Telling it all after the fact . . . easier said than done! . . . much easier! . . . After all, you can still hear the echo . . . baboom!your head’s spinning . . . even seven years later . . . your mug . . . time’s nothing, memory’s what matters . . . that and all the world’s infernos . . . all the people we’ve lost . . . the sorrows . . . your pals scattered . . .the nice ones . . . the not-so-nice ones . . . the forgetful ones . . . the blades of the windmill . . . and the echo that’s still beating you down . . . it’ll still be there when they dump me in my grave! . . . Talk about a wind! . . . I’ve had it up to here! . . . the old belly, too! . . . kaboom! . . . I feel it . . . it sinks in . . . my bones quivering, right there in my bed . . . I won’t lose you, though! . . . I’ll catch up with you somewhere or other, down the line . . . that’s all you need! character! . . . rags in the wind! . . . that’s for sure . . . baboom! . . . I’m telling you, they brought me back up! . . . I was telling you they carried me back like Marlborough . . . you know? when they put him in the ground? . . . me, I was in the air . . . with four . . . five knights and ladies-in-waiting . . . Lili told me . . . all seven flights! . . . I’d fallen down the elevator shaft, ’cause the door was open . . . no! . . . further than that . . . I fell even further! . . . into the cellar! . . . Baroom! . . . calling out for Lili! . . . calling out for Bébert . . . calling out for everyone! . . . they’d gathered me up outside . . . the four knights and ladies, to take me back up to my place . . . it’s nothing new, all this baroom, baroom stuff! . . . been going on since ’14, to tell the truth . . . November ’14 . . . baroom! . . . I was thrown into the air by a shell, thrown! . . . lifted right up! . . . I mean a big one! a “107”! . . . on my mare, “Demolition”! in the rear-guard! . . . Saber shining! . . . talk about a wind! I was flying away! . . . just get a load of him! . . . it’s the memories that really unnerve me! . . . you’ll see . . . I’ll gather them all up! . . . I’ll fly away! . . . I won’t keep anything from you! . . . tattered rags of ’14 . . . of ’18 . . . ’35 . . . ’44 . . . I count . . . I recount! . . . I recapture it all! . . . like on the day when we used to count the linens to make sure nothing had gone missing! . . . like the notes on Jules’s bugle! . . . off you go! . . . tatters blowing this way! . . . tatters blowing that way! . . . underpants! . . . C sharp! . . . handkerchiefs! . . . I’ll unjumble it all for you! . . . you won’t believe my quick little hands . . . such deftness! . . . I’ll put it all back! . . . in perfect shape! . . . you’ll be delighted! . . . I’ll really do it right! . . . a piece here . . . a piece there! . . . Baroom! . . . a huge quake rocks the whole Goutte d’Or area! . . . Grandes-Carrières too! What am I saying? Out to Dufayel! . . . and even farther! higher up! my head’s spinning! Oh, and Sacré-Cœur! La Savoyarde, the great bell, the space gong! . . . you heard of it? the Butte’s big alarm bell! . . . the house quaking! . . . so you can imagine, me, with my spinning head! . . . and they brought me back up! with good intentions! they told me! . . . home again! the building’s seven stories high! I should have told them: you’re hurting me! there were six of them . . . Ottavio, Charmoise . . . Mr. Vluve and Madame Gendron and Arlette . . . I’d fallen down the shaft . . . right onto the elevator car! . . . it’s a good thing the goddamn car was stopped on the sixth floor! . . . any lower and the fall would’ve killed me! . . . I’d only taken a twenty-foot dive! . . . could’ve broken every bone . . . cracked my skull open again!
. . . they asked me: You okay? “you okay” . . . very clever!
No, I’m not! How’s Bébert?
That’s how I am, body and soul . . . my concern . . . my first thought: my cat.
Forget about Bébert . . . what about you?
They were worried, especially Ottavio and Charmoise, they knew what bad shape I was in, first of all overworked as hell! and then, excuse me! whack! black and blue! cracks! bruises! . . . they could see! . . .
No fractures, darling? anything fractured?
I’m a doctor, right? I am, yes! I couldn’t even open my eyes! . . . I’d fallen right on my eyebrows! . . . split the sockets right open! nothing else broken, though! No, just bleeding all over my face . . . especially at the temples . . . I was dripping everywhere . . . real beat up, you might say! . . . a little lower and I could’ve killed myself . . . say the car was on the first floor? . . . I’m telling you! . . . my luck! . . . but I’d had a hell of a blow to the head! . . . dizziness! pulsating! . . . I was throwing up because of it, in my bed! . . . fucking everything up! and I knew it! . . . too bad! courage first! . . . I sneak a peak out of one eye, I have a look around . . . the dresser’s not against the wall anymore . . . the little fucker’s waltzed off! . . . right out the door . . . gone dancing out onto the landing! . . . the building shaking like crazy! what an uproar! all the landings rattling!
So, Lili? Lili? what happened? the dresser took off?
They’re all answering me at once . . . I can’t understand a thing . . . I’m still buzzing too much . . . there I am, flat on my bed . . . It’s not just the dresser . . . there’s other furniture doing a polka to the door . . . bumping into each other and stomping on each other’s feet! . . . it’s the bombing . . . she’s a frisky little one, our dresser! . . . here she is, coming back towards us down the hallway! . . .
So I was telling you, Ottavio, Charmoise, and Mr. & Mrs. Gendron carried me back to my bed…They found me on the sewer grate in front of Jules’s place . . . Arlette is making me some chamomile tea . . . Arlette, that’s Lili . . . she’s the most loving of loving souls, really! Arlette Lili . . . she has to try and keep her balance with that cup full of tea! . . . the hallway’s rolling . . . surging . . . from one end to the other . . . She better keep away from the dresser . . . but look, Lili’s agility incarnate!
Some chamomile, Ferdinand? Some chamomile?
They all insist I drink something hot . . .
What, Ferdinand? What?
I can’t tell if it’s the shock or what, but everybody seems even more stupefied than I am, all my pallbearer friends . . . all they can say is, What, Ferdinand? . . . what? . . . what? . . . I can hardly hear them . . . what? . . . what? what? And I’ve got some of my own noises to worry about . . . I already told you . . . like the bombs! boy, are they coming down! cluster after cluster! And then there’s not just that dresser shimmying in the hallway, there’s the rumble of the cannons and Lili with her cup . . . ping! ping! . . . it’s all settled, it’s over, no more alarms . . . but Jesus! the bombs! . . . they’ve got timers, a delay on them, apparently . . . Baboom! it’s really something! . . .
I call her.
To hell with your cup!
I don’t want her to leave me! . . . I don’t want her to go back down to Jules’s place! We have enough water, we have enough milk! If not, we can do without it!
My eyes are gummed up, lined with blood, swollen shut . . . she kisses me, she kisses everything! blood, eyebrows, my split brow . . . my temples . . . she licks me oh so gently, that’s adoration for you . . . she really loves me . . .
You often get adoration like that when your life is slipping away
. . . I wasn’t sure I’d live! what a beating! . . . I’ve had my share! . . . Me with my head already so sensitive! . . . split open! . . . that fall in the elevator shaft! Arlette loves me all right, she dotes on me . . . I love her too, but in my own way, I’m not so delicate . . . I love Bébert, I love my patients, it’s all a bit mixed up . . . upside-down! . . . I don’t go in for soul-searching . . . I got dragged down into all the daily strife, the flow of life, how things turn out, good and bad . . . With Lili I was lucky, but then life also brought me Jules, across the way down there, that scumbag! . . . I’m telling you, the guy’s unspeakable! nasty piece of work!
. . . even so, I care about the guy . . . believe me, I have no illusions . . .
he’s a legless cripple, humpback! . . . rotten right to his heart and soul! A selfish demi-swine, no doubt about it! vile! . . . he’d be a whole pig if he could! . . . you get the picture . . . drunkard, liar, thief, pig-artist, but the dirty fucker has some kind of devilish allure . . . not all the time: just one hour out of ten! . . . one precious hour! . . . you’ve got to see this monster in action! . . . caged or under a pile of hay . . . I’d put him under a pile of hay like the Hindus do with their cobras . . . Jules, along with his other vices, he’s a drunk, a prick, a lazy bum, I’m telling you . . . and such a miser he’d make a single egg last him a week, aside from everything else! . . . all in all, a real sweetie! . . . in a nutshell, a thief! . . . doesn’t miss a trick! . . .
I ask how he’s doing during all this . . . my self-respect is gone after his abominable conduct . . . the way he fondled Lili right in front of me . . . taking advantage of the circumstances . . .
Jules didn’t have any trouble, Lili?
No, he couldn’t be better, apparently.
I must have been unconscious for at least forty-five minutes in front of his place . . . You can bet he didn’t come out to help me! . . . I see it’s nearly nighttime . . . I see the gardens through the window . . . the sun is fading . . . you can just make out Sacré-Cœur . . . that’s the view from my bed . . . I’m a mess . . . I don’t say anything, stretched out there, but it hurts . . . I must have fallen head first . . .
He’s at Plum’s, he’s doing fine!
News flash from below, from the concierge’s . . . I wasn’t too worried . . . but all his clients are pretty pissed off! baring their fangs! . . . and fuming about I don’t even remember what! . . . the clay? . . . watercolors? . . . peep-shows? ‘cause they hadn’t seen enough ass? . . . mostly that! . . . not enough ass on view, that’s the problem! . . .
Anyway, tell me, you modeled for him?
Yes, Louis! . . . Yes, Louis! . . . you’re wearing yourself out!
She always says that I’m wearing myself out.
Where were you two?
Plum’s is where Rue Hortense continues . . . that’s where all the artists go to shoot their mouths off, spew out their nonsense, talk until they’re hoarse!
So, was Jules running me down, insulting me?
Pretty much . . .
She never lies to me.
What’d he say?
Oh, you know . . .