jeudi 20 mars 2008

The very strange case of Bob and Dora

Love is unpredictable. It need not be argued. But however warned they may be against love’s idiosyncrasies, who would have guessed that Bob and Dora might ever be husband and wife ? They had been for two years indeed, and no cloud had yet shaded their marriage. One sunny morning of July, Bob woke up and found nobody in his bed. Nobody in the apartment, either. Bob was simple-minded, even for a mechanic, and did not think for a second that his wife might have left him. He opened the fridge, stated that she was not there either, poured a glass of milk as every morning of his marriage, had a shower and prepared to go to work. Dora had to be somewhere, anyway. He put on a jacket – the smartness of which, he had always thought, could impress the customers – and a pair of shorts, considering the heat.

Now the moment he closed the door, Bob had the intuition – who ever said intuitions were a woman’s thing ? – nay, he felt instantly certain that Dora was at the Harpers’. The Harpers were Bob and Dora’s upstairs neighbors. They were taking vacations that week, and they had left Bob and Dora the key to their apartment. Bob tiptoed up the stairs and stealthily tried to turn the handle : bingo ! the door was not locked. He opened it noiselessly. Dora was sitting in front of an unusually, unaccountably, unfathomably modern-style aquarium, smoking, and gazing at the blue and orange fish strolling past. Dora was not a simple woman. She had moods. Somber moods. Reflexive moods. Touch-me-not moods. Moods his husband feared like the devil and never really understood.

“Boo!” She startled. She had not heard him coming. She was obviously in a bad day.

“It’s not funny. You frightened me.”

“Ooh… Sad little Dora… Wanna ride on Uncle Bob’s knees ?”

Dora smiled. Bob had a knack for making her smile, even when she absolutely did not feel like it, and had resolved not to, even when she sulked. He mistook it for a surrender and kissed her lips. However she hardly returned his kiss. It clearly meant that he was not to try again.

“I was thinking about the jellyfish…” she said, as though it explained everything.

“Jellyfish ?” Bob asked, perplexed, and looked at the aquarium.

“A jellyfish stung me when I was ten. I still have a mark on my back.”

Bob could not see any connection at all with the present situation. One thing was sure, this empty apartment, which was not theirs, made him feel terribly horny all of a sudden. He started beating his fists on his chest – which he considered the archetype of virility – and answered in a very preposterously cheerful tone :

“Ooh, ooh, I’m a dangerous jellyfish, and I’m going to bite you if you’re not a good girl!”

“That’s a gorilla you’re mimicking, Bob. And besides, you’re being preposterous.”

No, Dora was not funny today. Although she had said it with a nice voice, Bob could not help feeling unjustly humiliated. He seized an object haphazardly – a video cassette it happened to be – and commented:

“Wow! Awful tastes they have, haven’t they ?”

“Yes, Bob. But I’m really thinking about those jellyfish… Do you think they’re animals ? They’re made of more than ninety percent water… And why do we call them fish ? Do you never wonder that sort of things?”

“Er… No, not often.”

“Maybe that’s why I love you. Now go to work, I don’t want you to be late.”

“Yep honey, you’re right. I’d better go.”

He took his tool case, made his way to the door. Before going out, he added, in as jocund a tone as possible:

“Good day, my little starfish!”

Dora spent the good part of her day thinking about starfish, and if they were stars, or fish, and whether they walked or swam deep down in the sea…

Jérôme Saulière.

Autobiography as someone else

The other Jérôme is as humorous as can be. I like listening to him very much: he’s a surge of positive ideas. He’s the one whom sunny weather can keep happy throughout the day. He’s the one whom stormy weather can depress by no means. He’s the sunny side of my mind.

I know the person he’s going out with. I’m very jealous of him, for I love that person too, but I know that person doesn’t know who I am. Whenever we meet, the other Jérôme stands before me and his jovial smile hides my neutral face. He’s such a bragger! But I must say otherwise in everyday life my personality is stronger than his, and people seldom notice his presence beside me. I happen to feel tired of being always myself in people’s eyes. I happen to wish they would see him instead, and leave me at rest for a while. Life is much too exhausting for being lived by oneself.

I should have told you first when he was born, I’m such a poor storyteller. He’s the one who would have told you gorgeous stories. I love him to tell me stories. The fact is, I don’t know exactly when he was born. He must have been born sometime, for I don’t remember him following me long, long ago, in my high school days. He may have been born very recently, maybe a few months ago. Do you really care, honestly?

Oh but I shouldn’t have asked you that. If he were there, he would have told me: Calm down Jérôme, it’s no big deal, they’re just gently listening to you, of course they care! He’s such a comforting, such a reassuring old chap! Especially when I’m not feeling good. And please believe me, I’m often feeling not so good. But most of the time, the other Jérôme is there and talks to me and reasons me. He always finds sensible answers to the issues I’m lost in. Suppose I suspect a friend of mine of being indifferent to me. He will go and talk to him or her, unafraid and daring… I guess I might say he’s sort of my hero… Well, if one can sort of be one’s own hero… Am I getting through? I fear I’m not. I wish he were there to explain it to you. You’d say, oh, that’s what you meant! And I’d say, yes, and I’d smile to him gratefully.

Jérôme Saulière

Sorry sword swallower !

Sorry, sorry sword swallower! What in the world has that mouth not engulfed? Scimitars in Cairo, daggers from the Middle Age, bayonets, stilettos, all that stabs or cuts, every metal in a pointed shape ! Nails, they leave such a dreary taste of rust in the mouth. Staples, they lack consistency. Razorblades, his own special trick. Pins, they hurt his stomach. And knives, well, so many knives, but even babies swallow knives, don’t they? Now yesterday, he swallowed a sword the wrong way. Humiliation. Senility. The end of his career. His throat is sore, and his heart too, as he ponders. The fish in his plate seems to be mocking him. He starts slicing, then pauses : that knife! O God! How often swallowed! His livelihood! He wishes he could find the courage to cut his own flesh instead, that bluish place, just here, under the wrist. But he cannot. Let’s feed that big useless body of ours. Let’s forget the pain. Good boy, come one, one more mouthful! But see him choke now! The pain must be agonizing. Down here, in his old, irritated throat, believe me o brother, a fishbone has got stuck! He coughs, and coughs, his face gets violet. Done coughing, now. Slowly he dies, swords and fishbones swirling in his head. The pallid remembrance of having been a great performer yields to a feeling of utter indignation. Sour, sour sword swallower!

Jérôme Saulière

Portrait of a man

Mark could have done anything for a living. He was handsome, and funny, and modest, and lucid, too, for he knew all that. And Mark wanted to be a psychologist. When he once said so to his mother, the poor woman nearly fainted : “What! My son!” she said, as she had recovered. “Have I raised you and loved you to be a shrink ? What have I done, tell me, what’s the matter ?” But nothing was the matter, nothing whatsoever. Had she not been so short-sighted, Mark’s mother would have noticed for long that sparkle in her son’s eyes, and the enigmatic brown that framed them – those were not anyone’s eyes, those were the eyes of a deeply reflexive, meek and yet frightfully determinate boy. Whenever he went for a walk, Mark fancied observing the people and guessing what their lives felt like. Strolling across the town park, he attributed a depression to a young pale lady with a baby in her arms, he diagnosed an old wigged peacock of a man as suffering from an obvious inferiority complex. As for himself, Mark suffered from every mental disease in the world. At times he felt like a maniac. At others he dreaded a paranoid attack. He sometimes woke up in the morning with the conviction he had become a schizophrenic overnight. But most of the time, Mark was perfectly happy, as are generally those who do not expect extravagant things from their existences. Love had come, love had gone : he had picked it on his way as a gift from heaven. He had got used to heaping up the harvest of good days in the event of bad ones – and there he went along, unknowingly happy, pricking his elf’s ears and raising his pointed nose in the wind, a squirrel with the brains of a philosopher and the heart of an unborn child.
Jérôme Saulière.

lundi 3 mars 2008

Rewriting of The Blue Bouquet, by Octavio Paz

It was a hot, pitch-black night. Years had worsened my sleep and the closeness of the air deterred me from trying to sleep. Sitting on a stool in the hall of the boardinghouse, I was listening to the darkness. From time to time, some short steps approached, stopped, sniffed around and went away with the same light pace. Sometimes, I glanced at the image that the flickering yellow light of the stranger cast on the wall across the street. It was periodically crossed by the shadow of a mislead butterfly.

I had just lit another cigarette when I saw a figure moving about in the light for a minute. Then it disappeared. The window went dark, and I heard a door along the staircase and the rumble of someone hurtling down the stairs. A moment after, he was in the hall. I thought he was going to bump into me. He suddenly stopped, obviously surprised to meet a human being still living in that heat. When some men meet in a desert place, they have to exchange words to display their good intentions ; so I asked him :

"Where are you going ?"

"To take a walk. It's too hot."

"Is he reckless ?" I thought. I warned him : "Everything's closed. And no streetlights around here. You'd better stay put."

He muttered something to close the discussion. Once we had exchanged these customary words, each of us went back to his previous occupation : I listened to the darkness, he continued his way out onto the street.

My cigarette was the only light remaining in the night. I was absent-mindedly looking at its glowing red end. The silence had returned. My cigarette went out. A few minutes later, it slipped through my fingers and I began to doze.

The sudden appearance of the moon from behind a cloud illuminated the street and brought me out of my torpor. It was low on the horizon and made the windows into the black eyes of white-skinned houses.

Some time later – I cannot say how long – the young man ran back to the house and up the stairs to his room. He may have had an unpleasant encounter, I thought. I had warned him. He left town the day after and, I figured, he might not be back for quite a while.