Yanis’s world is Pierre, the son he raised as a single parent. For nearly twenty years, Yanis spent his nights as a cabdriver with Pierre always at his side, so as not to miss a moment in each other’s company. Yanis and Pierre also share a love of diving—in pursuit of that magical moment when they lose themselves in the deep sea. When enveloped by the natural world, father and son relish an escape from life’s pressures.
But for some time, Pierre has been tired. Too tired. Despite how attentively Yanis watched him, Yanis missed the early signs of illness. Faced with the harsh reality of his son’s numbered days, Yanis struggles to invent a life his son won’t have the time to live.
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|Publisher:||Other Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
John Cullen (1942–2021) is the translator of many books from Spanish, French, German, and Italian, including Siegfried Lenz’s The Turncoat, Juli Zeh’s Empty Hearts, Patrick Modiano’s Villa Triste, Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation, and Philippe Claudel’s Brodeck.
Read an Excerpt
There’s someone on the other side of the wall.
I don’t think I was asleep. Dozing a little, maybe. I’m lying on my back, I haven’t opened my eyes.
The floorboards creak, someone’s slowly approaching the bedroom. I’m not sure. Maybe I’m still dreaming.
The footsteps move away toward the kitchen. Seconds drag by, and now I no longer hear the slightest sound.
Suppose it wasn’t Pierre?
It’s possible, after all; it could have been a burglar. A skillful, well-trained sort of fellow—I didn’t notice anything that sounded like an entry. He may have picked the lock and then gently opened the door.
It’s easy to verify. I can just get up and go to see. I could even satisfy my curiosity by calling out; Pierre will answer if he hears me. The thief, on the other hand, will flee the scene. In either case, I resolve the doubt.
If I want to know, all I have to do is act. So why am I staying put?
It’s strange, this impression I have: the feeling that I would spoil everything. Because there’s an equilibrium to consider. At bottom, it’s almost a game: someone’s walking around on the other side of the wall; it’s not Pierre, it’s not a burglar; it’s as if they were superimposed. Yes, that’s it. As long as I don’t make sure, it’s a little bit of both.
In the end, I sat up. My reflections seemed stupid. Maybe the idea of a burglar had ended up worrying me—I don’t know. Let’s just say that I wanted to see my son.
I got out of bed and checked the clock. I’d hardly slept. I sighed, thinking I’d pay for that at the end of the night. As I was leaving the bedroom, I saw Pierre. He was sitting outside on the balcony. He’d put some cookies and a glass of milk on the little iron table.
Pierre is twenty and never misses an opportunity to snack. When I point this out to him, he shrugs and smiles. I poured myself a cup of coffee in the kitchen—I can’t stand milk. I’ve always liked cookies, but the things he eats are too sweet for me. By the time I joined him, he’d already finished half the packet. “Hey, Dad.”
He smiled at me with a cookie in his mouth and then asked me how my day had gone.
In the course of the morning, I’d picked up several fares at the airport, all of them bound for the center of town. Most of my customers had never detached themselves from their phones; the others had slept with their heads against the window. I’m no longer surprised to hear them start snoring as soon as they’ve settled into the back seat. In the early afternoon, I came home and went to bed.
None of that was very interesting, so I simply answered “Fine” and asked him the same question.
Pierre’s a third-year biology student. He gave me a detailed description of his day. After lunch, he’d gone to his drama club. Not that he likes the theater, exactly, because Pierre doesn’t ever attend plays; he prefers to be one of the performers. He’s been that way since he was little.
He’d spent the afternoon with the club. I don’t understand why he never seems to have classes. Sometimes I ask him for an explanation, but he gets his back up and says I’ve never been to a university. “You can’t understand.”
His troupe is preparing a new production. “An original work,” he specifies. He’s the author.
Pierre really likes to write. That’s been the case for longer than I can remember. When he was younger, he used to fill up entire notebooks.
He talks to me about his play and I nod, because he’s told me the plot about ten times already. His eyes shine while he recites the scenes. Rebellion, friendship, fear, and justice. Also love. His concoction contains a little of everything.
“You see, Dad? You should read it!”
I have no excuse. He printed out the text for me last month. I promised to read it, and it’s been lying on my night table ever since.
He describes the rehearsals. He gestures dramatically, accompanying himself with exaggerated movements. He laughs a little, but his face hardens when he talks about the leading actors—a couple, if I’ve understood him right.
“The guy—he’s just out of his depth.”
The girl, however: a monster talent. He can already imagine her on the screen. I suppose she must be pretty; long hair, angelic smile, good student. My Pierrot always falls in love with the girls at the top of his class.
I figure he’ll go on about her for a while, but I’m wrong: in a flash, he returns to his critique of the leading man. This time, it’s more scathing. His diction’s bad, his acting grotesque. And he’s got a big head to boot.
“He thinks he’s a star!”
I can’t help smiling. Pierre blushes. He says, “Yeah, right, I admit it. I’m jealous.” And he starts laughing.
After that, he clears the table. His cheeks seem a little gaunt. It’s as though he’s gotten tired all of a sudden, and slightly feverish. When I ask, he says no, everything’s fine. “It’s almost the weekend. It’s normal to be a bit exhausted.” I don’t insist.
· · ·
It’s Thursday, so he’s going out. I don’t even ask where he’s headed. It’s the same thing every week—I’ve grown used to it.
I’ll go on duty at ten tonight. In the meantime, James Bond is on TV. One of the films with Roger Moore. The human zucchini. Pierre laughs when I say that.
I heat up two slices of quiche, but he won’t take one. He’ll stop and get a sandwich on the way. He kisses me and puts on his jacket. “I’ll be home late, maybe even after you.” I’m not supposed to worry.
When the door bangs shut, I freeze for a few seconds. In the kitchen, the quiche is ogling me through the glass door of the oven. Ah well. I’ll eat both slices.
I think I was really in love with Lucille. Put like that, it sounds weird. The first years were great. It’s hard to understand how it could all have gone so wrong.
When I met her, she already had her humanitarian side. She was a member of several associations, she donated a lot of money. To fight hunger, war, AIDS. There was also that thing with the panda.
It irritated me to see their self-satisfied faces when they persuaded her to sign up. Automatic withdrawal, fifteen euros a month: the orphans thank you. I never liked the guys who did that sort of work. Cultivators of guilt: “Look me in the eyes when I talk about poverty and squalor.” They targeted Lucille because she was weak. You didn’t have to observe her for very long to figure that out. Watch her eyes for a minute, maybe less. A sadness heavy enough to split concrete would come back at you like a boomerang. Me, I wanted to take her in my arms, but not those boys, not them: real vultures. Without an ounce of shame.
They circled around her, salivating. “You see that one, the one lagging behind a little? There could be a way to get something out of her.”
Well, all right, maybe that’s a caricature. I used to laugh at Lucille, but affectionately. I’d scold her for being naive, because, after all, I thought it was pretentious to want to change the world. But I always let her go ahead and try. She loved doing that, and it’s a passion like any other.
I didn’t see the moment when she went over the edge. With hindsight, I tell myself that I might have been able to do something. At least in the beginning, when she began to escape me. But I had to work too much, and the kid, even when he was two, still took up an incredible amount of space and time. Besides, the difference wasn’t all that noticeable. I mean, she’d always been that way. Fragile, too sensitive. Not sad, no, but melancholy. Yes, there’s a word I like a lot. Melancholy.
Her doctors didn’t say it like that. “A disease,” they said. It had a name I didn’t want to remember. A problem inside the head, something ultimately invisible. It’s frustrating, because it’s so hard to imagine.
Of course, her penchant for misery hadn’t escaped my notice. Woe always came upon her in phases, marked by long periods of sighing. Nevertheless, I fell in love with her, because you can’t control everything. Maybe I liked being able to help her.
When she was sinking into depression, I played the clown. Sometimes she’d smile.
On the days when all went well, there was such joy— it’s impossible to explain. I believe you have to go through pain before you can really enjoy the good times. Pierre’s birth had made her so happy. It was such a beautiful success. Concrete proof that what we had could work.
In fact, I always thought we’d make it through. Maybe I still do. It wasn’t a big problem. It made life a roller-coaster, but life’s often like that. When you hit bottom, you brace yourself and push off to climb back up. I found out a whole lot of things by suffering. Misery has its place; if it batters you, you can leave it a little room.
When Lucille started spending time with her group, I didn’t get it at first. I didn’t see the difference. Her groups, her associations, those all seemed to me to be more or less the same old story. Pierre was little, and I thought she needed some freedom. I was confident we’d make yet another comeback.
I was wrong.
When she stopped eating fish, I wasn’t surprised. She didn’t like meat. Then came eggs, milk, honey. She would talk about nature with spellbound eyes. At the time, she used to say she’d been a dove in a former life. I don’t think she believed that, but she put her heart into it. In any case, it remained a circus, and it made me laugh a lot. One day when she was biting into a tomato, I told her she might be chowing down on my father. The fruit caught me right in the face.So that was how she got inside her circle. From that angle, I mean. But it wasn’t just a vegetable affair. There was a guy. He said his name was Yalta. A lot of it revolved around him. I soon figured out why they didn’t eat anything, considering what they were treating themselves to . . . though I never knew what it was. Something mind-blowing, without a doubt.
My Lucille, in the underworld. I can see her now: easy meat. She dove in head first, and by the time I realized it, it was too late. All the same, I got her out of the fix she was in, because you can’t act like a total idiot. I remember Yalta when my fist landed on his nose. He cried like a child. After a stay in the clinic, Lucille came back home. I did all I could, but I’d already lost her.