Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part thirty-eight)
Once in her room, Annie began to undress. Then, suddenly exhausted, lacking courage or strength, she threw herself onto a chair, leaned against the marble of her dressing table, and remained in a state of numbness, her forehead in her hands.
Some time later, the light steps of Annik were heard on the stairs. Through the keyhole, a gentle question: “Mother says you aren’t well. Would you like a compress, or a cup of tea?”
“Nothing at all, dear!” Annie answered from where she sat. “A day in the sun, and then so much exercise, it was too much… Rest and quiet will put me right.”
“Oh, what a shame, these wicked migraines! But we had fun, didn’t we?”
“Loads! The festival was charming. Goodnight, dear little Annik! Have lovely dreams!”
The footsteps went away. At the landing, a door closed. Annie returned to inertia, curling up in her chair, her head empty of thought.
For a long while, she kept still. Then her crumpled spine straightened. Her gaze wandered to the mirror, and fixed there; she felt seized with a strange curiosity, and studied the face whose eyes questioned her. Who is this girl, with the blonde strands snaking out from the lace cap? What are those blue eyes dreaming of, the pupils dilated, dark like caves?
And what will they dream of, those young girls who danced the ridée, when they are in their cottages, undoing their pretty coiffes, disordered by the night wind?
It was easy to guess. And Annik, in the room next door, unfastening the coils of her hair; that openhearted girl, still with her reserve of dignity—doesn’t Annik smile with joy, remembering her eloquent young man?
The call of love. Everyone yields. Everyone, so pitiful, so foolish…
Of course, such girls are to be pitied!
A singular sense of isolation froze Annie to the marrow. She quavered to meet her own eyes…more than ever the image seemed disturbing and new. She thought of Musset, of Perdican’s rebuke to his cold lover—
“You are a monster of pride, Camille! You are young! And you deny love!”
Did Annie deserve these words herself?
Today, in the midst of lighthearted celebration, among exuberant youth, love had surrounded her. But she had shuddered, haughty as Camille, at its troubling approach. Self-deception had kept her from seeing; she saw now, delights put aside. It was enough to think of the endearing innocence of Annik and Jean Drézanno, to understand the sweetness of true love, of abandonment between souls, one to another.
Had her attachment to Sylvain been love? Perhaps. But a thing unexpected had revealed itself today. Something more powerful, more profound, than all Annie had known. Her heart could wake, hers as well! Did she dare plumb this feeling to its depths?
Abruptly, she stood, and stretched her stiff limbs. “This festival has addled my head! Pleasures fill me with sadness! Well, I won’t get carried away…I’ve had three happy weeks. And in eight days it will be over.”
October despoiled the circumscribed chestnut, that climbed in despair from the courtyard of four houses. Each time her eyes strayed from her writing, Annie saw a dried leaf glide from branch to branch, down to the naked lawn, where it lay like an old deerskin glove. The novelist was trying to project another scene altogether on the screen of her imagination, then onto her paper. The interior of a Breton farm, the longhaired peasant seated at the table with his feet crossed, speaking to a gentleman in a fashionable coat, wide-lapelled, his jabot tied high—he was the chateau’s harpsichordist recounting for Le Goël a feast of the Federation.
But every fifteen minutes, a knock at the door interrupted the evocation of her world.
“Mam’selle!” the chambermaid threw at her, making use of the door’s slight opening. “Here is the post!”
“Mam’selle! It’s the laundress, asking for your linens!”
These breaks were digging holes in her worktime concentration. Next, a huge insect’s dizzy flight tore apart the web a spider had been steadfastly repairing.
Annie, at the end of her patience, put down her pen. “There is no rhyme or reason in it! I might as well give up, I’ll get nothing worthwhile done this morning. And after that stupid headache that kept me down yesterday! A little exercise is what I need. I’ll go to the rue Saint-Simon, where the correspondence must be piling up, after two days.”
In a minute, she had put on a jacket, grabbed her hat, and left her room. In the corridor she met Winifred, coming from the kitchen, an iron in her hand.
“Bonjour, darling! I have a blouse to press. Then I’ve got to run! Mme Fougerays is due to arrive this evening from Holland. I’m off to wait for her at the Gare du Nord.”
“How nice for you! Life goes on! In three days or more, the Conans will return to Paris.”
“Oh! It’s so good to see the people we love! But your time will be taken up, dear. Your novel will suffer.”
“No. Busyness gets me going. My brain falls asleep.”
“Does it! Well, my iron is cooling off. Goodbye, goodbye!” And Winifred disappeared into her room.
Reaching the street, Annie moved without thinking, along the way her feet habitually followed. Walking often helped her ideas bloom. But this morning, she waited in vain for the creative jolt. The project, that ought to have colored all her perceptions, floated dimly in the clouds.
“I drank in too much sun at Kergrist. I had too much freedom… And for me, too much kindness. I’ve picked up the habit of laziness, and forgotten how to do serious work.”
(2021, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)