La Péniche renoue avec son habitude d’accueillir dans ses pages des textes, des poèmes, des nouvelles aux plumes anonymes ou non, écrites par des sciencepistes poètes et poétesses, écrivain.es, littéraires, ou tout simplement attaché.es aux mots et à leurs pouvoirs. La nouvelle d’aujourd’hui, en anglais s’il vous plaît s’intitule A Night at 1, Rue Fréchot.
To Mallory Holloway
My dear friend,
I am really sorry I have not shown signs of life for a few days. I have lived in the depths of torment and fears, and as I am now realizing what happened, I need to confess to you what frightening tribulations I have experienced. It all started with our last meeting, a week ago. I suppose you remember well our little party at the Montmartre cemetery on Friday night: we were mocking the dead’s names on their graves, drinking some beer to warm up in the chilly night and we finally settled on Sanson’s family grave, since it offered enough room for both of us to lay down and look at the stars. There was a cloudless sky so we could notice each constellation such as Ursa Major and its fellow Ursa Minor and the sworn enemies Scorpion and Sagittarius facing each other. The soft murmur of the leaves quivering under the light breeze echoed in the vast cemetery and soothed us. Slowly, you turned over and whispered into my ear:
‘I wonder who this Sanson family is… It is written that some of them were official executioners of Paris. How ghoulish!’
‘Mallory, how can you state that when you are lying down on a grave?’ I laughed. ‘Anyway I just googled it and Charles-Henri Sanson actually guillotined Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and even Robespierre! Oh and listen: the last Sanson was fired because he pawned the guillotine during a bet he lost… and ewww’, I exclaimed as I got back on my feet, ‘he was gay!’
You joined me on the ground with a pout of disgust on your face and shouting ‘Yuck!’. You told me once again how much you hated LGBT+ people because they are unnatural and corrupting. Then, you suggested a challenge. I can tell you it was an idiotic bet now that I know what will happen later. Still, I accepted it and I stood up next to you, and at the count of three I spat right on Sanson’s engraved name on the headstone. We roared with laughter. You were preparing for your turn when all of a sudden an intense beam of light dazzled us: it was the cemetery watchman.
‘What are you doing here, young ladies?’ he yelled. ‘It is forbidden to be in the cemetery at this time. What were you two playing at?’ he asked. Then he realized what we were doing so he turned red with anger and yelled:
‘You know what is going to happen then, right? I am calling the police right now and you two are coming with me!’
It was out of the question to go with him and to stay all night long at the police station. I looked into your eyes, whispered ‘Good luck’ and winked at you. It was our signal. We split and ran in different directions so that the watchman would be caught by surprise. And it worked. I heard him swear while I was hurtling down the hill and finally found myself on Boulevard de Clichy in about ten minutes.
I was catching my breath again for five minutes when I heard police sirens behind me. I resumed running straight away to Pigalle. Arrived there, I could hear the sirens growing louder and I looked for a bar or a nightclub in which I could hide. Unfortunately, I had to wait in the queue for each place I could enter: Pigalle is always full of people during summertime. I had no other choice but to look for a hiding place in the adjacent streets. I noticed a metallic dividing wall between the Monop’ and the international drugstore, but from where I was I could see that there was a street behind it. Time was running and it was probably my only way-out. I approached the wall and noticed a little breach. Luckily, I am quite thin so I managed to pass through the wall. It was a close call! I could hear police cars idling in front of the dividing wall. They could break it down and arrest me at any minute. I looked around me and realized where I was. This was Avenue Frochot, where all the richest show-business stars live. All sorts of houses came one after another along the cobbled street, each more beautiful than the one before: Flemish, medieval, neoclassical and Art Deco. Each of them were protected by low stone wall and wrought iron front gates surmounted by wild green plants. I could discern the different perfume of flowers from the street: the slight smell of roses, the strong whiff of jasmine and the lemongrass-like scent of geranium. I closed my eyes for a minute, enjoying this wonderful variety of smells in the silence of the night. A deafening noise brought me back to the real world: it was the police smashing the wall with a loud strident clang. I looked around me again and spotted an open door of a house which seemed deserted. I went inside and shut the door behind me, looking out through the window for the police.
After about five minutes, I caught sight of three officers walking along the avenue. They stopped in front of the house I was in – the number 1 – but seemed to hesitate. I heard them talking about being afraid to come in because it was a ‘haunted house’. I chuckled inwardly: three officers could not arrest a young delinquent like me because they were too frightened of the house! I watched them making their decision. Finally, they decided to wait until I came out because there was no exit in the house other than the front door. Once again, I laughed inside. I could perfectly escape through the roof since I was a great amateur of parkour and freerunning. Still, I had to wait until the sun rose because it was too dangerous to do parkour in the dark.
Thus, I had to occupy my mind before dawn. It was half past midnight, so I had to wait for about five hours. For the first time, I observed the house itself. It must have been deserted for at least ten years: there was a thick coat of dust on the furniture and even on the ground, and it smelled musty. The entrance hall was linked to the kitchen which was in a pitiful state: the window was broken and you could feel a light breeze from the fresh air outside. Every two minutes you could hear water drop from the kitchen tap and splash on the sink. I tried to turn it off but I did not manage to. There was nothing left: the fridge, the cupboard and all the shelves were empty. There was just a small painting hooked to a nail. The man in the painting had a severe look and his eyes seemed to follow me wherever I went, a very nice optical illusion. Or so I thought.
After going through the kitchen, I reached the living-room. It was vast with a fireplace and a huge library which covered the largest wall. It was surrounded by two spiral staircases, one on each side, which probably led to the second floor. I put my phone in flashlight mode and started to scan the books in the library. At this moment, I discovered two things: first I realized while taking my phone out of its pocket that there was no network here; second and more interestingly, there were several books by a certain Matthieu Galey in this library. As I looked at his portrait on the second page of his Journal, I recognized the face from the painting I had seen in the kitchen. Thus, the former owner of this house was a writer, probably renowned considering the numerous books and critiques he had published.
I started to read his Journal, in which he wrote his friends’ life in the first person. If I hadn’t known it was him, I could barely believe that his friends had not written that; he was really good at putting himself in his friends’ shoes. His writing style changed so much from one person to another that I could swear he had accessed their minds and reflections, as if he possessed them. Still, something struck me. Every time, at the end of each chapter dedicated to one of his friends – and in which he wrote in the first person to make the reader think that his friend had written it – the last sentence was: ‘Remember, we must never forget that the job of an artist is always to deepen the mystery’. This was an intriguing way to end his chapters, as if after all he wanted the reader to know that he was the author; it was his signature. I skimmed some of his other texts and I realized he was homosexual – it was definitely not a good night. With anger and disgust, I tore the pages up into paper shreds and threw them like confetti.
I continued my exploration of the house. There were a lot of paintings in the living-room and one held my attention. It was a representation of Louis XVI’s execution by guillotine. I smiled when I saw the executioner, remembering that I had spat on his grave about an hour ago. Then I noticed a detail on the painting that turned my blood to ice: one of the character in the crowd was not looking at the execution. Instead, she was facing the painter, or at least the viewer. This character represented a young woman in her early twenties, red-haired with blue eyes, quite thin and short. Except for the clothes, she looked just like me.
Suddenly, I jumped from surprise as I heard music resonating in the house. At first, it was a few notes from a piano, and then a female voice started to sing. It was probably nice, but I could not appreciate the music, too anguished, wondering how it had started. I walked cautiously to the stairs and understood that the music was coming from upstairs. I went up step by step, hoping I would not meet some drug addict living here. On the second floor, I came to the room on the left, where the music seemed to come from. This room was almost empty, there were only a few shelves fixed on the walls, a large desk with a broken wooden chair laid on its side and once again a painting. A turntable had been placed on the desk and a vinyl record was spinning on it. I looked at the sleeve:
JEANNETTE’S WEDDING, A COMIC OPERA BY VICTOR MASSÉ, 1853
This name seemed familiar but I had neither watched nor listened to his operas before. I took a look at the rest of the room. There was a strange collection of bowls in which – how dreadful! – there were human limbs, such as a hand, a foot or a brain. The worse part of it were the corpses of deformed fetuses: they looked like very small babies but most of them had a pathology, such as only one eye or a flattened head or two fetuses sharing the same head – conjoined babies I guess. I restrained myself from vomiting my last meal. Who was this Matthieu Galey? Why did he collect these monstrous things? I turned aside. As I looked in front of me I felt a cold sweat rolling on my back. It was the painting, the one I had seen downstairs!! Everything was exactly the same, except for the young woman who looked like me. Here she was dancing with the crowd at the other extremity of the painting, closer to the scaffold. Sanson was smiling at her while showing Louis XVI’s head to the people. And she was dancing and laughing, carefree. Confused, I was observing the picture when abruptly the floor creaked above me. I heard slight footsteps heading quickly to the stairs, which were located at the end of the corridor, facing the door of my room. I leaped toward the door and stood against the wall, holding a leg of the broken chair I had found on my way, ready to hit the unidentified person. Yet the footsteps stopped and there was a heavy silence; the music had ended and the vinyl record spun in a vacuum. I was literally petrified. I waited about a quarter hour before moving and knocked something down onto the floor. I picked it up. It was a beautiful ancient mirror in a red velvet box. As I was looking at it, I perceived movements behind me and the diabolic face of Matthieu Galey with a cruel smile appeared next to me in the reflection of the mirror. I screamed and threw the piece of wood I had in my right hand toward the place the writer had appeared in the mirror. How surprised I was when I turned around and realized that there was only his picture fixed to the wall. Still, he looked so real in the reflection, much more than right now. Moreover, I did not remember noticing this painting when I entered the room.
I could not bear this house one more minute I had to leave it even though it would be dangerous to go on the roof at two o’clock. I walked through the corridor to go upstairs. The floor creaked under my step but I kept moving with the feeble beam of light of my flashlight, standing guard. I was already halfway when the door of the desk-room suddenly closed by itself, the wind slamming it. The door next to me opened in a squeak and the howling of the wind made me move backwards to the end of the corridor. In the hurry, I did not notice the broken floorboard and stumbled on it, hitting my head on the floor. Stunned, it took me a few minutes before I came round, blood pouring from my forehead. I pressed a tissue I had in my pocket against the wound and as I was getting back on my feet I found myself face to face with the painting. Once again it had changed. This time, I had been beaten and I was dragged by the people to the scaffold: I was the accused and I was about to be killed. Sanson was laughing at me.
This sight was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I squatted down in front of the stairs and burst into tears. That’s it! I could not die now, I was too young! I could hear Galey’s demonic laughter mocking my pitiful condition. I don’t know how long I stayed in this position, but as I picked myself back up, the sun started to rise in the orange sky. A ray of hope reinvigorated me and I went upstairs to the attic. I barely took a look at the painting hung up halfway through. The room was much dustier than the others and it seemed that a fauna had developed. Rats and ravens had made their nests in the frame and they all flew away as I came nearer. It became easier to discern everything in the dark as the sun rose higher and higher. I saw police officers downstairs in the street, still waiting for me. For the first time in several hours, I roared with laughter and felt free, although I was a bit hysterical. Nevertheless, I was not afraid of dying anymore.
There was a sash-window in the attic that led to the roof of the house next to mine. I opened it and a fresh cold air blew out my last anxieties. I laid down to pass through the small window and poked my head through it. I was about to push myself to the other side when the upper sash of the window fell on my neck. For a few seconds I could see the dazzling light of the sun rising in the rosy sky, hear the birds singing in the trees and smell one last time the mix of flower scents. Then, everything blurred and became dark.
I woke up in a soft and fluffy bed, in a white room. A sunbeam coming from the opened window on my right side warmed me up. I sighed with happiness. I got slowly on my feet and looked at myself in the mirror fixed above a small chest of drawers. There was no sign of my previous wounds; my skin was absolutely smooth and there was no scar. I opened the door and found myself in a huge and beautiful garden of delight, full of exotic flowers and trees, plants that I had never seen before; perfumes that I had never smelled before; fruits that I had never tasted before. A warm river formed a pool in this amazing forest and I could let myself be carried along the weak flow. There was an incredible amount of animals: horses, elephants, giraffes, doves, dolphins… I also met some people here, they were all nice and young, and watching people of the same sex kissing each other did not bother me anymore. There was only one old man in this area, very wise and inspiring, and he was the owner of the garden.
Now that I recovered, I need to come back to our world. I know I did not give you that many details of how I recovered and how I found myself in this garden but I am running out of time and I prefer to tell you this in person. I lost my phone in the attic and people don’t use phones here; this is why I wrote you this long letter to inform you that I am coming for you in Paris. I am really sorry I did not let you know about my visit before but I am sure you will be, like me, very excited to see me again. I should arrive the same day you receive this letter, but I will not appear before you finish reading it. How will I know? You will very soon understand.
Remember, we must never forget that the job of an artist is always to deepen the mystery.
Your affectionate friend,
Une nouvelle écrite par C. M.