Authors: Francoise Sagan
The meal went along as he had anticipated. He emitted a few grunts, tried to say something and came to with a start to find Mrs. Van den Besh asking him, with an obvious desire to supply the answer, if he knew who X slept with. He replied that he was no more interested in who X slept with than in what he ate, that the first item was no more important in his eyes than the second, and that society would do better to concern itself with people's tables than with their beds, thus occasioning them a good deal less trouble. Paule laughed, for by these words he had demolished the whole evening's talk, and Simon could not help following suit. Roger had drunk too much; he reeled a little as he stood up and failed to notice that Mrs. Van den Besh was simperingly patting the chair beside her.
"My mother wants you," said Simon.
They were face to face. Roger looked at him and searched hazily for a weak chin or mouth. The fact that he did not find them put him out of temper. "And I suppose Paule is looking for you?"
"I'm going to her," said Simon, and he turned on his heel.
Roger caught him by the elbow. He was suddenly furious. The young man stared at him in surprise.
"Wait... I have something to ask you."
They surveyed one another, each of them conscious that there was nothing to be said, yet. But Roger was amazed at his action and Simon was so proud of it that he smiled. Roger understood; he released him.
"I wanted to ask you for a cigar."
"But of course . . ."
Roger followed him with his eyes. Then he walked over to Paule, who was talking to a group of people, and took her by the arm. She trailed after him and at once fired a question.
"What did you say to Simon?"
"I asked him for a cigar. What were you afraid I'd said?"
"I don't know," she said, relieved. "You looked furious."
"Why should I be furious? He's just a kid. Do you think I'm jealous?"
"No," she said, and she lowered her gaze.
jealous, it would more likely be of your other neighbour at table. At least he's a man."
For a moment she wondered whom he was referring to; when she realised, she could not help smiling. She had not even noticed him. For her, the whole meal had been illuminated by Simon, whose eyes, like beacons, had skimmed her face regularly every two minutes, a little blatant in their attempts to catch hers. Occasionally she had responded, and then he had treated her to such a tender, such an anxious smile that she'd had to return it. He was infinitely more handsome, more alive than her other neighbour, and she reflected that Roger did not know what he was talking about. At all events, Simon came up to them and held a box of cigars out to Roger.
"Thank you," said Roger. He selected one with care. "You're too young to know what a good cigar is. That's a luxury reserved for men of my age."
"You're welcome to it," said Simon. "I loathe the things."
"Paule, you haven't taken a dislike to smoke? Anyway, we'll soon be going home," he said, turning back to face Simon. "I have to be up early."
Simon was not impressed by the 'we'. He thought: that means he'll drop her outside her place and rush back to that little tart, leaving me here without her. He glanced at Paule, felt he read the same thought in her eyes and murmured: "If Paule isn't tired ... I can drive her back later."
They turned to her of one accord. She smiled at Simon and decided that she would rather go home: it was getting late.
In the car they did not say a word. Paule was waiting. Roger had dragged her away from a party she was enjoying; he owed her an explanation, or an excuse. He drew up opposite the flat and left the engine running . . . and at once she realised that he had nothing to say, that he would not be coming up, that all this had been merely proprietary cautiousness on his part. She got out, murmured "Good night", and crossed the road. Roger drove off at once; he was angry with himself.
But parked near the entrance was Simon's car, with Simon inside it. He hailed her and she went up to him in astonishment.
"How did you get here? You must have driven like mad. And what about your mother's party?"
"Get in for a moment," he begged.
They whispered in the dark, as though someone might hear them. She slipped adroitly into the little car and realised it had become a habit—like the trusting face turned towards her and bisected by the light of the street-lamp.
"You weren't too bored?" he said.
"No, no . . . I . . ."
He was close beside her: too close, she thought. It was too late for talking, and he'd had no cause to follow her. Roger might have seen him, the whole thing was ridiculous . . . she kissed Simon.
The winter wind was getting up in the streets; it blew across the open car, driving their hair between them; Simon was covering her face with kisses; in a daze she inhaled his young man's smell, his gasps and the night chill. She left him without a word.
At dawn she half-woke and saw again, as in a dream, the dark mass of Simon's hair tangled with hers by the arctic wind, lingering between their faces like a silken screen; and she thought she could still feel his warm mouth burrowing into her. She went back to sleep smiling.
was ten days now since he had seen her. The morning after that crazy, tender evening when she had kissed him he had received a note from her, enjoining him not to try to see her again. "I should only hurt you and I am too fond of you." He had not realised that she was less afraid for him than for herself; he had believed in her pity and had not even been angry, merely searching for a means, a concept which would enable him to envisage life without her. He did not pause to consider that these precautionary phrases—"I should hurt you too much", "It wouldn't be wise", and so forth—are often the quotation marks surrounding an affair, coming immediately before, or immediately after, but on no account discouraging. Paule did not know this, either. She had been afraid; she was unconsciously waiting for him to come for her and force her to accept his love. She was at the end of her tether. The monotony of the winter days; the endless procession of unchanging streets through which she made her solitary way from flat to shop; that traitorous telephone (Roger sounded so distant and ashamed that she was always sorry she had answered it); and finally a yearning for a long, never rediscovered summer—everything conspired to bring her to a state of defenceless passivity in which something
Simon got down to work. He was punctual, conscientious and withdrawn. From time to time, he looked up, stared vacantly at Madame Alice and drew a hesitant finger across his lips . . . The abrupt, almost commanding way in which Paule, that last evening, had pressed her mouth to his, then thrown back her head and used both her hands to hold his face gently against hers. The wind . . . Madame Alice cleared her throat, embarrassed by his stare, and he gave a faint smile. It had been a fit of spleen on Paule's part, that was all. He had not tried to follow her afterwards—had he perhaps been wrong? Ten or twenty times he went over the slightest incidents in the preceding weeks: their last drive together, that incredibly boring exhibition they had fled from, that infernal dinner at his mother's . . . and every detail, every image, every possibility pained him a little more. Yet the days passed; he was gaining time, or wasting his life; he did not know where he was any more.
One evening he walked down a dark staircase with a friend and found himself in a small night club which he had never visited. They had drunk a lot; they ordered some more and grew sad again. Then a Negress came on to sing; she had a huge pink mouth; she opened up a thousand longings, she kindled the fires of a hopeless sentimentality to which they succumbed together.
"I'd give two years of my life to be in love with someone," said Simon's friend.
in love," said Simon. "And she'll never know I loved her. Never." He refused to enlarge on this, but at the same time it seemed to him that nothing was lost, that it was not possible: this flood of feeling within him to no purpose! They asked the singer over for a drink: she was from Pigalle, but she sang as though she were straight from New Orleans, filling Simon's reeling brain with a blue and tender life, full of proffered hands and faces. He stayed very late, listening to her all alone, and got home at dawn, quite sober.
* * *
At six next evening Simon stood waiting for Paule outside her shop. It was raining; he buried his hands in his pockets; he was angry to find them shaking. He felt strangely empty and limp. My God, he thought, perhaps I'm no good at anything with her now, except to feel pain. And he grimaced in disgust.
At half-past six, Paule came out. She was wearing a dark suit and a blue-grey scarf that matched her eyes. She looked tired. He took a step towards her, she smiled at him and in a flash he felt invaded by such a feeling of peace and plenty that he shut his eyes. He loved her. Whatever happened to him, so long as it was through her, he had nothing to lose. Paule saw his blindman's face, his outstretched hands, and she stopped. She had missed him, it was true, these last ten days. His continual presence, his admiration, his persistency had created, she thought, a kind of tangible habit which she had no reason to break. But the face he thrust towards her had nothing to do with habit, nor with the morale of a woman of thirty-nine. It was something quite different. The grubby pavement, the passers-by, the cars—everything round them suddenly struck her as a timeless, stylized, unchanging backcloth. They looked at each other from a distance of two yards, and before she could succumb again to the noisy, drab reality of the street, while she was still awake, alert, at the limits of her consciousness, Simon stepped forward and took her in his arms.
He held her loosely against him, unable to breathe yet possessed of a great calm. He laid his cheek on her hair and stared straight ahead of him at the sign over a bookshop: 'The Treasures of Time', dimly wondering how many treasures there could be in the shop, and how many throw-outs. At the same time, he was amazed that he should ask himself such an absurd question at just that moment. He had the impression of having finally solved a problem.
* * *
"Simon," said Paule, "how long have you been here? You must be wet through."
She inhaled the smell of his tweed jacket, his neck, and had no desire to move. His return had brought her unexpected relief, almost a feeling of deliverance.
"You know," said Simon, "I simply couldn't live without you. I was all at sea. I wasn't even bored: I was cut off from myself. How about you?"
"Me?" said Paule. "Oh, Paris isn't too bright at the moment." She was trying to introduce a normal note to the conversation. "I looked at a new collection, played the career woman, met a couple of Americans. There's talk of my going to New York . . ."
At the same time, she was thinking that it was useless taking this tone when they were standing in the rain, with their arms round each other, like two ecstatic lovers; but she could not move. Simon's mouth came lightly to rest on her temples, her hair, her cheek, punctuating her sentences. She broke off and nestled her head a little closer to his shoulder.
"Are you keen to go to New York?" said Simon's voice above her.
As he spoke, she felt his jawbone working against her head. It made her want to laugh like a schoolgirl.
"The States are sure to be fun, don't you think? I've never been."
"Nor me," said Simon. "My mother couldn't stand it there; but then, she has always hated travel."
He could have talked to her for hours about his mother, the urge to travel, America and Russia. He wanted to treat her to a hundred commonplaces, to make her a hundred unassuming, effortless speeches. He no longer thought of dazzling her or seducing her. He felt fine, at once frail and self-assured. He would have to take her home to kiss her properly, but he dared not let go of her.
"I need time to think," said Paule.
And she herself did not know whether she was referring to him or her trip. She, too, was afraid: afraid of looking up and seeing that youthful face next to hers, afraid of encountering the same old Paule, strong-willed and moderate. Afraid of judging herself.
"Simon," she murmured.
He stooped and kissed her lightly on the lips. They kept their eyes open and all each could see of the other was a huge twinkling blur, full of gleams and shadows: an immeasurably enlarged pupil, liquid, terrified almost.
Two days later they dined together. Paule had only to say a few words for Simon to realise what those ten days had been like for her: Roger's jibes and indifference, her loneliness. No doubt Paule had hoped to turn the interval to account in winning Roger back, or at least in seeing him and restoring their old relationship. But she had been up against an impatient child. Her efforts, so touching in their modesty—dinner served just as he liked it, plus his favourite dress, plus a conversation on his pet topic —all those devices which, in women's magazines, seem so many paltry baits, but which, in the hands of an intelligent woman, are terribly affecting, had been to no avail. And she had not felt humiliated at using them; she had not even been ashamed to substitute skilful lighting or a tender leg of lamb for the phrases burning on her lips: "Roger, you're making me miserable", "Roger, this can't go on". When she came to think about it, she had behaved in this way not from any inherited instinct as a housewife, nor even from bitter acceptance. No, she had acted, rather, from a kind of sadism towards 'them', towards what they had been together. As though one of them, he or she, should have leaped up and said: "That's enough." And she had awaited this reaction from herself almost as anxiously as from Roger. But in vain. Perhaps something had died.
So, after ten days of wasted schemes and misplaced hopes, she could only be conquered by Simon. Simon saying: "I'm so happy, I love you," without the words sounding insipid; Simon stammering on the telephone; Simon bringing her something whole, or at least the whole half of something. She knew well enough that two were needed for this kind of thing; but she had grown tired, these last years, of always being the first and apparently the only one. "To love is nothing," Simon told her, speaking of himself, "one must also be loved." And this had struck her as strangely personal. Only, on the threshold of this new affair, she was astonished to feel—in place of the excitement, the glow which had ushered in her relationship with Roger, for instance—only a vast, tender weariness which affected even the way she walked. Everyone advised a change of air, and she thought sadly that all she was getting was a change of lovers: less bother, more Parisian, so common . . . And she shied away from her own face in the mirror, or covered it with cold cream. But when Simon rang the door-bell that evening and she saw his dark tie, his anxious eyes, the intense joy of his whole appearance, and his embarrassment too (like someone spoiled by life and striking lucky yet again), she wanted to share his happiness. The happiness she gave him: "Here is my body, my warmth and my tenderness; they are no good to me, but perhaps, in your hands, they will acquire a certain new savour for me." He spent the night in her arms.