Finally, a young ensign, still a child, committed treason for treason’s sake: he was shot. And it is in honor of their crimes that I am writing my book.
I learned only in bits and pieces of that wonderful blossoming of dark and lovely flowers: one was revealed to me by a scrap of newspaper; another was casually alluded to by my lawyer; another was mentioned, almost sung, by the prisoners–their song became fantastic and funereal (a De Profundis), as much so as the plaints which they sing in the evening, as the voice which crosses the cells and reaches me blurred, hopeless, inflected. At the end of the phrases it breaks, and that break makes it so sweet that it seems borne by the music of angels, which horrifies me, for angels fill me with horror, being, I imagine, neither mind nor matter, white, filmy, and frightening, like the transluscent bodies of ghosts.
These murderers, now dead, have nevertheless reached me, and whenever one of these luminaries of affliction falls into my cell, my heart beats fast, my heart beats a loud tattoo, if the tattoo is the drum-call announcing the capitulation of a city. And there follows a fervor comparable to that which wrung me and left me for some minutes grotesquely contorted, when I heard the German plane passing over the prison and the burst of the bomb which it dropped nearby. In the twinkling of an eye, I saw a lone child, borne by his iron bird, laughingly strewing death. For him alone were unleashed the sirens, the bells, the hundred-and-one cannon shots reserved for the Dauphin, the cries of hatred and fear. All the cells were atremble, shivering, mad with terror; the prisoners pounded the doors, rolled on the floor, shrieked, screamed blasphemies, and prayed to God. I saw, as I say, or thought I saw, an eighteen-year-old child in the plane, and from the depths of my 426 I smiled at him lovingly.
I do not know whether it is their faces, the real ones, which spatter the wall of my cell with a sparkling mud, but it cannot be by chance that I cut those handsome, vacant-eyed heads out of the magazines. I say vacant, for all the eyes are clear and must be sky-blue, like the razor’s edge to which clings a star of transparent light, blue and vacant like the windows of buildings under construction, through which you can see the sky from the windows of the opposite wall. Like those barracks which in the morning are open to all the winds, which you think are empty and pure when they are swarming with dangerous males, sprawled promiscuously on their beds. I say empty, but if they close their eyes, they become more disturbing to me than are huge prisons to the nubile maiden who passes by the high barred windows, prisons behind which sleeps, dreams, swears, and spits a race of murderers, which makes of each cell the hissing nest of a tangle of snakes, but also a kind of confessional with a curtain of dusty serge. These eyes, seemingly without mystery, are like certain closed cities–Lyons, Zurich–and they hypnotize me as much as do empty theaters, deserted prisons, machinery at rest, deserts, for deserts are closed and do not communicate with the infinite. Men with such faces terrify me, whenever I have to cross their paths warily, but what a dazzling surprise when, in their landscape, at the turning of a deserted lane, I approach, my heart racing wildly, and discover nothing, nothing but looming emptiness, sensitive and proud like a tall foxglove!
I do not know, as I have said, whether the heads there are really those of my guillotined friends, but I have recognized by certain signs that they–those on the wall–are thoroughly supple, like the lashes of whips, and rigid as glass knives, precocious as child pundits and fresh as forget-me-nots, bodies chosen because they are possessed by terrible souls.
The newspapers are tattered by the time they reach my cell, and the finest pages have been looted of their finest flowers, those pimps, like gardens in May. The big, inflexible, strict pimps, their members in full bloom–I no longer know whether they are lilies or whether lilies and members are not totally they, so much so that in the evening, on my knees, in thought, I encircle their legs with my arms–all that rigidity floors me and makes me confuse them, and the memory which I gladly give as food for my nights is of yours, which, as I caressed it, remained inert, stretched out; only your rod, unsheathed and brandished, went through my mouth with the suddenly cruel sharpness of a steeple puncturing a cloud of ink, a hatpin a breast. You did not move, you were not asleep, you were not dreaming, you were in flight, motionless and pale, frozen, straight, stretched out stiff on the flat bed, like a coffin on the sea, and I know that we were chaste, while I, all attention, felt you flow into me, warm and white, in continuous little jerks. Perhaps you were playing at coming. At the climax, you were lit up with a quiet ecstasy, which enveloped your blessed body in a supernatural nimbus, like a cloak that you pierced with your head and feet.
Still, I managed to get about twenty photographs, and with bits of chewed bread I pasted them on the back of the cardboard sheet of regulations that hangs on the wall. Some are pinned up with bits of brass wire which the foreman brings me and on which I have to string colored glass beads.
Using the same beads with which the prisoners next door make funeral wreaths, I have made star-shaped frames for the most purely criminal. In the evening, as you open your window to the street, I turn the back of the regulations sheet toward me. Smiles and sneers, alike inexorable, enter me by all the holes I offer, their vigor penetrates me and erects me. I live among these pits. They watch over my little routines, which, along with them, are all the family I have and my only friends.
Perhaps some lad who did nothing to deserve prison–a champion, an athlete–slipped in among the twenty by mistake. But if I have nailed him to my wall, it was because, as I see it, he had the sacred sign of the monster at the corner of his mouth or the angle of the eyelids. The flaw on the face or in the set gesture indicates to me that they may very possibly love me, for they love me only if they are monsters–and it may therefore be said that it is this stray himself who has chosen to be here. To provide them with a court and retinue, I have culled here and there, from the illustrated covers of a few adventure novels, a young Mexican half-breed, a gaucho, a Caucasian horseman, and, from the pages of these novels that are passed from hand to hand when we take our walk, clumsy drawings: profiles of pimps and apaches with a smoking butt, or the outline of a tough with a hard-on.
At night I love them, and my love endows them with life. During the day I go about my petty concerns. I am the housekeeper, watchful lest a bread crumb or a speck of ash fall on the floor. But at night! Fear of the guard who may suddenly flick on the light and stick his head through the grating compels me to take sordid precautions lest the rustling of the sheets draw attention to my pleasure; but though my gesture may be less noble, by becoming secret it heightens my pleasure. I dawdle. Beneath the sheet, my right hand stops to caress the absent face, and then the whole body, of the outlaw I have chosen for that evening’s delight. The left hand closes, then arranges its fingers in the form of a hollow organ which tries to resist, then offers itself, opens up, and a vigorous body, a wardrobe, emerges from the wall, advances, and falls upon me, crushes me against my straw mattress, which has already been stained by more than a hundred prisoners, while I think of the happiness into which I sink at a time when God and His angels exist.
No one can tell whether I shall get out of here, or, if I do, when it will be.
So, with the help of my unknown lovers, I am going to write a story. My heroes are they, pasted on the wall, they and I who am here, locked up. As you read on, the characters, and Divine too, and Culafroy, will fall from the wall onto my pages like dead leaves, to fertilize my tale. As for their death, need I tell you about it? For all of them it will be the death of him who, when he learned of his from the jury, merely mumbled in a Rhenish accent: “‘I’m already beyond that” (Weidmann).
This story may not always seem artificial, and in spite of me you may recognize in it the call of the blood: the reason is that within my night I shall have happened to strike my forehead at some door, freeing an anguished memory that had been haunting me since the world began. Forgive me for it. This book aims to be only a small fragment of my inner life.
Sometimes the cat-footed guard tosses me a hello through the grate. He talks to me and, without meaning to, tells me a great deal about my forger neighbors, about arsonists, counterfeiters, murderers, swaggering adolescents who roll on the floor screaming: ‘mama, help!” He slams the grate shut and delivers me to a t”te-“-t”te with all those fine gentlemen whom he has just let slip in and who twist and squirm in the warmth of the sheets and the drowsiness of the morning to seek the end of the thread which will unravel the motives, the system of complicity, a whole fierce and subtle mechanism which, among other neat tricks, changed a few pink little girls into white corpses. I want to mingle them too, with their heads and legs, among my friends on the wall, and to compose with them this children’s tale. And to refashion in my own way, and for the enchantment of my cell (I mean that thanks to her my cell will be enchanted), the story of Divine, whom I knew only slightly, the story of Our Lady of the Flowers, and, never fear, my own story.
Description of Our Lady of the Flowers: height, 5 ft. 7 in., weight, 156 lbs., oval face, blond hair, blue eyes, mat complexion, perfect teeth, straight nose.
Divine died yesterday in a pool of her vomited blood which was so red that, as she expired, she had the supreme illusion that this blood was the visible equivalent of the black hole which a gutted violin, seen in a judge’s office in the midst of a hodge-podge of pieces of evidence, revealed with dramatic insistence, as does a Jesus the gilded chancre where gleams His flaming Sacred Heart. So much for the divine aspect of her death. The other aspect, ours, because of those streams of blood that had been shed on her nightshirt and sheets (for the sun, poignant on the bloody sheets, had set, not nastily, in her bed), makes her death tantamount to a murder.
Divine died holy and murdered–by consumption.
It is January, and in the prison too, where this morning, during the walk, slyly, among prisoners, we wished each other a happy New Year, as humbly as servants must do among themselves in the pantry. The chief guard gave us each a little half-ounce packet of coarse salt as a New Year’s gift. Three hours after noon. It has been raining behind the bars since yesterday, and it’s windy. I let myself drift, as to the depth of an ocean, to the depths of a dismal neighborhood of hard and opaque but rather light houses, to the inner gaze of memory, for the matter of memory is porous. The garret in which Divine lived for such a long time is at the top of one of these houses. Its large window propels the eyes (and delights them) toward the little Montmartre Cemetery. The stairway leading up to it plays an important role today. It is the antechamber, sinuous as the hallways of the Pyramids, of Divine’s temporary tomb. This cavernous hypogeum looms up, pure as the bare marble arm in the darkness which is devouring the queen to whom it belongs. Coming from the street, the stairway mounts to death. It ushers one to the final resting place. It smells of decaying flowers and already of the odor of candles and incense. It rises into the shadow. From floor to floor it dwindles and darkens until, at the top, it is no more than an illusion blending with the azure. This is Divine’s landing. While in the street, beneath the black haloes of the tiny flat umbrellas which they are holding in one hand like bouquets, Mimosa I, Mimosa II, Mimosa the half-IV, First Communion, Angela, Milord, Castagnette, R”gine–in short, a host, a still long litany of creatures who are glittering names–are waiting, and in the other hand are carrying, like umbrellas, little bouquets of violets which make one of them lose herself, for example, in a reverie from which she will emerge bewildered and quite dumbfounded with nobility, for she (let us say First Communion) remembers the article, thrilling as a song from the other world, from our world too, in which an evening paper, thereby embalmed, stated:
“The black velvet rug of the Hotel Crillon, where lay the silver and ebony coffin containing the embalmed body of the Princess of Monaco, was strewn with Parma violets.”
First Communion was chilly. She thrust her chin forward as great ladies do. Then she drew it in and wrapped herself in the folds of a story (born of her desires and taking into account, so as to magnify them, all the mishaps of her drab existence) in which she was dead and a princess.
The rain favored her flight.
Girl-queens were carrying wreaths of glass beads, the very kind I make in my cell, to which they bring the odor of wet moss and the memory of the trail of slime left on the white stones of my village cemetery by snails and slugs.
And all of them, the girl-queens and boy-queens, the aunties, fags, and nellies of whom I am speaking, are assembled at the foot of the stairway. The girl-queens are huddled together, chattering and chirping around the boy-queens, who are straight, motionless, and vertiginous, as motionless and silent as branches. All are dressed in black: trousers, jacket, and overcoat, but their faces, young or old, smooth or crinkly, are divided into quarters of color like a coat of arms. It is raining. With the patter of the rain is mingled:
“Would you believe it, my dear! But at her age it was fatal.”
“It was falling apart. She was losing her bottom.”
“Hasn’t Darling come?”
Divine, who disliked anyone’s walking over her head, lived on the top floor of a middle-class apartment house in a sober neighborhood. It was at the foot of this house that the crowd belonging to this backstage conversation shuffled about.
Any minute now the hearse. drawn perhaps by a black horse, will come to take away Divine’s remains and carry them to the church, then here, dose by, to the little Montmartre Cemetery, which the procession will enter by the Avenue Rachel.
The Eternal passed by in the form of a pimp. The prattle ceased. Bareheaded and very elegant, simple and smiling, simple and supple, Darling Daintyfoot arrived. There was in his supple bearing the weighty magnificence of the barbarian who tramples choice furs beneath his muddy boots. The torso on his hips was a king on a throne. Merely to have mentioned him is enough for my left hand in my torn pocket to. . . . And the memory of Darling will not leave me until I have completed my gesture. One day the door of my cell opened and framed him. I thought I saw him, in the twinkling of an eye, as solemn as a walking corpse, set in the thickness–which you can only imagine–of the prison walls. He appeared standing before me with the same graciousness that might have been his lying naked in a field of pinks. I was his at once, as if (who said that?) he had discharged through my mouth straight to my heart. Entering me until there was no room left for myself, so that now I am one with gangsters, burglars, and pimps, and the police arrest me by mistake. For three months he regaled himself with my body, beating me for all he was worth. I dragged at his feet, more trampled on than a dust mop. Ever since he has gone off free to his robberies, I keep remembering his gestures, so vivid they revealed him cut out of a faceted crystal, gestures so vivid that you suspected they were all involuntary, for it seems utterly impossible that they were born of ponderous reflection and decision. Of the tangible him there remains, sad to say, only the plaster cast that Divine herself made of his cock, which was gigantic when erect. The most impressive thing about it is the vigor, hence the beauty, of that part which goes from the anus to the tip of the penis.
I shall say that he had lace fingers, that, each time he awoke, his outstretched arms, open to receive the World, made him look like the Christ Child in his manger–with the heel of one foot on the instep of the other–that his eager face offered itself, as it bent backward facing heaven, that, when standing, he would tend to make the basket movement we see Nijinsky making in the old photos where he is dressed in shredded roses. His wrist, fluid as a violinist’s, hangs down, graceful and loose-jointed. And at times, in broad daylight, he strangles himself with his lithe arm, the arm of a tragedienne.
This is almost an exact portrait of Darling, for–we shall see him again–he had a talent for the gesture that thrills me, and, if I think about him, I can’t stop praising him until my hand is smeared with my liberated pleasure.
A Greek, he entered the house of death walking on air. A Greek, that is, a crook as well. As he passed–the motion was revealed by an imperceptible movement of the torso–within themselves, secretly, Milord, the Mimosas, Castagnette, in short, all the queens, imparted a tendril-like movement to their bodies and fancied they were enlacing this handsome man, were twining about him. Indifferent and bright as a slaughterhouse knife, he passed by, cleaving them all into two slices which came noiselessly together again, though emitting a slight scent of hopelessness which no one divulged. Darling went up the stairs two at a time, an ample and forthright ascension, which may lead, after the roof, on steps of blue air, up to heaven. In the garret, less mysterious since death had converted it into a vault (it was losing its equivocal meaning, was again assuming, in all its purity, that air of incoherent gratuity that these funereal and mysterious objects, these mortuary objects lent it: white gloves, a lampion, an artilleryman’s jacket, in short, an inventory that we shall list later on), the only one to sigh in her mourning veils was Divine’s mother, Ernestine. She is old. But now at last the wonderful, long-awaited opportunity does not escape her. Divine’s death enables her to free herself, by an external despair, by a visible mourning consisting of tears, flowers, and crape, from the hundred great roles which possessed her. The opportunity slipped between her fingers at the time of an illness which I shall tell about, when Divine the Gaytime Girl was still just a village youngster named Louis Culafroy. From his sick bed, he looked at the room where an angel (once again this word disturbs me, attracts me, and sickens me. If they have wings, do they have teeth? Do they fly with such heavy wings, feathered wings, “those mysterious wings?” And scented with that wonder: their angel’s name, which they change if they fall?), an angel, a soldier dressed in light blue, and a Negro (for will my books ever be anything but a pretext for showing a soldier dressed in sky blue, and a brotherly Negro and angel playing dice or knuckle bones in a dark or light prison?) were engaged in a confabulation from which he himself was excluded. The angel, the Negro, and the soldier kept assuming the faces of various schoolmates and peasants, but never that of Alberto the snake fisher. He was the one Culafroy was waiting for in his desert, to calm his torrid thirst with that mouth of starry flesh. To console himself, he tried, despite his age, to conceive a kind of happiness in which nothing would be winsome, a pure, deserted, desolate field, a field of azure or sand, a dumb, dry, magnetic field, where nothing sweet, no color or sound, would remain. Quite some time before, the appearance on the village road of a bride wearing a black dress, though wrapped in a veil of white tulle, lovely and sparkling, like a young shepherd beneath the hoar frost, like a powdered blond miller, or like Our Lady of the Flowers whom he will meet later on and whom I saw with my own eyes here in my cell one morning, near the latrines–his sleepy face pink and bristly beneath the soapsuds, which blurred his vision–revealed to Culafroy that poetry is something other than a melody of curves on sweetness, for the tulle snapped apart into abrupt, dear, rigorous, icy facets. It was a warning.
He was waiting for Alberto, who did not come. Yet all the peasant boys and girls who came in had something of the snake fisher about them. They were like his harbingers, his ambassadors, his precursors, bearing some of his gifts before him, preparing his coming by smoothing the way for him. They shouted hallelujah. One had his walk, another his gestures, or the color of his trousers, or his corduroy, or Alberto’s voice; and Culafroy, like someone waiting, never doubted that all these scattered elements would eventually fuse and enable a reconstructed Alberto to make the solemn, appointed, and surprising entrance into his room that a dead and alive Darling Daintyfoot made into my cell.
When the village abb”, hearing the news, said to Ernestine: ‘madame, it’s a blessing to die young,” she replied: “Yes, your Lordship,” and made a curtsey.
The priest looked at her.
She was smiling in the shiny floor at her antipodal reflection which made her the Queen of Spades, the ill-omened widow.
‘don’t shrug your shoulders, my friend. I’m not crazy.”
And she wasn’t crazy.
“Lou Culafroy is going to die shortly. I feel it. He’s going to die, I can tell.”
“He’s going to die, I can tell,” was the expression torn alive–and helping her to fly–from a book, and bleeding, like a wing from a sparrow (or from an angel, if it can bleed crimson), and murmured with horror by the heroine of that cheap novel printed in tiny type in newsprint–which, so they say, is as spongy as the consciences of those nasty gentlemen who debauch children.
‘so, I’m dancing the dirge.”
He therefore had to die. And in order for the pathos of the act to be more virulent, she herself would have to be the cause of his death. Here, to be sure, morality is not involved, nor the fear of prison, or of hell. With remarkable precision, the whole mechanism of the drama presented itself to Ernestine’s mind, and thereby to mine. She would simulate a suicide. “I’ll say he killed himself.” Ernestine’s logic, which is a stage logic, has no relationship with what is called verisimilitude, verisimilitude being the disavowal of unavowable reasons. Let us not be surprised, we shall be all the more astonished.
The presence of a huge army revolver at the back of a drawer was enough to dictate her attitude. This is not the first time that things have been the instigators of an act and must alone bear the fearful, though light, responsibility for a crime. This revolver became–or so it seemed–the indispensable accessory of her gesture. It was a continuation of her heroine’s outstretched arm, in fact It haunted her, since there’s no denying it, with a brutality that burned her cheeks, just as the girls of the village were haunted by the brutal swelling of Alberto’s thick hands in his pockets. But–just as I myself would be willing to kill only a lithe adolescent in order to bring forth a corpse from his death, though a corpse still warm and a shade sweet to hug, so Ernestine agreed to kill only on condition that she avoid the horror that the here below would not fail to inspire in her (convulsions, squirting blood and brain, reproaches in the child’s dismayed eyes), and the horror of an angelic beyond, or perhaps to make the moment more stately–she put on her jewels. So in the past I would inject my cocaine with a cut-glass syringe shaped like the stopper of a decanter and put a huge diamond on my index finger. She was not aware that by going about it in this way she was aggravating her gesture, changing it into an exceptional gesture, the singularity of which threatened to upset everything. Which is what happened. With a kind of smooth sliding, the room descended till it blended with a luxurious apartment, adorned with gold, the walls hung with garnet-red velvet, the furniture heavy but toned down with red faille curtains; here and there were large beveled mirrors, adorned with candelabra and their crystal pendants. From the ceiling–an important detail–hung a huge chandelier. The floor was covered with thick blue and violet carpets.
One evening, during her honeymoon in Paris, Ernestine had glimpsed from the street, through the curtains, one of those elegant, well-heated apartments, and as she walked demurely with her arm in her husband’s–demurely still–she longed to die there of love (phenobarbital and flowers) for a Teutonic knight. Then, as she had already died four or five times, the apartment had remained available for a drama more serious than her own death.
I’m complicating things, getting involved, and you’re talking of childishness. It is childishness. All prisoners are children, and only children are underhanded, wily, open, and confused. “What would top it all,” thought Ernestine, “would be for him to die in a fashionable city, in Cannes or Venice, so that I could make pilgrimages to it.”
To stop at a Ritz, bathed by the Adriatic, wife or mistress of a Doge; then, her arms full of flowers, to climb a path to the cemetery, to sit down on a simple flagstone, a white, slightly curved stone, and, all curled up in fragrant grief, to brood!
Without bringing her back to reality, for she never left reality, the arrangement of the setting obliged her to shake off the dream. She went to get the revolver, which had long since been loaded by a most considerate Providence, and when she held it in her hand, weighty as a phallus in action, she realized she was big with murder, pregnant with a corpse.
You, you have no idea of the superhuman or extra-lucid state of mind of the blind murderer who holds the knife, the gun, or the phial, or who has already released the movement that propels to the precipice.
Ernestine’s gesture might have been performed quickly, but, like Culafroy in fact, she is serving a text she knows nothing about, a text I am composing whose d”noument will occur when the time is ripe. Ernestine is perfectly aware of how ridiculously literary her act is, but that she has to submit to cheap literature makes her even more touching in her own eyes and ours. In drama, as in all of life, she escapes vainglorious beauty.
Every premeditated murder is always governed by a preparatory ceremonial and is always followed by a propitiatory ceremonial. The meaning of both eludes the murderer’s mind. Everything is in order. Ernestine has just time to appear before a Star Chamber. She fired. The bullet shattered the glass of a frame containing an honorary diploma of her late husband. The noise was frightful. Drugged by sleeping pills, the child heard nothing. Nor did Ernestine. She had fired in the apartment with the garnet-red velvet, and the bullet, shattering the beveled mirrors, the pendants, the crystals, the stucco, the stars, tearing the hangings–in short, destroying the structure which collapsed–brought down not sparkling powder and blood, but the crystal of the chandelier and the pendants, a gray ash on the head of Ernestine, who swooned.
She came back to her senses amidst the debris of her drama. Her hands, freed from the revolver, which disappeared beneath the bed like an ax at the bottom of a pond, like a prowler into a wall, her hands, lighter than thoughts, fluttered about her. Since then, she has been waiting.
That was how Darling saw her, intoxicated with the tragic. He was intimidated by her, for she was beautiful and seemed mad, but especially because she was beautiful. Did he, who himself was handsome, have to fear her? I’m sorry to say I know too little (nothing) about the secret relations between people who are handsome and know it, and nothing about the seemingly friendly but perhaps hostile contacts between handsome boys. If they smile at each other over a trifle, is there, unknown to them, some tenderness in their smile, and do they feel its influence in some obscure way? Darling made a clumsy sign of the cross over the coffin. His constraint gave the impression that he was deep in thought; and his constraint was all his grace.
Death had placed its mark, which weighs like a lead seal at the bottom of a parchment, on the curtains, the walls, the rugs. Particularly on the curtains. They are sensitive. They sense death and echo it like dogs. They bark at death through the folds that open, dark as the mouth and eyes of the masks of Sophocles, or which bulge like the eyelids of Christian ascetics. The blinds were drawn and the candles lighted. Darling, no longer recognizing the attic where he had lived with Divine, behaved like a young man on a visit.
His emotion beside the coffin? None. He no longer remembered Divine.
The undertaker’s assistants arrived almost immediately and saved him from further embarrassment.
In the rain, this black cortege, bespangled with multicolored faces and blended with the scent of flowers and rouge, followed the hearse. The fiat round umbrellas, undulating above the ambulating procession, held it suspended between heaven and earth. The passersby did not even see it, for it was so light that it was already floating ten yards from the ground; only the maids and butlers might have noticed it, but at ten o’clock the former were bringing the morning chocolate to their mistresses and the latter were opening the door to early visitors. Besides, the cortege was almost invisible because of its speed. The hearse had wings on its axle. The abb” emerged first into the rain singing the dies irae. He tucked up his cassock and cope, as be had been taught to do at the seminary when the weather was bad. His gesture, though automatic, released within him, with a placenta of nobility, a series of sad and secret creatures. With one of the flaps of the black velvet cope, the velvet from which are made Fant’mas’ masks and those of the Doges’ wives, he tried to slip away, but it was the ground that gave way under him, and we shall see the trap into which he fell. Just in time, he prevented the cloth from hiding the lower part of his face. Bear in mind that the abb” was young. You could tell that under his funereal vestments he had the lithe body of a passionate athlete. Which means, in short, that he was in travesty. In the church–the whole funeral service having been merely the ‘do this in memory of me”–approaching the altar on tiptoe, in silence, he had picked the lock of the tabernacle, parted the veil like someone who at midnight parts the double curtains of an alcove, held his breath, seized the ciborium with the caution of an ungloved burglar, and finally, having broken it, swallowed a questionable host.
From the church to the cemetery, the road was long and the text of the breviary too familiar. Only the dirge and the black, silver-embroidered cope exuded charms. The abb” plodded through the mud as he would have done in the heart of the woods. “Of what woods?” he asked himself. In a foreign country, a forest of Bohemia. Or rather of Hungary. In choosing this country, he was no doubt guided by the precious suspicion that Hungarians are the only Asiates in Europe. Huns. The Hunis. Attila burning the grass, and his soldiers warming between their brutal and colossal thighs (like those, and perhaps even larger than those, of Alberto, Darling, and Gorgui) and their horses’ flanks the raw meat that they will eat. It is autumn. It is raining in the Hungarian forest.
Every branch that he has to push aside wets the priest’s forehead. The only sound is the patter of the drops on the wet leaves. Since it is evening, the woods become more and more alarming. The priest draws the gray coat more tightly about his splendid loins, the great cape, like his cope of today, which envelops him over there.
In the forest is a sawmill; two young men work it and hunt. They are unknown in the region. They have (the abb” knows this as one knows things in dreams without having learned them) been around the world. And so here the abb” was chanting the dirge as he would have sung it there when he met one of the strangers, the younger, who had the face of the butcher of my village. He was on his way back from hunting. In the corner of his mouth, an unlit butt. The word “butt” and the taste of the sucked tobacco made the abb”‘s spine stiffen and draw back with three short jerks, the vibrations of which reverberated through all his muscles and on to infinity, which shuddered and ejaculated a seed of constellations.
The woodcutter’s lips came down on the abb”‘s mouth, where, with a thrust of the tongue more imperious than a royal order, they drove in the butt. The priest was knocked down, bitten, and he expired with love on the soggy moss. After having almost disrobed him, the stranger caressed him, gratefully, almost fondly, thought the abb”. With a heave, he shouldered his game bag, which was weighted down with a wildcat, picked up his gun, and went off whistling a raffish tune.
The abb” was winding his way among mausoleums; the queens were stumbling over the stones, getting their feet wet in the grass, and among the graves were being angelicized. The choir boy, a puny lad with ringworm, who hadn’t the slightest suspicion of the adventure the abb” had just had, asked him whether he might keep his skullcap on. The abb” said yes. As he walked, his leg made the movement peculiar to dancers (with one hand in their pocket) as they finish a tango. He bent forward on his leg, which was slightly advanced on the tip of the toe; he slapped his knee against the cloth of the cassock, which flapped back and forth like the bell-bottomed trousers of a swaying sailor or a gaucho. Then he began a psalm.
When the procession arrived at the hole which had already been dug, perhaps by the gravedigger Divine used to see from her window, they lowered the coffin in which Divine lay wrapped in a white lace sheet. The abb” blessed the grave and handed his sprinkler to Darling, who blushed to feel it so heavy (for he had to some degree returned, after and beyond Divine, to his race, which was akin to that of young gypsies, who are willing to jerk you off, but only with their feet), then to the queens, who turned the whole area into a squealing of pretty cries and high giggles. Divine departed as she would have desired, in a mixture of fantasy and sordidness.
Divine is dead, is dead and buried . . .
. . . is dead and buried.
Since Divine is dead, the poet may sing her, may tell her legend, the Saga, the annals of Divine. The Divine Saga should be danced, mimed, with subtle directions. Since it is impossible to make a ballet of it, I am forced to use words that are weighed down with precise ideas, but I shall try to lighten them with expressions that are trivial, empty, hollow, and invisible.
What is involved for me who is making up this story? In reviewing my life, in tracing its course, I fill my cell with the pleasure of being what for want of a trifle I failed to be, recapturing, so that I may hurl myself into them as into dark pits, those moments when I strayed through the trap-ridden compartments of a subterranean sky. Slowly displacing volumes of fetid air, cutting threads from which hang bouquets of feelings, seeing the gypsy for whom I am looking emerge perhaps from some starry river, wet, with mossy hair, playing the fiddle, diabolically whisked away by the scarlet velvet portiere of a cabaret.
I shall speak to you about Divine, mixing masculine and feminine as my mood dictates, and if, in the course of the tale, I shall have to refer to a woman, I shall manage, I shall find an expedient, a good device, to avoid any confusion.
Divine appeared in Paris to lead her public life about twenty years before her death. She was then thin and vivacious and will remain so until the end of her life, though growing angular. At about two A.M. she entered Graff’s Caf” in Montmartre. The customers were a muddy, still shapeless clay. Divine was limpid water. In the big caf” with the closed windows and the curtains drawn on their hollow rods, overcrowded and foundering in smoke, she wafted the coolness of scandal, which is the coolness of a morning breeze, the astonishing sweetness of a breath of scandal on the stone of the temple, and just .as the wind turns leaves, so she turned heads, heads which all at once became light (giddy heads), heads of bankers, shopkeepers, gigolos for ladies, waiters, managers, colonels, scarecrows.
She sat down alone at a table and asked for tea.
‘specially fine China tea, my _ good man,” she said to the waiter.
With a smile. For the customers she had an irritatingly jaunty smile. Hence, the “you-know-what” in the wagging of the heads. For the poet and the reader, her smile will be enigmatic.
That evening she was wearing a champagne silk short-sleeved blouse, a pair of blue trousers stolen from a sailor, and leather sandals. On one of her fingers, though preferably on the pinkie, an ulcer-like stone gangrened her. When the tea was brought, she drank it as if she were at home, in tiny little sips (a pigeon), putting down and lifting the cup with her pinkie in the air. Here is a portrait of her: her hair is brown and curly; with the curls spilling over her eyes and down her cheeks, she looks as if she were wearing a cat-o’-nine-tails on her head. Her forehead is somewhat round and smooth. Her eyes sing, despite their despair, and their melody moves from her eyes to her teeth, to which she gives life, and from her teeth to all her movements, to her slightest acts, and this charm, which emerges from her eyes, unfurls in wave upon wave, down to her bare feet. Her body is fine as amber. Her limbs can be agile when she flees from ghosts. At her heels, the wings of terror bear her along. She is quick, for in order to elude the ghosts, to throw them off her track, she must speed ahead faster than her thought thinks. She drank her tea before thirty pairs of eyes which belied what the contemptuous, spiteful, sorrowful, wilting mouths were saying.
Divine was full of grace, and yet was like all those prowlers at country fairs on the lookout for rare sights and artistic visions, good sports who trail behind them all the inevitable hodge-podge of side shows. At the slightest movement–if they knot their tie, if they flick the ash off their cigarette–they set slot machines in motion. Divine knotted, garroted arteries. Her seductiveness will be implacable. If it were only up to me, I would make her the kind of fatal hero I like. Fatal, that is, determining the fate of those who gaze at them, spellbound. I would make her with hips of stone, flat and polished cheeks, heavy eyelids, pagan knees so lovely that they reflected the desperate intelligence of the faces of mystics. I would strip her of all sentimental trappings. Let her consent to be the frozen statue. But I know that the poor Demiurge is forced to make his creature in his own image and that he did not invent Lucifer. In my cell, little by little, I shall have to give my thrills to the granite. I shall remain alone with it for a long time, and I shall make it live with my breath and the smell of my farts, both the solemn and the mild ones. It will take me an entire book to draw her from her petrifaction and gradually impart my suffering to her, gradually deliver her from evil, and, holding her by the hand, lead her to saintliness.
The waiter who served her felt very much like snickering, but out of decency he did not dare in front of her. As for the manager, he approached her table and decided that as soon as she finished her tea, he would ask her to leave, to make sure she would not turn up again some other evening.
Finally, she patted her snowy forehead with a flowered handkerchief. Then she crossed her legs; on her ankle could be seen a chain fastened by a locket which we know contained a few hairs. She smiled all around, and each one answered only by turning away, but that was a way of answering. The whole caf” thought that the smile of (for the colonel: the invert; for the shopkeepers: the fairy; for the banker and the waiters: the fag; for the gigolos: “that one” etc.) was despicable. Divine did not press the point. From a tiny black satin purse she took a few coins which she laid noiselessly on the marble table. The caf” disappeared, and Divine was metamorphosed, into one of those monsters that are painted on walls–chimeras or griffins–for a customer, in spite of himself, murmured a magic word as he thought of her:
That evening, her first in Montmartre, she was cruising. But she got nowhere. She came upon us without warning. The habitu’s of the caf” had neither the time nor, above all, the composure to handle properly their reputations or their females. Having drunk her tea, Divine, with indifference (so it appeared, seeing her), wriggling in a spray of flowers and strewing swishes and spangles with an invisible furbelow, made off. So here she is, having decided to return, lifted by a column of smoke, to her garret, on the door of which is nailed a huge discolored muslin rose.
Her perfume is violent and vulgar. From it we can already tell that she is fond of vulgarity. Divine has sure taste, good taste, and it is most upsetting that life always puts someone so delicate into vulgar positions, into contact with all kinds of filth. She cherishes vulgarity because her greatest love was for a dark-skinned gypsy. On him, under him, when, with his mouth pressed to hers, he sang to her gypsy songs that pierced her body, she learned to submit to the charm of such vulgar cloths as silk and gold braid, which are becoming to immodest persons. Montmartre was aflame. Divine passed through its multi-colored fires, then, intact, entered the darkness of the promenade of the Boulevard de Clichy, a darkness that preserves old and ugly faces. It was three A.M. She walked for a while toward Pigalle. She smiled and stared at every man who strolled by alone. They didn’t dare, or else it was that she still knew nothing about the customary routine: the client’s qualms, his hesitations, his lack of assurance as soon as he approaches the coveted youngster. She was weary; she sat down on a bench and, despite her fatigue, was conquered, transported by the warmth of the night; she let herself go for the length of a heartbeat and expressed her excitement as follows: “The nights are mad about me! Oh the sultanas! My God, they’re making eyes at me! Ah, they’re curling my hair around their fingers (the fingers of the nights, men’s cocks!). They’re patting my cheek, stroking my butt.” That was what she thought, though without rising to, or sinking into, a poetry cut off from the terrestrial world. Poetic expression will never change her state of mind. She will always be the tart concerned with gain.
There are mornings when all men experience with fatigue a flush of tenderness that makes them horny. One day at dawn I found myself placing my lips lovingly, though for no reason at all, on the icy banister of the Rue Berthe; another time, kissing my hand; still another time, bursting with emotion, I wanted to swallow myself by opening my mouth very wide and turning it over my head so that it would take in my whole body, and then the Universe, until all that would remain of me would be a ball of eaten thing which little by little would be annihilated: that is how I see the end of the world. Divine offered herself to the night in order to be devoured by it tenderly and never again spewed forth. She is hungry. And there is nothing around. The pissoirs are empty; the promenade is just about deserted. Merely some bands of young workmen–whose whole disorderly adolescence is manifest in their carelessly tied shoelaces which hop about on their insteps–returning home in forced marches from an evening of pleasure. Their tight-fitting jackets are like fragile breastplates or shells protecting the na’vet” of their bodies. But by the grace of their virility, which is still as light as a hope, they are inviolable by Divine.
She will do nothing tonight. The possible customers were so taken by surprise that they were unable to collect their wits. She will have to go back to her attic with hunger in her belly and her heart. She stood up to go. A man came staggering toward her. He bumped her with his elbow.
“Oh! sorry,” he said, “terribly sorry!”
His breath reeked of wine.
“Quite all right,” said the queen.
It was Darling Daintyfoot going by.
Description of Darling: height, 5 ft. 9 in., weight 165 lbs., oval face, blond hair, blue-green eyes, mat complexion, perfect teeth, straight nose.
He was young too, almost as young as Divine, and I would like him to remain so to the end of the book. Every day the guards open my door so I can leave my cell and go out into the yard for some fresh air. For a few seconds, in the corridors and on the stairs, I pass thieves and hoodlums whose faces enter my face and whose bodies, from afar, hurl mine to the ground. I long to have them within reach. Yet not one of them makes me evoke Darling Daintyfoot.
When I met Divine in Fresnes Prison, she spoke to me about him a great deal, seeking his memory and the traces of his steps throughout the prison, but I never quite knew his face, and this is a tempting opportunity for me to blend him in my mind with the face and physique of Roger.
Very little of this Corsican remains in my memory: a hand with too massive a thumb that plays with a tiny hollow key, and the faint image of a blond boy walking up La Canebi’re in Marseilles, with a small chain, probably gold, stretched across his fly, which it seems to be buckling. He belongs to a group of males who are advancing upon me with the pitiless gravity of forests on the march. That was the starting point of the daydream in which I imagined myself calling him Roger, a “little boy’s’ name, though firm and upright. Roger was upright. I had just got out of the Chave prison, and I was amazed not to have met him there. What could I commit to be worthy of his beauty? I needed boldness in order to admire him. For lack of money, I slept at night in the shadowy corners of coal piles, on the docks, and every evening I carried him off with me. The memory of his memory made way for other men. For the past two days, in my daydreams, I have again been mingling his (made-up) life with mine. I wanted him to love me, and of course he did, with the candor that required only perversity for him to be able to love me. For two successive days I have fed with his image a dream which is usually sated after four or five hours when I have given it a boy to feed upon, however handsome he may be. Now I am exhausted with inventing circumstances in which he loves me more and more. I am worn out with the invented trips, thefts, rapes, burglaries, imprisonments, and treachery in which we were involved, each acting by and for the other and never by or for himself, in which the adventure was ourselves and only ourselves. I am exhausted; I have a cramp in my wrist. The pleasure of the last drops is dry. For a period of two days, between my four bare walls, I experienced with him and through him every possibility of an existence that had to be repeated twenty times and got so mixed up it became more real than a real one. I have given up the daydream. I was loved. I have quit, the way a contestant in a six-day bicycle race quits; yet the memory of his eyes and their fatigue, which I have to cull from the face of another youngster whom I saw coming out of a brothel, a boy with firm legs and ruthless cock, so solid that I might almost say it was knotted, and his face (it alone, seen without its veil), which asks for shelter like a knight-errant–this memory refuses to disappear as the memory of my dream-friends usually does. It floats about. It is less sharp than when the adventures were taking place, but it lives in me nevertheless. Certain details persist more obstinately in remaining: the little hollow key with which, if he wants to, he can whistle; his thumb; his sweater; his blue eyes. . . . If I continue, he will rise up, become erect, and penetrate me so deeply that I shall be marked with stigmata. I can’t bear it any longer. I am turning him into a character whom I shall be able to torment in my own way, namely, Darling Daintyfoot. He will still be twenty, although his destiny is to become the father and lover of Our Lady of the Flowers.
To Divine he said:
In his cups, Darling did not notice the strangeness of this passerby with his aggressive niceness:
“What about it, pal?”
Divine stopped. A bantering and dangerous conversation ensued, and then everything happened as was to be desired. Divine took him home with her to the Rue Caulaincourt. It was in this garret that she died, the garret from which one sees below, like the sea beneath the watchman in the crow’s nest, a cemetery and graves. Cypresses singing. Ghosts dozing. Every morning, Divine will shake her dustrag from the window and bid the ghosts farewell. One day, with the help of field glasses, she will discover a young gravedigger. “God forgive me!” she will exclaim, “there’s a bottle of wine on the vault!” This gravedigger will grow old along with her and will bury her without knowing anything about her.
So she went upstairs with Darling. Then, in the attic, after closing the door, she undressed him. With his jacket, trousers, and shirt off, he looked as white and sunken as an avalanche. By evening they found themselves tangled in the damp and rumpled sheets.
“What a mess! Man! I was pretty groggy yesterday, wasn’t I, doll?”
He laughed feebly and looked around the garret. It is a room with a sloping ceiling. On the floor, Divine has put some threadbare rugs and nailed to the wall the murderers on the walls of my cell and the extraordinary photographs of good-looking kids, which she has stolen from photographers’ display windows, all of whom bear the signs of the power of darkness.
On the mantelpiece, a tube of phenobarbital lying on a small painted wooden frigate is enough to detach the room from the stone block of the building, to suspend it like a cage between heaven and earth.
From the way he talks, the way he lights and smokes his cigarette, Divine has gathered that Darling is a pimp. At first she had certain fears: of being beaten up, robbed, insulted. Then she felt the proud satisfaction of having made a pimp come. Without quite seeing where the adventure would lead, but rather as a bird is said to go into a serpent’s mouth, she said, not quit voluntarily and in a kind of trance: ‘stay,” and added hesitantly, “if you want to.”
“No kidding, you feel that way about me?”
In that big Montmartre attic, where, through the sky-light, between the pink muslin puffs which she has made herself, Divine sees white cradles sailing by on a calm blue sea, so close that she can make out their flowers from which emerges the arched foot of a dancer. Darling will soon bring the midnight-blue overalls that he wears on the job, his ring of skeleton keys and his tools, and on the little pile which they make on the floor he will place his white rubber gloves, which are like gloves for formal occasions. Thus began their life together in that room through which ran the electric wires of the stolen radiator, the stolen radio, and the stolen lamps.
They eat breakfast in the afternoon. During the day they sleep and listen to the radio. Toward evening, they primp and go out. At night, as is the practice, Divine hustles on the Place Blanche and Darling goes to the movies. For a long time, things will go well with Divine. With Darling to advise and protect her, she will know whom to rob, which judge to blackmail. The vaporish cocaine loosens the contours of their lives and sets their bodies adrift, and so they are untouchable.
Though a hoodlum, Darling had a face of light. He was the handsome male, gentle and violent, born to be a pimp, and of so noble a bearing that he seemed always to be naked, save for one ridiculous and, to me, touching movement: the way he arched his back, standing first on one foot, then on the other, in order to take off his trousers and shorts. Before his birth, Darling was baptized privately, that is, beatified too, practically canonized, in the warm belly of his mother. He was given the kind of emblematic baptism which, upon his death, was to send him to limbo; in short, one of those brief ceremonies, mysterious and highly dramatic in their compactness, sumptuous too, to which the Angels were convoked and in which the votaries of the Divinity were mobilized, as was the Divinity Itself. Darling is aware of this, though only slightly, that is, throughout his life, rather than anyone’s telling him such secrets aloud and intelligibly, it seems that someone whispers them to him. And this private baptism, with which his life began, gilds his life as it unfolds, envelops it in a warm, weak, slightly luminous aureole, raises for this pimp’s life a pedestal garlanded with flowers, as a maiden’s coffin is bedecked with woven ivy, a pedestal massive though light, from the top of which, since the age of fifteen, Darling has been pissing in the following position: his legs spread, knees slightly bent, and in more rigid jets since the age of eighteen. For we should like to stress the point that a very gentle nimbus always isolates him from too rough a contact with his own sharp angles. If he says, “I’m dropping a pearl,” or “A pearl slipped,” he means that he has farted in a certain way, very softly, that the fart has flowed out very quietly. Let us wonder at the fact that it does suggest a pearl of dull sheen: the flowing, the muted leak, seems to us as milky as the paleness of a pearl, that is, slightly cloudy. It makes Darling seem to us a kind of precious gigolo, a Hindu, a princess, a drinker of pearls. The odor he has silently spread in the prison has the dullness of the pearl, coils about him, haloes him from head to foot, isolates him, but isolates him much less than does the remark that his beauty does not fear to utter. “I’m dropping a pearl” means that the fart is noiseless. If it rumbles, then it is coarse, and if it’s some jerk who drops it, Darling says, ‘my cock’s house is falling down!”
Wondrously, through the magic of his high blond beauty, Darling calls forth a savanna and plunges us more deeply and imperiously into the heart of the black continents than the Negro murderer will plunge me. Darling adds further:
‘sure stinks. I can’t even stay near me. . . .”
In short, he bore his infamy like a red-hot brand on raw flesh, but this precious brand is as ennobling as was the fleur-de-lis on the shoulders of hoodlums of old. Eyes blackened by fists are the pimp’s shame, but Darling says:
‘my two bouquets of violets.” He also says, regarding a desire to shit:
“I’ve got a cigar at the tip of my lips.”
He has very few friends. As Divine loses hers, he sells them to the cops. Divine does not yet know about this; he keeps his traitor’s face for himself alone, for he loves to betray. When Divine met him, he had just got out of jail, that same morning, having served a minimum sentence for robbery and receiving stolen goods, after having coldly ratted on his accomplices, and on some other friends who were not accomplices.
One evening, as they were about to release him from the police station to which he had been taken after a raid, when the inspector said to him, in that gruff tone that makes one think they won’t go any further: “You wouldn’t happen to know who’s going to pull a job? All you have to do is stooge for us, we can come to some arrangement,” he felt, as you would say, a base caress, but it was all the sweeter because he himself regarded it as base. He tried to seem nonchalant and said:
“It’s a risky business.”
However, he noticed that he had lowered his voice.
“You don’t have to worry about that with me,” continued the inspector. “You’ll get a hundred francs each time.”
Darling accepted. He liked selling out on people, for this dehumanized him. Dehumanizing myself is my own most fundamental tendency. On the first page of an evening paper he again saw the photograph of the ensign I mentioned earlier, the one who was shot for treason. And Darling said to himself:
“Old pal! Buddy!”
He was thrilled by a prankishness that was born from within: “‘I’m a double crosser.” As he walked down the Rue Dancourt, drunk with the hidden splendor (as of a treasure) of his abjection (for it really must intoxicate us if we are not to be killed by its intensity), he glanced at the mirror in a shop window where he saw a Darling luminous with extinguished pride, bursting with this pride. He saw this Darling wearing a glen plaid suit, a felt hat over one eye, his shoulders stiff, and when he walks he holds them like that so as to resemble Sebastopol Pete, and Pete holds them like that so as to resemble Pauley the Rat, and Pauley to resemble Teewee, and so on; a procession of pure, irreproachable pimps leads to Darling Daintyfoot, the double crosser, and it seems that as a result of having rubbed against them and stolen their bearing, he has, you might say, soiled them with his own abjection; that’s how I want him to be, for my delight, with a chain on his wrist, a tie as fluid as a tongue of flame, and those extraordinary shoes which are meant only for pimps–very light tan, narrow and pointed. For, thanks to Divine, Darling has gradually exchanged his clothes, which were shabby from months in a cell, for some elegant worsted suits and scented linen. The transformation has delighted him. For he is still the child-pimp. The soul of the ill-tempered hoodlum has remained in the cast offs. Now he feels in his pocket, and strokes with his hand, better than he used to feel his knife near his penis, a .38 caliber gun. But we do not dress for ourselves alone, and Darling dressed for prison. With each new purchase, he imagines the effect on his possible prison mates at Fresnes or the Sant”. Who, in your opinion, might they be? Two or three hoods who, never having seen him, could recognize him as their peer, a few wooden-faced men who might offer him their hand or, from a distance, during the medical examination or while returning from the daily walk, would rap out from the corner of their mouth, with a wink: ” “lo, Darling.” But most of his friends would be jerks who were easily dazzled. Prison is a kind of God, as barbaric as a god, to whom he offers gold watches, fountain pens, rings, handkerchiefs, scarves, and shoes. He dreams less of showing himself in the splendor of his new outfits to a woman or to the people he meets casually in daily life than of walking into a cell with his hat tilted over one eye, his white silk shirt open at the collar (for his tie was stolen during the search), and his English raglan unbuttoned. And the poor prisoners already gaze at him with respect. On the basis of his appearance, he dominates them. “I’d like to see the look on their mugs!” he would think, if he could think his desires.
Two stays in prison have so molded him that he will live the rest of his life for it. It has shaped his destiny, and he is very dimly aware that he is ineluctably consecrated to it, perhaps ever since the time he read the following words that someone had scribbled on the page of a library book:
First: Jean Cl’ment, known as the Queen,
Second: Robert Martin, known as the Faggot,
Third: Roger Falgue, known as Nelly.
The Queen has a crush on Li’l Meadow (society sis),
The Faggot on Ferri’re and Grandot,
Nelly on Malvoisin.
The only way to avoid the horror of horror is to give in to it. He therefore wished, with a kind of voluptuous desire, that one of the names were his. Besides, I know that you finally tire of that tense, heroic attitude of the outlaw and that you decide to play along with the police in order to reassume your sloughed-off humanity. Divine knew nothing about this aspect of Darling. Had she known it, she would have loved him all the more, for to her love was equivalent to despair. So they are drinking tea, and Divine is quite aware she is swallowing it the way a pigeon swallows clear water. As it would be drunk, if he drank it, by the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove. Darling dances the java with his hands in his pockets. If he lies down, Divine sucks him.
When she talks to herself about Darling, Divine says, clasping her hands in thought:
“I worship him. When I see him lying naked, I feel like saying mass on his chest.”
It took Darling some time to get used to talking about her and to her in the feminine. He finally succeeded, but he still did not tolerate her talking to him as to a girl friend. Then little by little he let her do it. Divine dared say to him:
“You’re pretty,” adding: “like a prick.”
Darling takes what comes his way in the course of his nocturnal and diurnal expeditions, and bottles of liquor, silk scarves, perfumes, and fake jewels accumulate in the garret. Each object brings into the room the fascination of a petty theft that is as brief as an appeal to the eyes. Darling steals from the display counters of department stores, from parked cars; he robs his few friends; he steals wherever he can.
On Sunday, Divine and he go to mass. Divine carries a gold-clasped missal in her right hand. With her left, she keeps the collar of her overcoat closed. They walk without seeing. They arrive at the Madeleine and take their seats among the fashionable worshipers. They believe. in the bishops with gold ornaments. The mass fills Divine with wonder. Everything that goes on there is perfectly natural. Each of the priest’s gestures is clear, has its precise meaning, and might be performed by anyone. When the officiating priest joins the two pieces of the divided host for the consecration, the edges do not fit together, and when he raises it with his two hands, he does not try to make you believe in the miracle. It makes Divine shudder.
Darling prays, saying:
“Our Mother Which art in heaven . . .”
They sometimes take communion from a mean-looking priest who maliciously crams the host into their mouths.
Darling still goes to mass because of its luxuriousness.
When they get back to the garret, they fondle each other.
Divine loves her man. She bakes pies for him and butters his roasts. She even dreams of him if he is in the toilet. She worships him in any and all positions.
A silent key is opening the door, and the wall bursts open just as a sky tears apart to reveal The Man, like the one Michelangelo painted nude in The Last Judgment. When the door has been closed, as gently as if it were made of glass, Darling tosses his hat on the couch and his cigarette butt any old place, though preferably to the ceiling. Divine leaps to the assault, clings to her man, licks him, and envelops him; he stands there solid and motionless, as if he were Andromeda’s monster changed to a rock in the sea.
Since his friends keep away from him, Darling sometimes takes Divine to the Roxy Bar. They play poker-dice. Darling likes the elegant movement of shaking the dice. He also likes the graceful way in which fingers roll a cigarette or remove the cap of a fountain pen. He gives no thought to either his seconds or his minutes or his hours. His life is an underground heaven thronged with barmen, pimps, queers, ladies of the night, and Queens of Spades, but his life is a Heaven. He is a voluptuary. He knows all the caf’s in Paris where the toilets have seats.
“To do a good job,” he says, “I’ve got to be sitting down.”
He walks for miles, preciously carrying in his bowels the desire to shit, which he will gravely deposit in the mauve tiled toilets of the Caf” Terminus at the Saint-Lazare Station.
I don’t know much about his background. Divine once told me his name; it was supposed to be Paul Garcia. He was probably born in one of those neighborhoods that smell of the excrement which people wrap in newspapers and drop from their windows, at each of which hangs a heart of lilacs.
If he shakes his curly head, you can see the earrings swinging at the cheeks, of his predecessors, the prowlers of the boulevards, who used to wear them in the old days. His way of kicking forward to swing the bottoms of his trousers is the counterpart of the way women used to kick aside the flounces of their gowns with their heels when they waltzed.
So the couple lived undisturbed. From the bottom of the stairs, the concierge watches over their happiness. And toward evening the angels sweep the room and tidy up. To Divine, angels are gestures that are made without her.
Oh, I so love to talk about them! Legions of soldiers wearing coarse sky-blue or river-colored denim are hammering the azure of the heavens with their hobnailed boots. The planes are weeping. The whole world is dying of panicky fright. Five million young men of all tongues will die by the cannon that erects and discharges. Their flesh is already embalming the humans who drop like flies. As the flesh perishes, solemnity issues forth from it. But where I am I can muse in comfort on the lovely dead of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I dream of the lovers’ garret. The first serious quarrel has taken place, which ends in a gesture of love. Divine has told me the following about Darling: when he awoke one evening, too weary to open his eyes, he heard her fussing about in the garret.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
Divine’s mother (Ernestine), who called the wash the wash basin, used to do the wash basin every Saturday. So Divine answers:
“I’m doing the wash basin.”
Now, as there was no bathtub in Darling’s home, he used to be dipped into a wash basin. Today, or some other day, though it seems to me today, while he was sleeping, he dreamed that he was entering a wash basin. He isn’t, of course, able to analyze himself, nor would he dream of trying to, but he is sensitive to the tricks of fate, and to the tricks of the theater of fear. When Divine answers, “‘I’m doing the wash basin,” he thinks she is saying it to mean “‘I’m playing at being the wash basin,” as if she were ‘doing” a role. (She might have said: “I’m doing a locomotive.”) He suddenly gets an erection from the feeling that he has penetrated Divine in a dream. In his dream he penetrates the Divine of the dream of Divine, and he possesses her, as it were, in a spiritual debauch. And the following phrases come into his mind: “To the heart, to the hilt, right to the balls, right in the throat.”
Darling has “fallen” in love.
I should like to play at inventing the ways love has of surprising people. It enters like Jesus into the heart of the impetuous; it also comes slyly, like a thief.
A gangster, here in prison, related to me a kind of counterpart of the famous comparison in which the two rivals come to know Eros:
“How I started getting a crush on him? We were in the jug. At night we had to undress, even take off our shirts in front of the guard to show him we weren’t hiding anything (ropes, files, or blades). So the little guy and me were both naked. So I took a squint at him to see if he had muscles like he said. I didn’t have time to get a good look because it was freezing. He got dressed again quick. I just had time to see he was pretty great. Man, did I get an eyeful (a shower of roses!). I was hooked. I swear! I got mine (here one expects inescapably: I knocked myself out). It lasted a while, four or five days. . . .”
The rest is of no further interest to us. Love makes use of the worst traps. The least noble. The rarest. It exploits coincidence. Was it not enough for a kid to stick. his two fingers in his mouth and loose a strident whistle just when my soul was stretched to the limit, needing only this stridency to be torn from top to bottom? Was that the right moment, the moment that made two creatures love each other to the very blood? “Thou art a sun unto my night. My night is a sun unto thine!” We beat our brows. Standing, and from afar, my body passes through thine, and thine, from afar, through mine. We create the world. Everything changes . . . and to know that it does!
Loving each other like two young boxers who, before separating, tear off each other’s shirt, and, when they are naked, astounded by their beauty, think they are seeing themselves in a mirror, stand there for a second open-mouthed, shake–with rage at being caught–their tangled hair, smile a damp smile, and embrace each other like two wrestlers (in Greco-Roman wrestling), interlock their muscles in the precise connections offered by the muscles of the other, and drop to the mat until their warm sperm, spurting high, maps out on the sky a milky way where other constellations which I can read take shape: the constellations of the Sailor, the Boxer, the Cyclist, the Fiddle, the Spahi, the Dagger. Thus a new map of the heavens is outlined on the wall of Divine’s garret.
Divine returns home from a walk to Monceau Park. A cherry branch, supported by the full flight of the pink flowers, surges stiff and black from a vase. Divine is hurt. In the country, the peasants taught her to respect fruit trees and not to regard them as ornaments; she will never again be able to admire them. The broken branch shocks her as you would be shocked by the murder of a nubile maiden. She tells Darling how sad it makes her, and he gives a horselaugh. He, the big-city child, makes fun of her peasant scruples. Divine, in order to complete, to consummate the sacrilege, and, in a way, to surmount it by willing it, perhaps also out of exasperation, tears the flowers to shreds. Slaps. Shrieks. In short, a love riot, for let her touch a male and all her gestures of defense modulate into caresses. A fist, that began as a blow, opens, alights, and slides into gentleness. The big male is much too strong for these weak queens. All Seck Gorgui had to do was to rub lightly, without seeming to touch it, the lump his enormous tool made beneath his trousers, and none of them were henceforth able to tear themselves away from him who, in spite of himself, drew them straight home as a magnet attracts iron filings. Divine would be fairly strong physically, but she fears the movements of the riposte, because they are virile, and her modesty makes her shy away from the facial and bodily grimaces that effort requires. She did have this sense of modesty, and also a modesty about masculine epithets as they applied to her. As for slang, Divine did not use it, any more than did her cronies, the other Nellys. It would have upset her as much as whistling with her tongue and teeth like some cheap hood or putting her hands in her trousers pockets and keeping them there (especially by pushing back the flaps of her unbuttoned jacket), or taking hold of her belt and hitching up her trousers with a jerk of the hips.
The queens on high had their own special language. Slang was for men. It was the male tongue. Like the language of men among the Caribees, it became a secondary sexual attribute. It was like the colored plumage of male birds, like the multicolored silk garments which are the prerogative of the warriors of the tribe. It was a crest and spurs. Everyone could understand it, but the only ones who could speak it were the men who at birth received as a gift the gestures, the carriage of the hips, legs and arms, the eyes, the chest, with which one can speak it. One day, at one of our bars, when Mimosa ventured the following words in the course of a sentence: “. . . his screwy stories. . . ,” the men frowned. Someone said, with a threat in his voice:
“Broad acting tough.”
Slang in the mouths of their men disturbed the queens, although they were less disturbed by the made-up words peculiar to that language than by expressions from the ordinary world that were violated by the pimps, adapted by them to their mysterious needs, expressions perverted, deformed, and tossed into the gutter and their beds. For example, they would say: “Easy does it,” or, “Go, thou art healed.” This last phrase, plucked from the Gospel, would emerge from lips at the corner of which was always stuck. a crumb of tobacco. It was said with a drawl. It would conclude the account of a venture which had turned out well for them. “Go . . . ,” the pimps would say.
They would also say curtly:
And also: “To lie low.” But for Darling the expression did not have the same meaning as for Gabriel (the soldier who is to come, who is already being announced by an expression which delights me and seems suitable only to him: “‘I’m running the show.”). Darling took it to mean: you’ve got to keep your eyes open. Gabriel thought: better clear out. A while ago, in my cell, the two pimps said: “We’re making the pages.” They meant they were going to make the beds, but a kind of luminous idea transformed me there, with my legs spread apart, into a husky guard or a palace groom who ‘makes’ a palace page just as a young man makes a chick.
To hear this boasting made Divine swoon with pleasure, as when she disentangled–it seemed to her that she was unbuttoning a fly, that her hand, already inside, was pulling up the shirt–certain pig-latin words from their extra syllables: edbay, allbay.
This slang had insidiously dispatched its emissaries to the villages of France, and Ernestine had already yielded to its charm.
She would say to herself: “A Gauloise, a butt, a drag.” She would sprawl in her Chair and murmur these words as she inhaled the thick smoke of her cigarette. The better to conceal her fantasy, she would lock herself up in her room and smoke. One evening, as she opened the door, she saw the glow of a cigarette at the far end of the darkness. She was terrified by it, as if she were being threatened by a gun, but the fright was short-lived and blended into hope. Vanquished by the hidden presence of the male, she took a few steps and collapsed in an easy chair, but at the same time the glow disappeared. No sooner had she entered than she realized that she was seeing in the mirror of the wardrobe opposite the door, isolated by the darkness from the rest of the image, the glow of the cigarette she had lit, and she was glad that she had struck the match in the dark hallway. Her true honeymoon might be said to have taken place that evening. Her husband was a synthesis of all men: “A butt.”
A cigarette was later to play her a shabby trick. As she walked down the main street of the village, she passed a young tough, one of those twenty faces I have cut out of magazines. He was whistling; a cigarette was stuck in the corner of his little mug. When he came abreast of Ernestine, he lowered his head, and the nodding gesture made him look as if he were ogling her tenderly. Ernestine thought that he was looking at her with “impertinent interest,” but the fact is he was going against the wind, which blew the smoke into his eyes and made them smart, thus causing him to make this gesture. He screwed up his eyes and twisted his mouth, and the expression passed for a smile. Ernestine drew herself up with a sudden movement, which she quickly repressed and sheathed, and that was the end of the adventure, for at that very moment the village hood, who had not even seen Ernestine, felt the corner of his mouth smiling and his eye winking. With a tough-guy gesture, he hitched up, his pants, thereby showing what the position of his true head made of him.
Still other expressions excited her, just as you would be moved and disturbed by the odd coupling of certain words, such as “bell and candle,” or better still, “a Tartar ball-hold,” which she would have liked to whistle and dance to the air of a java. Thinking of her pocket, she would say to herself: ‘my pouch.”
While visiting a friend: “Get a load of that.” ‘she got the works.” About a good-looking passerby: “I gave him a hard-on.”
Don’t think that Divine took after her in being thrilled by slang, for Ernestine was never caught using it. “To get damned sore,” coming from the cute mouth of an urchin, was enough to make both mother and son regard the one who said it as a sulking little mug, slightly husky, with the crushed face of a bulldog (that of the young English boxer Crane, who is one of my twenty on the wall).
Darling was growing pale. He knocked out a pink-cheeked Dutchman to rob him. At the moment, his pocket is full of florins. The garret knows the sober joy that comes from security. Divine and Darling sleep at night. During the day, they sit around naked and eat snacks, they squabble, forget to make love, turn on the radio, which drools on and on, and smoke. Darling says shit, and Divine, in order to be neighborly, even more neighborly than Saint Catherine of Siena, who passed the night in the cell of a man condemned to death, on whose prick her head rested, reads Detective Magazine. Outside the wind is blowing. The garret is cosily heated by a system of electric radiators, and I should like to give a short respite, even a bit of happiness, to the ideal couple.
The window is open on the cemetery.
Divine hears church bells ringing (for she is awake). Instead of notes, which fly away, the chimes are strokes, five strokes, which drop to the pavement, and, on that wet pavement, bear Divine with them, Divine who three years before, or perhaps four, at the same hour, in the streets of a small town, was rummaging through a garbage can for bread. She had spent the night wandering through the streets in the drizzling rain, hugging the walls so as to get less wet, waiting for the angelus (the bells are now ringing low mass, and Divine relives the anguish of the days without shelter, the days of the bells) which announces that the churches are open to old maids, real sinners, and tramps. In the scented attic, the morning angelus violently changes her back into the poor wretch in damp tatters who has just heard mass and taken communion in order to rest her feet and be less cold. Darling’s sleeping body is warm and next to hers. Divine closes her eyes; when the lids join and separate her from the world which is emerging from the dawn, the rain begins to fall, releasing within her a sudden happiness so perfect that she says aloud, with a deep sigh: “‘I’m happy.” She was about to go back to sleep, but the better to attest her marital happiness she recalled without bitterness the memories of the time when she was Culafroy, when, having run away from the slate house, she landed in a small town, where, on golden, pink, or dreary mornings, tramps with souls–which, to look at them, one would call na’ve–of dolls, accost each other with gestures one would also call fraternal. They have just got up from park benches on which they have been sleeping, from benches on the main square, or have just been born from a lawn in the public park. They exchange secrets dealing with Asylums, Prisons, Pilfering, and State Troopers. The milkman hardly disturbs them. He is one of them. For a few days Culafroy was also one of them. He fed on crusts, covered with hair, that he found in garbage cans. One night, the night he was most hungry, he even wanted to kill himself. Suicide was his great preoccupation: the song of phenobarbital! Certain attacks brought him so close to death that I wonder how he escaped it, what imperceptible shock–coming from whom?–pushed him back from the brink. But one day there would be, within arm’s reach, a phial of poison, and I would have only to put it to my mouth; and then to wait. To wait, with unbearable anguish, for the effect of the incredible act, and marvel at the wondrousness of an act so madly irremediable, that brings in its wake the end of the world which follows from so casual a gesture. I had never been struck by the fact that the slightest carelessness–sometimes even less than a gesture, an unfinished gesture, one you would like to take back, to undo by reversing time, a gesture so mild and close, still in the present moment, that you think you can efface it–Impossible!–can lead, for example, to the guillotine, until the day when I myself–through one of those little gestures that escape you involuntarily, that it is impossible to abolish–saw my soul in anguish and immediately felt the anguish of the unfortunate creatures who have no other way out than to confess. And to wait. To wait and grow calm, because anguish and despair are possible only if there is a visible or secret way out, and to trust to death, as Culafroy once trusted the inaccessible snakes.
Up to that time, the presence of a phial of poison or a high-tension wire had never coincided with periods of dizziness, but Culafroy, and later Divine, will dread that moment, and they expect to encounter it very soon, a moment chosen by Fate, so that death may issue irremediably from their decision or their lassitude.
There were random walks through the town, along dark streets on sleepless nights. He would stop to look through windows at gilded interiors, through lacework illustrated with elaborate designs: flowers, acanthus leaves, cupids with bows and arrows, lace deer; and the interiors, hollowed out in massive and shadowy altars, seemed to him veiled tabernacles. In front of and beside the windows, taper-like candelabra mounted a guard of honor in still leafy trees which spread out in bouquets of enamel, metal, or cloth lilies on the steps of a basilica altar. In short, they were the surprise packages of vagrant children for whom the world is imprisoned in a magic lattice, which they themselves weave about the globe with toes as hard and agile as Pavlova’s. Children of this kind are invisible. Conductors do not notice them on trains, nor do policemen on docks; even in prison they seem to have been smuggled in, like tobacco, tattooing ink, moonbeams, sunbeams, and the music of a phonograph. Their slightest gesture proves to them that a crystal mirror, which their fist sometimes bespangles with a slivery spider, encages the universe of houses, lamps, cradles, and baptisms, the universe of humans. The child we are concerned with was so far removed from this that later on all he remembered of his escapade was: “In town, women in mourning are very smartly dressed.” But his solitude made it possible for him to be moved by petty miseries: a squatting old woman who, when the child suddenly appeared, pissed on her black cotton stockings; in front of restaurant windows bursting with lights and crystals and silverware, but still empty of diners, he witnessed, spellbound, the tragedies being performed by waiters in full dress who were dialoguing with a great flourish and debating questions of precedence until the arrival of the first elegant couple which dashed the drama to the floor and shattered it; homosexuals who would give him only fifty centimes and run off, full of happiness for a week; in stations at major junctions he would observe at night, from the waiting rooms, male shadows carrying mournful lanterns along multitudes of tracks. His feet and shoulders ached; he was cold.
Divine muses on the moments which are most painful for the vagabond: at night, when a car on the road suddenly spotlights his poor rags.
Darling’s body is burning. Divine is lying in its hollow. I do not know whether she is already dreaming or merely reminiscing: “One morning (it was at the crack of dawn), I knocked at your door. I was weary of wandering through the streets, bumping into ragpickers, stumbling over garbage. I was seeking your bed, which was hidden in the lace, the lace, the ocean of lace, the universe of lace. From the far end of the world, a boxer’s fist sent me sprawling into a tiny sewer.” Just then, the angelus tolled. Now she is asleep in the lace, and their married bodies are afloat.
Here am I this morning, after a long night of caressing my beloved couple, torn from my sleep by the noise of the bolt being drawn by the guard who comes to collect the garbage. I get up and stagger to the latrine, still entangled in my strange dream, in which I succeeded in getting my victim to pardon me. Thus, I was plunged to the mouth in horror. The horror entered me. I chewed it. I was full of it. My young victim was sitting near me, and his bare leg, instead of crossing his right, went through the thigh. He said nothing, but I knew without the slightest doubt what he was thinking: “I’ve told the judge everything, you’re pardoned. Besides, it’s me sitting on the bench. You can confess. And you don’t have to worry. You’re pardoned.” Then, with the immediacy of dreams, he was a little corpse no bigger than a figurine in an Epiphany pie, than a pulled tooth, lying in a glass of champagne in the middle of a Greek landscape with truncated ringed columns, around which long white tapeworms were twisting and streaming like coils, all this in a light seen only in dreams. I no longer quite remember my attitude, but I do know that I believed what he told me. Upon waking, I still had the feeling of baptism. But there is no question of resuming contact with the precise and tangible world of the cell. I lie down again until it’s time for bread. The atmosphere of the night, the smell rising from the blocked latrines, overflowing with shit and yellow water, stir childhood memories which rise up like a black soil mined by moles. One leads to another and makes it surge up; a whole life which I thought subterranean and forever buried rises to the surface, to the air, to the sad sun, which give it a smell of decay; in which I delight. The reminiscence that really tugs at my heart is that of the toilet of the slate house. It was my refuge. Life, which I saw far off and blurred through its darkness and smell–an odor that filled me with compassion, in which the scent of the elders and the loamy earth was dominant, for the outhouse was at the far end of the garden, near the hedge–life, as it reached me, was singularly sweet, caressing, light, or rather lightened, delivered from heaviness. I am speaking of the life which was things outside the toilet, whatever in the world was not my little retreat with its worm-eaten boards. It seemed to me as if it were somewhat in the manner of floating, painted dreams, whereas I in my hole, like a larva, went on with a restful nocturnal existence, and at times I had the feeling I was sinking slowly, as into sleep or a lake or a maternal breast or even a state of incest, to the spiritual center of the earth. My periods of happiness were never luminously happy, my peace never what men of letters and theologians call a “celestial peace.” That’s as it should be, for I would be horrified if I were pointed at by God, singled out by Him; I know very well that if I were sick, and were cured by a miracle, I would not survive it. Miracles are unclean; the peace I used to seek in the outhouse, the one I am going to seek in the memory of it, is a reassuring and soothing peace.
At times it would rain. I would hear the patter of the drops on the zinc roofing. Then my sad well-being, my morose delectation, would be aggravated by a further sorrow. I would open the door a crack, and the sight of the wet garden and the pelted vegetables would grieve me. I would remain for hours squatting in my cell, roosting on my wooden seat, my body and soul prey to the odor and darkness; I would feel mysteriously moved, because it was there that the most secret part of human beings came to reveal itself, as in a confessional. Empty confessionals had the same sweetness for me. Back issues of fashion magazines lay about there, illustrated with engravings in which the women of 1910 always had a muff, a parasol, and a dress with a bustle.
It took me a long time to learn to exploit the spell of these nether powers, who drew me to them by the feet, who flapped their black wings about me, fluttering them like the eyelashes of a vamp, and dug their branchlike fingers into my eyes.
Someone has flushed the toilet in the next cell. Since our two latrines are adjoining, the water stirs in mine, and a whiff of odor heightens my intoxication. My stiff penis is caught in my underpants; it is freed by the touch of my hand, strikes against the sheet, and forms a little mound. Darling! Divine! And I am alone here.
It is Darling whom I cherish most, for you realize that, in the final analysis, it is my own destiny, be it true or false, that I am draping (at times a rag, at times a court robe) on Divine’s shoulders.
Slowly but surely I want to strip her of every vestige of happiness so as to make a saint of her. The fire that is searing her has already burned away heavy bonds; new ones are shackling her: Love. A morality is being born, which is certainly not the usual morality (it is consonant with Divine) though it is a morality all the same, with its Good and Evil. Divine is not beyond good and evil, there where the saint must live. And I, more gentle than a wicked angel, lead her by the hand.
Here are some ‘divinariana” gathered expressly for you. Since I wish to show the reader a few candid shots of her, it is up to him to provide the sense of duration, of passing time, and to assume that during this first chapter she will be between twenty and thirty years of age.