From The Conductor and Other Tales, out now from Wakefield Press. Originally published in the French as Le Mécanicien, Gallimard, 1953; reprinted by Finitude, 2011.
For some time now, I've been nurturing thoughts of suicide. And I must say that I've been coping quite well.
By day they say nothing, and sleep in their little ebony box. But you should see how gleefully they wriggle and swarm when night falls and I lift the lid.
They have flat little heads, whitish and triangular, like certain phonograph needles, needles of a model I believe has been forgotten. The little creatures are nice as all get-out, and easy to feed. They eat whatever I give them: sorrows, pulled teeth, wounds (to pride, and other things), worries, sexual shortcomings, heartaches, regrets, unshed tears, lack of sleep—they down all these in a single gulp and ask for more. But what they like best of all is my fatigue, which works out well, since there's no risk of that running low. I glut them with it, they never finish, and there's always leftovers; I can never get rid of it all.
I'm told it's wrong to feed them so much, that this won't end well, that one day they'll grow too fat and escape their box. But I always keep the box in a locked drawer of the big chest, the one with the heavy marble top. Long ago, on that very marble top, old Marie used to roll out her caramels.
Even if they got out of the box and into the drawer, I don't think they'd manage to lift that marble top. Of course, you never know. But what else am I supposed to do with all that fatigue?
I reached Easter Island on February 13, 1937. For thirty years, I had been waiting for this moment; for thirty years of my life and times I had been thinking of my immense desire to see Easter Island, I thought I'd never get to go, that it was too difficult, that it was a wild dream. And since things must be desired so stubbornly that they come true, on that day—February 13, 1937—I set foot on the soil of Easter Island.
Since I had been thinking about it for thirty years, you would think I'd worked out my schedule in advance. Besides, I had no time to lose, as the Chilean training ship that had brought me was only putting in at port for two days. I am not lying when I say I was trembling with emotion under a strange, pale sun; I had a very hard time convincing myself this wasn't the same old dream again, the dream where I dream I've reached Easter Island, trembling with emotion under a strange, pale sun. But no, it was all real: the wind, the black cliff, the three rippling volcanoes. There really were no trees, no springs. And, faithful to a date set at the dawn of time, the great statues awaited me on the slopes of Rano Raraku.
I know that at this point, to avoid disappointing anyone, I should describe the dreadful bitterness of dead desire, desire fulfilled. I should say that, face to face with the sisters of Hoa Hakananai'a, I realized that it wasn't worth waiting so long, coming so far for something so simple, so real. I should complain about the insects, the filthy little Rapa Nui who kept pushing on me hollow-bellied statuettes clearly made the night before. Too bad for those born to despair. Who I was in the depths of the crater is nobody's business but my own. Quite simply, I knew why I was there, why for thirty years I'd so stubbornly wanted to be here someday. And I was. At last…
Not a line of the above is true, except that for thirty years, I've wanted to go to Easter Island, where something awaits me. But I've never yet been, and I probably never will.
—Translated from the French by Edward Gauvin.
Jean Ferry (1906–1974) made his living as a screenwriter; he worked with Luis Buñuel and Louis Malle, cowriting such classics as Henri-Georges Clouzot's Le Quai des orfèvres and script-doctoring Marcel Carné's Les Enfants du paradis. He was the first serious scholar and exegete of the work of Raymond Roussel (on whom he published three books) and a member of the Collège de 'Pataphysique.
Edward Gauvin translates from the French, specializing in comics and the fantastic. He is a frequent contributor to Words Without Borders and Weird Fiction Review.
Art: For you a stone would blossom flowers (2013) by Xochi Solis. Solis is a painter living and working in Austin, Texas.