T H E R O O M
Mme. Darbedat held a rahat-loukoum between her fingers. She brought it carefully to her lips and held her breath, afraid that the fine dust of sugar that powdered it would blow away. “Just right,” she told herself. She bit quickly into its glassy flesh and a scent of stagnation filled her mouth. “Odd how illness sharpens the sensations.” She began to think of mosques, of obsequious Orientals (she had been to Algeria for her honeymoon) and her pale lips started in a smile : the rahat-loukoum was obsequious too. Several times she had to pass the palm of her hand over the pages of her book, for in spite of the precaution she had taken they were covered with a thin coat of white Her hand made the little grains of sugar slide and grating on the smooth paper : “That makes me think of Arcachon, when I used to read on the beach.” She had spent the summer of 1907 at the seashore. Then she wore a big straw hat with a green ribbon; she sat close to the jetty, with a novel by Gyp or Colette Yver. The wind made swirls of sand rain down upon her knees, and from time to time she had to shake the book, holding it by the comers. It was the same sensation : only the grains of sand were dry while the small bits of sugar stuck a little to the ends of her fingers. Again she saw a band of pearl grey sky above a black sea. “Eve wasn’t born yet.” She felt herself all weighted down with memories and precious as a coffer of sandalwood. The name of the book she used to read suddenly came back to mind : it was called Petite Madame, not at all boring. But ever since an unknown illness had confined her to her room she preferred memories and historical works.
She hoped that suffering, heavy readings, a vigilant attention to her memories and the most exquisite sensations would ripen her as a lovely hothouse fruit.
She thought, with some annoyance, that her husband would soon be knocking at her door. On other days of the week he came only in the evening, kissed her brow in silence and read Le Temps, sitting in the armchair across from her. But Thursday was Darbedat’s day: he spent an hour with his daughter, generally from three to four. Before going he stopped in to see his wife and both discussed their son-in-law with bitterness. These Thursday conversations, predictable to their slightest detail, exhausted Mme. Darbedat. M. Darbedat filled the quiet room with his presence. He never sat, but walked in circles about the room. Each of his outbursts wounded Mme. Darbedat like a glass splintering. This particular Thursday was worse than usual: at the thought that it would soon be necessary to repeat Eve’s confessions to her husband, and to see his great terrifying body convulse with fury, Mme. Darbedat broke out in a sweat. She picked up a loukoum from the saucer, studied it for a while with hesitation, then sadly set it down : she did not like her husband to see her eating loukoums.
She heard a knock and started up. “Come in:’ she said weakly.
M. Darbedat entered on tiptoe. “I’m going to see Eve,” he said, as he did every Thursday. Mme. Darbedat smiled at him. “Give her a kiss for me.”
M. Darbedat did not answer and his forehead wrinkled worriedly : every Thursday at the same time, a mufHed irtation mingled with the load of his digestion. “I’ll stop in and see Franchot after leaving her, I wish he’d talk to her seriously and try to convince her.”
He made frequent visits to Dr. Franchot. But in vain. Mme. Darbedat raised her eyebrows. Before, when she was well, she shrugged her shoulders. But since sickness had weighted down her body, she replaced the gestures which would have tired her by plays of emotion in the face : she said yes with her eyes, no with the comers of her mouth : she raised her eyebrows instead of her shoulders.
“There should be some way to take him away from her by force.”
“I told you already it was impossible. And besides, the law is very poorly drawn up. Only the other day Franchot was telling me that they have a tremendous amount of trouble with the families : people who can’t make up their mind, who want to keep the patient at home; the doctors’ hands are tied. They can give their advice, period. That’s all. He would,” he went on, “have to make a public scandal or else she would have to ask to have him put away herself.”
“And that,” said Mme. Darbedat, “isn’t going to happen tomorrow.”
“No.” He turned to the mirror and began to comb his fingers through his beard. Mme. Darbedat looked at the powerful red neck of her husband without affection.
“If she keeps on,” said M. Darbedat,” she'll be crazier than he is. It’s terribly unhealthy. She doesn’t leave his side, she only goes out to see you. She has no visitors. The air in their room is simply unbreathable. She never opens the window because Pierre doesn’t want it open. As if you should ask a sick man. I believe they bum incense, some rubbish in a little pan, you’d think it was a church. Really, sometimes I wonder ... she’s got a funny look in her eyes, you know.”
“I haven’t noticed,” Mme. Darbedat said. ‘I find her quite normal. She looks sad, obviously.”
“She has a face like an unburied corpse. Does she sleep? Does she eat? But we aren’t supposed to ask her about those things. But I should think that with a fellow like Pierre next to her, she wouldn’t sleep a wink all night.” He shrugged his shoulders. ‘What I find amazing is that we, her parents, don’t have the right to protect her against herself. Understand that Pierre would be much better cared for by Franchot. There’s a big park. And besides, I think,” he added, smiling a little, “he’d get along much better with people of his own type. People like that are children, you have to leave them alone with each other; they form a sort of freemasonry. That’s where he should have been put the first day and for his own good, I’d say. Of course it’s in his own best interest!’
After a moment, he added, “I tell you I don’t like to know she’s alone with Pierre, especially at night. Suppose something happened. Pierre has a very sly way about him.” “I don’t know,” Mme. Darbedat said, “if there’s any reason to worry. He always looked like that. He always seemed to be making fun of the world. Poor boy,” she sighed, “to have had his pride and then come to that. He thought he was cleverer than all of us. He had a way of saying ‘You’re right’ simply to end the argument. ... It’s a blessing for him that he can’t see the state he’s in.”
She recalled with displeasure the long, ironic face, always turned a little to the side. During the first days of Eve’s marriage, Mme. Darbedat asked nothing more than a little intimacy with 20 her son-in-law. But he had discouraged her: he almost never spoke, he always agreed quickly and absent-mindedly. M. Darbedat pursued his idea. “Franchot let me visit his place,” he said. “It was magnificent. The patients have private rooms with leather armchairs, if you please, and day-beds. You know, they have a tennis court and they’re going to build a swimming pool.”
He was planted before the window, looking out, rocking a little on his bent legs. Suddenly he turned lithely on his heels, shoulders lowered, hands in his pockets. Mme. Darbedat felt she was going to start perspiring : it was the same thing every time : now he was pacing back and forth like a bear in a cage and his shoes squeaked at every step.
“Please, please, won’t you sit down. You’re tiring me.”
Hesitating, she added, “I have something important to tell you.” M. Darbedat sat in the armchair and put his hands on his knees; a slight chill ran up Mme. Darbedat’s spine : the time had come, she had to speak.
“You know,” she said with an embar cough, “I saw Eve on Tuesday.” "Yes.”
"We talked about a lot of things, she was very nice, she ham’t been so confiding for a long time. Then I questioned her a little, I got her to talk about Pierre. Well, I found out,” she added, again embarrassed, “that she is very attached to him.” “I know that too damned well,” said M. Darbedat. He irritated Mme. Darbedat a little: she always had to explain things in such detail. Mme. Darbedat dreamed of living in the company of fine and sensitive people who would understand her slightest word.
“But I mean,” she went on, “that she is attached to him differently than we imagined.”
M. Darbedat rolled furious, anxious eyes, as he always did when he never completely grasped the sense of an allusion or something new.
‘What does that all mean’?”
“Charles,” said Mme. Darbedat, “don’t tire me. You should understand a mother has difficulty in telling certain things. n “I don’t understand a damned word of anything you say,” M. Darbedat said with iritation. “You can’t mean...” “Yes,” she said.
“They’re still...now, still..."
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” she said, in three annoyed and dry little jolts. M. Darbedat spread his arms, lowered his head and was silent.
“Charles,” his wife said, worriedly, “I shouldn’t have told you. But I couldn’t keep it to myself.”
“Our child,” he said slowly. ‘With this madman! He doesn’t even recognize her any more. He calls her Agatha. She must have lost all sense of her own dignity.”
He raised his head and looked at his wife severely. “You’re sure you aren’t mistaken’?”
“No possible doubt. Like you,” she added quickly, ‘I couldn’t believe her and I still can’t. The mere idea of being touched by that wretch . . . So... ,” she sighed, “I suppose that’s how he holds on to her.”
“Do you remember what I told you,” M. Darbedat said, “when he came to ask for her hand? I told you I thought he pleased Eve too much. You wouldn’t believe me.” He struck the table suddenly, blushing violently. “It’s perversity! He takes her in his arms, kisses her and calIs her Agatha, selling her on a lot of nonsense about Hying statues and God knows what else! With· out a word from her! But what in heaven’s name’s between those two? Let her be sorry for him, let her put him in a sanitorium and see him every day-fine. But I never thought . . . I considered her a widow. Listen, Jeannette,” he said gravely, “I’m to speak frankly to you; if she had any sense, I’d rather see take a lover!”
“Be quiet, Charles!” Mme. Darbedat cried. M. Darbedat wearily took his hat and the cane he had left on the stool. “After what you’ve just told me,” he concluded, “I don’t have much hope left. In any case, I’ll have a talk with her because it’s my duty.”
Mme. Darbedat wished he would go quickly. “You know,” she said to encourage him, “I think Eve is more headstrong than . . . than anything. She knows he’s incurable but she’s obstinate, she doesn’t want to be in the wrong.” M. Darbedat stroked his beard absently.
“Headstrong? Maybe so. If you’re right, she’ll finally get tired of it. He’s not always pleasant and he doesn’t have much to say. When I say hello to him he gives me a flabby handshake and doesn’t say a word. As soon as they’re alone, I think they go back to his obsessions: she tells me sometimes he screams as though his throat were being cut because of his hallucinations. He sees statues. They frighten him because they buzz He says they fly around and make fishy eyes at him.”
He put on his gloves and continued, “She’ll get tired of it, I’m not saying she won’t. But suppose she goes crazy before that? I wish she’d go out a little, see the world : she’d meet some nice young man-well, someone like Schroeder, an engineer with Simplon, somebody with a future, she could see him a little here and there and she’d get used to the idea of making a new life for herself.”
Mme. Darbedat did not answer, afraid of starting the conversation up again. Her husband bent over her.
“So,” he said, “I’ve got to be on my way.” “Goodbye, Papa,” Mme. Darbedat said, lifting her forehead up to him. “Kiss her for me and tell her for me she’s a poor dear.” Once her husband had gone, Mme. Darbedat let herself drift to the bottom of her armchair and closed her eyes, exhausted. “What vitality,” she thought reproachfully. As soon as she got a little strength back, she quietly stretched out her pale hand and took a loukoum from the saucer, groping for it without opening her eyes.
Eve lived with her husband on the sixth Hoor of an old building on the Rue du Bac. M. Darbedat slowly climbed the 12 steps of the stairway. He was not even out of breath when he pushed the bell. He remembered with satisfaction the words of Mlle. Dormoy: “Charles, for your age, you’re simply marvelous.” Never did he feel himself stronger and healthier than on Thursday, especially after these invigorating climbs. Eve opened the door: that’s right, she doesn’t have a maid. No girls can stay with her. I can put myself in their place. He kissed her. “Hello, poor darling.”
Eve greeted him with a certain coldness.
“You look a little pale,” M. Darbedat said, touching her cheek. “You don’t get enough exercise.”
There was a moment of silence.
“Is Mama well” Eve asked.
“Not so, not too bad. You saw her Tuesday? Well, she’s just the same. Your Aunt Louise came to see her yesterday, that pleased her. She likes to have visitors, but they can’t stay too long. Aunt Louise came to Paris for that mortgage business. I think I told you about it, a very odd sort of affair. She stopped in at the office to ask my advice. I told her there was only one thing to do: sell. She found a taker, by the way : Bretonnel. You remember Bretonnel. He’s retired from business now.” He stopped suddenly : Eve was hardly listening. He thought sadly that nothing interested her any more. It’s like the books. Before, you had to tear them away from her. Now she doesn’t even read any more.
“How is Pierre?”
“Well,” Eve said. “Do you want to see him’?” “Of course,” M. Darbedat said gaily. “I’d like to pay him a little call.”
He was full of compassion for this poor young man, but he could not see him without repugnance. I detest unhealthy people. Obviously, it was not Pierre’s fault: his heredity was terribly loaded down. M. Darbedat sighed : All the precautions are taken in vain, you fond out those things too late. No, Pierre was not responsible. But still he had always carried that fault in him; it formed the base of his character; it wasn’t like cancer or tuberculosis, something you could always put aside when you wanted to judge a man as he is. His nervous grace, the subtlety which pleased Eve so much when he was courting her were the Howers of madness. He was already mad when he married her only you couldn’t tell.
It makes you wonder, thought M. Darbedat, where responsibility begins, or rather, where it ends. In any case, he was always analyzing himself too much, always turned in on himself. But was it the cause or effect of his sickness? He- followed his daughter through a long, dim. corridor.
“This apartment is too big for you,” he said. “You ought to move out.”
“You say that every time, Papa,” Eve answered, “but I’ve already told you Pierre doesn’t want to leave his room.” Eve was amazing. Enough to make you wonder if she realized her husband’s state. He was insane enough to be in a strait-jacket and she respected his decisions and advice as if he still had good sense.
“What I’m saying is for your own good.” M. Darbedat went
on, somewhat annoyed, “It seems to me that if I were a woman I’d be afraid of these badly lighted old rooms. I’d like to see you in a bright apartment, the kind they’re pu tting up near Auteuil, three airy little rooms. They lowered the rents because they couldn’t find any tenants; this would be just the time.” Eve quietly turned the doorknob and they entered the room.
M. Darbedat’s throat tightened at the heavy odor of incense. The curtains were drawn. In the shadows he made out a thin neck above the back of an armchair: Pierre’s back was turning. He was eating.
“Hello, Pierre,” M. Darbedat said, raising his voice. “How are we today’?” He drew near him: the sick man was seated in front of a small table; he looked sly.
“I see we had soft-boiled eggs,” M. Darbedat said, raising his voice higher. “That’s good!”
“I’m not deaf,” Pierre said quietly.
Irritated, M. Darbedat turned his eyes toward Eve as his witness. But Eve gave him a hard glance and was silent. M. Darbedat realized he had hurt her. Too bad for her. It was impossible to find just the right tone for this boy. He had less sense than a child of four and Eve wanted him treated like a man. M. Darbedat could not keep himself from waiting with impatience for the moment when all this ridiculous business would be finished. Sick people always annoyed him a little- especially madmen because they were wrong. Poor Pierre, for example, was wrong all along the line, he couldn’t speak a reasonable word and yet it would be useless to expect the least humility from him, or even temporary recognition of his errors.
Eve cleared away the eggshells and the cup. She put a knife and fork in front of Pierre.
“What’s he going to eat now?” M. Darbedat said jovially.
Pierre had taken the fork and held it in the ends of his long, pale fingers. He inspected it minutely and then gave a slight laugh.
“I can’t use it this time,” he murmured, setting it down, ‘I was warned.”
Eve came in and looked at the fork with passionate interest.
“Agatha,” Pierre sal’d , “give me another one. “ Eve obeyed and Pierre began to eat. She had taken the suspect fork and held it tightly in her hands, her eyes never leaving it; she seemed to make a violent effort. How suspicious all their gestures and relationships are! thought M. Darbedat. He was uneasy.
“Be careful, Pierre, take it by the middle because of the prongs.”
Eve sighed and laid the fork on the serving table. M. Darbedat felt his gall rising. He did not think it well to give in to all this poor man’s whims-even from Pierre’s viewpoint it was pernicious. Franchot had said : “One must never enter the delirium of a madman.” Instead of giving him another fork, it would have been better to have reasoned quietly and made him understand that the first was like all the others. He went to the serving table, took the fork ostentatiously and tested the prongs with a light finger. Then he turned to Pierre. But the latter was cutting his meat peacefully : he gave his father-in-law a gentle, inexpressive glance. “I’d like to have a little talk with you.” M. Darbedat said to Eve.
She followed him docilely into the saloon. Sitting on the couch, M. Darbedat realized he had kept the fork in his hand. He threw it on the table.
“It’s much better here,” he said.
“I never come here.” "All right to smoke?”
“Of course, Papa,” Eve said hurriedly. Do you want a cigar?” M. Darbedat preferred to roll a cigarette. He thought eagerly of the discussion he was about to begin. Speaking to Pierre he felt as embarrassed about his reason as a giant about his strength when playing with a child. All his qualities of clarity, sharpness, pre cision, turned against him; I must confess it’s somewhat the same with my poor Jeannette. Certainly Mme. Darbedat was not insane. but this illness had ... stultified her. Eve. on the other hand, took after her father ... a straight, logical nature; discussion with her was a pleasure; that’s why I don’t want them to ruin her. M. Darbedat raised his eyes. Once again he wanted to see the fine intelligent features of his daughter. He was disappointed with this face; once so reasonable and transparent, there was now something clouded and opaque in it. Eve had always been beautiful. M. Darbedat noticed she was made up with great care, almost with pomp. She had blued her eyelids and put mascara on her long lashes. This violent and perfect make-up made a painful impression on her father.
“You’re green beneath your rouge,” he told her. “I’m afraid you’re getting sick. And the way you make yourself up now! You used to be so discreet.”
Eve did not answer and for an embarrassed moment M. Darbedat considered this brilliant, worn-out face beneath the heavy mass of black hair. He thought she looked like a tragedian. I even know who she looks like. That woman ... that Roumanian who played Phedre in French at the Mur d’Orange. He regretted having made so disagreeable a remark: It escaped me! Better not worry her with little things.
“Excuse me,” he said smiling, “you know I’m an old purist. I don’t like all these creams and paints women stick on their face today. But I’m in the wrong. You must live in your time.” Eve smiled amiably at him. M. Darbedat lit a cigarette and drew several puffs.
“My child,” he began, “I wanted to talk with you: the two of us are going to talk the way we used to. Come, sit down and listen to me nicely; you must have confidence in your old Papa.” “I’d rather stand,” Eve said. ‘What did you want to tell me?” “I am going to ask you a single question,” M. Darbedat said a little more dryly. ‘Where will all this lead you?” “All this?” Eve asked astonished.
“Yes ... all this whole life you’ve made for yourself. Listen,” he went on, “don’t trunk I don’t understand you” (he had a sudden illumination) “but what you want to do is beyond human strength. You want to live solely by imagination, isn’t that it? You don’t want to admit he’s sick. You don’t want to see the Pierre of today, do you? You have eyes only for the Pierre of before. My dear, my darling little girl, it’s an impossible bet to win,” M. Darbedat continued. “Now I’m going to tell you a story which perhaps you don’t know. When we were at Sables-d’Olonneyou were three years old-your mother made the acquaintance of a charming young woman with a superb little boy. You played on the beach with this little boy, you were thick as thieves, you were engaged to marry him. A while later, in Paris, your mother wanted to see this young woman again; she was told she had had a terrible accident. That fine little boy’s head was cut off by a car. They told your mother, ‘Go and see her, but above all don’t talk to her about the death of her child, she will not believe he is dead.’ Your mother went, she found a half-mad creature : she lived as though her boy was still alive; she spoke to him, she set his place at the table. She lived in such a state of nervous tension that after six months they had to take her away by force to a sanitorium where she was obliged to stay three years. No, my child,” M. Darbedat said, shaking his head, “these things are impossible. It would have been better if she had recognized the truth courageously. She would have suffered once, then time would have erased with its sponge. There is nothing like looking things in the face, believe me.”
“You’re wrong,” Eve said with effort. “I know very well that Pierre is. . . .” The word did not escape. She held herself very straight and put her hands on the back of the armchair: there was something dry and ugly in the lower part of her face.
“So ...” asked M. Darbedat, astonished.
“You . . .”
“I love him as he is,” said Eve rapidly and with an iritated look.
“Not true,” M. Darbedat said forcefully. “It isn’t true: you don’t love him, you can’t love him. You can only feel that way about a healthy, normal person. You pity Pierre, I don’t doubt it, and surely you have the memory of three years of happiness he gave you. But don’t tell me you love him. I won’t believe you.” Eve remained wordless, staring at the carpet absently.
“You could at least answer me,” M. Darbedat said coldly. “Don’t think this conversation has been any less painful for me than it has for you.”
“More than you think.”
“Well then, if you love him,” he cried, exasperated, “it is a great misfortune for you, for me and for your poor mother because I’m going to tell you something I would rather have hidden from you : before three years Pierre will be sunk in complete dementia, he’ ll be like a beast.”
He watched his daughter with hard eyes : he was angry at her for having compelled him, by stubbornness, to make this painful revelation.
Eve was motionless; she did not so much as raise her eyes.
“Who told yout” he asked stupefied.
“ Franchot. I knew six months ago.”
“And I told him to be careful with you,” said M. Darbedat with bitterness. “Maybe it’ s better. But under those circumstances you must understand that it would be unpardonable to keep Pierre with you. The struggle you have undertaken is doomed to failure, his illness won’t spare him. If there were something to be done, if we could save him by care, I’d say yes. But look: you’re pretty, intelligent, gay, you’re destroying yourself willingly and without profit. I know you’ve been admirable, but now it’s over . . . done, you’ve done your duty and more; now it would be immoral to continue. We also have duties to ourselves, child. And then you aren’t thinking about us. You must,” he repeated, hammering the words, “send Pierre to Franchot’s clinic. Leave this apartment where you’ve had nothing but sorrow and come home to us. If you want to be useful and ease the sufferings of someone else, you have your mother. The poor woman is cared for by nurses, she needs someone closer to her, and she,” he added, “can appreciate what you do for her and be grateful.” There was a long silence. M. Darbedat heard Pierre singing in the next room. It was hardly a song, rather a sort of sharp, hasty recitative. M. Darbedat raised his eyes to his daughter. “It’s no, then?”
“Pierre will stay with me,” she said quietly. “I get along well with him.”
“By living like an animal all day long’?”
Eve smiled and shot a glance at her father, strange, mocking and almost gay. It’s true, M. Darbedat thought furiously, that’s not all they do; they sleep together.
“You are completely mad,” he said, rising. Eve smiled sadly and murmured, as if to herself, “Not enough so.”
“Not enough? I can only tell you one thing, my child. You frighten me.”
He kissed her hastily and left. Going down the stairs he thought : we should send out two strong arm men who’d take the poor imbecile away and stick him under a shower without asking his advice on the matter.
It was a fine autumn day, calm and without mystery; the sunlight gilded the faces of the passers-by. M. Darbedat was struck with the simplicity of the faces; some weather-beaten, others smooth, but they reflected all the happiness and care with which he was so familiar.
I know exactly what I resent in Eve, he told himself, entering the Boulevard St. Germain. I resent her living outside the limits of human nature. Pierre is no longer a human being: in all the care and all the love she gives him she deprives human beings of a little. We don’t have the right to refuse ourselves to the world; no matter what, we live in society.
He watched the faces of the passers-by with sympathy; he loved their clear, serious looks. In these sunlit streets, in the midst of mankind, one felt secure, as in the midst of a large family. A woman stopped in front of an open-air display counter.
She was holding a little girl by the hand.
“What’s that’?” the little girl asked, pointing to a radio set.
“Mustn’t touch,” her mother said. “It’s a radio; it plays music. “
They stood for a moment without speaking, in ecstasy.
Touched, M. Darbedat bent down to the little girl md smiled.
“He’s gone.” The door closed with a dry snap. Eve was alone in the salon. I wish he’d die.
She twisted her hands around the back of the armchair: she had just remembered her father’s eyes. M. Darbedat was bent over Pierre with a competent air; he had said “That’s good!” the way someone says when they speak to invalids. He had looked and Pierre’s face had been painted in the depths of his sharp, bulging eyes. I hate him when he looks at him because I think he sees him.
Eve’s hands slid along the armchair and she turned to the window. She was dazzled. The room was filled with sunlight, it was everywhere, in pale splotches on the rug, in the air like a blinding dust. Eve was not accustomed to this diligent, indiscreet light which darted from everywhere, scouring all the corners, rubbing the furniture like a busy housewife and making it glisten. However, she went to the window and raised the muslin curtain which hung against the pane. Just at that moment M. Darbedat left the building; Eve suddenly caught sight of his broad shoulders. He raised his head and looked at the sky, blinking, then with the stride of a young man he walked away. He’s straining himself, thought Eve, soon he’ll have a stitch in the side. She hardly hated him any longer: there was so little in that head; only the tiny worry of appearing young. Yet rage took her again when she saw him turn the corner of the Boulevard St. Germain and disappear. He’s thinking about Piere. A little of their life had escaped from the closed room and was being dragged through the streets, in the sun, among the people. Can they never forget about us?
The Rue du Bac was almost deserted. An old lady crossed the street with mincing steps; three girls passed, laughing. Then men, strong, serious men carrying briefcases and talking among themselves. Normal people, thought Eve, astonished at finding such a powerful hatred in herself. A handsome, fleshy woman ran heavily toward an elegant gentleman. He took her in his arms and kissed her on the mouth. Eve gave a hard laugh and let the curtain fall.
Pierre sang no more but the woman on the fourth floor was playing the piano; she played a Chopin Etude. Eve felt calmer; she took a step toward Pierre’s room but stopped almost immediately and leaned against the wall in anguish; each time she left the room, she was panic-stricken at the thought of going back. Yet she knew she could live nowhere else: she loved the room.
She looked around it with cold curiosity as if to gain a little time: this shadowless, odorless room where she waited for her courage to return. You’d think it was a dentist’s waiting room. Armchairs of pink silk, the divan, the tabourets were somber and discreet, a little fatherly; man’s best friends. Eve imagined those grave gentlemen dressed in light suits, all like the ones she saw at the window, entering the room, continuing a conversation already begun. They did not even take time to reconnoiter, but advanced with firm step to the middle of the room; one of them, letting his hand drag behind him like a wake in passing knocked over cushions, objects on the table, and was never disturbed by their contact. And when a piece of furniture was in their way, these poised men, far from making a detour to avoid it, quietly changed its place. Finally they sat down, still plunged in their conversation, without even glancing behind them. A living-room for normal people, thought Eve. She stared at the knob of the closed door and anguish clutched her throat: I must go back. I never leave him alone so long. She would have to open the door, then stand for a moment on the threshold, trying to accustom her eyes to the shadow and the room would push her back with all its strength. Eve would have to triumph over this resistance and enter all the way into the heart of the room. Suddenly she wanted violently to see Pierre; she would have liked to make fun of M. Darbedat with him. But Pierre had no need of her; Eve could not foresee the welcome he had in store for her. Suddenly she thought with a sort of pride that she had no place anywhere. Normal people think I belong ‘With them. But I couldn’t stay an hour among them. I need to. live out there, on the other side of the wall. But they don’t want me out there.
A profound change was taking place around her. The light had grown old and greying: it was heavy, like the water in a vase of flowers that hasn’t been changed since the day before. In this aged light Eve found a melancholy she had long forgotten: the melancholy of an autumn afternoon that was ending. She looked around her, hesitant, almost timid : all that was so far away : there was neither day nor night nor season nor melancholy in the room. She vaguely recalled autumns long past, autumns of her childhood, then suddenly she stiffened : she was afraid of memories. She heard Pierre’s voice. “Agatha! Where are you?”
“Coming!” she cried.
She opened the door and entered the room. The heavy odor of incense filled her mouth and nostrils as she opened her eyes and stretched out her hands-for a long time the perfume and the gl oom had meant nothing more to her than a single element, acrid and heavy, as simple, as familiar as water, air or fire- and she prudently advanced toward a pale stain which seemed to float in the fog. It was Pierre’s face: Pierre’s clothing (he dressed in black ever since he had been sick) melted in obscurity. Pierre had thrown back his head and closed his eyes. He was handsome. Eve looked at his long, curved lashes, then sat close to him on the low chair. He seems to be suffering, she thought. Little by little her eyes grew used to the darkness. The bureau emerged first, then the bed, then Pierre’s personal things: scissors, the pot o f glue, books, the herbarium which shed its leaves onto the rug near the armchair.
Pierre had opened his eyes. He was watching her, smiling.
“You know, that fork?” he said. “I did it to frighten that fellow.
There was almost nothing the matter with it.” Eve’s apprehensions faded and she gave a light laugh. You succeeded,” she said. “You drove him completely out of his mind.” Pierre smiled. “Did you see? He played with it a long time, he held it right in his hands. The trouble is,” he said, “they don’t know how to take hold of things; they grab them.” “That’s right,” Eve said.
Pierre tapped the palm of his left hand lightly with the index of his right.
“They take with that. They reach out their fingers and when they catch hold of something they crack down on it to knock it out.”
He spoke rapidly and hardly moving his lips; he looked puzzled.
“I wonder what they want,” he said at last. “That fellow has already been here. Why did they send him to me? If they want to know what I’m doing all they have to do is read it on the screen , they don’t even need to leave the house. They make mistakes. They have the power but they make mistakes. I never make any, that’s my trump card. Hoffka!” he said. He shook his long hands before his forehead. “The bitch Hoffka! Paffka! Suffka! Do you want any more?”
“Is it the bell?” asked Eve.
“Yes. It’s gone.” He went on severely. “This fellow, he’s just a subordinate. You know him, you went into the living-room with him.”
Eve did not answer.
“What did he want?” asked Pierre. “He must have told you.” She hesitated an instant, then answered brutally. “He wanted you locked up.”
When the truth was told quietly to Pierre he distrusted it. He had to be dealt with violently in order to daze and paralyze his suspicions. Eve preferred to brutalize him rather than lie : when she lied and he acted as if he believed it she could not avoid a very slight feeling of superiority which made her horrified at herself.
“Lock me up!” Pierre repeated ironically. “They’re crazy. What can walls do to me. Maybe they think that’s going to stop me. I sometimes wonder if there aren’t two groups. The real one, the Negro-and then a bunch of fools trying to stick their noses in and making mistake after mistake.”
He made his hand jump up from the arm of the chair and looked at it happily.
“I can get through walls. What did you tell them’?” he asked, turning to Eve with curiosity.
“Not to lock you up.”
He shrugged. “You shouldn’t have said that. You made a mistake too ... unless you did it on purpose. You’ve got to call their bluff.”
He was silent! Eve lowered her head sadly: “They grab things!” How scornfully he said that- and he was right. Do I grab things too? It doesn’t do any good to watch myself, I think most of my movements annoy him. But he doesn’t say anything. Suddenly she felt as miserable as when she was fourteen and Mme. Darbedat told her : “You don’t know what to do with your hands.” She didn’t dare make a move and just at that time she had an irresistible desire to change her position. Quietly she put her feet under the chair, barely touching the rug. She watched the lamp on the table-the lamp whose base Pierre had painted black-and the chess set. Pierre had left only the black pawns on the board. Sometimes he would get up, go to the table and take the pawns in his hands one by one. He spoke to them, called them Robots and they seemed to stir with a mute life under his fingers. When he set them down, Eve went and touched them in her turn (she always felt somewhat ridiculous about it). They had become little bits of dead wood again but something vague and incompre hensible stayed in them, something like understanding. These are his things, she thought. There is nothing of mine in the room. She had had a few pieces of furniture before; the mirror and the little inlaid dresser handed down from her grandmother and which Pierre jokingly called “your dresser.” Pierre had carried them away with him; things showed their true face to Pierre alone. Eve could watch them for hours : they were unflaggingly stubborn and determined to deceive her, offering her nothing but their appearance-as they did to Dr. Franchot and M. Darbedat. Yet, she told herself with anguish, I don’t see them quite like my father. It isn’t possible for me to see them exactly like him. She moved her knees a little : her legs felt as though they were crawling with ants. Her body was stiff and taut and hurt her; she felt it too alive, too demanding. I would like to be invisible and stay here seeing him without his seeing me. He doesn’t need me; I am useless in this room. She turned her head slightly and looked at the wall above Pierre. Threats were written on the wall. Eve knew it but she could not read them. She often watched the hig red roses on the wallpaper until they began to dance hefore her eyes. The roses flamed in shadow. Most of the time the threat was written near the ceiling, a little to the left of the bed; but sometimes it moved. I must get up. I can’t . . . I can’t sit down any longer. There were also white discs on the wall that looked like slices of onion. The discs spun and Eve’s hands began to tremble: Sometimes I think I’m going mad. But no, she thought, I can’t go mad. I get nervous, that’s all.
Suddenly she felt Pierre’s hand on hers.
“Agatha,” Pierre said tenderly.
He smiled at her hut he held her hand by the ends of his lingers with a sort of revulsion, as though he had picked up a crab by the back and wanted to avoid its claws. “Agatha,” he said, “I would so much like to have confidence in you.”
She closed her eyes and her breast heaved. I mustn’t answer anything, if I do he’ll get angry, he won’t say anything more.
Pierre had dropped her hand. “I like you, Agatha,” he said, “but I can’t understand you. Why do you stay in the room all the time?”
Eve did not answer.
“Tell me why.”
“You know I love you,” she said dryly.
“I don’t believe you,” Pierre said. “Why should you love me’? I must frighten you : I’m haunted.” He smiled but suddenly be came serious. “There is a wall between you and me. I see you, I speak to you, but you’re on the other side. What keeps us from loving? I think it was easier before. In Hamburg.” “Yes,” Eve said sadly. Always Hamburg. He never spoke of their real past. Neither Eve nor he had ever been to Hamburg. “We used to walk along the canal. There was a barge, re member? The barge was black; there was a dog on the deck.” He made it up as he went along; it sounded false. “I held your hand. You had another skin. I believed al you told me. Be quiet!” he shouted.
He listened for a moment. “They’re coming,” he said mournfully. Eve jumped up. “They’re coming’? I thought they wouldn’t ever come again.”
Pierre had been calmer for the past three days; the statues did not come. Pierre was terribly afraid of the statues even though he would never admit it. Eve was not afraid : but when they be gan to fly, buzzing, around the room, she was afraid of Piere. “Give me the ziuthre,” Pierre said.
Eve got up and took the ziuthre : it was a collection of pieces of cardboard Pierre had glued together; he used it to conjure the statues. The ziuthre looked like a spider. On one of the cardboards Pierre had written, “Power over ambush,” and on the other, “Black.” On a third he had drawn a laughing face with wrinkled eyes: it was Voltaire.
Pierre seized the ziuthre by one end and looked at it darkly.
“I can’t use it any more,” he said.
“They turned it upside down.”
“Will you make another?”
He looked at her for a long while. “You’d like me to, wouldn’t you,” he said between his teeth.
Eve was angry at Pierre. He’s warned every time they come: how does he do it? He’s never wrong.
The ziuthre dangled pitifully from the ends of Pierre’s fingers. He always finds a good reason not to use it. Sunday when they came he pretended he ‘d lost it but I saw it behind the paste pot and he couldn’t fail to see it. I wonder if he isn’t the one who brings them. One could never tell if he were completely sincere. Sometimes Eve had the impression that despite himself Pierre was surrounded by a swarm of unhealthy thoughts and visions. But at other times Pierre seemed to invent them. He suffers. But how much does he believe in the statues and the Negro? Anyhow, I know he doesn’t see the statues, he only hears them: when they pass he turns his head away; but he still says he sees them; he describes them. She remembered the red face of Dr. Franchot:
“But my dear madame, all mentally unbalanced persons are liars; you’re wasting your time if you’re trying to distinguish between what they really feel and what they pretend to feel.” She gave a start. What is Franchot doing here? I don’t want to start thinking like him.
Pierre had gotten up. He went to throw the ziuthre into the wastebasket : I want to think like you, she murmured. He walked with tiny steps, on tiptoe, pressing his elbows against his hips so as to take up the least possible space. He came back and sat down and looked at Eve with a closed expression. ‘We’ll have to put up black wallpaper,” he said. “There isn’t enough black in this room.”
He was crouched in the armchair. Sadly Eve watched his meager body, always ready to withdraw, to shrink : the arms, legs, and head looked like retractable organs. The clock struck six. The piano downstairs was silent. Eve sighed : the statues would not come right away; they hac! to wait for them. “Do you want me to turn on the light’?”
She would rather not wait for them in darkness.
“Do as you please,” Pierre said.
Eve lit the small lamp on the bureau and a red mist filled the room. Pierre was waiting too.
He did not speak but his lips were moving, making dark stains in the red mist. Eve loved Pierre’s lips. Before, they had been moving and sensual; but they had lost their sensuality. They were wide apart, trembling a little, coming together incessantly, crushing against each other only to separate again. They were the only living things in this blank face; they looked like two frightened animals. Pierre could mutter like that for hours without a sound leaving his mouth and Eve often let herself be fascinated by this tiny, obstinate movement. I love his mouth. He never kissed her any more; he was horrified at contacts : at night they touched him-the hands of men, hard and dry, pinched him all over; the long-nailed hands of women caressed him. Often he went to bed with his clothes on but the hands slipped under the clothes and tugged at his shirt. Once he heard laughter and puffy lips were placed on his mouth. He never kissed Eve after that night.
“Agatha,” Pierre said, “don’t look at my mouth.”
Eve lowered her eyes.
“I am not unaware that people can learn to read lips,” he went on insolently.
His hands trembled on the arm of the chair. The index finger stretched out, tapped three times on the thumb and the other fingers curled: this was a spell. It’s going to start, she thought. She wanted to take Pierre in her arms.
Pierre began to speak at the top of his voice in a very sophis-ticated tone.
“Do you remember Sao Paulo?”
No answer. Perhaps it was a trap.
“I met you there,” he said, satisfied. “I took you away from a Danish sailor. We almost fought but I paid for a round of drinks and he let me take you away. All that was only a joke.” He’s lying, he doesn’t believe a word of what he says. He knows my name isn’t Agatha. I hate him when he lies. But she saw his staring eyes and her rage melted. He isn’t lying, she thought, he can’t stand it any more. He feels them coming; he’s talking to keep from hearing them. Pierre dug both hands into the arm of the chair. His face was pale; he was smiling. “These meetings are often strange,” he said, “but I don’t believe it’s by chance. I’m not asking who sent you. I know you wouldn’t answer. Anyhow, you’ve been smart enough to bluff me.”
He spoke with great difficulty, in a sharp, hurried voice. There were words he could not pronounce and which left his mouth like some soft and shapeless substance. “You dragged me away right in the middle of the party, between the rows of black automobiles, but behind the cars there was an army with red eyes which glowed as soon as I turned my back. I think you made signs to them, all the time hanging on my arm, but I didn’t see a thing. I was too absorbed by the great ceremonies of the Coronation.”
He looked straight ahead, his eyes wide open. He passed his hand over his forehead very rapidly, in one spare gesture, without stopping his talking. He did not want to stop talking. “It was the Coronation of the Republic,” he said stridently, “an impressive spectacle of its kind because of all the species of animals that the colonies sent for the ceremony. You were afraid to get lost among the monkeys. I said among the monkeys,” he repeated arrogantly, looking around him, “I could say among the Negroes! The abortions sliding under the tables, trying to pass unseen, are discovered and nailed to the spot by my Look. The password is silence. To be silent. Everything in place and attention for the entrance of the statues, that’s the countersign. Tralala . . . ,” he shrieked and cupped his hands to his mouth. “Tralalala, tralalalala!”
He was silent and Eve knew that the statues had come into the room. He was stiff, pale and distrustful. Eve stiffened too and both waited in silence. Someone was walking in the corridor: it was Marie the housecleaner, she had undoubtedly just arrived. Eve thought, I have to give her money for the gas. And then the statues began to fly; they passed between Eve and Pierre. Pierre went "Ah!" and sank down in the armchair, folding his legs beneath him. He turned his face away; sometimes he grinned, but drops of sweat pearled his forehead. Eve could stand the sight no longer, this pale cheek, this mouth deformed by a trembling grimace; she closed her eyes. Gold threads began to dance on the red background of her eyelids; she felt old and heavy. Not far from her Pierre was breathing violently. They're flying, they're bUzzing, they're bending over him. She felt a slight tickling, a pain in the shoulder and right side. Instinctively her body bent to the left as if to avoid some disagreeable contact, as if to let a heavy, awkward object pass. Suddenly the floor creaked and she had an insane desire to open her eyes, to open her eyes, to look to her right, sweeping the air with her hand.
She did nothing; she kept her eyes closed and a bitter joy made her tremble: I am afraid too, she thought. Her entire life had taken refuge in her right side. She leaned towards Pierre without opening her eyes. The slightest effort would be enough and she would enter this tragic world for the first time. I’m afaid of the statues, she thought. It was a violent, blind affirmation, an incantation. She wanted to believe in their presence with all her strength. She tried to make a new sense, a sense of touch out of the anguish which paralyzed her right side. She felt their passage in her arm, in her side and shoulder.
The statues flew low and gently; they buzzed. Eve knew that they had an evil look and that eyelashes stuck out from the stone around their eyes; but she pictured them badly. She knew, too, that they were not quite alive but that slabs of flesh, warm scales appeared on their great bodies; the stone peeled from the ends of their fingers and their palms were eaten away. Eve could not see all that: she simply thought of enormous women sliding against her, solemn and grotesque, with a human look and compact heads of stone. They are bending over Pierre-Eve made such a violent effort that her hands began trembling-they are bending over me. A horrible cry suddenly chilled her. They had touched him. She opened her eyes: Pierre’s head was in his hands, he was breathing heavily. Eve felt exhausted : a game, she thought with remorse; it was only a game. I didn’t sincerely believe it for an instant. And all that time he suffered as if it were real. Pierre relaxed and breathed freely. But his pupils were strangely dilated and he was perspiring.
“Did you see them?” he asked.
“I can’t see them.”
“Better for you. They’d frighten you,” he said. “I am used to them.”
Eve’s hands were still shaking and the blood had rushed to her head. Pierre took a cigarette from his pocket and brought it up to his mouth. But he did not light it:
“I don’t care whether I see them or not,” he said, “but I don’t want them to touch me: I’m afraid they’ll give me pimples.” He thought for an instant, then asked, “Did you hear them?” “Yes,” Eve said, “it’s like an airplane engine.” (Pierre had told her this the previous Sunday.)
Pierre smiled with condescension. “You exaggerate,” he said. But he was still pale. He looked at Eve’s hands. “Your hands are trembling. That made quite an impression on you, my poor Agatha. But don’t worry. They won’t come back again before tomorrow.” Eve could not speak. Her teeth were chattering and she was afraid Pierre would notice it. Pierre watched her for a long time. “You’re tremendously beautiful:’ he said, nodding his head.
“It’s too bad, too bad.”
He put out his hand quickly and toyed with her ear. “My
lovely devil-woman. You disturb me a little, you are too beautiful : that distracts me. If it weren’t a question of recapitulation . . .”
He stopped and looked at Eve with surprise. “That’s not the word . . . it came . . . it came,” he said, smiling vaguely. “I had another on the tip of my tongue . . . but this one . . . came in its place. I forget what I was telling you.” He thought for a moment, then shook his head. “ Come,” he said, “I want to sleep.” He added in a childish voice, “You know, Agatha, I’m tired. I can’t collect my thoughts any more.”
He threw away his cigarette and looked at the rug anxiously.
Eve slipped a pillow under his head.
“You can sleep too,” he told her, “they won’t be back.”
Pierre was asleep, a candid half-smile on his face; his head was turned to one side : one might have thought he wanted to caress his cheek with -his shoulder. Eve was not sleepy, she was thoughtful: Recapitulation. Pierre had suddenly looked stupid and the word had slipped out of his mouth, long and whitish. Pierre had stared ahead of him in astonishment, as if he had seen the word and didn’t recognize it; his mouth was open, soft: something seemed broken in it. He stammered. That’s the first time it ever happened to him: he noticed it, too. He said he couldn’t collect his thoughts any more. Pierre gave a voluptuous little whimper and his hand made a vague movement. Eve watched him harshly : how is he going to wake up? It gnawed at her. As soon as Pierre was asleep she had to think about it. She was afraid he would wake up wild eyed and stammering. I’m stupid, she thought, it can’t start before a year; Franchot said so. But the anguish did not leave her; a year: a winter, a springtime, a summer, the beginning of another autumn. One day his features would grow confused, his jaw would hang loose, he would half open his weeping eyes. Eve bent over Pierre’s hand and pressed her lips against it: I’ll kill you before that.
http://www.revuerelief.org/index.php/relief/article/download/36/35 [Els Jongeneel, '"La chambre": un flirt avec la folie', RELIEF 1 (1), 2007]
http://www.upm.ro/facultati_departamente/stiinte_litere/conferinte/situl_integrare_europeana/Lucrari3/franceza/Adriana%20Teodorescu.pdf [Adriana Teodorescu, "LA CHAMBRE OU COMMENT EXTRAIRE L'ENFER DE L'AUTRE"]
-See the notes by Michel Rybalka (pp 1802-1820 and 1834-1839) in the PLÉIADE edition of the 'Ouvres Romanesques' de Jean-Paul Sartre, Gallimard 1981.