Authors: Yasmina Reza
That was my Arthur. Hypersensitive, irrational. Why, at the moment when there’s nothing more to lose, should he have to give up all claim to his own capriciousness? Embark on a quest for some sort of sorry coherence, at the moment when he should be shedding all inessentials and constructing a last-minute
however pathetic. What’s the point? One day, Genevieve, it was a few years ago, I was driving along the quays at the Cours Albert I, on the opposite sidewalk, a man was skirting the wall, an old man with an astrakhan hat and a beige loden coat. He was walking at the pace old people walk, hands in his pockets, alone with his shadow in the sun. It was my father. I often think about that look, and how he never felt it on him. And I see this image again. An image stripped of its truth. He’s in Bagneux too. We won’t be lost when we get there, Genevieve. My father was what Dacimiento accuses me of being, a sort of cleanliness freak. His grave at Bagneux is of Euville stone. A white stone, plain, perfect for eternity but gets dirty easily. When I go to visit him, I take a plastic bag with an extra-hard-bristled brush, a sponge, and a bottle of water. And we two talk to each other as well, he says here you are at last, my boy, Colette Waintraub, who has no sense of timing, has left this ridiculous pot of flowers on me, it blew over in the first gust of wind, result, everything’s a mess, it’s raining, there’s soil everywhere, patches under the pebbles, can you still read my name? I tell him you’re going to be pleased, Papa, I get out all my stuff, I kneel down, clear everything away, and I start scrubbing, rubbing away with the extra-hard brush, he says that’s good, you at least understand me, you’re the only one who understands me, I scrub away as hard as I can and he starts giving me orders just the way he used to tell me how to scrub his back or how to clean a bathtub, scrub, little one, there, there, right there, you dirty child, do that bit again, scrub the star, you can see it’s clogged up with earth, harder, that’s better. I stand up, I wheeze, after all I’m seventy-three years old, I’ve been bent over in my coat for ten minutes already, I put back the various pebbles on the grave, everything looks wonderful, and then I catch a glimpse of the sides and I see that the sides could do with a cleaning too. I’m saying to myself maybe it’s unnecessary—who pays attention to the sides?—when I feel a voice that’s getting impatient, oh, no, my friend, you’re going to finish it, don’t be sloppy, clean the whole thing, and I admit he’s right, and I kneel down again and I scrub the whole surround like a madman, the lichen, the mold, the gummed-on leaves, the encrusted earth, and when I finish, exhausted, his grave is like new and I say to him you’re happy, and he’s happy.
My own son, Genevieve, trots around the globe. He’s thirty-eight years old and goes from one point on the map to the other and I don’t understand a thing. In the course of these wanderings my son frees himself from his wounds, abandons his storm-tossed soul and his inner lacerations, abandons me, and everything we were is thrown into the pit of oblivion. The road to happiness, Genevieve, is perhaps the road to oblivion. In October he’ll be back, we’ll see each other, and he will be amiable and patient and gentle. And to begin with I’ll be amiable and patient and gentle and I’ll say to him where’s the sense in all this? And I’ll wait for him to take my hand and reply where was the sense of all the rest of it? And then I’d say yes, when you come right down to it, where was the sense in all the rest of it? And we wouldn’t say another word and we’d take a walk through the bracken and everything would be in order.
At the beginning, Genevieve, I’ll be amiable and patient and gentle, I’ll say explain the word
You have put down roots in this world, my boy. Tell me, how did you do it? Nancy, dear little saint that she is, however, will already have put me on my guard: Stop provoking him, he doesn’t want to be
(and listen to the disdain in that word) he wants
to be in his
—I’ll ask what does that mean, his proper place? —Being in his proper place, Nancy will retort, now that she’s so seriously well informed, is more than being happy. It means
freeing yourself up,
it means accepting that the most important thing is balance. It means calibrating your weight and your rhythm, like a planet revolving around the sun. You don’t wage battles with the outside world anymore, you no longer feel choked by the things you lack, you can even allow yourself to be sad. Your son, she will say by way of conclusion, is finding his proper place. At the beginning, Genevieve, I’ll be amiable and patient and gentle. But how do you remain amiable and patient and gentle when you’re being told your only son aspires to be floating in the ether. And how do you behave toward someone whose ideal, whose final goal is
to be in his
? Who in the course of this
(I’m borrowing the vocabulary from the Crusades) has freed himself of his wounds and his torments. What stuff is a man made of, who has freed himself of his wounds? And how does one behave toward someone who claims that from now on he is going to take a more serene view of things? It isn’t the serene view of things that wounds you, it’s the sheer voluptuous pretentiousness of letting you know. Everything in him is proclaiming his serene view of things, the way he sits on a chair, the way he walks, the way he does everything slowly, the way even his eyes are smooth. His eyes, in which, alas, what I see is not the serene view of things but
I’ll say, Where’s the sense in all this? But he won’t take my hand and he won’t say the words I want to hear. There will be no words exchanged almost in silence, no unspoken understanding, no walk through the bracken. What there will be, unfortunately, on the one side is silence, and on the other, evidence of bitterness, evidence of injustice, lack of gentleness, lack of pity. An anatomy of melancholy.
I’ll say, Explain the word
I don’t want their paraphrases, I don’t want their circumlocutions, I want the unadulterated word in all its terror, I want the word
I like dancing with you, Genevieve, I like your lightness, your hesitant grace. I would like to make you laugh again. Be patient, I can switch moods as I move from one foot to the other.
He should take me in his arms, he should say come, Papa, I’m taking you with me, your friend Genevieve is right, the end of the road is Bagneux, so come to Mombasa and laugh with your son who’s as much of an idiot as the Italians in Chandolin forty years, ago, Papa, I’ll scrub your grave the way you scrubbed your father’s, I’ll take the brush and go several times a year, the stone will sparkle and shine, and you will give me your orders and we’ll laugh, and meantime while we wait, come with me, let’s play horses, the map will be our board, the place doesn’t matter, the only reality is inside us, and stop feeling alone, I’ll carry you if you want, I can laugh too, whatever you think, what’s the point of it all if you’re going to find yourself somewhere between Châlons and the rue Ampère waiting for death to snatch you away, you could just as well have been selling pasta in the South, you love
the oil, the olives, the tomatoes and garlic, I don’t go chasing happiness but I don’t avoid it either, it would be such a great surprise if it popped out from behind a tree and hit us in the eye, like the picturesque, I’ll be glad to explain the word
to you, Papa, it’s nothing like what you think, happy is laughing the way the two of you used to laugh, the way you laughed at the deathbed of your brother Benjamin when you stroked him and you said how beautiful you are, you’re at peace now, and I said you can’t actually say he’s beautiful, Papa, maybe it would be a good idea to close his mouth before his children get here, and we started to try to close his mouth with a dishcloth, you pushing on his jaw, me tying a knot and then tightening it as hard as I could at the top of his skull, and God how we laughed as we looked at him and you said hey, you didn’t blow it, and we were weeping with laughter when his children arrived and his son looked at his father all done up like an Easter egg and looked at us hooting with laughter and said what’s going on here? and we had to leave the room, do you remember, Papa, because otherwise we’d totally fall apart, and that’s what truth is, that’s the only truth, and all the rest is fakery masquerading as seriousness.
He should take me in his arms and say all that to me, Genevieve, and everything would be in order. So please, my son, keep going with the inventory of laughter.
He should say I remember you, Papa, when you prided yourself on being a king when it came to fast talking, you were getting your first orders of shirts from Korea, your specialty was late delivery, you used to be screaming down the telephone in English, even on Sundays, nobody was allowed into the living room, and next morning you said to your clients the boat will be here in a week and after a fortnight you said the boat has had engine trouble, and then you asked yourself okay what can I think up next and we said say there’s been a storm, Papa, and you said yes, good idea, children, there’s been a terrible storm, bring me the atlas and let’s see where it hit. And when the boat docked you got forty thousand shirts with three-quarter-length sleeves because the sleeve measurements you gave them were taken from the shoulder but the Koreans understood them as being taken from the neck. He should say I remember you, Papa, when you were the king of imprecision, he should say, Genevieve, our childhood home is not deserted, I can still hear a voice yelling, “The first person who complains about anything whatever is going to get his throat cut, I’ll do it with my bare hands. Not one of you, you band of parasites, has a stock of forty thousand shirts as unsalable in summer as they are in winter.” And later, when we were teenagers, Papa, and you started doing business with Rumania, importing blue jeans, denim jackets,
as you called it, for mass distribution, and we asked, “Don’t you have a sample of straight-leg jeans with buttons, not a zipper?” you said, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve got those,” and we said, “But you’re sure they’re really tight at the ankle and the fly’s the same as you get on Levi’s?” and you said, “I’ve got them,” “And are they faded like Wranglers, Papa,” and you said, “I’ve got them, I’ve got them,” “And my size, Papa, are you sure there are samples in my size?” “I’ve got them in every size,” and then you added, “And every color,” and we got worried. “What do you mean every color, Papa, real jeans only come in blue,” and you cut the discussion off by screaming, “Mine are better!” and right away we knew they were shit, the moment you said mine were better we knew they were shit and we were going to find ourselves with orange bell-bottomed jeans with a zippered fly. What you did at home in the seventies was to create a sort of ultimate antichic,
Perlman and Company, just like
He should say, Papa, I remember
Perlman. For years, did I ever wear anything but
Perlman? Did you take on board what it would do to me, at an age when you have no idea whether you’re the tiniest bit attractive or quite simply hideous, to have to go choose your clothes in the warehouse in Orly, and not ever once be able (the expense was an outrage) to own a single genuine pair of Levi’s, a single genuine New Man, a single genuine pair of jeans of any kind, frankly, not to mention anoraks, shirts, polyester pajamas, and super-Shetlands that felt like emery boards. You admitted, Papa, that
Perlman were absolute shit, you admitted it years later, before that what you said, if you remember, was, “Prisunic and Monoprix rip off my collections, I dress half of France but what’s good enough for half of France isn’t good enough for the little Perlmans.” You admitted later that the little Perlmans were dressed like clowns (
BETTER had their fair share of minor manufacturing errors) and how we laughed the day you admitted with absolute balls, with absolute balls and genuine hilarity, that the occasional BETTERs samples that were halfway okay had been too fancy and too expensive for the central buyers for the chains.
What wouldn’t I give, Genevieve, for him to tell me you’re the king of bad faith, the king of injustice and the king of impatience, I carry them inside me like secret assailants, even though I want to be in my proper place or live like a cork floating on water, you can count on me, I too am a member of the tribe of sons, and when death comes for you it will find me watching over your little empire.
And I would say to him don’t let yourself be upset, my boy, by my deplorable rantings, with the people I love, I like to explore the precipice, I like extreme danger. I make myself odious, I make myself utterly ugly to test your affection. When it comes to ugliness, I can scale Everest. He would laugh, Genevieve, just as you’re laughing right now, I adore the way you laugh, your laughter is my salvation, he too would laugh and I’d say everything’s in order, my boy. Finally it doesn’t matter whether you’re a cork on the water or a man chasing his own grail. Goulandri, my osteopath, came back from Egypt. You came back and at least you shut up. When Goulandri, after three-quarters of an hour of my mythological massage, gets to the high point of his story and announces that, “So Isis finds Osiris’ limbs, all except for the phallus, which has been swallowed by a fish,” I beg for mercy. You at least come back and you shut up. For which I’m grateful. Doesn’t matter if you were out to save your skin or to live in harmony with who knows what. Doesn’t matter if the goal of your wanderings was the genealogy of the gods or your own little sweet self. At least you’re not bored. You have nothing to share, nothing to pass on. I approve. If only you didn’t have that little superior smirk, that little. . . . I’m feeling dizzy, Genevieve, I’m going to keel over, I have to sit down.