remember when he is forty-four?

After an hour and a half of driving, we reach our goal, the house where I spent ten years of my life. Fog hangs over the garden, which once rang with so many yells and so much helpless, happy laughter. Theophile is waiting for us at the gate, sitting on his backpack, ready for the weekend. I would have liked to phone Florence, my new girlfriend, but it is Friday and she is at her parents' place for the Sabbath. I expect to speak to her after the play. Only once have I participated in that Jewish ritual—here at Montainville, in the house of the old Tunisian doctor who brought my children into the world.

From this point onward, everything becomes blurred. Nevertheless, I get behind the wheel of the BMW, focusing on the orange-tinted dash-board lights. I am functioning in slow motion, and in the beam of the headlights I barely recognize turns I have negotiated several thousand times. I feel sweat beading my forehead, and when I overtake a car I see it double. At the first intersection, I pull over. I stagger from the BMW, almost unable to stand upright, and collapse on the rear seat. I have one idea in my head: to get back to the village and to the home of my sister-in-law Diane, a nurse. Half conscious, I ask Theophile to run and get her as soon as we reach her house. A few seconds later, Diane is there. Her decision is swift. “We have to get to the clinic. As quickly as we can.” It is ten miles away. This time, the driver tears off grand-prix style. I feel extremely strange, as if I had swallowed an LSD tablet, and I reflect that I am too old for such fantasies. Not for a second does it occur to me that I may be dying. On the road to Mantes, the BMW purrs along at top speed and we overtake a long line of cars, honking insistently to force our way through. I try to say something like “Slow down. I'll get better. It's not worth risking an accident.” But no sound comes from my mouth, and my head, no longer under my control, wobbles on my neck. The Beatles and their song of this morning come back into my memory. And though the news was rather sad… I saw the photograph. In no time we are at the clinic. People are running frantically about. I am transferred, limp and sprawling, into a wheelchair. The BMW's doors click softly shut. Someone once told me that you can tell a good car by the quality of that click. I am dazzled by the neon lighting in the corridor. In the elevator, strangers heap encouragement upon me, and the Beatles launch into the finale of “A Day in the Life.” The piano crashing down from the seventh floor. Before it hits the ground, I have time for one last thought: We'll have to cancel the play. We would have been late in any case. We'll go tomorrow night. Where could Theophile have got to? And then I sink into a coma.

Season of Renewal

Summer is nearly over. The nights grow chilly, and once again I am snuggled beneath thick blue blankets stamped “Paris Hospitals.” Each day brings its assortment of familiar faces: linen maid, dentist, mailman, a nurse who has just had a grandson, and the man who last June broke his finger on a bed rail. I rediscover old landmarks, old habits; and this, the start of my first autumn season at the hospital, has made one thing very plain—I have indeed begun a new life, and that life is here, in this bed, that wheelchair, and those corridors. Nowhere else.

September means the end of vacations, it means back to school and to work, and here at the hospital it's time to start a new season. I've made some progress. I can now grunt the little song about the kangaroo, musical testimony to my progress in speech therapy:

The Kangaroo escaped the zoo.

“Goodbye zoo!” cried Kangaroo…

Cleared the wall with one clean jump,

Leaped across with a great big thump…

But here at Berck I hear only the faintest echoes of the outside world's collective return to work and responsibility…its return to the world of literature and journalism and school, to the workaday world of Paris. I shall hear more about it soon, when my friends start journeying back to Berck with their summer's worth of news. It seems that Theophile now goes around in sneakers whose heels light up every time he takes a step. You can follow him in the dark. Meanwhile, I am savoring this last week of August with a heart that is almost light, because for the first time in a long while I don't have that awful sense of a countdown—the feeling triggered at the beginning of a vacation that inevitably spoils a good part of it.

Her elbows on the small mobile Formica table that serves as her desk, Claude is reading out these pages we have patiently extracted from the void every afternoon for the last two months. Some pages I am pleased to see again. Others are disappointing. Do they add up to a book? As I listen to Claude, I study her dark hair, her very pale cheeks, which sun and wind have scarcely touched with pink, the long bluish veins on her hands, and the articles scattered about the room. I will put them in my mind's scrapbook as reminders of a summer of hard work. The big blue notebook whose pages she fills with her neat, formal handwriting; the pencil case like the ones schoolchildren use, full of spare ballpoints; the heap of paper napkins ready for my worst coughing-and-spitting fits; and the red raffia purse in which she periodically rummages for coins for the coffee machine. Her purse is half open, and I see a hotel room key, a metro ticket, and a hundred-franc note folded in four, like objects brought back by a space probe sent to earth to study how earthlings live, travel, and trade with one another. The sight leaves me pensive and confused. Does the cosmos contain keys for opening up my diving bell? A subway line with no terminus? A currency strong enough to buy my freedom back? We must keep looking. I'll be off now.

Berck-Plage, July—August 1996

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