Authors: Yasmina Reza
At Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue he'd refused to rent bicycles. He recalls this stubbornness. Why had he refused to rent bicycles? The other families were cycling merrily along with the seagulls all around them. Fathers in shorts, mothers with knapsacks, cycling along amid the salt breezes and the cries of the gulls. What does this resistance signify? What ails a man who's afraid to rent bicycles? Yes, I can see the seagulls, Marie-Thérèse, and, though I don't understand what on earth they're doing in Viry-Châtillon, I can see them flying over this path for Sunday strollers and swooping down to the dull waters, I can see the lake, too, he thinks. I can see the lights of the life all around, Marie-Thérèse's summer house and Marie-Thérèse too, her coat, her scarf, her face of thirty years ago, I can see time has passed, I can see our old age under the white light of the street lamp, and when I don't want to look at anything and close my
eyes I can see a piked shoe. At first, Doctor, I thought it was a car, you know, one of the long American ones. But now I remember those men in baggy trousers and long shoes on the squares in front of churches in my children's encyclopedia, I can see this teasing fluorescent green harbinger of death and it makes me think of our ancestors, I can understand all that, Doctor, I can picture all that, I can tell myself these are fragments of existence that I'm picturing, these are fragments of the universe I'm grasping, I can make links between the lake and the shadowy seagulls and the ducks, the restaurant and the curtains, I can imagine who lives up there in the housing development at Grigny, I can link my life and that of Marie-Thérèse, I can recall our life in Suresnes and imagine time as a climb up an immense, grievous, fatal staircase. My children, I can see them, too, in our apartment, I know what they're doing and I see their pajama-clad bodies. My wife, Irene, I can see too, even if I know nothing of her life. Even if I know nothing of her life. For I no longer know who she is and she doesn't know who I am. There are people I see three times a year whom I know better and who understand me better. When we go out she laughs, she goes into raptures, she takes umbrage, I simply don't understand this public animation, she never
gives me secret looks—or only to reproach me for my absence—she never glances my way to convey one of those sweet, unspoken messages, I don't exist. She cheerfully makes jokes about us. The scientist and the poet, she dines out on that in company, her coarse banter disguises a gruesome pairing that she hasn't believed in for centuries, but without ever looking at me, I mean really looking at me and perceiving the extent to which this charade is painful to me. When we visit a place she makes idiotic comments in a voice that sets my teeth on edge, cultural observations she considers relevant that have no bearing on the actual facts of the case, in ringing tones that shatter the atmosphere, and if I say to her don't talk so loud or tell me later, or I don't give a damn, Irene, she gets on her high horse and falls into a silence so terrible there's no place else to go except the darkness of the crypt. I can see the book I shall never write, my unfulfilled dreams, I can see them, yes, Doctor, my unfulfilled dreams are like an archipelago within me, I can still just make it out, even though it's receding and its colors are fading, and it grows heavier and heavier within my body. I brought off
The Black Prince of Mea-Hor
because it's set outside the world, I can't picture the world. I can see only scattered fragments, shards, I can make no sense of it. I'm not capable of
renting bicycles for my family because I'm simply not capable of grappling with
the idea of joy
, pedaling along amid the idea of joy kills me. Whistling along amid salt breezes with happy families is beyond my strength. If I get onto a bicycle with the little one on the saddle behind, what'll overcome me is the desire to weep. To avoid having the desire to weep, one would need to have made a success of everything else, to feel oneself in one camp or the other. Whistling along in single file with your wife and children amid the salt breezes is not the least you can do, it's the ultimate achievement. Yes, Marie-Thérèse, I can see the seagulls, they come from a long way off, tumbling over the little dunes and headlands. I can see them.
“Let's go in,” says Marie-Thérèse.
He follows her. As she walks she jingles her keys. They make their way into the white apartment block. They make their way into the elevator. He sees himself in the mirror, holding the package from the pharmacy.
Marie-Thérèse opens the door to her apartment. She switches on the light. She hangs up her coat and scarf and says, Make yourself comfortable. She switches on a lamp on a low table that has an Oriental look. There's a sofa and an armchair, the floor is linoleum, Adam notes. At the end of the room a French door
opens onto a balcony, beyond it the lake. Marie -Thérèse says, should I turn up the heat?
“If you like.”
She goes into the kitchen and switches on the lights— it's a long, narrow room with a window at the far end. She turns on the boiler, tears off a paper towel, and blows her nose. Adam is still standing in the living room in his coat. We'll have a pick-me-up she says, opening a cupboard, a Pernod, a drop of cherry liqueur?
“OK. A drop of cherry liqueur.”
Adam sits down in the armchair. Do I drink my Veinamitol before the cherry liqueur? he thinks. I'd have got it out of the way then, he thinks, but on the other hand, wouldn't the immediate intake of alcohol risk vitiating the effects of the Veinamitol? Shouldn't I leave a space between the Veinamitol and the alcohol, the way you're supposed to do with aspirin and antibiotics? Drink the cherry liqueur, he thinks, warm yourself up with the cherry liqueur and swallow your Veinamitol later, in a neutral context. Marie-Thérèse comes in with a tray on which there are glasses and a saucer of Tue savory crackers. Take your coat off, she says, I've just turned up the heat! Unless, thinks Adam, I were to drink the Veinamitol right away and then eat a handful of crackers as filling
before the cherry liqueur. Would you have a glass of water, Marie-Thérèse?
“Yes, if you take your coat off. It's all wet anyway.” Adam removes his coat. Marie-Thérèse goes to hang it up and returns with a glass of water. What's that? she says, watching him empty the packet into the glass.
“A thing for the circulation.”
“You have a circulation problem?”
“It's not serious.”
“Five drops of essential oil of garlic, plus two drops of lemon essence, three times a day.”
“You can mix it with anything you like, honey, soft bread, or water.”
“What does it do?”
“It regulates the circulation. It stabilizes hypertension.”
“It acts on the blood vessels?”
“It strengthens them?”
“It strengthens everything.”
Adam drinks the Veinamitol and takes a Tue. Marie-Thérèse has gone off into the kitchen. She returns with a colander, some newspaper, and some potatoes. Adam eats the Tue and she peels the potatoes, while
taking sips of cherry liqueur. She's got no neck, he thinks, is it because she's all hunched over to do the peeling? Oh, my glasses! she exclaims, I'm forgetting my glasses. She laughs, getting up and rummaging in her bag. How do I look? Awful? A hundred years old?
“Not at all. Fine. They suit you fine.”
“Goodness, I look a bit like Madame Demonpion!” she says, looking at herself in the hall mirror.
“Demonpion, our history and geography teacher.”
“I don't remember her.”
“Oh yes, you know, Demonpion:
plus ça change et plus c'est la même chose.”
“I don't remember.”
“Have you seen anyone again? Have you seen Tristan?” she asks, getting back to her peeling.
“I've not seen anyone.”
“Neither have I, apart from Alice. And Tristan at the time of Alice's death. Since then I don't know what's become of him. At one time he had a kind of graphics outfit or something like that. Do you remember Gros-Dujarric? He did the Twingo campaign.”
“I don't remember.”
“He lived in the same building as Alice in the Hocquettes apartment complex. There were three of us in the class from the Hocquettes. I can see better with
these glasses, it's a shame to admit it but I can see better with these glasses. Do you want onions, would you like me to add onions? I can make it with or without onions.”
“Whatever you like.”
“No, you tell me what you prefer.”
“Add an onion.”
“It improves it but there are people who don't like onions. Do you cook?”
“What do you do that's good?” she says from a long way off, peeling the onion under the tap at the sink.
“What kind of pasta?”
“Yes. I do risotto as well.”
“I adore risotto. You must make me a risotto one
She slices the potatoes, tosses the onion into a frying pan, and returns to sit down facing him. And your wife, does she cook? she says. “Not a lot. She doesn't have time.” “What does she do?” “She's an engineer.”
“In what specialty?”
Marie-Thérèse falls silent. She lowers her eyes and seems to be meditating on this reply. She polishes her spectacles with the cloth and puts them back in their case. The onion sizzles in the frying pan. She gets up to turn down the heat. She adds the potatoes, turns up the power in the exhaust fan, and leaves the kitchen, closing the door.
Marie-Thérèse and Adam sit facing each other. Without the background light from the kitchen the room has taken on the semblance of an empty space. On the low table, apart from the tray she's just brought in, there's a flower in a pot. When the daylight fades, Goncharki had said one day at his house, I don't get up to light the room. I don't switch on anything, I let things take on the semblance of shadows and if I'm doing something I continue doing what I was doing in the dark. Is it quiet in Viry? says Adam, after a long silence.
“Oh yes it's quiet,” she says.
“What's it like?”
“Nothing much. Viry's neutral, it's not much of a place.”
Help me, my God, he thinks, to transmute life into literature! To transmute Marie-Thérèse, the linoleum
floor, the Tucs, the gloomy light, to transmute Viry and all the years into literature. I have no greater wish. I offer up this prayer as I swallow a mouthful of cherry liqueur: grant me the power to exist in spite of and beyond reality. Until now I've not been sincere, as you well know, I always wanted to be loved and praised, I wanted to be
, my God. I've played at being arrogant, a naysayer. What I wanted, and I laugh at the phrase, was to occupy a place in our time. Of all that I've written, the only thing I have any affection for is
The Black Prince of Mea-Hor
, my one book devoid of vanity. You see me tonight, seated in this living room in Viry-Châtillon, observing the configuration of the furniture, waiting with Marie-Thérèse Lyoc for time to pass. A switched-off television on a television table: a combination you could find in a hotel room. A set of shelves with CDs, a few books and some photos on them, a sideboard adapted to house hi-fi equipment, a Moroccan cushioned footstool. A Bonnard picture on the wall, a reproduction on paper in a red frame. A woman pouring a cup of tea for a dog that sits upright and obedient at the table, waiting to be served. Here, where nothing is happening, in the absence of any physical body, I feel more disoriented than in the real world, which is, as I heard a commentator on the radio put it,
I think about my age and the seconds slip away into the void. Help me, God, to capture all this for the simple comfort of feeling I'm alive. Do you smoke? says Marie-Thérèse.
“Do you mind if I smoke? I hardly smoke at all during the day but in the evening I enjoy it.”
The smoke spirals upward, shrouding the woman and her dog in a haze. In the past, he thinks, he's seen other works by Bonnard with a similar feel to them, or with animals in them, at any rate. The fading coil leaves a blurred impression. Adam suddenly sees coarse brushstrokes, a coarse palette, he tells himself, an excessive covering of the canvas, and he tells himself that he could suddenly no longer like Bonnard, he who'd always liked Bonnard, and that Bonnard, exhibited here on this ocher wall, by the light of this Oriental lamp, was turning out to be glutinous and messy, falsely cheerful. So one could always have liked Bonnard and suddenly no longer like him, so one could suddenly stop liking something, he thinks, stop liking a picture or a book or a place, stop liking anything at all, anyone at all, at one fell swoop. Five minutes ago you liked the painter Bonnard, he thinks, when your eyes lit upon this framed print you
thought, look, Bonnard, and you liked the teapot, the composition, the dog, and the back of the chair and then all at once you no longer liked any of it at all, you loathed the woman, the dress, the wall, you found it all disgusting, you found it was a disgusting painting, you who a few minutes before and over long years had admired and liked the ingenuity, the warmth, the sensuality of Bonnard's paintings. The notion we form of things fades, he thinks. One day, he thinks, he must count the things he'd become disillusioned with. What are the masculine verbs? Goncharki had asked during one of their innumerable bibulous and elliptical discussions. Don't stop to think. Give me two. Holding and believing, Adam had replied. Isn't that your cell phone ringing? says Marie-Thérèse.
“Where is it?”
“I don't know, where was it?”
“In my coat.”
“I hung it in the hall.”
Adam runs into the hall. He thrusts his hand into one pocket, then the other, finally he takes out the cell phone: Hello, hello? he calls into the receiver in desperate tones. Hello? he says again, absurdly, into the silence.
appears on the screen. Adam waits for the little envelope signifying a message
to appear. He's standing in the hallway, between the kitchen and the living room. I take my coat, he thinks, I open the door softly, and I make my getaway. Were you too late? says Marie-Thérèse.