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L’Amour


July 1, 2013

The man takes a piece of paper, he writes: S. Thala. S. Thala. S. Thala.

https://www.guernicamag.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/guernica-darkbeach-e1372532294530.jpg
Image from Flickr via Geoffrey Meyer-van Voorthuijsen

Night.

The beach and the sea are in darkness.

A dog passes, going toward the sea wall.

No one walks on the boardwalk, but, on the benches lining it, people sit. They relax. Are silent. Separated from one another. They do not speak.

The traveler passes. He walks slowly, he goes in the same direction as the dog.

He stops. Returns. He seems to be out for a walk. He starts off again.

His face is no longer visible.

The sea is calm. No wind.

The traveler returns. The dog does not return. The sea begins to rise, it seems. Its sounds getting closer. Muffled thudding coming from the river’s many mouths. Somber sky.

*                      *                     *

Far off, through the deep gnawing, in the thick darkness, police
sirens wail.

Night still.

The traveler is seated facing an open window in a room. Sitting in the electric light. What lies beyond the window on this side of the hotel cannot be seen.

Night outside.

It is not the sea that is heard. The room does not look out on the sea. An incessant gnawing sound, muted, pervasive.

The man takes a piece of paper, he writes: S. Thala. S. Thala. S. Thala.

He stops. He seems to hesitate between each written word.

He begins again. Slowly, with certainty, he writes: S. Thala, 14 September.

He underlines the first word. Then he writes:

Don’t bother coming there’s no point.

He pushes the letter away, stands up.

He paces up and down the room.

He lies down on the bed.

The traveler, the man in the hotel.

Lying on the bed in the electric light, he turns to face the wall, you cannot see his face anymore.

Far off, through the deep gnawing, in the thick darkness, police sirens wail.

Then nothing but the gnawing in the darkness.

*                      *                     *

He looks at what she wants, it seems, to avoid seeing: the sea, the nauseous movements of swelling, the seagulls that cry out and devour a carcass on the sand, its blood.

Day.

Once more, the man walking along the shore.

She is there, once again, against the wall.

The light is intense. She is completely still, her lips clamped shut. Pale.

On the beach, a certain energy of life.

She makes no sign at all at the approach of the traveler.

He walks to the wall, sits next to her. He looks at what she wants, it seems, to avoid seeing: the sea, the nauseous movements of swelling, the seagulls that cry out and devour a carcass on the sand, its blood. She says slowly:

—I’m pregnant, I feel like I’m going to vomit.
—Don’t look there, look at me.

She turns toward him.

Far off, there, the man stops in the midst of the seagulls. Then moves again, toward the sea wall. She asks:

—Have you been here long?
—Yes.

She sits facing the sand. He looks toward the sea wall, at the man who is walking away.

—Who is he?

She pauses briefly, answers:

—He takes care of us. He watches over us. Brings us back.

He watches him for a while.

—His path is always the same, his pace so regular, you’d think—

She shakes her head: no.

—No, it’s the rhythm of this place, she says. The rhythm of S. Thala.

They wait.

The surface of the sea, still swelling, the fever.

—Have you tried to throw up?
—It won’t help, it’ll start again.

Waiting still.

The light begins to fade.

The first seagulls leave the beach, flying toward the sea wall.

The man who walks does not return their way: he goes up toward S. Thala. He does not go in. He disappears behind the sea wall. You no longer see him.

Finally he hears something: he thinks it is the ebb and flow of the sea, the water crashing back into the abyss of salt.

The traveler says:

—We’re alone?

She shakes her head:

—No.

Waiting.

More gulls launch in white bursts.

Fly off.

Their departure quickening.

The traveler says:

—You can look now.

She looks up cautiously: the movement of the waves visible again, the swelling surface dispersing in white bursts. He says:

—The color is gone.

The color has disappeared.

Then the movement too.

The last gulls are gone. The sand, once again, covers the beach.

He says:

—There’s nothing left.

He listens to her, she breathes, she shifts, watches, for a long time she observes the coming shadows, the sand. Then, once more, she is still.

She listens, she hears, she says:

—There’s noise.

He listens. Finally he hears something: he thinks it is the ebb and flow of the sea, the water crashing back into the abyss of salt.

They are silent, they wait in silence for the sounds of S. Thala to cease.

He says:

—It’s the waves.
—No, she stops. It’s coming from S. Thala.
—What is it?
—S. Thala. The sound of S. Thala.

He listens again for a while. He recognizes the incessant gnawing. He says:

—They’re eating.

She doesn’t know exactly. She says:

—They’re going home—or sleeping, or nothing.

They are silent, they wait in silence for the sounds of S. Thala to cease.

The noise seems to ebb. Again she breathes.

Shifts.

She looks at him, the traveler, she looks at his clothing, his face, his hands. She touches his hand, grazing it tentatively, lightly, then she points toward the sea wall:

—The cry came from over there.

From the direction she points, he suddenly reappears.

Still very far off.

From the sea wall, he returns, the one who walks. There he is.

Behind him, the sea rises, an unending chain of lights blink on.

Beyond the lights, clouds of smoke from refineries, dark.

He arrives, walking along the edge of the sea, staring ahead vacantly. She points him out to the traveler:

—He’s coming back.

He looks:

—Coming back from where?

She peers in the direction he came from, the one who walks, she declares:

—Sometimes he walks past S. Thala and you just have to know . . . to wait.

Far off, he continues to come toward them, he cuts across the beach in their direction. The traveler says:

—You can’t go past S. Thala, you can’t get there.
—No, but he—she stops. —Sometimes he gets lost.

He comes. They wait for him.

He arrives. He is there. He looks at them. He sits, is silent, his blue gaze inspecting the space around him, then he speaks, he tells them very clearly:

—We were wrong. The cry came from farther away.

They wait: he says nothing more.

—From where?
—From everywhere. He stops. —There were so many of them. Millions. He stops again.
—Everything is ravaged.

He looks at her. He points:

—Has she tried to vomit?

The traveler responds:

—It won’t help, it’ll just start again.
—True.

She is the first to rise. She rises.

She stands. Leans against the wall.

After a little while, they also rise.

They are all standing.

The traveler gestures at the sea before them, the sea and then behind them, the depths:

—What are you doing? Walking along the shore?

Next to S. Thala?

—Yes.
—Nothing else?
—No.

His blue gaze returns to the sea. Clear, focused, intense. The traveler says:

—And yet . . . This movement so clear, so regular . . . This path so precise . . .
—No. No . . . He pauses—no . . . —he pauses again—I’m mad.

She follows him. Her steps are unsteady at first, very slow. Then more even. She walks the way he leads. She lags behind.

They look at each other, they look, wait. The wind comes in, passes over S. Thala. The blue eyes monitor the sky, the sea, every movement, with the same attention.

The first to move away, to break the stillness, is the man who walks. His pace even as soon as he starts to walk.

She follows him. Her steps are unsteady at first, very slow. Then more even. She walks the way he leads. She lags behind.

So he pauses to let her catch up. She catches up.

Then he resumes his walk, toward the river. She catches up. He continues. This must be the way they cover the distance, every day, the expanse of the sands of S. Thala.

They disappear, turn along the river. They skirt, avoid, do not enter the depths of stone.

*                      *                     *

Three days.

Three days, during which there is a Sunday. The sound grows, S. Thala reels, then the sound fades away.

A storm comes that unsettles the sea.

Three nights.

In the morning, dead gulls on the beach. Over by the sea wall, a dog. The dead dog lies facing the pillars of a bombed-out casino.

Above the dead dog, the sky is very dark. It is after the storm, the sea is rough.

The spot of wall is empty, the wind lashes against it.

The sea carries away the dead dog, the seagulls.

The sky grows calm. The unending chain emerges from the refineries. Then the sea. The sun.

*                      *                     *

Sun. Evening.

With the evening she reappears. She arrives on the boardwalk.

Behind her, the one who walks.

They have both returned. They come from the river, cross S. Thala, walk from one end to the other. They are coming out of three days of darkness, once again they are seen in the sunlight of a deserted S. Thala.

The traveler steps out of the hotel behind the wall, sees them, approaches them.

Behind her, the other stops as soon as the traveler leaves the hotel; she moves forward. She has not yet seen the traveler coming to meet her. She moves forward, driven by the will of the one who is stopped behind her.

They have reached one another. She sees the traveler, almost does not recognize him.

She recognizes him.

Behind her, the other one turns around, starts off again. He has set off again toward the river.

She says:

—Ah, you came.

The storm has deepened her features.

They head first toward the sea wall, then toward the river, they stop, walk again, go toward a bright light on the boardwalk, at the edge of the sea, at the edge of the sands, before the depths, the unending chain of stone.

They watch the light for a long time.

Then they go in.

She is hungry.

She eats, watches, listens. There are things to see, to hear, streams of words, words, laughter. He watches with her, but in a different way, occasionally turning and looking at her. She says:

—I’m hungry, I’m expecting a child.

When she says it her gaze intensifies then fades just as quickly—she repeats:

—A child.
—Again?
—Yes.
—Whose is it?

She doesn’t know.

—I don’t know

She smells of sand, of salt. The storm has deepened the circles under her eyes.

The noise of the café grows. When the noise grows too loud her eyes open painfully. Her attention wanders. She asks:

—You come every day to S. Thala.
—Yes.
—It’s far—she adds—it’s a long distance, isn’t it?
—Yes.

He tries to see beyond the walls, beyond the panes of glass.

She is here watching, in the confined space.

Beyond the windows, past the boardwalk, beyond the beach, someone goes by, a shadow walks at a steady pace, heads straight for the black expanse of the sea wall. The traveler follows him with his eyes for a long time, until he disappears into darkness. He says:

—He just walked off, didn’t even look around.

She says clearly:

—He’s searching—she adds—we must let him be.

She sees that he is next to her—the traveler, the man from the hotel. She raises her hand, touches his face, touches the skin softly while her voice swells forth, echoless.

—Why did you come back to S. Thala?

They look at each other.

—It’s about a trip I wanted to take.—he stops.

They look at each other again, then his face turns away, her hand falls.

They sit there without speaking.

For a long time.

The noise fades.

The place empties.

They stare straight ahead, listening. For a long time.

The noise fainter still. It is as if she is expecting an ending, the threat of which seems to grow as the noise fades. She says:

—They’re leaving.
—Who are they?

She points within the space, beyond the windows, everywhere, the unending chain of flesh. Her gesture is open, desperately tender:

—My people, the people of S. Thala.

Here, the noise has ceased. Over there, the incessant gnawing resumes, grows.

Changes.

It turns into singing. A distant singing.

The people of S. Thala are singing.

Their eyes wander, gaze past the windows, they listen to them singing. They listen to the distant singing.

She looks around her, in front of her:

—They’re gone—she listens—do you hear them?

Their eyes wander, gaze past the windows, they listen to them singing. They listen to the distant singing. She raises her hand:

—Do you hear?—she pauses—It’s that music.

It is a slow march with solemn undertones. A slow dance, of parties long past, wild feasts.

She doesn’t move. She listens to the distant hymn. She says:

—I have to sleep or I’m going to die.

She points in the direction where she sleeps.

—I have to cross the river—she stops.

She listens.

He is afraid: she is not moving, she is no longer breathing, she is listening to that music. He asks:

—Who are you?

The music continues. She replies:

—The police have a number.

He enters, alone, the door closes behind him. All of a sudden, with him: the iodine of the sea, the salt, the searing blue intensity.

The music continuing still. She looks at him:

—Why are you crying?
—Am I crying?

The door opens with a blast of wind.

The man who walks.

Here he is.

He enters, alone, the door closes behind him. All of a sudden, with him: the iodine of the sea, the salt, the searing blue intensity of the eyes of full daylight, full of night.

He straightens, listens to the faraway dance, says:

—Do you remember? The music of S. Thala.

Attentive, he listens. A blissful smile sweeps across his face. He listens intently, with extravagant gravity, to the distant music.

She points to the traveler, says:

—He’s crying.

The blue eyes also fill with tears. His smile remains fixed. He explains:

—The music of S. Thala makes me cry.

The music stops.

He strains to hear it. He gives up.

The gnawing begins again, the silence.

She says, pointing to the traveler:

—He was afraid.
—Of what?
—Of not seeing you again.
—It is true that . . .

His hand drops. He forgets, he sees her, he forgets.

The blue eyes stare, see again. See the danger, the destruction.

—It’s true that I got lost over there, I went too far—he adds—too long.

He points down the lone path leading to the dark mass of the sea wall. His hand trembles.

—I didn’t know how to get back.

His hand drops. He forgets, he sees her, he forgets. He says to the traveler:

—Did she explain to you? She needs to sleep.

He says to the traveler:

—You have to cross the river, it’s after the station, between the two branches of the river.
—What?
—S. Thala prison, the administration.

They stand up, go out.

*                      *                     *

Night.

In the electric light the traveler is writing.

The traveler pushes the letter away, sits there.

In front of him, the empty road, across the road, dark villas, their gardens. Beyond the gardens, the depths, elusive, S. Thala, looming.

He takes up the letter again. He writes.

S. Thala 14 September.

Don’t come now, don’t come, tell the children something, it doesn’t matter what.

The hand stops, starts again:

If you can’t figure out how to explain it to them, let them make something up.

He puts down the pen, picks it up again:

Regret nothing, nothing, silence all pain, all comprehension, tell yourself that this way you will be as close as possible to—his hand pauses, starts again, writes: understanding.

The traveler pushes the letter away.

He leaves the room.

The room lit up, with no one inside.

*                      *                     *

Night. S. Thala. Deserted.

He walks. The traveler, the man from the hotel.

He crosses the river, walks alongside the train station.

The sea rises between silt embankments. The sky stirs, overcast, dark, black in places. The station is closed.

He turns. It is there. The river forks. It is there, between the branches of the river.

It is a large stone building, simple. The steps lead to an area bordered by the branches of the river.

She is there, sleeping on the top step, leaning against the wall of the building, in the same pose as at the beach.

He is there as well. He is standing at the far end of the island, facing the mouths of the rivers, where they open to the sea.

He is speaking.

The traveler crosses onto the island. There are traces of the storm, broken branches. He walks in front of her, comes nearer, sees that she is sleeping soundly. Her breathing is regular, easy.

The traveler continues toward the tip of the island, about 20 meters from the sleeping woman.

But he stops halfway.

He sits down on a bench, halfway between the sleeping woman and the man speaking at the tip of the island.

From the outer banks of the river, from every direction, boats are moving out to sea. You can see them, passing the mouths of the river in a long chain.

Suddenly, a moan.

Suddenly, between the sound of the motors and the sound of the sea, rises a child’s moan. It seems to come from the spot where she is sleeping.

For a moment his voice persists, this solitary voice swirls across the island, blends with the moaning, seeps between the noise of the motors and the roar of the sea.

Then it stops.

He must have heard the moaning.

He leaves the tip of the island. He comes back. He sees the other one, the traveler, he stops close to the bench.

—Ah, you came.

He walks away, moving toward the steps. He leans over her, he listens, he stands back up, he comes back, still hurried. He walks back to the bench, stops, announces:

—She is sleeping well.

The moaning continues.

—This moaning, it’s coming from her?
—Yes, she is getting impatient, you see, but she sleeps—he pauses—it’s just anger, it’s nothing.
—At what?

He gestures vaguely around himself.

—At God—he continues—at God in general, it’s nothing.

He walks away briskly, goes back to the tip of the island.

The noise grows louder. And the moaning. And the churning mouths of the river.

The traveler joins him at the tip of the island.

He sees him clearly in the light of the sea: the way he did the first time he saw him.

The sounds of the motors grow louder, the boats move faster, the sea churns.

He speaks, he says:

—What a mess.—he adds—we should wait another hour, there won’t be any more launchings and I think the sea will have stopped rising—it’s getting late.

He points to the swirling mouth of the river:

—Look, look. Here, look.

He points to the swollen river, the roiling water, the combining forces of the water, the brutal rising of salt toward her slumber.

A moaning. A moan, crying out:

The traveler says:

—It’s hard returning to the hotel, I don’t like leaving her . . .

He responds, conflicted:

—I understand . . . He points ahead—I understand . . . As for me, I can’t . . . stand to look . . .

He points to everything around him.

Again the moaning.

It appears the one looking at the sea does not hear it anymore.

The traveler leaves the tip of the island, he comes back toward the sleeping woman. He sits down beside her limp body, looks at her. Her lips are parted. The dreaming animal groan becomes softer. She is completely asleep. He leans over, places his ear on her chest, hears the moan of a child in time with the beat of her heart, a child’s moan, an angry heart.

He stands up. He fights off dizziness.

He walks, stops, starts again. He crosses once more the length of the island, going one more time toward the one watching the movement of the waters.

The sea continues to rise. The river swells. The embankments are flooding. The sea inches closer and closer to ground level.

He signals to the traveler to come closer, to look.

He says, gesturing:

—Look, look over there.

Fog arrives, very thin, from the mouths of the river. It dances before their eyes, it settles, the sea tears it to shreds, but other strands of fog arrive, dancing. He says:

—Look—he smiles.

Throughout, the angry moan of the child.

Already the movement of the river’s mouths is harder to make out. The devouring salt subsides.

The traveler points to the front steps. He asks:

—Tell me a little bit about it.

He does not turn around, sees only in front of him, answers:

—I think, the island emerged first—he points to the sea—from there. S. Thala came after, with the dust—he adds—you know? Time . . .

As the time between the boats’ departures grows, silence. He says:

—When the moments grow longer, silence begins.

The moans become less frequent.

—Look.

A valley of water begins to form between the silt embankments.

At the mouths, a difference is now discernible: the sea fringed with white, the salt separates, no longer penetrates. The ridges of waves flatten.

The anger, the moaning, cease.

A final stream of words flows out of him. His eyes sparkle and close in the peace of the waters.

—The object of absolute desire—he says—night-slumber, around this time in general, no matter where she is, open to the four winds—he pauses, continues—object of desire, she belongs to whoever wants her, she carries it and sends it along, the object of absolute desire.

His eyes open. He turns toward this other man, the traveler, and then toward the sleeping woman, his gaze floats across S. Thala, then drifts away.

They walk toward the sleeping body.

They come closer, look at it. The sky becomes perfectly clear.

They are seated beside the sleeping body. Her lips have closed again. The breathing, patiently, makes a path to the breathing of everyone together.

He looks at her the way he was looking at the sea a moment before, with a violent passion. The traveler asks:

—When did it begin?

He turns toward him, stares blankly; he is suddenly flooded with certainty:

—I think it was in the light, the burst of light.

He continues to look at him, recognizes him, in the transparency of his eyes everything drowns out, comes together, he says:

—You came to S. Thala for her, that’s why you came to S. Thala.

He points to her. She looks at them: she is sleeping with her eyes open.

The traveler leaves the island. He follows.

They walk.

They walk alongside the station. He shows the traveler the depths, the expanse of S. Thala.

—Her children are in there, that thing, she has them, she gives them away—he adds—the town, the land, is full of them.

He stops, points into the distance, in the direction of the sea, of the sea wall:

—She has them there, where the scream came from, she leaves them, they come and take them away.

He stares in the direction of the sea wall, continues:

—This is a realm of sands.

The traveler repeats:

—Of sands.
—Of wind.

He turns toward the traveler.

They look at each other:

—Do you remember at all? The day of the scream . . . do you remember?
—Little. Very little.

He gestures carelessly toward the unbroken chain, the dark mass.

Again he shows the traveler the unbroken chain of lights:

—She’s lived everywhere, here and there. A hospital, a hotel, fields, parks, roads—he pauses—a casino, did you know that? Now she’s there.

He points to the island. The traveler asks:

—A prison beyond the walls?
—That’s it.
—Within the walls there is crime?

He responds distractedly:

—Crime, et cetera.

They are still walking. The traveler pronounces certain words.

—Outside, voluntary imprisonment.

He doesn’t hear, he is looking toward the sea, toward the horizon, a light in the sky, he says:

—The moon, look, the lunatic moon.

They walk on, slowly. The traveler asks:

—Has she forgotten?
—Nothing.
—Gone?
—Burned. But it’s all there, scattered.

He gestures carelessly toward the unbroken chain, the dark mass.

He stops, looks once more at the sea, for a long time, then he returns to the island, to her side.

*                      *                     *

Night.

The traveler walks along the edge of the sea.

He walks alongside the hotel behind the wall, passes it.

He walks on a road, makes his way toward a house on a hill.

He stops in front of the house. All around the house, the mass, the dizzying vista of S. Thala.

The house is gray, rectangular, with white shutters. It overlooks the beach, the mass of the sea wall, the poisoned city. The garden neglected, grass very tall, higher than the walls.

The half-open gate beckons, frightens.

The traveler walks away.

Parallel mirrors cover the walls. They reflect the pillars in the center of the hall, their massive shadows multiplied, the green plants, white walls, pillars, plants, pillars, walls, pillars, walls, the walls, and then, him, the traveler, who has just walked by.

He walks back down the road, heads down toward the beach.

He does not go toward the sea wall, he goes instead toward the wall that separates the sea from the city.

The traveler enters the ballroom of the hotel beyond the wall.

The spot is dimly lit. Two rows of armchairs, facing the sea. A door opens onto a balcony. Dark plants rustle in the wind blowing through the open door. Parallel mirrors cover the walls. They reflect the pillars in the center of the hall, their massive shadows multiplied, the green plants, white walls, pillars, plants, pillars, walls, pillars, walls, the walls, and then, him, the traveler, who has just walked by.

*                      *                     *

Daylight.

She is in the courtyard of the hotel when the traveler comes out. She is wearing the clothes she was wearing that night. She is waiting for him, eyes fixed on the white façade. Standing straight, in the open air, looking at the hotel.

She hears his footsteps, sees him, comes toward him.

—I came.
—I was coming to find you—he adds—Did you know I would come?

She does not understand.

—Where?
—To the island. Did you know?
—No.

She comes closer to him, puts her head on his shoulder in a gesture of bewilderment, of fear. She looks cold. She says:

—I know this place.

She raises her head, looks at the hotel, looks at him, adds:

—I knew you once.

He remains silent. Bewilderment growing, she looks again at the hotel.

—I came to the island last night.
—Oh.
—And I met you on the beach.

Head raised, she looks at the plain white façade of the building rising up against the sea, he has trouble getting her to follow him.

He takes her with him, they walk away from the hotel.

The beach.

There are a few people strolling in the distance, horses moving slowly along. The sky is calm, the air clear.

They walk toward the sea, on the bare sand.

She is still cold, the hotel haunts her, she turns back toward the hotel. He turns her back around, leads her on. She says:

—I asked him where you lived, he asked me to tell him what you were like, I told him—he pauses—so he told me how to find you—he looks searchingly at him—I wasn’t wrong, was I?
—No, it’s all right.

She trembles again. Once more, the hotel behind them. He draws her attention to it. He points at it:

—Had you already seen it?
—No—she adds—I never go that way, on that side of S. Thala.

He leads her farther. She follows.

She sees the sea. She says:

—Sometimes it’s calm here.

She seems to begin to forget the hotel.

—Not a sound.

She points to it, the morning sea, it pulses, green, cool, she moves forward, smiles, says:

—The sea.

She stops again. He keeps walking. She starts looking behind her again.

—Come on.
—I have to go.

She only ever follows the other man from S. Thala, she must be afraid to follow the traveler.

He sits down, calls her.

—Come, sit. We’ll stop here.

She comes. She sits close to him. Is silent.

Then she looks for the other man on the beach.

The traveler is the one who spots him first.

—He’s not far away, look.

In the distance, from behind the sea wall, he appears. He walks in the tireless direction of the sea.

She has seen him. The color comes back to her cheeks. A slow release. The memory of the hotel recedes.

She looks at him, the traveler. She is no longer trembling. He has stretched out on the sand, she is still looking at him. She must notice a bit of the fatigue on the traveler’s face. She touches his sleepless eyes. She says:

—I came to see you about this trip.

He calls her again.

—Come close to me.

She edges over to him, leans over, puts her head on his chest and rests there.

—I hear your heart.

—I’m dying.

She raises her head slightly. He is not looking at her. He repeats:

—I’m dying.

He has let out a little cry. The sentence hangs in the air. But the cry makes her sit up, draw back slightly from him. She leans over him, speechless, suddenly distrustful. She hesitates. She says:

—No.

She has spoken softly. In this softness the brutality of the cry is blunted, the vague threat disperses.

She begins again:

—I came to see you about that trip you wanted to take.

She is silent. He does not question her. The sentence hangs in the air, she does not know how it ends. It will end later, she can feel it; she does not rush things, just waits.

At the other end of the beach, along the sea wall, the walking has resumed. The pace is even. He walks away, he returns. He is visible the whole way. She points to him, slowly says:

—He told me several names this morning when

I was looking for you—she pauses—I chose that of S. Thala.

She does not move, attentive to the unfolding of her own words.

—That’s how we know one another—she adds—I’ve been here a long time and you must have known that—she continues—you must have known something about that.

Flowing sand, continuous. The steps of the mad man beat in time with her words.

—So you came—she continues—you came to S. Thala for me.

She examines him from head to toe, makes a sign of denial, says “no,” denies the accidental thought that has just come over her. She says to herself: no. Then she says with certainty:

—You came here to kill yourself.

She waits. He does not respond. It is as if he were sleeping. She touches him, adds:

—Otherwise you wouldn’t have seen me.

She asks him:

—Do you understand?

He nods that he understands. She falls silent. He asks:

—Nobody has ever seen you?

She says clearly:

—Everybody sees me—she waits—but you saw something more.

She points to the walker in the distance, she adds:

—Him.

She is stock still, facing the sea. He says:

—I had forgotten about both of you.
—Yes, that’s it—he slowly scans the space—so you came to S. Thala to kill yourself and then you saw that we were still here.
—Yes.
—And you called yourself back?
—Yes—he adds—from— He stops.
—I don’t know how to say it.

They fall silent.

A shadow passes in front of the sun. The wind rises, dies down.

The sea will soon change directions. The change is coming.

The walk, far off, continues along the shore.

She gets up, turns toward the sea wall, toward the walking:

—I’m going to go see him, I’ll be back.

He does not stop her. She stands close to him, but she still has her eyes on the one who walks in the distance.

—I have to ask him something—she repeats—I’ll come back.

She hesitates. She still has something to say to him.

—About this trip—she stops—I don’t understand how it is that I know that we’re supposed to take it.

She points off in the distance:

—He’ll tell me.

She walks away, he calls her back. He asks:

—S. Thala, that’s my name.
—Yes—she explains to him, gestures: —Everything, here, it’s all S. Thala.

She walks away. He does not call her back. She walks along the edge of the sea.

He watches her walk. She walks more quickly than usual.

Suddenly she slows, matches his pace.

She has caught up with him. She begins to walk with him.

Instead of retracing his steps, he continues, she walks with him.

The tide has changed. The ebb of the river is underway, gliding into the abyss of salt. In bursts of white, seagulls. Near the bare sand. Their cries of hunger precede them.

The two are no longer anywhere to be seen.

They reappear a long time after.

He comes back along the edge of the water. She takes the boardwalk: she sees nothing, she avoids looking at the white swarms, the vast expanse.

They head toward the river.

The traveler does not go to the island that night.

*                      *                     *

Perhaps they are preparing for the birth of the child, over there, behind the wall of the cry of S. Thala.

It is the beginning of the afternoon. They pass by.

He, along the edge of the sea. She, on the boardwalk.

The traveler is on the boardwalk.

She does not see him. She does not see anything.

They walk toward the sea wall. Disappear behind it.

Perhaps they are preparing for the birth of the child, over there, behind the wall of the cry of S. Thala.

They come back that night. The seagulls screech. She walks bent slightly forward, almost heavily: its seems as if the birth of the child is imminent.

Doesn’t call them.

*                      *                     *

The traveler waits elsewhere, waits for them in the hotel ballroom. He is waiting for them at a different time. At night. At night, in the great hall.

The room has changed appearance. The mirrors are tarnished.

The armchairs are facing the mirrors, lined up along the white walls. Only the dark plants are still in place. They are still rustling in the wind coming through the open door. Slow movements of the pernicious swell of the sea, of dead spirits.

He arrives in the dark of night. She has not come, he is alone.

He enters the room quickly, he sees the traveler seated in an armchair against the wall. He says:

—I was passing by.

He adds:

—I never come this way.

He sits down, looks around.

Suddenly he sees the room.

All around him, the room.

He looks at it.

His eyes sparkle. It is almost completely dark. He looks around as if it were broad daylight. For a long time.

He moves.

He goes toward the balcony, turns, looks around again intently.

Comes back. Walks back in front of the traveler seated in the shadowy half-light, does not see him anymore, sees only the room.

Suddenly, he stops in the middle of the dance floor, with a wave of his hand he traces the space between the rows of armchairs and the pillars, asks:

—Was it here?—he stops—Over there?

His voice wavers.

He waits.

Standing in the middle of the dance floor, he is still waiting.

Then, once again, he points to the space, traces the space between the lined up armchairs, he repeats the gesture, waits, says nothing.

Walks, up and down the space, walks across it again, stops.

Walks. Stops again. Freezes.

Someone is singing, very low.

Someone is singing.

He is singing.

It is the music of the long dead parties of S. Thala, the heavy strains of its step.

He walks forward. All of a sudden his usual stiffness disappears.

Here he is, walking forward, singing and dancing at the same time, moving out onto the dance floor, dancing, singing.

He is swept away, remembers, dances to the sway of the music, is consumed, burns, he is mad with happiness, he dances, burns, a burning pierces the night of S. Thala.

A few seconds. He stops.

He is still. He is no longer moving. No longer singing, he tries to understand what has happened, what has interrupted the dancing, the song. He is seized by dizziness.

Movement at the back of the hall.

He asks:

—Who’s there?

He listens to his own voice. The steadiness of his gaze is unwavering. He is subject to his own words the way, a few minutes earlier, he was to his own movement.

He repeats:

—Who’s there?

He seems afraid, turns, stands up taller.

The traveler has risen. He walks slowly from the back of the room.

He looks at this other man, the traveler. This man, the traveler, takes a few steps, steps into the light of the dance floor. He looks at him.

He sees him.

The stillness shatters, his mouth opens, no sound escapes, he tries again to speak, fails, falls back into an armchair, extends his hand to the traveler, looks at him as he did the first time he saw him, murmurs:

—You, it was you—he pauses—you have returned.

He weeps.

*                      *                     *

Sunday. The sound has not grown in S. Thala. Some wind.

Then rain.

The traveler is walking in S. Thala in the rain.

He does not encounter them.

A night. A day.

The traveler does not see them anywhere in the space, the time of S. Thala.

*                      *                     *

A dark night.

She walks by, in front of the hotel.

The traveler is on the balcony, he sees her go by on the boardwalk, her shadow stands out against the sea.

She is walking slowly, steadily toward the sea wall. She does not turn back to the hotel. She walks, in the night, straight ahead.

The child, it is the child, its birth.

He, the other man, follows her tonight. She moves forward, unaware. He follows. She forges ahead, bestial, she walks.

She disappears behind the dark mass of the sea wall, she vanishes into the sands, the boundless wind.

Then he vanishes. Disappears.

Nothing left. But the vast, dormant depths.

G

Author Image

Marguerite Duras was born in Giadinh, Vietnam (then Indochina) to French parents. During her lifetime she wrote dozens of plays, film scripts, and novels, including Ravishing of Lol Stein, The Sea Wall, and Hiroshima Mon Amour, and was associated with the nouveau roman (or new novel) French literary movement. Duras is probably most well-known for The Lover , an autobiographical work that received the Goncourt prize in 1984 and was made into a film in 1992. She died in Paris in 1996 at the age of eighty-one. L’Amour has never been translated into English.

Kazim Ali is a poet, essayist, and novelist. In addition to his own writing he has published a translation of Water’s Footfall by Sohrab Sepehri. He is also editor of two literary magazines, and teaches creative writing and comparative literature at Oberlin College as well as at the University of Southern Maine.

Libby Murphy teaches courses in modern and contemporary French literature at Oberlin College. She has published articles on print culture and World War I, and on the reception of Charlie Chaplin’s films in wartime and postwar France.

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