mardi 10 juin 2008

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.

Aucun commentaire: