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The Art of Loving

Episode 5

Translated from the French by
Donald Winkler

For three nights I’d been sleeping on the red couch in the living room, and I was clearly fleshing out. Marco, who was a few years older than me, was studying sociology at the University of Quebec, and frequenting all sorts of organizations that were one way or another anarchist or revolutionary. He got up early in the morning and left to hand out tracts after having downed a boiling hot cup of coffee. I spent my afternoons alone in the apartment furnished with charming antiquarian finds, including an oak bookcase where I went from discovery to discovery.

Since my arrival, I’d not stepped out the door, and I’d devoured The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, my first Castaneda, followed by The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm (a German like herself, Steffi pointed out), and let’s not forget Summerhill and its free children, which validated my response to the physical and mental violence I’d endured for so long in my mother’s house. Stretched out in the half light, I immersed myself in those life-saving readings that fed my dreams of a better world, a magic world, a marvellous world where women and children would be free, schools open, and houses too.

All this time, no thought of Sylvain even entered my head.

Two David Hamilton posters faced each other in the opposite corner of the room. On the right, a fair-haired girl with downy skin was reading with utter seriousness, through her round glasses, while comfortably ensconced in a cushioned wicker armchair. Upraised by her bare knee on which the black book cover rested, the diaphanous cloth of her flowered garment spilled over her hips.

On the left, two young girls with bare legs were lying on a beach, one on her back and one face down. Although they were equally blonde, I could easily see Steffi in the one on the left, and me in the one on the right, who was a bit more tanned. The two vaporous images in sepia mirrored my life so well that I cast myself into them so as to share their languorous and tender adventures, a blade of grass in my mouth, a light breeze in my hair.

That’s where I was when Marco burst in and headed straight to the kitchen, where in one gulp he downed a large glass of water.

“Ah! I got my unemployment insurance this morning. I’ve just come from the bank, we can call the pusher.”

I didn’t say anything, but I smiled from ear to ear, I was so happy to be included in this “we.” He also smiled, on the way to his bedroom where the telephone lived. He’d explained from the beginning that it was a quieter place to talk in case there was a party going on in the living-dining room. He had barely hung up when the phone rang. A bit later he returned to the kitchen, on the way throwing a pile of clothes into the washer, and announced:

“That was Stéphanie, she’s coming for dinner, did you know she had a new boyfriend?”

“What? No. Since when?”

“She’s going to bring him, I think she wants you to meet him.”

Marco rummaged on the shelves for a while, then declared:

“It’s looking like a spaghett. I have lots of pasta, sauce, ground beef…”

“Oh, I said. I could make my grandmother’s Italian meatballs!”

“Great. But in the meanwhile we have to clean the place up a bit, okay? You could start by picking up your things…”

He was right, I’d scattered my meagre possessions all around the living room. While he chopped onions and celery for the sauce, I began stuffing everything into my backpack, looking glum.

“Don’t take it like that! I’m not blaming you, I just like things to be in order when I have people to eat, that’s all. If you have dirty clothes, I was going to do a wash, you can just toss them in. Can you sweep up once you’re done?”

Grateful, I resolved to show myself worthy of my new assignment, even if I was having trouble reconciling my two realities, the old and the new. In the bourgeois household where I grew up I’d never in my life wielded a broom. But I soon figured out the functions of the little brush and the dust pan, and I didn’t have to blush at my ignorance where the household chores were concerned. Even if I had to gather up half the litter a second time because my aim was wide when it came to the trashcan.

Luckily, Marco had gone out for cigarettes.

The dining room shone like a new penny and I had just spread an almost white cloth over the table when footsteps resonated in the stairway. I jumped when I saw two strangers come in, one behind the other! I saw at once that they were a well-matched couple, the tall brunette with very long hair and the twin to Plume Latraverse who was removing his shiny black motorcycle helmet.

Except that the one in the lead, a certain Chantal, rushed up to Marco and kissed him on the mouth, and I saw at once that she was his girlfriend or at least his companion, and that she slept with him or if not, it wouldn’t be long. As soon as I realized that I was staring at them wide-eyed, I turned quickly to the door, a bit shocked all the same that he hadn’t said anything. The other, clearly, was Marco’s pusher, and his name was Varan.

“Isn’t she a bit young, this one? Her parents aren’t going to come looking for her?” he said, pointing me out with a corner of the saddlebag he was preparing to unzip.

“No problem,” Marco assured him, “Josée is a free spirit, she hasn’t gone home since her first acid trip, eh Josée, you’ll tell him all about it!”

Head nodding all around. Cigarette paper, lighter, ashtray, check out the merchandise, life is good. You could almost hear an angel humming I’m so cool, I’m so cool, I’m so cool.

Steffi arrived a bit later, flanked by the guy I was going to have to share her with, a tall redhead with pale eyes called Julius, who got on my nerves right from the start, with his bottle of chianti. She made the introductions.

I coldly shook a hand that was bony and white.

He was the son of her father’s friend, they’d met at a showing of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant at the Goethe Institute, they kept whispering in German, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The only saving grace was that his hair colour precluded what for me would have been a quandary. I don’t know, thinking back, which would have upset me more: that he be blonde like her (which would have excluded me), or brown like me (which would have meant that I was being replaced.)

We all sat down in a cacophony of chairs scraping the floor, and Marco added a plate for Varan, who had just accepted his invitation. Then he began rolling a three-paper joint while I applied myself to my task with renewed enthusiasm.

It was a very simple recipe.

You just had to crumble the ground meat in a big bowl, add chopped garlic, salt, and herbes de Provence, break in an egg yolk and mix it all together, preferably with your hands.

The only challenge was to gauge the size of the meatballs according to the volume of the mixture divided by the number of guests. The trick was to split up the whole into as many parts as there were people, then each portion into small pieces of more or less equal size, which you then rolled in flour before browning them.

On all sides, in a well-oiled pan

That made six little balls per person. With a mound of spaghetti and a big pot of sauce, that should do it.

“Is it good?”

“Not bad,” replied Mario, “except that… well, to tell you the truth, there’s a bit too much garlic for my tastes.”

I looked around the table. They all wore the same expression, even Steffi. It’s true that this wasn’t like German cooking, but still, I was a bit put out. After having saved my skin at the cost of a total break with my family, I found it painful to be shamed in the eyes of others by my traditional little recipe, especially since my voluntary banishment had made those others all the more important to me.

Too much garlic. The cliché of the Mediterranean with the pestilential breath, the olive complexion, the oily hair, was baring its aquiline nose. To hide my chagrin, I declared:

“If they’re too strong for you, give them to me, I haven’t had them for a long time!”

And I dug in with relish, the better to choke back the raspy little ball trembling in my throat.

Text and illustrations © Sophie Voillot 2021

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Anecdotes est un récit d'autofiction écrit et illustré par Sophie Voillot is the writer and illustrator of Anecdotes,
translated by Donald Winkler.
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