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Manuel and his wife were poor, and when they first looked for an apartment in Paris, they found only two dark rooms below the street level, giving onto a small stifling courtyard. Manuel was sad. He was an artist, and there was no light in which he could work. His wife did not care. She would go off each day to do her trapeze act for the circus.
In that dark under-the-earth place, his whole life assumed the character of an imprisonment. The concierges were extremely old, and the tenants who lived in the house seemed to have agreed to make it an old people's home.
So Manuel wandered through the streets until he came to a sign: FOR RENT. He was led to two attic rooms that looked like a hovel, but one of the rooms led to a terrace, and as Manuel stepped out onto this terrace he was greeted with the shouts of schoolgirls on recess. There was a school across the way, and the girls were playing in the yard under the terrace.
Manuel watched them for a few moments, his face glowing and expanding in a smile. He was taken with a slight trembling, like that of a man anticipating great pleasures. He wanted to move into the apartment immediately, but when evening came and he persuaded Thérèse to come and inspect it, she saw nothing but two uninhabitable rooms, dirty and neglected. Manuel repeated, "But there is light, there is light for painting, and there is a terrace." Thérèse shrugged her shoulders and said, "I wouldn't live here."
Then Manuel became crafty. He bought paint, cement and wood. He rented the two rooms and devoted himself to fixing them. He had never liked work, yet this time he set about doing the most meticulous carpentry and paint job ever seen, to make the place beautiful for Thérèse. As he painted, patched, cemented and hammered, he could hear the laughter of the little girls playing in the yard. But he contained himself, waiting for the right moment. He spun fantasies of what his life would be in this apartment across from a girls' school.
In two weeks the place was transformed. The walls were white, the doors closed properly, the closets could be used, the floors no longer had holes in them. Then he brought Thérèse to see it. She was quite overwhelmed and immediately agreed to move. In one day their belongings were brought on a cart. In this new place, Manuel said, he could paint because of the light. He was dancing about, gay and changed.
Thérèse was happy to see him in such a mood. The next morning, when things were but half-unpacked and they had slept on beds without sheets, Thérèse went to her trapeze work and Manuel was left alone to arrange things. But instead of unpacking he went downstairs and walked to the bird market. There he spent the grocery money that Thérèse had given him to buy a cage and two tropical birds. He went home and hung the cage outside on the terrace. He looked down for a moment at the little girls playing, watching their legs under the fluttering skirts. How they fell upon each other in games, how their hair flew behind as they ran! Their tiny new breasts were already beginning to show in their very plumpness. His face was flushed, but he did not linger. He had a plan, and it was too perfect to surrender now. For three days he spent the food money on birds of every kind. The terrace was now alive with birds.
Each morning at ten o'clock Thérèse was off to work, and the apartment was filled with sunlight and the laughter and cries of little girls.
The fourth day Manuel stepped out on the terrace. Ten o'clock was the recreation hour. The schoolyard was animated. To Manuel it was an orgy of legs and very short skirts, which revealed white panties during the games. He was growing feverish, standing there among his birds, but finally the plan succeeded; the girls looked up.
Manuel called, "Why don't you come and see? There are birds from all over the world. There is even a bird from Brazil with the head of a monkey."
The girls laughed, but after school, impelled by curiosity, several of them ran up to his apartment. Manuel was afraid that Thérèse would come in. So he just let them watch the birds and be amused by their colored beaks and antics and odd cries. He let them chatter and look, familiarize themselves with the place.
By the time Thérèse came at one-thirty, he had won from the girls the promise that they would come and see him the next day at noon as soon as school was over.
At the appointed hour they arrived to watch the birds, four little girls of all sizes-one with long blond hair, another with curls, the third plump and languid and the fourth slender and shy, with big eyes.
As they stood there watching the birds, Manuel became more and more nervous and excited. He said, "Excuse me, I have to go and pee."
He left the door of the toilet open so that they could see him. Only one of them, the shy one, turned her face and fixed her eyes on him. Manuel had his back to the girls but looked over his shoulder to see if they were watching him. When he noticed the shy girl, with her enormous eyes, she glanced away. Manuel was obliged to button himself up. He wanted to have his pleasure cautiously. That was enough for today.
Having seen the big eyes upon him set him dreaming for the rest of the day, offering his restless penis to the mirror, shaking it like a candy or a fruit or a gift.
Manuel was well aware that he was highly endowed by nature in the matter of size. If it was true that his penis wilted as soon as he came too close to a woman, as soon as he lay at a woman's side; if it was true that it failed him whenever he wanted to give Thérèse what she wanted, it was equally true that if a woman looked at him, it would grow to enormous proportion and behave in the most vivacious way. It was then that he was at his best.
During the hours when the girls were shut in their classrooms he would frequent the pissoirs of Paris, of which there were so many-the little round kiosks, the labyrinths without doors, out of which would always come men boldly buttoning themselves while staring straight into the face of a very elegant woman, a perfumed and chic woman, who would not be immediately aware that the man was coming out of a pissoir and who would then drop her eyes. This was one of Manuel's greatest delights.
He would also stand there against the urinal and look up at the houses above his head, where often there would be a woman leaning out of a window or standing on a balcony, and from up there they would see him holding his penis. He derived no pleasure from being stared at by men or else this would have been a paradise for him, for all men knew the trick of pissing away quietly while looking at his neighbor performing the same operation. And young boys would come in for no other reason but to see and perhaps help each other along in the act.
The day when the shy girl had looked at Manuel he was very happy. He thought that now it would be easier to satisfy himself fully if only he could control himself. What he feared was the impetuous desire that took hold of him to show himself no matter what the cost, and then all would be spoiled.
This was the moment for another visit, and the little girls were coming up the stairs. Manuel had donned a kimono, one that could easily slip open, by accident.
The birds were performing quite beautifully, bickering and kissing and quarreling. Manuel stood behind the girls. Suddenly his kimono opened, and when he found himself touching long blond hair, he lost his head. Instead of wrapping his kimono, he opened it wider, and as the girls turned they all saw him standing there in a trance, his big penis erect, pointing at them. They all took fright, like little birds, and ran away.
Copyright © 1979 by Rupert Pole as trustee under the Last Will and Testament of Anaïs Nin
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