Authors: Oscar Coop-Phane
, winner of the Prix de Flore, 2012
‘Oscar Coop-Phane oozes affection for his characters, from their beautiful humanity to the depths of their weaknesses’
‘One of the most intriguing and exciting new voices on the French literary scene’
‘The best first novel of the year’
‘He’s only 23, but Coop-Phane’s sparse style cuts to the bone and reveals a sensibility far beyond his years’
‘A melancholic and earthy novel that marks a rigorous, vigorous entrance into contemporary French literature’
‘Coop-Phane has achieved the modest and moving prose of Calet and Bove – not a copier, but an extraordinary amateur paying tribute to his readings. His poetic text is as sad as a lonely Sunday’
is a melancholy portrait of desire and radiant grace’ Olivier Mony,
‘In this astonishing first novel, Coop-Phane has brought alive the inhabitants of the dirty, poor streets of Paris, compiling a spare yet tender portrait that is never sentimental. An unbelievable discovery’ Coline Hugel,
Page des libraires
‘It’s beautiful. It’s sad. It’s pure poetry’ Eva Bester,
‘A short and thought-provoking book that lays bare the unvarnished heart of city dwelling. It’s populated by people trying to manage their lives, and their footsteps reverberate across the hard tarmac of the arrondissements – the unforgiving structure that underpins each vignette. Astutely observed and told with care’ @tripfiction
is pure poetry. It’s a one-sitting read that manages to fit more emotion into 105 pages than most novels do in 500’ Amanda Horan @gobookyourselfx
Translated from the French by Ros Schwartz
When I wake up, my teeth feel furry. There’s a foul taste in my mouth – a nasty sort of animal taste. Still, it’s better than at night, when I have the aftertaste of other people and their filth. My body is a hindrance. It spreads out on my sheets like a poorly inflated old sack. I try not to touch this sick body too much, too many hands have pawed it. It needs to rest a little longer in my grubby sheets.
I smoke in bed. Sometimes the ash drops on to the sheets making little grey smudges which I don’t bother to rub away. I sleep with my ashes, like in a casket.
In the mornings, my nails ache. The tips of my fingers are cold, slightly numb. Apparently it’s the alcohol. Whatever.
My hair’s greasy and it sticks to the back of my neck.
I sit up a little. Feathers escape from my pillow when I move it, fluttering gently down on to the white-tiled floor. I lean back against the wall, scratch my head then light a cigarette. To wash it down, I drink a little water from the old plastic bottle lying at the foot of my bed, which I fill every night from the little sink on the landing.
I don’t have a proper bed. I sleep on a sofa bed. I don’t bother to fold it away any more.
Then, I have to go and pee. The toilet’s on the landing, and I have to put on my shoes because the floor’s wet. It’s not a proper toilet, just a hole in the ground with two little white ceramic footrests. People say that in Turkey, you always have to shit crouching down. You have to squat in a ridiculous position over those toilets, too. My pee makes a loud tinkling sound as it hits the water, and that makes me laugh. I pull the little chain hanging from the huge cistern. You have to watch out – sometimes the water splashes your ankles.
I go back to my room, dragging my feet on the
red tiles. The door’s open – I never close it when I go to the toilet. If someone came in, I’d hear them.
I splash my face at the sink on the landing and then wipe it with the hem of my nightie. It’s a bit torn, but I like to feel its roughness against my skin. There’s something sort of pure about it. The men don’t see it.
I never start the day without a coffee. At night, when I run out, I walk to the store on Place Clichy to buy some more. Coffee’s expensive there and I have to go up Rue d’Amsterdam. That’s how badly I need
in the morning.
Before, I used to have it sitting at the bar at Jeannot’s. Always cheerful is Jeannot – always
jokes. He lost his wife in an accident. He smiles when he talks about her, remembering the good times, her little feminine ways. And there are the guys – small-time delinquents, lost souls, the old men from the neighbourhood. All on Pernod or white wine. But you can’t smoke at Jeannot’s any more, and I need a fag with my coffee, so I’ve stopped going there. I did tell Jeannot why, but he doesn’t believe me. He thinks I’m going to another joint, the competition he calls it. He says I’m too stuck-up for his place, that I’m being a princess. When I walk past, he acts like he doesn’t see me. It’s really sad, this business, these anti-smoking laws. Lulu, my neighbour, she still goes there. She’s the one who told me Jeannot thinks I’m being a princess.
I drink my coffee all alone in my room, smoking my fags. To cheer myself up, I tell myself I’m saving money.
I’ve got an Italian coffee pot, a metal cafetière. You put in the water, the coffee, and then you screw on the top part. When it boils, you have to take the cafetière off the cooker. I’ve got an electric hotplate. It’s covered in grease and stinks a bit when you turn it on, but it still works. Maybe one day I’ll buy a new one.
I drink my coffee and smoke a cigarette. No TV, no radio. I listen to the sound of the tobacco sizzling when I take a drag. It’s relaxing. I try not to think. I’ve moved the table next to my bed. I sit there, puffing away and drinking coffee.
I get up, take a towel from the chest of drawers and go to my neighbour Lulu’s. I haven’t got a shower. She lets me use hers, and it’s nicer. Before, I had to use the shared bathroom. No lock on the door, just a dribble of water and filthy floor tiles. We’ve asked the landlord to replace them hundreds of times, but he doesn’t want to know. He says,
Isn’t it enough that I rent out rooms to people like you? So get off my case
. He never wants us on his case, except when it’s to pay the rent. He wants to know about that all right, the bastard. I know, everyone has to make a living … but that’s still no reason to be such a shit.
His eyes are wide-set, like a fish, and he’s bald. He taps his pudgy fingers on his counter and says he’s a hotel-keeper. He talks of his ‘establishment’ with pride. He’s mixed up in all sorts of dodgy deals.
When he kicked Valente out, we all refused to pay our daily rent. He said he’d call the police. We told him the cops would be more than happy to stick their
noses in his business and inspect the showers and his books. Then he turned the heating off. It was January. After three days, we started paying again. We never saw Valente again. He wanted to go back to Brazil.
I wash with a mini soap. I like feeling the roughness of my skin, the way it goes taut and chapped after washing. Shower gel’s too gentle. It leaves your skin slightly greasy, like when you oil it. I prefer it when my skin’s dry. I feel cleansed – disinfected. I soap my face too. I frown. My skin feels tight – I like that sensation.
I’ve got little zits on my neck, apparently it’s the rubbing because I always wear a scarf. Not acne or blackheads, but dry little zits. I scratch them and scrape them off with my nails. Sometimes, there’s one that won’t come off, so I save it until the next day. When I go back to my room after my shower, that’s my little task.
After that, I’m hungry. I boil an egg or heat up a tin of food. I breakfast in front of the TV. It’s a load of rubbish, but I like watching it.
I’m a streetwalker. Not a call girl or anything like
that, no, a common streetwalker with high heels and menthol cigarettes.
This morning, I’m going somewhere to do someone a big favour. I don’t intend to go into detail and tell you about my childhood, my love life and all my woes. I’m not going to tell you how I ended up like this – you’d get too much of a kick out of it. All you’re going to get is my day. If you were expecting me to talk about rape, being abandoned, HIV and heroin, you can fuck off, pervert. You’ll get nothing more than my day, which is just like all the other days of my life and just like all the days to come until I die. There’ll be no family tragedy, front-page news or armchair psychology.