking to break all ties with his personal emotions, he told himself—not wanting to succumb to the abject fashion for autobiography— he'd broken all ties with himself. He'd calculated too much, planned too much, given too much thought to literature. A real writer gives no thought to literature. A real writer doesn't give a damn about literature. He'd wanted to make his mark, which is another way of flaunting one's ego in the marketplace. He'd lacked humility, he knew. The result was an account of a mother-son relationship written in the third person from the mother's point of view. Two fatal mistakes as far as he was concerned. And what a mistake, he thinks, to assume Theodore Onfray is motivated by malice. Maybe your only friend, the only one who took the trouble to read you and form his own opinions, the only one to deplore your artificiality and feebleness. Adam had not entirely lied to Marie-Thérèse Lyoc. Goncharki had developed an aversion to Richard Blade, the intergalactic traveler who provided his livelihood. Pressed and harassed, as he put it, by the publisher and unable to deliver a title on schedule, he'd jokingly invited Adam to stand in for him. After two and a half weeks, a record time for a beginner, during which he'd done nothing but remain
hunched over his computer, eating dried fruit and energy bars, Adam presented Goncharki with
The Black Prince of Mea-Hor.
Goncharki had skimmed through the manuscript and declared it to be far and away the best of all the Blade books he'd ever written. And not only the best he'd ever written but quite probably, although he'd read only one of them at the beginning and had no memory of it, the best of all the Blades ever written in America or anywhere else. You're the real Jeffrey Lord! he'd toasted him. Who's Jeffrey Lord? Adam had asked, not knowing what nom de plume he'd just assumed. They'd wept with laughter and Goncharki had risen to his feet, thundering at the whole bistro in Churchillian tones, because he was going through a Churchillian period,
We are at war! Now, we are condemned to work each other to ruin, and will TEAR your African empire to SHREDS and desert!
Under Adam's pen the intergalactic hero had, of course, moved out of line a little from his usual persona and this subcontracting had at once been spotted by the
Had it not been for Goncharki's charm and the objectively excellent quality of
The Black Prince of Mea-Hor
, the affair might have ended in tragedy. Up to seven o'clock in the evening Goncharki was good at managing things. On the very same day he'd negotiated his own exit from the Blade
series, his recruitment into the Enforcer series, which he'd had his eye on, and his replacement by Adam Haberberg, who seemed unbelievably at ease in the galactic universe. Four titles per year, three thousand euros gross per title, such was the basis of the offer made to Adam without further ado. An offer he'd not been able to respond to and one which would have shattered him had not the news of the thrombosis arrived to sweep away the existential shock of it. Thrombosis. What a horrible word, thinks Adam, raising his hand to his eye and remembering that the pain, although reduced, is still there. I've just finished a biography of Leonardo da Vinci, says Marie-Thérèse.
“I really like biographies.”
“When I've a meeting, I really have to target. It's important for the customer to say to himself, she doesn't just sell anything to anybody. Take the meeting I had at the Clos Lucée, the house Francois I gave him. I really focused on the target beforehand so as to maximize my chances of opening up an account with this customer. I'm lucky to have a professional occupation that opens me up to fresh horizons. Right, I'm going to pass, that one's getting on my nerves. Some
specialists say this is the best off-road vehicle in the world, you know. The sales representative of today, if he wants to succeed, needs to look beyond the confines of his own little business.”
“Of course,” says Adam, noting Marie-Thérèse's jeans. And her sneakers. They go with the Jeep, he tells himself. The hairstyle, too, more up-to-date than the face. The rest, the coat, the scarf, the handbag, are reminiscent of that see-through figure in Suresnes long ago.
“The salesman, as people picture him,” she says, driving past the BaByliss building, “the guy at the end of his tether, eating alone in the restaurant with his suitcase, there are still lots of those, but I'm not like that at all. I've positively bloomed in my profession. The buyers know that.”
The men who read me, Goncharki used to say, are the guy on the station platform, the guy alone in his room in the provinces, all loners.
“The people who succeed in this profession,” Marie -Thérèse continues—God knows why she's charging into the breach like this, thinks Adam, but maybe she sensed his look—”are people who are open to the world and pleasant-looking. What's enabled me to succeed in my profession is being genuine, being authentic. Those girls in their suit-skirt-and-heels at
trade fairs, you don't see much of them as the years go by, only the authentic people stay the course. You need to feel good about yourself when you go somewhere. I walk into a museum, it's a museum where they're not working with me, I need to make them feel the need. If I want to persuade them to create a
for my merchandise I need to go in with a presentation that's about more than the outlet. They need to get the feeling I'm not there to set up an outlet at all, even if they know very well that setting up an outlet there is the bottom line. The buyer wants more from this relationship than his little sales outlet, the purely commercial presentation is a thing of the past.”