Dear charlotte

First published in the United Kingdom in 2011 by Originally published in the French language as Lacrimosa Copyright RégisJauffret and Les ÉditionsGallimard, 2008 This English translation copyright Vineet Lal, 2011 The moral right of Régis Jauffret to be identified as the author of this work hasbeen asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 Vineet Lal asserts his moral right to be identified as the translator of the work This book is supported by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as part of the Burgess programme run by the Cultural Department of the French Embassy All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales Designed and typeset in Sabon by Ateliers Graphiques Ardoisière Printed and bound in the United Kingdom by CPI You died on a sudden whim from a long illness. Suicide gushed through your brain like an oil spill and you hanged yourself. You had been living in Paris for fourteen years but on 7 June 2007 you took the train to Marseille. As if humans had the memory of an elephant and sometimes returned to dig their grave near the place where, in the past, they’d forced their way out of their mother’s wombto set foot in life.
Your parents came to pick you up at the Saint-Charles station. You were wearing a blue dress and you switched off your mobile when it rang as your father kissed you. A fifty-something father with a tanned complexion who refused to dye his hair, but was devastated at no longer sparking the slightestflicker of interest in girls’ eyes as they walked icily by, blocking out males whose grey hair resembled an old-fashioned flannel beret and dismissing them A dish you had always been haunted by: you probably swallowed your first mouthful when you began sucking your mother’s milk. A corny old tune where the olives played the shrill high notes, dancing above a saucepan that bubbled away faithfully like the basso continuo.
“The council still hasn’t air-conditioned the Old Port.”Neither the Old Port nor the rest of the city. One of those torrid afternoons, when sweat starts to flow from the base of the neck and streams down the crack between your buttocks before petering out God knows where. A sun that foists itself on you like a vulgar lout, even seeming to shine into the dark cellars of old buildings so they blaze like Bedouin tents.
Your father couldn’t remember where he’d left the car.
“I think it’s on the fifth level down.” He wouldn’t listen to your mother, who thought it was parked in the street.
And the deeper the lift plummeted the more you felt it was heading straight for the centre of the earth which, ever since funerals were invented, ought to have been connected to the surface by a wide tube down which corpses could be thrown to roast faster than in a crematorium. The moment you got close to the zone where your father thought he’d left it, the car slipped out of reach. Itlugged its carcass from one floor to the next, breaking the law as it crashed through the barrier, until it landed breathlessly at ground level on Rue de l’Étoile, straddling the pavement that runs alongside Saint-Théodore Church.
Your mother let out a sigh. It was precisely where she’d last seen it.
“You never listen to a word I say.”“And I’ve got a ticket as well.” You told him he always parked any old where.
He pulled a face, but it was tinged with good humour.
The car started and so did the heating.
“The air-con’s been playing up since yesterday.” Still the smell of leather that made you queasy, even with all four windows open. Memories of being sick during endless journeys to that godforsaken spotin the forest in the Vosges, where you’d go cycling with your sister in the rain to avoid shooting yourselves in the mouth with a hunting gun, bored out of your minds as you were under that veranda, its atmosphere as green as the branches on the surrounding conifers that smashed the windows whenever the wind lifted. Even so, you missed your childhood and those little moments of sadness,fleeting as the bat of an eyelash, with their aftertaste of bubble gum and Coke.
But not one bit the black abyss of your teenage years, when you used to picture your skull as a box where you were condemned to live with your feet and fists lashed together, neurons flapping around you like swarms of bats.
“Jérémia’s pregnant again, as of last week.”“She’s collecting progs as though they were cuddly toys.” Your sister lived with a horde of furry animals that still cluttered up her bed.
You imagined her husband might sometimes mount a teddy by mistake, astonished that your sister had become so tiny and hairy, with a virginity as impossible for him to take as it was anachronistic in a woman who’d lost hers “If it’s a girl, she’ll have the set.”“She’ll keep the less ugly one and sell the other on ebay.” Your father laughed. Your mother looked up and rummaged through her handbag, with the detached expression of a student in philosophy class impulsively slipping a hand under his neighbour’s skirt.
“They said on the radio a storm was on its way.”Your mother had turned round to give you this refreshing news which the city’s inhabitants had been longing for since the end of the month. Some even dreamt of waterfalls pouring implausibly down the Canebière.
The joke made her smile and your father burst out laughing, spattering the windscreen with spit that he wiped off with the cloth he used for his glasses. He might even have knocked down a boy in yellow shorts pedalling in front, head tucked into the handlebars, had the kid not decided – for no apparent reason – to sprawl on an old dishwasher abandoned against a lamppost on Boulevard de la Libération. His water-bottle rolled into the road, letting out a squeak as itwas squashed by the wheels of the car.
You thought about the grasshoppers you’d chase through the meadows with your sister, ripping off their legs after putting them through a punishing gym class. You promised yourself that when you saw her again you would ask if she still remembered the grey cat you’d found run over by a tractor in a rapeseed field. You’d called it Mewsday and rolled it up in your pullover before placingit in a wheelbarrow, pushing it into a clearing to conduct its funeral that ended with a splash in the pond where you’d thrown its remains as an offering to the “You’ll piss me off until my dying day.” A father who’s still able to laugh while giving you an earful, and a mother with tears in her eyes being careful not to blink or they’ll run down her cheeks, hoping you’ll be mortified with shame. You think if anyone should be ashamed, it’s her. That was the risk she took when she dragged you out of the emptiness where you’d felt so at home. Perhaps, once your father had ejaculated, she’d even contracted the lips of her vulva to keep his penis inside her like a cork,imprisoning his sperm and giving the spermatozoa a chance to make their way deep within her womb, to an ovum frenzied at the thought of uniting, for better or worse, with the first little tadpole to make it there. She’d dragged you along ever since, like a misshapen cannonball that had always refused to roll; and now here she was, presumably allowing herself to sob so you’d feel guilty forbeing in such a mess when it was she who put you there in the first place. You wished you could formally charge her with childbirth.
However, for several months now you’d been happy. At least, someone had told you as much one evening on their living room sofa while topping up your glass of Muscat de Frontignan for the third time.
“You’re happy, you just don’t know it yet.” Your mother is worried about your career. The fashion magazine where you’dbeen a graphic designer had laid you off at the end of April before going “I’m going to make the most of it and take a year off.” A prospect which did not exactly thrill your parents. They were full of energy, ready to do a full week’s work in a day, seventeen million hours a year– even when they were dead if, in the afterlife, there happened to be a business prepared to employ them despite their freshly-dug-up appearance.
“Your father and I don’t waste our time.” There was no question of them frittering away rare moments of relaxation by standing and staring. At fifty-five time becomes precious and throwing it down the drain amounts to throwing yourself down there as well. Rather than squandering it from day to day like pocket money, it can be stashed away in gilt-edged investments that offer a high return in well-being and pleasure of allkinds. Even if sport is tiring and exasperating, it allows the brain to generate stimulating endorphins, helping one appreciate trips to Italy, Quebec and Guatemala, and the fire in the hearth when it’s cold enough to enjoy toasting oneself in front of the flames and forgetting about the central heating whose boiler, in any case, has aged so prematurely it’s starting to belch.
“Why, I even emailed Maya Coufin this morning to say how much I’m in “At your age, you really ought to try out those coffins they’ve got on offer at the hypermarket so you get used to lying in a box.” Your father can already picture himself skidding along in pole position on a snowy Alpine road inside a hearse decked out in the colours of Olympique de Marseille who’d surely agree to sponsor him seeing he was a junior player at the Stade Vélodrome when he was nine. He chortles so much he bangs his headon the steering wheel, while your mother ferrets gloomily through the glove compartment as if hoping to find a revolver to shoot the pair of you.
A slightly dodgy reverse to Rue Daumier; then the gate closes behind the car.
Your father grabs your red canvas bag, throwing it down in the hall like someinsufferable baby ditched at the very last minute before one’s reduced to strangling it to make it stop howling like a broken speaker.
“We’ll open another when she’s here.”Your father is already in the kitchen, diving into the fridge.
You stretch out on the chaise longue. A pretentious piece of furniture you’ve always borne a grudge against. You dig your heels into the fabric to widen the gash you managed to create last winter, after a war of attrition that ended in you taking some aspirin to ease your aching Achilles tendons.
You’re thinking of nothing else; you’re unaware of the imminent ambush, the preparations for battle being made deep inside you, the gathering troops, the bombers laden with deadly cargo, the submarines on manoeuvre peeping through the surface of your consciousness with periscopes. You don’t see that black dot on the horizon, mistaking it for a speck of dirt. You tell yourself you’re no longer living in the dark. But rather in the clear light of dawn, with asun that occasionally shows itself long enough to make you believe it’s rising.
You’ve heard the cork popping. The glass teeters before your eyes in a hand that’s veined and freckled. You offer your lips and your father tilts the glass.
You sit bolt upright again when your mother starts yelling at you to stop being so childish. She has a knife in her hand.
“You look like an executioner’s wife.”


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