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Excerpt from Progress
by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, translation by Arnaud Hedin

Act One



MARIE:     She is not beautiful, she is kind, she has a slight limp, she is gentle and good natured, yet lucid. Twenty-six years old.
Madame Punais:     Marie's mother, fifty years old, somberly dressed, not sad, previously a retailer in ladies wear, she has become comfortable as an antique dealer.
Gaston:     Thirty years old, husband of Marie, irritable and helpless, passionate and emotional, an employee in an insurance office.
M. Berlureau:     Neighbor, pince-nez, government employee, forty-three years old, bald, sentimental, a pianist.
Mme. Doumergue:     Very, very old, she gives piano lessons, she is also a manicurist.
Maid:     A typical maid, partially Breton.
The Gasman:     A typical gasman.

     The characters are dressed in a rather fantastical way, though not excessively, made up in a very colorful manner, amusing, a bit symbolic in order to be rather dreamlike, though not excessively-lighting a bit dreamlike too, except at certain specific moments.
     Scene One-at Marie's-a comfortable lounge, quite opulent. On stage: Marie, Madame Punais. Marie is playing the piano with difficulty, a fox-trot which she tries to render a little cynical and sparkly. She's finding it difficult, very difficult. Her mother watches and listens. But Marie gets a bit irritated, so she gets up to close the window. As she goes to close the window, we notice that she has a limp. As Madame Punais sees her daughter limp past, she observes Marie even more closely but doesn't say anything. Marie goes back to the piano and plays, her mother goes out for a moment-then comes back reading a newspaper.

Mme. PUNAIS: Honestly, Marie!... just listen to this!... (Marie goes on with her playing)

Marie!... I say!... would you believe it?...

MARIE: (a bit impatient): Mother!...

Mme. PUNAIS: Can you believe it!... listen to this!...

MARIE: (still playing): What?

Mme. PUNAIS: Honestly, the Bois de Boulogne!...

MARIE: What is it about the Bois de Boulogne?

Mme. PUNAIS: Well, sex-maniacs...

MARIE: (unimpressed): AAh!...

Mme. PUNAIS: Well, bless me, you still think there's nothing wrong with that! It's been going on for four years now... they say they go there in groups, and by car.

MARIE: Oh Mother!

Mme. PUNAIS: Oh! Young lady!

MARIE: What?

Mme. PUNAIS: Go and play the piano then!... I'm the one who gave it to you.

MARIE: I've already thanked you for it.

Mme. PUNAIS: Oh! I won't tell you I paid a lot for it, in the first place you know as well as I do!... for the last fifteen years it's been in the shop... it's about the only thing that hasn't been sold in fifteen years.

MARIE: Oh! It was badly placed... it was surrounded by too many knick-knacks-if you would have put it near the window as I used to tell you, it would have been gone, but it was hidden by all that unsellable junk, you couldn't see it from outside.

Mme. PUNAIS: Anyway! You inherited it, don't complain... do you want to have lessons again, I am happy to pay for them... for the piano... now nevermind that, and pass me the cards...

MARIE: (passing them over): Are you going to read yours?

Mme. PUNAIS (dividing the cards): No! I'm going to read yours, I think you look anxious.

MARIE: (without paying too much attention to the cards): Who gave you the idea of giving me lessons?

Mme. PUNAIS: Madame Doumergue...

MARIE: Old Mother Doumergue?...

Mme. PUNAIS: Yes!... Come on, you surely remember her!

MARIE: Of course, but I thought she'd be dead by now-don't you remember, she went up the stairs like this... Ah!... Ah!... (she gasps for breath).

Mme. PUNAIS: Well she still goes up them like that! Ah! Ah!

MARIE: You're really sure that's Old Mother Doumergue?

Mme. PUNAIS: Of course I am, and she still gives the same lessons.

MARIE: She must be a hundred then!

Mme. PUNAIS: I'll ask her.

MARIE: Have you been to her place?

Mme. PUNAIS: Yes, in AsniĀres, she's still got her little house with trellis work up to the first floor and a copse with a little hanging ball that's still slightly shiny. It didn't make me feel any younger to see that, I can tell you, especially the little ball! It reminded me of your father who used to cycle with his classic push-bike along the embankment at AsniĀres, with a loose shirt and a thin necktie with fanciful little acorns at the bottom. He had superb calves too. That fashion will come back, you'll see ties like that for men again, but not fanciful fashion, never again will it be fashionable to be fanciful, I think it's because we sell too much on credit, that's what makes people sad, they're too much in debt. In my time only artists were in debt-but because they never paid their debts off, it didn't make them unhappy.

MARIE: So what did Madame Doumergue tell you?

Mme. PUNAIS: That she was very pleased to see me-but how it smells at her place! You wouldn't believe it! I'm not so keen on the past when it smells as strong as that! Anyway, you won't be going there, she'll be coming here.

MARIE: But Mother, you'll kill her, making her travel like that at her age!

Mme. PUNAIS: No, she told me she'd still prefer to come here, in the summer, she'd get the boat from Saint-Cloud and then go back by tram.

MARIE: By boat she might be alright-but at her age, by tram...? But are you sure we're talking about the same person?

Mme. PUNAIS: Indeed we are! After all we haven't changed either!

MARIE: What made you think about contacting her in particular?

Mme. PUNAIS: She owes me money, she even owed me some twenty years ago. She's in the artist category. When it comes to debts she doesn't pay them and it doesn't bother her.

MARIE: How much does she owe you?

Mme. PUNAIS: It's a secret.


Mme. PUNAIS: Yes.


Mme. PUNAIS: It was just after your graduation, you'd just become engaged to Gaston La Garenne, your husband (Silence)... thus avoiding marriage with Jean Bart who was perfect.

MARIE: Yes, Mother.

Mme. PUNAIS (resigned): Let's not go back to that now... I really like Gaston too.

MARIE: All the better.

Mme. PUNAIS: It was at that point when you stopped the piano in order to get engaged to Gaston, and not get married to Jean Bart, thirteen years ago.

MARIE: Thirteen years ago!

Mme. PUNAIS: Thirteen...

MARIE: And...?

MAID: It's me again!

Mme. PUNAIS: Come in!

MARIE: Go away!

Mme. PUNAIS: Don't move, I can tell you've got something to say.

MAID: It's the wax-polish!

MARIE: Very well, then!

Mme. PUNAIS: Go away!

MAID (while leaving): Whatever!

Mme. PUNAIS: There. (Reading the cards) Oh!... Marie!... little problems... again... I see... little problems... Many of them...

MARIE: It sounds as if you've got some news for me!

Mme. PUNAIS: Ah! Health problems!... but it's nothing to worry about, it's always colds...

MARIE: How much does she charge you for the piano lessons?

Mme. PUNAIS (reading the cards): I can always see health, you know... It's health.

MARIE: OH! I know nothing about that! Tell me then if she still plays well at her age, have you heard her play?

Mme. PUNAIS: But she's always been an artist, this woman, she played and sang beautifully, she still had nice shoulders thirty-five years ago, your father talked about her too often not to finish up by sleeping with her.

MARIE: Oh! Mother!

Mme. PUNAIS: Mother knows she's been cuckolded, it even made me rather sad every time, but it was even sadder to be widowed.

MARIE: So Mother, you've known old Mother Doumergue for a long time?

Mme. PUNAIS: I know her inside out. Not only was she the cause of my cuckoldry, but she also never paid for a little Louis XV dressing-table, a real gem, that she bought from me. I'll never forget that day before All Saints' Day in the year 1900. She bought it, 120 francs. Oh! You could safely say that she isn't worried by debts, from time to time I go and remind her, and she says, "Oh! Madame Punais, we've known each other for too long now, come now!! Let's not mention it again!!!" I can't get anything else out of her. It's true, we've known each other for a long time! Anyway she got it, that dressing-table of mine, the original one. I've sold copies of it since then. At sky-high prices! But she got the real one and she never paid for it. (She reads the cards). You see: money problems. (We hear someone playing the piano in the neighboring apartment.)

MARIE: You can hear through the reinforced concrete, we can hear everything... It doesn't feel like home anymore... and it's the same with all new houses.

Mme. PUNAIS: He plays well, doesn't he! He puts his heart into it... maybe he's playing for you...

MARIE: For me?

Mme. PUNAIS: Don't you think so?

MARIE: I don't know Mother, why would he play for me? He's our neighbor!

Mme. PUNAIS: Oh!... Anyway he plays well... isn't he a teacher?

MARIE: No, he's a civil servant.

Mme. PUNAIS: Ah! Ah!... Well you could perhaps play with four hands, the both of you.

MARIE: Four hands? But for Goodness Sake, Mother, one man is already enough for me. What do you expect?

Mme. PUNAIS: Oh me, you know!... Anyway, you want to please him and at the same time you don't want him to be jealous. It's difficult to please a man who's no longer jealous-now, you see in the cards... a little problem... Ah! Yes... surely there's...

MARIE: You're obsessed with it! (The maid has come in.)

Mme. PUNAIS (to the maid): Is it a lady? (The maid shakes her head) Then go and tidy yourself up my girl, it's a gentleman.

MARIE: But why Mother?

Mme. PUNAIS: Oh go pretty yourself up, my child! How irritating you are!

MARIE: But why?

Mme. PUNAIS: Oh! Go anyway! (Enter Monsieur Berlureau, very reserved and ill-at-ease.)

M. BERLUREAU: Madame... I took the liberty to visit... a short visit... I am Berlureau.

Mme. PUNAIS: Very pleased to meet you, Monsieur.

M. BERLUREAU: I am your neighbor.

Mme. PUNAIS: Oh! And you play so well! You've come for my daughter then. Do you know her?

M. BERLUREAU: I don't know her, Madame, but I came to apologize for playing perhaps a bit late in the evening... our walls are so thin that one might disturb someone without being aware of it, so I took the liberty of coming to ask... my name is Berlureau.

Mme. PUNAIS: But how well you play the piano!

M. BERLUREAU: Oh! Madame, I only dabble.

Mme. PUNAIS: You don't know her. She's going to be very happy. She always says to me, "How well my neighbor plays!"

M. BERLUREAU: Oh! Madame, I'm embarrassed, I must leave!

Mme. PUNAIS: Oh! Definitely not Monsieur, that's a fact! Your playing sends us into a dream.

M. BERLUREAU: It's the spiritual exchange.

Mme. PUNAIS: That's it, but do you know my son-in-law too?

M. BERLUREAU: No Madame, I haven't had this pleasure either, but you know, I only came to apologize for playing so late sometimes.

Mme. PUNAIS: Oh! It's strange. I always have the impression that everybody knows him... my daughter wants to please him, she tries to brighten up the room with the piano... that's an idea...

M. BERLUREAU: Yes, that's an idea... (Gaston enters).

GASTON: Hello, Madame.

Mme. PUNAIS: Hello, Gaston. (Berlureau is embarrassed).

Mme. PUNAIS: He's our neighbor, he's come to give us a short visit and I just had the pleasure of being acquainted with him, he's the pianist we hear, you know.

GASTON: Who we listen to with so much pleasure.

Mme. PUNAIS: Well! He came to make sure it doesn't disturb us when he occasionally plays in the evening.

GASTON: Oh! Most certainly not, seriously, Monsieur, on the contrary it's a real pleasure.

Mme. PUNAIS: For which we would have to pay a lot somewhere else, but I'll ask you to come and see us more often Monsieur-would you be willing to play music with my daughter?

GASTON: Oh! Madame! That's asking a lot, Marie is learning.

Mme. PUNAIS: No, I think it would be lovely.

                                                            [and unfortunately the play continues...]

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