Authors: Hubert Aquin
“I’ve been showing off for a while now; I’m trying to stand up and play the game. This business about an armed chase and espionage is a gruesome joke. The truth is simpler: two weeks ago I abandoned my wife and my two children … I don’t have the strength to go on living: I’ve lost my mind … In fact, I was heading for disaster, awash in debts, and I couldn’t do a thing, couldn’t even go home. I panicked: I took off, ran away like a coward … I’d intended to use the pistol in a holdup, make off with several thousand Swiss francs. I went into many banks, gripping the weapon, but I could never use it. I was afraid. Last night I walked all over Geneva – I don’t even remember where; I was looking for a deserted spot … to commit suicide! [All is well: H. de Heutz hasn’t moved a muscle yet.] I want to end it. I don’t want to live any longer …”
“Sure. That’s pretty hard to swallow …”
“You don’t have to believe me. At this point I couldn’t care less.”
“If you insist on killing yourself, it’s your business … But I’m not explaining myself very well: if you had the urge to do that in the middle of the night, why start tailing a man and not let him out of your sight?”
“But I wasn’t following you; I don’t even know you … Aha, so that’s why I’m here! Now I understand … My life is over in any case, so do what you want. You thought I was a spy: do what you have to do in such a case. Kill me. I’m asking you to …”
I was somewhat surprised to see that H. de Heutz almost believed my psychiatric rendition. One thing is certain though, he hesitated. Meanwhile, I was putting on the mask of a severely depressed man. I was thinking about the two young children waiting for me somewhere and about their mother who couldn’t tell them why Papa doesn’t sleep at home any more. Poor kids, they won’t even know that their father wanted to kill himself because he lacked the strength to remake his life or to rob banks. They don’t know that their father is disreputable, a degenerate. While I think about these expectant children, something unpleasant is going on inside me. Wanting to be taken for someone else has made me into that other person; suddenly the two children he abandoned are mine, and I’m ashamed. H. de Heutz is still looking at me. I slump down before him. I’ve swallowed whatever dignity I have. I no longer have even the old pride that used to let me eject myself from a flaming vehicle. I’m prisoner in a chateau that faces the blazing lake whose glimmers I can distinguish at the back of the landscape. Through the big windows light floods in and fills the opulent salon where I’m dying of lethargy and helplessness, ensconced in my invented depression. I no longer know what’s going to happen and I don’t even feel like maintaining the initiative to keep H. de Heutz from outdistancing me.
“And what’s this, a love letter?”
He unfolds a sheet of blue paper, the same one I found in my mail at the Hôtel de la Paix the other evening. He holds out the paper without moving the barrel of his gun away from my face. At once, I recognize the shape of that damned poem. I scan it again, not trying to decipher it but thinking it was a piece of evidence:
. While I murmured each syllable of this cryptogram, I told myself that I was finished because of this abstract message that may actually have been nothing but a huge joke on the part of Hamidou, dear man, a transcription into Latin characters of some vernacular dirty joke. Good old Hamidou had got me in a fine fix with his secret message: my time is definitely up, my goose is cooked, I’m kaput, versich! Nevertheless, to me the stream of syllables in that hypercoded message meant that I had better things to do than try to gain some time when time itself was working against me. The seconds were breaking into a thousand divergent hunches that wouldn’t lead to any precise action. I’d have to put an end to this rush of pointless hunches soon, and do something besides gawk at H. de Heutz and at the horrible Senegalese stomach rumble which I was trying to read between the lines, as if a signal might come to me from this sticky pile of consonants and vowels that was nothing but a brilliant example of black humour.
Far below in the valley the glacial lake was glinting and the morning sun was starting its fiery course around the Aiguille du Géant when suddenly, with a slowness that reassured me about the acuity of my reflexes, I held out the sheet of paper to H. de Heutz, who made a move with his left arm to take it back. It would have been too easy, therefore awkward, to attack him just then when all his muscles were tensed to fend off a surprise. I gave him time to fold up Hamidou’s message and get far enough ahead of me to feel secure. Which he did, sure that if I’d had to attack I’d have done so when the distance
between us was minimal and our hands were nearly touching. Now that he’d moved away from me, H. de Heutz relaxed and visibly loosened up his defence system. I slowly shifted my feet into the starting position; then, inside the infinitesimal crack of hesitation, I leaped to his right and hit his temple as hard as I could, hard enough to throw him off balance and interrupt the move he’d begun to make, to draw his weapon, which he’d carelessly put back in the holster after regaining possession of the blue paper. My right arm made the move that his was supposed to make, and I grabbed the butt of his revolver. Then I moved as if to ward him off, which put a screen of distance between us and allowed me to fire.
“One word and I shoot. Go out ahead of me. Take me to the car …”
I followed close behind him, concentrating on his movements so that all I saw of the sumptuous chateau were some fragmented images that my own movements distorted: gilded mouldings, the outline of a buffet, a leather-bound book … The chateau remained deep in silence: for my safety, nothing else mattered. On the left, in a vestibule next to the salon, was the exit. We went out quickly to the garden. I let my host get several steps ahead of me to be sure that he was in my sights and to forestall any surprise. I spotted the blue Opel right away: I made him give me the keys and took several steps around the car. Without haste I opened the trunk and gestured to H. de Heutz to get inside; fortunately there was room. He hesitated, surprised and suspicious too, most likely. But since I emphasized my point with a simple movement of the hand holding the gun, he stepped over the rear bumper and curled up inside as best he could just before I brought the lid down. A few seconds later I was at the wheel. I had no trouble starting the Opel’s engine and making the little sedan move along the gravel. There was no fence at the exit to the grounds; I turned right instinctively, just in case. The chateau was close to a village that gradually came into sight in my rear-view
mirror as I drove away. I spotted a sign on the other side of the little road and slowed down to read the name of the village: Echandens. This name meant nothing to me, but from the configuration of the landscape I guessed I was somewhere between Geneva and Lausanne, closer to Lausanne actually, because of my position relative to the constellation of glaciers that were lit obliquely by the sun. There was just one thing for me to do: drive towards the great depression where, far below, I saw the luminous face of Lac Léman.
ONIGHT, AS I
drive between Echandens and the bottom of a valley in the car belonging to a man who’s no longer bothering me, I feel discouraged. I have not yet killed this man, H. de Heutz or von Ryndt, and that’s depressing. I’m very weary: a vague yearning for suicide has come back to me. I’m tired finally. And my problem strangely resembles that of the unknown man curled up in the trunk of a blue Opel that I drove at a good clip from Echandens to Morges down unfamiliar secondary roads. Now I had just one concern: what method should I use for killing H. de Heutz? As I made my way through this peaceful countryside, I could make out more clearly the cirque of mountains surrounding the lake and recognize the dramatic configuration of this landscape that had enchanted K and me. Emerging onto the heights of Morges, I drove onto the long ribbon of the expressway to Geneva. The dashboard clock read half-past nine; my watch, which was more precise, showed nine-thirty-two. All was well. The package in my trunk didn’t reduce my cruising speed. I was genuinely happy, nearly ecstatic as I drove along. My imagination and my superiority had pulled me out of an awkward situation. My honour was safe. At half-past six I would meet K on the terrace of the Hôtel d’Angleterre, which gave me plenty of time to send a few bullets into my passenger’s
temple. In fact I had too much time: I had practically nothing to do before our meeting and I was already burning with impatience. Overwhelmed as I was, I also felt extravagantly free, inordinately powerful – invincible! Driving into Geneva, I went automatically to Place Simon-Goulart. At once I spotted the egg-like shape of my Volvo. I found a place to park the Opel near the Banque Arabe. In the euphoria of my escape I’d forgotten to think, but now I was suddenly aware of danger. No sooner had I parked than I decided to clear out. First of all, Place Simon-Goulart is not a place where you can easily kill a man in the trunk of a car without rousing suspicion. And some of H. de Heutz’s friends might drop by, wait for me to pick up my Volvo, and nab me. I’d been careless.
For some time now I’ve been awash in melancholy. Fleeting images are all around me, flying in my mental jungle like anopheles. I’m in pain. Hours and hours have been added to the time when I’ll kill H. de Heutz. And a cloistered life marks with despair the words imprinted on my broken memory. This republican ennui is cruelly draining me of my revolutionary zeal. Though I don’t want to glorify the happiness I’ve lost, I secretly praise it and confer plenipotentiary attributes on what is not happening to me. I see myself again sitting on the gallery of our rented villa. We were drinking a wine from Johannesburg at the high altitude, facing the Chamossaire; across the valley the great Alps stretched out towards the south. What terrifies me is that I’m no longer suspended in the majestic void; I am here, slipping into the variable densities of my defeat. The passing hours are burying me in despair. I feel so far removed from my former life and from those mornings in Leysin when I would walk in the pure air 1,800 metres above sorrow and failure, well beyond the surface of Lac Léman where, for days now, I’ve been descending, asphyxiated, into an imaginary current that runs past the terrace of the Hôtel d’Angleterre where I am dying of love. Sensitive only to the movement of the water that pushes me
along dazzling shores and makes me glide beneath the base of the Alps, I let it carry me. My past is disembowelled by the hypocritical pressure of the verb. I am dying, drugged, in a false-bottomed lake while I spy through translucent portholes a gelatinous and protozoan mass that exhausts me and resembles me.
In a few days of summer, during that interval between two dwindling shores and two days of revolution, between the flaming island and the frenzied night of August 4, after two centuries of melancholy and thirty-four years of helplessness I am becoming depersonalized. Time is fleeting as I write, everything is becoming a little more rooted, and here I am, dear love, reduced to my final dust. Total mineralization. Motionless, I attain a volcanic stasis. With this historic dust I surround my eyes and eyebrows; I make myself a mask. I write to you.
Writing is a great expression of love. Writing used to mean writing to you; but now that I’ve lost you I still mass words together, mechanically, because in my heart of hearts I hope that my intellectual wanderings, which I reserve for born debaters, will make their way to you. Then my book of ideas will be simply the cryptic continuation of a night of love with you, my absolute partner to whom I can write in secret by addressing myself to a readership that will never be anything more than the multiplication of your eyes. Writing to you, I address the world. Love is the cycle of the word. I write to you infinitely, endlessly inventing the canticle I read in your eyes; through my words I place my lips on the blazing flesh of my country and I love you, desperately, as on the day of our first communion.
. Sadness strikes me, as violent and sudden as a lone wave breaking, crashing down on me like a tsunami. Just moments before the commotion I was taking a pleasant trip through my memory, recalling the villages we’d driven through in the Eastern Townships between Acton Vale and Tingwick, which is now called Chénier. Suddenly I’d been struck down, carried away with the trees and my memories at the speed of that cruel wave, swept along in the decanted vomit of our national history, devastated by gloom. The fragile edifice I’d patiently erected to help me face up to hours of seclusion has developed cracks in all its girders, twisting and engulfing me as it is crushed. The only thing that’s left for me in this world is to notate my elementary fall. Sorrow sullies me: I pump it in, I swallow it through all my pores, I’m filled with it like a drowned man. Is it obvious that I am aging by myself, that neither the sun nor the pleasures of the flesh now gild my skin? No amorous expectation fills my body; I have no obsessions. I take a few steps down the corridor of my closed submersible; I look through the periscope. I no longer see Cuba’s profile foundering above me, or the proud jagged summit of the Grand Combin, or the dreamy silhouette of Byron, or that of my love who waits for me tonight at half-past six on the terrace of the Hôtel d’Angleterre.
Though I draw the tangled thread of my lifeline on this paper, it does not bring back the bed strewn with coloured cushions where we loved each other one June 24, while somewhere beneath our tumult an entire people, gathered together, seemed to be celebrating the irresistible descent of the blood in our veins. You were beautiful, my love. How proud I am of your beauty! How it rewards me! What triumph there was in us that night! What violent and sweet foretaste of the national revolution was unfolding on that narrow bed awash in colours and our two bodies naked, blazing, united in their rhythmic madness. Again tonight my lips hold the damp taste of your boundless kisses. On your bed of chalky sand and on your slippery Alps I descend posthaste, I spread like ground water, I seep in everywhere; an absolute terrorist, I enter all the pores of your spoken lake: I burst, spilling over above the line of your lips, and I flee, oh how I flee, as rapidly as lightning at sea, I flee at the speed of the breaking waves! I topple you, my love, onto this bed suspended above a
… To think that at this moment I am writing out the minutes of the time we spent outside that insurrectional bed, away from our overwhelming spasm and the dazzling explosion of our desire! I write to fill the time I’m wasting here, that’s ruining me, leaving on my face the furrowed traces of its endless alluvium and the indelible proof that I’ve been eradicated. I write to stave off sorrow and to feel it. Hopelessly I write a long love letter – but when will you read it and when will we be together again and then again? What are you doing at this moment, my love? Where are you travelling outside the walls? Are you moving away from your house, from our memories? Do you sometimes enter the erogenous zone of our
Do you sometimes kiss me in that stirring chamber crowded with a million disarmed brothers? Do you rediscover the taste of my mouth in the same way that I return obsessively to our kiss and the very fracas of our embrace? Do you think about me? Do you still know my name? Do you hear me deep inside you when
your dreaming evocation of our caresses brings a shudder to your sleeping body? Do you look for me in your bed, along your gleaming thighs? Look, I lie full length on you, like the mighty river I flow into your great valley. Endlessly, I draw nearer to you …