Read an Excerpt
By Gisele Pineau
University of Nebraska Press
Copyright © 2006
University of Nebraska Press
All right reserved.
She tightened her arms around him. Spread her legs wider so
he could penetrate her better.
"You just love it, eh?"
Mina hated for words to get stuck on the motions of lovemaking.
It made her think of those June bugs from the fields in
the West Indies that came unbidden into the cabin. Disoriented,
dazed, flying crazily at the lamp. Ended their short life,
wings singed and roasted to the core, in a flurry of infernal
sputtering. In the morning her big sister Rosalia gathered
them from the planked floor along with the dust balls, the desiccated
roaches, and the red spiders. She tried to count them
but never got past three.
One. Two. Three.
One, two, three ... when the floor was literally strewn with
cadavers. One, two, three.
The buzzing of words. You always had to put up with it.
"You just love it! Tell me how good it feels ..."
Mina wanted nothing but the music of bodies. Flesh rubbing.
Skin wrinkling. Juices mingling. Fever. And the shudder that
created the illusion of love. She was floating. Rocking. Drifting
away, tossed in the waves. Then she was sucked into the purple
depths of the sea down where the waves began and old seashells,
dead starfish, the wooden skeletons of pirate vessels lay
strewn, a burialgrounds for fish and cannonballs. Sometimes,
giddy as if with strong drink, she thought she heard strange
laments mounting from the abyss, women's laughter shot
with invectives. She observed her body being aroused. Hoped
to come upon some new vibration that would herald the feeling
of love she had never known or even come close to. Not
even in an ephemeral flash.
"You're beautiful you know ..."
Unwanted words that joined forces with the rambling circle
of her thoughts. Empty words that male voices gave brief
meaning to. Words that struck against her flesh, trying to penetrate
her. Hysterical words that tried to coax, that played make-believe,
and that she despised.
"You love feeling me inside you! Don't you, Mina? Tell me!"
He just had to talk, even while he was sucking at the tip of a
"Say something! I need to hear your voice. Tell me you want
more and how good it feels ... Do you love me?"
"Please be quiet!" She groaned while his question-"Do
you love me?"-throbbed and reeled in her head like the lament
of a scratched record.
He stuffed the nipple into his mouth and started nibbling
on it. She already wished he would withdraw and get off of her.
Wished he'd leave ... But suddenly her breathing quickened.
She clenched her teeth. Gasped. Let her body be borne away.
Swept up. Swept up high, so very high. Back arched, possessed.
She felt both wildly drunk and controlled at the same time.
Two in one, her body tensed with orgasm and her mind inhabited
with mad, irritating words, uttered by obscure creatures.
Borne away. Thrown outside of herself. Swept up high, still
higher ... eyes wide. Borne away. Swept up so high. And then,
as if fallen from a cloud, slapped down in the backwash of the
wave. Dashed onto the rough cotton sheet.
It was always after orgasm that Rosalia made her appearance, a
fleeting visit. Rosalia risen from the shadows on September 11,
1998, the twentieth anniversary of the fire in which she perished.
Braids in a fiery crown about her head. Astonished
scorched face. Charbroiled skin. Blue nylon nightgown melted
into her flesh. Mute screams. Rosalia, an asteroid rushing
down from the burning cabin. Charbroiled skin ...
"Yes! Yes! Mina!" said the man. Tell me how much you love it.
Tell me you love me!"
Rosalia was standing near the wardrobe, leaning against the
wall with the flowered wallpaper. By God knows what magic,
the wardrobe was now a traveler's-tree, gigantic, strangely
covered with a scaly mottled bark reflecting shattered images
of the room. The blackened, charred palm trees were bowing,
crumbling to ashes on the green and white linoleum.
Rosalia looked at Mina. Perhaps she wanted to speak, but
had never really known how, even when she was alive. Small
flames leapt from her mouth and the words she might have
screamed burned up before having time to conjure the slightest
sound. Stillborn, asphyxiated words that went up in
For the last few months her apparitions never varied. Glowing,
red-hot eyes, she seemed terrorized and shook her head
several times before disappearing.
The first time, Mina was fourteen years old. It was back
home, in 1978, right after the funeral. She thought she was insane,
hallucinating, because no one else could see Rose. Horrifying
in the midst of her flames. Mina was seized with a fit of
trembling and screamed for so long that a doctor had to be
called in to give her a shot of sedative. When she awoke, Rose
was still there, cloaked in those same flames. So then she had to
keep from screaming and get used to apparitions. The burning
girl followed Mina all the way to France, stayed with her for
three years, watching her every move. Then she was finally defeated.
Went back where she came from.
When she reappeared on the seventh floor of the Edmond-
Rostand high-rise, it was as if Mina had called her back. How?
With a cheap candle bought at Monoprix, a small vanilla-scented
candle. Foolishly, she'd lit it in her living room on September
11, 1998, in memory of Rosalia, so that her soul might
rest in peace. A candle in commemoration of the twentieth
anniversary of the fire. A lone, wavering flame in front of
which Mina knelt down, signed herself, and mumbled a short
prayer before going to heat up the leftover salt cod puree and
some canned lentils.
When she came back from the kitchen, Rosalia was standing
there in the very same spot as the candle, just like a spirit that
had been summoned. Mina started but didn't say a word, for
fear of setting the worn cogs to turning again. She closed her
eyes and went to her room. Locked the door behind her. Slept
through until morning. Thought she'd been dreaming. In the
following days, Rose went back and forth between her world
and this one. Then reappeared consistently certain afternoons,
always when her sister happened to be in bed with a man.
Mina quite naturally sought the help of professionals who
associated and collaborated with the forces of Good and Evil.
Made an appointment with Sarah Pitagor, a medium and fortuneteller
from Martinique whose unemployed son handed
out her card at the entrance to the Chateau-Rouge metro station
in Paris. The woman lived in an attic room, rue des
Poissonniers. She had a reputation for liberating sinners, undoing
satanic knots, and striking down Evil. Mina climbed the
eighty-five steps of a dim staircase and waited three and a
half hours on the landing where clients of all colors crowded
around the door. She was told that she was the chain tying
Rosalia to this earth. To break the chain, she must either call
upon very costly spirits who only rarely circulated amongst
the living, pray fervently to God in the hopes of deliverance, or
return to the scene of the tragedy-which Mina had no intention
"It's out of the question ... I'll never go back home ..."
"And why not?" asked Sarah who had long been familiar
with that "never" and its spectacular about-faces.
"They're all dead," replied Mina in a weak voice.
The fortuneteller squinted her eyes, opened her mouth,
stuck her finger into an old hollow molar, pulled out a remnant
of food that she showed Mina on the end of a cracked
"And you don't want to know the truth?"
"You see what I pulled out of this tooth that's been hurting
me for twenty years. Guess what it is? Every day something
gets stuck in there, a bit of meat, a grain of rice, a fishbone ...
This tooth been putting me through hell for the last twenty
years. For the last twenty years it's been threatening me, and I
can't make up my mind to get it fixed. So, did you guess what it
Mina leaned forward to attempt to put a name on the small
harvest Sarah was wiggling under her nose.
"No, I don't see ...
"No!" Sarah repeated with a sigh.
With a flick of her tongue she retrieved the fruit of her hollow
tooth and swallowed it.
"Well, my dear," she pursued, "you'll have to start seeing one
day, whether you like it or not!"
So, without guaranteeing any results, Sarah supplied her
with seven marvelous prayers to recite forty times every Sunday
at six o'clock, two phials of anti-zombie containing a yellowish
liquid with an alkaline smell, and three sugar powders
to scatter on the site of the apparitions morning, noon, and
night, taking care not to confuse the vanishing powder for
evening with that of the morning, and thereby throw incontrollable
elements into a trance. After a year, despite Lysia's
pleas, Mina tired of the rituals and allowed Rose to come and
go as she wished.
Rosalia would lean up against the wardrobe to observe what
men called making Love ... Straddle Mina. Press her. Turn her
this way and that. Spread her legs. Penetrate her, hard. Sweat ...
A battle of bodies that Mina engaged in fearlessly. She opened
up. Arched her back. Let herself be turned this way and that,
penetrated ... Asking for more. Wanted to feel them hard inside
Who? Casual acquaintances picked up between two cars in
the project parking lot or led astray from their daily routine
in a wing of the shopping center. Bachelors. Young men, old
men. Family men. Good husbands. Blacks, Whites, Arabs ...
They penetrated her, free of charge, tested her flesh, tasted
her skin. She needed to be taken. Possessed. Speared, wordlessly,
by hard male organs.
She couldn't remember their names, or their faces either ...
Didn't want to know anything about their lives. It came over
her just like that, like a fever. And then she couldn't control
her body. She consumed sex, erect penises. Asked for more.
Dreamt about it sometimes. And awoke with a start in the
middle of the night, longing for a man's body fitted tightly to
hers. She needed to be taken, possessed, speared ... Sometimes
she went through periods of smooth-sailing, thought she was
ready to lead a decent life, cast off the skin of the man-hunting
female. Swore to herself she would put the brakes on the wild
machinery, be reasonable, wouldn't succumb if the fever returned
... After work she double-locked the door to her two-room
apartment, imagining that unknown forces slipped into
her place to drive her outside in search of a man. She spent her
nights alone, in front of frantic television images, documentaries,
wars, horror films, Miss so-and-so contests, variety shows,
American sitcoms. She fell asleep on the couch. Dreamt of
Rose. Had nightmares that bore her off to Morne Calvaire.
Woke up feeling spent but always ready to confront the high
school cafeteria. And then one day, try as she might to be
defiant and resist, she was caught up again in the macabre
dance of love ...
"When can we see each other again Mina? I'm free Saturday
afternoon ... Hey, I'm talking to you! What planet are you on
now?" He blew out a smoke ring.
"I'm not free."
Rosalia opened her mouth one last time and then disappeared,
taking her flames and her shadows along with her.
"Hey Mi, say something!"
"Don't ever come here without calling first ... You have to
Irritated, Mina threw back the sheets.
"You have to go," she repeated.
"You're one strange girl ..."
"I really like you, Mina."
"Stop, please anything but that ..."
She pushed him out of her room.
"It's true, Mi. We don't know each other very well. How
many times have we seen each other, two or three times already?
In my own dumb way, I thought we could travel down
the road a ways together ... I'm not involved with anyone, you
know. Wouldn't you like to go to the movies one of these days?
What about the provinces, have you ever been to the provinces?
Normandy ... what do you say about a quick trip to the
"I don't like to travel."
"You said you were thirty-five, are you still waiting for
Prince Charming or can you make do with a guy like me?
You're a mystery, you know. I like mysterious women ..."
"I know I'm thirty-five ..."
"What were you staring at a while ago by the wardrobe, a
He was jumping up and down, tangled up in the legs of his
"Your eyes were wide as saucers!"
"You don't know how right you are ..."
Christian started laughing.
"You are one strange girl."
"Yes, Madame Mina. But I want one last cuddle before I go."
She couldn't stand the stupid airs some men took on after
lovemaking. Endless goodbyes. The last cuddle called for a
little pawing. Their eyes filled with a flood of promises that
"Good bye!" she said hurriedly.
"Kiss me and say, 'Goodbye Christian!' Say my name Mina!"
"Walk me to the door. I'm afraid of running into the ghost
in the hallway."
He burst out laughing.
"Don't joke about that!"
"Cool down, see you soon."
"Call me, I'm not the bed-hopper type."
"I'm not asking anything of you."
From her seventh-floor window, Mina learned everything
about the project. Her universe for the last ten years. Three
diffident old high-rises sculpted in concrete. Five oblong
blocks rising between scrawny stands of trees. And six boxlike
buildings covered with graffiti. Behind the façades blossoming
with satellite dishes were the apartments-chicken coops and
rabbit hutches-where families lived. As high as the eye could
see, the project was poised between rack and ruin. If you had
time to kill, you could set about counting the broken windows,
unhinged doors, graying curtains. Or else the laundry flapping
in the wind. Jeans and sweaters, sheets and dishcloths
floating like so many nationless flags. And at the foot of the
buildings, gutted, black and blue garbage bags on the sidewalks
where the asphalt dimpled and buckled before crumbling
to pieces. Garbage bins overflowing with filth and busily
scurrying rats. Sometimes small kids chased them, hurling insults
and gravel. Their older brothers ran after other demons,
other pipedreams, gilt footballs, envelopes of grass, jealous
gods, social integration programs, occasional jobs, chicks they
called bitches. Or slued around in scraggly gangs, slouching
into their dark parkas, cigarettes dangling from their lips,
grimy Nikes on their feet, rap tunes and rhymes filling their
Once said to be futuristic, conceived in architects' offices for
housing part of humanity, the project was today a place of
exile that had been marked for demolition years ago. Most
people were awaiting the end of the nightmare and constantly
looking for a way out. Even though they pretended to busy
themselves with their daily occupations-picking up the kids
in front of the school, carting groceries, or catching the train
for Paris forty miles away-they felt trapped there, trampled
under life's foot. Forever watchful, always on the alert, some
seemed to be pursued by evil spirits similar to Mina's. Haggard,
striding swiftly along, you could watch them turning
into the maze of dead-end streets with warped sidewalks that
led nowhere. Others hung around in the parking lot graveyards
where the burned out hulls of cars slept their last sleep.
Stripped of their wheels and fenders, hoods gaping, the carcasses
were still continually plundered. For there was always
one last fool who lived in the hope of ripping a treasure from
their rusty entrails, plucking out a precious part, a radiator
still intact, a horn in excellent condition, a handful of sparkplugs,
two-three pistons, a camshaft that he could sell to some
crooked dealer for a good price, trade for a CD or a dose of
Sometimes Mina stood for hours with her nose against the
kitchen window, watching from the seventh floor the comings
and goings of the project's inhabitants. They came from
everywhere and anywhere ... Embittered exiles, sodden with
nostalgia. Welfare collectors of all sorts who lined up in front
of the social services. Retirees, pensioners, laborers, unemployed,
minor public servants. Left-wingers, right-wingers.
Far left-wingers or far right-wingers. People from the North
and from the South. From every corner of France and the rest
of the world. Good guys and bad guys from the movies. Jaded
people, fanatics, rebels, fatalists. Old women with plaid shopping
bags. Skinheads. People of every kind and color. Blacks,
Whites, Arabs, Asians. Espousers of grand humanitarian
causes, loners with bewildered looks who prepared for the
Apocalypse every morning.
Long ago, in 1988, her first year in the project, a man fell for
her. He swore he was in love with her. She played along, simply
to have his body. She had no feelings for him. Soul as cold as a
slab of marble. The words he uttered slipped over her heart
without ever touching it. "I love you, Mina! Do you love me?"
She didn't answer. He whispered in her ear that he saw stars
plastered on the elevator door whenever he went up to her
place on the seventh floor. "With you, I'm in seventh heaven,
right next to paradise," he said. "I love you ... Do you love me?"
Excerpted from Devil's Dance
by Gisele Pineau
Copyright © 2006 by University of Nebraska Press .
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.