The Hermitage, the debut novel from French author and playwright Marie Bronsard, is a compelling and heartbreaking soliloquy, a farewell to a lover long gone and to the self-imposed exile undertaken by the woman he left behind. On her last night of isolation, the woman looks back at the ten years she has spent as a recluse, reexamining and recording her feelings of tragedy and loss in a final letter to the lover.
|Publisher:||Northwestern University Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.30(d)|
About the Author
Marie Bronsard is a novelist, short-story writer, and playwright. She is the author of several books, including L'Alliance. Bronsard lives and works in southern France.
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By MARIE BRONSARD
Northwestern University PressCopyright © 1986 Le temps qu'il fait
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI began writing to you a long time ago now. Time passed. I kept writing to you. I stopped because I was growing old.
One day a friend of yours I met by chance mentioned your name. I smiled, vague.
When I got home, I burned all that correspondence you never received. It was yesterday.
Today I begin again. There is no hope and I know it. No hope at all of seeing you again, ever. No hope at all of reaching you.
It is a beautiful day, cold but crystal clear, just the kind of day that follows a full moon.
One feels the coming of autumn.
Winter, that was your season.
I remember, the winter you left, you told me: I hate summer. I didn't understand.
It seems to me sometimes that I understand you a little better.
I often find myself, still, walking in the street returning from somewhere. I even find myself thinking of you on the way, you who used to say that night is not made for sleeping. You used to say that one should live, at night, that it alone offers us enough concentration to feel alive.
You see, I have forgotten nothing. I remember everything: your words, your tone of voice, the soft light you gave to each remark, that calmed like the caress of a child.
I remember everything. You cannot remember me.
Such a long time ago. We wereyoung. We had lived very little.
I am almost ten years older.
After you left ...
After you left, I often thought I saw you coming down a street, sitting on the terrace of a café, a silhouette, a gesture, that strange sway of the shoulders, out of step, that you had when you walked. It could not be you.
Each time, a jolt in my chest, the heart tightening up, it seems, just before it collapses. It was never you.
A long time after, even now, I find myself imagining I recognize you. Never here anymore, though-elsewhere, always elsewhere, as if elsewhere it were easier for me to find you.
I am less and less disappointed. I understand better and better the meaning of your absence.
One day, I will stop believing I recognize you among those who pass by. One day.
One day, I will stop writing to you.
Not today. Tomorrow, perhaps. I fear that, for me, it will be a defeat.
You, you will never come to find me again. You have forgotten me as stones forget, in silence.
Forget ... to forget you, what long I prayed for with all my body, with all my sadness, with all my lost sleep, forgetfulness which came, little by little, to replace memory without ever erasing it completely.
I will never forget you.
For some time I've no longer been certain that I loved you. Now and then I feel I didn't. Yet I know that I must have loved you but that I'd stopped well before you left. You knew that. You knew, without suffering. You never loved me.
We didn't love each other. We were alone, in that frightening solitude of children who have grown up too fast, who have lost their mooring somewhere in adolescence and who will never find it again. If we loved each other ... if we'd been able to love each other, it would have been only because of this very solitude.
You remember, the concern we had for one another all during those late nights, that care, precise, exacting, not to tear at each other, not to let others tear at the two of us. At least not until ... but I don't want to think about it.
I remember those words we exchanged in the night that united us much better than the love we made so badly.
You don't remember. I alone remember.
It seems to me sometimes that my life will not be long enough to take in both of us.
Evening is beginning to fall. Mist will rise from the garden in just a while. The air will turn cold. I'll be cold again. You knew how sensitive I was to the cold. You used to smile about it as if it were a strange caprice. You didn't want to believe that one's body could feel the cold when the soul is frozen.
You, you were never cold, never hungry either, never sleepy. You would drop off to sleep at dawn, like a kitten in the middle of a game, on a chair, among cushions on the floor, in a corner of the room. Never in bed. One had to wake you to lead you to it. You would have a hunted look then, hostile, that made me tremble.
I used to leave you when you were lying there. I'd return to my isolation.
I would so like to talk to you about something other than all this past. For example, how it happens that every evening, as I return home, a black cat crosses my path on the road. It's never the same one, never in the same place, but every evening.
For several years, I've given up going to the city. Without you, it paid no attention to me.
After you left ... but there I go, talking about it again. Everything, this evening, takes me back to you.
After you left, I still walked alone in the streets, at night, often. I would stop in our cafés. I'd wait for you, sitting at the edge of a dirty table. I used to think I was waiting for you. We so loved those late-night cafés, shabby, sticky, suspicious, always open. People recognized me. They didn't talk to me, not any more than before. I could have thought that nothing had changed, I felt the same. Yet when their silence altered, imperceptibly, turning thicker, heavier as I entered, any faith in that thought was denied me.
It was as if they had guessed, all those others, that you had left intending never to return, as if they knew that from then on I was going to remain alone. They didn't pity me. They kept silent.
In those cafés, the same, always, where I would drink cheap brandy that burned my throat, where I would smoke cigarettes until weary, until closing, I waited for you a very long time.
The café just below where you lived closed the following summer. It did not reopen.
In June, one morning, the first morning in June, I returned there for the last time. The floor was thick with sawdust. I didn't recognize the place.
It was in that café we had met him. That café is closed.
I would like it never to open again.
For a long time, I wandered into our sordid cafés, staying until night's end. I thought I was waiting for you.
One day, I grew tired of waiting for you like that. I began once again to walk in the streets, in other neighborhoods, those we had never frequented, those you claimed not to like. I sought out other places. I tried. They remained as foreign to me as ever. Often I was made to leave. No one recognized me. You were no longer there to protect me. You were no longer there to justify my presence.
Then I stopped walking in the streets. I stopped going out.
All that was a long time after you left, when I understood you would never come back again. That pain, that silence, in me....
This night will not be a night like the others. I will write to you, if necessary, until morning. I will write to you until my memories are worn away, until this pain that I begin to feel from remembering is worn away.
I had stopped loving you by the time you left. Before, I no longer remember very well. It seems to me that I desired you the first time and that afterward it was too late. We were already too much in need of one another. You told me that one night: We found each other. We will never understand each other. We have nothing to share. We offer each other nothing, only time, which is nothing. We will never be able to part.
Yet, it was you who left.
You had ... you were rough in your tenderness, but in the worst moments, in the midst of your harshest words, you had that gentle tilt of the head, that delicate tone of voice which immediately assuaged the suffering you had provoked. Each time, you subjugated me.
You demonstrated such gentleness only when you had placed me, placed us, once again in the middle of the desert, only when you had banned me, banned us, from the oases forever. True despair is just that: no longer being able to cry out.
You were calm, so calm. When I was upset, you would stop me with a smile. You used to say: What good will it do? I would stop.
You were never violent, rarely sad, each day the same as the day before, just as cold. Only your look, the intensity of your silence, betrayed you.
I used to leave you at daybreak, after the dreadful way you'd glance at me which frightened me so. Evening would bring me back. I have no memory at all of the daytime. During the day, I must have slept. Still, it seems that I didn't, that I didn't always sleep. I don't know anymore. Perhaps I would work. Perhaps I would sleep. Perhaps both. I don't remember.
I so well remember you.
In the evening, I'd return to your place. Sometimes you were still sleeping. I would lie down, without a sound, next to you. I would close my eyes. I knew your look, I refused it.
You used to wake up slowly. We'd make love, like people drowning.
Often you were no longer asleep. It was painful for me to approach you. You would remain lying as if dead near the window, prostrated by a terrifying, pent-up anxiety, so powerful that one was ready to believe the walls were going to collapse at any moment. One was not allowed to speak. Not allowed to say a word to you. One had to wait, to wait in silence, sitting, never standing, you couldn't bear it. Wait, sitting, until you could speak again.
After a while, you would say a few words. A murmur.
Never again, after we met him, did I find you asleep.
Chapter TwoI am here, at my table, in front of the window. The night is cool. It is falling, pale, misty, artificial. The cars on the hill across the way glide along. I like the slowed-up movement of their lights sweeping the road at the turns. Few houses are lit. On my right, the night seems whiter.
I have learned since you left to love the country-side.
I've not been able to give up totally the feeling of a street, to allow you to part from me altogether. I live in a compromise, on the edge of a village.
I will never be an other.
I would like to talk with you, keep talking with you, hold you back, prevent you from leaving once again. For me, this evening, you are here. I know that in the morning you will leave. Ten years later, this will be your true departure, the true end to the story.
The past is always a story. One recounts it, one repeats it to others, always to others, often, so often that, finally, one no longer knows. Over the years, over the nights, a detail comes to be added, then another, another.... One has recounted so often that the words come out of one's mouth by themselves, they string together, follow one another, escape as the past escapes us. One cannot be sure of anything, not even of the past.
Ten years for you, for me. Ten years for me, alone. You will never know.
The morning you left-you went away one morning-you refused to sleep. You tried to drive me out at daybreak. I wanted to stay. It seems to me that I thought for a moment you were waiting for him and that I said as much. It seems to me that you shuddered, that you looked at me in a strange manner. It seems to me that I was so frightened that I stretched my hand toward the door to go out. It seems to me that you held me back by the shoulder, that you touched me, and that then you announced: I'm going to leave. I don't know when I'll be back. I'll write you. Then it seems to me that you pushed me, very gently, outside. It seems to me. I can't be sure of anything anymore all of a sudden. Everything is jumbled up. I have a headache.
You had perhaps warned me during the night. Perhaps I knew for a long time that you were going to leave. Perhaps. No. I didn't know. I couldn't know. For a long time you had not said anything. I didn't know. You didn't know either. Not the night before any more than the preceding days. We'd spent a night similar to many others. He had not come. We had not left the room. We were no longer waiting for him.
That morning, you said to me: I'm going to leave. That morning. I was not surprised. I went out. I began to wait for you. We had never been separated, never written to each other. You were always there, every night, me too. Even when you were with him, I was with you. You never wanted me to stay away. During the day, only the day, when you were sleeping, was I to be somewhere else.
Soon, ten years since you left. Ten years that I know you will no longer be coming back.
I would like the mildness of the night to cease. I would like it to rain. It's not going to rain. The sky is too clear.
You will not be coming back. You never wrote to me.
I began to wait for you from the moment you announced you were leaving. I was there, near you, standing just in front of the door, but already I was waiting for you. I could see you. I could touch you. But already I felt you were gone. I asked nothing. Nothing. It would have been useless. I didn't question myself about your return. I began to wait for you. I went out. You closed the door after me with a gentle gesture, which I have perhaps invented since.
Did you know it? I don't think so. What did you know about this departure? You said: I'll write you. Then nothing. A long silence. Ten years. You will not be coming back again.
The wind has picked up. I hear the trees, the leaves of the trees. The house is silent. Night is here now altogether, a milky night, a night of the full moon. People say one should fear these nights. I am alone. I am not afraid.
I was never again frightened of the night, of the silence, after I met you. Your departure has changed nothing. You brought me serenity, emptiness. I'm never anxious anymore. I wait for the moment to pass, for day to return. I wait without impatience. Nothing more can happen to me.
The next day, the day after that, I no longer remember, they came to tell me. I didn't understand. I continued to wait for you.
I know. One day this waiting must end. As even the memory of you must. The ability is there, within me. I know. Now and then I forget. I have to acknowledge it. I long for forgetfulness. It frightens me. I would so like to keep you within me, intact but not part of me.
I couldn't keep anything of you. I had nothing. All that remained was in your room, on the walls of your room, those ugly green and white walls that we'd covered together with words, with phrases. You did not like those walls but you didn't make the slightest change. You sometimes drew broad curves on them that you used to call your circles of destiny. They terrified me. You'd say they were necessary, the necessary witnesses to the absence of life. I didn't like them, no more than I did the walls which, alone, have preserved the mark left by your passage.
The walls and my memory.
A night bird cried in the forest behind the house, a cry of pain that died away slowly. It seems to me at present that the silence is thicker, that nothing can tear it apart again until forgetfulness comes, of this cry. I would like never to forget it. I would like it to fix beside you in my memory, a long sigh in a beautiful night, to serve as your breath, as your life. Now I can no longer remember you without this cry. I'm glad to have finally drawn you out of your silence. This bird, his call in the night, is perhaps a little of you. Perhaps. One cannot know. I will never know anything more about you.
Chapter ThreeI knew nothing about you. You never spoke of the past. Neither did I. What would we have had to say, life had not started? In front of him only, you occasionally evoked moments from your childhood, for him, and I hated him because of it.
I so hated him. I hated him the very instant you looked at him, the first time, in the café.
He was at the bar. He stood with his back to us. One could see his face in the mirror, among the bottles. His eyes were closed. You looked at him. I hated him. You had never looked that way at anyone, at anything. I still hate him. My hatred persists, absolute, undiminished, in spite of the years. Hatred, alone, has lasted. Only a shadow remains of the steady pain that was your departure. This hatred of him still pierces my stomach.
I would so have liked not to talk about him, not to think about it. There he is, asserting himself again. There he is, moving you farther off. He keeps his power over you even in my memory.
His closed eyes.... Perhaps it was those eyes that attracted you, like a look, doubled, like a troubled look, like trouble....
I wanted to go away. I wanted us to leave. I remember I said: We mustn't stay. I feel danger in the air. You answered: It's already too late. Anything can happen.
Excerpted from THE HERMITAGE by MARIE BRONSARD Copyright © 1986 by Le temps qu'il fait
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.