by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, translation by Arnaud Hedin
is not beautiful, she is kind, she has a slight limp, she is gentle and
good natured, yet lucid. Twenty-six years old.
I say!... would you believe it?...
bit impatient): Mother!...
Can you believe it!... listen to this!...
Honestly, the Bois de Boulogne!...
is it about the Bois de Boulogne?
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.
Oh! Young lady!
Go and play the piano then!... I'm the one who gave it to you.
already thanked you for it.
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.
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.
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...
them over): Are you going to read yours?
(dividing the cards): No! I'm going to read yours, I think you look anxious.
paying too much attention to the cards): Who gave you the idea of giving
Yes!... Come on, you surely remember her!
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).
Well she still goes up them like that! Ah! Ah!
really sure that's Old Mother Doumergue?
Of course I am, and she still gives the same lessons.
must be a hundred then!
I'll ask her.
you been to her place?
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.
what did Madame Doumergue tell you?
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.
Mother, you'll kill her, making her travel like that at her age!
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.
boat she might be alright-but at her age, by tram...? But are you sure
we're talking about the same person?
Indeed we are! After all we haven't changed either!
made you think about contacting her in particular?
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
much does she owe you?
It's a secret.
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.
(resigned): Let's not go back to that now... I really like Gaston too.
It was at that point when you stopped the piano in order to get engaged
and not get married to Jean Bart, thirteen years ago.
Don't move, I can tell you've got something to say.
There. (Reading the cards) Oh!... Marie!... little problems... again...
I see... little problems... Many of them...
sounds as if you've got some news for me!
Ah! Health problems!... but it's nothing to worry about, it's always colds...
much does she charge you for the piano lessons?
(reading the cards): I can always see health, you know... It's health.
I know nothing about that! Tell me then if she still plays well at her
age, have you heard her play?
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.
Mother knows she's been cuckolded, it even made me rather sad every time,
but it was even sadder to be widowed.
Mother, you've known old Mother Doumergue for a long time?
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.)
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.
He plays well, doesn't he! He puts his heart into it... maybe he's playing
Don't you think so?
don't know Mother, why would he play for me? He's our neighbor!
Oh!... Anyway he plays well... isn't he a teacher?
he's a civil servant.
Ah! Ah!... Well you could perhaps play with four hands, the both of you.
hands? But for Goodness Sake, Mother, one man is already enough for me.
What do you expect?
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...
obsessed with it! (The maid has come in.)
(to the maid): Is it a lady? (The maid shakes her head) Then go and tidy
yourself up my girl, it's a gentleman.
Oh go pretty yourself up, my child! How irritating you are!
Oh! Go anyway! (Enter Monsieur Berlureau, very reserved and ill-at-ease.)
Madame... I took the liberty to visit... a short visit... I am Berlureau.
Very pleased to meet you, Monsieur.
I am your neighbor.
Oh! And you play so well! You've come for my daughter then. Do you know
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.
But how well you play the piano!
Oh! Madame, I only dabble.
You don't know her. She's going to be very happy. She always says to me,
"How well my neighbor plays!"
Oh! Madame, I'm embarrassed, I must leave!
Oh! Definitely not Monsieur, that's a fact! Your playing sends us into
It's the spiritual exchange.
That's it, but do you know my son-in-law too?
No Madame, I haven't had this pleasure either, but you know, I only came
to apologize for playing so late sometimes.
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...
Yes, that's an idea... (Gaston enters).
Hello, Gaston. (Berlureau is embarrassed).
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.
we listen to with so much pleasure.
Well! He came to make sure it doesn't disturb us when he occasionally
plays in the evening.
Most certainly not, seriously, Monsieur, on the contrary it's a real pleasure.
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?
Madame! That's asking a lot, Marie is learning.
No, I think it would be lovely.
[and unfortunately the play continues...]
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