On Elegance While Sleeping
December 4, 18 …
At birth, I felt the desire to correct the human tendency to feel fragile and imperfect. I’ve therefore sanctified my life to this sole endeavor. Logic hasn’t aided my efforts. Logic must resist the same imperfection: it’s also human. Logic decrees that you should pour water over a fire to extinguish it. I’ve rehearsed the extinguishing of fires by carrying a flask inside a purse.
I haven’t been successful.
From this failure, what I do have is the consolation of having rehearsed a personal procedure, and one that isn’t necessarily beholden to the logic of men who, if they know how to put out a fire, don’t know, in return, how to be happy. I’ve wanted to be happy. It was necessary to follow another path.
I didn’t discuss the problem with anyone. The notion of happiness no longer seems to be in fashion. But I’ve asked myself: do I have a soul? Yes. And, what is it? An imperceptible silhouette of my traveling self—external, seamless, vaporous, etcetera? These are the forms that come from human logic. The spirit detaches from matter, if it isn’t matter itself, it doesn’t have a life or color, shape, or anything. The logic of man is the logic of the children of Macedonia, who are born philosophers, same as the children of Manaus (Brazil).
July 9, 18 …
Did my father think of making something of me? I don’t know. I was seventeen and only came home to eat or sleep. I spent the rest of the day along the river or in the neighbor’s house. Not because I was much of a conversationalist, but to return to civilized life for what’s pleasing in it.
Now and then, someone died in the next town over, Croissic, where I went sometimes mechanically, crossing the bridge that left from the heart of Bougival. The crier announced the death, adding a cheerful note at the end. This man whose trade is disappearing did everything he could to get the neighborhood’s sympathy. For the curious people who followed his drum roll, the crier’s humor never failed.
The people who died weren’t always well known. Generally, they were women who lived in the shadows of the pantry and didn’t leave their rooms or their beds in their final years. Raising my eyes toward the curious windows in small towns, I’ve surprised many of these maidservants who never came down to the road for a little sun. Faded old women, the majority of them. They didn’t bother with hairbrushes and kept their hair in place with rolls of thread, like the style in 1830. Some of them were skinny and faded and others had faces that had grown flat and insolent from so much looking, like Soeur Anne, Blue Beard’s last wife.
These women died frequently between the ages of ninety and ninety-five. Official statistics from the mayor’s office didn’t sway me. Beings who had lived so many years filled me with emotion. I never missed their burials. I followed respectfully, as if on the pathway of the Peripatetics, reflecting on how these traveling women didn’t experience one day more intensely than another and the years had been a successive leaf-shedding of their souls that didn’t even stop to mark their birthdays. These pitiful centenarians, who died like oranges, hollow in their miserable skins, acquired something in their deaths that moved me, the way plaintive organs in cathedrals move me.
Was it the satisfaction of knowing life wouldn’t be touched by these women again? Was it my intuition of the earth’s belated revenge that made me happy, the earth that was going to fold these already mysterious old women into its mysteries? I don’t know what it was. But with a hunch of my premature ending ahead, this old woman’s death gave me as much pleasure as it would’ve left me wretched to know my memorable youth had disappeared before the great contraption of time, that moth-eaten chest of drawers in the home granaries of my gray village.
These old women exhausted life. Their funerals moved me. They drank more air than the young do, and in their homes, along with their fortune, rent, retirement money, or state pension, they retained the selfish spirit of people who don’t resist and when they’re going to be conquered, seal themselves in a room as if in a fort; and above all these women moved me because they’d been virgins for ninety years. Much more than Joan of Arc was. Like a statue of Joan of Arc.
September 9, 18 …
Marie-Germain changed genders at twenty-two years old. I confirmed mine when I was only ten, an age when males question the idea of being female and some of them are already as sensitive as girls. I had a classmate we’d all kiss as if he weren’t another boy. And Osvaldo, that was his name, was the happiest possible being because he didn’t catch on that what we were doing was courting him, and that was the reason we offered the best of ourselves. We invited him on excursions and he gave us the pleasure of playing along with the lie. He’d race out of his house to go with us. The skin on his face and legs was entirely feminine, and when I had a falling out with him it made me jealous. I preferred to keep him at a distance than watch him belong equally to all my friends. When we came back from doing what we did with him, the pleasure ended. He repulsed me. Osvaldo, as a result, would do anything to please me. I’d take him to the riverbank and make him trap leeches for me. I’d make him go barefoot into the underbrush along the riverbank and he’d come out with leeches fastened to his calves. As he helped me with my leech business (and he’d kiss me ardently as I exploited him and I couldn’t stand it), he got thinner and taller, and his rosy complexion turned yellow. One day they expelled him from the Convent of San Francisco and after that I only saw him occasionally in Paris, powdered like a girl and walking on the balls of his feet, looking back to see if there was anyone following. When he turned his head, he’d smile. A look, one might say, as if he’d just accepted a sign.
I’ve not found in Bougival’s history any traces of it being a fort for Huguenots. But with Osvaldo, my village demonstrated itself to be indignant and Puritan to a fault. It was cruel how we isolated him. The pleasure we found in sacrificing him as an example, imposing the most severe droit du seigneur in place of the fleeting sensation of a second go at the bride, with the sad, sick dignity of asylum residents viewed as innocents before the law.
What sacrifice wouldn’t he accept as long as we kept him company? Osvaldo made two holes in the doors of his house, the first leading to his mother’s room, who’d married for a second time, and the second in the door to his sister’s room, a fifteen year old virgin with a curvy Spanish body. The sexual deviants who accompanied Osvaldo could choose which hole gave them more pleasure; the hole that looked in on the activities of Osvaldo’s libertine stepfather, or the hole that opened onto the rosy, naked innocence of the young virgin sitting before her mirror, alarmed like any single woman during the bottomless loneliness that is every night in the provinces.