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“Night Visit” by Emmanuel Bove

2015/7/1 — 11:54

【Text by Alyson Waters】

His eyes left the comforting flame of the lamp, seemed to follow the flight of a bird, then landed on me.

What was making me sad? My books—all my books—were sleeping on the shelves. No one had spoken badly of me. My family and friends had no particular worries. I found myself in the midst of all things. So I did not need to fear that events, in my absence, would take a turn I would be unable to change. I was not unhappy with myself. And, even had I been, this intensity of feeling was different.

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It was eleven o’clock at night. A lamp without a shade lit my desk. I had not gone out all day. Whenever fresh air has not put color in my cheeks, I don’t feel at ease. My wrists are smoother and I notice, with some displeasure, that the down covering them is silkier, and when I go to bed, my unexpended energy makes me uncomfortable.

I was dozing in an armchair. At the seam where the red velvet meets the wood, golden tacks form a border. One of them was missing and, there, the edge sagged a bit. I sat motionless. My hand tugged at this seam without my being aware of it, as it sought unconsciously to pull out the next tack.

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It was only once I had managed to pull it out that I became aware of what I was doing. I felt a small joy at this discovery, as I feel each time I catch myself doing something without realizing it, or when I bring to light a sensation in me of which I was unaware. It makes me as happy as a ray of sunshine or a kind word. Anyone who would criticize me for this tiny joy will never understand me. I think that seeking knowledge of oneself is a pure deed. To criticize me for digging too deep into myself would be to criticize me for being happy.

I have to say, though, that this joy is very fragile. It really is not equal to the joy a ray of sunshine gives us. Quickly it disappears, and I have to look for something else inside me to bring it back to life. Then, in the intervals, it seems that everything is hostile to me and that the people around me, with their simple joy, are in reality happier than I am.

*

I was reading when there was a knock at the door. It was my friend Paul. He rushed in and the door, which he had yanked behind him so it would close, stopped half-way.

“What’s the matter, Paul?”

“Nothing.”

His face was pale, and his eyes darker than usual. He dropped onto the sofa, which he knew was soft.

“But what is it?”

He stood, walked around the room as I put my book down, and lit a cigarette, then sat again. He was smoking the way nervous people do, his cigarette drooping from his mouth. From time to time, he would spit out bits of tobacco.

“Please, Paul, tell me what’s happened to you.”

I looked at him. I tried to find a gesture, an expression, something in his bearing that would reassure me. But there was nothing. If he had been holding some object, his fingers would have trembled. He must have realized this because he avoided touching anything whatsoever.

“Paul, I’m your friend. Tell me everything. You know if there’s anything I can do for you, I’ll do it. It hurts me to see you like this, without being able to help you.”

He was so upset that I alone heard my words. I saw them drift over his head without ever reaching his ears. It seemed as if the words were balls that I was tossing haphazardly. I grew tired of his lack of concentration and stopped paying attention to what I was saying, and just then he appeared to listen to me.

Cautiously he drew near me. It was as if he were afraid that the slightest sound would close my mouth. He looked at it, blinking; his eyelids were missing a few lashes. The light from the lamp as it glided across the roundness of his eyes made their color fade. He burst out laughing. Yes, he burst out laughing. His fingers trembled one after the other, their thin fingernails molded to the flesh rather than sitting atop it. A few teeth I had never seen appeared at the back of his mouth, similar to the others but unfamiliar to me. They revealed physical mysteries. I was aware that I no longer had a friend in front of me, but a man like myself. And this did more to make me feel sorry for him than his desperate behavior.

“Why are you laughing?”

“Hmm! I don’t know, you’re right, I shouldn’t be.”

And he went on laughing. His nose seemed longer as the muscles of his face contracted. His mouth, which had lost the rhythm of his breath, was trying to recover. In spite of everything, Paul had to breathe through this confusion, and so his breath vibrated on his palate before escaping from his mouth.

At last he sat down, calmer, which made me wonder if his pain was as great as it had seemed.

A streetcar passed. Was it because the rain continued to fall that I thought, from the noise the streetcar made, that the electrical current was stronger?

There was a moment of silence. When the rumbling of a taxi interrupted it, I listened to the sound until it became imperceptible. And my concentration was so intense that I still heard it, even though it no longer existed. A pinkish light, projected from outside, lit up a spot on the wall where it would have been difficult to hang a painting.

My friend was not moving. Having parted his lips once and for all, he was breathing feebly, his tongue folded over so as to be out of the way. And his hair, which he had not combed with his hand, was untidy.

“Say something, Paul!”

His eyes left the comforting flame of the lamp, seemed to follow the flight of a bird, then landed on me. They were shrouded by a dark glaze, fringed by the shadow of his lashes. Perhaps because each eye was so intensely alive, I realized very clearly that there were two of them. As for my gaze, even though it was full of compassion, I felt it was not honest. As hard as I tried to open my eyes wide to see more clearly, it was hopeless. Paul took my hand. I questioned him.

“Tell me, what has happened to you?”

He leaned forward to take my other hand, which was quite far from him. He did it gently. Then he began to speak.

I did not hear the first sentences, as I was busy trying to find the mark of pain on my friend’s features. I placed more importance on that than on what he was about to tell me. For when a man is suffering, what can he tell us that we don’t already know?

“Jean, a great misfortune has just happened to me.”

Now he was calm. Beneath his thick clothes, one could see he wasn’t trembling. The circle of lamplight extended beyond us. We were sitting up in the middle of it, on the tangled shadows of the chair rungs.

“You know, dear Jean, how strong my attachment to you is. We met during the difficult days of war and from the start—and it had nothing to do with danger—we were attracted to each other. You would read me your letters. I read you mine. And we trusted each other enough not to hide anything. Sometimes we would get angry with each other and even though we both easily bear grudges, it never took us long to patch things up. We were true friends. And do you remember the demobilization? Do you remember our joy at finally being free? At the time, everyone’s happiness was so great that all our friends no longer even thought about friendship. But we weren’t like that. We had tears in our eyes when we parted. Do you remember? You came to Paris while I went to the South to join my fiancée. After only a few months, we met again by chance. How we celebrated that wonderful encounter! What a night! Well, my friend, in the name of this unblemished friendship I am asking you to listen to me. I want to believe that my presence in your home at this hour is not unpleasant for you. We have spent too many sleepless nights side by side for you not to want to spend one last night with me. It will be less dangerous than all the others, but much sadder. Before, we were waiting, hoping for something when we couldn’t sleep. Today, everything has changed.”

This preamble might seem affected. Obviously a man who is suffering, when he confides in a friend, does not go back to the beginning of the friendship that binds them. But ours is a very particular case. Paul and I, in truth, are no longer friends. We were friends only during the war. So it was natural for him to speak that night about what we had meant to each other in order to confer on the tenuous relationship we have today the significance it once had.

My friend, who had stopped talking, pulled out his handkerchief and mopped his brow oddly, insistently, with the care he would have taken for his entire face. I did not look straight at him so as not to embarrass him.

He rose, removed his overcoat, and sat back down in the larger chair. Without the fullness of his clothing, he seemed even more depressed. His hands were uneasy in the small pockets of his jacket. Everything he was wearing seemed no longer to belong to him.

Suddenly he burst into sobs. He hid his face in his hands and I could only see the lower half. His chin tensed so much that dimples appeared in unsuspected places. Have you ever seen dimples like that? They are made of tiny, trembling wrinkles that disappear then reappear somewhere else.

He was crying. How sad are the tears one hides! Why wasn’t he crying freely, with his face uncovered? I could have consoled him. But like this, withdrawn into himself, he was completely alone with his pain.

“Paul! Paul!” I said, distressed.

My God, how firm my voice seemed! True, in order to ease someone’s pain, you need not suffer as well. You must use a familiar, cheerful tone, the one everyone uses because everyone has always realized that no other tone of voice can offer consolation.

“Please, Paul. Be serious. You come here to tell me your troubles and you start crying like a child. A little courage, Paul! You know I’m your friend and I only want to help you. Be reasonable. We are men. It’s ridiculous to cry like this before you’ve examined the problem. Afterwards, if there is no solution, there will be plenty of time to cry.”

My friend must have been waiting—not for these words, which he did not even listen to—but for that consoling tone of voice because he raised his head. He had not cried long enough for his eyes to be red. Just wiping his handkerchief across his face was enough to erase all traces of his tears.

Exactly as I would have done, he began by apologizing for having cried. He did so in words I wish to note because they are shared by all men.

“Forgive me, Jean. I couldn’t help it. But it’s nothing, just a moment of weakness. If you knew what just happened to me, you’d understand.”

His handkerchief, damp from his tears, took up little space in his hand. One tear, to which he paid no mind, still glistened on his cheek.

“Come now, Paul. Tell me everything and then I can tell you what needs to be done.”

“Yes, Jean, I’ll tell you everything. Don’t be angry with me if I’m emotional. You know Fernande. You know how much I love her.”

I did not know Fernande. And when I nodded, I swear it was not because I was uncaring, or because I was afraid my friend was trying to prove to me that I’d already met his wife, but simply so as not to contradict him. I was too aware that a contradiction would upset him.

Paul spoke without a single gesture, like a sick person. From time to time, he would glance at the door and that was enough to make him lose his train of thought. It was as if he were reading and his eyes, distracted for an instant, could no longer find the line he had just read. And when he stopped speaking, I listened just as attentively so that he would begin again as quickly as possible.

“You know, Jean, I was living peacefully. I’m a simple man with modest tastes. Unfortunately, I am too good. My wife, my dear wife, often criticized me for this. Not because she would have wanted me to be unkind, but because she finds it disagreeable to know that I am good to others as well as to her. I never raised my voice. Even though I would have had reasons to do so, I’ve always understood that the volume of a voice adds nothing to the meaning of words. Tonight, as I speak to you, I will stick to this principle. I will tell you everything as simply as possible.”

He stopped speaking for a second but went on acting as if he were swallowing something, which lifted his double chin slightly.

“My life was calm. At times I’d have the impression that one day some misfortune was bound to come and spoil my happiness. But the feeling would not last. I would have had to have a pathological tendency to imagine vileness everywhere not to be happy. Often my wife and I would go to the countryside. Nature would fill us with wonder. We would go into ecstasies over the perfection of the plants and insects and, as unlikely as it may seem, I felt that in Fernande’s eyes, I held the key to mysteries I did not understand. There was, nonetheless, a small snag in our happiness: we had no children. I’m ashamed to admit it, but even that safeguarded our happiness. When we would go to visit friends, everything about us made it seem as though we regretted not having a child. And so our tranquility was preserved because, deep down, our friends pitied us. Life flowed on in this way, smoothly, without quarrels or conflict. And I have to say that sometimes, at the thought that I was happy with so little effort, I wondered if I truly was. But I would dismiss this misgiving as quickly as possible for I knew that if someone were to ask me to describe the happiness about which I dreamt, I would have had no choice but to paint a picture of the one I already possessed. To love, be loved, to do as we pleased, to have faithful friends, to never argue, never be ill, what more could one ask for when one is a simple, trusting soul? In any event, there are not that many ways to be happy! It is indeed happiness to have no worries, and to love. I don’t think the vagabond on the road who has no idea where he will sleep at night is happy, poor man, although some people claim this to be so.”

Paul broke off again, not as one does at the end of a period, but as if he were casting about for his words. His lips were moving. He gestured and finally managed to go on.

“It was eight in the evening when I got home. I took off my hat and went to Fernande in our bedroom. Lying on a divan, my wife seemed to me more beautiful than ever. Her eyes were closed, but I knew she wasn’t sleeping. She was holding a book with the grace of someone who has dozed off while reading. I went to her and kissed her softly on the forehead. She gave an elegant little start, not right when I kissed her, but a few seconds afterwards. ‘You, Paul!’ You know how hard it is to give a gentle intonation to two words. Yet if you had heard the tone with which she murmured ‘You, Paul!’ it would have delighted you. Then she closed her eyes again, without hiding her face from me, with that trust of women who love. Fernande often closes her eyes. In the theater, while we’re eating, everywhere. Not a day goes by when I don’t see her before me, eyes closed, even though she isn’t sleeping. It seems she has trouble tolerating the spectacle of life, that everything appears so trite to her that by closing her eyes she doesn’t think she is missing anything. We’ve been married for four years, but I’ve never been able to tell if there is any kind of deceit in all that. I did not do anything to wake her from this feigned sleep. I sat close to her and waited. I stayed like that for a long time, without even daring to read the newspaper. I love Fernande and it seems natural for me to watch over her. If she found it amusing to pretend to sleep, why would I stop her? To look at her without her seeing me was a joy for me. She had let her book slip, no doubt so that her slumber would seem more natural. It slid slowly. I let it fall. She opened her eyes.

“ ‘Paul, why didn’t you catch the book?’

“ ‘I was looking at you, my darling.’

“I understood then, in an instant, that she had realized that I knew her sleep was feigned. And instead of being slightly embarrassed, she said drily, almost vengefully,

“ ‘Were you really looking at me?’

“And then we said no more. I like silence when I am near my wife. I don’t believe in a meeting of souls, but in the evening, in silence, near the woman one loves, something happens.”

Paul stood up abruptly. He released my hands, shoved his chair with his foot. He was overcome by so many different emotions that I couldn’t have said if he was angry, upset, afraid, or filled with hatred. I felt lost. I can be quite a good psychologist, but only if people are calm.

“Listen to me, Jean. Everything on earth follows the same laws. Starting at one point, a man, an animal, a tree grows and grows, then slowly deteriorates. Whereas in Fernande’s mind, a feeling, instead of being born humble and fragile like everything else, sprang forth powerfully, in a monstrous way. Given what I just told you, you can imagine that we were happy, that nothing disturbed our tranquility. Then how to explain what happened? Do you want to know what happened? Well, it’s very simple. Just like that, all of a sudden for no reason, when I asked Fernande to come have dinner, she got up suddenly like I did just now, shoved her chair with her foot, and announced: ‘I don’t love you anymore. Tomorrow, I’ll be leaving.’ Did you hear what I just said? Tomorrow, she’ll be leaving. She doesn’t love me anymore. Why? I haven’t the slightest idea. Am I mad? I’ve begun to wonder if my wife’s calm hasn’t always been concealing some outburst. At first I thought she was playing, imitating an actress. She often does this, she exaggerates. But no, it wasn’t that. She doesn’t love me anymore. Tomorrow, she’ll be leaving.”

I looked at Paul. He was now gesticulating wildly. He raised his arms to the sky, then wrung his hands so hard that he almost broke a finger. He paced the room, turned around abruptly, started off again, hovered far from me and then suddenly came at me with great strides, as if he were walking down a road.

“Paul, calm down. All is not lost. Perhaps she said that without thinking.”

He dropped a book and did not pick it up.

“Don’t get so worked up.”

Then, either because a sudden rage swept over him or because he wanted to prove his strength, he struck the floor with his heel several times.

“I swear that’s what she said. She’s leaving tomorrow. She doesn’t love me anymore.”

“Of course she does!”

“So you think I’m crazy? You haven’t grasped what I just told you. I’m not making anything up. She said she doesn’t love me anymore. She said she would be leaving tomorrow. Don’t you understand? It seems very clear to me.”

I did not like his insolent tone of voice. I was only trying to console him and this is how he answered me! We were not, after all, such good friends for him to allow himself to treat me this way. When someone comes to tell you his troubles, he should at least be polite. I assure you if Paul’s pain had not seemed so genuine to me, I would have answered him coldly.

I raised my eyes. Paul was sitting on the sofa. All his anger had vanished. He appeared so unhappy, so weighed down, that my displeasure evaporated.

Poor Paul! How you were suffering. You who, during the war, spoke to me about peacetime with so much ardor, you who were expecting so many joys from it, how disappointed you must be! And to think that for a moment I was angry with you for being on edge.

My friend, although he had barely cried, was in that state of semi-consciousness that follows sobbing. He was looking at a corner of the room without even having chosen it. His hands were far apart, whereas when one is suffering they are like two close friends, never wanting to leave each other. His shoulders hunched, his head to the side, he was daydreaming.

“Paul, be brave.”

“I will be.”

We did not hear a sound, not even the sound the last buses of the night should have made. We stayed like this for several minutes, without moving.

Suddenly, so abruptly that I was startled, Paul got up, took a few steps, and kneeled down too close to me.

“Jean, Jean, I’m begging you, do something for me. Perhaps you could fix everything. You are my friend. You are almost my brother. We spent unhappy times together.”

I lowered my head and met Paul’s tearful gaze. That gaze! I will remember it the rest of my life! Humble, despairing, looking up at me, it struck me as the gaze of an animal at my mercy.

“Paul, stand up. I’ll do everything I possibly can.”

“Jean, if you wanted to, you could go see Fernande right now, you could tell her how much I love her, how I’m suffering. You could speak for me and perhaps she would be sorry.”

“Yes, Paul, I’ll take care of everything.”

My friend, holding on to a chair, rose with difficulty, stumbled a bit, then sat down. His face had brightened. His eyes had grown wide and looked at me without humility. He was breathing evenly. And for the first time, he did something normal: he looked at his watch.

*

It was still raining. Now, however, the drizzle was so fine that when I ran my hand across my overcoat, I wiped it away. It barely moistened anything, like a fountain on a windy day. It created a misty halo around the streetlamps.

We walked briskly, without speaking. Since my friend lived close to my place, we soon arrived in front of his house.

“Jean, let’s go into this little bar. I have more to say to you.”

We went in. It was a small, very clean café. There were mirrors everywhere, yet we were reflected in none of them. The nickel, the glasses, the tin counter gave the light the coolness of water. A bit of sand crunched beneath our feet, as though we had come to sit near a spring.

A waiter approached us. His left hand, folded in, seemed to be hiding a cigarette. We ordered coffee. So that our coffee would not taste like metal, we took the spoons out of the cups.

“Jean, listen to me. Since you are kind enough to go see Fernande, let me thank you with all my heart. My happiness is in your hands. I don’t have the strength to go with you. I’ll wait for you here. In fact, it will be much better if you go alone. You see the state I’m in. Tell her I cannot live without her. Tell her I love her so much that I would give my life for her. Perhaps I have not always acted as I should have but tell her that now I will obey her, that I will be her slave. I will do anything for her to stay, for her to want to continue the life we were living. I love her so much! You can make me the happiest or the unhappiest of men.”

The little café was completely hushed. The owner was already counting his money. The waiter, leaning against a column, looked at us now and again. As for Paul, no doubt from a habit he had with his wife, he was holding my hand.

“Go now, Jean. I’ll be waiting for you here. Oh! How I’d like to know already! My God, if you were to succeed in making her understand how much I love her, I think I would dance, jump for joy, and cry out with all my strength.”

I stood up. As if he were at home, Paul walked me to the café door. Never have I seen a man so moved. I felt he was looking for one last word to say to me, one word that would sum up his pain, his hope, and he could not find it.

*

I shall not attempt to recount my visit to Fernande. All I can say is that she was not welcoming. Whenever I asked her a question, she would answer with these same words: “I am free to do as I please.” Although I described her husband’s suffering and his love, her attitude did not change. After hearing what my friend had to say about her, I had thought that she was, if not beautiful, at least pretty. Not at all. She was a rather corpulent, rather common woman whom I had difficulty imagining in the languid poses Paul depicted. She spoke in a disagreeable, aggressive voice. I wouldn’t say she had the behavior of a shrew, but almost. In addition, she seemed very insolent. I knew that my visit, so late in the evening, was not likely to be met with good humor. Nonetheless, she should have behaved better with a stranger and not let her annoyance at my presence show so plainly on her face. Perhaps she thought I was defending her husband for want of anything better to do! Yet she must have been aware that all of this was as disturbing to me as it was to her, and she should have been grateful to me for defending so ardently a man who, after all, was her husband and whom she must have loved, whatever she said. The more I think about this visit, the more it seems that nothing but what happened could have happened. I assure you had I known it would end the way it did, I would not have troubled myself. Paul, naturally, is not to blame, poor fellow. He thought he was doing the right thing. But I will never understand how one can be so attached to such a woman. She must have influenced everything he did. And no doubt the anger she felt on seeing me stemmed from that fact that Paul had taken the liberty of sending me to her. She could not bear the idea that her husband had done something on his own. She took it out on me. Truly, you had to be someone as good as my friend never to get angry. But in the end none of that concerns me. What I especially disliked was the offhand, overbearing way she received me when in fact I was acting in her interest just as much as in her husband’s. It was pointless of her to try to appear to be the victim of two men. Perhaps Paul had done some things of which I was unaware. But I? I simply came to try to make Fernande see what she had misjudged in her husband. That’s all. I took no one’s side. And had she treated me properly, had she answered me clearly, I would have had no reason to be angry with her.

In the end, all this only confirms what I think about the world. Let her do as she pleases, it’s all the same to me. As for Paul, I pity him with all my heart, for it seems to me that, however this story turns out, he will not be happy.

*

When I left my friend’s wife, it had stopped raining. I took a few steps before I was entirely sure. Then I looked up. The sky, deep and black like marble not yet dry, was filled with stars. In the distance, the long, furrowless cloud that always floats along after it rains was low in the sky. The stars twinkled in the translucent air as if threatened by a celestial breeze. The street was still damp, but there was no mud as there is after a storm. And the white, ethereal moon rose unexpectedly high on the horizon.

I returned to Paul in the little café. He was watching for me through a curtain, sitting the way children do, sideways on a bench.

As I approached, he turned around and, hands on the table, looked straight at me. He was trying to guess what had happened before I spoke. He did not dare ask me. There was such distress in his eyes that they appeared about to close. It seemed his eyelids would droop at the slightest puff of air, that they were folded open only because his eyes were so round, and that if he were to look off to the side they would slip down.

“Paul!”

“So?”

I was incapable of pronouncing a single word. The despair into which my friend was about to plunge frightened me. I was expecting so much pain, so much shrieking when I told him his wife’s decision that I could not bring myself to give an account of my visit. I was waiting for him to infer Fernande’s attitude from my silence.

“Jean, what did she say?”

“She wants to leave.”

“She wants to leave?”

“Yes.”

My friend seemed not to comprehend. He was trembling, but his face remained impassive. It was as if only his body had understood. I was overcome with pity. I sat next to him and, my arm around his shoulders, attempted to console him.

“You’re young, Paul. You have your whole life in front of you. Be strong. You’ll see there will be more moments of happiness for you. That woman did not know how to appreciate and love you as she should have. I could see from her behavior that she was too fickle for you. Believe me, later she’ll regret what she did, she’ll never find another man with all your fine qualities. Let her go, and if one day you should meet again, be distant. Nothing can hold her, so at least have the strength to pretend not to care about her. That’s all it will take to humiliate her deeply. Without you in her life she is a lost woman. You were not only a husband to her, but also a father. One day she’ll understand that, you can be sure. Unfortunately, it will be too late. She needed a man like you to be happy. She did not understand that. It’s a shame. As for you, you loved her too much not to suffer from her behavior; you loved her too much not to miss her. I know. But you have to do something! Slowly, you’ll forget her. And then, who knows, one day you’ll meet another woman, more beautiful, more intelligent, who will love you with all her heart.”

As I spoke, Paul was gazing at me with an astonishment I could not explain. His half-open mouth and his furrowed brow made him appear stunned. From time to time, he would turn his head away sharply, then stare at me again with an even more surprised look in his eyes. Despite this odd attitude, I continued speaking.

“I have suffered, too, Paul. Two years ago I was with a woman who, like Fernande, left me for no apparent reason. Well, I got over it. Not without long months of suffering. But one has to live and most of all not become discouraged. Fernande wanted to remain ignorant of your generosity. She imagined you wanted to bully her when all you wanted was to make her happy.”

Suddenly Paul shoved the table away so that he could get out.

“Come, let’s go, I can’t stay here anymore.”

We started down a deserted street, half white from the moonlight, half dark with damp stone, and we did not cross to the sidewalk that was bathed in light, as we would have done during the day to move from shade to sun. We walked past the houses. The streetlamps lining the sidewalk were all that lit our way. An echo made it seem as though two other passersby were in front of us and, bizarrely, they seemed to have more energy.

“What’s to become of me?” Paul whispered.

My friend’s voice was so plaintive when he said these few words that I feared he might resort to the most drastic measures. He was so depressed that if the idea of a crime were to enter his head, he would not have pushed it aside. Still, I wanted to try to comfort him.

“Paul, be strong. That woman is not worthy of your suffering. Don’t think about your unhappiness any longer. Think of the future. Think that you have your whole life in front of you. Come on, make an effort. Let’s go. I’ll walk you to your door. You’ll go home, go to bed, and tomorrow you’ll come back and see me.”

“Go home?”

“Of course, you must go home. It’s late. You need to rest. You need to recuperate.”

We were on a wide avenue. The moon, which had risen higher now, seemed even colder because the sun gives off more warmth when it is in the same spot. Trees cast shadows on the sidewalks. We were stepping on a thousand drawings of intertwined branches. I had a vague, childish desire to place my feet only on blank spaces, but I would have found no pleasure in it.

“Paul, we absolutely must go home.”

My friend took me by the arm, leaned over to see me better and, hardly opening his mouth, whispered:

“You’re leaving me?”

“I must. It’s late.”

“You’re going to leave me alone?”

“We can’t stay outside all night!”

His lower lip trembled then. The sweat already beading on his forehead flowed out of the wrinkles and dripped below his eyebrows. He released my arm and leaned against a wall, either so he would not fall, or else in order to feel something solid.

I realized how difficult it would be for me to leave him. Although my friendship for him was strong right then, it seemed ridiculous to spend a night consoling him. If it could have eased his pain, I would have done it. But, with me or without me, he would be just as miserable. And if he wanted me with him, it was not because he hoped I would be able to comfort him. He knew that all my words could not change his wife’s decision in the least.

“Come on, Paul, we have to leave each other.”

“You want to leave me?”

“Yes, what do you expect!”

“No, Jean, please, don’t do that. Alone, I don’t know what will become of me. I’ll kill myself. Oh, I don’t know.”

He seemed completely distraught. He was not moving at all. It was as if he were no longer suffering, as if he had stopped fighting his pain, as if he were letting himself slip into unconsciousness.

Seeing him like that, I wondered if he was really determined to kill himself or if some sort of resentment was making him think I was the sole cause of his suffering; or perhaps he was trying to make me feel remorseful.

“Yes, I’m going to end my life,” he murmured.

I, too, have suffered. I too have thought about killing myself, yet I never did anything about it. Why should I have taken his threat seriously? In a few days, he would cheer up. In a few days, we would both laugh about this episode.

“See you tomorrow, Paul. Be brave.”

These few words that, in my opinion, should have left us in the same situation in regard to each other, brought him out of his dejection.

“So you’re not my friend?”

“Of course I am, but what can I do for you right now? Show some fortitude. Only you can overcome your pain.”

“I know that, Jean. But please take pity on me. Don’t abandon me. Do you want to make me really happy? Let’s stay together until tomorrow. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t think I have the strength. I’ll go home with you. I’ll sleep in an armchair. That’s all I ask. You can’t refuse.”

“You’re being ridiculous. How will that resolve anything?”

Suddenly Paul’s attitude changed from imploring to remote.

“So you want to leave me, Jean?”

Although I sensed my friend had made a decision, my position remained the same.

“I do. It’s late. We must part.”

“Very well. Adieu.”

He walked away without even offering me his hand. I had a foreboding of some misfortune. I am sure I’m no different from anyone else, yet I was afraid he would do what he said, that he would kill himself. I shouted:

“Where are you going?”

He did not answer, walking away with great strides.

“Paul!”

Already another streetlamp was lighting him.

For a moment I glimpsed the consequences of my refusal. He was going to kill himself. For the rest of my life I would be aware of being responsible for his death. And everything going on in my head became more and more confused as he walked away. I ran behind him.

“Paul, where are you going?”

“Leave me alone.”

“Answer me! Be reasonable. Why are you running away like this?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know. Leave me be, I’m going to end it all.”

He kept on walking, staring ahead.

“You didn’t understand what I was saying before, Paul. Come on, let’s go to my place. Tomorrow, everything will be sorted out.”

He stopped and as he looked at me, he gradually realized what I had just said. He did not smile. Yet his face brightened. I took his arm and without a word we started off toward my place.

An automobile on its way to Les Halles passed very close to us. In the pure, freezing air, it left such a circumscribed scent of vegetables that when we took one step to the side, we could not smell it anymore. In the middle of the sleeping city, beneath the sky, we were alone. The moon had disappeared. And without it, as if they lacked a leader, the stars seemed to be in disarray.

*****

Emmanuel Bove (1898–1945) was born Emmanuel Bobovnikoff to a Jewish émigré from Kiev and a Parisian chambermaid from Luxembourg. His childhood was spent in Paris, marked at times by extreme poverty in the company of his mother and younger brother, and wealth in the company of his father and stepmother. With his stepmother’s patronage, Bove acquired an education in Paris, Geneva, and, during the First World War, England. Back in Paris, he began writing while supporting himself with a series of odd jobs. He had been publishing popular novels under the pseudonym Jean Vallois for several years when Colette helped him publish the novel Mes amis (My Friends) under his own name. He continued publishing successful novels until the Second World War, at which time he was forced into exile in Algeria. He died of heart failure soon after his return to Paris.

Alyson Waters’s translations from the French include works by Louis Aragon, René Belletto, Eric Chevillard, and Albert Cossery. She is the 2012 winner of the French-American Translation Award for her translation of Chevillard’s Prehistoric Times. Waters has received a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship, a PEN Translation Fund grant, and residency grants from the Centre National du Livre, the Villa Gillet, and the Banff International Literary Translation Centre. She teaches literary translation at New York University and Columbia University and is the managing editor of Yale French Studies. She lives in Brooklyn.

“Night Visit” is a story from Henri Duchemin and His Shadows, forthcoming from NYRB Classics. Translation copyright © 2015 by Alyson Waters.

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