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Authors: Alessandro Baricco

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BOOK: Ocean Sea
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And she will love him forever.

CHAPTER 4

“F
ATHER
P
LUCHE
. . .”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Tomorrow my daughter will be fifteen years old.”

“. . .”

“It has been eight years now since I entrusted her to your care.”

“. . .”

“You have not cured her.”

“No.”

“She must take a husband.”

“. . .”

“She must go out from this castle, and see the world.”

“. . .”

“She must have children and . . .”

“. . .”

“In other words, she must begin to live, once and for all.”

“. . .”

“. . .”

“. . .”

“Father Pluche, my daughter must be cured.”

“Yes.”

“Find someone who can cure her. And bring him here.”

T
HE MOST FAMOUS DOCTOR
in the land was called Atterdel. Many had seen him raise the dead, people who had one foot in the grave, already as good as gone,
done for, really, and he had fished them back from Hell and brought them back to life, which was also an embarrassment if you will, sometimes even inconvenient, but it should be understood that
that was his job, and no one could do it like he could, and so those people came back to life,
pace
friends and relatives all, who were obliged to start all over again, postponing tears
and inheritances until better times, perhaps the next time they will consider things beforehand and seek the services of a normal doctor, one of those who does them in and that’s that, not
like this one who gets them back on their feet, only because he is the most famous doctor in the land. Not to mention the dearest.

And so Father Pluche thought of Dr. Atterdel. Not that he had much belief in doctors, it wasn’t that, but for everything that concerned Elisewin he was obliged to think with the
Baron’s head, not with his own. And the Baron’s head thought that where God had failed, science might succeed. God had failed. Now it was up to Atterdel.

He arrived at the castle in a shiny black coach, which seemed somewhat sinister but was also very dramatic. He rapidly climbed the flight of steps, and when he came up to Father Pluche, almost
without looking at him, asked, “Are you the Baron, sir?”

“I wouldn’t half mind.”

This was typical of Father Pluche. He was unable to restrain himself. He would never say what he ought to have said. Something else would come to mind first. Only a moment before. But it was
more than enough time.

“Then, sir, you are Father Pluche.”

“That’s me.”

“It was you who wrote to me.”

“Yes.”

“Well, you have a strange way of writing.”

“In what sense?”

“There was no need to write everything in rhyme. I would have come in any case.”

“Are you sure?”

For example: the right thing to say here was, “Excuse me, it was a silly game.”

And in fact these words arrived all perfectly prepared in Father Pluche’s head, all lined up in a nice neat row, but they came a fraction late, just enough time to be overtaken by a stupid
gust of words that no sooner emerged on the surface of the silence than they crystallized into the incontrovertible brilliance of a question that was completely out of place.

“Are you sure?”

Atterdel looked up at Father Pluche. It was something more than a look. It was a medical examination.

“I am sure.”

That’s the good thing about men of science: they are sure.

“Where is this girl?”

“Y
ES
. . . E
LISEWIN
. . . It’s my name. Elisewin.”

“Yes, Doctor.”

“No, really, I’m not afraid. I always speak this way. It’s my voice. Father Pluche says that . . .”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I don’t know. The oddest things. But it’s not fear, not
real
fear . . . it’s a bit different . . . fear comes from outside, I’ve understood this, there
you are and fear
comes over
you, there’s you and there’s fear . . . that’s how it is . . . there’s fear and me too, but what happens to me is that suddenly
I’m not there anymore,
there’s only the fear . . . which isn’t really fear, though . . . I don’t know what it is, do you know?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Yes, sir.”

“It’s a bit like feeling you’re dying. Or disappearing. That’s it:
disappearing
. It seems as if your eyes are slipping away from your face, and your hands are
becoming another’s hands, and then you think what’s happening to me?, and in the meantime your heart is beating inside you so hard you’re dying for it to stop, it won’t
leave you in peace . . . and all over you feel as if parts of you were going away, you can’t feel them anymore . . . you’re on the point of going, and then I tell myself, think about
something, you must hang on to a thought, if I can shrink into that thought then it will all pass, all you must do is resist, but the fact is that . . . and this is the really horrible thing . . .
the fact is that
there are no thoughts anymore,
nowhere inside you, there is no thought any more but only
feelings,
do you see? Feelings . . . and the strongest of those is an
infernal fever, and an intolerable stink, a taste of death here in the throat, a fever, and a bite, something that bites, a demon that is biting you and tearing you to pieces, a . . .”

“Excuse me, sir.”

“Yes, there are times in which it is much . . . simpler, I mean, I feel myself disappearing, yes, but gently, very slowly . . . it’s the emotions, Father Pluche says that it’s
the
emotions,
he says that I have nothing with which to defend myself against the emotions and so it’s as if things entered directly through my eyes and my . . .”

“Through my eyes, yes.”

“No, I don’t remember. I know that I’m ill, but . . . sometimes there are things that don’t frighten me, I mean, it’s not always like that, the other night there
was a terrible storm, lightning, wind . . . but I was calm, really, I wasn’t afraid or anything . . . Other times all it takes is a color, maybe, or the form of an object, or . . . or the
face of a man passing by, that’s it, faces . . . faces can be terrible, can’t they?—some faces, every so often, are so
real
that I feel they might set upon me, they are
faces that scream, do you see what I mean?, they scream at you, it’s horrible, there’s no way to defend yourself, there’s . . . no way . . .”


Love?

“Father Pluche reads me books, every now and again. They don’t hurt me. My father would rather not, but . . . well, some stories also work on the
emotions,
do you see, with
people who kill, who die . . . but I could listen to whatever came out of a book, that’s the strange thing, I even manage to
cry
and it’s a sweet thing, there is none of that
stink of death,
I cry,
that’s all, and Father Pluche carries on reading, and it’s very nice, but my father mustn’t know this, he doesn’t know this, and perhaps it
would be better if . . .”

“Of course I love my father. Why?”

“The white carpets?”

“I don’t know.”

“One day I saw my father sleeping. I went into his room and I saw him. My father. He was sleeping all curled up, like children do, on one side, with his legs drawn up, and his hands
clenched into fists . . . I’ll never forget it . . . my father, Baron Carewall. He was sleeping the way children do. Do you understand this, sir? How can you not be afraid if even . . . what
can you do if even . . .”

“I don’t know. No one ever comes here . . .”

“Sometimes. Yes, I notice. They talk quietly, when they are with me, and it also seems as if they move more . . . more
slowly,
as if they were afraid of breaking something. But I
don’t know if . . .”

“No, it’s not difficult . . . it’s
different,
I don’t know, it’s like being . . .”

“Father Pluche says that in reality I should have been a moth, but then there was a mistake, and so I came here, but it wasn’t exactly here that I was supposed to land, and so now
everything is a bit difficult, it’s normal that everything makes me ill, I must have a lot of patience and wait, it’s a complicated matter, you see, transforming a moth into a woman . .
.”

“Very good, sir.”

“But it’s a kind of game, it’s not exactly what you’d call a
true
thing, and it’s not exactly
false,
either, if you knew Father Pluche . .
.”

“Certainly, sir.”

“An
illness
?”

“Yes.”

“No, I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid of
that,
really.”

“I shall do it.”

“Yes.”

“Yes.”

“Good-bye, then.”

“. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .”

“Sir . . .”

“Sir, excuse me . . .”

“Sir, I wanted to say that I know I’m ill and I can’t even manage to get out of here, from time to time, and for me, even running is too . . .”

“I wanted to say that I want life, I would do anything to have it, all the life there is, enough to drive me mad with it, it doesn’t matter even if I do go mad, but I don’t
want to forgo life, I want it, really, I’m dying to live, even if it hurts. I’ll be able to, won’t I?”

“I will be able to, won’t I?”

S
INCE SCIENCE IS STRANGE
, a strange beast, which seeks its lair in the most absurd places, and works according to meticulous plans that from the outside
can only appear inscrutable and sometimes even comic, so much like aimless wanderings do they seem and instead they are geometrical hunting trails, traps laid with cunning art, and strategic
battles before which one may stand astonished much as Baron Carewall stood astonished when that doctor dressed in black finally spoke to him, looking him in the eye, with cold certitude but also,
one might have said, with a hint of
tenderness,
a complete absurdity, for a man of science and Dr. Atterdel in particular, but not completely incomprehensible if only one could see inside
the head of Dr. Atterdel himself where the image of that big strong man—Baron Carewall—continually gave way to the image of one huddled upon his bed, lying there sleeping like a
baby,
the great, powerful Baron and the little baby, one inside the other, so that you couldn’t tell them apart anymore, so that you ended up being moved, even if you were a real man
of science, as was, incontrovertibly, Dr. Atterdel when, with cold certitude and also a hint of tenderness he looked Baron Carewall in the eye and said, “I can save your daughter,
sir”—he can save my daughter—“but it will not be simple and in a certain sense it will also be tremendously risky”—risky?—“it is an experiment, we do
not really know yet what effects it may have, we have seen it many times, but no one can really say . . .” And here we have the geometrical trap of science, the enigmatic hunting trails, the
match that the man dressed in black will play against the creeping and impregnable malady of a little girl too fragile to live and too alive to die, a fantastic malady that nevertheless has an
enemy, and it is a huge one, medically risky but magnificent, completely absurd if you think about it, so much so that even the man of science lowers his voice at the precise moment he utters the
name before the Baron’s unwavering gaze, nothing more than a word, but one that will save his daughter, or kill her, but more probably save her, a single word, but infinite, in its way, even
magical, intolerably simple.

“The
sea
?”

Baron Carewall’s gaze remained unwavering. As far as his lands extended, there was not in that instant any amazement more crystalline than that which was teetering in his heart.

“You, sir, will save my daughter with the
sea
?”

CHAPTER 5

A
LONE
, in the middle of the beach, Bartleboom observed. Barefoot, his trousers rolled up to prevent their getting wet, a
large notebook under his arm and a woolen cap on his head. Leaning slightly forward, he observed the ground. He was studying the exact point at which the wave, after it had broken about ten yards
farther back, stretched out, became a lake, then a mirror and an oily patch, climbed back up the slight slope of the beach, and finally stopped—its outermost edge trimmed with a delicate
perlage
—where it hesitated a moment and finally, defeated, attempted an elegant withdrawal, letting itself slip back along the line of what seemed an easy retreat, but instead fell,
prey to the spongy greed of that sand, which, until then unwarlike, suddenly awoke and, the brief rush of water thus routed, evaporated into nothingness.

BOOK: Ocean Sea
12.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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