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Authors: Marguerite Duras

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BOOK: Four Novels
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“But have you never thought that if you leave this choice entirely to another person it need not necessarily be the right one and might make for unhappiness later?”

“Yes, I have thought of that a little, but I cannot think now, before
my life has really begun, of the harm I might possibly do later on. I just say one thing to myself and that is: if the very fact of being alive means that we can do harm, however much we don’t want to, just by choosing or making mistakes, if that is an inevitable state of affairs, why then, I too will go through with it. If I have to, if everyone has to, I can live with harm.”

“Please don’t get so excited: there will be someone one day who will discover that you exist both for him and for others, you must be sure of that. And yet you know one can almost manage to live with this lack of which you speak.”

“Which lack? Of never being chosen?”

“If you like, yes. As far as I am concerned I should be so surprised if anyone chose me, that I should simply laugh.”

“While I should be in no way surprised, I am afraid I would find it perfectly natural. It is just the contrary which astonishes me, and it astonishes me more each day. I cannot understand it and I never get used to it.”

“It will happen. I promise you.”

“Thank you for saying so. But are you saying that just to please me, or can people tell these things? Can you guess it already just from talking to me?”

“I expect such things can be guessed, yes. To tell you the truth, I said that without thinking much, but not at all because I thought it would please you. It must have been because I could see it.”

“And you? How are you so sure the opposite is true of you.”

“Well, I suppose it is because. . . . Yes, just because I am not surprised. I think it must be that. I am not at all surprised that no one has chosen me, while you are so amazed that you have not yet been singled out.”

“In your place, you know, I would force myself to want something, however hard it might be. I would not remain as you are.”

“But what can I do? Since I don’t feel this same need it could only come to me. . . . Well, from the outside. How else could it be?”

“You know you almost make me wish I was dead.”

“Is it I in particular who has that effect, or were you just speaking in general?”

“Of course I was only speaking in general. In general about us both.”

“Because there is another thing I would not really like, and that is to
have provoked in anyone, even if only once, a feeling as violent as that.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“And I would like to thank you too.”

“But for what?”

“I don’t really know. For your niceness.”

Two

T
HE CHILD CAME OVER
quietly from the far side of the Park and stood beside the girl.

“I’m thirsty,” he announced.

The girl took a thermos and a mug from the bag beside her.

“I can well imagine,” said the man, “that he must be thirsty after eating those sandwiches.”

The girl uncorked the thermos. Warm milk gleamed in the sunshine.

“But as you see,” she said, “I have brought him some milk.”

The child drank the milk greedily, then gave the mug back to the girl. A milky cloud stayed round his lips. The girl wiped them. The man smiled at the child.

“If I said what I did,” he remarked, “it was only to try and make myself clear. For no other reason.”

Completely indifferent the child contemplated this man who was smiling at him. Then he went back to the sand pit. The girl’s eyes followed him.

“His name is James,” she said.

“James,” the man repeated.

But he was no longer thinking of the child.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” he went on, “how a trace of milk stays round a child’s mouth when he has drunk it? It’s strange. In some ways they are so grown up: they seem to talk and walk like everyone else and then when it comes to drinking milk, one realizes. . . .”

“He doesn’t say ‘milk,’ he says ‘my milk.’”

“When I see something like that milk I suddenly feel full of hope although I could never say why. As if some pain was deadened. I think perhaps that watching these children reminds me of the lions in that Garden. I see them as minute lions, but lions all the same.”

“Yet they don’t seem to give you the same kind of happiness as those lions did in their cages facing the sun?”

“They give me a certain happiness but you are right, not the same one. Somehow children always make one feel obscurely worried, and it is not that I particularly like lions; it would be untrue to say that. It was just a way of putting things.”

“I wonder if you attach too much importance to that town with the result that the rest of your life suffers by comparison? Or is it just that never having been there I can hardly be expected to understand the happiness it gave you?”

“And yet it is probably to someone like you that I should most like to talk about it.”

“Thank you. It was kind of you to say that. But you know I didn’t want to imply that I was particularly unhappy, more unhappy I mean than anyone else would be in the same position. I was speaking of something quite different, something which I am afraid could not be solved by seeing any country, anywhere in the world.”

“I’m sorry. You see when I said that I should like to talk most about that country to someone like you I did not mean for a second that you were unhappy without knowing it, and that telling you certain things would make you feel better. I simply meant that you seemed to me to be a person who might understand what one was trying to say better than most people. That’s all. But I expect I have talked too much about that town and it is natural that you should have misunderstood.”

“No, I don’t think it is that. All I wanted was to put you right in case you had made the mistake of thinking I was unhappy. Of course there are times when I cry, naturally there are, but it’s only from impatience or irritation. I am not old enough yet to be profoundly sad about my life. That stage is to come.”

“Yes, I really do see, but don’t you think it is just possible that you might be wrong, that you don’t know which stage you have reached?”

“No, that would not be possible. Either I shall be unhappy in the same way as everyone else is, or I shall not be unhappy at all. I want to be exactly like everyone else and I shall go on trying as much as I can. I want to find out for myself if life is terrible. I shall die as I mean to and someone will care. But let’s forget all that. Please tell me more of how you felt in that town.”

“I am afraid I will tell it badly. I had no sleep and yet I was not tired.”

“And. . . .”

“I did not eat and I wasn’t hungry.”

“And then. . . .”

“All the minor problems of my life seemed to evaporate as if they had never existed except in my imagination. I thought of them as belonging to a distant past and laughed at them.”

“But surely you must have wanted to eat and sleep in the end? It would have been impossible for you to go on without feeling tired or hungry.”

“I expect so, but I didn’t stay long enough there for those feelings to come back to me.”

“And were you very tired when they did come back?”

“I slept for a whole day in a wood by the roadside.”

“Like a tramp?”

“Yes, just like a tramp with my suitcase beside me.”

“I understand.”

“No, I don’t think you can, yet.”

“I mean I am trying to understand and one day I will. One day I shall understand what you have been saying to me completely. After all, anybody could, couldn’t they?”

“Yes. I think one day you will understand them as completely as possible.”

“Ah, if only you knew how difficult the things I was telling you about can be. How difficult it is to get for yourself, completely by yourself, just the things which are common to everyone. I think I really mean how hard it is to fight the apathy which comes from wanting jus: the ordinary things which everyone else seems to have.”

“I expect it is just that which prevents so many people from trying to achieve them. I admire you for being as you are.”

“Ah, if only will power were enough! There have been men who found me attractive from time to time, but so far none of them has asked me to be his wife. There is a great difference between liking a young girl and wanting to marry her. And yet that must happen to me. Just once in my life I must be taken seriously. I wanted to ask you something: if you want a thing all the time, at every single moment of the day and night, do you think that you necessarily get it?”

“Not necessarily, no. But it still remains the best way of trying and the one with the greatest chance of success. I can really see no other way.”

“After all, we’re only talking. And as you don’t know me or I you, you can tell me the truth.”

“Yes, that’s quite true, but really and truly I can see no other way. But perhaps I haven’t had enough experience to answer your question properly.”

“Because I once heard that quite the opposite was true. That it was by trying not to want something that it finally happened.”

“But tell me, how could you manage not to want something, when you want it so much?”

“That is exactly what I say to myself, and to tell you the truth I never felt that the other was a very serious idea. I think it must apply to people who want little things, to people who already have something and want something else, but not to people like us—I didn’t mean that, I mean not to people like me who want everything, not just a part of something but . . .I don’t know how to say it. . . .”

“A whole.”

“Perhaps it is that. But please tell me more about your feelings for children. You said you were fond of them?”

“Yes. Sometimes when I have no one else to talk to I talk to them. But you know how it is, one can’t really talk to children.”

“Oh, you’re right. We are the lowest of the low.”

“But you mustn’t think either that I am unhappy simply because sometimes I need to talk so badly that I talk to children. That’s not true, because after all I must in some way have chosen my life or else I am just a madman indulging in his folly.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean what I said. I simply saw the fine weather and the words came out of their own accord. You must try to understand and not mind, because sometimes fine weather makes me doubt everything: but it never lasts for more than a few seconds. I’m sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter. When I sit in Squares like this it is generally because I have been for some days without talking: when there have been no opportunities for conversation except with the people who buy my goods and they have been so rushed or standoffish that I could say nothing to them except the things that go with the sale of a reel of cotton. Naturally you mind this after some time and suddenly you want to talk and be listened to so badly that it can even produce a feeling of illness like a slight fever.”

“I know how you feel. You feel you could do without everything
else, without eating, sleeping, anything rather than be silent. But in that town you were telling me about you didn’t have to talk to children?”

“Not in that town, no. I was not with children then.”

“That is what I thought.”

“I used to see them in the distance. There were lots of them in the streets: they are left very free there and from about the age of the one you look after they cross the whole town on their own to visit the Zoo. They eat at any hour and sleep in the shadow of the lions’ cages. Yes, I saw them in the distance sleeping in the shadow of those cages.”

“Children have all the time in the world and they’ll talk to anyone and always be ready to listen, but one hasn’t very much to say to them.”

“That’s the trouble. It’s true they don’t despise solitary people: in fact they like almost anyone, but then, as you said, there is so little to say to them.”

“But tell me more.”

“Oh, as far as children go one person is as good as another, provided they talk about airplanes and trains. There is never any difficulty in talking to children about that sort of thing. It can become a little monotonous, but that’s how it is.”

“They can’t understand other things, unhappiness for example, and I don’t think it does much good to mention them.”

“If you talk to them of things that don’t interest them they simply stop listening and wander off.”

“Sometimes I have conversations on my own.”

“That has happened to me too.”

“I don’t mean I talk to myself. I speak to a completely imaginary person, not just anybody, but to my worst enemy. You see, although I haven’t any friends yet, I invent enemies.”

“And what do you say to them?”

“I insult them: and always without the slightest explanation. Why do I do this?”

“Who knows? Probably because an enemy never understands one and I think you would be hard put to it to accept being understood and to give in to the particular comfort it brings.”

“After all, my insults are a form of talking aren’t they? And I never mention my work.”

“Yes, it is talking; and since no one hears you and it gives you some satisfaction it seems better to go on.”

“When I spoke of the unhappiness which children cannot understand
I was talking of unhappiness in general, the unhappiness everyone knows about, not of a particular kind of personal unhappiness.”

“I knew that. The fact is we could not bear it if children could understand unhappiness. Perhaps they are the only people we cannot stand to see unhappy.”

“There are not many happy people are there?”

“I don’t think so. There are some who think it important to be happy and believe that they are, but at bottom are not really as happy as all that.”

“And yet I thought it was a duty for people to be happy, an instinct like going to the sun rather than to the dark. Look at me for instance; at all the trouble I take over it.”

“But of course it’s like a duty. I feel that too. But if people feel the need for the sun it is because they know how sad the dark can be. No one can live always in the dark.”

“I make my own darkness but since other people seek the sun, I do so too, and that is what I feel about happiness. Everything I do is for my happiness.”

BOOK: Four Novels
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