My father was a parachutiste in Algiers under Massu. I've never told this to anyone. I'm telling you because - to a large extent, I now realise - this fact goes some way to explain how, and why, I met Anne. And Anne is how, and why, I became the thing I am today.
I remember, with an almost three dimensional clarity, that morning with my father - the morning of 22nd May 1968. I was buckling my pack for the Universite de Nanterre, sunlight cut through the slats of our kitchen shutters, when I asked my father if he had ever tortured anyone. The possibility had been on my mind for some time and I had reached a point where I felt that I could not breathe, grow any more without hearing the truth. In fact, it was a rather peculiar scene - he was standing wearing my mother's apron, a dishmop in his hand. He looked through the slats, methodically checking over our suburban Parisian garden, then with something like a proud intake of air for a sigh that he too had been waiting, waiting to make.
"But of course," he began, speaking slowly at first. "We all did. I had quite a reputation around the barracks of Kabylie, in fact. Shocker Corbeau of la gegene." He narrowed his eyes. "Rumour was spread that I once electrocuted a local mute until he sang a perfect Marseillaise. Soldier's tales, but one I treasured."
He rarely looked at me in those days. When he did his contempt flicked from my scraggly beard to my secondhand coat. But, at that moment, he turned, leant forward and met my gaze more squarely than he had ever done in my young adult life.
"I remember electrocuting a young man, about your age, for over eight hours. There was an active FLN cell hiding up somewhere in the zouck. We knew he knew. So. The other lads strung him, weeping, to the beams. I had perfected my technique, they called it my masterpiece. Several times I brought him to within a sniff of death, just this close," he swiped the dishmop against my beard, "So close. Then you must stand back. Watch your victim heal, begin to fill again with the spirit of life. Then you repeat. Shock and watch. Shock and watch until he begins to fight against recovery, fight against pointless hope, pleads to his Muslim God for an instantaneous end. I pulled open one of his eyes, at the end, said Take the face of Shocker to your putain eternity. Eight hours it took but my boss got his answers. That night we flambeed those gris bunnies inside their own warren."
Marxists, Leninists, anti-Vietnamers were already well established when we hit Nanterre that afternoon but I like to think we lit the thing up like televisionary bombs. Khayati, Riesel, myself. Les Enrages, just .. the energy - some scorned us, some were in awe, all took photographs. Without hierarchy, we hated the intellectuals. We hated the intellectuals who hated intellectuals, and leftist recouperators - trying to take party political credit for the scenes we were making, the strikes we inspired. Sometimes I don't know how Serge July sleeps at night. De Gaulle said we had no idea what we wished to replace consumerism, capitalism, communism with. That we delighted in negation, destruction, anarchy.
If it can be lifted, throw it. Breakable, atomise it. If it can be shouted and shouting makes them listen, write it large, televise it. And you probably don't need a history lesson. But we all could do with love lessons - mutual and honest - all the time, don't you agree?
Well, I still use the word 'wife' when I talk about Anne. Sometimes I imagine I just like the word.
She was beautiful that afternoon, radiant, magnetizing - part of an anti-Vietnam coalition arriving late from a demonstration in Strasbourg. I vaguely knew some of her party, they helped us occupy a lecture hall, telling us excitedly of developments with the strikes that were currently gripping the nation. Transport are out! Anne was the last one into the room before I barricaded the doors against the casual thuds of tear gas cannisters.
"The armed police, they want a list of our demands," she laughed. I laughed too. Demands.
We were cooped up in that lecture hall for the best part of a weekend. Anne and I talked on into the night by candlelight, watched it cast a shadow on the scaffolding under which we held one another just for heat. It was no official marriage, but somehow felt much better than that.
She told me about Jura. She was a mountain girl. "Like Heidi?" I asked, foolishly. Father was a forester, mother had inherited young. Anne, until recently, was a boarder at an expensive and liberal Swiss academie. Suddenly I saw the poverty - the poverty of story - in my own perfunctory suburban existence and I was tempted, under the scaffolding, for a second, to make something up. But - "I want to be a writer, sit about making stuff up." - was all I could make up. She moved a little closer and we began our first kiss.
After Nanterre we worked together, pamphleteering, organising demonstrations outside Paris. When De Gaulle was returned to power with the biggest majority in French history, others said that all we had done was make Paris dance. Demands.
Gradually we became uncomfortable living with other students and activists in reclaimed housing. Anne took a job at a publishing company to get together deposits for a one bedroom apartment I found above a Chinese bookies and a restaurant in Belleville. We were happy there, I would lie on the crook of her shoulder and we would read the same book. In the late afternoon, we would watch Nounours or listen to Brassens. I continued to study, pushed enough dope to pay my way. In the evenings, she'd be tired - I'd make her a gratin. And on our little mattress, under a window open to the chatter of gamblers and the racket of bubbling noodles intensifying on through the warm summer nights, I looked in her eyes - knowing with more confidence than I have ever had before or since - that I was holding everything there is to love about this world, right there in my arms.
And she - changed. Or something changed her. Silenced parts. Livened others. I gradually began to notice how much she talked about the head of the publishing house she worked for. Alain was needlessly aggressive today. Alain is in Frankfurt again. Alain this. Alain that. Sometimes you can be far too busy listening to people's views until suddenly you see that the truth is all in the scope of their thoughts. And her scope had become Alain Renaud.
I guess that's when I became a detective. I found them at Les Deux Tonneaux. Spooning creme into her mouth and him running his hand up her Samaritaine stockings. I stood in the phone box watching them for almost twenty minutes. The delight in her eyes, the way her reactions tailored themselves to his. Almost starstruck, she seemed to have found a femininity I had never been witness to in eighteen months with her. Sometimes coy, scathing, just toying. A real lightness to the twist in her hand that rose behind her head to joust an opinion across her untouched religieuse. Opinions - the terrible, free beauty of opinion - was something she had stopped sharing with me. As I watched on, she let her lower lip fall out in uncertainty, her head swing delicately with laughter, always a smile peeping back through perfect chestnut hair: though twisted up and in clips like an adult, it was still parted casually, in a rush, like a student. And in her eyes I saw a jouissance I had never been able to bring to her at all.
I'm not saying it was ambition. This I could understand. It's just, I believe, that some people want their lovers to stay exactly as they were when they first fell in love with them. And others seem to fall in love with people closer to where they'd like to be than they are. I'm not sure. I'm scared to think about love, in case I discover that all we call love is the most suitable veil we can find for our fears.
Then, I think, backing out of that phone box, is when I ceased to be an Enrage. Anne and I agreed to part; we held ourselves in silence at a kitchen's distance; boxed our things in shifts while the other was out. I enroled with the police, on a whim, then came home late in the evening of my first day at the academy to find Anne gone from my life forever.
I never fell in love again. There were girls. Cousins of friends. Office parties. Oh Inspecteur, loosen up! But I look into their eyes as they play with their hair and I see Anne as she became, struck, whimsical, void of what we really need in others. I doubt I could bear to break the heart of some young Enrage somewhere and I'll even go so far as to say that I don't think I could love someone in love with me. You'll say that's self-loathing. But it is more that, I believe, Anne took with her the most vital part of any self I could admire - egalite, trust.
A chapter closed then, sadly, but another began. I adored it as a young cop on the beat, patrolling the same alleys of Paris that I would have walked for my pleasure anyway. As an Enrage we had mapped the city for takeover, we knew which streets to block; the traffic lights to hammer out to give the Mayor a bottleneck he'd never forget. We knew the banks, their back doors. Where cops hung out, and where they wouldn't dare. I'd even studied the grids - the power lines, the telecom limbs - where and when and how they would be vulnerable. What a person might need to shut them down. Who they might get that from. I knew the quickest rooftops from backstreet A to boulevard B, for we had learnt, through paramilitary necessity, to use the underused - the old passes, the vaultable gates in underground car parks, dead-points, restrictions. I knew who one might have to tip to gain access. To anyone, anywhere. The verlan, the trust of the streets - I could work it, work it alone.
So, from day one, I dragged twice as many petty felon assholes, the sort who give everyone a hard time, back to the front desk of Police Judiciaire than any other cop my age. Through the talents I had gained to bring the whole putain thing to it's knees, to stand the system still and look at itself and take a look at us, I made myself it's most adept defender. They made me a detective, an inspecteur. But, though others envied me, I had and still have no real drive beyond filling, satisfying the lack that those eighteen months with Anne, just a young girl a young boy had given whatever he had to - back when no-one knew their own minds - the lack those months had left in me.
So I'm telling you this to tell you what I became.
Now, on Thursday afternoons, when I can, I go to Edika's for a pastis with my best friend Pellerin. Personally I only have a little time for reading, and no time at all to keep abreast of the latest novels. I take the advice of my friend, whose taste in literature is agreed by many to be impeccable. But this Thursday he burst through the door at Edika's with the look of a man who had lost everything, like a gastronome whose buds have gone, or a concert pianist crying out with arthritis.
"Christ," he exclaimed, throwing a book ahead of himself, as if it burnt his fingers. It span against the table and flapped to rest in my lap. Certainly, I was initially more interested in my friend, normally so reserved - never had I seen him in such a state. He fell, sweating, cheek-down against the table's white lacquer. I rolled a finger for pastis and a water jug. "Look," he raised himself to implore, "Just look."
Somewhat concerned, I turned the book face-first onto the table.
10:30 pm. Where am I now? I'm walking along the Quai des Orfevres, laughing, drunk. The book is in my pocket and I am staggering up the steps of the Police Judiciaire. I am so drunk, the evening lights of the Paris skyline seem to continually slope and fold like the last horizon seen from a sinking boat. I'm going to tell that cunt where to stuff it. How's that? Who's this?
"Christophe Corbeau, you old fool. Not resigning again?" It's Dutronc. He spins me round and guides me back onto the Quai. "All over Paris, the police are on strike. Le juge d'instruction gave parole to another gang member, a Les Cactus - the copkillers."
Strikes. Even the strikes seem gutless and vain these days. The police are striking because the job is dangerous! What stupidity. With a smug look, they grasp for the badge, for the pension and the security and when one of these moisturiser boys gets a gutful of eight millimetre in the banlieues - the rest of them march the streets, more like a mommie-call, a collective wet-themselves than the taking of action. Suddenly they discover that their true vocation in life was actually the sofa, le Big'dil and squeezing a nacho-stained hand around under their undistracted girlfriend's techno fleece. Next year the streets will be full of roofers with vertigo. Fuck them.
"Dutronc, you won't believe what I've been reading.."
"You can't see Choux in your state. The press are there and everything."
Commissaire Choux. I've been telling that cunt to stuff it for years. I'll go on telling him to stuff it.
"Let me go, Dutronc!" I pull away and attempt the steps again.
"Christophe!" With ease, he spins me to a crouching position, and my head seems to go on spinning. "It could tip the whole arrondissement into violence. The Funky Family. The 1AM Crew. They have guns these days. It's war, not your old revolution."
War! What would we all give for the decency of war proper? What makes these gangstas fly is a charabanc splitting with ripped-off labels, fat girls holes on matching luggage stuffed with Afghan la-la bricks, destination 'Our Kids Arms'. And they'll angle an unsafe Russian-made up any cop's hooter who toddles in to regulate trade. Sometimes I think they're just a bendy Monoprix mirror to the pigs in industry, or Chirac. Ask them what they believe in and it's pidgin-shit for me me me. Find a coherent one and he'll ask you to justify anything else. Let's face it, they don't come to France for the welcome. Christ, what am I saying?
I feel like crying. "Order me a taxi, please, Dutronc."
Still somewhat inebriated, I redirect the taxi through Pigalle to Djidda. She's an Algerian fruit thief and a hooker, sixty if she's a day and down the years I've busted her for everything from fencing and harbouring illegal immigrants to maintaining a bordello. But I grew to like and admire the woman, we shared the same robust sense of humour and a need, sometimes, for the inexplicable acts that life-tiring adults take for comfort. Strange acts which do not refresh the soul, but - by magnifying, timestretching - seem to slow it's evaporation for us.
I am not ashamed to admit to you that I occasionally pay her four hundred francs just to lie with her on her bed for an hour. Or that, draped in the blue haze of the sign she props out each night above the alley, where it's light twists back in through art deco drapes across adult video promotional posters and one of some sand dunes, I put my head on the crook of her shoulder and we read the same book together.
"Why do you keep that old picture of sand dunes?" I will look up and ask her.
"That is where I come from," I watch those flared lips explain, though I doubt that she has ever set a foot outside Paris.
As she folds back the front cover of my wife's book - Anne's book about us, our Situationist love story now retold as a supermarket bonkbuster - Djidda asks me if I would like her to read it aloud, which costs a little extra.
"Not today." As much as I enjoy closing my eyes, letting that loose brush in her vocals paint a staccato chain of pictures through my head, for now I have a perverse desire to see the damage with my own eyes. I am up to where they met - Anja and Kris.
I was lost, running through the echoey corridors of the administration building. Outside the chants and cries had become ferocious, terrifying. Undercover flics had managed to turn dissident factions against one another. At last! I found the president de l'universite's office and prized open the door. It was deserted. I rummaged for the Workers Council pamphlets I had pressed up in Strasbourg the previous evening - urging solidarity toward self-management for the good of the movement. I had to distribute them quickly.
From the corridor outside, I heard a voice - a man's voice calling a name. Footsteps paused by the president's door, the handle was tried. I hid.
That's when I saw him. He strode across the room. His handsome face was unshaven and serious, his funky shirt undone, those boots - scuffed and dirty. An Enrage! I should have known. He called the name again, but with a surprising sweetness to his tone. Behind the desk, I dropped something, gasped.
He burst out - "who..? I heard there may be a missing cat in this part of the building."
I stood, and he looked at me somewhat haughtily. "Pah. Don't tell me an Enrage gives a damn about a cat. I've seen your brutish 'Action Groups' at work in the Sorbonne. Sylvie's Volkswagon, all our spraypaints - now in the hands of your self-appointed 'Requisitions Commission'."
He moved forward. His shirt hung about, ripped, on one side. Bruises covered the ripple of muscles that I could make out through the damage. His look, his passion, flamed again and, for a second, I held my breath. Inside I began to feel a tingling sensation pass through my entire body.
"Art is dead. Knowledge is inseparable from the use to which you put it." His powerful hand came up and tucked softly under the hair at the nape of my neck.
"Boredom is counter-revolutionary," I sighed and fell into his arms. We kissed carefully at first, then a sheaf of pamphlets and stencils cascaded from the desk as we toppled back. I raised one foot and curled it about his leg, urging him on.
"Be realistic - demand the impossible," he whispered, kissing down the curve of neck below my ear. Beyond the administration building walls, a discordant wail of sirens seemed to strike up in harmony, the chanting intensified. I could feel his hands untuck my shirt.
"It will be forbidden .." - as I lifted my other foot, shaking, off the parquet floor, my suede skirt rode up around my belly - "..to forbid."
Corbeau! Inspecteur Corbeau! I hear Djidda's voice but give in to sleep. And before she even slips my head off the crook of her shoulder and lays it down on her mattress, I am dreaming.
I am a parachutiste, alone in the hum of an aircraft over God-knows-where. It is night outside the doorway, wild gusts of wind rattle the insides of the craft. I am wondering when I will know to jump, for I am alone.
Intrigued - I step forward to the door, holding on. Both lights, wait and go, appear to be broken. I look down, thirty thousand feet over God-knows-where. Thirty. Thousand jump..
Jumping I am woken, from a dream within this dream, in the bathroom at a party. I walk though the house, trying to find Anne. Someone has told her I'm offended by the book, but I am trying to find her to tell her that I could never be offended by anything she said. Each room I enter is a room she has just left, until I pass through the front door, and into the coldest night air I've ever felt.
"Snow!" Someone points to the sky. I look but nothing is falling.