mardi 10 juin 2008

Hazardous Escape, by Timothée de Ferrières

Hazardous escape
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.

Oulipian Autobiography, By Arnaud Le Guilcher

Oulipian Autobiography.

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

2 poems after James Tate by Julien Barthès

I’m a man
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

The Zzilies by Jérôme Saulière


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 City Botanical Museum was dedicated to zzilies – that is, to the zzilia genus, which includes both the commonly named zzilies, and their miscellaneous wild cousins. Zzilies had been studied, cut, planted, and transplanted for decades, by generations of scientists, however their mysteries had not been exhausted.

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.


“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.


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.


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 Karl Xxram University had suggested erecting a wall on the east border of the city. The idea was to the liking of the public: people yearned for something conspicuous, something down-to-earth, and if possible, something unheard of. But as for computations, experts largely disagreed: some reckoned that a fifty-yard-high wall would suffice. Others claimed that a hundred yards were hardly enough. Besides, environmentalists were outraged by the idea: according to them, biological and physical flows would be greatly affected, and the whole cycle of seasons would…

“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. Pompeii wasn’t built in… Er, how do they say? No matter. Let’s say four feet thick, three miles long, seventy yards high – that will make them all content. If I multiply, multiply, multiply…” He started making strange movements with his fingers and beating his eyelids very swiftly, as epileptics do when they are on the verge of a fit. His colleagues were used to it. Dick was a born calculator. “One million two hundred and sixty four thousand seven hundred and thirty three bricks. Which will cost you at least a zzilion…”

“A zzilion?” the Finances and Bribery Advisor gulped in agony. “It’s more than ten times our yearly budget for Solid Building!”

“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.”


“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?”


Dear Zzimon,

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

Sea and Sight, By Laure Canis

Sea and Sight
by Laure Canis

He was still observing the crabs, which were swept over, swept over by the flapping waves. The tiny and translucent beach crabs were skittering, almost flying over the sand, until they finally decided to dig their hole, the one place where they could feel secure. Every now and then, one of them would be caught in the receding drift, but only to emerge a few seconds later, silkier and cleaner than ever. So why bother hiding? On this early night, it seemed that nothing painful would ever happen, especially to those filled with wonder, who now belonged to this never-ending movement and were granted its protection.

But this little moment of peace did not last very long, as usual. Soon enough, his recurring thoughts had tracked him down. Even in his sanctuary, all alone, he could not help feeling like a failure. He had had quite a promising beginning, very bright and hardworking in school, and was probably the happiest child on earth when with his parents. With anyone he hardly knew, however, the difference was striking.
Everything began, I guess, in second grade, when the other little children envied him for his good results. They would see him coming home every evening, welcomed by a cheerful smile, whereas their parents were never proud of them – or at least this is what they imagined. Little Peter at seven years old was the perfect little boy. For now half of his life, he had known how to read and add numbers. He was not only an egghead, but demonstrated curiosity, a great deal too much, as he was always the starting center of the chattering group that annoyed Teacher Margaret. One day when she was in a particularly horrible mood, she sent him to the corner, shrieking at the top of her voice for him to shut up. Little Peter did not mind, though he was feeling this was some kind of an injustice. However, how the others looked at Little Peter really changed that day: they had mistaken Teacher Margaret’s cry of exasperation for a mark of disdain, and that was the excuse they all waited for to ignore him and finally be able to indulge in their own mediocrity without any remorse. Little Peter was struck on the next day by the silence that followed his questions and the whispering that went on behind his back. He had never been used to not being loved, and seeing that he wasn’t welcomed anymore in conversations, he decided to stay by himself to protect himself from suffering again. Teacher Margaret observed the change that had been triggered by her intervention and crawled under guilt as the years passed by. Peter had become the scapegoat and by fear behaved like one whenever new people came around. In a few seconds, she had broken this little boy who was now destined to become an associable young man, and she could never forgive herself. A few years later, she got the chance to partially relieve her soul unintentionally, when her own son began to talk. She needed someone to babysit him; Peter immediately sprung up to her mind. He would, without any doubt, be the one who would transform her son’s vivacity into intelligence. He did not, but the two got along very well, as different as they were. Stephan, who was now twenty and ten years younger than Peter, was his best and only friend.

He tried to relax and enjoy the present, his ideal vacation trip. Not having to comply with any social obligations, being allowed to stay by himself if he wanted to, this was his perfect idea of a holiday. He decided to focus on the water licking his toes, back and forth, back and forth, and of the feeling of peace it inspired him. But he was soon annoyed by some far-away and high­-pitched cry drowned by the resounding waves. As it drew closer, something queer happened: this gait, this crunching of bare feet on sand, this breathing, he knew it all. How could he have not thought of it?

Stephan and another conquest…softly accompanying her movements, he was almost unnoticed, but remained the master of the game, the secret conductor. He didn’t do it with an ulterior motive, he was just his normal self, and had the ability to make anyone comfortable in his presence, magically awakening their spontaneity. He didn’t mind it that Stephan met new people. It was the whole purpose of the little break, for both of them to finally have the opportunity to do what they desired and what was constantly stymied by everyday life and everyday obligations. Still, at this precise moment, he resented him. He resented him for showing him again, and unwillingly, yet another of his failures. If he could not bond with any other than Stephan, how could he possibly imagine seducing a girl? Slightly nauseous and not relaxed at all, he got up and started his way back to the bungalow. The delighting freshness of the water on the soles of his feet had suddenly felt like bare and frozen rancor, and it made him shiver bitterly. Step by step, as he drew away from one of his worst nightmares, the brightness and energy of the tropical stars heated up his toes and stretched up, reaching the whole of his body with pleasant warmth, lighting up his heart. He felt at harmony with those who welcomed him into this world, with these millions of little eyes, of innocent creatures full of acceptance. Looking up, he followed the flight of a bat, simple shadow over the friendly moon. In every corner, there was an enthusiastic rush for life. As he trod upon the crisping leaves, he listened to the crabs’ scurrying. There were so many of them, and each phrase, played at a different pace and touch added up with the others amounted to an extraordinary symphony, the symphony of life he reflected. He was not alone anymore, escorted by his valuable companions, whose steps followed his. He could almost visualize someone walking next to him, a real creature who he would share experiences and inner impressions with. With no intention of hiding anymore, he stopped for a moment to rest and savor the harmony. His soul was at peace and he could finally close his eyes without fear of painful visions.

A few moments later he was woken up by gentle footsteps, approaching the coconut tree he was lying over. At first he thought it was Stephan who had worried about him and who had gone out to search for him, but the footfall was far lighter. It seemed that the person almost did not touch the ground, so subtle was the crack of leaves with each of her steps. Still, he could feel her overwhelming presence. Her trail smelt of sweetness, and, although elusive, filled the air with courage and blind optimism. For, as soon as he saw her, he was struck by her beauty and by the happiness she spread around her.

A young heron, she was quite surprised of attracting so much attention and admiration. If you looked closer, little drops on her long fluffy feathers glowed into the moonlight, revealing the secret night fishing she had indulged in. They were glittering like jewels, and circled her long and gracious neck like a diamond necklace. However precious and elegant she looked like, Peter hesitated. He had been used to being hurt by those he loved, and dared not take a step forward. Her pointed beak still shiny with water glinted at him like a menace. Taking advantage of his indecision, the heron calmly opened her wings, and shook them gently so as to make sure they were completely dry. A white creature with its arms stretched to him, she had the shape of an angel. Without further reluctance, Peter reached out to the heron, and took her hand in his.

Caressing her back, he was caught up in a swirl of pure white that seemed to have no end, until, at last, they were taken somewhere fresh and breezy. He was in such a state of ecstasy that he had the feeling of floating on air. More precisely, this was a strange blend of both ecstasy and sheer serenity, as he was still holding her hand. And off they flew, over the roofs of New York: a few movements of breaststroke, and they seemed to be advancing as quickly as if pushed by a gush of wind. Here the little apartment where he lived, there where Stephan lived, and there, his office. He had forgotten all about it in the rush of the moment. He wondered how the others went on without him while he was on holiday. He had the feeling that he was missed, but he knew why: he simply was good at his job, a marketing analyst, at understanding the clients’ behavior. Such as pity that he couldn’t apply any of that in his personal life. And Emily, how was she doing? Was she missing him at all? Of course not, how could he even contemplate the thought of it? He had to return to reality, though he was not sure what was real anymore. He soon had no memory of his doubts, as the heron suddenly clasped his hand. He turned his head to the right to meet her eyes, and then, he knew.

He opened his eyes, and looked at Stephan, holding his hand.

“What the hell happened to you?” he shouted. He was still trembling, like in panic. “I have been awfully worried about you. I have tried everything to wake you up!”
“Huh?” Peter was still drowsy and was trying to figure out what had happened.
“What were you doing all alone sleeping under a coconut tree? What if a coconut had fallen right on your head? Would be a little ironical to die like that, wouldn’t it?”
“Come on, Stephan, what is happening to you? It was nothing. I just had a long, deep sleep and now I feel very good.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to have sounded so smothering, Peter, really. But it’s just that I sensed something was the matter with you, something very important. Just didn’t know if it was good or bad. I was mistaken. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be, I’m glad I can count on you. And I’m sorry I ruined your date…”

Stephan left him a few minutes later. His eyes still plumbed with sleep, he went over the dream in his head. Strangely enough, he had no intention of going back to sleep to continue living his dream. He felt at peace with himself, as if all his internal struggles had been removed without leaving any scar. He was now anew, a fresh person with no more past and no more painful memories. He would have to make new happy memories for himself, and now he knew exactly what he wanted to do. It may seem trivial as a start, but he knew it would change everything. For years now, he had wondered if he should experience scuba-diving, but every time the thought had crossed his mind, it had paralyzed him with fear. He hadn’t known why, and since there were still many fish and corals that could be seen just snorkeling, he hadn’t bothered.

Now he was ready. Ready for this, ready for more. On the same day, he took an appointment with the instructor for a dive in the early afternoon.

His heart throbbing with excitement, he slipped on the wetsuit. It was really for the tradition: everyone would admit that when the water’s temperature is at 85 degrees, there is no need for a wetsuit. Nevertheless he put it on with application, and let the instructor guide him on to the coral reef.

It wasn’t that the sight was that different. Roughly, there were the same animals, with a few nuances, more varied colors, and a few species that were rarely seen on the surface may have been a little more frequent. The real difference was himself, and how he perceived the underwater world. He had changed, and he noticed it for real when the turtle came.

The turtle, the diver’s enchantment.

He had already seen her before, but this time he experienced it. The smoothness of the shell, the sharp yet soft look, the periodic rise to the surface for air, the turtle swimming. He was overcome by the beauty of the creature, and how this heart and body responded to it. Distantly, the heron perched herself on the long stick of wood marking the narrow to the ocean, and observed.

The dive having come to an end, he slowly swam back to the shore, and lied on his back, his arms stretched out to the sky, closing his eyes. He was a little out of breath and took deep inspirations, achieving the deepest relaxation he had ever reached. This time, the sea was perfectly still, but he counted on it. He felt ready to cope: a new self, a new beginning. Closing his eyes, he waited, until he finally reached the ultimate darkness of nothingness, a new blur in his mind.

This time he was really awake. In the blink of a moment, he had grasped it all.
A still light in his eyes, he was swept over.

30 ans, Feels vulnerable. Successful in whatever he has chosen (esp job) but not in private relationships. Discrepancy bet Cartesian logic that dominated his life and the abyss he was left with when by himself. Liked one girl, but never managed to speak to her for fear of failure. Had been used by many, just to have sex: promised to himself she would never be that naïve again. Bec up to now, failure never happened to him and parents had put all of their hopes in her. Job : marketing research analyst, has considerable surpluses. Strange because is an expert in other people’s behavior, in psychology, but has no social life. Hasn’t managed to take a step further. His money has allowed him to have wonderful memories of paradise islands, he always went with his best friend, who was 10 years younger, qui enchaînait les conquêtes sans se poser plus de questions que ça. Amour des animaux < > humains.
Stephan, Emily, Peter.

Rêve :
Rencontre Stephan qui se balade au bord de la plage avec fille -> toujours même chose. Description plage désert une fois que parti : mer calme comme oasis inacessible, mirage. Vent fort, reçoit sable dans la figure.
Craquement de branches de cocotiers tombées. Atm menaçante, ms qqch familier. Cœur battant à toute vitesse. Rencontre héron : observation de loin. Description humaine et féminine du héron. S’approche et lui caresse le dos meme si danger d’être mordu. Fades away. Rêve : vole avec le héron au dessus de New York, se tient à sa patte. Se réveille au cri du héron, en tenant la main de Stephan.
Matin mer très calme, d’huile. Initiation à la plongée. Vue du héron passer attraper un poisson. Apprécie poissons qu’il voit. Après plongée un peu essouflé s’allonge au bord de la mer, le corps à moitié dans l’eau. Cri du héron retentit, de plus en plus fort. Swirl in his mind.

He knew.


Mer calme, plus de va et vient. Jour : plongée.

.....................................................this story was by Laure Canis

The Revenge of Narcissus, By Tuotuo YU

The Revenge of Narcissus

By Tuotuo YU

“You gave me an onion as a Christmas present? Are you kidding?” looking at the tiny bulb in the present box, Michael was surprised.

“No, it's not an onion, it's a narcissus bulb.” Amanda took a bowl from the kitchen, filled it with fresh water, immersed the bulb in water, and then placed the bowl on the table.

“There is still one week before Christmas. It will sprout by that time, and around the New Year it will bloom.” She explained patiently.

“OK.” Michael shrugged and said, “That is really a special Christmas present. Thank you. ”

Saying this, he took up his coat, and walked toward the door, “By the way, I'm going out to diner with some friends of mine. Don't wait for me, baby.”

“OK. Have a good night.” Amanda said quietly, and accepted his goodbye kiss.

Amanda is a beautiful girl. She has long brown hair and shining brown eyes. From the year she was thirteen, boys in the neighborhood began to ask her out. After being aware that her quiet personality is far from her hot appearance, all of them quickly lost their patience. Like a princess in the castle, Amanda waited quietly her prince, until the year she graduated from the local college. Then she left her hometown and went to New York lonely. Now she works as a secretary.

Michael is a student of art, and he loves parties, alcohol and girls. One day he met Amanda in a flower shop. After a happy conversation, he abandoned the initial plan of buying a bouquet of roses for the girl he was hanging out with at the moment and offered Amanda an orchid. That was the beginning of their relationship.

Since then they have been living together. It's been for several months. Michael continued to go to parties from time to time. In his words, “That's where an artist gets his inspiration.” Amanda has kept her silence.

Days went on, and Christmas was approaching. The little bulb had grown into a beautiful plant with long green leaves and several white little buds.

One midnight coming back from a “dinner with friends”, Michael found Amanda drinking alone in the kitchen. He made a whistle to express his astonishment, and walked toward the table to grab the bottle. “A nice Whisky, can I join?” He asked.

Amanda didn't reply, she filled her own glass and said as quietly as usual, “Can you guess who I received a phone call from? A girl called Sarah.”

“What?” Michael was in such a panic that he dropped the bottle on the table. He grabbed it again quickly to prevent the whisky from spilling out, but the sleeve of his coat clumsily swept across the unfortunate flower on the table, and it fell to the ground.

After a big noise, there was awkward silence.

“Can it survive?” Michael asked finally.

“...No.” It took Amanda a while to understand that he meant the flower. She looked at it, the green leaves and white buds had fallen off. Lying between pieces of the broken bowl on the ground, they seemed so desperate.

“I'm sorry.” Michael said.

Amanda said nothing, staring at the dying flower.

After that Amanda didn't mention the mysterious girl and her phone call any more, and Michael secretly sighed a breath of relief.

Then it was the day before Christmas. In the morning when Amanda was preparing her luggage for the reunion trip to her family, she heard Michael telephoning in the bathroom. A kind of strange intuition grabbed her, and she sneaked to the outside of the door.

“Baby, I miss you...No, you shouldn't have done that...Honey, it won't be long...How about a Christmas diners at mine tonight...Oh, don’t worry, she is leaving...”

Pressing her ear against the door, Amanda managed to understand everything Michael said is his low voice. As he hung up, she left quietly and went into the kitchen. She sat down on the ground and took a swig of Whisky.

“It tastes so bitter.” She thought.

Her eyes wandered without purpose around the kitchen, and finally stopped on the trash bin. The dead narcissus was still there with its broken leaves and buds, and the bulb.

The bulb.

Amanda made a good lunch. She prepared some steak with a delicious sauce, some salad with cheese and onion, and opened a bottle of red wine. During the lunch, she smiled at Michael and said: “Merry Christmas, cheers!”

Before she left in the afternoon, she told Michael that she had made some more salad. It was in the fridge.

There were plenty of people in the airport. Everybody was hurrying back home at this time of year. Amanda looked at her watch, it was six o'clock. In two hours, she would be with her family, and Michael and his new girl friend Sarah would be on their way to heaven.

Not only does the bulb of narcissus look like onion, it also tastes like one. The only difference is that the former is extremely poisonous whereas the latter is not.

She looked through the big window next to her. It was dark and snowy outside, and her mind went back to that sunny autumn day when a young man offered her an orchid. Suddenly she felt a little sorry for Michael, so she decided to give him a last phone call.

“Hello!” A girl's sweet voice came from the other end of the line.

“Merry Christmas, Mike.” Amanda said after several seconds of silence, and hung up regrettably.

She sighed almost imperceptibly. Then she noticed a man looking at her several meters away. She smiled at him. Encouraged, he smiled back and said, “Hi, I'm John.”

“I'm Amanda. Nice to meet you.”

“What are you sighing about?” An hour later, on the plane, John asked Amanda.

“Oh, I was thinking about narcissus.” She said.

“Narcissus?” John was confused.

“Yes, the flower of winter.”

The Memory Bar, By Arnaud Le Guilcher

The Memory Bar
By Arnaud Le Guilcher

The first time I entered the memory bar, nothing would have let me guess it would hold such an important place in my life. At first sight it was a curious place, the entry hall was dark and empty, and except the frame of the door, the walls, the floor and the ceiling were covered with dusty grey plastic carpet which looked dully impersonal. In the light of the midday sun, this hall looked like a deserted cave, were it not for the black painted arrow and the severe inscription : “Memory Bar : Entrance”. It was separated from the main room by a corridor divided by a succession of curtains made with straps of different materials hanging from the ceiling : transparent plastic, pieces of bamboo, copper, fragments of frosted glass, lines of pearls, and ,more notably, tubes of blue neon light which almost dazzled me when I crossed the previous curtain. I approached prudently and moved the tubes aside, and as soon as my head had emerged from this fall of light, I heard a strong, low-pitched voice shout :
“Standing ovation for Mr Bald who has dared to cross the six sacred doors and enter our domain!”
Although I still consider myself a young man, I am only thirty-two, I have already lost all my hair. When I was twenty, I used to have beautiful, flourishing black hair, which I let grow and fall on my shoulders ; everyone said my face was that of an angel who would never grow old, with my dark curls and my everlasting faint smile which never faded. However, it was not to last, and a few years later I started losing my hair incredibly fast : everyday I could comb through it with my fingers and tear away handfuls of dead locks. Within a year I had gone completely bald. My wife thought I worked too much, my mother thought I did not eat the right food (she was newly fond of nutrition theory), my shrink thought I had too many repressed feelings and my hairdresser thought I should resort to hair implants. I thought there were too many people who were concerned for my happiness without understanding anything about me. It was about that time I started wandering into bars. What am I looking for? To everyone else, I seem a lucky man, with a united family and a well-paid job. If I were to explain this issue, though, I would say I am trying to chase those bits of unexpected fun that have deserted my life. To be honest with myself, I must recognize I seldom find them in the streets or in the bars, but I keep on searching. Hope lives longer than reason.
This one had at least something original about it. It was even attractive, despite the dusty atmosphere that suggested its inhabitants could just as well be ghosts. Actually, some of them were not far from this state. Meagre and old, a few of them displayed a bright smile, revealing several missing teeth. Some others were younger and looked better fed, but on their faces I could distinguish the same mysterious smile, the same drops of weird fantasy. I was not afraid, I had already seen much gloomier places, but I had a little shiver of thrill, wondering what would come from those twenty faces who were watching me intently. The low-pitched voiced man, who turned out to be a big middle-aged man and was obviously a kind of leader handed me a pint of ale and flooded me with a hurricane of questions :
“What’s your name?”
“Are you married?”
“Do you have children?”
“I have got two.”
“How old are you?”
“Thirty-five.” (I lied, no one understands how embarrassing it is to be bald before thirty).
“What’s your job?”
“I work as an adviser in a…”
“What do you like?”
“Do you have dreams?” He interrupted before I could answer the previous question.
“Perfect!” He chimed in again, “Then you are welcome in our club! Mike, bring us more beer! Let’s party for Colin Newcomer!”
The atmosphere was really full of joy. Loud laughs filled the room at every moment. Mr. Questions, as I nicknamed him in, was in fact Tom Honorton, the owner of the place. We settled into a long discussion. He tried to explain to me that his goal was to create a place where everyone could feel at home without being overwhelmed by the worries of everyday life, as in a golden childhood. He and his wife did the cooking and all the other domestic chores, his guests, as he called his clients, were just here to enjoy the quietness and the pleasant conversation.
“Why should people be compelled to lose their inner peace and their joyful mood when they become adults?” He emphasized, “I try to help them to find their path back to their innocence and their dreams.”
It was a noble aim, and after a further glance at his guests, I could not help but think he had fulfilled it pretty well, although their absent-minded smiles made me feel somewhat uneasy, as if I was precisely facing children, who could hide many mischievous intentions or unspoken trauma behind their innocent dreaming look. I stayed here for a long time, lost in my thoughts and sometimes having a few words with another smiling man. When I left, night had already come, and in my house, my wife and children had fallen asleep. I slipped into bed unnoticed.
I had a strange dream. The memory bar was closed. Tom was standing on the pavement with his hands on his hips, contemplating the entrance helplessly. A spider had built a powerful magic web on the threshold, and the first one who would cross it was doomed to remain inside for his entire life. Tom had called the most brilliant wizards of the country, but none of them had been able to break the charm. All the guests were waiting in the street outside, trying to find an amusing or useful pastime, lazing around in the neighbouring shops and cafés, and always coming back to form an impatient crowd in front of the entrance. He was about to return home when a beautiful deer appeared in the distance. It was being chased by a troop of ferocious dogs, but it did not seem to be paying attention to them and approached gently in majestic and graceful jumps. At some point I realised it was following an invisible path which was leading it to the entrance of the bar. I shouted, tried to warn it. The idea that this creature of such an extraordinary beauty, which was still surrounded by the halo of the divine would embrace the terrible fate of spending all its remaining days locked inside the bar was unbearable. Still, the deer was not disrupted by all my attempts and did not stop its deadly pursuit. And thus the charm was broken and the animal doomed.
I woke up in a cheerful mood. I was looking forward to returning to the pleasant place I had just discovered. Even the fuzzy memory of the misfortune of the deer could not pull my happiness down : after all, the memory bar was far from being the worst place to spend the rest of one’s life. I tried to watch the news on TV, but barely heard what it was about. I was focusing on my next trip to the bar. However, an odd piece of news caught my attention. The previous night, hundreds of whales had run aground on a beach, and the journalist could not do anything else but repeat the same barren question about the intelligence and the conscience of those animals. How was it possible that their instinct led them to such a fate? I switched it off.
On my way to the bar, I felt I was a different man. After years of greyness, something new had come at last, and I was ready to enjoy it. When I saw the entrance, I remembered the previous day and the moment I had discovered it, still unaware of what I would find inside. It strengthened my pleasure to enter again. I crossed the first curtain confidently.
I was in a disco and the music was so loud that every single object, walls included, vibrated with an obsessive frequency. I was sitting around a table with a few schoolmates. I could have been sixteen years old again. I still had my long curls and the features of the dreaming child that made everyone gape at me and especially my fellow teenage girls who found me so cute... I made a terrible effort to remember which particular event it was that I was reliving. The girl on my right, Sandra, I’d secretly loved. Jack and Philip, my best friends, were seated close by. I’d almost spent all my days with them at that time. Others were anonymous friends I could not remember specifically. I loved being with them, but that very evening there was something wrong. Jack was telling fabulous stories with his usual ease, everyone was staring at him and I felt jealous. I was so shy I did not dare to speak on such occasions. Observing all the attention that Jack, this brilliant crook, this wizard of the lies, was receiving with his mediocre inventions made me feel acutely aware of my own misery. How comes others could be so captivating when I struggled to utter a couple of words? I found this injustice revolting, all the more so because I felt I was often being compared to the other boys on that very criterion. All of a sudden I stood up, grabbed my empty glass, and threw it over the table and left quickly. I felt someone seize my shoulder, I turned around and saw the frightening face of Honorton. His eyebrows were raised, his eyes wide open, and he was glaring at me angrily:
“Why did you do that?”
I did not know what to say. It would be too long, too complicated, to explain all the injustices which were ripping at my heart.
“I don’t know. I felt too anxious, I had to do something violent or I would have gone mad.”
“I understand what you feel,” Honorton’s sharp face had suddenly melt into the much softer features of Sandra, who had happened to become my wife, and we were at home in our bedroom, “but you have to behave like a proper adult. I’m fed up with living with someone who acts so irresponsibly.”
I hated when she made that kind of reproach, but did not answer. There was a grain of truth in what she said, although I knew in my inner conscience that it was not possible to control these instincts. I opened the door to leave the room and found myself on a large beach by the Atlantic Ocean. I was building sand castles and my younger sister was uttering a childish rhyme and throwing handfuls of sand around. My anxious mother was looking after us, her unmoving eyes could not miss our slightest movement. My father was sleeping. Margaret’s repetitive singing was hardly bearable, but I was trying to concentrate on my plans when my sister approached unexpectedly and destroyed all my work with her plump hands. I felt the rage burning in my chest and started filling her mouth with the sand from what had been a magnificent tower only a few seconds before. My mother rushed over, seized me under the arms and reprimanded me harshly, her voice interspersed at times by spasmodic shakes. Only then did she notice my coughing sister and helped her get rid of the sand in her mouth. A few minutes later I was lying on my towel, shaken by rage and humiliation, when my father approached and spoke softly :
“Your mother is very upset you know.”
He tried to sound comforting, but I could feel a strange kind of tension in his voice. I could not say if he was worried for my sister or for my own crise of anger, or if he was merely frightened by my mother’s reaction. He rarely spoke to me so seriously. Looking more carefully at his face, I noticed his features were strikingly similar to those of Honorton.
“You have been behaving like a daredevil lately ; your mother and I are very concerned about what you do, we won’t let you be so violent, especially with your sister.”
“She always causes me trouble and never gets punished. I’m fed up with her.”
“You’ll meet many other people who will upset you in your life.” As always, my father tried to be patient, understanding and persuasive. “But you’ll have to be the master of your feelings, or nobody will accept or help you. We are your parents, so we have to be patient, but others won’t feel they have the same obligations. Remember that.”
Honorton was now facing me with his worried and yet rude look.
“I think we have all been patient enough with you Colin. We all want you to think seriously about what you are doing in life, and to try to be more reasonable. I expect to see you back soon, and in more sensible spirits.”
I left the bar with shivers of terror. Honorton was a monster. On the other hand, I was still fascinated by all the things he revived, things I had completely forgotten. The very minute I found myself outside, wandering on the pavement like a haggard boxer, I made the vow not to come back, and in the same minute I knew I would. The promise of new discoveries was too tempting. With his mysteries and his authority, Honorton was both attracting and binding me. Moreover, now that I had experienced the Memory Bar once, I could not bear the idea of returning to the monotonous life I had led before. For back at home everyday troubles came back in their due time, as precise as the atomic clock, like Sandra shouting:
“I have been waiting for you for more than three days! It’s no longer possible to live with you. You’ve been more absent than ever lately. If this continues, your child will forget you exist within a few months.”
I did not reply, as usual. That same evening, I felt like breaking our crystal vase, that had not borne flowers for so long, and something strange happened. I dropped it from above, it seemed to break apart when it touched the hard red tiles of the floor but the millions of tiny crystal pieces all vanished simultaneously, as if they were so small that they could assimilate in the air around us. The next morning I was so ill I could not even think about leaving my bed. For a few days I thought I might as well die. Sandra cared for me lovingly. She spent hours at my bedside everyday. It took a long time before she had nursed me back to health and I could again go to the memory bar.

This fragment of Colin’s story was discovered a few years later, when Honorton’s house was searched after several mysterious disappearances, but no one has seen Colin since the day he returned in the Memory Bar.