Authors: Yasmina Reza
She gets up, goes back into the kitchen. He sees her pouring the beaten eggs into the frying pan and going through the actions of the omelette. Adam gets up and joins her. The kitchen is long and narrow; he goes up to the window at the end. In the darkness, several
bare trees, buildings with no windows, lampposts,
tiers of seats. What's that you can see? he says.
“The football stadium.”
“And the road beyond, what's that?”
“That's the road leading from Route Nationale 7 to the throughway.”
“Can I do something?”
“You can uncork the wine. Would you like salad?”
Adam sits down. He's thinking about the letter.
Don't say what was that letter from Alice? he tells himself.
“Do you ever meet up with Serge Gautheron?”
“No. He's remarried.”
“He has a son.”
“Shall I give you some wine?”
“What was that letter from Alice?”
“I'll show it to you.”
“I really don't care. So what was it?”
Marie-Thérèse slides the omelette onto a round dish, which she sets between them on the narrow table. It's a beautiful potato omelette, well folded, moist, a perfect
omelette, thinks Adam. Imagine, if someone had said to me this morning, tonight you'll be dining here with Adam Haberberg! She laughs as she serves him. On the counter along the wall, there's a lineup of appliances. A kettle, ajuicer, notes Adam, a blender, a mixer, an electric coffeemaker, a toaster. Adam closes his eyes. The green fluorescent piked shoe is there, confirming the supremacy of solitude. Do you use all these machines? he says. Oh yes, she lights up in an unexpected way, yes, less than in the old days, of course, but I certainly do.
“What do you make?”
“Everything.” She laughs. “Last weekend, for example, I made four zucchini loaves for my sister's twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.”
“When I say I made them, it's the machines that do it, I do nothing. Is it good? Add a little salt if you want.”
It s very good.
“Some women are crazy about shoes or beauty products, me, I'm crazy about electrical appliances. When I got my first washing machine early in my marriage, we'd never had one for want of space, I switched on the long-wash program. I sat beside it on a stool and watched the whole process, prewash, wash, starching, spinning … up to the final click. I learned all the
sounds by heart. These days I can detect the slightest suspicious sound. The same for the dishwasher. When I open a magazine I don't look at fashion or gossip, I look at ‘What's New?' in the household electricals section. I'm very choosy, either it's love at first sight and I'm round at the store the next day, or I wait for years before making up my mind in the hope of a better performance or a new image. The image is very important, I'm in a good position to know this, being in business myself. Once I've decided on an appliance I'm quite capable of hitting the roof if they don't have the color I want. My kitchen is my home, I like to be the boss in my kitchen, making all my appliances toe the line gives me a buzz. I read the instructions thoroughly, a set of instructions in too many languages infuriates me, and what's more it's always the French that comes last. Instructions that don't explain enough irritate me as well, lots of things irritate me, for instance I had a blender that would make juice but you had to add an extra gadget and keep it on the top, I like it when the machine works all by itself. I made four zucchini loaves last weekend, do you know how long it took me? A quarter of an hour. I wash the zucchini, I chop the ends off—I also have the correct knives for this, even for a trivial little recipe—I set up the KitchenAid with the attachment for round slices,
I select the cutter for medium slices, neither too thin nor too thick. The slices fall into the big container, five or six at a time, you have to keep pace with the machine, I don't want to stop it, it's a battle, between it and me. When the pot's full I always feel it's a miracle, I add olive oil, basil—I don't use a spoon, I use my hands, I've picked that up from American TV serials, American women use their hands—salt, pepper, the best chili pepper, I knead it, I put it on one side, I take my blender, put in my crème fraìche, my eggs, I add some tarragon, I mix everything together. I oil my baking tins a little, put several slices in the bottom and a sprig of basil to decorate it, when it's fully mixed, I taste it, I pour in the mixture and put it into the oven that's already preheated. It takes me a mere fifteen minutes and I've almost nothing to do. Every evening I set the time for my coffee. When I get up the first thing I can smell is the aroma. Really fresh, hot coffee, measured and blended to perfection. That's what's so wonderful, it's as if someone had been taking care of you while you were asleep and then discreetly gone away.”
“Yes,” murmurs Adam.
“I'm going to make a salad,” she says, getting up. “A tomato salad, would that suit?”
Adam acquiesces and while the idea of living in a log
cabin in Canada with nothing but an ax lingers and fades, he wonders whether he, too, wouldn't like to get up to the smell of coffee, wonders whether it wouldn't be better to be alone like Marie-Thérèse with the Krups coffee machine rather than alone at the ravaged breakfast table in the morning, facing Irene's teapot, the emptied bowls of chocolate, the Cap'n Crunch box, the half-eaten pieces of toast, without any visible sign of attention to his own existence other than a cup and saucer taken out of the cupboard and set down any old where. Marie-Thérèse has sliced the tomatoes with one of her special knives, and as she stirs the salad dressing in the bowl Adam notices her bosom quivering. The quivering of Marie-Thérèse's bosom inexplicably evokes a certain mountain climate, the opaque and shifting humidity of trails of mist, as if life should resolve itself into a single bleak image. The bleak rain or these billowing breasts in the long, narrow kitchen, beyond which the future lies hidden.
She has resumed her seat and put the salad bowl on the table between them, and smiles at him. He responds, as he had done in front of the big cats' house, to this silent signal. He watches her mixing
the tomatoes, serving him delicately. She cuts some bread, it's bread with a bit of brioche flavor, it's Andreas's bread, she says, he loves it, I always have some in the house, I freeze it. He sees them, her and him, sitting at table in the long, narrow kitchen, poised between the lake of Viry-Châtillon and Route Nationale 7, he thinks of men sitting at tables in long, narrow kitchens, amid the wilderness of the cities, eating a tomato salad, an omelette, or anything quite ordinary, and thinks help me, my God, to find the words. I'll be happy to write pulp fiction to earn my living, I don't see anything wrong in earning my living by calling myself Jeffrey Lord or Michael Brice, I'll be happy to forge ahead into the dark with my voyager through infinite space or, like Goncharki, with cops who never fuck for less than six hours at a stretch, I'll be happy to write
for the guy going back to barracks, I'll be happy in future to write
a shiver ran down his spine
, I don't give a damn. Just grant me a secret notebook and help me to find the words to tell the truth. The medicines, the terror of decline, the food processor, Marie-Thérèse's jeans, the square of window at the end with the flapping awning. The truth with no wish, no desire for originality, without any desire at all. It doesn't matter if I'm a loser. In the morning I listen to the unstoppable
radio getting excited about the great changes happening in the world and I think, you too should get excited, for heaven's sake, about the great changes happening in the world, that's what's expected of a writer, he should take note of History's fallout. But I no longer see any subject matter in the great changes happening in the world. I used to think I could when I was bonding with the prevailing culture, I don't anymore. The great changes happening in the world don't make any difference to what I am. At best they distract me from myself. Events are like the opium of forgetfulness, when I'm alone in the morning I switch on the appalling radio so as to be engulfed by events. Great events console me, they serve as alibis for my obscurity, you can't compete with global tragedy. Great events help to pass the time, nothing more. In my secret notebook I want to give an account of what doesn't change, or changes very little, or changes in an invisible, secretly cruel way. It doesn't matter if I'm a loser. My word, you were hungry, says Marie -Thérèse.
“It's true, he admits, “I was cold and hungry. You gathered up apiece of flotsam, Marie-Thérèse.”
She's on her feet, she takes several cheeses out of the refrigerator and arranges them on a small tray. They don't look terrific but they're good, she says. After
that I have fruit or a raspberry sorbet. Shall I open another bottle?
“Fine. Flotsam that I am, I'll try to keep my end up.”
“What were you doing at the menagerie?”
“It's a bit odd, all the same. In this weather.”
“It's chabichou. Goat.”
“So, this letter from Alice.”
“Why did you divorce?”
“Because it wasn't working anymore. Why do people divorce?”
“It takes more than that.”
“It's a good reason all the same.”
“What wasn't working anymore?”
Marie-Thérèse pauses to think. Then she says: we didn't love each other anymore.
“And to begin with you did love each other?”
“I think so.”
“You're not sure.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Why did you say I think so?”
“If you'd like a sorbet I'll take it out now.”
Marie-Thérèse gets up and puts the basket of fruit on
the table. Winter fruits, apples, a pear, oranges. In her house, he thinks, she has everything she needs to welcome any unexpected visitor, she who never entertains anyone, or hardly ever, she said, can offer a plain meal at the drop of a hat, a basic gesture, he thinks, of which he would never have been capable at any time in his life, since it calls for a domestic order to reign within the house, which, in the hierarchy of types of order, is geared to time and feast days—and there was never any house where this was the case. Even as a married man, even as a
, he thinks, I've always lived with more or less empty cupboards, or at least only pasta and rice and boxes of instant mashed potatoes, with the refrigerator more or less empty, if you exclude the mountains of children's desserts, a refrigerator crammed to excess from time to time and then quickly emptied for an indefinite period, although it contains the basic necessities, bought at random by Irene, Maria, or myself, simply to provide for the needs of the day, it's a house which is the opposite of that imaginary house with its ever open door, where the table is laid for whoever enters, where the prophet Elijah may well come in one day, sit down, and drink his glass of wine. Your ocular tension is nineteen, the optometrist said, which, precisely speaking, is not a significant tension, but nor is
it an anodyne one, I have patients who can go up to thirty-five, to give you an order of magnitude, or even fifty in certain extreme cases, on the other hand ocular tension varies, we need to control it before we have to worry about it, there are glaucomas where there's no tension, this does occur, but it's quite rare, in general a glaucoma translates into an increase of tension, though there are glaucomas where there's no increase of tension, in your case, where the optic nerve emerges at the base of the eye you present a papillary excavation, Adam remembers the optometrist saying, after he has suddenly felt an external bilateral pressure bearing down on both eyeballs, while watching Marie-Thérèse wrapping the cheeses up again in silver foil. A pressure of a completely different nature from the phenomenon of dislocation, he concludes, the latter, he now realizes, having so to speak disappeared, leaving behind as a memento the silent and terrifying shape of the piked shoe. So we should have two distinct effects, he thinks, to support the hypothesis of the two distinct and concomitant causes, thrombosis and glaucoma. Thus, he muses, maybe I do have glaucoma as well, since there's a thrombosis, why shouldn't there be glaucoma as well, he muses, as soon as one disorder appears, you look for other disorders, lurking there in
the shadows, like our obsessions, with lives of their own, impelling each of us separately toward catastrophe. I must telephone the lab and get an earlier visual field test, thinks Adam. Why should I wait another fortnight to confirm a diagnosis I can already make here in the kitchen in Viry, as I watch Marie-Thérèse closing the cheese box, not even knowing whether these are the last images my brain will ever record with clarity, the last well-defined images of my life, Marie-Thérèse Lyoc in her long, narrow kitchen, the apples, the oranges, the crenelated dessert plates. He remembers the ostriches at the Jardin des Plantes. They're far away now, he tells himself, ostriches observed a few hours earlier already belong to the past. I feel nostalgia for that pair of ostriches, for the enclosure, the bench, the rain, I feel nostalgia for the patinated lion towering above the fountain, for the Rue Cuvier, for the Quai Saint-Bernard, the Marie-Thérèse who came toward me with her bags of samples and her umbrella is already in the past. Once they'd crossed the Paris beltway, he remembers, a sense of something irreparable had overcome him. Once they'd left the Boulevard Kellermann behind, at the first road sign for Montrouge, he'd felt irreparably lost, that was how it had struck him in the Jeep Wrangler. You have, Doctor, the privilege of receiving in
your consulting room a patient of forty-seven who presents a double risk of blindness. This patient, Doctor, you should know, lacks courage. He makes you believe in his courage, especially by his penchant for assimilating your scientific terms, but he has none. He's an ordinary man who dreads failing health and being blind. Who dreads having to renounce what he's never had. Take the pear, says Marie-Thérèse.
“No thank you.”
“Well, an apple then.”