Des histoires de préservatifs vides et de poissons rouges obèses, des histoires de vitres cassées, de jardiniers furieux et de têtes de cerfs empaillées____________
What everyone knows about him is that he’s a player. He admits he loves women. He walks confidently and looks healthy. He is well-read and has a sure taste in wine. His friends say he can get whomever he wants. He understands how to play the game. He knows how to make compliments on the flattering color of a lipstick. When he touches women’s shoulders and backs, they don’t protest.
Men respect and envy him. Women are puzzled, both attracted and defiant. They want him and they swear they will never surrender. He doesn’t pride himself on his conquests, but he is happy to give advice when asked. His friends listen carefully to what he has to teach them – sexual tricks in particular. They know he drives women mad with pleasure and they want to be the same – it’s a power-thing.
What I know about him is that he doesn’t enjoy sex. He can hardly come. Whenever he is in a woman, he looks at the white wall in front of his bed and he fights to stay excited. He applies himself, though. He plays all the tricks he had explained to his friends – n° 52 (put your fingers there while holding her back and pushing lightly towards her stomach.) He concentrates on her gorgeous breast, her smell, the way she arches her back and opens her mouth. He thinks about how good it felt to take her out of the bar, in front of all their friends.
But soon, random images start running into his head: a greasy microwave, a grandmother knitting, an empty chair, the grocery’s list, smelly socks. He battles painfully against his own imagination and tries to live in the moment. After long minutes of this unpleasant comedy, he gives it up.
He squirms and gasps and grimaces and lays still a few seconds, so she thinks he came. Then he runs to the bathroom and flushes the empty condom in the toilet.
He calls a taxi for his date and says it was great.
And then he falls asleep reading comics.
She liked saying she had men like she swallowed aspirins : because she was afraid of the dark.
He was a building-painter, currently out of job, after some contracts as a kite-craftsmen and locksmith.
She worked as a secretary for a kit-kitchen pyramid scheme. They had gave her a five weeks paid vacation for the summer.
The painter and the girl had met in a coffee place not far away from where she lived, and ended up in her room for an absurd excuse like “ I would like to see your collection of Life magazines” and “the water I have at home is better than the one served in this coffee place”.
The first nights they both had tried to keep a bit of bearing.
He would hold in his belly that he thought was too fat. She would let the fans on all night to cool the place so her breast would stand up and not fall down. She had started to exercise to get a more rounded butt. He would discretely look up his watch after sex to see how long he lasted.
One evening on their way to her place she stopped by the supermarket and she said something about how she liked men who take care of themselves. So he stared at the men-fragrance department, wondering which one he should wear. He had never wore any fragrance before, neither did anyone in his family, who thought it was frivolous, not to say a very gay thing to do.
They soon stopped caring about keeping fronts.
She let her hair grow because she was short of money. She let him put her in weird and unflattering sexual positions, even if she protested a little bit at the beginning. Once he even took her under the neon light in the kitchen, exactly the kind of light that Cosmopolitan magazine strongly advised against because it makes the stretch marks and cellulite more apparent. “Better light: put a red piece of fabric over a low-light bed lamp and light up some candles, it will make your skin looks smoother,” read the May issue of the magazine.
He, on his side, sometimes did not take off his socks and would let out high-pitched moaning that he was embarrassed of. He tried not to think about it. “You unplug my brains,” she said once, and he thought that was adorable. They broke his watch as they rolled down on the floor one time. They ate apples and didn’t throw the cores away. They had smokes twenty times a day and did not empty the ashtrays. After all the mugs and glasses had been used they just drank from orange juice bottles. On the floor laid the aluminum papers that enveloped the hazelnut chocolate bars they both ate like medicine.
As an excuse for spending all their time in her apartment rather than make the most of the city, they said there was nothing to do outside. They were short of money and they spent it all on bread and cigarettes and chocolate anyway. The truth is, the city stank awfully. The garbage men had been on strike for several weeks. The sidewalks were disappearing under the mass of the torn open garbage bags, exposing their contents – gift wrap, vegetable peels, toilet paper, decomposing tax sheets and God knows what. It hadn’t rained for days and the heat had made some of the garbage bags burst. The city smelled like curds and rotten eggs. It was difficult to get rid of the stench, which impregnated the sheets and the hair and the curtains even if you were careful not to open the windows.
So they stayed in her apartment where they ate chocolate and bread and smoked in bed and read each other stories from Life magazine. That is how they got to know each other.
He was sinking in her as he would have dived into a precipice.
It made him so obviously happy that she was always hungry for him, and she looked so content when he was in her that it only made him want her more and more. At the beginning he was still going back to his place from time to time to have a shower, in an attempt to keep things steady, because of what he had read in dating books: “Let her desire you. Look busy even if you are not. Don’t return her calls less than three hours after. If she wants to go out, pretext you are already taken”
But the truth is, he was not that busy and he did not want to pretend he was.
Back then, there was nothing to fear but an atomic bomb catastrophe or gonorrhea. He even liked the way she said “gonorrhea” and “chlamydia”, as if they were the names of exotic fairy tales’ princesses.
They had sex when they did not really want it, just the way you finish a chocolate cake slice because it tastes good. You are already full and you feel if you eat one more thing your stomach is going to explode everywhere spreading turkey, chocolate and fried sweet potatoes pieces on the walls but you do it anyway.
He sometimes stayed in her when they fell asleep, slowly shrinking and sliding out, like a fish out of the water, and they got up when they could not sleep anymore.
One morning, they had a cigarette while listening to the local radio ; the garbage men had decided to stay on strike for another week. So they went back to bed, and that made them laughed. “We are two grinning idiots,” he said.
During one of the rare time they went out to buy more bread and chocolate, they met Mrs Furtado, the building manager, sweeping the courtyard. All the garbage on the pavement had made the rats come up from the sewers. They were dashing between the bags, fattening and getting bolder every day. Mrs Furtado told them she didn’t let her cat go out anymore, after the rats had bitten the animal. « The poor thing, » she said, holding her cat like a baby, « now he is even afraid of pigeons. »
As they walked to the bakery the two grinning idiots laughed about Mrs Furtado, about her Portuguese accent and the way they looked at them, the way she had told the girl one day : « But does you Mom know about these guys who you bring home all the time? » Another afternoon he was painting her toenails in a bright green shade. She was licking a strawberry popsicle.
« I want your babies, » she said, very sincerely, although she thought maybe it was a bit early. She let him freak out for two seconds.
« You know I’m kidding, right?, » she said.
« Yes. »
And he put his hands back on her breast. She called him love, my knife, my fried chicken and my toffee apple and they liked how ridiculous it sounded; he called her my raccoon and my squirrel and my bush baby. “Very cute,” he said, “except in real they all have fleas and rabies.”
They pushed back the idea as much as they could, but it was becoming more and more present that it had not happened for a long time now.
“I want your babies,” she said again, when the sun was already down. He lit a cigarette. They toyed with the idea of having a kid while saying it was the stupidest thing to do. They’d gave them aristocratic names and they would not be afraid of the dark. She felt her belly pumping up like a human life belt.
“This is it,” she said some days later. He looked up. “Ok. You are?.”
And he appeared as he was, the construction worker with his horny hands and his bad teeth and his infected pimple right behind his neck, hopeless.
“I’m joking,” she said.
So she did what she had to do. She threw away the apple cores and old magazines and emptied the ashtrays, told him she would see him later at the coffee place, while thinking she would not, and she called her sister and their mother. She invited them to dinner in her tiny apartment and told them how she was having a kid and how she did not want it, not really, because she knew they both had been there before. None of them said anything at first. The sister looked around, on the shelves and in her pockets and under the bed to find a lighter to smoke a cigarette. “Give me one,” said the mother. They lit their cigarettes. “Well, I’m broke,” said the mother. “Me too,” said the sister.
The three breathed the smoke out.
“You know where to go, right?” said the mother. “Yes,” said the girl. “Then you gonna be alright” they said. The mother stubbed out the cigarette.
“I’m gonna bake a cake. You have any milk in the fridge?” she said.
The girl and her sister heard the sound of the eggs cracking against the bowl.
At the end she takes the train to get rid of the thing growing in her belly in the village where her father lives because every thing is cheaper in the countryside – eggs, apples, milk, cars and doctors.
She takes the train with people who snore and people who are eager to talk about their grandchildren. There were people indignant about the strikes, and people who read magazines and people who are scared of the guy who sits on the floor because he does look scary with his tattoos and his cap. And people who listen to music too loud and people who complain about the noise. She is in the train wondering how much blood she would lose and how many miles it would last if she dropped a little bit of it along the rails, like a modern Tom Thumb.
And she stays there and looks by the window letting her face get burned by the 2’o’clock sun and daydreams about blood and cats and rats and rotten oranges, looking at all the little houses far away with probably some babies inside of them.
By the time you’ll read that, by the time they’ll find you, the worms
will have eaten my feet.
Downstairs, the coffee-owner’s daughter, Eliza, will have spat again
in the beer of Serge, the cad who always wants to grop her.
On the second floor, there will still be flies in the living-room, but
the doctor and his old mother will keep on knocking them out with a
green plastic flyswatter – they either do that or crosswords
Cecil, their maid, will have had spilled coffee on the piano keyboard,
or shed the garbage down the stairs, or broke some crystal glass, and
spent too much time on the phone calling Brittany.
A feather pillow will have been ripped open, some flowers dried, and a
stag’s head stuffed.
The old doctor’s mother will have wet her trousers.
And some hedgedogs will have been run over on the side of the road.
Le ventre des poissons rouges
After their week-end trip to Asheville in mid-August, the mother and her two children did not go out for two days. The heat made them all lazy and moody. Everybody had been eating spicy Pringles and Milka rice chocolate in bed, taking small naps all along the day, because time goes by quicker when you sleep.
On the first floor, the daughter was reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for the fourth time in two months, lighting a Camel filter occasionally. She scratched her hairy armpit, then sniffed her fingers, because she liked the smell of her own sweat. On the second floor, the son was playing World of War craft on his computer.
From time to time, the cat was mewing, because he wanted to go outside. For some reason, they all had fattened at the same time, the daughter, the mother, the son and the cat. In the adjacent bathroom, the giant goldfish was floating, belly up. Nobody had noticed it yet.
The wooden staircase cracked as they all went down to the kitchen. It smelled like rottinggarbage and cat’s urine. The cat’s litter was full, so he had peed on the green linoleum.“Assholes,” thought the mother. She looked at them: the fat dumb cat, the daughter, her stale cigarette odor, and worse of all, the son. Parasite! She glanced at him. He had greasy blond hair, a flabby stomach coming out of his pajamas pants, and fatty shoulders covered withacne pimples. She clenched her teeth. “Stand up straight, for God’s sake, you stupid jerk,” she said, raising her hand.
She thought he was going to hit her but instead he ran against the door and broke the window pane with both hands. There was blood everywhere on the new linoleum. His hands and his wrists had a really weird angle.
He gave them a surprised look. Nobody was crying yet.
I am the young apple tree among the other trees, and you – a careless gardener.
The careless gardener cannot decide if he likes the trees he has planted or despises them.
He thinks that my leaves are not green enough. He thinks that my trunk is not strong enough, even if I support the gardener’s weight when he collapses out of exhaustion and despair. For weeks he forgets to water me and then he floods the entire garden, because he wants to make up the mistake. Each time, it almost kills us. Our roots rot, our leaves fall down, because the soil has been too dry for too long.
Many times I have tried to change the color and the shapes of my leaves to please him – from red to pink to green to blue. I even grew some heart-shaped ones, but he did not notice. I experimented various and exotic tastes for my apples – coca-cola, Dulce de leche, orange, or chocolate-mango. The careless gardener just takes a chunk and throws them on the ground, with a look of despise and disgust.
The careless gardener does not crave fruits. He prefers the blood and the raw meat gained from his weekly big game hunting.
One night, he walked from his little house to the garden. He slashed the bark of the youngest tree. He broke the thickest branch with his bare hands, smashed the twigs, pulled out the buds. He did not seem to hear the painful cracks and squeaks of the wood breaking.
That night, the careless gardener fell asleep on the wet soil. The next morning, when he saw the result of his demented rage – the youngest tree broken in half, the charred twigs and leaves everywhere – he abandoned the garden.
We, his trees, survived and grew up, with all the marks and bumps that his knife and whip had left on our trunks.
The squirrels and the birds do not mind our flaws and our crooked branches.
My leaves have kept a strange shape and my apples still taste funny, from trying too hard to please the gardener.
I feel my roots itching, as if they were dancing in the soil. I think I am going to start walking.
« Oh baby. I’m in love with your clear eyes, your small dolly hands and your soft skin that smells like flowers, » he said.
He pushed her against the wall and carried her on the bed. Mary grumbled.
«Your hair is like a wheatfield in the summer breeze…, » he said.
« And your mouth has the sugary taste of honey candies… »
He lifted her skirt.
« Your father is a thief, he stole the most beautiful stars in the sky
to put them in your eyes »
Mary could not hold it any longer ; she vomited in the vase next to the bed.
« Louis Bonifé was one of those guys people say “I don’t understand, he had everything to succeed – good family, good brains, good health”. But Louis was unlucky, he could not make anything work, no matter how hard he tried. In 1949, he was twenty-two years old, he had finished college and decided to plant bananas near Lille, in the North of France. Of course they could not grow because it was too cold there. So he gave up, and three years later, he started a frog farm in Henrichemont, the little village where he was born.
Meat was so expensive then. The war was over but the people still lacked everything. They were starving and lived on black bread and wild mushrooms. Frog farming was cheap and would furnish plenty of meat. That was a great idea. The frog farm was alright for two years. Louis started to earn some money, people enjoyed the frogs and invented all kind of recipes to cook them. The farm grew ; Louis was farming more and more frogs. But at the end of the second summer, the frogs fell sick. In just a week, it was over, they had all died. Louis was ruined. As he was a good Catholic, he interpreted his misfortune as a divine sign.
He thought it over seven days and seven nights. At the end of the seventh day, he had made his decision. He had to leave. He was twenty-six, he had to get married and have children. The further the better. With the money he had left, he bought a single-trip boat ticket to America. He arrived after a month in New York. He was broke. There he did what all immigrants do. He worked for nothing, just to earn some soup and bread. He did not like New York. He had to move further, to own land, to meet a girl and get married and get rich. One cold winter night, he jumped in a train to Ohio, then to another train to Oregon. He got kicked out of the train because he did not have money to buy a ticket.
Another guy got kicked out of the train. He was slightly taller than Louis. He had deep brown eyes and he smelled strangely. Louis spoke poor English, so did the other guy. His name was Frank Ekema. He used to be a priest in the Netherlands. Because their English was so bad, Louis did not really understand why Hylbert had to flew away from the Netherlands, but it did not matter. They instantly liked each other. They were the lonesome-kind and did not talk much but genuinely enjoyed each other company.
They arrived in America like every one, attracted by this American Dream, the West, the Land, the Greatness of the Country, the White-Picket Fence, the Abundance. Without even formulating it, they knew what they had to do : walking, obstinately, towards West and towards South, until something happens.
God, these long straight roads did not seem to be never ending. And the heat. And the sun. And this country was immense. One night in a little town, they broke into a shop, and stole two cowboy hats. After all, a cowboy hat is also a part of the American dream. Now with their bags and their hats, they really looked like each other. They did not meet anyone on the road, as the people were defiant towards these two strong foreigners who looked like they were walking forever. And this is what happened at the end of the seventh week.
They eventually arrived in California. And there, they did what they had been wanting to do from the first minute they saw each other : they kissed, again and again and again, for hours, and they made love, and they thought it was good. And they did not care anymore about frogs, or trains, or God ; they did not care anymore about cowboy hats, or bananas or wives or making money. This is California.
___________ VT, 2010.