lundi 1 décembre 2008
dimanche 30 novembre 2008
The gentleman in the dashing coat and shining Hessian boots drew the curricle to a halt and descended in one swift move. The stable boys stared at the beautifully-matched pair of bays and glared at the tiger with a pang of envy as his master handed him the reins.
“Walk them, I shall not be long.”
He strode into the inn. Everything in his demeanour, from the straightness of his outfits to the strong and shapely figure he cut proclaimed his sportsmanship. There was Quality. The landlord offered him some refreshment, excusing himself that the private parlour had already been bespoken.
“Oh, it is, is it?”
One of the perfectly arched eyebrows went up and the landlord reddened under the scrutiny.
“Maybe the young lady won’t mind…”
The landlord found himself quite at a loss to finish his sentence. Under the gentleman’s heavy eyelids anger had flashed in the dark gray eyes.
“Thank you, I will ask the… young lady myself, if you please.”
The landlord bit back an unwise answer and ushered the Corinthian in the private parlour, reflecting that he should have sensed that mischief was brewing when he had seen the young couple arrive. The man was by no means the young lady’s brother, but he was no mere lordling that could be denied entrance. The innkeeper sighed heavily and closed the door behind the dark gentleman.
As soon as the parlour’s door was opened, the Viscount’s quick eyes found the young lady seated by the window. She was gazing at the
As soon as she heard the footsteps, she turned her head and for a short moment something very much like relief shone in her eyes. But this was immediately replaced by coldness as understanding dawned on her. Disgust spread on his face as he looked at her shameless attitude. He had no wish to hide his feelings. After everything his parents had done for her, accepting the guardianship imposed on them by a long-forgotten friend, and introducing her to the very best society in
“My Lord Wentworth. You are here.”
“I am here, My Lady, though I have no wish to be, believe me.”
“I am sorry that you should have had to make such a distasteful journey,” she replied in a low trembling voice he recognized.
She gazed coolly at him, infuriating him further. His snubs had never failed to put any impertinent damsel into a blush, but from the very beginning she had shone no sign of wanting to comply with him and his sense of propriety. As the eldest son of her guardian, he had done his best to tolerate the spitfire girl, and had even disregarded her outrageous flirtations with his fortune-hunting cousin, thinking she was neither green nor so lost to propriety as to contemplate such a misalliance. It seemed he had been mistake. It took him all his will not to walk to her and shake some sense in her lovely, childish brown head.
“How could you be so shameless as to elope,” He asked, not sparing her blushes any longer.
“Maybe, she spoke with treacherous smoothness, anything is better than to be constantly in your cold and contemptuous company, My Lord.”
Miss Shaw turned her blazing eyes towards his Lordship, feeling her blood boil. He was just as bad as she had guessed he would be when she had caught the expression on his face. He thought her vulgar, capable of any improper acts. Anger blurred her vision, and for a few seconds she had to fight back tears. How she wished she could call him out for his contemptuous words!
“I am very sorry to see that you have come to such a dislike of my character,” he answered just as silkily as she had, but his gaze was lit up by a disturbing flame she had never seen before. “I shall nonetheless take my leave to inform you that you will not be married to Clifford before you come of age.”
Fury rose so violently in her belly she would have slapped him had she not been convinced he would add that to her many faults. Instead, hearing Clifford coming, she gave him a curt smile and steadied herself. For the whole journey she had wanted to run Clifford through for what he had dared put her through, and her only hope had been in the certainty that the Viscount would take them over before noon. But now she did not know which of the two was the wickedest, the vilest. They would both see if she could not fence for herself!
“My Lord, as you see your cousin has caught up with us and he says he will not let us marry.”
“Oh, will he not?”
The dandy levelled his quizzing-glass and stared at his cousin, a faint smile brushing his lips. Though she did not really care for Clifford’s quizzing-glass, the sick look on the Viscount almost redeemed her abductor.
“I think you shall have to fight if we are to resume our journey to the border,” she suggested with only a faint trace of hope in her voice.
His lordship laughed heartily.
“I find you blood-craved, Child. What has he done to infuriate you? You did not seem so eager to proceed a few moments ago.”
Her eyes blazed as harshly at the dandy as they had at the Viscount, but she knew by his lordship’s expression that Clifford’s words had not been wasted on him. His gaze flew to Sara’s face, and she blushed under the sudden intensity of his deep gray eyes.
For a short moment, the look reminded Sara of the happy weeks they had spent at Sherrington with his parents and his younger brother. She had almost begun to think him a friend, as he had taken her to ride everyday and had even helped her practice the waltz. But then, back in
“My Lords, will you please listen to me before you set forth killing each other.”
She managed to smile, but kept her gaze focused on the window.
“There is no reason for you to fight, for I am not the heiress everyone supposed me to be.”
“What are you talking about, child,” Clifford asked with a dubious lift of one eyebrow.
The Viscount stood silent, staring intensely at Sara, not betraying any emotions. She shuddered, for she knew how he would welcome the news of the hoax. Though she was not responsible for it, he would still blame her.
“To speak the truth, my father left me without a penny. It was my Lord Sherrington’s notion not to utter a word on my circumstances to the world, and since he is my guardian I merely complied with his advice, though I now see I have acted very unwisely.”
Lord Clifford stared blankly at her, and she smiled her laughing smile at him. She could see on his face his mixed feelings: incredulity, annoyance at the pointlessness of his journey and good-natured amusement. Finally he bowed to Sara, smiling back into her eyes with a twinkle in his own.
“Miss Shaw, I shall go back to
Then he added in a low voice, in response to her blazing eyes.
“Oh, Sara, it is just what you deserve for leading me on this dance! I hope you will enjoy the journey back. Wentworth, I'll meet you at Watier’s.”
On this light note, he left the inn. Only minutes later a curricle was seen taking the
“As soon as I am of age, I will seek a post in a respectable house. I won’t trespass very much longer on your parent’s kindness,” she said stiffly. “So, will you be so kinds, My Lord, as to not remind me in the meantime of this awful masquerade.”
She did not lift her chin, but heard his lordship cross the short distance between them in a few strides.
“I won’t,” he said softly. “But you will not become a governess.”
She stared harshly into his dark eyes, wrath growing in her bosom once more.
“Oh, what will you have me be, My Lord, a milliner perhaps?”
His lordship's coldness and contempt had vanished, leaving place for warm amusement. As he looked at her, his little spitfire, she looked so much like a vengeful Greek deity he could not help but laugh.
“Since you are no longer a great heiress, I thought you might like to take care of my house,” he offered with a laugh spreading to his usually cold eyes.
He took her hand gently in his. Fury consumed her. How could he? How dared he?
“Oh, you’ll have me be a housekeeper?”
At this, his lordship burst out laughing, before giving her a look that drew an even deeper blush from her already reddened complexion. Suddenly she was at a loss. His grey eyes had been, from the very beginning, what she had been unable to handle.
“Oh, you little nonsensical spitfire! Do you think I could decently marry the heiress under my father’s guardianship?”
He kissed her roughly, and for the first time she realised that his harsh treatment of her might just be what would suit her character .
jeudi 27 novembre 2008
I woke covered with sweat. Although I couldn’t find sleep anymore, I remained lying on the hard, damp mattress, listening to the silence. Outside, the town was asleep, but I could feel her breathing, the very soft groaning of living beings dreaming together. The window was wide open. There was nothing between me and the outside night except an old mosquito net dangling from the window frame. The lack of streetlights made the room dark yet familiar, like an old coin in your pocket whose shape and touch you know without needing to see it. I finally rose up and crossed the room to the window, avoiding carefully the stool and the jar of water standing at the foot of the bed. I pushed aside the mosquito net and sat down, my back leaning against the window jamb. The air was slightly more fresh and breathable here. As I lit a cigarette, the moon suddenly appeared out of nowhere and showed me the bare street at my feet.
I smoked my cigarette slowly and silently, still listening to the sleepy town, then lit another one. The street was empty, except for a man coming from the plaza, walking quietly along the white crumbling wall. Then, all of a sudden, another man sprung out of the shadow of a porch. He looked rather small and fragile, and was wearing a palm sombrero. As he hurried to catch up with the first man, there was a flash of moonlight in his right hand. I held my breath as they both stopped walking, the short one facing the back of the other, who was standing without a movement. They were talking, but too softly for me to hear what they were saying. I imagined the fear of the tall one, the cold touch of the unknown weapon at his back, and hoped they wouldn’t see me staring at them.
Then the tall one turned around, and I clearly saw the large machete the short one was holding. To my surprise, the tall man lit a match and held it close to his eyes, looking as if he wanted to burn himself. The light made him squint, and the other one forced his eyelids open with two of his fingers, standing on tiptoe, with the threatening machete still in hand. The flame burned the fingers of the tall one and he dropped the match, leaving the moon as the only source of light. Then another match was struck, and the strange scene replayed itself. This time the one with the machete grabbed the other’s sleeve and forced him to kneel down, then brought his weapon close to the eyes of the man. For a split second I thought he was going to kill him, but then he had let him go and had vanished into the darkness, as if he had never been here at all. Alone in the dark street, leaning against the wall, the tall man was holding his head in his hands, stumbling and falling like a newborn. He staggered along the street, and then was gone too.
I lit another cigarette, listening to the silence.
mardi 25 novembre 2008
When he came back, he told me that he hadn't read any of them, because my handwriting was unreadable.
dimanche 16 novembre 2008
Like every week at this hour, the metro was overcrowded. I had managed to occupy the last space remaining in the car at the previous station. I really could not afford to take the next train or else I would have been late for my train back home. Someone tried to push his way in after me and I was this close to kicking him. The heat inside the metro was unbearable. Outside it was snowing but here it felt more like the Sahara or rather some tropical forest. The man next to me _ maybe I should say below me providing how much packed together we were _ stinked horribly. I wondered how many days had passed since he last took a shower. I thought I would faint a few minutes later if I could not get farther away from him. I tried thinking about Mary that was waiting for me back home and the wonderful week end we would spend together. This was my only weekend off for about a month and it was the only thing I was thinking about for a week.
At last the door of the train was opening. I still had twenty minutes to get my ticket and step into the train. I took a few seconds to get myself together and concentrate on what was important. A ticket machine was free right in front of me, so I rushed to it and started entering my ticket information. A message appeared on the screen.
Due a to a central server error, it is impossible to retrieve your ticket from this machine. Please use the ticket office to retrieve your tickets.
This was not a big problem, as there was a booth over there with just one person. This should be very quick. The man before me appeared to be the slowest man in the whole world. I know this sounds like a cliché but this one really was a contender to the world title. When it took his wallet from his pocket, it looked like the super slow motion they show on TV during sports. Now he was starting to count his coins, but he had trouble seeing them, so it took him about ten seconds to find the right focal point where he could see clearly.
Excuse me sir, do you mind if I help you, I'm in a hurry, maybe I could help you with your coins...
Are you insinuating I am too old to be able to handle this on my own ? he replied while staring at me.
No sir, of course not, I'm just saying that ..
So please mind your own business and be a patient, he said with a remarkable confidence.
He may have been old and slow but he still looked very strong and I decided it was maybe not a good idea to continue this conversation. The anger was starting to grow inside of me and I didn't want to end up fighting an old man.
A few minutes later, the old man finally stepped away and I could start explaining my situation to the young woman inside the booth. A few meters away, a young black man was playing his guitar. I had no idea what he was playing or whether it was beautiful or not, because all I could hear was a noise that was preventing me from hearing her answers. I tried talking louder and louder, but I did not seem to work. The young woman remained calm and kept asking me the same question about some card that I still could not understand. At this time I was almost sure that I would miss my train, the last train going to Brugges this day.
Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder. I don't remember what passed trough my head at this moment but I gave a large swing in the air with my elbow, hitting with a strength I did not know I had the man behind me. When I looked back, I realized I had hit a policeman that probably only wanted to tell me to be a little more quiet. On the distance, I saw his two colleagues running in my direction. My weekend was definitively ruined.
By the window I could see the snow slowly falling on the city. I had been working inside this tiny booth for four hours, doing the same task again and again. I would just enter the information the client would give me, collect the money and give them the ticket. I don't know if it was due to the weather or to the beginning of the weekend but the clients were particularly ungrateful. I had already been insulted five times this day, even once in a language that I didn't know but was not very hard to understand what was meant. I had been working here for a month so I had become accustomed to this type of attitudes and I did not even react to this kind of provocation. Only the music of a young talented man playing Soul music with his guitar was helping me staying awake. He was playing here every Friday since I started working here and I really enjoyed hearing him.
I was helping a nice old man to buy his ticket to Paris. He told me that he was going there to meet some old friend he had not met for ten years, when he retired from his job as chief financial officer in a car company. You could see the years on his face but it was easy to see at first glance that he was still active and full of strength and dynamism.
While helping this man, my eyes were attracted to a middle-aged man that was trying to retrieve a ticket from a ticket machine. He couldn't stand in place and kept oscillating like a boat during a storm. His foot kept hitting the floor frenetically. He clearly was in a hurry and on the verge of becoming crazy of anger. He hit the machine, then looked around and ran to my booth.
I continued helping the old man to buy another ticket while keeping an eye on the other man as I had a bad feeling about him. He kept looking at his watch every ten seconds and doing some kind of dance like when you have an urgent need to pee, but in a much more violent and jerky way.
He started talking to the old man. I could not hear what they said of the window separating us but I suppose he was telling him to hurry up. The old man answered very firmly and went on as if nothing had happened. Behind him, the nervous man stepped backward and stayed there quiet for a few minutes, like a child punished by his parents. I finished helping the old man who kindly thanked me for my patience and complimented me.
As soon as he left the booth, the man rushed to the booth and started talking so fast that I almost did not understand what he wanted. I gently asked him to calm down and repeat slowly. He kept shouting louder and louder that he needed the ticket to Brugges he had bought trough the Internet. I tried asking him that I needed to see his reduction card to be able to give him his ticket. But it was almost useless as he never stopped talking. I made a small gesture to one of the policeman in the area asking for help, as I had no idea how to get out of this situation. I kept the same inexpressive face I had learned during my first month here because I was afraid that showing my fear would only make him angrier. I had see on Discovery channel that you should never show your fear to an angry animal and I don't know why but this is the first thing that popped into my mind.
The policeman put his hand on the man's shoulder to try to calm him down. The second he had done that, the man hit him directly in the face with his elbow, like a professional kick-boxer. I used the communication system to alert the other policemen in the area to come and neutralize the man. My boss told me to go home early because I had reacted the right away and avoided a bigger problem.
dimanche 9 novembre 2008
"We have already had two cats and a dog. No one has survived more than two months! "
After she explained me that parakeets do not usually try to cross the road, and that they would bring entertainment in our rather "gloomy" daily life, I had no other choice than to say yes.
I live with two parakeets now. They scream, they smell. On the week-end, my girlfriend insists for them to eat with us. Nothing makes her laugh more than seeing then eating in my plate.
mercredi 5 novembre 2008
White skin, stormy eyes, something disturbing in his demeanour.
When I leave home, I see him stare at me through the dirty window. He never says a word though. When I come home, I hear his breathing in the dark corridor, but never his voice. One morning I tried to make contact.
“Hey you, in there!”
No answers. Just a blank look. Another day, I knock on the door.
“Wanna drop by and have lunch with me?”
I hear him lock his door. Ok then, I am the big bad she-wolf…
Sometimes, I lay on my bed, trying to understand his unnerving look, his weird loneliness. Why doesn’t he answer? I feel bad about him; I’ve felt cold and nervous since I moved in.
One night, I am on the balcony, having a smoke, watching the moon rise up slowly, as my fingers grow cold from the freezing air. And I hear him. Only a whisper, but clear, just as unnerving as the frozen look he gives me each day.
“I am cold,” he tells me.
For a short moment, I don’t know if I am dreaming, hearing things. I can’t see him on the balcony but I know it’s him.
“It is going to snow,” I answer softly.
“I wish I could see it.”
I don’t understand him, but I think he does not wish to be reached. My mind searches for him in the darkness.
“You will, I’m sure.”
There is nothing else I can answer. The snow will be down before dawn.
“I am cold,” he whispers once more.
I wonder who he is.
Next morning, the snow begins to fall. He is not at the window.
mardi 4 novembre 2008
Roxanne embraces her sister with a shy smile, and lets her head rest on her shoulder while Juliana brushes her hair with her fingers. Releasing her sister from her arms, Juliana sits down and pats the couch, next to her, with a hollow smile.
Roxanne smiles soothingly.
ROXANNE: I told you many times that everything would go smoothly. In fact, there was nothing to be anxious about. I defended myself, and explained how I did the only thing I could… They knew it, and came to the only possible verdict. Self-defence…
She runs her fingers against a bleaching scar at the base of her neck and gives a strange little laugh. Juliana, startled, shudders violently.
JULIANA (whispers): Nothing to be anxious about... Yes, you must be right. I guess I am too emotional.
Roxanne goes to the sofa and puts her arms around Juliana.
ROXANNE: Oh dear, dear, Juliana. Please look at me. It’s ok now, everything is over. Please! Don’t let yourself get distressed. I am ok! Look at me. I won’t go to jail and with the doctor’s help, I’ve begun to forget about that night… Those nightmares… are less and less powerful…
A small noise resembling a sob escapes Juliana’s throat.
JULIANA: Roxanne, I am so sorry, you are the one who had to undergo the whole thing and I am the one locking myself in my room to cry… I wish I were a better sister, or that you could forgive me… (She hides her face in her hands and starts sobbing silently.) But, Rox, if you knew… (sobs) If you knew how much I dreaded that they would not believe you… (sobs) If ever they found out…
ROXANNE (her eyes fixed on the wall behind Juliana, there is no emotion in her voice): Found out?
JULIANA: Oh, Rox, I can’t… I can’t… Please don’t ask me. I’ve wanted to die so much. (more sobs) And I feel so ashamed… I know I should not say this to you… I mean… I know you loved him although he tried to kill you… but I am so happy you killed him!
ROXANNE: (staring through the window with narrowed eyes): You must mean you are happy I did not let him slaughter me…
They keep silent for a few minutes, Juliana still sobbing, Roxanne lost in her contemplation of the street through the window. Suddenly Roxanne turns her attention back to her sister and smiles reassuringly.
ROXANNE: By the way, I did not love him, so you should not concern yourself with what happened or what unkind feelings you may have about him. When he turned violent, I simply valued my life more than his…
Juliana stops sobbing at these words.
JULIANA: You did not love him? Do you mean it?
ROXANNE: I do. Never loved him.
JULIANA (cold and troubled): Then why did you go out with him for so long? (She jumps to her feet) I.. I asked you to stop seeing him from the beginning ! I.. knew he was dangerous ! I…
She starts crying again. Roxanne stands to cradle her.
ROXANNE: Hush Ju, just forget about him, about the whole… You could have known nothing… Hush.
JULIANA (now on the verge of hysterics, Juliana disengages herself from Roxanne’s embrace): But, yes! I knew, Roxanne, I knew him well enough to wish him dead every day of my damned life, ever since…! (Roxanne stays silent, her gaze fixed upon her sister’s face.) He raped me, Roxanne! I could not tell you… I could not tell anyone... (she breathes heavily.) But I am glad you killed him, I wish I could have seen his face when he… (she starts crying again.)
ROXANNE (whispers through clenched teeth, strangely calm): Yes, I enjoyed it. He only got what he deserved, the bastard… Our only consolation is that he died in pain…(to her sister:)Now come, Juliana, he won’t hurt you anymore! I saw to that…
JULIANA (stares up): You saw to that? Rox! What can you mean by that? What the… You knew? All along !? Oh my…
She stumbles and falls on the couch, her hands fly to her face in stricken horror.
ROXANNE: Hush, Ju, don’t think about it…
JULIANA: But how…
ROXANNE: I saw him leave our house that day, and heard you crying later that night. In your dreams you even spoke about it once or twice. Happily, our parents sleep at the other end of the house. Now…
JULIANA: But if you knew… Oh my…Don’t tell me you did it on purpose! How could you go out with him when…
ROXANNE (a smile flutters for a few seconds on her face): Ju, I won’t tell you anything you don’t wish to hear. And honestly there is nothing to tell. Just what I told the police, he tried to kill me, stabbed me once but then I reached for a knife and struck first… He would have killed me otherwise.
JULIANA (fascinated): Did he beg for mercy?
ROXANNE: There was no time for that. Only one strike, but that was enough to put him down.
JULIANA: Didn’t he say anything before he died?
ROXANNE: Oh, he felt quite betrayed, I suppose. He tried to mumble something… I can’t remember. But at the end, his look was so distressed that I almost took pity on him. Not that it would have changed anything, though…
JULIANA: Did he bleed hard?
ROXANNE (with a weird smile): Yeah, lovely red on the white carpet, but the smell was quite nauseating.
JULIANA: Rox, you’re frightening.
ROXANNE: Just kidding. You’re the one asking sordid questions… (Then after a few moments’ reflection she goes on:) I only had a short while to see the light fade in his eyes, and then I collapsed. I had lost a lot of blood, too. But yeah, I saw it. The fear in his eyes…
JULIANA: I wish you’d strangled him.
ROXANNE (laughs): It would have been quite difficult to choke him to death and plead self-defence.
JULIANA: But how did you…
ROXANNE: I told him I knew about what he had done to you, and that I would tell the police. It was quite easy to pick a fight with him, to provoke him. Then I grabbed one of the knives and told him not to come near me. That was enough to put the seed in his mind, so he took the other knife, and I let him stab me. But then I got to his throat. He was a bit drunk. I’d waited for the right moment, you see. And I’ve always been strong. He never thought I would struggle.
JULIANA: Rox, you should never have…
ROXANNE (suddenly wrathful): Shouldn’t have? After what he’d done to you! How can you be so unfeeling as to tell me something like that? Ju, what would you have me do? (Tears run down her cheeks. Juliana cradles her gently). This was the only way… The only way to relieve you… I didn’t want to keep looking into your hollow eyes. I wanted you back, feeling better, feeling something at least! I knew that this could make you feel something, if nothing else could.
JULIANA: No, I’m sorry, Roxanne. I meant, it was not worth taking so many risks! You could have died, you could have gone to jail for the rest of your life… I didn’t want to hurt you Roxanne… You’re my little sister. I should take better care of you…
ROXANNE (stops crying): Then you are not angry with me? I did what I could to make things better. And I did it well: nobody will ever suspect anything now, because I’m the only one who knows what happened… We are both freed from all this. Nobody will ever know the truth.
JULIANA (smiles): No, they won’t, for I shall never breathe a word of this to anyone. Never…
The sisters fall into each others arms, Juliana with a sigh of relief, Roxanne with a giggle recalling that of a small child.
dimanche 2 novembre 2008
Girls are very jealous. They always want to be the only one. So the first thing I did was to find them a field where I could say they were the best and the only one. I had the funniest girl in the world, the cutest one and the sweetest one and so on. The thing is they didn’t want me to see other girls. They were so jealous they told me they would kill me. One day I switched name between two girlfriends and now I’m in Hell. But you know what, polygamy isn’t forbidden here !
“This one is too small, I thought you loved me more.”
She married a guy who could buy her the world.
lundi 6 octobre 2008
mardi 10 juin 2008
by Timothée de Ferrières
The night was falling and Canh was still sitting on the strand. He enjoyed the moment because his fellow prisoners had walked away from the shore. As the strand streched a few meters below the esplanade, he almost felt alone : the only one who could see him was the guard in the watchtower that stood on the bank of the river a hundred meters upstream. He listened to the lapping of the water disturbed by the evening breeze, and he thought of his family.
If he were able to cross the river, he would walk and meet them again, whatever the distance. He had not seen them since he left home to join the resistance, two years before. He would have stayed if it had been possible, but he had had no choice. He remembered the verses he wrote a little while later :
(ref : The following translation does not render the rythm and the rhymes of the traditional-style original poem:)
For the very last time, I could stare at those lands,
That hundred-year-old alley where I used to play,
And those familiar roofs that used to shelter me
Like a precious treasure which had to be preserved.
In the middle of the gate, moved in their prayer,
Hopeful but so anxious to see their son going,
My family remained in the morning sunlight.
Their sorrow made my heart feel a pang of anguish.
I heard the soft singing of a luminous bird
With bright, coloured feathers that the sky set ablaze.
I breathed the air of the carambola trees
Whose gentle shadow I may never see again !
I carved deep in my heart this beloved picture
Which nothing, even time, will never alter,
And I carried away on that uncertain trip
Only a machete along with memories.
Canh dreamt of living a peaceful life on the land of the family as a small farmer, like his forefathers. Nevertheless, the trouble in the country prevented him from fulfilling that harmless desire. The regular army, which lacked combatants to fight against both a bordering country and the internal rebellion, had been making the rounds of the villages seeking recruits. When they arrived in a village, they gathered all the youngsters and they drew lots among them. They took away one young man out of every seven. Canh had been one of the unlucky ones. He was seventeen years old at that time.
He had had little time to get ready and to say his farewells to his family. They could not let him join the army. On the one hand, they rather agreed with the rebellion, but on the other hand, the family of the mother of Canh came from the country he might have to fight against. Therefore, he had to join the rebellion.
Hoi, a friend of the family helped the local rebellion group whenever they needed some food or tools. Canh knew him very well, so he had run to his village and met up with him. He explained his situation. Forunately, Hoi had to meet some rebels during the night, so Canh could quickly hide among them.
As Canh had never used a rifle, the rebels decided not to send him immediately into the combat areas. He was left in a one-eyed, old soldier's care to be taught the arms drill. When the others went to sabotage a bridge or an electric wire, Canh and the old man watched over the camp. During that time, Canh quickly learnt what he had to know, like how to use a gun or how to put up some explosives to fell a tree. Although he did not really like these activities, nor the idea he would have to fight, he was an assiduous apprentice. It kept his mind busy. He was fond of learning new things, and it made him forget his anxiety about his family, who might have been charged with having let him go.
A fortnight after he had left home, Canh was ready to take action. However, he was not yet able to take part to the particularly delicate actions. He and some other rebels were thus watching over the camp during a pitch-black night. Because they were not able to defend the camp alone, they had to stay motionless to avoid making any noise. Canh, however, eventually fell asleep. He woke up in the body of an army lorry. The camp had been taken by the army after the rebels were put to sleep by a lethargic gas. The lorry arrived before dawn at the prison where Canh was still a prisoner now, two years later.
The prison was a kind of camp quickly built to contain the guerilla fighters. It had more or less the shape of a square, in a bend of a large river. In this way, the river was used as a natural barrier, which simplified the building and the monitoring of the prison. The two other sides were blocked by rows of buildings and, beyond, by monitored walls. In the middle, a large multi-purpose esplanade was the only open-air area for the prisoners.
Actually, despite the ill treatments he had endured, Canh was not unhappy to be imprisonned. He did not have to fight for one or the other side, and he had more chance to survive. His health was sound and he had never been affected by the epidemics that sometimes ran through the prison. However, he did not know how long he would remain there. He hoped the rebellion would free the prisoners, but he feared the government had wearied of keeping many prisoners, in which case anything, he thought, could happen to them. They had to manufacture the army uniforms, but as the prisoner's numbers grew, the camp did not have enough work for everybody. Some prisoners were in charge of the maintenance of the prison, but many others had nothing to do all day long. Feeding these people was likely to have a high cost, too, Canh thought.
Canh above all missed his family. He did not even know what had happened to them after he disappeared. Were they still at home ? Had his elder brother joined the rebellion too, to avoid being enlisted ? Would he see them again ?
Night had fallen and Canh was still sitting on the strand. The river reflected the watchtower torch and Canh had the impression that a thousand stars were floating on the water. He would like to dive under those stars to cross the river and hide in the deep forest that bordered it. Once there, he would manage to find the way home.
A year before, a few months after his arrival, he had also wanted to cross the river. When he looked down the water, he had hesitated before the danger. The river was wide and fast and he was not a very good swimmer. He had eventually overcome his fears, and he was about to dive when he heard a soldier yell "Halt !". He turned round to see a rifle pointed at him. He had not dared dive in then because the river was too clear, and he could have been shot in the water.
"Get away from the river !" the soldier demanded, then added : "Get back to your barracks !" The soldier had found suspicious that a prisoner would be standing in front of the river for such a long time.
Canh had obeyed without a word. He was happy to have come out of that situation so well, in fact he was surprised not to be led to the head of the guards, who could have sent him to the block. However, this episode had worn down his desire to escape.
This day, Canh was remembering that story because, during the afternoon, he had noticed a prisoner who looked like the soldier who had prevented him from diving. He did not know how long that prisoner had been there, but he was convinced they were one and the same. He decided to talk to him the next time he would have the occasion to.
Two days later, Canh saw him again. He came up to him and his interlocutor confirmed he had in fact been a soldier. He was called Truong. Canh reminded Truong about his attempt at escape. Truong recalled having told Canh not to dive in. Canh asked him why he had become a prisoner.
"A few months ago, I was sent to another prison, as a guard. Last month, I did not shoot a prisoner who was escaping. I was charged with treason," Truong explained. He added in a hushed voice "I am neither in favor of the regime, nor of the rebellion, but I did not want to kill someone. I became a soldier because I was chosen by fate."
They kept silent a moment, looking at the river in the distance. Canh was troubled.
"Would you have shot me if I had dived ?" he asked.
Canh was taken aback by this answer. He thought, I could have escaped a year ago !
"Are there many guards like you ?" Canh asked again.
"Most of them, I think. But guards do not talk about that."
Canh was overwhelmed. Truong's revelationd meant that if Canh tried to cross the river, he would have a great chance to succeed. During the afternoon, he could not help imagining his arrival at home. That evening, he felt the need to write some words about it :
(ref : cf. note 1 above)
O enchanting instant ! Magnificent prospect !
The afternoon sun illuminates the landscape,
And I tread the ricefields that I was used to farm.
I recognize the earth that witnessed my childhood.
I already notice upon the horizon
The roofs of the village that appeared so often
In my dreams, in prison. I listen with pleasure
To the muffled stamping of the great buffalos.
The path to the house is no longer muddy
Since it has been paved with large, blueish flagstones.
I pick up a small carambola that has rolled
Along the embankment from the tree to my feet.
I finally arrive in sight of the house.
My little sister runs to meet me on the way ;
She has changed so ! Everyone is celebrating
What they have awaited : the family gathering !
Carried away by the idea that he could go back home, Canh resolved to try his luck that night. This time, he would not hesistate in front of the water to avoid to be spotted. Despite his excitement, he walked slowly towards the strand. When he reached it, he dived in straightaway.
The guard at the watchtower saw him dive. The water was clear enough to allow him to see Canh's shadow underwater. He followed the shadow with his rifle, and when Canh came up to breathe in the middle of the river, he fired twice. A bird took flight in a flurry of feathers, then the silence came back over the river.
I was still floating among my childish lullabies when laziness flew by. Only later, after having fiddled with life and faced its infinite labyrinths, will I find it back, perhaps. Since then I have flown from one imaginary land to another, filled my lungs with letters that fascinated my inner cerebral lab but always faded in the light of real life. I fashioned elaborate lies to flatter myself, but my lips failed to follow the complex loops of my creative liberties, and finally I forced myself to forget this whole load of leisure and luxury that I fancied so much. I followed the intricate lanes of mysterious love, faltered, fell under the losses I faced, feared I would finish a loner but found it at last. For my lack of the lion’s lines, luck favoured me with a lamb’s lenience, and I folded my luggage without fearing to freeze, for I feel so warm in that landscape of love where these new letters flourish.poem by Arnaud Le Guilcher
by Julien Barthès
I’m looking at my face in a mirror,
putting hair gel on my head.
Tonight I shall go to my first party.
I’m 14, I’m a man.
There are 6.6 billion men on Earth
but half of them are women.
I’m getting on the bus that will take me to the
party. The driver, he’s a man, too.
I’m looking him straight in the eyes
fiercely, so he’ll know I’m a man.
Men have got 23 pairs of chromosomes—
Their sexual chromosomes are XY.
Men are capable of fully bipedal
locomotion, thus leaving their arms available
for manipulating objects using their
hands, aided especially by opposable thumbs.
Tonight, I’m gonna drink my first
beer. Then I’ll definitely be a man. Homo
sapiens appeared 130,000 years
Ago, in North Africa.
“An excellent man; he has no enemies; and
none of his friends like him”, Oscar
Wilde wrote. Lots of girls are waiting for me
at the party. As a man, this’ll be my day.
I’m still a man
I drank my beer, and I got sick. But
I stayed at the party pretending the
big stain I made on my shirt was
tailor-made, because I’m a man.
Still I did not venture to drink another
ale, knowing that life expectancy at
birth in Hong Kong, China, is 78.9 years
for a man. In Wayana culture, stinging
ants are applied to the body of a child who
proves to be a true man by remaining
still and silent, but no girl seems to
realise this at the party and talk to me.
They were dancing – dancing is
the most popular hobby among
women, right before gymnastics, and horse
riding – paying no attention to me.
So I had to try and talk to some of
them. Men are really good at
languages, they speak 6,700 different
languages all around the world !
Nonetheless, I couldn’t find my words and
had to go home early because my mom –
every man has a mom - made me promise.
Really, it’s hard to be a man.
2 poems by Julien Barthès
The Zzilies by Jérôme Saulière
PART I: THE FALL
Franzy woke up early that morning. Her arms and neck had been itching all night. Not to mention her rheumatism: she could tell the weather by the pain it caused her, and last night the weather must have been horrible. She went to a window and opened the curtain. A young and dazzling autumn sun was peering through the mist. It set out thrusting a bunch of friendly photons at her, just for fun. But the window pane was photon-proof, and the projectiles bounced back with a “pock”. Franzy winced a bit, because she thought it was not funny. She turned her back to the window. Her husband was still asleep, unaware of the heavy morning light that striped his cheek. She was about to draw the curtain again, when something struck her eye. Scintillating, glinting and shimmering, there lay, all over the streets and roofs of the great city, a thick, thick layer of fish, crustaceans and mollusks. The roads were not to be seen, nor the cars. They had disappeared under that amazing heap of seafood, coming from nowhere: all scales, slimy eyes and tentacles.
“Oh my God!” she cried, unable to keep it to herself. “Wake up, Rugue! Look! It’s been raining crabs and cods again!”
Rugue opened one eye and closed it again. He must not have heard her. She cried out again, louder. Now he sat up under the cover, with a messy face and haggard eyes, and shouted in reply:
“Raining? Crabs? The zzilies! O Franzy, how are the zzilies?”
But she did not have the time to answer him. He had already jumped out of bed and run to the other window of the bedroom, which gave onto the garden.
“Damn these fish! They’re smothering my zzilies! My little zzilies! I’ll have to spend the afternoon clearing them away!”
“Your zzilies look all right to me,” said Franzy, looking over his shoulder.
“All right? I wish you were lying under ten tons of rotting seafood, and I could say you’re all right! And look at that stupid tuna lying across my red-and-orange African zzily! Damn you, tuna! I’ll have your head on a platter!”
“Well, you’ll sure have it on a frying pan, Rugue, if you’re a good husband!”
“But in the meantime it’s devastating my precious, precious zzilies!”
“Oh come on, that’s no big deal. It’s not as though you were a fishmonger! Since these fish falls began, they’ve been closing one by one.”
“Yep. Poor guys. But they’re clever, aren’t they? They can retrain. And you and I can hold our noses. But my zzilies, Franzy, my zzilies! They’re so fragile, so desperate… Look, tonight, I thought I heard them crying.”
“You must have dreamt that.”
“I may have. Come on, let’s go out to the garden, and see how they’re doing.”
And out he went, in his dressing gown and slippers. Franzy could have cared less. She did not follow him. Rugue had been prey to that strange addiction for years and years now: everything he said, everything he did, was somehow connected to these mysterious flowers. For they were mysterious, at least to her. Beautiful, no doubt. So unbelievably colorful, and various in shape and hue! Of undeniable scientific interest, too: a whole department of the
Rugue was an amateur in the area, but his collection was a jewel. Zzily lovers came from all over the country to see it. Years of loving, collecting and tending to them… Kneeling on the soil, fertilizing them with a pipette so as not to give the wrong product to the wrong plant. No one could boast they knew zzilies better than Rugue. Apart from him, no one probably knew zzilies better than Franzy, who, all these years, had sat lovingly at the dinner table and listened to his annoying flights of fancy. One day, she felt certain, a new species of zzily would bear his name and hers.
While she was getting hastily dressed, she remembered the afternoon when the Mayor had come to visit their garden. Shortly after, Rugue had been awarded the Medal of Green Citizenship. How proud she had felt! Pride was stronger than annoyance. Sometimes. She breathed in, smiled, and looked out of the window, into the sea-like twinkling of the early day. And annoyance gained the upper hand again: for she caught sight of her husband, crawling on the wet ground in his pajamas, with his bottom unashamedly up in the air. As far as she could tell, he had disposed of the fish and octopi that had encumbered the flowerbeds. He was now polishing every leaf of every zzily plant. In doing so, he talked to them – it was one of his foibles, a most harmless one – with heartfelt expressions of grief. He would not finish before nightfall.
PART II: THE INQUIETUDE
“It poured tonight, didn’t it?”
“Well, for sure, my dear! Poor old Ursula’s poodle was out for his business. She still hasn’t found his track again… One big salmon is enough, you know, to knock out such a small, defenseless creature. I’m glad I wasn’t outside after ten, when the fall began!”
“I say, it’s terrible, what’s befalling us! And it’s the third time in Zzeptember!”
“No, the fourth…”
“Maybe the fourth. Anyway, what’s there to be done?”
“Ask the Mayor! And ask him, too, about that dreadful smell all over the city. I know politicians can’t change the weather. But something should be done about the stench! We’re lying under tons of rotting fish: that’s certainly not constitutional, my dear. And no doubt it’s noxious! We’re being poisoned bit by bit, I’m telling you!”
At every corner of every street you could hear similar conversation. Grannies would join up with members of their clubs to talk about the miasma, and the antiseptic and cleansing properties of eucalyptus. Mothers would meet at the local Public Health Committee to share their inquietude for their children and themselves. Children had to go to school with boots and gloves. They were strictly forbidden to play with octopus tentacles – which had become, mothers stated with horror, a very trendy and accessible toy in playgrounds. Even dogs looked confused by the stench that had taken hold of the atmosphere: they mistook everything, banks, cars and street lamps, even human legs, for bitches in heat. With all the regrettable consequences one might imagine.
The day after the fourth fish fall, demonstrations took place in several districts of the town. People were exhausted, their noses were offended, their nerves were frayed, and, worst of all, they did not understand what was going on – or why. Mottos like “City in a fine kettle of fish!” or “Has Mayor got other fish to fry?” were proudly printed on the banners. A party of extremists even rented a garbage truck and covered the City Hall courtyard with tons of shrimp, crabs and squids.
A few days after these events, The New Zzientist, a very serious national magazine, published an article entitled “Reasons for the fish falls”. It had been written jointly by a hydrologist, a meteorologist and a biologist. According to them, the fish-fall process, which they bombastically termed ichthyoclysm, could be explained very simply. You ought merely to consider the relative densities of fish flesh and salt water, and inject them into the equations describing the convection and viscous diffusion of water particles in clouds during thunderstorms. One paragraph of the article was particularly clear on that matter.
Thus, the vortices induced by a non-linear exchange integral of the fish/sea continuum may lead to an inversion of the overall rotational operator. If the relative proportions of mass and viscosity of the fluids reach a certain critical value (which may be determined empirically), equations and numerical simulations show very clearly that a definite quantum of the ocean fauna will be sucked up out of the sea and incorporated into the cumulonimbus mass. […] Until recently, such processes had never been observed in our latitudes. Global warming and increasing water pollution may mostly account for their appearance. The former has been proved to cause drastic increase in the frequency of hurricanes off our coasts. The latter is responsible for the swarming of fish in certain areas, where the swirling and sucking process demonstrates a preference for taking place. It is a terribly exciting challenge for research in our country, etc…
The article was of perfect scientific honesty – not such as would have put the population at rest. In fact, it went totally unnoticed, for no one read the upscale science journals. Therefore, the main informants of the public were the tabloids. Buzz, for instance, showed a gorgeous grouper that had smashed in the roof of a car. The eyes of the fish were wide open, its agony was both perceptible and disturbing. The owner of the car was standing in front of the scene and crying his eyes out. The headline was : “Experts at sea as infected seafood floods town. Citizens like fish out of water.”
By the time a week had elapsed, the town was in an uproar. Some people claimed the government had purposefully tried to poison them, but failed. Some argued it had in fact been a success, only the toxin worked slowly. Some incriminated the scientists. Others picked on the fish, ingenuously. And a few more of the lucid souls blamed the press for the current malaise. After all, as far as anyone knew, no intoxication cases had yet been reported.
PART III: THE GREENHOUSE
One morning, Franzy was lured out of her kitchen by a jovial sun. A cup of tea in her hand, she stood contemplating the garden for a moment. Zzilies, zzilies everywhere… The bright green of their leaves, the dazzling colors of their flowers, the extravagant patterns of their petals… And, oh! Her husband’s bottom emerging from a arborescent zzily shrubbery.
“Rugue! What are you doing here? I thought you were at work!”
At first no answer came. She assumed he had not heard her, so she drew nearer. In doing so she almost slipped on the corpse of a baby octopus. She picked it up with the intention of throwing it in the garbage. But the cadaver, aside from the fact that it stank abominably, was swarming with tiny little red points. Franzy could see them running over the surface and digging into the flesh. They had probably colonized the poor dead thing’s intestine, for its belly – or was it its head? – looked abnormally swollen and heavy. She could distinguish white spots, too, and blue ones, around the eyes, but apparently they did not move. She dropped the corpse with disgust, wondering why she had ever picked it up.
“Rugue! When you cleared away the fish from your flower beds, you could have cleared the gravel path, too! I’ve just stepped on a disgusting little octopus! Rugue, could you please look up from your zzilies? I’m talking to you!”
“Hm… Yes, darling, I’m supposed to be at work. But nobody minds, anyway. And when I inspected the garden before going away, these arborescent zzilies looked like they were imploring me to stay… They’ve been through a lot of hardship lately, you know.”
“I know, I know.”
Franzy did not feel like starting a quarrel. Was he not adorable, after all, that innocent little husband of hers, with his flowers, and his obsessions? And now with his muddy business suit? She scratched her neck and her arms. She would have to see a doctor, she thought, in case it was eczema.
“So, how are they?” she added, obligingly.
“Fine, thank you. I’d supposed they’d be totally depressed after the sixth fall – which was particularly hard on them, as you know. But they seem to be doing well. It may be my imagination, but their colors have hardly ever been so radiant. Look at that Zzilia Phosphorea: it really looks fluorescent, doesn’t it? I think it’s a side effect of the very high iodine potency in the air. I’ve observed the same reaction on Zzilia Marinara and Zzilia Quasialga, and on my very endemic wrack-leaved zzily… And more generally on all the marine varieties. Who could have foretold that some species would make the most of the falls? Zzilies are extraordinary, aren’t they? Now, you’re right, the sea stench isn’t a benediction for everyone here. My exotic zzilies are very sensitive to it. Poor darling Zzilia Rhinocerontia has lost loads of leaves, I’m very concerned about it – looks like it’s got a delicate sense of smell! And it’s not the only one, look at these shrubs I was tending to just now: I’m quite sure their tints have been altered. Oh, you may see nothing, or think it’s nothing. Mind you, sometimes the change is subtle: this one was peach-orange and has turned pastel pink; this one has gone all the way from cerise to purple. But I can’t believe that this rarest testicle-shaped zzily used to be puce. I’m worried, Franzy, really worried…”
Rugue was now beaming with enthusiasm, in spite of his avowed concern. Actually, the testicle-shaped zzily still looked puce to Franzy. She said nothing. Rugue had stopped talking. Obviously, something was on his mind. Something he did not dare to express. Without knowing what it was, Franzy kept silent: she vaguely hoped that it would not come out. But it eventually did.
“I was wondering whether we could build a greenhouse in the garden, for the zzilies. You know, my collection is quite a must-see in the country, and I’d be sorry if a fish fall should… It could… It might… I… I don’t think I could make up with the loss. And under a greenhouse, the zzilies would certainly feel… at ease. I mean, they wouldn’t have to fear anything any more!”
Franzy could not believe her ears. She scratched them and stared at her husband. He was now looking down and blushing like a bashful crimson zzily in the bud.
“Have I… said something silly?”
“Well, I don’t know! The town is smothering under rotting fish, suffocating in its emanations, and all you’re thinking about is… your zzilies! Your precious goddamned zzilies! Wake up, Rugue! They say in the newspaper those fish falls are certainly toxic! More detrimental to human health than acid rain and carbonic snow! Who cares about your zzilies?”
“Carbonic snow? Hm… What newspaper do you read?” he ventured and kept looking down.
“No matter! No greenhouse! I say: no, no, no! As long as I live, there’ll be no greenhouse for your zzilies. They’ll sleep in the open, and that’ll do them lots of good! As long as I live. End of discussion.”
It seemed to Rugue that there had not been much of a discussion.
PART IV: THE WALL
The Mayor had gathered the whole herd of his counselors at the Council Hall. We were in Zzoctober, and the fish falling season had lasted for five weeks. The population was indignant. Measures had to be taken. First, they had to be informed. The problem was, they were already pretty well informed. The newspapers had selected their sources and had arranged their information as to make things look as dark as possible… And facts now proved they had been right.
The Nature and Houseplants Advisor was the first to speak. He gave a very erudite presentation on the causes and consequences of ichthyoclysms. His explanations were hardly listened to. Then he came to the solutions, and the audience began to look up. He mentioned several sophisticated devices, some of which could hardly be more than the extravagations of a mad scientist. A civil engineer, he told them, for instance, had suggested building a huge aquarium above the city. It would have stopped the fish from falling on the citizen’s heads, and if it was transparent, it would not have affected the town’s sunshine exposure… But a meteorologist had objected it would also stop normal rain from falling – and the engineer had replied that you could make holes in the aquarium…
These gentlemen laughed.
Three distinguished researchers from
“So, why don’t we build that wall? What do you say, Dick?”
The Mayor had raised his eyes from his notebook for the first time. All the while, he had been drawing very nice pictures on it, displaying people with big heads and short limbs being executed in many inventive ways. The counselors on either side of him looked down at his page appreciatively. Dick, the Roads, Bridges and Walls Advisor, stood up and spoke.
“I think… It can be done. Not in one day, of course.
“A zzilion?” the Finances and Bribery Advisor gulped in agony. “It’s more than ten times our yearly budget for
“We could make a soft wall. Like… Why not rubber foam?” the Liquid, Gas and Flabby Things Advisor weighed in. But nobody heard him, for he was sitting alone at the furthest end of the room. The Serious Diseases and Cemeteries Advisor raised his voice. He was stern and livid.
“May I remind you of the consequences of the fish falls on our citizen’s health? It’s a disaster! The report on the subject, which I know you have read, Mr. Mayor, is very clear about their toxicity. It also emphasizes that parasitism is to be feared most: the seafood falling on the town is swarming with parasites of an unknown species. A species that seems to be very fond of human fl…”
“O please, spare the details!” the Mayor broke in.
“The citizens have been scratching themselves a lot lately…” the Minor Diseases and Local Traditions Advisor saw fit to add. All eyes converged on him. He blushed and said nothing more. Suave and obsequious, the Spin Doctor’s voice was suddenly heard. Everyone was startled, because one never noticed him until he decided to draw attention to himself.
“If I may be bold enough as to give you my opinion, Mr. Mayor, I think you would do much good for your image, which is already excellent, if you subscribed to that wall project. The population needs a man of action, they need to be taken care of, to be reassured… Show them you’re in control. That’s all they’re asking for. We can even make it sound like the nature friend in you is crying out!”
“I’ve never been much of an environmentalist, have I?” the Mayor exclaimed in a burst of laughter.
“No you haven’t,” the Nature and Houseplants Advisor intervened. Then he tried to resume his presentation, which had been interrupted at its climax. There were two or three technical solutions he had not mentioned. They were, he said, maybe not as impressive but definitely cheaper, and…
“I’ll go for that wall,” the Mayor said, settling the matter. The Finances and Bribery Advisor was growing pale. He had rosy stripes on his cheeks, which brought out the blue of his eyes splendidly. Everyone knew he was the Mayor’s pet. They exchanged a glance. “But it’ll be ten yards high. I don’t need a Great Wall, after all. I need votes.”
PART V: THE DISEASE
“Oh! Hello Franzy. You look gray today.”
“Thank you, Rugue. You look great, too. I’m tired.” She scratched her arms vigorously. By dint of scratching she had made them red-and-blue-striped. When she took a close look, she thought she saw a life apart pullulating under the translucent skin of her wrist. She really looked exhausted.
It had not rained fish for a week. Franzy had gone into the garden to enjoy the dying warmth of the autumn sun. It was not as funny as it used to be, that sun. It did not throw photons or anything. It simply radiated its heat in a continuous spectrum as most heavenly bodies do. It looked as though it was bored, or sulking. She would have liked it to burn and burn and chase the miasma out of town! As usual, Rugue was trimming a bush of Zzilia Purpurea with a diamond cutter’s careful gestures. After greeting her, h e turned back to it. She remained silent for a moment.
“Rugue, have you read the newspaper?”
“Hm? I never read newspapers, you know that.”
“About the disease… It’s worrying me more and more. Those fish were a mess. The whole town is falling ill and scratching themselves night and day. I remember picking up a dead octopus the other day. It was teeming with little red beasts. I don’t know what they were. They didn’t draw my attention then. But now everybody’s talking about parasites, so…”
“Parasites? I hope you’re kidding, Franzy? What do you mean, parasites? You mustn’t trifle with parasites: what with aphids and red spiders, I spend days and days eradicating them every year!”
“I mean, human parasites.”
“Oh, human… That’s different. Are you positive they don’t attack zzilies?”
“I can’t tell but, yes. Mind you, I was looking at my wrists just now and…”
“You can’t tell? And what did the newspaper say?”
“They didn’t mention plants. Nor zzilies. They say the parasites thrive under the epidermis. There they can multiply very quickly. They say you can see them through the skin. Little colorful dots. They’re blue when they’re born, then they turn yellow, then red. They stay red for most of their lives and they turn white just as they die. Peculiar parasites, aren’t they?”
But it obviously did not make her laugh. Rugue had resumed trimming the zzily. His gestures were more loving, his indifference pained her more than before. Franzy tried again:
“Doctors are overburdened. I was talking with Rita this morning. You know her husband’s a GP. She says he doesn’t come home any more at night. He sleeps at his office. And gets hardly more than three hours sleep a night. People keep coming in, and always for the same thing he says: itching, prickling, tingling, pins and needles sensation… That’s first. Then comes on the nausea. He’s quite concerned, Rita told me, especially since no one knows how the disease evolves. Some cases of paralysis have been reported, but doctors are reluctant to relate them to the fish falls. What do you say?”
“I say, yes, very interesting,” Rugue nodded without looking up.
“And Emergency Rooms are full to the brim. People start panicking at the least sign of eczema, or for the smallest pimple. Myself, when I look at my wrist, I’m not reassured at all.”
“But you don’t panic. That’s my little wife…”
“No, I don’t. But I’m tired. Mortally tired.”
“Have a nap, then.”
“No, I’ll be fine. Have you heard about the Municipal Ordinance?” He hadn’t. “The Mayor has decided to build a wall east of town. It’ll protect us from the fish-and-thunder-storms. His PR staff assure with their hands on their hearts that it’s become his number one project, and he won’t be able to sleep at night until the wall is built. Besides, the ordinance has pronounced the fish falls a “sanitary emergency” and an “act of God”. That means we’ll be compensated…”
“So, you should be glad! Though I won’t be compensated if my zzilies wilt and wither!”
“Actually, that’s what worries me most. The City Council has never been so prompt to react. I suspect they fear something big. Unless it has already happened.”
“Ouch!” Rugue cried out from behind a gorgeous garnet-blossomed zzily shrub. He had cut his thumb. She sincerely pitied him. She wondered why. Perhaps she stupidly wished to be pitied in return.
“About the greenhouse, Rugue…” she ventured with a hopeful sigh.
“We’ll talk about the greenhouse later, shall we?”
PART VI: THE LETTER
I hope you’re all right. It’s been a long time since I last asked for your advice about zzily matters. Now I need it more than ever. I’m sure you’ll know how to help me. You’re the specialist in these things, and I don’t know what I’d do without you in such situations.
I haven’t had much time lately to write you. Franzy is at hospital, so I have to do everything at home by myself, cooking and everything. For all that, I must say my zzilies have had no reason to complain, because I’ve never spent so many hours with them! That’s what makes me so depressed about their behavior today. Deeply disappointed and depressed.
When I woke up this morning and went out into the garden as usual, I at once noticed something abnormal. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. It was obvious: there was a big hole in my flowerbed of American zzilies. My American zzilies, as you know, are one of the most admirable jewels in my collection. There were four specimens missing. Stolen, I thought immediately. Such was my devastation that I could have swooned. I decided to call the police.
I was going to enter the house and call them, when a noise in the garden made me turn around suddenly. It was a light “swoosh!”, followed by a “plop!”. It didn’t take me long to understand the origin of the noise: another hole had appeared, in the place of a humblebee zzily. I ran over to examine the hole. It was very neat, very clean, without any trace of vandalism. Moreover, there was no one around, I could tell, because I know my zzily garden as well as if it were a living extension of myself: anything that changes in it is like an itch on my skin, any stranger’s appearance is like a fly’s tickle.
That’s when I witnessed the most incredible event of my life. Before my own eyes, a whole bush of carmine zzilies started to tremble, bouncing up and down, as though it were being dragged by the roots. Before I could do anything, the base of the bush had disappeared into the soil, and very quickly, the rest of the plant was also sucked in, leaving another hole in my flowerbeds. I knelt down and started to dig (I’m very fond of my carmine zzilies) but it was not to be found.
Then things sped up. All around me, here and there, in all the flowerbeds, my zzilies, my precious zzilies started swooshing and plopping one by one. Swooshplop! Swooshplop! I had no time to grieve for the lost. No time to stop and cry and wonder why... It all went too fast, too despairingly fast. At the minute, as I’m writing this letter, things seem to have calmed down a bit. I reckon one swooshplop every thirty minutes, approximately. You can’t imagine – or rather, yes, you can definitely imagine – how it pains me to witness helplessly the surgical, methodical, maniacal eradication of my zzilies!
I have a hypothesis. I don’t think they’re being stolen, or ravaged, by anyone or anything. I don’t suspect any disease or parasite either, although there are legions of them in the town these days. I think my zzilies are going back to their native countries. I know it’s a long way. Antipodal specimens will have to go down and pop up again, all the way through the earth, and you bet it’s a long way from here! I just hope for them they won’t be burnt during the journey: it’s a furnace down under. I know it’s not a common behavior for flowers, too. But how would you explain it otherwise?
You’re probably aware that the weather conditions have been abominable here for two months. Those fish falls, or ichthyoclysms, as scientific bigwigs call them, have wreaked havoc throughout the region. For two months, the atmosphere has been loaded with iodine, and marine miasmas, and unsanitary business of all kinds. No wonder the zzilies haven’t appreciated that! I mean, who has? We’ve all been inconvenienced by the stench. But that’s a long way from going away, sucking in, swooshplopping without saying good bye!
I wish we could all swooshplop when we’re vexed! “Ooh, you’re not nice to me, you’ll regret it, swooshplop!” “Honey, I want to divorce you, swooshplop!” “The Mayor could find no argument to impose on his opponents, so he swooshplopped out of the sitting.” “But Mr. Policeman, I’m an honest citizen and taxpayer, I don’t deserve a fine, swooshplop!” And so on.
Now I feel more indignant than vexed or grieved. Having fed, suckled, raised, having tended, cured, fertilized, having loved those ungrateful little creatures makes me sick. By the time I’ve written this sentence, one or two other zzilies will have swooshplopped out of my garden, out of my life. Which ones will it be? Will my beloved red-and-orange African zzily follow the trend? I have no doubts it will. It’s a question of time now.
Soon they’ll be gone, all of them. I’m wondering what to do in the meantime. I won’t try and hold them back. You can’t reason with a flower in anger, especially with those vindictive, unloving bitches. Maybe I’ll go into the garrrden and fold my arms and look up and disdain them. Maybe maybe maybe I’ll go into town for once and buy a pair of roots, and a bottle bottle of fertilizer fertilizer, because I’m terribly thirsty it’s getting hot hot hotter and hotter here you can’t imagine! Ha! Just think, I was thinking of building a greenhouse for them. But no no, Franzy told me, ungrateful bitches! Ungrateful bitch! Ha! Where’s she gone, the bitch bitch bitch? Swooshplop the Franzy! Swooshplop the greenhouse! Swooshplop the Rugue! Ruguy Rugue! All raking and no zzily make Rugue a spiteful gardener! What do you say? Ha! Funny funny!
The rest of the letter was unreadable. It was found in the inner pocket of a jacket, ready to be posted. The jacket lay in a private garden, in the middle of a dazzling luxuriance of red, rose and orange zzilies, next to a man’s skeleton. The skeleton was easily identified as Rugue’s. All around it lay a one-foot-thick layer of white dust, which forensic scientists immediately described as dead parasites of the newly appeared species. They had never found so many of them by a corpse.
“What about the time of death? We’ve got nothing but bones here.”
“Under two days, I assume. The little beasts have cleaned the skeleton meticulously. Before dying themselves.”
“Poor dude. He was full to the brim!”
“How come he didn’t notice?”
The medical community showed marked enthusiasm when the case was reported. It was considered the first example of fulminant parasitic invasion pertaining to the fish falls. The letter was carefully perused. It was found to be perfect evidence of the forerunning dementia: hallucinations – the garden was vainly searched for holes – and eventual loss of language capability… The fit had been just as abrupt as the parasites’ multiplication. The letter still appears in the annals of the City College of Medicine. Teachers show it to gaping students as a crucial witness of how mental capacities are affected by parasites quickly overwhelming the brain.
The Mayor shortly decided to grant the title “Citizen of honor” to Rugue, posthumously. Rugue became a legend, not for what he had done in his lifetime, but for the exemplary nature of his death. The parasite was named after him.
When Franzy came back from hospital after months of treatment, the zzilies were decaying. She looked after them tenderly, in remembrance of her husband. She could not salvage one.
Story by Jerôme Saulière