From L’ile Atlantique
(translated by Purdey Lord Kreiden and Michael Thomas Taren):
For a week now René Théret has been catching up on his algebra. He had turned thirteen and he had made, being the eldest, solemn resolutions.
Henceforward, he’ll eat crows, crunch cockroaches, drink venom, caress spiders, and kiss a mountain of frogs at the mouth. In other words, he hardly masturbates, tolerates his parents, doesn’t smoke, listens in class, washes each evening from nose to navel, doesn’t bully his two little sisters, exercises his abdominals on his bedside rug and sweats on his mathematics.
To inflict on himself all this seems to be important. He has even vaguely weighed the idea of going back to mass. But the curé displeases him. Saint-Rémi, which is composed of twenty-six thousands inhabitants, has other parishes and other priests; René prudently ignores this detail. He has judged it more expedient to scorn the church based on a single man, the only one he knows.
Théret hasn’t yet discovered any upside to his new behavior. He has the impression, on the contrary, that people are taking advantage of it. Ferocities unveil themselves, excited by his softness. Since he corrects his own defects, he helplessly suffers those of others. He’s boiling over: one more day of crows and he’ll burst.
— René what on earth have you done with your briefs I can’t find them?
His mother, a bovaristic nature, is calling out from in front of the washing machine. The Thérets run a popular enough gourmet grocery in old Saint-Rémi. The husband is knowledgeable, the wife poses, the clientele quibbles. One earns sparingly.
— I put them in the hamper, René answers flatly. He senses a vexation to come, he ducks his head. Her and her briefs. He would throat-slit the entire earth, mother by mother.
Madame Théret enjoys doing her household chores after dinner, all the better to make it known to her family of to what enslavement she is victim. The husband plunges into his accounts. The children give one another silent glances. Then, Louise Théret beds down the little girls and turns on the TV. René is then allowed to go off on his own.
— Eh, well I can’t find ’em, Madame Théret repeats through the gush of water. You sure you’ve changed briefs? My little friend it’s still under your bed, or come here and look for it, I don’t have all night!
At the store, Louise Théret is well-polished, she doesn’t wear an apron, even plays the elegant one. They say she’s a natural blonde. She knows how to be congenial with whom she must, subtlety. She’s well spoken of. She’s one of the better looking adults in the neighborhood. But, the boutique closed, she employs the wilted duds and bad moods that you wouldn’t show except among family.
She should have been, according to her reveries, the long-gloved lady, champs-elyséean, of the advertisement for the fragrance Soir de Paris, in Sélection. This desirable fate has failed her: she despises her loser of a husband and the offspring of that loser. The clients, their foie gras, their wine from China. She despises it all. She hates herself; she loves herself only.
— René I’m waiting? I must have my quota of briefs! I won’t start a load just for you.
René had to leave the kitchen, the mathematics textbook, the reassuring symbols, and enter the bathroom, sort with his eyes through the underwear of the whole family. The cheeks hot, the sleeves rolled up, the regard oblique, Louise Théret hid her pleasure under an air of industriousness.
“She stashed it on purpose,” thinks René.
In such moments, he who is only a pubescent child, feels himself becoming an adolescent, a detritus, something like them. He must have had his ridiculous access of virtue in the hope of escaping all that. No: who would escape? He’s being grasped, cornered, he has his nose rubbed in it. It’s his turn: he must take it, him too. It would have been too easy.
René, face scarlet, had pointed a finger at his dirty briefs, suddenly identified among numerous lacy stains, curly as jellyfishes, pink and shitty, which are the underwear of the little girls. Instantaneously he analyses the details of each splotch, in front and behind. His little dribbling dick, his yellowish asshole, and some grey at the waistband, there, before their eyes. A revelatory imprint, an abject negative.
— It’s Claire Fouilloux! Huh. It’s her you went to see! That skank. It’s her. The Fouilloux!
Huh! accused Simone Roquin, more brutal than upset. Her husband neglected to deny.
What’s more she was right. Claire Fouilloux, a kid of sixteen and a half, relieved five or six family men, including Jean Roquin. She was an employee at the Baron shoe factory; there she sewed the uppers. But she was often absent, and always late. She was soon to be fired. She will soon find others, uppers, she kidded. Oh, her parents would beat it into her? Let them reproach her with it. If her old man hadn’t fondled and half-raped her as a kid — yes, let him shut it. As for her carcass of a mother… there too, she could speak at length.
Monsieur and Madame Fouilloux, in short, weren’t reacting. Claire would soon pick herself up and hit the bricks, she’ll make a life on the continent. She already had the means.
In reality, the aging men whom she ransomed (invariably during their lunch hour) surrendered to her a hundred francs or so. She cadged for more, or gifts, a kindness….They rudely affected that the room alone was ruinous.
They weren’t lying. In Saint-Rémi, it was difficult to find a place to sleep with a minor, if one wanted a bed, a toilet seat, running water, a bidet. Flophouses were mistrustful, and all families were well known to one another. It became necessary to upgrade one’s station, and hire a room at the Sphynx-Club.
It was a weekend inn for well-to-do continentals. They came there for quick gourmet adultery, luxurious, without conventions, that they charged to their expense accounts.
The staff of the Sphynx-Club was beginning to figure her out, Claire Fouilloux. She smiled at them, good girl. One looked her up and down, pursed their lips, bowed ironically before the spineless john who gave too big tips and accepted the worst room at the worst price. The incongruous couple pretended to retire to refresh themselves, then proceeded to lunch. This sham never varied. The daddies escaped by one o’clock, Claire hirsute at their elbows. She needed an escort, she wouldn’t have dared descend alone after them.
Claire Fouilloux was brief and meager. Breastless, almost without butt or face, according to male taste. She had a recessed chin, drab features, protruding ears sticking out of her flipcut, clenched fists, the eye void, with large obtuse theatricalities, as if she had been batting false lashes a little too long and crookedly glued.
Less small, and one might have mistook her for an adult, if she had disguised her muzzle and falsified her ID card. Though her papers gave her as sixteen, her face had no age, her large bony belly evoked a dead woman. The aficionados were excited by her civil status and neglected the rest.
As a matter of fact, she was likable, she was good humored; she thought poorly only of herself, bastards, and people.
— Yes! cried Simone Roquin, the lip curled-up high, it’s the Fouilloux! Claire Fouilloux!
Your bone bag! That cadaver! Ah you love that huh. Ah you’re full of it. Ah so it’s the little girls you need now! Ah so that’s it. You’re going to park yourself at the school doors. What you waiting for? Just go. Go! Take it out, your cock, for the kids! Take it out for them! If at least that makes you hard once in your life! Impotent! The Fouilloux! …
She leapt at his face but with a half-heartedness that they both felt. He fended her off with one hand, unhittingly. And she didn’t dig in the nails that she had brandished to tear apart his cheek.
She retreated against the stove and recommenced shouting.
— Oh yes, the little girls! Ah ha ha. The kiddies. That’s what you need! Kiddies! You’d like to rape one of them huh you old fuck? Say it: you’d like to rape some! …Old sadist. And the ‘lil boys while you’re at it? …Ya gonna get fucked in the ass as well? Trash! … But you’ve only got the Fouilloux huh! The spider! It’s all you got huh! That grasshopper! That’s all you got huh! All you got! … Oh I disgust you huh! Ohh. Ooohhh!…
She leapt again on her husband. She had seized the lid of a cast-iron pot.
He rose brusquely, he disarmed her. He reseated himself, affected a calm air, continuing to eat.
For an instant she was paralyzed. She was panting. Then she started again, growling, with a groan that inflated bit by bit until it peaked into shrieking, while her cadence rushed onward:
— … And how much did you dish out to slip it on, this whore? You don’t give a shit to lay it out when it’s for ass huh. There you don’t give two shits. You don’t keep count. You don’t negotiate. You lay it down. No discussion. She can make you gobble her shit, the Fouilloux, then you dish out. You like dishing it out for that ass huh. On all fours she makes you gobble her shit the Fouilloux.
And then you ask for more! You need your shit, at the price of gold you need it. You could give a fuck. Trash. Bastard. Bastard. Bastard. Hey well — hey well you can go back and gobble them turds, the Fouilloux! You can go back to suck the spider’s ass! Oh oh! You’ll have all your time for that. All the time you want! I won’t be keeping you! Oh oh you can go and dish out your dough for all we see of it! It’s not me who’s going to stop you! What you waiting for? Bring her by. It’s your place. What are you waiting for…Old bastard! Trash. Trash. Trash. Trash. Trash. Trash. You can go back there!
She emitted her usual threats of divorce, of immediate departure. She recited a long litany of invective against their line of work, their land, their digs (the tract belonged to Roquin), their marriage, the past, the present, the past, the future, the past. She expressed the desire to kill others and to commit suicide: she believed in God, at least she would be given justice in the afterlife. She estimated that when it was too much it was too much. She had a right to tranquility, to sacred peace. She had worked and worked again like a dog: she deserved, if not respect (she wasn’t asking for so much) or affection (she wasn’t that far gone), at least a little calm, rest, rest. But her husband refused her even that. So where? Who? When? …
She pursued in these grand visions, scorching her throat, forgetting the adultery. She rarely extracted from it a fecund oratory motif, it is true. Puritan, she hated sleeping with her husband. She hated all that was physical, apart from the grub and the blows. She was intimately satisfied that Jean Roquin was draining himself outside of her. Sometimes in her crises of dementia she would dare bawl it at him: she would even have paid a whore to be released permanently from this shittiness.
The Fouilloux or another. From her own pocket.
— From my own pocket! From my own pocket! she shrieked. The disgust, the spite, inspired her into showing the mucous membranes of her lips. This grimace of a menacing she-monkey was familiar to Jean Roquin: it announced the climax of the scene. He was on his guard.
She threw herself upon him a third time. She had grabbed a knife.
He towered before her, flung his whole arm against her ear, with enormous momentum. She fell. He bent over, seized the knife. She screamed, she groped herself to the point of tearing her skirts apart. She sobbed.
— You bore the shit out of me, he said composedly, in a low voice.
She stood back up. She was licking her tears. She sucked up her frothy saliva, that flowed.
— Enough! Enough! Enough! Enough! she shrieked. Enough! Go find your whores!
Enough! Enough! Enough! My God!… Enough!
She was wobbling, she was about to collapse, to knock herself out, to destroy herself.
Jean Roquin slapped her, grabbed her wrists, shook her. She seemed to unravel. He touched her, hesitated to kiss her, renounced.
A little later, they were tenderized, calmed. She sat next to him at dinner. She even accepted, on a knifepoint, a dab of rillette, a pickle, hiccupping.
Sometimes she ended it there; sometimes the scene included a second act; Roquin sensed that this would be the case. She reinvigorated herself. She kept her cheeks pale. But her eyes were again becoming feverish, ferocious.
She went on again about the children, the ritual theme of this phase of the crisis. She enjoyed reconciling with her husband to the detriment of one of their sons, who would remember it
for a long time to come.
Their children. Ah! …Those who were in the army, of course, never wrote. Except to ask for money, to demand packages. Sweets! Sweets were needed! And it didn’t even answer shit to you, it spent its leaves God knows where, one had tortured oneself for them, but it doesn’t bother itself. As for Julien…
Madame Roquin suddenly remembered what she had discovered. She got inflamed. Julien!
She had almost forgotten about that!
Ah, yes! Jean Roquin didn’t yet know the news of the day! Oh no! He wasn’t up to date! He didn’t know! He didn’t know! What the fuck he just happened to do, that little goblin of a Julien!… She was clucking and laughing and sparkling. She built up intrigues, airs. She loved staging her auto-da-fés. She dragged Jean Roquin into the garden. She showed him with vehemence, with enthusiasm the footsteps crossing the humid terrain. She asked him five or six times what it meant.
Roquin said they were well spaced, the tracks. Madame Roquin put on an indignant face, as if she’d been insulted. He had been running, that little brat, that’s all: but it was him alright! It was him!
Jean Roquin played along, won over by the anger of his wife. He was brutal, obtuse, formalistic: the proofs against Julien were obvious, indisputable. He doubted nonetheless that the child had dared to leave at night: perhaps the tracks originated from this morning only? This remained very serious, in any case, very serious.
Simone Roquin was scandalized anew. No, no, it was last night. Not this morning. Last night! She brilliantly unloaded her deductions. She even risked making a link between Julien’s abscondance and the infamous murdered senior in today’s paper. Roquin hadn’t read it? … A senior! That one had been throatslitted in her home. A village two or three kilometers from here. The walls daubed in blood. Oh he hadn’t read about it? Too bad, she no longer had the paper. Yes, a woman still handsome, perhaps fifty-five years old, disemboweled from neck to nature, guts all out. A sadistic crime, and they didn’t lose any time: six millions she had. Under her mattress, the imbecile. Six millions!
Jean Roquin shrugged his shoulders. His wife was exaggerating. A ten-year-old crab. No, actually Julien’s crime was far more grave. A kid who murders, at least, one can understand: he’s nuts. He can be treated. But Julien, he’s not nuts at all. He had disobeyed. He was hiding something. He had another life.
— Not nuts, oh no! Not nuts, oh not that, no. No no no, psalmodized Simone Roquin, as to suggest that the child possessed subtle malices, monstrousnesses, an intelligence that hadn’t even been suspected.
Husband and wife agreed. They decided to take strong measures against the little brat.
Tonight, when he returned, Julien would have to explain himself. One must snuff the worm in the fruit before it’s too late.
The Roquins visited their crops. The season will be bad. They vaguely envisaged remedies, labors, purchases. They were acting out the theater of being deliberate, sensible, masters of themselves. They were speaking in harsh tones, without looking at one another. Their tension was rising. They thought only about tonight.
Julien returned at eight o’clock, which he was permitted to do.
He wasn’t worried. He had emptied his pockets.
No one was outside. No light, except at the kitchen window. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Julien went through the front door and neglected to turn on the ceiling lamp in the corridor.
He was two meters from the kitchen when he was pounced upon. He was gripped by the arm, enclosed in screams.
His mother had heard him and had been lying in wait for him. From her corner in the corridor, she had been waiting in the recess of a doorway, she had been lurking and studying his shadow, vaguely silhouetted on the glazing of the front door. She had spotted the part of him that she would grasp.
By a flick towards the light switch, she gave light. Julien was wobbling on his legs. Then he scowled, contracted inward, almost closed his eyes. These little get-togethers happened anytime, he was always ready.
At first, he experienced a curiosity for the pretext she might have had. Then, shaken with an anomalous brutality, he was no longer thinking anything.
Simone Roquin interrogated and beat Julien there on the poorly lit tiled floor of the corridor, marked with muddy footprints. The bulb was distant. This light between dog and wolf, yellowish, sinister, miserable, was well suited to the lessons, and the Roquins appreciated it. A smell of soup, leaks, turnips, carrots, drifted from the kitchen. On the island, it was said that a pot on the burner must smile. At the Roquin’s it spat, hissed, rattled itself with the banging of its lid. For Simone Roquin had a passion for taking everything to the max. It was her word, her judgment, her principle. One washed to the max, swept to the max, cooked to the max, talked to the max, inspected to the max, learnt to the max: and that which wasn’t done to the max, wasn’t done at all. This rule put a grimace of virtue on her perpetual hatred for people and things.
The questions she asked Julien didn’t call for a response: they simply added colour to the quakes and the slaps. The child had no trouble remaining mute, his mother was yelling so.
Then all of a sudden she let go of him as if he had become slimy. Now he had to respond, to explain himself, to recount, to confess, or else. Julien denied everything, even the footprints. He knew nothing, had done nothing.
It was his tactic against those stronger than him: to resist in full. To argue, imagine phrases, keep pace, sham, lie in front of the grown-ups? No. No more than if an elephant was charging at you.
His father had followed the interrogation. Julien’s thick head had exasperated him. He got fed up. He burst onto the scene. Drowned in blows and cries, the child didn’t see him straight away.
— Move over. Go to the kitchen, Jean Roquin ordered to his wife. And you, shirtless.
Julien, startled, looked at his father. Roquin, sleeves rolled-up, had a dog chain hanging off his arm. A cur of theirs, dead for some years now.
As the child hesitated in taking off his sweater, Simone Roquin, having returned, threw herself at him, and tore it off him screaming. He shook his head, and unbuttoned his shirt more docilely.
Solemnly, in a toneless voice, Jean Roquin asked Julien to explain why he had gone out the previous night. The boy lowered his head, denied. Roquin remained calm, serious, and unhurriedly repeated his question. Julien said nothing. Roquin took his time, rooted his eyes on the little one, huffed through the nostrils, waiting still, as a bad actor would know how to impress a crowd of fools. He asked his question one last time.
Julien didn’t answer; his lips trembled; it rose in him shamefully, hastily, a tear in each eye.
His father gripped his skull to swivel it, held him by an arm and struck. Simone Roquin accompanied:
— The bastard! The little bastard! The trash! she shrieked. She was digging her nails into her palms, she looked at the dog chain, the arm, the victim. She was red with excitement to the point of popping.
— The little bastard, she shrieked. Brat! Brat! Oh at least you didn’t steal this one! Oh you didn’t steal this one at least! But what the fuck was he doing last night? What the fuck did he do? What the fuck could he have done? But he’s going to talk! He’s going to talk, holy cow! I swear to you he’s going to talk! To the bone we’ll work him! You’ll talk! You’ll talk! Oh I swear you’ll talk! Little bastard! That little trash! What did he get into again? What was he up to now? No we don’t get beshitted enough as it is? No but wouldn’t you think that we already get beshitted enough? No but wouldn’t you think that we’ve had it up to here with you? You think that’s not enough? It’s not enough for you? Still not enough for you? We haven’t already drooled enough because of you? We must also snuff it because of you? That’s not enough? You must continue? Havta continue? Oh, you’ve gotta continue! Yes we’ll all continue, us too! Oh now it’s over! It’s over! Over! We aren’t gonna let you walk all over us, just so you know! We aren’t gonna be duped! You won’t fuck us over! Oh but you won’t fuck us over! If you’re figuring you’ll fuck us over like that! You won’t fuck us over! … But he’d kill us! Would he kill us? But this can’t go on! It can’t go on! But it’s a torture this kid! I won’t have it any more! I won’t have it! We can’t take it anymore! No one could! But it’s a cross! …
She shrieked so coarsely the word cross that she got hurt. She curled up, coughed, spat out a bloody loogie that stuck against her lip.
— He will kill me! He will kill me! she moaned while going to drink a little water in the kitchen.
Jean Roquin at the same time ceased his beating: he had sensed that the dog chain was falling against thin air. He perceived on the ground at his feet a red thing, soft, wet, without a decipherable form. Roquin contemplated his son.
Tony Duvert’s L’ile Atlantique is forthcoming from Semiotext(e), translated by Purdey Lord Kreiden and Michael Thomas Taren, illustrations by Louie Otesanek.
Tony Duvert was a French writer (July 1945 – August 2008), most renowned for the novel PAYSAGE DE FANTAISIE, which won the Prix Medicis. More details here.
Purdey Lord Kreiden became Miss America and pursued her dream to become a veterinarian. Her book CHILDREN OF THE BAD HOUR is published by Ugly Duckling Press.
Michael Thomas Taren was the first person to photograph a single snowflake. He has a chapbook from Factory Hollow Press called 08 SEPTEMBER 2009. His contranslations of Tomaz Salamun (“Justice” (Black Ocean) and “Soy Realidad” (Dalkey Archive) are forthcoming.
At the edge of a great snowfield Louie Otesanek grew different shapes and shades. His palms are wide and dark and mingled with the highest sky. See more of his work here.