Gisant [laid out]

Gwenaelle Aubry

(An excerpt from the novel No One, translated from the French by Trista Selous and with a new introduction from Rick Moody. Available February, 2012 from Tin House Books.)

My daughter’s birthday party had just finished. The apartment was full of balloons, garlands and children. One last little boy was still waiting for his parents, a little boy with long, curly, very dark hair. The telephone rang. I think it was already nightfall. The police were waiting for us outside my father’s building. They didn’t leave me alone with him. One of them preceded me into the room where he lay. He never took his eyes off me, told me not to touch a thing. I had to ask permission to kiss him, to take his hand. The inspector checked with my sister, seven months pregnant, that she had really been the one to find the body (it was indeed she who, worried that she hadn’t heard from him, had gone to his place, rung the bell in vain, broken down the door with the concierge. I hadn’t worried, I was expecting him over the next day to celebrate the birthday all over again). And to passers-by and neighbors he replied that it was nothing. In the little white room, already deep in shadow, my father was resting, lying on his narrow bed, tucked in like a child, a lighted lamp beside him. For a long time I sat there beside him, looking at all the objects that surrounded him, watched by the suspicious eyes of the man in uniform, I wanted to keep it all in my memory, record every detail, the pattern on the carpet, the papers on his desk, the opened pack of cigarettes, the shadow and light on the pictures, as though this décor that had been with him in life and was witness to his death contained the secret of both, as though remembering things were the guarantor of my fidelity. Of him I no longer had, did not yet have a memory. It was only when I leaned over to place a kiss on his forehead, still warm, smooth and calm, that the little girl inside me woke up, her child’s body quivered, and with it the very ancient, deep, silent, faithful imprint of this body beside it, these arms that had carried her, cradled her, the shoulders against which she had pressed her face, the hand that, at bedtime, would draw magical signs on her forehead to accompany her into sleep, to protect her from the night, this child’s body, awoken in an instant, was in an instant crushed, torn away, rooted out, along with him who had given her life, leaving her, the adult, more empty and hollow than a young woman who has just given birth. The madness of death! Madness of the body that remains, stranded, opaquely, stubbornly present, a monumental stone inscribed with signs now forever meaningless, madness of being torn apart by presence and absence, and of the days that followed when I sensed him lying there, worried and weighty, in a cold room by the Seine, kept back on the bank, frustrated in his desire, the great desire that had long been his, for nothingness, yes, to that I would have preferred annihilation, the void striking like lightning, a shipwreck with all hands, anything but this uncertain place, this chiaroscuro through which I wandered with him who was not quite dead while I was no longer really alive. It was many days before I was allowed to place, one radiant spring morning, beside this body lying under a sheet I’d been told not to lift, children’s drawings, wooden sailing boats, a bunch of narcissi, and to trace in turn on his veiled forehead the magical signs that would accompany him into the night, to stay waiting, again, in a little room open to the river, in the company of Arab women wrapped in multicolored cloth and weeping for a son – a twin death – then, sitting beside him, to cross the city, the noisy, living city that I saw going by behind the tinted windows of the hearse, as if I were going to leave it forever, with him. Many days, years, for signs to regain their power and change absence into memory, shipwreck into treasure, to veil that opaque forehead, that body without grave or rest, in a shroud of words, for him to wear it lightly.

Gwenaelle Aubry’s previous novels include Le diable detacheur (1999), L’Isolee (2002), L’Isolement (2003), and Notre vie s’use en transfigurations (2007), which was written while in residency at the Villa Medicis in Rome. In 2009, she won the Prix Femina for No One (Personne).