Authors: Yasmina Reza
“They're better now, all the same. When cell phones started they'd ring only, oh three or four times, I don't remember now, you missed half the calls.”
“That's right,” he says, resuming his seat in the armchair.
“Would you like more Tucs?”
The envelope doesn't appear. Adam dials his code. You have no new messages the voice tells him. She should shut her trap, that fat cow, he thinks, what right has the bitch to interfere in my life. Excuse me, Marie-Thérèse, I'm going to ring home just in case. “Maria, it's me. Did you call me just now?” “No.” “Is everything OK, Maria?” “Everything's OK.” “Irene hasn't got home yet?” “No.” “Are the children in bed?” “They're going to bed.” “They're not in bed yet?” “They're going to bed right now.” “Tell Gabriel to use his electric toothbrush.” “Fine.” “And not to flood the bathroom the way he generally does.” “Fine.” “See you tomorrow, Maria.” “See you tomorrow.”
Maybe it was Albert, he thinks. I need to call my friend Albert, he says. It may have been him. “Hello?” “So?” says Albert. “Did you just call me?” “No. I've got better things to do, pal.” “How's it going?” “Where are you?” “At Viry-Châtillon.” “I hope it's worth the trip.” “We're not talking about that category of event.” “I see. So what category of event, then?” “Are you at Martine's?” “You can't talk?” “That's correct.” “Ha, ha! You can't talk … !”
“Right, I'm hanging up.
Who had been thinking of him at that late hour?
What precious friend had wanted to make his voice heard? Save me, my friend, I wanted to talk to you, I ran but it was too late, ring again, save me. So does he flood the bathroom? says Marie-Thérèse.
“Your son. You said tell him not to flood the bathroom.”
“Yes. He floods the bathroom when he brushes his teeth.”
“He plays with the water in the sink. He makes waterfalls.”
“Tell me about your children,” says Marie-Thérèse, after a pause.
“What do you want to know?”
“Their ages, are they dark like you, although now, of course, you're …” She giggles.
“They're five and eight. They're dark.”
“What grades are they in?”
“The younger one is in kindergarten, the older one is in second grade,” he says, thinking, we're scraping the barrel here.
“Are they good students?”
“For heaven's sake, Marie-Thérèse.”
“Here now, this is Andreas,” she says enthusiastically, lifting a framed photograph off the shelf.
For a moment Adam cannot recall who Andréas is; when he sees the child's face he remembers the dentist. Andreas is in color, he's smiling. Can one call it a smile, this skewed twisting of the mouth? thinks Adam. The photographer has said to the child, come on, let's have a smile, and the child twisted his mouth sideways. Adam has already seen this expression on school-related portraits of his elder son, already seen the mindless, sickly pose against a background of cubes. He's already seen this woebegone face, he thinks, the long ears, the first communion haircut, already seen the part in his hair they'd sweated blood to create, the shirt buttoned too tightly, accentuating the puffy look, not, he knows, on his own child, but on the Adam Haberberg of long ago, and, as he holds
the frame in his hand, not knowing what to do with it, he has to struggle against an unexpected impulse to burst into tears. After striving every day, he thinks, to rid oneself of compassion, advocating withdrawal and endurance as a way of life, when faced with the photo of a schoolboy one caves in. He didn't have his retainer by then, he says, for the sake of saying something. No, not yet, says Marie-Thérèse. But he was already an expert on dental occlusion, she adds proudly. He's apprehensive: she's not going to start on that again. But she doesn't start again, she puts the photo of Andreas back in its place and leaves the room. He hears her rummaging in another room at the end of the corridor then she returns holding something he recognizes as soon as he catches sight of it, which she places on his knees. Look, Demonpion, she exclaims, indicating the woman seated low down on the left in the front row. You. Alice. Serge. Tristan. Me. Corrine Poitevin. Blaise. Jenny Pozzo, she says. Philippe Gros-Dujarric. Evelyne Estivette. Hervé Cohen. Hervé Cohen, thinks Adam, looking at the grinning boy, I was friends with him. What happened to Hervé Cohen? he asks. I've no idea, says Marie-Thérèse. Adam remembers Hervé Cohen. A name vanished from his life, which he would never have uttered again but for this encounter. And yet he
remembers Hervé Cohen, they used to go to each other's homes, they went on winter sports holidays in the Pyrenees. Adam remembers how they celebrated Passover in the hotel room at Font-Romeu. The Cohen parents were trying to locate Jerusalem. It's very simple, the father said, where's Perpignan? The mother pointed to one wall, he favored another, when did she have any sense of direction, he said, a woman incapable of opening the road map of France without homing in on Baden-Baden? In the end the father's geography won the day and they had, all of them, the parents, Hervé, his sister, Joèlle, and Adam himself, turned toward the wall opposite the window. During the prayer the mother had had a fit of the giggles, which spread to the children, while the father, in his jacquard ski pullover with the prayer shawl half flung over his head, continued to read the story of the Red Sea crossing earnestly and reprovingly to the bathroom door. The Cohen parents were the opposite of his own, thinks Adam. The Cohen parents were cheerful and irrational. The Cohen parents were marvelous. What counts, thirty years later, looking at this class photo, thinks Adam, is not Alice Canella, nor Tristan Mateo, nor Hervé Cohen, but the Cohen parents. Tristan, he notices, is wearing a white shirt, he has long hair and a mustache, a cross
between Jim Morrison and Frank Zappa. Alice is slim, blond, sullen, as was fashionable at the time. Adam tries to picture her fat. And dead. Dead is easier, he thinks. At Font-Romeu the Cohen parents may well have been exactly my age now, he thinks. What's become of them? Dead, too? Or living somewhere, aged and shrunken. Or living somewhere, not aged and shrunken at all, looking after Hervé's and Joèlle's children, reciting the exodus from Egypt for the thousandth time, lighting candles at Hanukkah, railing against Israel, railing against the enemies of Israel, still bawling one another out over trifles, teasing one another. You could never have spoken of his own parents as the Haberberg parents the way you spoke of the Cohen parents. The Haberberg parents were austere and harassed and didn't love each other. They were not interested in their son's friends like the Cohen parents. Monsieur Cohen, Adam remembers, had taught him how to play “421,” as well as the Hebrew alphabet and the rudiments of driving. He drove a Sinica 1500 with the gearshift on the floor. For Father's Day Adam and Hervé had gone down to the car showrooms in the Avenue de la Grande Armee and bought him a wooden gearshift knob. This accessory had literally galvanized him, causing him to lurch from being a man known for his abrupt driving
into being a veritable public danger. In traffic jams Cohen senior would
step on the gas
as soon as he had ten yards clear in front of him. At every traffic light, Adam recalls, they hurtled from the rear luggage compartment to the windshield. Madame Cohen, stoically, seemed to experience the untimely application of the brake as an act of God. Adam had learned to drive in the parking lot beside the Church of Stella Matutina, a modern building Cohen said had been designed by a great criminal. With Cohen as instructor, he and Hervé took turns as pupil and shaken passenger. He used to say: look, my children, if I'd been the architect of that church … I'd have begun by building a synagogue! And he laughed at his own joke, Adam remembered, the way he laughed when we swerved, stalled, and had fits of panic. They won't speak of Irene and me as the Haberberg parents either, he thinks. No friend of his children is ever going to remember them as
the Haberberg parents.
The Haberberg parents don't give off anything. You felt like a
with the Cohen parents.
“You've not changed at all, Marie-Thérèse,” he says, himself surprised at the truth of the statement.
“I'm better now. I looked like a country bumpkin.”
“You looked like a country bumpkin but your face hasn't changed.”
“Neither has yours, very much, apart from your hair.”
He has black, curly hair, he's slim, he's wearing a checked shirt. He thinks it's clever in the photo to be a rebel. He has a phony look about him. He's not very different from Serge Gautheron, of whom he has no recollection, but who has the same build, wears the same colors, and displays the same ridiculous arrogance. Quite the opposite of Tristan Mateo, he sees, who's a head taller than everyone else with a strikingly detached air in his flowing white California-style shirt. Tristan Mateo is reading Jim Morrison's
The Lords and the New Creatures
, he reads Herbert Marcuse and Jerry Rubin, smokes and imbibes all the substances of the period without ever feeling any the worse for it or flagging on the rugby field. Tristan Mateo owns Alice Canella. Alice Canella no longer exists, not for any of us, Adam tells himself, and the idea has a bitter and soothing savor. A barely perceptible savor, he observes, the tang of a fleeting mist instantly dissipated. Marie-Thérèse has gone to turn over the potatoes. Adam wonders where they will eat their supper. It must be possible for the two of them to sit together in the kitchen. Or else here, he supposes, at the low table. Adam can see no other table and concludes that Marie-Thérèse doesn't entertain
her friends, or at least only one friend, or else friends who eat off their laps, sitting politely side by side, with their napkins and their plates on their tightly clenched knees. And he wonders who these friends are that come to eat dinner off their laps in Viry-Châtillon, in Marie-Thérèse Lyoc's neat and tidy apartment. And he concludes how lucky it is that such
friends exist, whether in Orly now or Suresnes then, coming in at the main door, making their way into people's rooms with loud voices, instantly creating a good atmosphere, squeezing onto the sofa without any fuss, squabbling happily, laughing and knocking back the drinks. I could write about these Saturday friends, he thinks, after all, I know them, I see them flocking together like birds, I combine periods, I combine emotions, I shuffle lives like playing cards. Do you entertain friends here? he says. “It depends,” she replies from the kitchen, wiping her hands on the dishcloth. “Not all that much, in fact.”
“You don't throw little dinner parties here from time to time?!”
“Not all that much. Would you like to eat in the kitchen or the living room?”
“Wherever you like.”
“It's easier to sit in the kitchen.”
“But the light's more pleasant in the living room.”
“Whichever you prefer.”
“It's all the same to me.”
“In the kitchen,” says Adam, and immediately thinks the living room would be better. “It'll be ready in five minutes,” she says, coming back to sit opposite him, and picking up her glass of cherry liqueur, content with the situation, it's hard to know exactly why. Adam has put the class photo on the table. Marie-Thérèse picks it up and pores over it. She knows that photo by heart, thinks Adam, that class photo has traveled through the years like her face, changing imperceptibly, receding in time, he tells himself. She's uncovering a whole carnival of ghosts, this evening, poor thing, he thinks, as she sits there unexpectedly face-to-face with the bald, paunchy old man they used to call Adam Haberberg. He remembers the name in its youth, he remembers how Adam Haberberg used to have quite a different ring to it, it didn't mean what it says today. Unlike Marie-Thérèse Lyoc, he thinks. Marie-Thérèse Lyoc has always meant Marie-Thérèse Lyoc. Marie-Thérèse Lyoc is definitive, he thinks. Not Adam Haberberg. It was a name you could count on, it was, in fact, the only
thing his parents had given him that could be counted on. When you're called Adam Haberberg you don't expect to write pulp fiction and you don't expect to be laid low by thrombosis at the age of forty-seven before any
, however small, however hybrid, however fatally ephemeral, has occurred. Adam always thought his career had, inexplicably, got off on the wrong foot. To win at “421,” Cohen had instructed him, you have to want to win. If you leave it to fate, the dice can sense it, they're not motivated. Cohen won every time. Adam would warm the dice in his hand, blow on them, call out the numbers in advance in a resolute voice and lose. The dice responded to the silent will, not the antics of a yappy little dog. Did things go the same way in life? Does life respond to the silent, unspoken will, which is not only the will but the certainty that the world is on offer and isn't going to go on its way without you. For to win, he'd learned you don't need to want to win, you need to believe you will win. Holding and believing, he remembers replying to Goncharki without stopping to think, the masculine verbs. Without stopping to think, he muses, which doesn't mean without lying, it would be wrong to confuse spontaneity with truth, he tells himself. To survive, he thinks, one has had to construct postures conducive
to self-respect. You can't say I haven't changed at all, says Marie-Thérèse. Then she adds, there's something I want to show you. But she doesn't stir. What? says Adam.
“A letter from whom?”
Adam is silent and Marie-Thérèse doesn't stir. They remain thus, unmoving, and finally Marie-Thérèse says, yesterday at a crossroads, on the Boulevard Sebastopol, I was waiting with some other people to cross. At a given moment there were no cars either to the left or to the right and the light was still green. Everyone crossed except me. Even when I could still have done it, I didn't, I don't know why, I waited all alone on the sidewalk till the light turned red. Adam expects something more but there's nothing more. Marie-Thérèse has finished. They fall silent again and then Marie-Thérèse says, that's how it is in life, I don't dare, I'm too law-abiding. Now I'm putting the eggs in.