Authors: Marguerite Duras
She felt a burst of tenderness for him, such as she hadn’t felt once until then.
“But Michel Arc is a wonderful man,” she said. “Don’t worry.”
“I don’t think I do,” Mr. Andesmas said, “although perhaps you’re right, I might worry without knowing it. Everything gets to my mind in such a confused way that, rather than being worried, it may be that I’m happy to be with you like this, feeling I can trust you.”
“Make an effort, keep listening to me,” she begged. “I swear I know Michel Arc better than anyone. You’ll see him in a little while. Make an effort to know him better, I beg of you. You’ll see what kind of man Michel Arc is.”
“I believe you,” Mr. Andesmas said absent-mindedly.
The woman found herself deprived of his attention and grew anxious.
“You’re going to fall asleep, Mr. Andesmas, if I keep talking about him?”
“I don’t know,” Mr. Andesmas said, still absent-mindedly. “How sweet to think of her in that walled garden during those siestas, hidden in that garden during my sad sleep.”
The hill was once again perfectly silent. The shade was spreading over the edge of the sea.
“I thought I heard something,” she said.
Mr. Andesmas claimed that it was from that very moment that he grew weary, that he began to break away from her, even from her, this woman, the last who would come close to him.
“Ah, I don’t remember that she left me so often at siesta time, you see.”
“But she would come back before you woke up, Mr. Andesmas. She would start to look at her watch, always, ten minutes before you got up. And she would leave, running to your garden, and very gently close the gate behind her, and run on to your room. Come, come now, Mr. Andesmas, what are you imagining?”
“I would have noticed, at least once, just once.”
Sadly he shook his head. So did she. Both of them shared the same pity for Mr. Andesmas’ situation.
“I believe you now,” she said. “You have no memory left. You no longer have any memory.”
“Oh, leave me alone,” Mr. Andesmas cried all of a sudden.
When the lilac blooms my love
When the lilac . . .
She listened to the song, indifferent to Mr. Andesmas’ angry sadness.
“I still have a memory,” she said, “the memory of that man, Michel Arc, for whom we are waiting. But some day I’ll have a very different memory from this one. Some day I’ll wake up far removed from any memory of this moment.”
She added, in a sudden about-face:
“I have made this my duty. Are you listening?”
He had been listening.
“Yes, yes,” he said.
“Ah, I can already feel them move into my life, those other men, tens, hundreds of them, new ones, ah! Who will rid me of his memory, and even of the memory of this moment I’m living through here in front of you, this difficult, nearly unbearable moment, but which I bear anyway, as you can see, thanks to your courteous presence. Then, I’ll be ashamed to have talked to you like this, to have confided to you these temporary difficulties. You’ll be dead perhaps?”
It was his turn now to bend his head and look at the chasm.
“I have the impression that you, too, are saying just anything,” he grumbled.
She turned, facing the chasm that Mr. Andesmas was looking at and shouted about her presently belonging to Michel Arc.
“Some day, some day, another man will come to me and under his eyes I’ll feel the signs of a first desire, that heaviness, that warmth in
my blood, that I will surely recognize. The same thing will happen. No other man will be able to come close to me then, I won’t be able to bear any, not even him, Michel Arc. In the same way that he . . .”
Mr. Andesmas cut her short.
“Valérie crossed the square, the bag of candy in her hand. And then?”
She seemed shocked for a second, then her listening to the forest covered over her amazement.
“Don’t you know any more how she crosses squares?” she asked off-handedly “You have to be told this?”
Mr. Andesmas laughed.
“Well!” he said, “I probably don’t know too well any more.”
“Others will soon know even better than I, and with a fresher memory. AH you’ll have to do is ask them.”
“Calmly, indifferent to the heat?” Mr. Andesmas insisted.
“Yes, but how can one explain it to you?”
“It’s true she’s nice and calm, my little Valérie,” Mr. Andesmas said.
She probably is now convinced that she is in the presence of a man who no longer matters.
She leaves him, goes toward the path, sits down, and talks to herself, her back to him.
“Oh, how difficult,” she says, “how difficult it is to describe such a simple suffering, a suffering of love. What a wonderful relief it would have been to meet someone to whom I could have talked about it! How can one describe anything to an old man who has left all his troubles behind him except that of having to die, and that only?”
“Come back over here,” Mr. Andesmas begged. “You’re mistaken. Nothing else, nothing else matters to me, except that you still talk to me. Please come back.”
She obeyed reluctantly, came toward him.
“We were so faithfully united,” she said, “by day and by night, so exclusively, that sometimes, ashamed, we felt sorry to see ourselves so childishly condemned to being deprived of other encounters, more daring even than ours.”
Mr. Andesmas raised his hand with authority and held it out to her. She refused to take that hand.
“Valérie,” said Mr. Andesmas, “Valérie.”
“She went by,” she told him, sounding bored, “in the way you know
she had of walking across squares, a year ago, across the squares and down the streets along her way. Blond. Her hair in her eyes, always. Busy sucking that candy, looking at the other candies, sorry not to have all of them together in her mouth at once.”
An immense, set smile had spread over Mr. Andesmas’ face.
“She has always been like that, my little Valérie.”
At the bottom of the hill, from the exact direction they would have to take to get there, there was the purring, swelled by the echo, of the motor of a car.
The woman took the old man’s hand and shook it.
“Hey, it’s Valérie’s car, this time!” she shouted.
Mr. Andesmas didn’t stir.
“As old, as crazy as you may be, you have to accept it, Mr. Andesmas. Listen! The car is stopping”
“You’re making up stories,” Mr. Andesmas said.
The car stopped.
There is a moment of silence. And then a dual pounding of the earth can be heard still from the exact direction where it should happen if Michel Arc and Valérie Andesmas or two other different people were coming.
“Your love for Valérie has to get used to being far from her happiness. Our estrangement, yours and mine, has to be perfect, incomparable. Do you hear me, Mr. Andesmas?”
Mr. Andesmas’ smile still lingered on his face. He always remembered this face—his own—torn and paralyzed by this smile that he could neither justify nor stop.
Mixed with the dual pounding of the steps was the sound of muted, reserved laughter, without any mockery at all, and yet without gaiety, but which, like Mr. Andesmas’ smile, would not stop.
The woman listened for them, then moved closer to Mr. Andesmas in a frightened, animal-like impulse.
“I didn’t recognize that laughter,” Mr. Andesmas said. “I’d say it’s the laughter of children going to the pond.”
“They’re coming!” the woman said hurriedly. “They have different laughs from the ones we know, this is their new laughter. When they are together that’s how they laugh, I know it! Listen! How slowly they’re walking. They’re coming grudgingly. How slow they are!”
“What a bore!” Mr. Andesmas whispered.
The woman drew away from Mr. Andesmas. With exaggerated
motions, she roamed back and forth on the plateau, extravagant, disheveled, wringing her hands, recklessly walking along the edge of the precipice. But Mr. Andesmas, occupied only by his attempt to erase this paralyzing smile from his face, was no longer frightened.
The shade has reached not only the edge of the sea but the sea itself, almost entirely. Mr. Andesmas believes he has waked from an enormous siesta, several years long.
“How will they learn about it?” the woman went on. “That’s the only thing that remains to be seen.”
She searches for words and states calmly:
“The only thing that will completely escape us.”
Only a thread of light was left between the horizon and the sea. Mr. Andesmas was still smiling.
“How will they tell each other? Now that the whole village knows, everyone, and everyone is waiting for that moment.”
“I couldn’t care less about what you’re saying,” Mr. Andesmas says. ‘But go on talking, please.”
“There are only a few minutes left before they get here, look how late it is.”
“They don’t know anything?” Mr. Andesmas asks at last.
“No. Nothing. This morning, still nothing.”
“Not my child Valérie either?”
“No. Neither Valérie nor Michel Arc.”
When the lilac blooms my love
“Listen! It’s Valérie singing!”
Mr. Andesmas did not answer. Then she walked back to him one last time, took his hand again, and shook it.
“After she had crossed the square, do you want to know how we met? I am suffering terribly, I have to tell you. You’re so old, can’t you hear everything?”
“It’s your little girl coming back again,” Mr. Andesmas said. “It was she: I recognized her voice.”
“They’ll be here in a few mintues,” the woman implored. “I won’t tell you anything more than what is necessary. I beg you.”
“I won’t listen to anything any more,” Mr. Andesmas warned her.
She spoke anyway, her hand on his, in turn shaking it and stroking it, during the few minutes left before the dazzling appearance of the others, in front of the chasm filled with an. evenly faded light.