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Authors: Marguerite Duras

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BOOK: Four Novels
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“But you musn’t think that my work has nothing but disadvantages. That would be quite wrong. With all the time I have on my hands for instance, on the road, in trains, in Squares like this, I can think of all manner of things. I have time to look around and even time to work out reasons for things.”

“But I thought you said you had only enough time to think of yourself? Or rather of managing to keep yourself and of nothing else?”

“No. What I lack is time to think of the future, but I have time to think of other things, or perhaps I should say I make it. Because, after all, if one can face struggling a little more than others do, just to get enough to eat, it is only possible on condition that once a meal is over one can stop thinking about the whole problem. If immediately one meal is finished you had to start thinking about the next one it would be enough to drive you mad.”

“I imagine so. But you see, what would drive me mad would be
going from city to city as you do with no other company than a suitcase.”

“Oh, one is not always alone you know. I mean so alone that one might go mad. No, there are boats and trains full of people to watch and observe and then, if one ever feels one is really going mad, there is always something to be done about it.”

“But what good would it do me to make the best of things since all I want is to finish with my present position? In the end all your attitude does for you is to give you more reasons for not finishing with yours.”

“That is not completely true, because should an opportunity arise for me to change my work I would certainly seize it: no, my attitude helps me in other ways. For example it helps me to see the advantages of my profession, such as traveling a great deal and possibly of becoming a little wiser than I was before. I am not saying I am right. I could easily be wrong and, without realizing it, have become far less wise than I ever was. But then, since I wouldn’t know, it doesn’t really matter, does it?”

“And so you are continually traveling? As continually as I stay in one place?”

“Yes. And even if sometimes I go back to the same places they can be different. In the spring for instance cherries appear in the markets. That is really what I wanted to say and not that I thought I was right in putting up with my life as it is.”

“You’re right. Quite soon, in about six weeks, the first cherries will be in the markets. I am glad for your sake. But tell me what other things you see when you travel?”

“Oh, a thousand things. One time it will be spring and another winter; either sunshine or snow, making the place unrecognizable. But I think it is really the cherries which change things the most: suddenly there they are, and the whole marketplace becomes scarlet. Yes, they will be there in about six weeks. You see, that is what I wanted to explain, not that I thought my work was entirely satisfactory.”

“But apart from the cherries and the sunshine and the snow, what else do you see?”

“Sometimes nothing much: small things you would hardly notice, but a number of little things which added together seem to change a place. Places can be familiar and unfamiliar at the same time: a market which once seemed hostile can, quite suddenly, become warm and friendly.”

“But sometimes isn’t everything exactly the same?”

“Yes. Sometimes so exactly the same that you can only think you left it the night before. I have never understood how this could happen because after all it would seem impossible that anything could remain so much the same.”

“Tell me more about other things you see.”

“Well, sometimes a new block of flats which was half built when last I was there is finished and lived in: full of people and noise. And the odd thing is that although the town had never seemed overcrowded before, there it suddenly is—a brand new block of flats, completed and inhabited as if had always been utterly necessary.”

“All the things you describe and the changes you notice are there for anyone to see, aren’t they? They are not things which exist for you alone, for you and for no one else?”

“Sometimes there are things which I alone can see, but only negligible things. In general you are right: the things I notice are mostly changes in the weather, in buildings, things which anyone would notice. And yet sometimes, just by watching them carefully, such things can affect one just as much as events which are completely personal. In fact it feels as though they were personal, as if somehow one had put the cherries there oneself.”

“I see what you mean and I am trying to put myself in your place, but it’s no good, I still think I should be frightened.”

“That does happen. It happens to me sometimes when I wake up at night. But on the whole it is only at night that I feel frightened, although I can also feel it at dusk—but then only when it’s raining or there’s a fog.”

“Isn’t it strange that although I have never actually experienced the fear we are talking about, I can still understand a little what it must be like.”

“It is not the kind of fear you might feel if you said to yourself that when you died no one would care. No, it’s another kind of fear, a general one which affects everything and not just you alone.”

“As if you were suddenly terrified of being yourself, of being what you are instead of different, almost instead of being some quite other kind of thing.”

“Yes. It comes from feeling at the same time like everyone else, exactly like everyone else, and yet being oneself. In fact I think it is just that: being one kind of thing rather than another. . . .”

“It’s complicated, but I understand.”

“As for the other kind of fear—the fear of thinking that no one would notice if you died—it seems to me that sometimes this can make one happier. I think that if you knew that when you died no one would suffer, not even a dog, it makes it easier to bear the thought of dying.”

“I am trying to follow you, but I am afraid I don’t understand. Perhaps because women are different from men? All I do know is that I could not bear to live as you do, alone with that suitcase. It is not that I would not like to travel, but unless there was someone who cared for me somewhere in the world I don’t think I could do it. In fact I can only say that I would prefer to be where I am.”

“But could you not think of traveling while waiting for what you want?”

“No. I don’t believe you know what it is to want to change one’s life. I must stay here and think about it, think with all my might, or else I know I will never manage to change.”

“Perhaps. I don’t really know.”

“How could you know? Because, however modest a way of life you have, it is at least yours. So how could you know what it is like to be nothing?”

“Am I right in thinking that no one would particularly care if you died either?”

“No one. And I’ve been twenty now for two weeks. But one day someone will care. I know it. I am full of hope. Otherwise nothing would be possible.”

“You are quite right. Why shouldn’t someone care about you as much as about anyone else?”

“That’s just it. That’s just what I say to myself.”

“You’re right, and now I’d like to ask you a question. Do you get enough to eat?”

“Yes, thank you, I do. I eat as much as and even more than I need. Always alone, but one eats well in my job since after all one does the cooking; and good things too. Even if I have to force myself I always eat a great deal because sometimes I feel I would like to be fatter and more impressive so that people would notice me more. I think that if I were bigger and stronger I would stand a better chance of getting what I want. You may say I’m wrong, but it seems to me that if I were radiantly healthy people would find me more attractive. And so you see, we are really very different.”

“Probably. But in my own way I am also someone who tries. I must
have explained myself badly just now. I assure you that if I should ever want to change, why then I would set about it like everyone else.”

“You know, it is not very easy to believe you when you say that.”

“Perhaps, but you see while I have nothing against hope in general, the fact is that there has never seemed much reason for it to concern me. And yet I feel that it would not take a great deal for me to feel that hope is as necessary to me as it is to others. It might only need the smallest bit of faith. Perhaps I lack the time for it, who knows? I don’t mean the time I spend in trains thinking of this or that, or passing the time of day with other people, no, I mean the other kind of time: the time anyone has, each day, to think of the one that follows. I just lack the time to start thinking about that particular subject and so discovering that it might mean something to me too.”

“And yet it seems to me, as I think you yourself said, that there was a time when you were like everyone else?”

“Yes, but almost so much so that I was never able to do anything about it. I could never make up my mind to choose a profession. No one can be everything at once or, as you said, want everything at once, and personally I was never able to get over this difficulty. But after all I have traveled, my suitcase takes me to a great many places and once I even went to a foreign country. I didn’t sell much there but I saw it. If anyone had told me some years ago that I should want to go there I would never have believed them, and yet you see one day when I woke up I suddenly felt I would like to visit it and I went; and although very little has happened to me in my life at least I managed that—I went to that country.”

“But aren’t people unhappy in this country of yours?”

“Yes.”

“And there are girls like me, waiting for something to happen?”

“I expect so, yes.”

“So what is the point of it?”

“Of course it’s true that people are unhappy and die there and there are probably girls like you waiting hopefully for something to happen to them. But why not know that country as well as just this one where we are, even if some things are the same. Why not see another country?”

“Because . . . and I am sure I am wrong, and I am sure you will tell me I am, but the fact is that it is a matter of complete indifference to me.”

“Ah, but wait. There for instance the winters are less harsh than here: in fact you would hardly know it was winter.”

“But what use is a whole country to anyone, or a whole city or even the whole of one warm winter? It’s no use, you can say what you like but you can only be where you are, when you are and so what is the point?”

“But that is exactly the point. The town where I went ends in a big square surrounded by huge balustrades which seem to go on for ever. . . .”

“I am afraid I simply don’t want to hear about it.”

“The whole town is built in white limestone: imagine, it is like snow in the heart of summer. It is built on a peninsula surrounded by the sea.”

“And the sea I suppose is blue. It is blue isn’t it?”

“Yes, very blue.”

“Well, I am sorry, but I must tell you that people who talk of how blue the sea is make me sick.”

“But how can I help it? From the Zoo you can see it surrounding the whole town. And to anybody it must seem blue. It’s not my fault.”

“No. For me, without those ties of affection I was talking about, it would be black. And then, although I don’t want to offend you in any way, you must see that I am much too preoccupied with my desire to change my life to be able to go away or travel or see new things. You can see as many towns as you like but it never gets you anywhere. And once you have stopped looking, there you are, exactly where you were before.”

“But I don’t think we are talking about the same thing. I’m not talking of those huge events which change a whole life, no, just of the things which give pleasure while one is doing them. Traveling is a great distraction. Everyone has always traveled, the Greeks, the Phoenicians: it has always been so, all through history.”

“It’s true that we’re talking of different things. Travel or cities by the sea are not the things I want. First of all I want to belong to myself, to own something, not necessarily something very wonderful, but something which is mine, a place of my own, maybe only one room, but mine. Why sometimes I even find myself dreaming of a gas stove.”

“You know it would be just the same as traveling. You wouldn’t be able to stop. Once you had the gas stove you would want a refrigerator
and after that something else. It would be just like traveling, going from city to city. It would never end.”

“Excuse me, but do you see anything wrong in my wanting something further perhaps after I have the refrigerator?”

“Of course not. No, certainly not. I was only speaking for myself, and as far as I am concerned I find your idea even more exhausting than traveling and then going on traveling, moving as I do from place to place.”

“I was born and grew up like everyone else and I know how to look around me: I look at things very carefully and I can see no reason why I should remain as I am. I must start somehow, anyhow, to become of consequence. And if at this stage I began losing heart at the thought of a refrigerator I might never even possess the gas stove. And anyway, how am I to know if it would weary me or not? If you say it would, it might be because you have given the matter a great deal of thought or perhaps even because at some time you very much disliked one particular refrigerator.”

“No, it is not that. Not only have I never possessed a refrigerator, but I have never had the slightest chance of doing so. No, it’s only an idea, and if I talked of refrigerators like that it was probably only because to someone who travels they seem especially heavy and immobile. I don’t suppose I would have made the same remarks about another object. And yet I do understand, I assure you, that it would be impossible for you to travel before you had the gas stove, or even perhaps, the refrigerator. And I expect I am quite wrong to be so easily discouraged at the mere thought of a refrigerator.”

“It does seem very strange.”

“There was one day in my life, just one, when I no longer wanted to live. I was hungry, and as I had no money it was absolutely essential for me to work if I was to eat. It was as if I had forgotten that this was as true of everyone as of me. That day I felt quite unused to life and there seemed no point in going on living because I couldn’t see why things should go on for me as they did for other people. It took me a whole day to get over this feeling. Then, of course, I took my suitcase to the market and afterwards I had a meal and things went on as they had before. But with this difference, that ever since that day I find that any thought of the future—and after all thinking of a refrigerator is thinking of the future—is much more frightening than before.”

BOOK: Four Novels
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