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THREE

MY TOLSTOY SHIRT

FLASH FICTION BY ANNE SERRE TRANSLATED BY MARK HUTCHINSON

All in the golden afternoon full leisurely we glide. We’re on the lake near the village, in a rowing-boat, I’m sixteen and nothing, but nothing, has ever happened to me. Everything is about to begin, everything still lies ahead. I’m wearing a shirt I’m rather proud of, it must be one of my very first purchases, it’s long and collarless and I wear it with a belt, like Tolstoy. As the boat drifts across the black water, my hand gathers water lilies. It takes hold of their soft sticky green stems, tugs at them, and out of the water comes a sort of rubber band at the end of which are huge, flat green leaves, round as dinner plates and lively as an elephant’s ear. Then comes the hard white rubbery flower, with its yellow heart. Nothing could be more heavenly than the waters of the cold black lake, the warm black summer lake enveloping my body. We fool around, fall down, throw each other overboard, dive, get swallowed up, emerge among the quick-stemmed water lilies, nothing has started yet, but soon it will all begin.

After the boat, I go home where it’s not much fun. At home, the bereavement is so unbearable, drives everyone so crazy that honestly, if it weren’t for the boat and the water lilies and the prospect of the great Revolution that will overturn everything, things would be difficult. I go up to the room I’m quartered in and where it’s hard, very hard, at night because of the anguish that roams through the house, climbs the stairs, wanders in and out of rooms, visits the attic. At home the darkness is unrelenting. I lie awake in my bed like a soldier on sentry duty. At dawn, the anguish starts to subside. I sleep, I dream, I read. Then, in the morning: what shall we do today? they all ask. How about going to the lake? someone says. Off we go to the lake after lunch. We untie the boat which sleeps in a small shed. We drift across the water, we trail our hands in the warm black water, we touch the stalks of water lilies and other unknowns, we circle an island that must measure all of two meters in circumference and which is merely a clump of meadow, I’m wearing my Tolstoy shirt.

We go boating on the pond, it’s like an Apollinaire poem (because of the rhythm), a cousin by marriage rows, a newly wed cousin says charming, imponderable things. How precious are charming, imponderable things! There’s even talk of tea-parties, with jelly and jam and all those fruity summery things that begin with j, whereas at home, alas, we have night with its magisterial widow who climbs the stairs and roams through the rooms where you have to be brave. Yes, a dash more daylight, I say in my Tolstoy shirt that everyone greatly admires.

First line from Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll