Though I take care to bolt the door before I light the stove and squat beside it fanning the flames with great gusts of the bellows, there’s always someone there to put a hand on my shoulder and say, “Why bother?”
I leap to my feet, already too late: nothing remains but the echo of a voice and the vivid pressure of a hand. Why bother asking me why bother? Who is this coward, this turntail, who refuses to make himself known?
Tonight, I’ve locked my dog in with me, and when I turn my back on the room, making ready to strike the first match, what do you know? He starts barking. First he makes straight for the door, then comes back to me slowly, bounding and circling an invisible someone. Closer still he comes, till he’s pressed up against me, foaming at the muzzle, lips pulled back to bare fierce fangs. He faces down the enemy. But then in a whisper, as if right beside my ear, I hear the voice say, “I shall return no more.”
And it’s over. Now I’ve no longer any need to watch my back, but I feel alone. That strange visitor who shall return no more—why, oh why didn’t I offer him a seat?
I don’t know if the earth is round, if we can ever avoid winding up right back where we started from, but I do know it’s full of holes we spend our time avoiding, and in the end these holes determine our direction. You run into crazies dashing headlong who fall into the first hole they find, from the depths of which their voices come begging. Will you stop? Will you help them get out, or let yourself be dragged in too? A thorny debate the finest have spent their lives on. I myself turn a deaf ear; they’re clumsy souls whose cries allow me to keep moving through the night. For my duty it is to go farther than they, to stake out a hole of my very own where, alone, I shall await my death in silence.
No one wants to make love anymore ever since it happened, ever since women began giving birth to… We cannot give them a name, we haven’t found the words, we haven’t the courage. We look upon women for days on end as lost continents. It’s too late now; and so humanity will disappear. Tranquility, repose, lean your head back in your hands and tell yourself it’s over, we had a good run, we built lots of bridges, lots of boats, lots of factories, soon nothing will be left but the waves upon the cliffs and hats floating on the waters.
Writer, poet, and painter Pierre Bettencourt (1917-2006) was, despite coming from a prominent family, a retiring figure and lifelong outsider artist. His early works were printed during the Nazi occupation on a family-owned press he later used to publish Antonin Artaud, Francis Ponge, Henri Michaux, and Jean Dubuffet. In the 1950s and 60s, he was a frequent contributor to the Nouvelle revue française, and Gallimard later put out a volume of his selected works. His work has apppeared in English translation in Subtropics, the Collagist, and Anomalous.
Edward Gauvin recently received a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Translation Fellowship to work on Pierre Bettencourt, whom he has written about at Weird Fiction Review. He has received prizes, fellowships, and residencies from PEN America, the Fulbright program, Ledig House, the Lannan Foundation, and the French Embassy. Other publications have appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s, and World Literature Today. The translator of over 300 graphic novels, he is a contributing editor for comics at Words Without Borders.