Authors: Yasmina Reza
Marie-Thérèse is running. I haven't been too long, she says, you're not cold? She presses the controls and drives off. You don't look very well.
“I'm fine, Marie-Thérèse.”
“You know, it's really great we met up.”
“So, to answer your question,” says Marie-Thérèse, playfully, as they drive down the road from the Chateau to rejoin the Route Nationale, “no, we were not together at the lycée.”
“Serge and me.”
“I see,” says Adam, striving vainly to conjure up a picture of Serge Gautheron.
“We weren't even particularly friendly. He was on the rugby team with Tristan, I don't know if you
recall, we used to go to cheer on the team at Bagatelle Park. Then I happened to meet him again when I was a trainee with Canon, three years after passing my diploma. That was the odd thing.”
“When we got married we took over his parents' store at Rueil-Malmaison.”
“It didn't go well?”
“Us or the store?” she laughed.
“Both. The store.”
“The store went fantastically well. But we opened another one in the Bercy 2 shopping mall that never took off. We had to starve Rueil to keep Bercy alive. At a shopping mall, the customers behave quite differently. If your salesclerk is good you make a healthy profit, if she's no good you make nothing. We had the two stores for two years, it was a disaster. We sold Bercy and Rueil folded very soon after that.”
“How did you end up in Viry-Châtillon?”
“I made some contacts at Bercy and I was offered the job of managing one of the Caroli ready-to-wear outlets at Juvisy-sur-Orge. I lived in Juvisy first and then Viry.”
Adam attempts to study Marie-Thérèse's breasts. Nothing can be seen beneath her overcoat. The Rue d'Antony has everything one could wish for, a hairdresser,
a locksmith, an optician, a greengrocer, a pharmacy. I need to buy something at the pharmacy, he says.
It was difficult all on my own, says Marie-Thérèse, turning in front of the Buffalo Grill, I wasn't used to managing a boutique on my own, managing the staff, selecting the stock, being quick to replace it to satisfy customer demand, you've got to take care of everything, if you're not around you're just playing at it. I wanted to be more independent, to have more freedom in my schedules. After three years I resigned and for almost two years I had no work. Through the window, sheds, more sheds, cranes, more cranes, detached houses, Maxauto, Auto Distribution, Hertz. Through the window, warehouses, pylons, heathland streaked with electricity. They're driving along the throughway toward Savigny-sur-Orge. The new box of Veinamitol is on Adam's knees. Marie-Thérèse is talking about her life. The edema
take between twelve and eighteen months to be absorbed, the optometrist said. What Adam understands is that the edema may take between twelve and eighteen months to be absorbed comma and may equally never be absorbed. The word
filters this rhythm into Adam's awareness. It's a remark that leaves the way open to tragedy. Why didn't the optometrist say the
take et cetera, because he refuses to employ an affirmative form of words, and why does he refuse to employ an affirmative form of words? Because the absorption of the edema is in itself uncertain, because nothing's less certain than the absorption of the edema. When the optometrist says the edema may take between twelve and eighteen months to be absorbed, he's saying we must wait several months to know if the edema, this stubborn and unpredictable entity, will oblige us by being absorbed at all. We, that is to say you, me, Professor Guen, and the whole medical profession, will have to wait patiently for the time it takes our planet to make a complete revolution around the sun in order to know how the stars are going to incline, in which case, thinks Adam, why not cut to the chase and consult an astrologer. Seven thousand francs net plus incentive bonuses when I started, continues Marie-Thérèse, now if all goes well I earn about four thousand euros. In winter there are not so many tourists at the sites. When we move into the September to March season, which is the worst, I bank on the Japanese. The Japanese travel all year round. All the business we do in France is my doing. Thanks to what I've done in France the company, which is American, has taken on a commercial manager in Spain and another in Italy, they've built up a
whole business in Europe from nothing. At the start I was hired to sell publicity items. They hired me on the first of January five years ago. By March I hadn't done a single deal. The Americans are people who want results and no messing around. As it happened, I opened my first account on a visit to Versailles with my godson and that gave me the idea of specializing in historical sites and switching to souvenirs instead of publicity items. Then I opened another customer at Chantilly and after that the whole thing took off like a rocket. All the business in France is my doing. That's great, says Adam. It is, isn't it, it's great. I just love my profession. It's the first time in my life I've positively bloomed like this in a job. Fog is still passing them and a little rain as well. Adam delights in being ferried along amid darkness, rain, warmth, the dreary outskirts. Marie-Thérèse takes off her coat. An Albertian bosom, thinks Adam, and is within an ace of calling him when he realizes he cannot speak. A heavy and prominent bosom, of which he'd no recollection, never, in any case, having had an appetite for heavy and prominent bosoms, unlike Albert. Adam thinks back to that last great drama with Irene. Perhaps the final drama, he tells himself.
I'll send you my courier
, Adam had said to Albert on the telephone, referring to Irene. On her way to Issy-les-Moulineaux Irène
used to pass the Rue de la Convention, where Albert lived. A courier with small boobs, Albert had joked at the other end of the line. He says a courier with small boobs, Adam had stupidly repeated. Screw him, Irene had replied. He says he'll take a look at them all the same. That'll be the day, Irene had remarked frostily.
But you'll need your glasses
, Adam had quipped into the handset. Screw you, Irene had said, other people have no complaints! And she left the room slamming the door. What do you mean, other people have no complaints, what exactly does that mean, other people have no complaints?! Adam had yelled, pursuing her to the other end of the apartment. Do you have any idea, Irene had wept, lying prone on the bed and turning the face of a demented woman toward him, do you have any idea of the vulgarity of this conversation? Don't change the subject. I want to know who these other people are, I want to know the meaning of that remark immediately. Do you find it normal to discuss your wife's breasts on the telephone?! Irene, you've given yourself away. You can't begin to imagine what I'm capable of now! Do you find it normal to joke about my breasts with a stupid prick who likes only whores and manicurists, a notoriously brainless scrounger who eats sprats for breakfast?! I don't give a flying fuck about Albert, don't change the subject!
Say you're sorry, Irene had bawled, down on your knees and say you're sorry, say I'll never discuss my wife's breasts with anyone ever again! I should kill you now, Adam had replied. So what are you waiting for? Irene don't push me! Given the life we lead you might as well go ahead! she'd challenged him, kneeling on the bed and offering her neck. Adam hears her voice saying go ahead, squeeze, squeeze, he sees her legs twitching, he hears the little boy's voice saying, what's happening and his own commanding, get out, get out, shut the door. And then the older boy appears and says you're nuts and starts crying, followed by the little one and Adam wants to murder the lot of them.
If you don't understand self-destructiveness in a man, you don't understand men, he remembers saying, during the hellish discussions that follow crises. Better stark tragedy, he thinks, than these nauseating postmortems. You had to understand this mania for talking, this mania women had for always wanting to talk. This ignoble need for explanations. Considering how rare and insipid their sexual encounters were it would make sense if Irene had a lover. Adam resisted this bitter hypothesis. Adam wanted no talk of this bitter hypothesis. And if an access of madness or violent behavior overcame him, he didn't want to talk
about it. Madness yes, discussion no. Irene charged him with irrational jealousy. Where will this irrational jealousy lead you? she said. Adam didn't take
to mean groundless, he took it to mean absurd, given that the ties now binding us are minimal. A spurious jealousy, he thinks, there in the Wrangler Jeep, that's what he takes it to mean. A terrible word, he thinks, there in the Wrangler Jeep, that he could apply to his entire condition, for a man must be recognized for what he aspires to be, and who am I, he thinks, staring out through the windows at the darkness sullied with fog, if not a spurious paterfamilias, a spurious writer, in other words, he thinks in the Jeep idling in the traffic on the A6 throughway, a spurious man? Do you have children? he says to Marie-Thérèse.
“No, sadly, no.”
“Would you have liked to?”
“Why didn't you?”
“That's how it was.”
“Didn't Serge Gautheron want them?”
“That's not it.”
“So you weren't able?” he says, knowing he should have stopped two questions earlier.
“That's not it.”
“So what happened?” he asks, made impatient by her
“I lost the baby, twice.”
“You had two miscarriages?” he insists, irritated by
her tone and the word
“For what reason?”
“They don't know. Often there's no reason.”
“You didn't try again?”
“I didn't hear that.”
“Yes, I did.”
“And you didn't try with other men?”
What's the point of all this mawkishness, these hushed tones, what's the point of all this miserliness with words? Life is cruel, OK, no point in laying it on thick with a tremulous voice, thinks Adam.
“That didn't work either?”
First find your man who wants to give Marie-Thérèse Lyoc a child, Adam says to himself. But no, he thinks at once, at the school gates you can see dozens of Serge Gautherons and Marie-Thérèse Lyocs, the truth is that Lyocs and Gautherons proliferate, you can even, he tells himself, regard Lyocs and Gautherons
as prototypical parents, nonentities who marry one another, leaving the school benches behind only to congregate outside the gates, the sidewalks seethe with Lyocs and Gautherons, these modern folk, energetic, jocular, ultra-concerned. Marie-Thérèse is my age, thinks Adam. At forty-seven, Marie-Thérèse Lyoc can say good-bye to that child. Good-bye to that child, thinks Adam, just as I'm saying good-bye to fame, sooner or later, he thinks, we say good-bye to the future, we embark on the time when life no longer makes any demands on us, when we'll no longer be called upon to be fathers, mothers, lovers, writers, beautiful, positively blooming, happy. We sit down on a bench and find ourselves in the poorhouse position. One fine day you sit down and that's it, you couldn't give a damn about being Adam Haberberg or Marie-Thérèse Lyoc, you know very well that it's all the same in the end, like being Alice Canella, what good did it do her to be Alice Canella only to end up obese and broken on the ground. Marie-Thérèse has switched the windshield wipers on to full speed. And what's the purpose, my God, he asks himself, of this expedition in this absurd Jeep, behind zigzags of water and light, toward this Viry-Châtillon, whose very name oppresses me. I see a lot of my godson, says Marie-Thérèse, maybe she's said other things in
the meantime that Adam missed, but at least she's resumed a normal tone of voice, he notes. He lives in Soisy-sur-Seine, it's farther away, more to the south, with his mother, who's my best friend, she's an instructor at the control tower at Orly. He's eleven, my little godson, he's called Andreas. Guess what he wants to be later on?
“So is he a bit odd, this child?”
“He's mad about teeth. He's been mad about teeth for years. Now he has bands on his teeth he wants to be an orthodontist. For his birthday we had to find him an articulated skull. But he wanted a real one with uneven teeth. The trouble with the plastic skull is that it has perfect teeth. He wants to do experiments, he wants to take impressions, he wants to make a dental plate. I've done some research, you can get skulls from the cemetery at Montrouge, the grave diggers there sell them on the quiet, you just have to pass yourself off as a student. I don't know if I ought to buy him a real skull. It's a problem. What do you think? Is it healthy for him to have a skeleton in his room at the age of eleven? Especially as he reads books only about vampires and the living dead.”
“It's healthier than wanting to be a dentist.”
“I don't think it's good for him to be able to regard the human body as a toy. And I think he should be taught respect for death. It's important for children to have a notion of what's sacred. Speaking personally, I wouldn't want someone to violate my skull so it could end up on a shelf beside a Game Boy, along with a set of dentures. On the other hand, I understand his curiosity, he's a child drawn to the sciences, he wants to handle the material, he wants to study the real thing. He's not satisfied with the plastic skull. Now just look at that, it's terrible, isn't it, as soon as it rains we get into traffic jams. The plastic skull is ideal man, the model. It isn't man. What interests you at the moment, I say to Andreas, is the mechanism, the way things are put together. Man is something you'll have all your life to explore, Andreas. Man's imperfections, you'll have your whole life to correct them. You want to study a jaw that's been used, you want teeth that have chewed—he wants teeth that have chewed— you want mandibles that have moved up and down, but I tell him you forget that behind all that there's someone who's traveled through life. Inside that box, my dear, I tell him, there were dreams and agonies and we don't know where those dreams and agonies have passed on to, what's become of the ferment that was within. When we went to Versailles
and Chambord, which you loved—he loves castles, especially Chambord, he loved Chambord on account of the staircases—I tell him, you went into the bedrooms and corridors and great halls and all these rooms were empty, and it could have been boring for a little boy, that succession of empty spaces, without any human trace, but you said to yourself that's where the king slept, that's where he looked out the window and saw that forest, how many times did he walk up these steps, and likewise the courtiers and the soldiers, and you respect these spaces, Andreas, because they've seen what you'll never see, because they housed worlds you'll never know. A real skull, I tell him, is the same, it's not a tool, my dear, it's an abandoned room, it's an enigma.”