Authors: Michel Houellebecq
Tags: #Fiction, #Classics
‘I thought we …’ She hesitated. ‘I thought we might get together tomorrow.’
‘Tomorrow’s your birthday. Did you forget?’
‘Yes. Yes, to tell the truth, I’d forgotten all about it.’
‘And also …’ She hesitated again. ‘There’s something I have to tell you. And it would be good to see you, too.’
Saturday, 21 May
I woke at four in the morning. After Myriam had called, I’d finished
, the book was indisputably a masterpiece, I’d hardly got three hours of sleep. The woman Huysmans looked for all his life he had already described when he was twenty-seven or -eight, in
, his first novel, published in Brussels in 1876. He wanted a good little cook who could also turn herself into a whore, and he wanted this on a fixed schedule. It didn’t seem so hard, turning into a whore, it seemed easier than making a good béarnaise, yet he sought this woman in vain. For the moment, I wasn’t doing much better. It’s not that I minded turning forty-four, it was just another birthday, except that Huysmans was forty-four years old, exactly, when he found God. From 12 July to 20 July, 1892, he paid his first visit to Igny Abbey, in the Marne. On 14 July he made confession, after much hesitation, which hesitation he scrupulously recounts in
. On 15 July, for the first time since he was a boy, he took communion.
While I was writing my dissertation on Huysmans, I’d spent a week at Ligugé Abbey, where he eventually took lay orders, and another week at Igny Abbey. Although Igny was completely destroyed during the First World War, my stay there had been a great help to me. The decor and the furniture, modernised of course, had retained the same simplicity, the nakedness that impressed Huysmans, and the daily schedule of the various prayers and offices was unchanged, from the Angelus at four in the morning to the Salve Regina at night. Meals were taken in silence, which was very restful after the university cafeteria; and I remembered that the monks made chocolate and macaroons. Their handiwork, recommended by the Petit Futé, could be found all over France.
I could easily understand how someone might be attracted to the monastic life, even though I didn’t see things the way Huysmans did, at all. I couldn’t share the disgust he claimed to feel for the carnal passions. I couldn’t even make sense of it. Generally speaking, my body was the seat of various painful afflictions – headaches, rashes, toothaches, haemorrhoids – that followed one after another, without interruption, and almost never left me in peace – and I was only forty-four! What would it be like when I was fifty, sixty, older? I’d be no more than a jumble of organs in slow decomposition, my life an unending torment, grim, joyless and mean. When you got right down to it, my cock was the one organ that hadn’t presented itself to my consciousness through pain, only through pleasure. Modest but robust, it had always served me faithfully. Or, you could argue, I had served it – if so, its yoke had been easy. It never gave me orders. It sometimes encouraged me to get out more, but it encouraged me humbly, without bitterness or anger. This past evening, I knew, it had interceded on Myriam’s behalf. It had always enjoyed good relations with Myriam, Myriam had always treated it with affection and respect, and this had given me an enormous amount of pleasure. And sources of pleasure were hard to come by. In the end, my cock was all I had. My interest in the life of the mind had greatly diminished; my social life was hardly more satisfying than the life of my body; it, too, presented itself as a series of petty annoyances – clogged sink, slow Wi-Fi, points on my licence, dishonest cleaning woman, mistakes in my tax return – and these, too, followed one after another without interruption, and almost never left me in peace. In the monastery, I imagined, one left most of these worries behind. One laid down the burden of one’s individual existence. One renounced pleasure, too, but there was a case to be made for that. It was a shame, I thought while I read, that Huysmans spent so much of
insisting on his disgust at the debauches in his past. Here, perhaps, he hadn’t been completely honest. What attracted him about the monastery, I suspected, wasn’t so much that one escaped from the quest after carnal pleasures; it was more that one could be freed from the exhausting and dreary succession of aggravations that made up daily life, from everything that he had described with such mastery in
. In the monastery, at least, one was assured of room and board – and, best-case scenario, eternal life as a bonus.
Myriam came over at seven. ‘Happy birthday, François …’ she said in a tiny little voice when I opened the door, then she threw herself into my arms. Our lips and tongues met in a long, voluptuous kiss. As I walked her into the living room, I saw she was dressed even more sexily than last time. She had on another black miniskirt, even shorter than the one before, and stockings: when she sat down on the sofa I could see a garter, black against the top of her very white thigh. Her blouse, also black, was very sheer. I could see her breasts moving underneath. I realised that my fingers could still recall the touch of her aureoles. She gave a hesitant smile. There was something momentous and undecided in the air.
‘Did you bring me a present?’ I asked in what I hoped was a joking tone of voice, to lighten things up.
‘No,’ she answered gravely. ‘I couldn’t find anything that seemed right.’
After another silence, she suddenly spread her thighs wide; she was naked under her skirt, and it was so short that I could see the outline of her hairless, unabashed pussy. ‘I’m giving you a blow job,’ she said, ‘a good one. Come here, sit on the edge of the sofa.’
I obeyed, letting her undress me. She kneeled down and began by tonguing my arsehole, slowly and tenderly, then she took me by the hand and raised me to my feet. I leaned back against the wall. She kneeled down again and began licking my balls, all the while wanking me off with short quick strokes.
‘Tell me when you want me to suck you,’ she said, pausing. I waited and waited, until my desire overwhelmed me. ‘Now,’ I said.
I looked her in the eye just before she touched her tongue to my cock; seeing her do it turned me on even more. She was in a strange state, a frenzy of concentration, as her tongue swirled over my glans, now fast, now hard and slow; she squeezed the base of my cock in her left hand, and with her right hand she stroked my balls. Waves of pleasure surged and swept over my consciousness. I could hardly stand, I was about to faint. Just before I exploded into a cry, I found the strength to beg her, ‘Stop … Stop …’ I hardly recognised my own voice – it was distorted, almost inaudible.
‘You don’t want to come in my mouth?’
‘No – not now.’
‘All right … I hope that means you’ll want to fuck me later on. Let’s have something to eat.’
This time I’d ordered the sushi in advance. It had been sitting in the fridge since mid-afternoon. I’d also chilled two bottles of champagne.
‘You know, François …’ she said, after she’d taken a first sip, ‘I’m not a whore. I’m not a nymphomaniac, either. When I go down on you, it’s because I love you. I do love you, you know?’
I did know. And I knew there was something else, something she hadn’t yet told me. I looked deep into her eyes, but I didn’t know how to ask what was the matter. She finished her champagne, sighed, poured another and said: ‘My parents are leaving the country.’
I was speechless. She drained her glass and poured herself a third.
‘They’re emigrating to Israel. They fly to Tel Aviv on Friday. They’re not even waiting for the run-offs. The crazy part is, they’ve done it all behind our backs, completely in secret. They opened a bank account in Israel, they lined up a flat, my father cashed in his pension, they put the house up for sale, and they never said a word to any of us. My little sister and brother I could maybe understand, they’re pretty young, but I’m twenty-two years old and they didn’t even consult me. They’re not forcing me to go with them. If I insist, they’ll rent me a room in Paris, but we do have the summer break coming up, and I don’t see how I can leave them, not right now. They’re too scared. I hadn’t really noticed till now, but in the last few months they’ve stopped going out. The only people they still see are other Jews. They stay in at night, working each other up – and they’re not the only ones, they’ve got at least five other friends who’ve sold everything so they can move to Israel. I spent a whole night arguing with them, but they’ve made up their minds. They’re convinced that something really bad is going to happen to Jews in France. It’s weird, it’s like a delayed reaction fifty years after the war. I told them they’re being idiots, the National Front stopped being anti-Semitic a long time ago –’
‘It wasn’t all that long ago. You’re too young to remember, but the father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, he still had connections to the old French far right. He was a drunk and a total philistine, he certainly hadn’t read Drumont or Maurras, but I’m sure he heard people talk about them. They were part of his mental landscape. The daughter doesn’t even know who they are, obviously. At any rate, even if the Muslim wins, I don’t think you’ve got much to worry about. He’s still allied with the Socialists, he can’t just do whatever he wants …’
‘Hmm …’ She shook her head, unconvinced. ‘I guess I’m less optimistic than you are. When a Muslim party comes to power, it’s never good for the Jews. Can you think of a time it was?’
I let this go. I didn’t really know much about history. I hadn’t paid attention at school, and since then I’d never managed to read a history book, at least not all the way through.
She poured another glass. That was certainly the thing to do, considering – to get slightly drunk. Besides, it was good champagne.
‘My brother and sister can attend the French school, and I could go to Tel Aviv University. They’d take my credits. But what am I going to do in Israel? I don’t speak a word of Hebrew. France is my country.’
Her voice changed, I could tell she was on the edge of tears. ‘I love France,’ she said, in a more and more broken voice, ‘I love … I don’t know … I love the cheese.’
‘I have some!’ I bounded to my feet clownishly, trying to defuse the situation, and went to look in the fridge. In point of fact, I had picked up some Saint-Marcellin, some Comté, some Bleu des Causses. I also opened a bottle of white wine, but she didn’t even notice.
‘And also … and also, I don’t want us to break up,’ she said, then she started to sob. I went to her and held her in my arms. I couldn’t think what to say. I led her to the bedroom and held her some more. She went on softly crying.
I woke around four. There was a full moon out, and it shone brightly in the bedroom. Myriam lay on her stomach, in a T-shirt. The boulevard was practically empty. After two or three minutes a Renault Trafic minivan rolled up in front of my block. Two Chinese men got out to smoke a cigarette, looked around, then for no apparent reason climbed back into the minivan and drove off towards Porte d’Italie. I went back to bed and caressed her arse. She pressed herself against me but didn’t wake up.
I turned her over, spread her thighs and touched her pussy; almost immediately, she was wet, and I slipped inside her. She had always liked this simple position. I lifted her legs so I could go in really deep, and I started to move in and out. People often describe a woman’s pleasure as complex, mysterious; but for me, the workings of my own pleasure were even more unknown. All at once I felt that I could control myself as long as I had to, that I could deliberately hold back the pleasure mounting inside me. My thrusts were smooth, relentless, and after a few minutes she began to moan, then to scream. I kept moving inside her, even after her pussy started to contract around my cock. I took slow, easy breaths – I felt eternal – then she gave a very long groan and I threw myself on her and clasped her in my arms, while she said, ‘My love … my love …’ over and over through her tears.
Sunday, 22 May
I woke up again around eight, started the coffee machine, and went back to bed. Myriam’s regular breathing added a slow accompaniment to the discreet gurgle of percolation. Chubby little cumulus clouds drifted across the sky. For me these had always been the clouds of happiness, the kind whose brilliant whiteness only heightens the blue of the sky, the kind children draw when they represent an ideal cottage, with a smoking chimney, a lawn and flowers. I don’t know quite why I turned on iTélé once I’d poured my first cup of coffee. The sound was up too loud, and it took me a second to find the remote so I could mute it. But it was too late, she’d already woken up. She came out into the living room, still in her T-shirt, and curled up on the sofa. Our brief moment of peace was over. I unmuted the sound. Overnight, the news had spread online about the secret negotiations between the Socialists and the Muslim Brotherhood. On every channel, from iTélé to BFM to LCI, it was all anyone was talking about. Manuel Valls had yet to comment, but Ben Abbes was going to hold a press conference at eleven.
When you saw this round, twinkling-eyed man, so mischievous with members of the press, it was easy to forget that he’d been one of youngest students ever admitted to the École Polytechnique, or that he’d been a classmate of Laurent Wauquiez at the École Nationale d’Administration in 2001, the year the students honoured Nelson Mandela as their class patron. Ben Abbes had the kindly look of a neighbourhood grocer – which is just what his father had been, a Tunisian neighbourhood grocer, although his shop was on a fashionable street in Neuilly-sur-Seine, not the Eighteenth Arrondissement, much less the ghettos of Bezons or Argenteuil.
No one, Ben Abbes reminded us, had benefitted from our republican meritocracy more than he had. He had no wish to undermine a system to which he owed everything, even the supreme honour of asking the French people for their vote. He recalled doing his homework in the little flat over the family shop. He briefly invoked the memory of his father, with just the right touch of emotion. I thought he was absolutely excellent.