In this latest collection, two young lovers secretly love the child they will never be able to have; an esteemed physician and survivor of the Nazi concentration camps finds inner peace thanks to the love of a faithful dog; a man loves his wife through the memories of her first husband; and a mother rediscovers love for her child when someone tries to take that child from her. And finally, Séverine and Benjamin understand that they have lost the love of their lives when they see themselves through the eyes of a young terminally ill girl. Love is not easy, and not always easy to find; at times, it is obliged to circumvent social norms, and thus transform them; it must be desired, sought, defended. We cannot know what life has in store for us, but we do know that whatever it is, it will only be meaningful if borne on the wings of love. Schmitt’s sublime stories remind us how true this is.Praise for Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt
“There is a surprising sweetness to Schmitt’s stories of redemption and reconciliation. They carry a slight pleasant aftertaste, a lingering hint of delight.”The Boston Globe
“Schmitt’s stories capture a quirky, clever, feminist, very French sensibility.”Publishers Weekly
“Moral fables, gilded mini-legends: Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s stories are fiendishly efficient. Schmitt is a prodigious story-teller with a style both elegant and assured.”Les Echos
|Publisher:||Europa Editions, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, playwright, novelist, and author of short stories, was awarded the French Academy’s Grand Prix du Théâtre in 2001. He is one of Europe’s most popular authors.
Read an Excerpt
TWO GENTLEMEN FROM BRUSSELS
The day a thirty-year-old man in a blue suit rang at her door and asked her if she was the Geneviève Grenier, maiden name Piastre, who had married Édouard Grenier fifty-five years earlier, on the afternoon of April 13, in Sainte-Gudule Cathedral, her first impulse was to retort that she wasn't going to take part in any TV game show and slam the door in his face. But, as usual, she was reluctant to hurt anyone's feelings, and so she suppressed the thoughts that had crossed her mind and simply said, "Yes."
Delighted with the answer, the man in the blue suit told her that his name was Demeulemeester, that he was a lawyer, and that he was here to inform her that she was the sole legal heir of Monsieur Jean Daemens.
"What?" she replied, her eyes wide with surprise.
The lawyer feared he might have committed a blunder. "Didn't you know that he was dead?"
It was worse than that: she didn't even know he had ever existed! Jean Daemens? The name rang no bells. Was her mind as impaired as her legs? Was nothing working anymore? Jean Daemens? Jean Daemens? In some vague way, she felt guilty.
"My ... my memory isn't what it was. Tell me more. How old was this man?"
"You were born in the same year."
"Monsieur Daemens lived here in Brussels, at 22 Avenue Lepoutre."
"I never knew anyone in that neighborhood."
"He had a jewelry store in the Galerie de la Reine for a long time. L'Atout coeur, it was called."
"Oh yes, I remember that shop. Very stylish."
"He closed it down five years ago."
"I often looked in the window, but I never went in."
"It was far too expensive for me ... No, I don't know the man."
The lawyer scratched his head.
Geneviève Grenier thought it relevant to add, "Sorry."
At this, he looked up and said, articulating his words clearly, "Your secrets are your business, madame. I'm not here to pass comment on your relationship with Monsieur Daemens but to carry out his final wishes. As I've said, he made you his sole heir."
Stung by the insinuations in the lawyer's statement, Geneviève was about to defend herself when he went on, "My one question, Madame Grenier, is this: do you wish to claim the inheritance or not? Take a few days to think it over. Don't forget that, if you do claim it, you may inherit debts as well as assets."
"According to law, once a legatee accepts the terms of a will, he is authorized to receive the assets but is also obliged to settle the debts if there are any."
"And are there any?"
"There are sometimes."
"But in this case?"
"The law forbids me from answering that question, madame."
"You must know! Tell me!"
"It's the law, madame! I took an oath."
"My dear monsieur, I'm old enough to be your mother. You wouldn't lure your poor old mother into a trap, would you?"
"I can't tell you, madame. Here's my card. Come to my office when you've made up your mind."
The man clicked his heels and took his leave.
In the days that followed, Geneviève looked at the question from every angle.
When she phoned her friend Simone to ask her for advice, she presented the case as something that was happening to a neighbor.
"Before your neighbor makes up her mind," Simone immediately said, "she needs to find out a bit more about this man. What work did he do?"
"He owned a jewelry store."
"Doesn't mean anything. He might have been rich, but the place might just as easily have gone bust."
"He closed it down five years ago."
"You see! Bankrupt!"
"Come on, Simone, at our age people don't want to go on working."
"He lived on Avenue Lepoutre."
"Did he own his own apartment?"
"I think so."
"Not enough. If his business was going downhill, he probably mortgaged the apartment."
"If he did, who would know?"
"His bank, but they'd never give out the information. How did he die?"
"Well, if your neighbor's friend died of an illness, that's a good sign. If, on the other hand, he killed himself, I'd be worried. It'd mean he was up to his neck in debt."
"Not necessarily, Simone. He might have killed himself because he'd had bad news. That he had cancer for example."
"Mmm ... "
"Or that his children had died in a plane crash."
"Did he have children?"
"No. They aren't mentioned in his will."
"Mmm ... You're not going to convince me a suicide isn't suspicious!"
"My neighbor never said anything about suicide."
"Come to think of it, your neighbor might have bumped him off! He's her lover, she finds out he's put her in his will, so she kills him."
"Simone, we don't even know how he died!"
"That shows how clever she is."
"He wasn't her lover!"
"Oh, Geneviève, don't be so naive! He leaves her his entire fortune, and she wasn't his mistress? I find that hard to swallow!"
The question of whether to accept or decline always led to others: Who was this man? What connection was there between them? So, after getting a second negative opinion from a cousin in the insurance business, Geneviève decided to give up asking for advice.
From morning to evening, she leaned first in one direction and then in the other. Accept or decline? It was a big gamble! Even though she was losing sleep, she was rather enjoying this mental agitation: at last something adventurous was happening in her life ... She couldn't stop weighing the pros and cons.
After seventy-two hours, she made up her mind.
The woman who appeared at the office of the lawyer Demeulemeester had decided to be a gambler. Since the cautious thing to do would be to refuse the offer, she was going to accept it! She hated moderation, having spent too much of her life being moderate and restrained. And anyway, at the age of eighty, she was hardly running any risks. Even if she did inherit debts, she'd never be able to pay them off, since all she had was the tiny allowance from the state that a senior citizen was expected to live on. Even if she owed several million, nobody would dream of reducing her meager pension. But she preferred not to develop this line of thought, afraid she might discover that her supposed recklessness would prove to be her cleverest move, that in taking a risk she wasn't actually taking any risks at all ...
As it turned out, she had made the right decision! What she was inheriting was, in a word, a fortune: a lot of money in the bank, three apartments in Brussels, two of them rented out to tenants, all the furniture, paintings and works of art in storage at 22 Avenue Lepoutre, and, last but not least, a house in the south of France. As testimony to her newfound status, the lawyer offered to manage her inheritance for her.
"I'll think about it, monsieur. Wasn't there a letter with the will?"
"Any document for me?"
"What on earth possessed this man to choose me?"
"He didn't have any family."
"All right, but why me?"
The lawyer stared at her in silence. He was starting to have his doubts. Either, as he had supposed, she had been the man's mistress and preferred to be discreet about it, or she was telling the truth, and he was dealing with the strangest case he had ever come across ...
"You must have known him well," Geneviève insisted.
"No, my predecessor dealt with him. He was already on our files when I took over this practice."
"Where is he buried?"
Realizing that, if he wanted to keep Geneviève as his client, he had to show that he was willing to please, the lawyer disappeared, gave some orders to his clerks, and returned five minutes later, carrying a square sheet of paper.
"Ixelles Cemetery, Avenue 1, Block 2, fifth plot on the left."
Geneviève made her way there that very day.
* * *
The weather was foul. A murky light poured down from the overcast sky, emphasizing the grayness of the concrete walls and making the faces of the pedestrians look sullen. Even though it wasn't raining, the streets were wet, a threat more than a memory ...
The bus dropped Geneviève in front of the three cafés that framed the entrance to the cemetery. Behind the windows, nobody was sitting at the tables, and the waiters were yawning glumly. No funerals today ... Drawing her scarf more tightly around her neck, Geneviève shivered at the thought of those waiters' tasks: making comments on death, serving herb tea to widows and lemonades to orphans, pouring beer for men thirsty for forgetfulness. The table napkins were probably used more for brushing away tears than wiping mouths ...
Since the monumental wrought iron gate would not deign to open for her, Geneviève went in through the small gate on the left, nodded to the municipal employee in his green uniform, and came to a circular space surrounded by oaks. The gravel crunched as she turned onto the avenue. "Leave, stranger," it seemed to cry, "go back where you came from." Yes, they were right, she had no place in this city of the rich. Even though the houses of this city were vaults or mausoleums, their luxury, their pretentious statuary, their solemn obelisks reminded her that, being an insignificant, penniless woman, she had never known any of the residents. Some of the family monuments along the row of blue cedars were two hundred years old. Geneviève wondered why only the rich made so much of their family trees. Didn't the poor have ancestors?
Keeping her head down, she kept walking, telling herself that she could never afford a plot here.
Except that now she could ...
Horrified by these calculations, she shivered and made the sign of the cross to protect herself both from the place and from her wandering mind.
"1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4 ... 5. Here it is!"
The grave, its dark granite so polished that the leaning trees were reflected in it, bore the name Jean Daemens in gold lettering. To the right of the name, a photograph set into the gravestone showed its owner at the age of forty, dark-haired and dark-eyed, with open, clear-cut, virile features and full lips, smiling happily.
"What a handsome man!"
She didn't know him. She had never had any dealings with him. Definitely not. And yet there was something familiar about his face ... But what? It must be something to do with his physical type ... So many dark-haired males had those Mediterranean features, you think you've met them before. Maybe she'd come across him without noticing him ... Once, maybe even twice ... Where? In any case, she had never spoken to him: she was sure of that!
She continued gazing at the photograph. Why had he chosen her? What lay behind his generosity?
Could it be that she had a brother she never knew about, a twin brother? ... No, that was absurd! Her parents would have told her! And he would surely have made his presence known to his own sister sooner or later, wouldn't he?
That brought up a new question: why hadn't this Jean Daemens put in an appearance while he was alive? Why had he shown signs of life only after he was dead?
The mystery man was still smiling from the dark gray stone.
Geneviève had the embarrassing impression that her benefactor was staring at her out of his photograph. "Th-thank you," she stammered. "Thank you for your gift — it was wonderful, and so unexpected. Only, you'll have to explain sometime, won't you?"
The light hit the portrait. She took that as a promise.
"Good. I ... I'm counting on you."
Suddenly she burst into nervous laughter. How could she be so foolish as to talk out loud to a gravestone?
Turning her head, she discovered next to it — in plot number 4 — a similar grave to Jean Daemens's. More than similar — exactly the same! Apart from the name and the photograph, everything — the size of the stone, its color, the thin brass cross — was the same as its neighbor: the same gold lettering, the same typography, the same overall design.
"'Laurent Delphin,'" she read. "Oh, look, this one died five years earlier."
This similarity suggested a connection between the two graves, or rather between the two men. Geneviève examined the photograph. It showed a handsome, fair-haired man of about thirty, whom she found just as attractive as Jean Daemens. No, it was time to put a stop to this speculation.
"I'm going crazy ..."
She turned back to Jean Daemens with an apologetic expression on her face, made a slight bow, and noticed that, unlike the other graves, his had no flowers. Had he foreseen that nobody would ever lay flowers on his grave? Vowing to come back soon and leave a bouquet, she set off back to the gate.
"All the same," she said to herself as she turned off the avenue, "what a magnificent looking man!" Whereas that morning she had considered herself lucky to even receive such a gift, she now felt flattered that her benefactor was so handsome.
Which meant that the mystery of his intentions was becoming more unbearable to her with every passing second.
"Why? Why him and why me?"
* * *
Fifty-five years earlier, the bells of Sainte-Gudule Cathedral pealed out. In front of the altar, the young and beautiful Geneviève Piastre, fine as a lily in her white tulle dress, was marrying a strapping lad named Édouard Grenier, familiarly known as Eddy, who was blushing in embarrassment in his hired suit — in his job as a mechanic, he was more used to overalls. The two of them looked radiant, full of enthusiasm, impatient to be happy. It was thanks to an uncle that they had been able to have their wedding in this prestigious cathedral, where even the royal family held their celebrations, rather than in their gloomy neighborhood church. The priest cosseted them like two precious pieces of confectionery while, behind them, family and friends looked forward eagerly to celebrating until late into the night. It was obvious that Geneviève was entering on the happiest days of her life ...
It would never have occurred to her to look beyond the rows of seats occupied by her guests and see what was happening at the other end of the vast cathedral, close to the main door through which she had entered, heart pounding, on her father's arm.
In the shadow of the penultimate column, protected by the statue of Simon the Zealot holding a golden saw, two men were kneeling in meditation, their demeanor not so unlike that of the couple occupying the limelight up there at the altar.
When the priest asked Eddy Grenier if he would take Geneviève as his lawful wedded wife, one of the two men, the brown-haired one, uttered a firm yes. Then, when the priest asked Geneviève the corresponding question, the fair-haired man blushed and also consented. In spite of the distance separating them from the ceremony, they were acting as if the minister of God, there in the yellow light of the stained-glass windows, were addressing them.
"I now pronounce you man and wife," the priest said, and as the official bride and groom kissed each other on the lips, with the figure of Christ looking down on them benevolently, the unofficial spouses did the same in their corner. Just as Eddy and Geneviève exchanged rings to the sound of a hymn played by the organ, the brown-haired man took a case from his pocket, extracted two rings, and discreetly slipped them on his and the other man's fingers.
Nobody had noticed them.
And nobody paid any attention to them when, once the service was over, they remained on their knees, praying, while the wedding party dispersed down the central nave.
During the ritual congratulations in front of the cathedral, the two men continued to meditate in the charitable half-light. When the cheering and the car horns had subsided outside and they at last made up their minds to move, they came out onto the top of the empty steps, with no photographer to record the moment, with no family members to celebrate their happiness by throwing rice and applauding, and with no witness other than the Gothic tower of the town hall, at the top of which the archangel Michael was slaying a dragon in the dazzling sunlight.
They rushed to the brown-haired man's apartment at 22 Avenue Lepoutre and closed the shutters. They were freer than Geneviève and Eddy: they didn't need to wait until nightfall to express their love for each other beneath the sheets.
* * *
Much to his own astonishment, Jean had fallen in love with Laurent.
Since he had reached adulthood, Jean had amassed a great many fleeting encounters, and had had many lovers for whom he had felt nothing. His sensual appetites had turned him into a hunter, and he had spent hours cruising bars and saunas and parks and smoky nightclubs — he hated cigarette smoke — his head battered by music he also hated, in search of prey to take home with him.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Invisible Love"
Copyright © 2012 Albin Michel.
Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions.
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.
What People are Saying About This
“There is a surprising sweetness to Schmitt’s stories of redemption and reconciliation. They carry a slight pleasant aftertaste, a lingering hint of delight.”—The Boston Globe
“Schmitt’s stories capture a quirky, clever, feminist, very French sensibility."—Publishers Weekly
“Moral fables, gilded mini-legends: Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s stories are fiendishly efficient. Schmitt is a prodigious story-teller with a style both elegant and assured.”—Les Echos