Authors: Herve Le Tellier
Two days earlier, in the last minute of the session, she blurted: “I’ve met someone. I’ve met with someone. A man, a writer.” In the big book dedicated to Anna Stein, Thomas merely jotted down a few words, unhurriedly, “met with someone”—the pleonasm intrigued him—then added “man,” “writer.” On the left, he isolates what he perceives to be factual about something, on the right he underlines what he feels is caught in the words, sifting out the formalities. Anna added, “a real thunderbolt.” Thomas was amused by the expression, so electric and unequivocal.
Then, in pencil, he drew a dotted line, and at the end of it he wrote the letter X, which he linked to the
of Anna. Changing perspective, shifting logic, he associated the two letters
in an oval diagram, a Boolean notation. He did not press her for more information. His Westminster clock was already several minutes past the half hour. He simply said: “See you on Thursday.”
If you think it’ll, itll itll itll, go on forever, this season of, unov unov, season of love …
TEIN IS ABOUT TO TURN FORTY
. She looks ten years younger in these well-heeled circles where the norm is more like five. But the imminence of this expiration date and the witchery of the number itself send a chill through her, and to think she still feels she is in the comet’s tail of her teens. Forty … Because she thinks there is a
, as in commercials for hair products, she is already living in mourning for what has been and in terror of what is yet to come.
Childhood memory: Anna is seven, one sister, two brothers, the youngest barely talking yet, she is the eldest. It is not easy being the big one, the one who is argued with because the others are too little. But Anna the charmer managed to remain her mother’s favorite. She sits her brothers and her sister around her in a semicircle. The golden light pouring through the window is that of a day coming to a close, probably a Sunday spent
in the country. She is standing, book in hand, reading out loud. She spices up the story, which is too straightforward for her liking, with dragons and fairies, ogres and princes, and it all becomes very muddled, she even gets lost herself in places. The children listen to their happy, glowing big sister, fascinated, captivated, frightened too. Gesticulating wildly with her arms, sometimes jumping about, Anna mimes the action and makes sure her intonation sustains the attention of her young audience. She has no doubt: she will be an actress, or a dancer, or a singer.
At fifteen, Anna ties her black hair up to reveal the nape of her neck. She triumphantly inhabits her brand-new woman’s body: she wears leopard-skin leggings and high heels, aggressive bras. She dreams of a life in the public eye, a career under the spotlight, and the names of cities—New York, Buenos Aires, Shanghai—make her swoon. She starts a rock band with herself as the singer, and baptizes them Anna and Her Three Lovers. The lead guitarist, bass player, and drummer are all in love with her, after all. In vain in all three cases, one a little less than the others, but so little.
At twenty, Anna looks elegant in her medical student’s white overalls. She chose one that barely fit her, sacrificing comfort for elegance, wearing it open one button too low at the front, and, as her shoes are the only other thing that show, she puts a great deal of energy into picking them out. Often they are fluorescent. Over the years she becomes Dr. Stein. Intelligent but with a dilettante attitude, she passes every exam: she is probably too proud to mess up in her studies. She is not yet proud enough to dare to
to fail. The adventurous life that would have required so many transgressions is now further and further from her, and she knows that, despite her long legs and
beautiful breasts, she will never dance in cabarets. Her mother is a doctor and Anna becomes a psychiatrist, she marries a surgeon, also Jewish, they have two children, Karl, then Lea. “A little Jewish business,” she sometimes laughs. But she has kept something from when she was twenty, a hint of nostalgia for the bohemian: a bold quality in her walk, a light in her smile. Her own tactful way of admitting that she has never completely given up the idea of the stage.
Yes, Anna became Dr. Stein. But does she completely believe it?
Once when she called the hospital to speak to a colleague, she said confidently: “Hello, could I speak to Dr. Stein please?”
Utterly stunned, she hung up immediately, praying the receptionist had not recognized her voice. It was more than an hour before she had the courage to call back.
.” At first Thomas Le Gall smiled to hear Anna use that expression. He did not ask whether she had counted the seconds between the flash of lightning and the sound of thunder. But life is facetious: a few hours after that appointment with Anna, Thomas was to be struck by a thunderbolt too. It would be at the “ritual” dinner held by Sammy Karamanlis, a young sociologist who held an open house evening once a month. Thomas did not know Sammy, but a friend took him along: “You won’t be bored, you’ll meet people, pretty women, delightful people.”
Sammy lives in a one-bedroom apartment on the rue de Grenelle, just where the Seventh Arrondissement likes to think it is already part of the Latin Quarter: high ceilings, bourgeois furnishings, views onto a massive paved courtyard. It would be improbably luxurious for an employee of the National Center for Scientific Research if the researcher’s father were not
involved in banking in Lausanne. The guests, about thirty of them, seem to be regulars, but their conversations only rarely roam in the direction of their private lives. Thomas circulates discreetly from one group to another: someone else might have fun diagnosing a case of hysteria here, a breakdown pending there, the odd depression. Thomas knows how social posturing can mislead with its pretenses, appearances, and control. He forbids himself opinions.
He quickly notices a young woman with short blond hair, pale eyes, and a lot of people around her. She is leaning against the wall in the huge hallway, holding an orange-colored cocktail glass, its surface quivering from her voluble conversation. Thomas moves closer, listens. He grasps that she is a lawyer. She is talking about Chinese, Albanian, and Romanian mafias, about their extreme violence, their explicit threats, about the interpreters who dare not translate every word, she describes terrified witnesses and the sinking fear in her stomach when she looks into the cold eyes of a killer. Three weeks earlier, a Romanian pimp bound one of his girls’ hands and feet, gagged her with duct tape, and threw her in the bathtub. Then, slowly, with a razor, he slashed her, really deeply, almost cutting her into pieces. All the blood drained out of her, “two or three hours,” the pathologist reckoned. So that they knew what he was capable of, he made all his girls file through the bathroom, one after another, forcing them to touch the blood-soaked woman who was still gasping for breath, her eyes bulging with fear and pain. She eventually died. A colleague has to defend this man, and the young lawyer is haunted by the case. Just by describing it again, she relives the nightmare that words still cannot drive away.
With a pretty flick of her hand she pushes back a drooping lock of hair, she suddenly notices him and smiles: Thomas
knows instantly that he is caught, and is happy to be. He feels an irresistible magnetic draw, one he takes pleasure in resisting. A pull that would be called attraction in physics too. He gathers the woman’s name is Louise, then she specifies: Louise Blum. She has fine features and is slim enough to emphasize her muscularity. What else to say about her, how to discern what he finds so erotic? The fleeting certainty, he will think later, that she smiled only at him? And he repeats it to himself: Louise Blum. He thinks how totally she suits her name.
As luck would have it, they end up sitting next to each other, but who believes in luck? She is still talking about organized crime and the role of defense lawyers, because there must be a defense, after all. He stays rather quiet, because he does not want to fill any gaps with his own words and also because he prefers listening to her. He likes her voice, the immediacy she injects into verbs. Then, when she shows an interest in him, he thinks he is telling her what he does but only says the word “analyst.” “Analyst?” she repeats, as if suspecting him of being an economist or a financier. He adds the
. She behaves as if she is fascinated, perhaps she really is? Though she acts all anxious: “I often do slightly weird things. Like I talk to myself. Do you think I should have analysis?”
“Everyone should have analysis. It should be compulsory, like military service used to be.”
Thomas is only half joking. She nods.
“I know a place where everyone does, a whole nation of analyzed people: the East Village in New York. Never seen so many crazy people per square foot.”
Her laugh is deep in her throat, slightly hoarse, a laugh he instantly loves.
They play a social game: they look for things they have in common. And have no trouble finding some. He knows a psychiatrist friend of hers by reputation, she knows a lawyer he has done business with.
“He’s a complete asshole!” she says without a moment’s hesitation. It was not a slipup because she laughs as she adds, “He’s not a close friend of yours, is he?”
Thomas shakes his head, flustered, but then nods: true, he is a complete asshole. By digging deeper, they also find some journalists, a few artists …
“Pathetic,” smiles Louise.
“How small the world is … No one ever just falls out of the sky.”
“I’m so sorry,” sighs Thomas.
His answer is formulaic but sorry he is, all the same. He would like to have fallen out of the sky. But they have found common ground, there is a familiarity between them—with her leading the way—that feels natural.
Very early on, in passing, she refers to a husband, children. From the twinge of disappointment these words produce, Thomas realizes how attracted he is to Louise. But he cannot draw any conclusions from the way she says them, certainly not that Louise is trying to convince him, or herself, that their meeting has no right to lead to anything. No, for the whole dinner, he leaves his experience as an analyst at the door. It is also true that, sometimes, women who say they have a husband and two children are just saying they have a husband and two children. Hey, he thinks at one point, Louise Blum could be Anna Stein’s blond twin. They are alike, they really are, even their lives are similar.
It is getting late, the evening is coming to an end, Louise hands out her e-mail address and telephone number. She has run out of business cards so she scribbles her details on the ends of napkins, which she tears off carefully. He folds the piece she hands to him and puts it in his pocket; on the way home he will check—twice—that he has not lost it, and as soon as he is home he will put the information on his computer and in his cell phone.
On this late summer’s morning, as he waits for Anna Stein, Thomas is writing this first e-mail to Louise Blum, so belatedly—he made a point of waiting a whole day—and so careful with respect to what he truly wants: “Thank you for such a nice evening, even though I wasn’t in great form. I hope I’ll see you again soon, at Sammy’s or somewhere else. Thomas (the analyst) XOXO.” Well, it’s hardly original, Thomas thinks. But if Louise replies despite his banal e-mail, that would at least prove she has some interest in him. He stretches in his chair, reaching his arms up and yawning loudly, a common gesture for the body to dispel the mind’s agitation. Click. Send. His Mac imitates a gust of wind and his nine o’clock appointment rings the buzzer. Anna Stein is ten minutes late.
TEIN’S OUTFIT IS DISTINCTIVE
, as usual. Wide white pants that fit tightly over her buttocks to define them clearly, a fleetingly transparent, midnight blue blouse, and a shiny, black trench coat. She chooses her clothes carefully, her long tall figure allowing her to wear things that would be fatal on others. She sees herself as slim, lives being slim as synonymous with being rigorous. Gaining weight, she is convinced, is always a lapse.
Anna Stein sits down and apologizes for being late: her little girl, Lea, has a fever
there was nowhere to park. She gets comfortable on the couch and goes straight back to the meeting she mentioned the day before yesterday. She repeats the words she used then—he is a writer—and reveals his name, Yves. Thomas erases the
in his diagram from before, replaces it with a
, and draws a second oval around the
to include her and her husband, Stanislas. Finally, he draws a third one, still including Anna Stein, but to which he adds his own name,
Thomas. Anna Stein is now at the intersection of three rings, and no longer seems to belong to any of them.
Yves is “the same age as Stan,” her husband, “or not much older.” She thinks he is “pretty broke” and “besides, he lives in Belleville.” Writing has always been a fantasy for Anna Stein; she suspects Yves may be its embodiment. She has had no appetite for a week. “I don’t eat anything anymore, I’ve already lost five pounds, at least.” It seems to frighten her. “I don’t know what’s happening to me.” The evening of the very day they met, almost before she got through the door at home, she thinks she admitted everything to Stan. All she said, speaking casually as if discussing some pleasant surprise, was that she had met a man at a reception, “a man she found unsettling,” “for the first time in a long time.” Stan could find nothing to say in response and almost immediately talked about something else, Lea’s music theory lesson, how well she was getting on, an appointment Anna’s brother had made for a vision problem. Anna Stein would have liked her husband to react or, better, for him to act, for him to know instinctively that she was only saying it so he would hold her back. But Stanislas did not grasp, or did not want to grasp, the weight of her words. He allowed a window to be opened to her desires, and it makes her furious, disappointed, and delighted all at once.