Once upon a time there was a English doctor in Paris. No-one knew how she got there, or why - I type. But stop. Wait a moment. I can't write about her.
2:30 pm. I finished reading Anne's book yesterday - Les Amants Du 68. It's interesting, though I have to confess that I was especially drawn into it looking for myself, and therefore that a large part of it's hold disappeared when Kris left the story. He got it in the guts. Anja held him in tears, on a slope of grass leading up to the gates. "He was beautiful and you killed him," she screamed at a wall of masked riot police. That was the moment she resolved to dedicate her every waking hour to political activism. To get all the cops, all over the place, who kill good kids like Kris.
This made me smile, thinking about the Renauds. Whatever - it's just a story, making stuff up. The book has made me want to write something too. Not to set the record straight, but.. But I am finding it difficult. A very, well, lonely thing to do. I'm not the type.
"I hear there's a woman in your life, Corbeau." Dutronc whispered, through a net curtain of saline drips and wires on his hospital bed. And my instinct was to look around and go shhh. Why? Why do I feel the need to keep this woman a secret from the world? Scared someone, somewhere will take her away? Sometimes.
"There once was an American ambassador, who came to London. No-one knew why.." Shit that's terrible. "In 1452, a Japanese peasant was .." What do I know about Japanese peasants? One, they can't read. Two, they're all dead. "a Japanese peasant was walking down the road. He looked at his watch - it was getting late. It's getting late! he cried to his" - um - "little piglet friend."
I read, when I can, but I still don't know what people write about.
Life I can do. Life has subtitles. If you could read them, you'd start crying and you probably wouldn't stop.
But I'm writing this, so you'll need backdrop: I'm sitting with her in Edika's.
Her name is Julianne and it's hard to make her a figment here. We talk like normal people talk. She can read the subtitles, the things under what we say. Like "I wish the wine would hurry up" means "I can see we're both uncomfortable." Body language, pauses and all the subtitling that make me feel like a blank sheet sometimes, are also what draws me back. If I've got nothing to hide, she'll find it. They say opposites attract but like should marry. She's like me in some ways. But I'm a fifty three year old cop who wants to write something that won't enchant her, and my subtitle is - "If you're playing games with me, tell me now, okay?" which comes out as "I want to take you away. A weekend."
Julianne looks interested.
"I've always wanted to go to Jura," I take her hand. "The mountains. A cabin in a forest. I know a place."
Our connecting train, a provincial shuttle with orange plastic seats and no-one else on board, takes it's time shunting into the station. The doors are opened, eventually, and we lift our bags onto the platform. The late-afternoon sun is still there, snow is compacted into the corners of the streets or piled in blackened drifts and the air is clean, un-Parisian.
We wait about under the Taxi sign in the car park. I can't see any mountains at all. Possibly we are on one. Nothing comes for five minutes. I look into the ticket office, to enquire. A young man sighs and scoops a bunch of car keys up by a Marsupilami figurine.
Confession: I have often thought about that moment, under the scaffolding in the occupied lecture hall, with it's shadow dancing, when Anne told me about Jura and her family. The moment when I saw the poverty in my own story, the moment when I told a lie - that I wanted to be a writer. With Anne gone from my life, and with nothing better to fill my evenings, I spent some weeks reading about the area - I even found a map of her father's forest.
"Old Le Stileau's? Are you absolutely positive you're staying there?" The driver lifts off his seat, both eyes mesmerised, rolling about in the rear-view mirror, "There's a proper place only a few kilometres from here."
"It's Le Stileau's! Drive on, horseman!" I smile at Julianne. She takes my hand as we pull out of the car park.
Her hand. Her hand seems to fit so perfectly in mine. And between you and me, I have something for it. In a velvet-covered box. In my pocket.
"Old Le Stileau - I don't think I can put this kindly," the driver continues his prattle as we fly along the country lanes. "But he went very special in the forehead after his wife was abducted."
"Abducted?" I find I am squeezing Julianne's hand a little too keenly. She breathes sharply, through her teeth.
"So he maintains. Things from - out there." He turns and we all gaze up at the sky.
'bIEnVEnU' A young man is slouched into the snow at the roadside, holding a roughly painted wooden sign at an angle. As we turn past he stands to attention, offers the sign forward, shakes it slightly; we read it, look at one another and nod back our approval. As we continue up the bumpy road that leads to the cabin the driver informs us that Noah works for old Le Stileau. Noah, from the Ivory Coast - who hasn't uttered a word for fifteen years, since the night the things from up there came to Jura.
Noah catches up with us - silently but with expansive smiles, an excited angling of the eyes - he helps us with our bags.
"Good weekend, monsieur, madame." The taxi reverses irrevocably down the track and is gone with a honk.
Noah throws open the door to the cabin and sets our bags inside. I still can't see any mountains. Possibly we are on one. Untamed, trod down, snow-filled trees surround the cabin. Behind, a field leading round to the Le Stileau farmhouse. Beyond that, a drop down into thick forest. I move towards this precipice, to see if we are on a mountain, but -
"Hahah!" Noah is suddenly hit in the face with a snowball, leaps. I hear a grating creak and turn to see old Le Stileau shunting back and forth in his wheelchair, laughing. "Haha! Gotcha. No point trying to hide in this snow, bamboula! Haha."
He shunts forward, one rheumy eye wavering on Julianne. "Well well, visitors."
"Boar! Vin jaune? Are you trying to clean me out, boy?" Old Le Stileau twists in his wheelchair as Noah serves us supper.
He leans forward from the chair, that eye still trained on Julianne's chest, the other spiralling wildly. "I'd tie down anything valuable if I were you - spritely with his fingers," he whispers.
The sun had sunk, our cabin was still warming up, so we had accepted an invitation to eat at the old man's farmhouse. The kitchen could be a rustic-themed restaurant in the city - until you see a waft of grey spider web from the beam splinters, and hear the hop and static of sauterelles outside.
"If he's suffered shock I might be able to help," Julianne folds her arms.The space between our rooms is damp and map-lined. Yellow, sixteenth century guesswork (‘Sweden has melted’) with broken leather armchairs preventing access to inherited books ('God, I distrust a novel that begins with a map'). We spent the late afternoon in the forest, trying not to look like we wanted to get lost. I did my best to point at the mist and declare some orientation, while she asked me about Dutronc and trauma. She told me to remember it like a photograph, with a frame around it.
"Oh no, madame, he's beyond help. He's had more overpriced Swiss quacks shuffling his nuts and making him dance than seems sensible. Haven't you boy? Peep-free for fifteen years."
Julianne persists, "If it's psychosoma-"
"He was struck when the light appeared!" Old Le Stileau tips back his head, cups a hand, his body wavering to and fro. "It was too bright, it burnt his mind like a flaming arrow from the furthest star. After the craft span off he crawled zombified along the autoroute, an idiot, a babe. I returned to him some purpose. But now, alas, he swings about in the mineshaft of dreadful memory, doing yo-yo tricks with the spirals of his inner mind against a wall that is his mouth, sealed forever, all agree, with a can of shimmering moondust," The old man lowers his cupped hand on Julianne's shoulder. "So get your elbows off the table, madame, and analyse those chops."
Noah is looking at us in the reflection of the kitchen window, just a few highlights against the dark skies beyond. He does not blink, I see the light curve softly around his face, it could be a distant crescent moon.
"Anyway you're here on holiday. The Corbeau reservation, no?" he turns to me finally, firmly. Both eyes appear to swerve around like the headlights of an oncoming car. As they synchronize and collide fatally into mine he says - "After dinner, I think the monsieur should come with me."
"No-one ever stays at old Le Stileau's. I thought your name sounded a little .. familiar."
I may have underestimated this man. We are standing in Anne's bedroom. Under the sloped ceiling - an empty, undressed lit-bateau, shelves of books, a cabinet for clothes, old wooden skis, a grinning bear.
"There's a box on top I think you might be interested in."
As I take a ski-boot box from a high shelf old Le Stileau shunts himself back into the hall. "I'll let you be. Don't run off with anything .. valuable."
Life, with it's subtitles, I thought I could do. I sit on the lit-bateau, open the box.
The letters, notes, I wrote to Anne. ..come back.. Paul's drums getting tiresome.. big kisses all over
Papers, a jotter, pamphlets by Anne. Deleuze, the Anti-Oedipus and the Production Of Surplus Value by Anne X. ..process under which the value is petrified.. exhibits two characteristic phenomena: first.. the commodity of the desiring machine.. control from the capitalist's hands.. secondly.. abstract assumption.. universality of supply.. vis-a-vis an instrument of the revolutionary left .. from the monetary form where there is no real profit .. Wow.
An envelope of photos: Black and whites of youths in paisley shirts and moptops. A Volkswagon. Banners. Anne in the Belleville apartment. One I took from Rue du Faubourg du Temple of Anne looking out the window - a laugh held back. I remember taking these. I remember us picking them up from Casino, going though them in Cafe de la Paix. We bought bread and chocolate and the newspapers. This one was pinned to the board in our kitchen for over a year. There's the pin hole. Here's one of me. Shades, impertinent, holding up an April 1969 L'Humanite headline of De Gaulle's resignation.
None of us together. There must be one of us together. There must be one. Here's one, Dijon, in a group of five by a police truck in the grounds of the Universite de Bourgogne. I've got my arm around her. She's laughing, looking off to the left. I feel like putting this evidence into my pocket, suddenly feel the velvet-covered box and an enormous sense of shame. Before I return it to the envelope and the ski-boot box, I move it very close to my eye, looking into Anne's face. I'm looking to see why I'm still looking, to see if she ever loved me at all.
I hear a scream, scatter things, leap.
Old Le Stileau has an axe. "Get away from him, bitch."
Noah is standing very still under a swinging kitchen light, a hypnotic glaze on his face. Julianne is coaxing words from his mouth. Nnnn Nnnn
"He's a dummy. Eat your gateau, la p'tite demoiselle." He shunts closer, raising the axe. Noah's eyes widen. Nnnn Nnnnn
Before I react, the axe threatens to arc. "NnnHe killed her he. killed Madame. Le Stileau," Noah reaches, forcing words into the air, air stammering through his larynx, he collapses into Julianne's arms.
"The spaceman bent your head, banania. Remember?"
"Noo Noo and. he can walk he. just lazy."
Old Le Stileau catches the axe and stands, "Can-opener. Judas!"
"You're under arres.." Before I can finish, old Le Stileau has flung himself through the kitchen door. I follow but he has been swallowed by the gloom.
The drop down through the forest, the three of us. Noah looks at Julianne, kisses her. Then he's off down the slope, were he's worked and were he knows the quickest routes from backstreet A to boulevard B, and where, I have no doubt, he has stood sometimes - breaking boughs for autumn bonfires, mapping the place for takeover.
"Christophe.. I.." The drop down through the forest, Julianne looking into the velvet-covered box. "I like you. A lot. I do. But I'm not sure this ring is for me."
For all my years in the police, years of watching other people lie, one would think that I could pull lies out the air, spin them like webs. And I can, enough to fool Choux, enough to fool myself sometimes but not through the subtitles, which would make you cry forever.
I throw the box into the forest.
"What are we doing in Jura?" We look around. I hold her, it feels like water passing through water.
3:30 pm. "That's it?" Too many beers. Edika's bar, Saturday. My friend Pellerin. He's just read my story about the Japanese peasant talking to his piglet friend. Returns it to me in silence, almost embarrassed.
"It works on many levels."
"How about one you know? Write about Paris."
I stare at my own sorry pages, wave a beer, shake my head. "Paris is bigger, smarter than I'll be. Sometimes I'm scared to look at her straight, sometimes I'm scared I'll lose her. If I could sit her down for one of these beers, we'd never leave or one of us would leave in tears. She's one of the few reasons a pen should consider paper, she's my woman but she's spoken for. So fuck her, fuck words and let me do my fucking job. I'm a cop. And I'm starting to cry."
I look up and Pellerin is frowning, writing this stuff down.