(Bernard Frechtman Translation)
Were it not for Maurice Pilorge, whose death keeps poisoning my life, I
ver have written this book. I dedicate it to his memory.
Weidmann appeared before you in a five o'clock edition, his head swathed in white
bands, a nun and yet a wounded pilot fallen into the rye one September day like
the day when the world came to know the name of Our Lady of the Flowers. His
handsome face, multiplied by the presses, swept down upon Paris and all of France,
to the depths of the most out−of−the−way villages, in castles and cabins, revealing
to the mirthless bourgeois that their daily lives are grazed by enchanting murderers,
cunningly elevated to their sleep, which they will cross by some back stairway that
has abetted them by not creaking. Beneath his picture burst the dawn of his crimes:
murder one, murder two, murder three, up to six, bespeaking his secret glory and
preparing his future glory.
A little earlier, the negro Angel Sun had killed his mistress.
A little later, the soldier Maurice Pilorge killed Escudero, his lover, in order
to rob him of a little less than a thousand francs. Then they cut his throat on
his twentieth birthday, while, as you will recall, he thumbed his nose at the out-
Finally, a ship's ensign, still a child, committed treason for treason's sake:
he was shot. And it is in honor of their crimes that I am writing my book.
I learned only in bits and pieces of that wonderful blossoming of dark and love-
ly flowers; one was revealed to me by a scrap of newspaper, another was casually
alluded to by my lawyer, another was mentioned, almost sung, by the prisoners—-
their song became fantastic and funereal (a De Profundis), as much so as the
plaints which they sang in the evening, as the voice which crosses the cells and
reaches me blurred, hopeless, inflected. At the end of the phrases, it breaks, and
that break makes it so sweet that it seems borne by the music of angels, which
horrifies me, for angels fill me with horror, being, I imagine, neither mind nor matter,
white, filmy and frightening, like the translucent bodies of ghosts.
These murderers, now dead, have nevertheless reached me, and whenever one
of these luminaries of affliction falls into my cell, my heart beats fast, my heart
beats a loud tattoo, if the tattoo is the drum-call announcing the capitulation of
a city. And there follows a fervor comparable to that which wrung me and left me
for some minutes grotesquely contorted, when I heard the German plane passing
over the prison and the burst of the bomb which it dropped nearby. In the twinkling
of an eye, I saw a lone child, borne by his iron bird, laughingly strewing death. For
him alone were unleashed the sirens, the bells, the hundred−and−one cannon shots
reserved for the Dauphin, the cries of hatred and fear. All the cells were atremble,
shivering, mad with terror; the prisoners beat at the doors, rolled on the floor, shriek-
ed blasphemies and prayed to God. I saw, as I say, or thought I saw, an eighteen−year
old child in the plane, and from the depth of my 426 I smiled at him lovingly.
I do not know whether it is their faces, the real ones, which spatter the wall
of my cell with a sparkling mud, but it cannot be by chance that I cut those hand-
some, vacant−eyed heads out of magazines. I say vacant, for all the eyes are clear
and must be sky−blue, like the razor's edge to which clings a star of transparent
light, blue and vacant like the windows of buildings under construction, through
which you can see the sky from the windows of the opposite wall. Like those bar-
racks which in the morning are open to all the winds, which you think are empty
and pure when they are swarming with dangerous males, sprawled promiscuously on
their beds. I say empty, but if they close their eyelids, they become more dis-
turbing to me than are huge prisons to the nubile maiden who passes by the high
barred windows, prisons behind which sleeps, dreams, swears and spits a race of
murderers, which makes of each cell the hissing nest of a tangle of snakes, but
also a kind of confessional with a curtain of dusty serge. Those eyes, seemingly
without mystery, are like certain closed cities--Lyons and Zurich--and they hyp-
notize me as do empty theatres, deserted prisons, machinery at rest, deserts,
for deserts are closed and do not communicate with the infinite. Men with such
faces terrify me when I have to cross their paths warily, but what a dazzling
surprise when, in their landscape, at the turning of a deserted lane, I ap-
proach, my heart racing wildly, and discover nothing, nothing but looming emp-
tiness, sensitive and proud like a tall foxglove!
I do not know, as I have said, whether the heads there are really those of my
guillotined friends, but, I have recognized, by certain signs, that they--those
on the wall, are thoroughlyly supple, like the lashes of whips, and rigid as
glass knives, precocious as child pundits and fresh as forget-me-nots, bodies
chosen because they are possessed by terrible souls.
The newspapers are tattered by the time they reach my cell, and the finest pages
been looted of their finest flowers, those pimps, like gardens in May. The big,
inflexible, strict pimps, their members in full bloom—I no longer know whether
they are lilies or whether lilies and members are not totally they, so much so
that in the evening, on my knees, in thought, I encircle their legs with my arms—
all that rigidity floors me and makes me confuse them, and the memory which I
gladly give as food for my nights is of yours, which, as I caressed it, remained
inert, stretched out; only your rod, unsheathed and brandished, went through my
mouth with the suddenly cruel sharpness of a steeple puncturing a cloud of ink,
a hatpin a breast. You did not move, you were not asleep, you were not dreaming,
you were in flight, motionless and pale, frozen, straight, stretched out stiff
on the flat bed, like a coffin on the sea, and I know that we were chaste, while
I, all attention, felt you flow into me, warm and white, in continuous little
jerks. Perhaps you were playing at coming. At the climax, you were lit up with
a quiet ecstasy, which enveloped your blessed body in a supernatural nimbus,
like a cloak that you pierced with your head and feet.
Still, I managed to get about twenty photographs, and with bits of chewed bread
I pasted them on the back of the cardboard sheet of regulations that hangs on
the wall. Some are pinned up with bits of brass wire which the foreman brings
me and on which I have to string colored glass beads.
Using the same beads with which the prisoners next door make funeral wreaths, I
have made star-shaped frames for the most purely criminal. In the evening, as
you open your window to the street, I turn the back of the regulations sheet
toward me. Smiles and sneers, alike inexorable, enter me by all the holes I
offer, their vigor penetrates me and erects me. I live among these pits. They
watch over my little routines, which, along with them, are all the family I
have and my only friends.
Perhaps some lad who did nothing to deserve prison—a champion, an athlete—
slipped in among the twenty by mistake. But if I have nailed him to my wall,
it was because, as I see it, he had the sacred sign of the monster at the
corner of his mouth or the angle of the eyelids. The flaw on the face or in
the set gesture indicates to me that they may very possibly love me, for they
love me only if they are monsters—and it may therefore be said that it is
this stray himself who has chosen to be here. To provide them with a court
and retinue, I have culled here and there, from the illustrated covers of a
few adventure novels, a young Mexican half-breed, a gaucho, a Caucasian
horseman, and, from the pages of these novels that are passed from hand to
hand when we take our walk, clumsy drawings: profiles of pimps and apaches
with a smoking butt, or the outline of a tough with a hard-on
At night I love them, and my love endows them with life. During the day I go
about my petty concerns. I am the housekeeper, watchful lest a bread crumb
or a speck of ash fall on the floor. But at night! Fear of the guard who may
suddenly flick on the light and stick his head through the grating compels
me to take sordid precautions lest the rustling of the sheets draw attention
to my pleasure; but though my gesture may be less noble, by becoming secret
it heightens my pleasure.I dawdle. Beneath the sheet, my right hand stops
to caress the absent face, and then the whole body, of the outlaw I have
chosen for that evening's delight. The left hand closes, then arranges its
fingers in the form of a hollow organ which tries to resist, then offers it-
self, opens up, and a vigorous body, a wardrobe, emerges from the wall, ad-
vances, and falls upon me, crushes me against my straw mattress, which has
already been stained by more than a hundred prisoners, while I think of the
happiness into which I sink at a time when God and His angels exist.
So, with the help of my unknown lovers, I am going to write a story. My
heroes are they, pasted on the wall, they and I who am here, locked up.
As you read on, characters, and Divine too, and Culafroy, will fall from
the wall onto my pages like dead leaves, to fertilize my tale. As for
their death, need I tell you about it? For all of them it will be the
death of him who, when he learned of his from the jury, merely mumbled
in a Rhenish accent: "I'm already beyond that" (Weidmann).
This story may not always seem artificial, and in spite of me you may rec-
ognize in it the call of the blood: the reason Is that within my night I
shall have happened to strike my forehead at some door, freeing an anguish-
ed memory that had been haunting me since the world began. Forgive me for
it. This book aims to be only a small fragment of my inner life.
Sometimes the cat-footed guard tosses me a hello through the grate. He
talks to me and, without meaning to, tells me a great deal about my forger
neighbors, about arsonists, counterfeiters, murderers, swaggering adole-
scents who roll on the floor screaming: "Mama, help!" He slams the grate
shut and delivers me to a tete-a-tete with all those fine gentlemen whom
he has just let slip in and who twist and squirm in the warmth of the
sheets and the drowsiness of the morning to seek the end of the thread
which will unravel the motives, the system of complicity, a whole fierce
and subtle mechanism which, among other neat tricks, changed a few pink
little girls into white corpses. I want to mingle them too, with their
heads and legs, among my friends on the wall, and to compose with them
this children's tale. And to refashion in my own way, and for the en-
chantment of my cell (I mean that thanks to her my cell will be enchant-
ed), the story of Divine, whom I knew only slightly, the story of Our
Lady of the Flowers, and, never fear, my own story.
Description of Our Lady of the Flowers: height, 5 ft. 7 in., weight,
156 lbs., oval face, blond hair, blue eyes, mat complexion, perfect
teeth, straight nose.
Divine died yesterday in a pool of her vomited blood which was so red
that, as she expired, she had the supreme illusion that this blood was
the visible equivalent of the black hole which a gutted violin, seen
in a judge's office in the midst of a hodge-podge of pieces of evidence,
revealed with dramatic insistence, as does a Jesus the gilded chancre
where gleams His flaming Sacred Heart. So much for the divine aspect of
her death. The other aspect, ours, because of those streams of blood
that had been shed on her nightshirt and sheets (for the sun, poignant
on the bloody sheets, had set, not nastily, in her bed), makes her
death tantamount to a murder.
Divine died holy and murdered—by consumption.
It is January, and in the prison too, where this morning, during the
walk, slyly, among prisoners, we wished each other a happy New Year,
as humbly as servants must do among themselves in the pantry. The chief
guard gave us each a little half-ounce packet of coarse salt as a New
Year's gift. Three hours after noon. It has been raining behind the bars
since yesterday, and it's windy. I let myself drift, as to the depth of
an ocean, to the depths of a dismal neighborhood of hard and opaque but
rather light houses, to the inner gaze of memory, for the matter of mem-
ory is porous. The garret in which Divine lived for such a long time is
at the top of one of these houses. Its large window propels the eyes
(and delights them) toward the little Montmartre Cemetery. The stairway
leading up to it plays an important role today. It is the antechamber,
sinuous as the hallways of the Pyramids, of Divine's temporary tomb.
This cavernous hypogeum2 looms up, pure as the bare marble arm in the
darkness which is devouring the queen to whom it belongs. Coming from
the street, the stairway mounts to death. It ushers one to the final
resting place. It smells of decaying flowers and already of the odor of
candles and incense. It rises into the shadow. From floor to floor it
dwindles and darkens until, at the top, it is no more than an illusion
blending with the azure. This is Divine's landing. While in the street,
beneath the black haloes of the tiny flat umbrellas which they are hold-
ing in one hand like bouquets, Mimosa 1, Mimosa II, Mimosa the half-IV,
First Communion, Angela, Milord, Castagnette, Regine—in short, a host,
a still long litany of creatures who are glittering names—are waiting,
and in the other hand are carrying, like umbrellas, little bouquets of
violets which make one of them lose herself, for example, in a reverie
from which she will emerge bewildered and quite dumbfounded with nobil-
ity, for she (let us say First Communion) remembers the article, thrill-
ing as a song from the other world, from our world too, in which an ev-
ening paper, thereby embalmed, stated:
"The black velvet rug of the Hotel Crillon, where lay the silver and e-
bony coffin containing the embalmed body of the Princess of Monaco, was
strewn with Parma violets."
First Communion was chilly. She thrust her chin forward as great ladies
do. Then she drew it in and wrapped herself in the folds of a story (born
of her desires and taking into account, so as to magnify them, all the
mishaps of her drab existence) in which she was dead and a princess.
The rain favored her flight.
Girl-queens were carrying wreaths of glass beads, the very kind I make
in my cell, to which they bring the odor of wet moss and the memory of
the trail of slime left on the white stones of my village cemetery by
snails and slugs.
And all of them, the girl-queens and boy-queens, the aunties, fags, and
nellies of whom I am speaking, are assembled at the foot of the stairway.
The girl-queens are huddled together, chattering and chirping around the
boy-queens, who are straight, motionless, and vertiginous, as motionless
and silent as branches. All are dressed in black: trousers, jacket, and
overcoat, but their faces, young or old, smooth or crinkly, are divided
into quarters of color like a coat of arms. It is raining. With the pat-
ter of the rain is mingled:
"Would you believe it, my dear! But at her age it was fatal."
"It was falling apart. She was losing her bottom."
"Hasn't Darling come?"
Divine, who disliked anyone's walking over her head, lived on the top
floor of a middle-class apartment house in a sober neighborhood. It was
at the foot of this house that the crowd belonging to this backstage con-
versation shuffled about.
Any minute now the hearse. drawn perhaps by a black horse, will come to
take away Divine's remains and carry them to the church, then here, dose
by, to the little Montmartre Cemetery, which the procession will enter by
the Avenue Rachel.
The Eternal passed by in the form of a pimp. The prattle ceased. Barehead-
ed and very elegant, simple and smiling, simple and supple, Darling Daint-
yfoot arrived. There was in his supple bearing the weighty magnificence
of the barbarian who tramples choice furs beneath his muddy boots. The
torso on his hips was a king on a throne. Merely to have mentioned him is
enough for my left hand in my torn pocket to. . . . And the memory of Dar-
ling will not leave me until I have completed my gesture. One day the door
of my cell opened and framed him. I thought I saw him, in the twinkling of
an eye, as solemn as a walking corpse, set in the thickness—which you can
only imagine—of the prison walls. He appeared standing before me with the
same graciousness that might have been his lying naked in a field of pinks.
I was his at once, as if (who said that?) he had discharged through my
mouth straight to my heart. Entering me until there was no room left for
myself, so that now I am one with gangsters, burglars, and pimps, and the
police arrest me by mistake. For three months he regaled himself with my
body, beating me for all he was worth. I dragged at his feet, more tramp-
led on than a dust mop. Ever since he has gone off free to his robberies,
I keep remembering his gestures, so vivid they revealed him cut out of a
faceted crystal, gestures so vivid that you suspected they were all invol-
untary, for it seems utterly impossible that they were born of ponderous
reflection and decision. Of the tangible him there remains, sad to say,
only the plaster cast that Divine herself made of his cock, which was gi-
gantic when erect. The most impressive thing about it is the vigor, hence
the beauty, of that part which goes from the anus to the tip of the penis.
I shall say that he had lace fingers, that, each time he awoke, his out-
stretched arms, open to receive the World, made him look like the Christ
Child in his manger—with the heel of one foot on the instep of the other—
that his eager face offered itself, as it bent backward facing heaven,
that, when standing, he would tend to make the basket movement we see
Nijinsky1 making in the old photos where he is dressed in shredded roses.
His wrist, fluid as a violinist's, hangs down, graceful and loose-jointed.
And at times, in broad daylight, he strangles himself with his lithe arm,
the arm of a tragedienne.
This is almost an exact portrait of Darling, for—we shall see him again—he
had a talent for the gesture that thrills me, and, if I think about him, I
can't stop praising him until my hand is smeared with my liberated pleasure.
A Greek, he entered the house of death walking on air. A Greek, that is, a
crook as well. As he passed—the motion was revealed by an imperceptible
movement of the torso—within themselves, secretly, Milord, the Mimosas, Cas-
tagnette, in short, all the queens, imparted a tendril-like movement to
their bodies and fancied they were enlacing this handsome man, were twining
about him. Indifferent and bright as a slaughterhouse knife, he passed by,
cleaving them all into two slices which came noiselessly together again,
though emitting a slight scent of hopelessness which no one divulged. Dar-
ling went up the stairs two at a time, an ample and forthright ascension,
which may lead, after the roof, on steps of blue air, up to heaven. In the
garret, less mysterious since death had converted it into a vault (it was
losing its equivocal meaning, was again assuming, in all its purity, that
air of incoherent gratuity that these funereal and mysterious objects,
these mortuary objects lent it: white gloves, a lampion, an artilleryman's
jacket, in short, an inventory that we shall list later on), the only one
to sigh in her mourning veils was Divine's mother, Ernestine. She is old.
But now at last the wonderful, long-awaited opportunity does not escape her.
Divine's death enables her to free herself, by an external despair, by a
visible mourning consisting of tears, flowers, and crape, from the hundred
great roles which possessed her. The opportunity slipped between her fing-
ers at the time of an illness which I shall tell about, when Divine the Gay-
time Girl was still just a village youngster named Louis Culafroy. From his
sick bed, he looked at the room where an angel (once again this word disturbs
me, attracts me, and sickens me. If they have wings, do they have teeth? Do
they fly with such heavy wings, feathered wings, "those mysterious wings?"
And scented with that wonder: their angel's name, which they change if they
fall?), an angel, a soldier dressed in light blue, and a Negro (for will my
books ever be anything but a pretext for showing a soldier dressed in sky
blue, and a brotherly Negro and angel playing dice or knuckle bones in a
dark or light prison?) were engaged in a confabulation from which he himself
was excluded. The angel, the Negro, and the soldier kept assuming the faces
of various schoolmates and peasants, but never that of Alberto the snake
fisher. He was the one Culafroy was waiting for in his desert, to calm his
torrid thirst with that mouth of starry flesh. To console himself, he tried,
despite his age, to conceive a kind of happiness in which nothing would be
winsome, a pure, deserted, desolate field, a field of azure or sand, a dumb,
dry, magnetic field, where nothing sweet, no color or sound, would remain.
Quite some time before, the appearance on the village road of a bride wear-
ing a black dress, though wrapped in a veil of white tulle, lovely and spark-
ling, like a young shepherd beneath the hoar frost, like a powdered blond
miller, or like Our Lady of the Flowers whom he will meet later on and whom
I saw with my own eyes here in my cell one morning, near the latrines—his
sleepy face pink and bristly beneath the soapsuds, which blurred his vision—
revealed to Culafroy that poetry is something other than a melody of curves
on sweetness. for the tulle snapped apart into abrupt, dear, rigorous, icy
facets. It was a warning.
He was waiting for Alberto, who did not come. Yet all the peasant boys and
girls who came in had something of the snake fisher about them. They were
like his harbingers, his ambassadors, his precursors, bearing some of his
gifts before him, preparing his coming by smoothing the way for him. They
shouted hallelujah. One had his walk, another his gestures, or the color of
his trousers, or his corduroy, or Alberto's voice; and Culafroy, like someone
waiting, never doubted that all these scattered elements would eventually
fuse and enable a reconstructed Alberto to make the solemn, appointed, and
surprising entrance into his room that a dead and alive Darling Daintyfoot
made into my cell.
When the village abbe, hearing the news, said to Ernestine: "Madame, it's a
blessing to die young," she replied: "Yes, your Lordship," and made a curtsey.
The priest looked at her.
She was smiling in the shiny floor at her antipodal reflection which made her
the Queen of Spades, the ill-omened widow.
"Don't shrug your shoulders, my friend. I'm not crazy."
And she wasn't crazy.
"Lou Culafroy is going to die shortly. I feel it. He's going to die, I can tell."
"He's going to die, I can tell," was the expression torn alive—and helping her
to fly—from a book, and bleeding, like a wing from a sparrow (or from an angel,
if it can bleed crimson), and murmured with horror by the heroine of that cheap
novel printed in tiny type in newsprint—which, so they say, is as spongy as the
consciences of those nasty gentlemen who debauch children.
"So, I'm dancing the dirge."
He therefore had to die. And in order for the pathos of the act to be more vir-
ulent, she herself would have to be the cause of his death. Here, to be sure,
morality is not involved, nor the fear of prison, or of hell. With remarkable
precision, the whole mechanism of the drama presented itself to Ernestine's mind,
and thereby to mine. She would simulate a suicide. "n1 say he killed himself."
Emestine's logic, which is a stage logic, has no relationship with what is call-
ed verisimilitude, verisimilitude being the disavowal of unavowable reasons. Let
us not be surprised, we shall be all the more astonished.
The presence of a huge army revolver at the back of a drawer was enough to dic-
tate her attitude. This is not the first time that things have been the instiga-
tors of an act and must alone bear the fearful, though light, responsibility for
a crime. This revolver became—or so it seemed—the indispensable accessory of her
gesture. It was a continuation of her heroine's outstretched arm, in fact It
haunted her, since there's no denying it, with a brutality that burned her cheeks,
just as the girls of the village were haunted by the brutal swelling of Alberto's
thick hands in his pockets. But—just as I myself would be willing to kill only a
lithe adolescent in order to bring forth a corpse from his death, though a corpse
still warm and a shade sweet to hug, so Ernestine agreed to kill only on condition
that she avoid the horror that the here below would not fail to inspire in her
(convulsions, squirting blood and brain, reproaches in the child's dismayed eyes),
and the horror of an angelic beyond, or perhaps to make the moment more stately—
she put on her jewels. So in the past I would inject my cocaine with a cut-glass
syringe shaped like the stopper of a decanter and put a huge diamond on my index
finger. She was not aware that by going about it in this way she was aggravating
her gesture, changing it into an exceptional gesture, the singularity of which
threatened to upset everything. Which is what happened. With a kind of smooth
sliding, the room descended till it blended with a luxurious apartment, adorned
with gold, the walls hung with garnet-red velvet, the furniture heavy but toned
down with red faille curtains; here and there were large beveled mirrors, adorned
with candelabra and their crystal pendants. From the ceiling—an important detail—
hung a huge chandelier. The floor was covered with thick blue and violet carpets.
One evening, during her honeymoon in Paris, Ernestine had glimpsed from the street,
through the curtains, one of those elegant, well-heated apartments, and as she
walked demurely with her arm in her husband's—demurely still—she longed to die
there of love (phenobarbital and flowers) for a Teutonic knight. Then, as she had
already died four or five times, the apartment had remained available for a drama
more serious than her own death.
I'm complicating things, getting involved, and you're talking of childishness. It
is childishness. All prisoners are children, and only children are underhanded,
wily, open, and confused. "What would top it all," thought Ernestine, "would be
for him to die in a fashionable city, in Cannes or Venice, so that I could make
pilgrimages to it."
To stop at a Ritz, bathed by the Adriatic, wife or mistress of a Doge; then, her
arms full of flowers, to climb a path to the cemetery, to sit down on a simple
flagstone, a white, slightly curved stone, and, all curled up in fragrant grief,
Without bringing her back to reality, for she never left reality, the arrangement
of the setting obliged her to shake off the dream. She went to get the revolver,
which had long since been loaded by a most considerate Providence, and when she
held it in her hand, weighty as a phallus in action, she realized she was big
with murder, pregnant with a corpse.
You, you have no idea of the superhuman or extra-lucid state of mind of the blind
murderer who holds the knife. the run. or the nhial. or who has already released
the movement that propels to the precipice.
Ernestine's gesture might have been performed quickly, but, like Culafroy in fact,
she is serving a text she knows nothing about, a text I am composing whose denou-
ment will occur when the time is ripe. Ernestine is perfectly aware of how ridic-
ulously literary her act is, but that she has to submit to cheap literature makes
her even more touching in her own eyes and ours. In drama, as in all of life, she
escapes vainglorious beauty.
Every premeditated murder is always governed by a preparatory ceremonial and is
always followed by a propitiatory ceremonial. The meaning of both eludes the mur-
derer's mind. Everything is in order. Ernestine has just time to appear before a
Star Chamber. She fired. The bullet shattered the glass of a frame containing an
honorary diploma of her late husband. The noise was frightful. Drugged by sleep-
ing pills, the child heard nothing. Nor did Ernestine. She had fired in the apar-
tment with the garnet-red velvet, and the bullet, shattering the beveled mirrors,
the pendants, the crystals, the stucco, the stars, tearing the hangings—in short,
destroying the structure which collapsed—brought down not sparkling powder and
blood, but the crystal of the chandelier and the pendants, a gray ash on the
head of Ernestine, who swooned.
She came back to her senses amidst the debris of her drama. Her hands, freed from
the revolver, which disappeared beneath the bed like an ax at the bottom of a
pond, like a prowler into a wall, her hands, lighter than thoughts, fluttered a-
bout her. Since then, she has been waiting.
That was how Darling saw her, intoxicated with the tragic. He was intimidated by
her, for she was beautiful and seemed mad, but especially because she was beau-
tiful. Did he, who himself was handsome, have to fear her? I'm sorry to say I
know too little (nothing) about the secret relations between people who are
handsome and know it, and nothing about the seemingly friendly but perhaps hos-
tile contacts between handsome boys. If they smile at each other over a trifle,
is there, unknown to them, some tenderness in their smile, and do they feel its
influence in some obscure way? Darling made a clumsy sign of the cross over the
coffin. His constraint gave the impression that he was deep in thought; and his
constraint was all his grace.
Death had placed its mark, which weighs like a lead seal at the bottom of a
parchment, on the curtains, the walls, the rugs. Particularly on the curtains.
They are sensitive. They sense death and echo it like dogs. They bark at death
through the folds that open, dark as the mouth and eyes of the masks of Sopho-
cles, or which bulge like the eyelids of Christian ascetics. The blinds were
drawn and the candles lighted. Darling, no longer recognizing the attic where
he had lived with Divine, behaved like a young man on a visit.
His emotion beside the coffin? None. He no longer remembered Divine.
The undertaker's assistants arrived almost immediately and saved him from fur-
In the rain, this black cortege, bespangled with multicolored faces and blend-
ed with the scent of flowers and rouge, followed the hearse. The flat round
umbrellas, undulating above the ambulating procession, held it suspended be-
tween heaven and earth. The passersby did not even see it, for it was so light
that it was already floating ten yards from the ground; only the maids and
butlers might have noticed it, but at ten o'clock the former were bringing
the morning chocolate to their mistresses and the latter were opening the
door to early visitors. Besides, the cortege was almost invisible because of
its speed. The hearse had wings on its axle. The abbe emerged first into the
rain singing the dies irae. He tucked up his cassock and cope, as be had been
taught to do at the seminary when the weather was bad. His gesture, though
automatic, released within him, with a placenta of nobility, a series of sad
and secret creatures. With one of the flaps of the black velvet cope, the vel-
vet from which are made Fantamas' masks and those of the Doges' wives, he
tried to slip away, but it was the ground that gave way under him, and we
shall see the trap into which he fell. Just in time, he prevented the cloth
from hiding the lower part of his face. Bear in mind that the abbe was young.
You could tell that under his funereal vestments he had the lithe body of a
passionate athlete. Which means, in short, that he was in travesty. In the
church—the whole funeral service having been merely the "do this in memory
of me"—approaching the altar on tiptoe, in silence, he had picked the lock
of the tabernacle, parted the veil like someone who at midnight parts the
double curtains of an alcove, held his breath, seized the ciborium4 with the
caution of an ungloved burglar, and finally, having broken it, swallowed a
From the church to the cemetery, the road was long and the text of the bre-
viary too familiar. Only the dirge and the black, silver-embroidered cope
exuded charms. The abbe plodded through the mud as he would have done in
the heart of the woods. "Of what woods?" he asked himself. In a foreign
country, a forest of Bohemia. Or rather of Hungary. In choosing this coun-
try, he was no doubt guided by the precious suspicion that Hungarians are
the only Asiates in Europe. Huns. The Hunis. Attila burning the grass, and
his soldiers warming between their brutal and colossal thighs (like those,
and perhaps even larger than those, of Alberto, Darling, and Gorgui) and
their horses' flanks the raw meat that they will eat. It is autumn. It is
raining in the Hungarian forest.
Every branch that he has to push aside wets the priest's forehead. The
only sound is the patter of the drops on the wet leaves. Since it is eve-
ning, the woods become more and more alarming. The priest draws the gray
coat more tightly about his splendid loins, the great cape, like his cope
of today, which envelops him over there.
In the forest is a sawmill; two young men work it and hunt. They are un-
known in the region. They have (the abbe knows this as one knows things
in dreams without having learned them) been around the world. And so here
the abbe was chanting the dirge as he would have sung it there when he met
one of the strangers, the younger, who had the face of the butcher of my
village. He was on his way back from hunting. In the corner of his mouth,
an unlit butt. The word "butt" and the taste of the sucked tobacco made
the abbe's spine stiffen and draw back with three short jerks, the vibra-
tions of which reverberated through all his muscles and on to infinfity,
which shuddered and ejaculated a seed of constellations.
The woodcutter's lips came down on the abbe's mouth, where, with a thrust
of the tongue more imperious than a royal order, they drove in the butt.
The priest was knocked down, bitten, and he expired with love on the sog-
gy moss. After having almost disrobed him, the stranger caressed him,
gratefully, almost fondly, thought the abbe. With a heave, he shouldered
his game bag, which was weighted down with a wildcat, picked up his gun,
and went off whistling a raffish tune.
The abbe was winding his way among mausoleums; the queens were stumbling
over the stones, getting their feet wet in the grass, and among the graves
were being angelicized. The choir boy, a puny lad with ringworm, who hadn't
the slightest suspicion of the adventure the abbe had just had, asked him
whether he might keep his skullcap on. The abbe said yes. As he walked,
his leg made the movement peculiar to dancers (with one hand in their po-
cket) as they finish a tango. He bent forward on his leg, which was slight-
ly advanced on the tip of the toe; he slapped his knee against the cloth
of the cassock, which flapped back and forth like the bell-bottomed trou-
sers of a swaying sailor or a gaucho. Then he began a psalm.
When the procession arrived at the hole which had already been dug, per-
haps by the gravedigger Divine used to see from her window, they lowered
the coffin in which Divine lay wrapped in a white lace sheet. The abbe
blessed the grave and handed his sprinkler to Darling, who blushed to
feel it so heavy (for he had to some degree returned, after and beyond
Divine, to his race, which was akin to that of young gypsies, who are
willing to jerk you off, but only with their feet), then to the queens,
who turned the whole area into a squealing of pretty cries and high gig-
gles. Divine departed as she would have desired, in a mixture of fantasy
Divine is dead, is dead and buried...
...is dead and buried....
Since Divine is dead, the poet may sing her, may tell her legend, the
Saga, the annals of Divine. The Divine Saga should be danced, mimed,
with subtle directions. Since it is impossible to make a ballet of it,
I am forced to use words that are weighed down with precise ideas, but
I shall try to lighten them with expressions that are trivial, empty,
hollow, and invisible.
What is involved for me who is making up this story? In reviewing my life, in
tracing its course, I fill my cell with the pleasure of being what for want of
a trifle I failed to be, recapturing, so that I may hurl myself into them as into
dark pits, those moments when I strayed through the trap-ridden compartments
of a subterranean sky. Slowly displacing volumes of fetid air, cutting threads
from which hang bouquets of feelings, seeing the gypsy for whom I am looking
emerge per-haps from some starry river, wet, with mossy hair, playing the fiddle,
diabolically whisked away by the scarlet velvet portiere of a cabaret.
I shall speak to you about Divine, mixing masculine and feminine as my mood
dictates, and if, in the course of the tale, I shall have to refer to a woman, I shall
manage, I shall find an expedient, a good device, to avoid any confusion.
Divine appeared in Paris to lead her public life about twenty years before her
death. She was then thin and vivacious and will remain so until the end of her life,
though growing angular. At about two A.M. she entered Graff 's Cafe in Montmartre.
The customers were a muddy, still shapeless clay. Divine was limpid water. In the
big cafe with the closed windows and the curtains drawn on their hollow rods,
overcrowded and foundering in smoke, she wafted the coolness of scandal, which
is the coolness of a morning breeze, the astonishing sweetness of a breath of
scandal on the stone of the temple, and just as the wind turns leaves, so she
turned heads, heads which all at once became light (giddy heads), heads of bank-
ers, shopkeepers, gigolos for ladies, waiters, managers, colonels, scarecrows.
She sat down alone at a table and asked for tea.
"Specially fine China tea, my good man," she said to the waiter.
With a smile. For the customers she had an irritatingly jaunty smile. Hence, the "you-
know-what" in the wagging of the heads. For the poet and the reader, her smile will
That evening she was wearing a champagne silk short-sleeved blouse, a pair of blue
trousers stolen from a sailor, and leather sandals. On one of her fingers, though
preferably on the pinkie, an ulcer-like stone gangrened her. When the tea was brought,
she drank it as if she were at home, in tiny little sips (a pigeon), putting down
and lifting the cup with her pinkie in the air. Here is a portrait of her: her hair
is brown and curly; with the curls spilling over her eyes and down her cheeks, she
looks as if she were wearing a cat-o'-nine-tails on her head. Her forehead is some-
what round and smooth. Her eyes sing, despite their despair, and their melody moves
from her eyes to her teeth, to which she gives life, and from her teeth to all her
movements, to her slightest acts, and this charm, which emerges from her eyes, un-
furls in wave upon wave, down to her bare feet. Her body is fine as amber. Her
limbs can be agile when she flees from ghosts. At her heels, the wings of terror
bear her along. She is quick, for in order to elude the ghosts, to throw them off
her track, she must speed ahead faster than her thought thinks. She drank her tea
before thirty pairs of eyes which belied what the contemptuous, spiteful, sorrowful,
wilting mouths were saying.
Divine was full of grace, and yet was like all those prowlers at country fairs on the
lookout for rare sights and artistic visions, good sports who trail behind them all the
inevitable hodge-podge of side shows. At the slightest movement--if they knot
their tie, if they flick the ash off their cigarette--they set slot machines in mo-
tion. Divine knotted, garroted arteries. Her seductiveness will be implacable. If it
were only up to me, I would make her the kind of fatal hero I like. Fatal, that is,
determining the fate of those who gaze at them, spellbound. I would make her with
hips of stone, flat and polished cheeks, heavy eyelids, pagan knees so lovely that
they reflected the desperate intelligence of the faces of mystics. I would strip her
of all sentimental trappings. Let her consent to be the frozen statue. But I know
that the poor Demiurge is forced to make his creature in his own image and that he
did not invent Lucifer. In my cell, little by little, I shall have to give my thrills to the
granite. I shall remain alone with it for a long time, and I shall make it live with my
breath and the smell of my farts, both the solemn and the mild ones. It will take me
an entire book to draw her from her petrifaction and gradually impart my suffering
to her, gradually deliver her from evil, and, holding her by the hand, lead her to
The waiter who served her felt very much like snickering, but out of decency he did
he did not dare in front of her. As for the manager, he approached her table and
decided that as soon as she finished her tea, he would ask her to leave, to make
sure she would not turn up again some other evening.
Finally, she patted her snowy forehead with a flowered handkerchief. Then she
crossed her legs; on her ankle could be seen a chain fastened by a locket which
we know contained a few hairs. She smiled all around, and each one answered only
by turning away, but that was a way of answering. The whole cafe thought that the
smile of (for the colonel: the invert; for the shopkeepers: the fairy; for the
banker and the waiters: the fag; for the gigolos: "that one"; etc.) was despic-
able. Divine did not press the point. From a tiny black satin purse she took a
few coins which she laid noiselessly on the marble table. The cafe disappeared,
and Divine was metamorphosed into one of those monsters that are painted on walls
--chimeras or griffins--for a customer, in spite of murmured a magic word as he
thought of her:
That evening, her first in Montmartre, she was cruising. But she got nowhere. She
came upon us without warning. The habitues of the cafe had neither the time, nor
above all, the composure to handle properly their reputations or their females.
Having drunk her tea, Divine, with indifference (so it appeared, seeing her), wrig-
gling in a spray of flowers and strewing swishes and spangles with an invisible fur
below, made off. So here she is, having decided to return, lifted by a column of
smoke, to her garret, on the door of which is nailed a huge discolored muslin rose.
Her perfume is violent and vulgar. From it we can already tell that she is fond of
vulgarity. Divine has sure taste, good taste, and it is most upsetting that life
always puts someone so delicate into vulgar positions, into contact with all kinds
of filth. She cherishes vulgarity because her greatest love was for a dark-skinned
gypsy. On him, under him, when, with his mouth pressed to hers, he sang to her
gypsy songs that pierced her body, she learned to submit to the charm of such
vulgar cloths as silk and gold braid, which are becoming to immodest persons. Mon-
tmartre was aflame. Divine passed through its multi-colored fires, then, intact, en-
tered the darkness of the promenade of the Boulevard de Clichy, a darkness that
preserves old and ugly faces. It was three A.M. She walked for a while toward
Pigalle. She smiled and stared at every man who strolled by alone. They didn't dare,
or else it was that she still knew nothing about the customary routine: the client's
qualms, his hesitations, his lack of assurance as soon as he approaches the cov-
eted youngster. She was weary; she sat down on a bench and, despite her fatigue,
was conquered, transported by the warmth of the night; she let herself go for the
length of a heartbeat and expressed her excitement as follows: The nights are mad
about me! Oh the sultanas! My God, they're making eyes at me! Ah, they're curling
my hair around their fingers (the fingers of the nights, men's cocks!). They're pat-
ting my cheek, stroking my butt." That was what she thought, though without ris-
ing to, or sinking into, a poetry cut off from the terrestrial world. Poetic expression
will never change her state of mind, She will always be the tart concerned with
There are mornings when all men experience with fatigue a flush of tenderness that
makes them horny. One day at dawn I found myself placing my lips lovingly, though for
no reason at all, on the icy banister of the Rue Berthe; another time, kissing my hand;
still another time, bursting with emotion, I wanted to swallow myself by opening my
mouth very wide and turning it over my head so that it would take in my whole body,
and then the Universe, until all that would remain of me would be a ball of eaten
thing which little by little would be annihilated: that is how I see the end of the
world. Divine offered herself to the night in order to be devoured by it tenderly and
never again spewed forth. She is hungry. And there is nothing around. The pissoirs
are empty; the promenade is just about deserted. Merely some bands of young work-
men--whose whole disorderly adolescence is manifest in their carelessly tied shoe-
laces which hop about on their insteps--returning home in forced marches from an
evening of pleasure. Their tight-fitting jackets are like fragile breastplates or shells
protecting the naivete of their bodies. But by the grace of their virility, which is still
as light as a hope, they are inviolable by Divine.
She will do nothing tonight. The possible customers were so taken by surprise that
they were unable to collect their wits. She will have to go back to her attic with
hunger in her belly and her heart. She stood up to go. A man came staggering toward
her. He bumped her with his elbow.
"Oh! sorry," he said, "terribly sorry!"
His breath reeked of wine.
"Quite all right," said the queen.
It was Darling Dainty foot going by.
Description of Darling: height, 5 ft. 9 in., weight 165 lbs., oval face, blond
hair, blue-green eyes, mat complexion, perfect teeth, straight nose.
He was young too, almost as young as Divine, and I would like him to remain so to
the end of the book. Every day the guards open my door so I can leave my cell and
go out into the yard for some fresh air. For a few seconds, in the corridors and
on the stairs, I pass thieves and hoodlums whose faces enter my face and whose
bodies, from afar, hurl mine to the ground. I long to have them within reach. Yet
not one of them makes me evoke Darling Daintyfoot.
When I met Divine in Fresnes Prison, she spoke to me about him a great deal, seek-
ing his memory and the traces of his steps throughout the prison, but I never
quite knew his face, and this is a tempting opportunity for me to blend him in my
mind with the face and physique of Roger.
Very little of this Corsican remains in my memory: a hand with too massive a thumb
that plays with a tiny hollow key, and the faint image of a blond boy walking up
La Canebiere in Marseilles, with a small chain, probably gold, stretched across
his fly, which it seems to be buckling. He belongs to a group of males who are ad-
vancing upon me with the pitiless gravity of forests on the march. That was the
starting point of the daydream in which I imagined myself calling him Roger, a
"little boy's" name, though firm and upright. Roger was upright. I had just got
out of the Chave prison, and I was amazed not to have met him there. What could I
commit to be worthy of his beauty? I needed boldness in order to admire him. For
lack of money, I slept at night in the shadowy corners of coal piles, on the docks,
and every evening I carried him off with me. The memory of his memory made way for
other men. For the past two days, in my daydreams, I have again been mingling his
(made-up) life with mine. I wanted him to love me, and of course he did, with the
candor that required only perversity for him to be able to love me. For two suc-
cessive days I have fed with his image a dream which is usually sated after four
or five hours when I have given it a boy to feed upon, however handsome he may be.
Now I am exhausted with inventing circumstances in which he loves me more and more.
I am worn out with the invented trips, thefts, rapes, burglaries, imprisonments,
and treachery in which we were involved, each acting by and for the other and ne-
ver by or for himself, in which the adventure was ourselves and only ourselves. I
am exhausted; I have a cramp in my wrist. The pleasure of the last drops is dry.
For a period of two days, between my four bare walls, I experienced with him and
through him every possibility of an existence that had to be repeated twenty times
and got so mixed up it became more real than a real one. I have given up the day-
dream. I was loved. I have quit, the way a contestant in a six-day bicycle race
quits; yet the memory of his eyes and their fatigue, which I have to cull from the
face of another youngster whom I saw coming out of a brothel, a boy with firm legs
and ruthless cock, so solid that I might almost say it was knotted, and his face
(it alone, seen without its veil), which asks for shelter like a knight-errant--this
memory refuses to disappear as the memory of my dream-friends usually does. It
floats about. It is less sharp than when the adventures were taking place, but it
lives in me nevertheless. Certain details persist more obstinately in remaining:
the little hollow key with which, if he wants to, he can whistle; his thumb; his
sweater; his blue eyes.... If I continue, he will rise up, become erect, and pen-
etrate me so deeply that I shall be marked with stigmata. I can't bear it any
longer. I am turning him into a character whom I shall be able to torment in my
own way, namely, Darling Daintyfoot. He will still be twenty, although his des-
tiny is to become the father and lover of Our Lady of the Flowers.
To Divine he said: "Terribly sorry!"
In his cups, Darling did not notice the strangeness of this passerby with his
"What about it, pal?"
Divine stopped. A bantering and dangerous conversation ensued, and then every-
thing happened as was to be desired. Divine took him home with her to the Rue
Caulaincourt. It was in this garret that she died, the garret from which one
sees below, like the sea beneath the watchman in the crow's nest, a cemetery
and graves. Cypresses singing. Ghosts dozing. Every morning, Divine will shake
her dustrag from the window and bid the ghosts farewell. One day, with the help
of field glasses, she will discover a young gravedigger. "God forgive me!" she
will exclaim, "there's a bottle of wine on the vault!" This gravedigger will
grow old along with her and will bury her without knowing anything about her.
So she went upstairs with Darling. Then, in the attic, after closing the door,
she undressed him. With his jacket, trousers, and shirt off, he looked as white
and sunken as an avalanche. By evening they found themselves tangled in the damp
and rumpled sheets.
"What a mess! Man! I was pretty groggy yesterday, wasn't I, doll?"
He laughed feebly and looked around the garret. It is a room with a sloping cei-
ling. On the floor, Divine has put some threadbare rugs and nailed to the wall
the murderers on the walls of my cell and the extraordinary photographs of good-
looking kids, which she has stolen from photographers' display windows, all of
whom bear the signs of the power of darkness.
On the mantelpiece, a tube of phenobarbital lying on a small painted wooden fri-
gate is enough to detach the room from the stone block of the building, to suspend
it like a cage between heaven and earth.
From the way he talks, the way he lights and smokes his cigarette, Divine has gath-
ered that Darling is a pimp. At first she had certain fears: of being beaten up,
obbed, insulted. Then she felt the proud satisfaction of having made a pimp come.
Without quite seeing where the adventure would lead, but rather as a bird is said
to go into a serpent's mouth, she said, not quite voluntarily and in a kind of
trance: "Stay," and added hesitantly, "if you want to."
"No kidding, you feel that way about me?"
In that big Montmartre attic, where, through the sky-light, between the pink mus-
lin puffs which she has made herself, Divine sees white cradles sailing by on a
calm blue sea, so close that she can make out their flowers from which emerges
the arched foot of a dancer. Darling will soon bring the midnight-blue overalls that
he wears on the job, his ring of skeleton keys and his tools, and on the little
pile which they make on the floor he will place his white rubber gloves, which are
like gloves for formal occasions. Thus began their life together in that room
through which ran the electric wires of the stolen radiator, the stolen radio,
and the stolen lamps.
They eat breakfast in the afternoon. During the day they sleep and listen to the
radio. Toward evening, they primp and go out. At night, as is the practice, Di-
vine hustles on the Place Blanche and Darling goes to the movies. For a long time,
things will go well with Divine. With Darling to advise and protect her, she will
know whom to rob, which judge to blackmail. The vaporish cocaine loosens the
contours of their lives and sets their bodies adrift, and so they are untouchable.
Though a hoodlum, Darling had a face of light. He was the handsome male, gentle
and violent, born to be a pimp, and of so noble a bearing that he seemed always to
be naked, save for one ridiculous and, to me, touching movement: the way he arched
his back, standing first on one foot, then on the other, in order to take off his
trousers and shorts. Before his birth, Darling was baptized privately, that is,
beatified too, practically canonized, in the warm belly of his mother. He was given
the kind of emblematic baptism which, upon his death, was to send him to limbo; in
short, one of those brief ceremonies, mysterious and highly dramatic in their com-
pactness, sumptuous too, to which the Angels were convoked and in which the vo-
taries of the Divinity were mobilized, as was the IMMO Divinity Itself. Darling is a-
ware of this, though only slightly, that is, throughout his life, rather than anyone's
telling him such secrets aloud and intelligibly, it seems that someone whispers them
to him. And this private baptism, with which his life began, gilds his life as it
unfolds, envelops it in a warm, weak, slightly luminous aureole, raises for this
pimp's life a pedestal garlanded with flowers, as a maiden's coffin is bedecked with
woven ivy, a pedestal massive though light, from the top of which, since the age of
fifteen, Darling has been pissing in the following position: his legs spread, knees
slightly bent, and in more rigid jets since the age of eighteen. For we should like
to stress the point that a very gentle nimbus always isolates him from too rough a
contact with his own sharp angles. If he says, "I'm dropping a pearl," or "A pearl
slipped," he means that he has farted in a certain way, very softly, that the fart
has flowed out very quietly. Let us wonder at the fact that it does suggest a pearl
of dull sheen: the flowing, the muted leak, seems to us as milky as the paleness of
a pearl, that is, slightly cloudy. It makes Darling seem to us a kind of precious
gigolo, a Hindu, a princess, a drinker of pearls. The odor he has silently spread
in the prison has the dullness of the pearl, coils about him, haloes him from head
to foot, isolates him, but isolates him much less than does the remark that his bea-
uty does not fear to utter. "I'm dropping a pearl" means that the fart is noiseless.
If it rumbles, then it is coarse, and if it's some jerk who drops it, Darling says,
"My cock's house is falling down!"
Wondrously, through the magic of his high blond beauty, Darling calls forth a savanna
and plunges us more deeply and imperiously into the heart of the black continents
than the Negro murderer will plunge me. Darling adds further:
"Sure stinks. I can't even stay near me...."
In short, he bore his infamy like a red-hot brand on raw flesh, but this precious
brand is as ennobling as was the fleur-de-lis on the shoulders of hoodlums of old.
Eyes blackened by fists are the pimp's shame, but Darling says:
"My two bouquets of violets." He also says, regarding a desire to shit:
"I've got a cigar at the tip of my lips."
He has very few friends. As Divine loses hers, he sells them to the cops. Divine
does not yet know about this; he keeps his traitor's face for himself alone, for he
loves to betray. When Divine met him, he had just got out of jail, that same morning,
having served a minimum sentence for robbery and receiving stolen goods, after hav-
ing coldly ratted on his accomplices, and on some other friends who were not accom-
One evening, as they were about to release him from the police station to which he
had been taken after a raid, when the inspector said to him, in that gruff tone that
makes one think they won't go any further: "You wouldn't happen to know who's going
to pull a job? All you have to do is stooge for us, we can come to some arrangement,"
he felt, as you would say, a base caress, but it was all the sweeter because he him-
self regarded it as base. He vied to seem nonchalant and said:
"It's a risky business."
However, he noticed that he had lowered his voice.
"You don't have to worry about that with me," continued the inspector. "You'll get a
hundred francs each time."
Darling accepted. He liked selling out on people, for this dehumanized him. Dehumani-
zing myself is my own most fundamental tendency. On the first page of an evening
paper he again saw the photograph of the ensign I mentioned earlier, the one who
was shot for treason. And Darling said to himself:
"Old pal! Buddy!"
He was thrilled by a prankishness that was born from within: "I'm a double crosser."
As he walked down the Rue Dancourt, drunk with the hidden splendor (as of a treasure)
of his abjection (for it really must intoxicate us if we are not to be killed by its
intensity), he glanced at the mirror in a shop window where he saw a Darling luminous
with extinguished pride, bursting with this pride. He saw this Darling wearing a glen
plaid suit, a felt hat over one eye, his shoulders stiff, and when he walks he holds
them like that so as to resemble Sebastopol Pete, and Pete holds them like that so as
to resemble Pauley the Rat, and Pauley to resemble Teewee, and so on; a procession
of pure, irreproachable pimps leads to Darling Daintyfoot, the double crosser, and it
seems that as a result of having rubbed against them and stolen their bearing, he has,
you might say, soiled them with his own abjection; that's how I want him to be, for
my delight, with a chain on his wrist, a tie as fluid as a tongue of flame, and those
extraordinary shoes which are meant only for pimps--very light tan, narrow and point-
ed. For, thanks to Divine, Darling has gradually exchanged his clothes, which were
shabby from months in a cell, for some elegant worsted suits and scented linen. The
transformation has delighted him. For he is still the child-pimp. The soul of the ill-
tempered hoodlum has remained in the cast offs. Now he feels in his pocket, and
strokes with his hand, better than he used to feel his knife near his penis, a .38
caliber gun. But we do not dress for ourselves alone, and Darling dressed for prison.
With each new purchase, he imagines the effect on his possible prison mates at
Fresnes or the Sante. Who, in your opinion, might they be? Two or three hoods who,
never having seen him, could recognize him as their peer, a few wooden-faced men
who might offer him their hand or, from a distance, during the medical examination or
while returning from the daily walk, would rap out from the corner of their mouth,
with a wink: " 'lo, Darling." But most of his friends would be jerks who were easily
dazzled. Prison is a kind of God, as barbaric as a god, to whom he offers gold watch-
es, fountain pens, rings, handkerchiefs, scarves, and shoes. He dreams less of showing
himself in the splendor of his new outfits to a woman or to the people he meets ca-
sually in daily life than of walking into a cell with his hat tilted over one eye, his
white silk shirt open at the collar (for his tie was stolen during the search), and his
English raglan unbuttoned. And the poor prisoners already gaze at him with respect.
On the basis of his appearance, he dominates them. "I'd like to see the look on their
mugs!" he would think, if he could think his desires.
Two stays in prison have so molded him that he will live the rest of his life for
it. It has shaped his destiny, and he is very dimly aware that he is ineluctably
consecrated to it, perhaps ever since the time he read the following words that
someone had scribbled on the page of a library book:
First: Jean Clement, known as the Queen,
Second: Robert Martin, known as
Third: Roger Falgue, known as Nelly.
The Queen has a crush on Lig
Meadow (society sis),
The Faggot on Ferriere and Grandot,
Nelly on Malvoisin.
The only way to avoid the horror of horror is to give in to it. He therefore
wished, with a kind of voluptuous desire, that one of the names were his. Be-
sides, I know that you finally tire of that tense, heroic attitude of the out-
law and that you decide to play along with the police in order to reassume
your sloughed-off humanity. Divine knew nothing about this aspect of Darling.
Had she known it, she would have loved him all the more, for to her love was
equivalent to despair. So they are drinking tea, and Divine is quite aware she is
swallowing it the way a pigeon swallows clear water. As it would be drunk, if he
drank it, by the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove. Darling dances the Java with
his hands in his pockets. If he lies down, Divine sucks him. When she talks to
herself about Darling, Divine says, clasping her hands in thought:
"I worship him. When I see him lying naked, I feel like saying mass on his
It took Darling some time to get used to talking about her and to her in the
feminine. He finally succeeded, but he still did not tolerate her talking to
him as to a girl friend. Then little by little he let her do it. Divine dared
say to him:
"You're pretty," adding: "like a prick."
Darling takes what comes his way in the course of his nocturnal and diurnal
expeditions, and bottles of liquor, silk scarves, perfumes, and fake jewels
accumulate in the garret. Each object brings into the room the fascination of
a petty theft that is as brief as an appeal to the eyes. Darling steals from
the display counters of department stores, from parked cars; he robs his few
friends; he steals wherever he can.
On Sunday, Divine and he go to mass. Divine carries a gold-clasped missal in
her right hand. With her left, she keeps the collar of her overcoat closed.
They walk without seeing. They arrive at the Madeleine and take their seats
among the fashionable worshipers. They believe. in the bishops with gold orn-
aments. The mass fills Divine with wonder. Everything that goes on there is
perfectly natural. Each of the priest's gestures is clear, has its precise
meaning, and might be performed by anyone. When the officiating priest joins
the two pieces of the divided host for the consecration, the edges do not fit
together, and when he raises it with his two hands, he does not try to make
you believe in the miracle. It makes Divine shudder.
Darling prays, saying:
"Our Mother Which art in heaven ..."
They sometimes take communion from a mean-looking priest who maliciously
crams the host into their mouths.
Darling still goes to mass because of its luxuriousness.
When they get back to the garret, they fondle each other.
Divine loves her man. She bakes pies for him and butters his roasts. She e-
ven dreams of him if he is in the toilet. She worships him in any and all
A silent key is opening the door, and the wall bursts open just as a sky
tears apart to reveal The Man, like the one Michelangelo painted nude in The
Last Judgment. When the door has been closed, as gently as if it were made
of glass, Darling tosses his hat on the couch and his cigarette butt any old
place, though preferably to the ceiling. Divine leaps to the assault, clings
to her man, licks him, and envelops him; he stands there solid and motionless,
as if he were Andromeda's monster changed to a rock in the sea.
Since his friends keep away from him, Darling sometimes takes Divine to the
Roxy Bar. They play poker-dice. Darling likes the elegant movement of shak-
ing the dice. He also likes the graceful way in which fingers roll a cigar-
ette or remove the cap of a fountain pen. He gives no thought to either his
seconds or his minutes or his hours. His life is an underground heaven throng-
ed with barmen, pimps, queers, ladies of the night, and Queens of Spades,
but his life is a Heaven. He is a voluptuary. He knows all the cafes in Par-
is where the toilets have seats.
"To do a good job," he says, "I've got to be sitting down."
He walks for miles, preciously carrying in his bowels the desire to shit,
which he will gravely deposit in the mauve tiled toilets of the Cafe Termi-
nus at the Saint-Lazare Station.
I don't know much about his background. Divine once told me his name; it
was supposed to be Paul Garcia. He was probably born in one of those neigh-
borhoods that smell of the excrement which people wrap in newspapers and
drop from their windows, at each of which hangs a heart of lilacs.
If he shakes his curly head, you can see the earrings swinging at the cheeks,
of his predecessors, the prowlers of the boulevards, who used to wear them
in the old days. His way of kicking forward to swing the bottoms of his trous-
ers is the counterpart of the way women used to kick aside the flounces of
their gowns with their heels when they waltzed. So the couple lived undis-
turbed. From the bottom of the stairs, the concierge watches over their hap-
piness. And toward evening the angels sweep the room and tidy up. To Divine,
angels are gestures that are made without her.
Oh, I so love to talk about them! Legions of soldiers wearing coarse sky-
blue or river-colored denim are hammering the azure of the heavens with
their hobnailed boots. The planes are weeping. The whole world is dying of
panicky fright. Five million young men of all tongues will die by the can-
non that erects and discharges. Their flesh is already embalming the humans
who drop like flies. As the flesh perishes, solemnity issues forth from it.
But where I am I can muse in comfort on the lovely dead of yesterday, today,
and tomorrow. I dream of the lovers' garret. The first serious quarrel has
taken place, which ends in a gesture of love. Divine has told me the follow-
ing about Darling: when he awoke one evening, too weary to open his eyes,
he heard her fussing about in the
"What are you doing?" he asked.
Divine's mother (Ernestine), who called the wash the wash basin, used to do the
wash basin every Saturday. So Divine answers:
"I'm doing the wash basin."
Now, as there was no bathtub in Darling's home, he used to be dipped into a wash
basin. Today, or some other day, though it seems to me today, while he was sleep-
ing, he dreamed that he was entering a wash basin. He isn't, of course, able to
analyze himself, nor would he dream of trying to, but he is sensitive to the
tricks of fate, and to the tricks of the theater of fear. When Divine answers,
"I'm doing the wash basin," he thinks she is saying it to mean "I'm playing at
being the wash basin," as if she were "doing" a role. (She might have said: "I'm
doing a locomotive.") He suddenly gets an erection from the feeling that he has
penetrated Divine in a dream. In his dream he penetrates the Divine of the dream
of Divine, and he possesses her, as it were, in a spiritual debauch. And the fol-
lowing phrases come into his mind: "To the heart, to the hilt, right to the balls,
right in the throat."
Darling has "fallen" in love.
I should like to play at inventing the ways love has of surprising people. It en-
ters like Jesus into the heart of the impetuous; it also comes slyly, like a thief.
A gangster, here in prison, related to me a kind of counterpart of the famous com-
parison in which the two rivals come to know Eros:
"How I started getting a crush on him? We were in the jug. At night we had to un-
dress, even take off our shirts in front of the guard to show him we weren't hiding
anything (ropes, files, or blades). So the little guy and me were both naked. So I
took a squint at him to see if he had muscles like he said. I didn't have time to
get a good look because it was freezing. He got dressed again quick. I just had
time to see he was pretty great. Man, did I get an eyeful (a shower of roses!). I
was hooked. I swear! I got mine (here one expects inescapably: I knocked myself
out). It lasted a while, four or five days..
The rest is of no further interest to us. Love makes use of the worst traps. The
least noble. The rarest. It exploits coincidence. Was it not enough for a kid to
stick. his two fingers in his mouth and loose a strident whistle just when my soul
was stretched to the limit, needing only this stridency to be torn from top to bot-
tom? Was that the right moment, the moment that made two creatures love each other
to the very blood? "Thou art a sun unto my night. My night is a sun unto thine!" We
beat our brows. Standing, and from afar, my body passes through thine, and thine,
from afar, through mine. We create the world. Everything changes ... and to know
that it does!
Loving each other like two young boxers who, before separating, tear off each o-
ther's shirt, and, when they are naked, astounded by their beauty, think they are
seeing themselves in a mirror, stand there for a second open-mouthed, shake--with
rage at being caught--their tangled hair, smile a damp smile, and embrace each other
like two wrestlers (in Greco-Roman wrestling), interlock their muscles in the pre-
cise connections offered by the muscles of the other, and drop to the mat until
their warm sperm, spurting high, maps out on the sky a milky way where other cons-
tellations which I can read take shape: the constellations of the Sailor, the Boxer,
the Cyclist, the Fiddle, the Spahi, the Dagger. Thus a new map of the heavens is
outlined on the wall of Divine's garret.
Divine returns home from a walk to Monceau Park. A cherry branch, supported by
the full flight of the pink flowers, surges stiff and black from a vase. Divine is hurt.
In the country, the peasants taught her to respect fruit trees and not to regard
them as ornaments; she will never again be able to admire them. The broken branch
shocks her as you would be shocked by the murder of a nubile maiden. She tells Dar-
ling how sad it makes her, and he gives a horselaugh. He, the big-city child, makes
fun of her peasant scruples. Divine, in order to complete, to consummate the sac-
rilege, and, in a way, to mourn it by willing it, perhaps also out of exasperation,
tears the flowers to shreds. Slaps. Shrieks. In short, a love riot, for let her
touch a male and all her gestures of defense modulate into caresses. A fist, that
began as a blow, opens, alights, and slides into gentleness. The big male is much
too strong for these weak queens. All Seck Gorgui had to do was to rub lightly,
without seeming to touch it, the lump his enormous tool made beneath his trousers,
and none of them were henceforth able to tear themselves away from him who, in
spite of himself, drew them straight home as a magnet attracts iron filings. Div-
ine would be fairly strong physically, but she fears the movements of the riposte,
because they are virile, and her modesty makes her shy away from the facial and
bodily grimaces that effort requires. She did have this sense of modesty, and also
a modesty about masculine epithets as they applied to her. As for slang, Divine
did not use it, any more than did her cronies, the other Nellys. It would have up-
set her as much as whistling with her tongue and teeth like some cheap hood or put-
ting her hands in her trousers pockets and keeping them there (especially by push-
ing back the flaps of her unbuttoned jacket), or taking hold of her belt and hitch-
ing up her trousers with a jerk of the hips.
The queens on high had their own special language. Slang was for men. It was the
male tongue. Like the language of men among the Caribees, it became a secondary
sexual attribute. It was like the colored plumage of male birds, like the multico-
lored silk garments which are the prerogative of the warriors of the tribe. It was
a crest and spurs. Everyone could understand it, but the only ones who could speak
it were the men who at birth received as a gift the gestures, the carriage of the
hips, legs and arms, the eyes, the chest, with which one can speak it. One day, at
one of our bars, when Mimosa ventured the following words in the course of a sen-
tence: ". . . his screwy stories. . . ," the men frowned. Someone said, with a
threat in his voice:
"Broad acting tough."
Slang in the mouths of their men disturbed the queens, although they were less
disturbed by the made-up words peculiar to that language than by expressions from
the ordinary world that were violated by the pimps, adapted by them to their mys-
terious needs, expressions perverted, deformed, and tossed into the gutter and
their beds. For example, they would say: "Easy does it," or, "Go, thou art healed."
This last phrase, plucked from the Gospel, would emerge from lips at the corner
of which was always stuck. a crumb of tobacco. It was said with a drawl. It would
conclude the account of a venture which had turned out well for them. "Go .. • ,"
the pimps would say.
They would also say curtly:
And also: "To lie low." But for Darling the expression did not have the same mean-
ing as for Gabriel (the soldier who is to come, who is already being announced by
an expression which delights me and seems suitable only to him: "I'm running the
show."). Darling took it to mean: you've got to keep your eyes open. Gabriel
thought: better clear out. A while ago, in my cell, the two pimps said: "We're
making the pages." They meant they were going to make the beds, but a kind of
luminous idea transformed me there, with my legs spread apart, into a husky guard
or a palace groom who "makes" a palace page just as a young man makes a chick.
To hear this boasting made Divine swoon with pleasure, as when she disentangled--
it seemed to her that she was unbuttoning a fly, that her hand, already inside,
was pulling up the shirt--certain pig-latin words from their extra syllables:
This slang had insidiously dispatched its emissaries to the villages of France,
and Ernestine had already yielded to its charm.
She would say to herself: "A Gauloise, a butt, a drag." She would sprawl in her
Chair and murmur these words as she inhaled the thick smoke of her cigarette. The
better to conceal her fantasy, she would lock herself up in her room and smoke.
One evening, as she opened the door, she saw the glow of a cigarette at the far
end of the darkness. She was terrified by it, as if she were being threatened by
a gun, but the fright was short-lived and blended into hope. Vanquished by the
hidden presence of the male, she took a few steps and collapsed in an easy chair,
but at the same time the glow disappeared. No sooner had she entered than she real-
ized that she was seeing in the mirror of the wardrobe opposite the door, isolated
by the darkness from the rest of the image, the glow of the cigarette she had lit,
and she was glad that she had struck the match in the dark hallway. Her true hon-
eymoon might be said to have taken place that evening. Her husband was a synthesis
of all men: "A butt."
A cigarette was later to play her a shabby trick. As she walked clown the main
street of the village, she passed a young tough, one of those twenty faces I have
cut out of magazines. He was whistling; a cigarette was stuck in the corner of his
little mug. When he came abreast of Ernestine, he lowered his head, and the nodding
gesture made him look as if he were ogling her tenderly. Ernestine thought that he
was looking at her with "impertinent interest," but the fact is he was going against
the wind, which blew the smoke into his eyes and made them smart, thus causing him
to make this gesture. He screwed up his eyes and twisted his mouth, and the expres-
sion passed for a smile. Ernestine drew herself up with a sudden movement, which
she quickly repressed and sheathed, and that was the end of the adventure, for at
that very moment the village hood, who had not even seen Ernestine, felt the corner
of his mouth smiling and his eye panwinking. With a tough-guy gesture, he hitched up
his pants, thereby showing what the position of his true head made of him.
Still other expressions excited her, just as you would be moved and disturbed by the
odd coupling of certain words, such as "bell and candle," or better still, "a Tartar
ball-hold," which she would have liked to whistle and dance to the air of a Java.
Thinking of her pocket, she would may to herself: "My pouch."
While visiting a friend: "Get a load of that." "She got the works." About a good-look-
ing passerby: "I gave him a hard-on."
Don't think that Divine took after her in being thrilled by slang, for Ernestine was
never caught using it. "To get damned sore," coming from the cute mouth of an
urchin, was enough to make both mother and son regard the one who said it as a
sulking little mug, slightly husky, with the crushed face of a bulldog (that of the
young English boxer Crane, who is one of my twenty on the wall).
Darling was growing pale. He knocked out a pink-cheeked Dutchman to rob him. At
the moment, his pocket is full of florins. The garret knows the sober joy that comes
from security. Divine and Darling sleep at night. During the day, they sit around naked
and eat snacks, they squabble, forget to make love, turn on the radio, which drools on
and on, and smoke. Darling says shit, and Divine, in order to be neighborly, even more
neighborly than Saint Catherine of Siena, who passed the night in the cell of a man
condemned to death, on whose prick her head rested, reads Detective Magazine. Out-
side the wind is blowing. The garret is cosily heated by a system of electric radiators,
and I should like to give a short respite, even a bit of happiness, to the ideal couple.
The window is open on the cemetery.
Divine hears church bells ringing (for she is awake). Instead of notes, which fly away,
the chimes are strokes, five strokes, which drop to the pavement, and, on that wet
pavement, bear Divine with them, Divine, who, three years ago, or perhaps four, at
the same hour, in the streets of a small town, was rummaging through a garbage can
for bread. She had spent the night wandering through the streets in the drizzling rain,
hugging the walls so as to get less wet, waiting for the angelus (the bells are now
ringing low mass, and Divine relives the anguish of the days without shelter, the days
of the bells) which announces that the churches are open to old maids, real sinners,
and tramps. In the scented attic, morning angelus violently changes her back into the
poor wretch in damp tatters who has just heard mass and taken communion in order
to rest her feet and be less cold. Darling's sleeping body is warm and next to hers, Divine
closes her eyes; when the lids join and separate her from the world which is emerging
from the dawn, the rain begins to fall, releasing within her a sudden happiness so perfect
that she says aloud, with a deep sigh: "I'm happy." She was about to go back to sleep, but
the better to attest her marital happiness she recalled without bitterness the memories
of the time when she was Culafroy, when, having run away from the slate house, she
landed in a small town, where, on golden, pink, or dreary mornings, tramps with souls--
which, to look at them, one would call naive--of dolls, accost each other with gestures
one would also call fraternal. They have just got up from park benches on which they
have been sleeping, from benches on the main square, or have just been born from a lawn
in the public park. They exchange secrets dealing with Asylums, Prisons, pilfering, and
State Troopers. The milkman hardly disturbs them. He is one of them. For a few days Cu-
lafroy was also one of them. He fed on crusts, covered with hair, that he found in garbage
cans. One night, the night he was most hungry, he even wanted to kill himself. Suicide
was his great preoccupation: the song of phenobarbital! Certain attacks brought him so
close to death that I wonder how he escaped it, what imperceptible shock--coming from
whom?--pushed him back from the brink, But one day there would be, within arm's reach,
a phial of poison, and I would have only to put it to my mouth; and then to wait. To wait,
with unbearable anguish, for the effect of the incredible act, and marvel at the wondrous-
ness of an act so madly irremediable, that brings in its wake the end of the world which
follows from so casual a gesture. I had never been struck by the fact that the slightest
carelessness--sometimes even less than a gesture, an unfinished gesture, one you would
like to take back, to undo by reversing time, a gesture so mild and close, still in the present
moment, that you think you can efface it--Impossible!--can lead, for example, to the guil-
lotine, until the day when I myself--through one of those little gestures that escape you
involuntarily, that it is impossible to abolish--saw my soul in anguish and immediately felt
the anguish of the unfortunate creatures who have no other way out than to confess. And
to wait. To wait and grow calm, because anguish and despair are possible only if there is a
visible or secret way out, and to trust to death, as Culafroy once trusted the inaccessible
Up to that time, the presence of a phial of poison or a high-tension wire had never coin-
cided with periods of dizziness, but Culafroy, and later Divine, will dread that moment, and
they expect to encounter it very soon, a moment chosen by Fate, so that death may issue irre-
mediably from their decision or their lassitude.
There were random walks through the town, along dark streets on sleepless nights. He would
stop to look through windows at gilded interiors, through lacework illustrated with elaborate
designs: flowers, acanthus leaves, cupids with bows and arrows, lace deer; and the interiors,
hollowed out in massive and shadowy altars, seemed to him veiled tabernacles. In front of
and beside the windows, taper-like candelabra mounted a guard of honor in still leafy trees
which spread out in bouquets of enamel, metal, or cloth lilies on the steps of a basilica altar.
In short, they were the surprise packages of vagrant children for whom the world is impris-
oned in a magic lattice, which they themselves weave about the globe with toes as hard and
agile as Pavlova's. Children of this kind are invisible. Conductors do not notice them on trains,
nor do policemen on docks; even in prison seem to have been smuggled in, like tobacco, tat-
tooing ink, moonbeams, sunbeams and the music of a phonograph. Their slightest gesture
proves to them that a crystal mirror, which their fist sometimes bespangles with a slivery
spider, encages the universe of houses, lamps, cradles, and baptisms, the universe of hu-
mans. The child we are concerned with was so far removed from this that all he remem-
bered of his escapade was: "In town, women in mourning are very smartly dressed." But
his solitude made it possible for him to be moved by petty miseries: a squatting old woman
who, when the child suddenly appeared, pissed on her black cotton stockings; in front of
restaurant windows bursting with lights and crystals and silverware, but still empty of diners,
he witnessed, spellbound, the tragedies being performed by waiters in full dress who were
dialoguing with a great flourish and debating questions of precedence until the arrival of the
first elegant couple which dashed the drama to the floor and shattered it; homosexuals who
would give him only fifty centimes and run off, full of happiness for a week; in stations at
major junctions he would observe at night, from the waiting male shadows carrying mourn-
ful lanterns along multitudes of tracks. His feet and shoulders ached; he was cold.
Divine muses on the moments which are most painful to the vagabond: at night, when a car
on the road suddenly spotlights his poor rags.
Darling's body is burning. Divine is lying in its hollow. I do not know whether she is al-
ready dreaming or merely reminiscing: "One morning (it was at early dawn) I knocked at your
door. I was weary of wandering through the streets, bumping into ragpickers, stumbling over
garbage. I was seeking your bed, which was hidden in the lace, the lace, the ocean of lace,
the universe of lace. From the far end of the world, a boxer's fist sent me sprawling into
a tiny sewer." Just then, the angelus tolled. Now she is asleep in the lace, and their mar-
ried bodies are afloat.
Here am I this morning, after a long night of caressing my beloved couple, torn from my
sleep by the noise of the bolt being drawn by the guard who comes to collect the garbage.
I get up and stagger to the latrine, still entangled in my strange dream, in which I suc-
ceeded in getting my victim to pardon me. Thus, I was plunged to the mouth in horror. The
horror entered me. I chewed it. I was full of it. My young victim was sitting near me,
and his bare leg, instead of crossing his right, went through the thigh. He said nothing,
but I knew without the slightest doubt what he was thinking: "I've told the judge every-
thing, you're pardoned. Besides, it's me sitting on the bench. You can confess. And you
don't have to worry. You're pardoned." Then, with the immediacy of dreams, he was a lit-
tle corpse no bigger than a figurine in an Epiphany pie, than a pulled tooth, lying in a
glass of champagne in the middle of a Greek landscape with truncated ringed columns, a-
round which long white tapeworms were twisting and streaming like coils, all this in a
light seen only in dreams. I no longer quite remember my attitude, but I do know that I
believed what he told me. Upon waking, I still had the feeling of baptism. But there is
no question of resuming of the contact with the precise and tangible world of the cell.
crf!tactbe down again until it's time for bread. water stir I lie down again until it's time
for bread. The atmosphere of the night, the smell rising from the blocked latrines, over-
flowing with shit and yellow water, stir childhood memories which rise up like a black
soil mined by moles. One leads to another and makes it surge up; a whole life which I
thought subterranean and forever buried rises to the surface, to the air, to the sad sun,
which give it a smell of decay, in which I delight. The reminiscence that really tugs at
my heart is that of the toilet of the slate house. It was my refuge. Life, which I saw far
off and blurred through its darkness and smell--an odor that filled me with compassion,
in which the scent of the elders and the loamy earth was dominant, for the outhouse was
at the far end of the garden, near the hedge--life, as it reached me, was singugarly sweet,
caressing, light, or rather lightened, delivered from heaviness. I am speaking of the life
which was things outside the toilet, whatever in the world was not my little retreat with
its worm-eaten boards. It seemed to me as if it were somewhat in the manner of floating,
painted dreams, whereas I in my hole, like a larva, went on with a restful nocturnal ex-
istence, and at times I had the feeling I was sinking slowly, as into sleep or a lake or
a maternal breast or even a state of incest, to the spiritual center of the earth. My per-
iods of happiness were never luminously happy, my peace never what men of letters and
theologians call a "celestial peace." That's as it should be, for I would be horrified if
I were pointed at by God, singled out by Him; I know very well that if I were sick, and
were cured by a miracle, I would not survive it. Miracles are unclean; the peace I used
to seek in the outhouse, the one I am going to seek in the memory of it, is a reassuring
and soothing peace.
At times it would rain. I would hear the patter of raindrops on the zinc roofing. Then my
sad well-being, my morose delectation, would be aggravated by a further sorrow. I would
open the door a crack, and the sight of the wet garden and the pelted vegetables would
grieve me. I would remain for hours squatting in my cell, roosting on my wooden seat, my
body and soul prey to the odor and darkness; I would feel mysteriously moved, because it
was there that the most secret part of human beings came to reveal itself, as in a con-
fessional. Empty confessionals had the same sweetness for me. Back issues of fashion mag-
azines lay about there, illustrated with engravings in which the women of 1910 always had
a muff, a parasol, and a dress with a bustle.
It took me a long time to learn to exploit the spell of these nether powers, who drew me
to them by the feet, who flapped their black wings about me, fluttering them like the
eyelashes of a vamp, and dug their branchlike fingers into my eyes.
Someone has flushed the toilet in the next cell. Since our two latrines are adjoining,
the water stirs in mine, and a whiff of odor heightens my intoxication. My stiff penis
is caught in my underpants; it is freed by the touch of my hand, strikes against the
sheet, and forms a little mound. Darling! Divine! And I am alone here.
It is Darling whom I cherish most, for you realize that, in the final analysis, it is my
own destiny, be it true or false, that I am draping (at times a rag, at times a court
robe) on Divine's shoulders.
Slowly but surely I want to strip her of every vestige of happiness so as to make a saint
of her. The fire that is searing her has already burned away heavy bonds; new ones are
shackling her: Love. A morality is being born, which is certainly not the usual morality
(it is consonant with Divine) though it is a morality all the same, with its Good and Evil.
Divine is not beyond good and evil, there where the saint must live. And I, more gentle
than a wicked angel, lead her by the hand.
Here are some "Divinariana" gathered expressly for you. Since I wish to show the reader a
few candid shots of her, it is up to him to provide the sense of duration,
of passing time,
and to assume that during this first chapter she will be between twenty and thirty years of
Divine to Darling: "You're my Maddening Baby!,
--Divine is humble. She is aware of luxury through a certain mystery which it secretes and
which she fears. Luxury hotels, like the dens of Witches' hold in thrall aggressive charms
which a gesture of ours can free from marble, carpets, velvet, ebony, and crystal. As soon
as she accumulated a little money, thanks to an Argentine, Divine trained herself in luxury.
She bought leather and steel luggage saturated with musk. Seven or eight times a day, she
would take the train, enter the Pullman car, have her bags stacked in the baggage racks, set-
tle down on the cushions until it was time for the train to leave, and, a few seconds before
the whistle blew would call two or three porters, have her things removed, take a cab and
have herself driven to a fine hotel, where she would remain long enough to install herself
discreetly and luxuriously. She played this game of being a star for a whole week, and now
she knows how to walk on carpets and talk to flunkeys, who are luxury furnishings. She has
domesticated the charms and brought luxury down to earth. The sober contours and scrolls of
Louis XV furniture and frames and woodwork sustain her life--which seems to unroll more nob-
ly, a double stairway--in an infinitely elegant air. But it is particularly when her hired car pass-
es a wrought−iron gate or makes a delicious swerve that she is an Infanta.
--Death is no trivial matter. Divine already fears being caught short for the solemnity. She
wants to die with I dignity. Just as that air-force lieutenant went into combat in his dress
uniform so that, if the death that flies overtook him in the plane, it would find and trans-
fix him as an officer and not a mechanic, so Divine always carries in her pocket her oily
gray diploma for advanced study.
--He's as dumb as a button, as a button on... (Mimosa is about to say: your boot).
Divine, blandly: on your fly.
--She always had with her, up her sleeve, a small fan made of muslin and pale ivory. Whenever
she said some-thing that disconcerted her, she would pull the fan from her sleeve with the
speed of a magician, unfurl it, and suddenly one would see the fluttering wing in which the
lower part of her face was hidden. Divine's fan will beat lightly about her face all her life.
She inaugurated it in a poultry shop on the Rue Lepic. Divine had gone down with a sister to
buy a chicken. They were in the shop when the butcher's son entered. She looked at him and
ducked, called the sister and, putting her index finger into the rump of the trussed chicken
that lay on the stall, she cried out: "Oh, look! Beauty of Beauties!" and her fan quickly
fluttered to her blushing cheeks. She looked again with moist eyes at the butcher's son.
On the boulevard, policemen have stopped Divine, who is tipsy. She is singing the Veni Crea-
tor in a shrill voice. In all the passersby are born little married couples veiled in white
tulle who kneel on tapestried prayer stools; each of the remembers the time he was best man
at a cousin's wedding. In spite of this, they take Divine to the station. All along the way,
she rubs against them, and they each get a hard−on, squeeze her tighter, and stumble on pur-
posely in order to tangle their thighs with hers. Their huge cocks are alive and rap sharply
or push with desperate sobbing thrusts against the door of their blue woolen pants. They bid
them open, like the clergy at the closed church door on Palm Sunday. The little queens, both
young and old scattered along the boulevard, who see Divine going off, borne away to the music
of the grave nuptial hymn, the Veni Creator, cry out:
"They're going to put her in irons!"
"Like a sailor!"
"Like a convict!"
"Like a woman in childbirth!"
The solid citizens going by form a crowd and see nothing, know nothing. They are scarcely,
imperceptibly, dislodged from their calm state of confidence by the trivial event: Divine
being led away by the arm, and her sisters bewailing her.
Having been released, the next evening she is again at her post on the boulevard. Her blue
eyelid is swollen:
"My God, Beauties, I almost passed out. The policemen held me up. They were all standing
around me fanning me with their checked handkerchiefs. They were the Holy Women wiping my
face. My Divine Face. "Snap out of it, Divine! Snap out of it,' they shouted, 'snap out of
it, snap out of it!' They were singing to me.
"They took me to a dark cell. Someone (Oh! that SOMEONE who must have drawn them! I shall
seek him throughout the fine print on the heavy pages of adventure novels which throng with
miraculously handsome and raffish page−boys. I untie and unlace the doublet and hip−boots
of one of them, who follows Black-Stripe John; I leave him, a cruel knife in one hand and his
stiff prick clutched in the other, standing with his face to the white wall, and here he is, a
young and fiercely virgin convict. He puts his cheek to the wall. With a kiss, he licks the ver-
tical surface, and the greedy plaster sucks in his saliva. Then a shower of kisses. All his move-
ments outline an invisible horseman who embraces him and whom the inhuman wall confines.
At length, bored to tears and overtaxed with love, the page draws. . . .) had drawn, dear ladies,
a whirligig of alh! yes yes, my Beauties, dream and play the Boozer so you can fly there--I re-
fuse to tell you what--but they were winged and puffy and big, sober as cherubs, splendid cocks,
made of barley sugar. Ladies, around some of them that were more upright and solid than the
others, were twined clematis and convolvulus and nasturtium, and winding little pimps too.
Oh! those columns! The cell was flying at top speed! It drove me simply mad, mad, mad!"
The sweet prison cells! After the foul monstrousness of my arrest, of my various arrests,
each of which is always the first, which appeared to me in all its irremediable aspects
in an inner vision of blazing and fatal speed and brilliance the moment my hands were
imprisoned in the steel handcuffs, gleaming as a jewel or a theorem, the prison cell,
which now I love as one loves a vice, consoled me, by its being, for my own being. The
odor of prison is an odor of urine, formaldehyde, and paint. I have recognized it in all
the prisons of Europe, and I recognized that this odor would finally be the odor of my
destiny. Every time I backslide, I examine the walls for the traces of my earlier capti-
vities, that is, of my earlier despairs, regrets, and desires that some other convict
has carved out for me. I explore the surface of the walls, in quest of the fraternal
trace of a friend. For though I have never known what friendship could actually be,
what vibrations the friendship of two men sets up hearts and perhaps on their skin,
in prison I sometimes long for a brotherly friendship, but it is always for a man --of my
own age--who is handsome, who would have complete confidence in me and be the
accomplice of my loves, my thefts, my though this does not enlighten me about such
friendship, about the odor, in both friends, of its secret intimacy, because for the oc-
casion I make myself a male who knows that he really isn't one. I await the revelation
on the wall of some terrible secret: especially murder, murder of men, or betrayal of
friendship, or profanation of the dead, a secret of which I shall be the resplendent
tomb. But all I have ever found has been an occasional phrase scratched on the plaster
with a pin, formulas of love or revolt, more often of resignation: formulas of the Bas-
tille loves his girl for life." "My heart to my mother, my cock to the whores, my head
to the hangman." These rupestral inscriptions are almost always a gallant homage to
womanhood, or a smattering of those bad stanzas that are known to bad boys all over
When coal turns white,
And soot's not black,
I'll forget the prison
That's at my back.
And those pipes of Pan that mark the days gone by!
And then the following surprising inscription carved in the marble under the main en-
trance: "Inauguration of the prison, March 17, 1900," which makes me see a procession
of officeial gentlemen solemnly bringing in the first Prisoner to be incarcerated.
--Divine: "My heart's in my hand, and my hand is pierced. and my hand's in the bag,
and the bag is shut and my heart is caught."
--Divine's kindness. She had complete and invincible confidence in men with tough,
regular faces, with thick hair, a lock of which falls over the forehead, and this
seemed to be inspired by the glamor these faces had for Divine. She had often been
taken in, she whose critical spirit is so keen. She realized this suddenly, or grad-
ually, tried to counteract this attitude, and finally intellectual scepticism, strug-
gling with emotional consent, won out and took root in her. But in that way the is still
in error, because she now takes it out on the very young men to whom she feels attracted.
She receives their declarations with a smile or ironic remark that ill conceals her weak-
ness (weakness of the faggots in the presence of the lump in Gorgui's pants), and her
efforts not to yield to their carnal beauty (to make them dance to her tune), while they,
on the other hand, immediately return the smile, which is now more cruel, as if, shot
forth from Divine's teeth it rebounded from theirs, which were sharper, colder, more gla-
cial, because in her presence their teeth were more coldly beautiful.
But, to punish herself for being mean to the mean, Divine goes back on her decisions and
humiliates herself in the presence of the pimps, who fail to understand what's going on.
Nevertheless, she is scrupulously kind. One day, in the police wagon, on the way back
from court, for she often slipped, particularly for peddling dope, she asks an old man:
"They slapped me with three years. What about you?"
She's down for only two, but she answers:
July 14th: red, white and blue everywhere. Divine dresses up in all the other colors out of
consideration for them, because they are disdained.
Divine and Darling. To my mind, they are the ideal pair of lovers. From my evil−smelling hole,
beneath the coarse wool of the covers, with my nose in the sweat and my eyes wide open,
alone with them, I see them.
Darling is a giant whose curved feet cover half the globe as he stands with his legs apart in
baggy, sky−blue silk underpants. He rams it in. So hard and calmly that anuses and vaginas slip
on to his member like rings on a finger. He rams it in. So hard and calmly that his virility, ob-
served by the heavens, has the penetrating force of the battalions of blond warriors who on
June 14th 1940 buggered us soberly and seriously, though their eyes were elsewhere as they
marched in the dust and sun. But they are the image of only the tensed, buttressed Darling.
Their granite prevents them from being slithering pimps.
I close my eyes. Divine: a thousand shapes, charming in their grace, emerge from my eyes,
mouth, elbows, knees, from all parts of me. They say to me: lean, how glad I axe to be living
as Divine and to be living with Darling."
I close my eyes. Divine and Darling. To Darling, Divine is barely a pretext, an occasion. If
he thought of her, he would shrug his shoulders to shake off the thought, as if the thought
were a dragon's claws clinging to his back. But to Divine, Darling is everything. she takes
care of his penis. She caresses it with the most profuse tenderness and calls it by the kind
of pet names used by ordinary folk when they feel horny. Such expressions as Little Dicky,
the Babe in the Cradle, Jesus in His Manger, the Hot Little Chap, your Baby Brother, without
her formulating them, take on full meaning. Her feeling accepts them literally. Darling's penis
is in itself all of Darling: the object of her pure luxury, an object of pure luxury. If Divine
is willing to see in her man anything other than a hot and purplish cock, it is because
she can follow its stiffness, which extends as far as the anus, and can sense that it goes
farther into his body, it is this very body of Darling erect and terminating in a pale, tired
face, a face of eyes, nose, mouth, flat cheeks, curly hair, beads of sweat.
I close my eyes beneath the lice-infested blankets. Divine has opened the fly and arranged
this mysterious area of her man. Has beribboned the bush and penis, stuck flowers into the
buttonholes of the fly. (Darling goes out with her that way in the evening.) The result is
that to Divine, Darling is only the magnificent delegation on earth, the physical expression,
in short, the symbol of a being (perhaps God), of an idea that remains in heaven. They do not
commune. Divine may be compared to Marie-Antoinette, who, according to my history of France,
had to learn to express herself in prison, willy-nilly, in the slang current in the eighteenth
century. Poor dear Queen!
If Divine says in a shrill voice: "They dragged me into court," the words conjure up for me
an old Countess Solange, in a very ancient gown with a train of lace, whom soldiers are drag-
ging on her knees, by her bound wrists, over the cobblestones of a law court.
"I'm swooning with love," she said.
Her life stopped, but around her life continued to flow. She felt as if she were going back-
ward in time, and wild with fright at the idea of--the rapidity of it--reaching the beginning,
the Cause, she finally released a gesture that very quickly set her heart beating again.
Once again the kindness of this giddy creature. She asks a young murder whom we shall event-
ually meet (Our Lady of the Flowers) a question. This casual question so wounds the murderer
that Divine sees his face decomposing visibly. Then, immediately, running after the pain she
has caused in order to overtake it and stop it, stumbling over the syllables, getting all
tangled up in her saliva, which is like tears of emotion, she cries out,
"No. no, it's me."
The friend of the family is the giddiest thing I know in the neighborhood. Mimosa II. Mimo-
sa the Great, the One, is now being kept by an old man. She has her villa in Saint-Cloud. As
she was in love with Mimosa II, who was then a milkman, she left her her name. The II isn't
pretty, but what can be done about it? Divine has invited her to high tea. She came to the
garret at about five o'clock. They kissed each other on the cheek, being very careful to make
sure their bodies did not touch. She greeted Darling with a male handshake, and there she is
sitting on the couch where Divine sleeps. Darling was preparing the ladies' tea; he had his
"It's nice of you to have come, Mimo, We see you so seldom."
"That's the least I could do, my dear. Besides, I simply adore your little nook. It has quite
a vicarage effect with the park in the distance. It must be awfully nice having the dead for
Indeed, the window was very lovely.
When the cemetery was beneath the moon, at night from her bed, Divine would see it bright and
deep in the moonlight. The light was such that one could clearly discern, beneath the grass of
the graves and beneath the marble, the spectral unrest of the dead. Thus, the cemetary, through
the fringed window, was like a limpid eye between two wide-open lids, or, better still, it was
like a blue glass eye--those eyes of the fair-haired blind--in the hollow of a Negro's palm.
It would dance, that is, the wind stirred the grass and the cypresses. It would dance, that is,
it was melodic and its body moved liked a jellyfish. Divine's relations with the cemetery: it
had worked its way into her soul, somewhat as certain sentences work their way into a text,
that is, a letter here, a letter there. The cemetery within her was present at cafes, on the
boulevard, in jail, under the blankets, in the pissoirs. or, if you prefer, the cemetery was
present within her somewhat as that gentle, faithful, submissive dog was present in Darling,
occasionally giving the pimp's face the sad, stupid look that dogs have.
Mimosa is leaning out the window, the bay window of the Departed, and is looking for a grave
with her finger pointing. When she has found it, she yelps:
"Ah! you hussy, you harlot, so you finally kicked off! So now you're good and stiff beneath
the icy marble. And I'm walking on your rugs, you bitch!"
"You're wackeroo," muttered Darling, who almost bawled her out in whore (a secret language).
"Darling, I may be wacky with love for you, you great big terrible Darling, but Charlotte's
down there in the grave! Charlotte's right down there!"
We laughed, for we knew that Charlotte was her grandfather who was down in the cemetery, with
a grant in perpetuity.
"And how's Louise (that was Mimosa's father)? And Lucie (her mother)?" asked Divine.
"Ah! Divine, don't talk to me about them. They're much too well. The dumb bitches'll never
kick off. They're just a couple of filthy sluts."
Darling liked what the faggots talked about. He especially liked, provided it was done in
private, the way they talked. While preparing the tea, he listened, with a gliding caravel3
on his lips. Darling's smile was never stagnant. It seemed forever twitching with a touch of
anxiety. Today he is more anxious than usual, for he is to leave Divine this evening; in view
of what is going to happen, Mimosa seems to him terrible, wolflike. Divine knows nothing of
what is in store. She will learn all at once of her desertion and of Mimosa's shabby behavior.
For they have managed the affair without losing any time. Roger, Mimosa's man, has taken a
"My Roger's off to the wars. She's gone to play Amazon."
Mimosa said that one day in front of Darling, who a offered, in jest, to replace Roger. Well,
Our domestic life and the law of our Homes do not resemble your Homes. We love each other
without love: Our homes do not have the sacramental character. Fags are the great immoralists.
In the twinkling of an eye, after six years of union, without considering himself attached,
without thinking that he was causing pain or doing wrong, Darling decided to leave Divine.
Without remorse, only a slight concern that perhaps Divine might refuse ever to see him again.
As for Mimosa, the fact of hurting a rival is enough to make her happy about the pain she is
The two queens were chirping away. Their talk was dull compared to the play of their eyes.
The eyelids did not flutter, nor did the temples crinkle. Their eyeballs flowed from right
to left, left to right, rotated, and their glances were manipulated by a system of ball bear-
ings. Let us listen now as they whisper so that Darling may draw near and, standing beside
them, pachyderm that he is, make titanic efforts to understand. Mimosa whispers:
"My dear, it's when the Cuties still have their pants on that I like them. You just look at
them and they get all stiff. It drives you mad, simply mad! It starts a crease that goes on
and on and on, all the way down to their feet. When you touch it, you keep following the
crease, without pressing on it, right to the toes. My love, you'd think that the Beaut was
going straight toes. For that, I recommend sailors especially."
Darling was smiling faintly. He knows. The Big Beaut of a man does not excite him, but he
is no longer surprised that it excites Divine and Mimosa.
Mimosa says to Darling:
"You're playing hostess. To get away from us."
"I'm making the tea."
As if realizing that his answer was too noncommital, he added,
"No news from Roger?"
"No," said Mimosa, "I'm the Quite-Alone."
She also meant: "I'm the Quite-Persecuted." When they had to express a feeling that risked
involving an exuberance of gesture or voice, the queens contented themselves with saying:
"I'm the Quite-Quite," in a confidential tone, almost a murmur, heightened by a slight move-
ment of their ringed hand which calms an invisible storm. Oldtimers who, in the days of the
great Mimosa, had known the wild cries of freedom and the mad gestures of boldness brought
on by feelings swollen with desires that contorted the mouth, made the eyes glow, and bared
the teeth, wondered what mysterious mildness had now replaced the disheveled passions. Once
Divine began her litany, she kept on until she was exhausted. The first time Darling heard
it, he merely looked at her in bewilderment. It was in the room; he was amused; but when Di-
vine be again in the street, he said:
"Shut up, chick. You're not gonna make me look like an ass in front of the boys."
His voice was so cold, so ready to give her the works that Divine recognized her Master's
Voice. She restrained herself. But you know that nothing is so dangerous as repression.
One evening, at a pimps' bar on the Place Clichy (where, out of prudence, Darling usually
went without her), Divine paid for the drinks and, in picking up the change, forgot to
leave a tip on the counter. for the waiter. When she realized it, she let out a shriek that
rent the mirrors and the lights, a shriek that stripped the pimps:
"My God, I'm the Quite-Giddy!"
Right and left, with the merciless speed of two slaps shut her up, shrank her like a grey-
hound,er head no longer even as high as the bar. Darling was in a rage. He was green be-
neath the neon. "Beat it," he said. He, however, went on sipping his cognac to the last
These cries (Darling will say: "She's losing her yipes," as if he were thinking: "You're
losing money," or, "You're putting on weight.") were one of the idiosyncrasies of Mimosa
I that Divine had appropriated. When they and a few others were together in the street or
a queer café, from their conversations (from their mouths and hands) would escape ripples
of flowers, in the midst of which they simply stood or sat about as casually as could be,
discussing ordinary household matters.
"I really am, sure sure sure, the Quite-Profligate."
"Oh, Ladies, I'm acting like such a harlot."
"You know (the ou was so drawn out that that was all one noticed), yoouknow, I'm the Con-
"Here here, behold the Quite-Fluff-Fluff."
One of them, when questioned by a detective on the boulevard:
"Who are you?"
"I'm a Thrilling Thing."
Then, little by little, they understood each other by saying: "I'm the Quite-Quite," and
finally: "I'm the Q'Q'."
It was the same for the gestures. Divine had a very great one: when she took her handker-
chief from her pocket, it described an enormous arc before she put it to her lips. Anyone
trying to read something into Divine's gesture would have been infallibly mistaken, for
two gestures were here contained in one. There was the elaborated gesture, which was div-
erted from its initial goal, and the one that contained and completed it by grafting it-
self on just at the point where the first ceased. Thus, in taking her hand out of her
pocket, Divine had meant to extend her arm and shake her unfurled lace handkerchief. To
shake it for a farewell to nothing, or to let fall a powder which it did not contain, a
perfume--no, it was a pretext. This tremendous gesture was needed to relate the follow-
ing oppressive drama: "I am alone. Save me who can." But Darling, though unable to des-
troy it completely, had reduced the gesture, which, without, however, becoming trivial,
had turned into something hybrid and thereby strange. He had, in overwhelming it, made
it overwhelming. Speaking of these constraints, Mimosa had said:
"Our males have turned us into a garden of rheumatics."
When Mimosa left the garret, Darling tried to pick a quarrel with Divine so he could
leave her. He found nothing to quarrel about. That made him furious with her. He called
her a bitch and left.
So Divine is alone in the world. Whom shall I give her for a lover? The gypsy I am seek-
ing? The one whose figure, because of the high heels of his Marseilles pumps, resembles
a guitar? About his legs there coil and climb, the better to hug him coldly at the butt-
ocks, the trousers of a sailor.
Divine is alone. With me. The whole world that stands guard around the Sante Prison knows
nothing, has no desire to know anything, of the distress of a little cell, lost amidst
others, which are all so much alike that I, who know it well, often mistake it. Time leaves
me no respite; I feel it passing. What shall I do with Divine? If Darling comes back, it
will not be long before he leaves again. He has tasted divorce. But Divine need a few jolts
which squeeze her, pull her apart, paste her back together, shatter her, till all I have left
of her is a bit of essence which I am trying to track down. That is why M. Roquelaure (127,
Rue de Douaia, an employee of the Municipal Transport Company), when he down at seven
A.M. to get the milk and the morning paper for himself and Mme. Roquelaure, who comb-
ing out her hair in the kitchen, found in the narrow hallway of the house, on the floor,
a trampled fan. The plastic handle was encrusted with fake emeralds. He kicked at the rub-
bish boyishly and kept shoving it out onto the sidewalk and then into the gutter. It was
Divine's fan. That very evening Divine had met Darling quite by chance and had gone with
him, without reproaching him for his flight. He listened to her, whistling as he did, perhaps
a bit contrite. They happened to run into Mimosa. Divine bent to the ground in a deep bow,
but Mimosa, in a voice that sounded male to Divine for the first time, screamed:
"Get the hell out of here, you dirty whore, you dirty cocksucker!"
It was the milkman. . . This is not an unfamiliar phenomenon, the case of the second na-
ture that can no longer resist and allows the first to break out in a, blind hatred. We
wouldn't mention it were it not a matter of showing the duplicity of the sex of fags. We
shall see the same thing happen again in the case of Divine.
So it was quite serious. Here again, Darling, with magnificent cowardice (I maintain that
cowardice is an active quality, which, once it assumes this intensity, spreads like a white
dawn, a phantasm, about handsome young cowards who move within it in the depths of a
sea), did not deign to take sides. His hands were in his pockets.
"Go on, kill each other," he said with a sneer.
The sneer, which still rings in my ears, was uttered one evening in my presence by a six-
teen-year-old child. This should give you an idea of what satanism is. Divine and Mimosa
fought it out. Leaning against the wall of a house, Divine gave little kicks and beat down
on the air with her fists. Mimosa was the stronger and hit hard. Divine managed to break
away and run, but Mimosa caught her just as she reached the half-open door of a house. The
struggle continued in the hallway with hushed voices and pulled punches. The tenants were
asleep; the concierge heard nothing. Divine thought: "The concierge can't hear anything
because her name is Mme. Muller." The street was empty. Darling, standing on the sidewalk
with his hands still in his pockets, was gazing thoughtfully at the garbage in the can that
had been put outside. Finally, he made up his mind and left.
"They're both frigging idiots."
On the way, he thought: "If Divine's got a shiner, I'll spit in her dirty mug. Boy, fags
are rough." But he came back to live with Divine.
So Divine found her pimp again, and her friend Mi-mosa. And resumed her life in the garret,
which was to last another five years. The garret overlooking the dead. Montmartre by night.
The Shame-on-Me-Crazy. We're approaching thirty. . . . With my head still under the covers,
my fingers digging into my eyes and my mind off somewhere, there remains only the lower
part of my body, detached, by my digging fingers, from my rotting head.
A guard who goes by; the chaplain who comes in and doesn't talk of God. I no more see them
than I know that I'm in the Sante Prison. Poor Sante which goes to the trouble of keeping me.
Darling loves Divine more and more deeply, that is, more and more without realizing it.
Word by word. he grows attached. But more and more negleher stays in the garret alone; she
offers up to God herlove and sorrow. For God--as the Jesuits have said--chooses a myriad
of ways to enter into souls: the golden powder, a swan, a bull, a dove, and countless others.
For a gigolo who cruises the tearooms, perhaps He has a way that theology has not catalog-
ued, perhaps He chooses to be a tearoom. We might also wonder, had Churches not existed,
what form the sanctity (I am not saying her path to salvation) of Divine and of all the
other Saints would have taken. We must realize that Divine does not live with gladness of
heart. She accepts, unable to elude it, the life that God makes for her and that leads her
to Him. But God is not gilt-edged. Before His mystic throne, useless to adopt artful poses,
pleasing to the Greek eye. Divine is consumed with fire. I might, just as she admitted to
me, confide that if I take contempt with a smile or a burst of laughter, it is not yet--and
will it some day be?--out of contempt for contempt, but rather in order not to be ridiculous,
not to be reviled, by anything or anyone, that I have placed myself lower than dirt. I could
not do otherwise. If I declare that I am an old whore, no one can better that, I discourage
insult. People can't even spit in my face any more. And Darling Daintyfoot is like the rest
of you; all he can do is despise me. I have spent whole nights at the following game:
working up sobs, bringing them to my eyes, and leaving them there without their bursting,
so that in the morning my eyelids ache, they feel hard and stony, as painful as a sunburn.
The sob at my eyes might have flowed into tears, but it remains there, weighing against my
eyelids like a condemned man against the door of a cell. It is especially then that I real-
ize how deeply I suffer. Then it's the turn for another sob to be born, then another. I
swallow them all and spit them out in wisecracks. So my smile, which others may call my
whistling in the dark, is merely the inordinate need to activate a muscle in order to re-
lease an emotion. We are, after all, familiar enough with the tragedy of a certain feeling
which is obliged to borrow its expression from the opposite feeling so as to escape from
the myrmidons of the law. It disguises itself in the trappings of its rival.
To be sure, a great earthly love would destroy this wretchedness, but Darling is not yet
the Chosen One. Later on, there will come a soldier, so that Divine may have some respite
in the course of that calamity which is her life. Darling is merely a fraud ("an adorable
fraud," Divine calls him), and he must remain one in order to preserve my tale. It is on-
ly on this condition that I can like him. I say of him, as of all my lovers, against whom
I butt and crumble: "Let him be steeped in indifference, let him be petrified with blind
Divine will take up this phrase and apply it to Our Lady of the Flowers.
This movement makes Divine laugh with grief. Gabriel himself will tell us how an officer
who loved him, unable to do better, used to punish him.
Our Lady of the Flowers here makes his solemn entrance through the door of crime, a secret
door, that opens on to a dark but elegant stairway. Our Lady mounts the stairway, as many
a murderer, any murderer has mounted it. He is sixteen when he reaches the land-ing. He
knocks at the door; then he waits. His heart is beating, for he is determined. He knows
that his destiny is being fulfilled, and although he knows (Our Lady knows or seems to
know it better than anyone) that his destiny is being fulfilled at every moment, he has
the pure mystic feeling that this murder is going to tutu him, by virtue of the baptism
of blood, into Our Lady of the Flowers. He is excited as he stands in front of, or be-
hind, the door, as if, like a fiance in white gloves...Behind the wood, a voice asks:
"What is it?"
"It's me," mutters the youngster.
Confidently, the door opens and closes behind him.
Killing is easy, since the heart is on the left side, opposite the armed hand of the kill-
er, and the neck fits so neatly into the two joined hands. The corpse of the old man, one
of those thousands of old men whose lot it is to die that way, is lying on the blue rug.
Our Lady has killed him. A murderer. He doesn't say the word to himself, but rather I lis-
ten with him in his head to the ringing of chimes that must be made up of all the bells
of lily-of-the-valley, the bells of spring flowers, bells made of porcelain, glass, water,
air. His head is a singing copse. He himself is a beribboned wedding feast skipping, with
the violin in front and orange blossoms on the black of the jackets, down a sunken April
road. He feels himself, youngster that he is, leaping from flowery vale to flowery vale,
straight to the mattress where the old man has tucked away his little pile. He turns it
over, turns it back, rips it open, pulls out the wool, but he finds nothing, for nothing
is so hard to find as money after a premeditated murder.
"Where does the bastard keep his dough?" he says aloud.
These words are not articulated, but, since they are only felt, are rather spat out of his
throat in a tangled mass. It is a croak.
He goes from one piece of furniture to the next. He loses his temper. His nails catch in
the grooves. He rips fabrics. He tries to regain his composure, stops to catch his breath,
and (amidst the silence), surrounded by objects that have lost all meaning now that their
customary user has ceased to be, he suddenly feels himself in a monstrous world made
up of the soul of the furniture, of the objects; he is seized with panic. He swells up
like a bladder, grows enormous, able to swallow the world and himself with it, and then
subsides. He wants to get away. As slowly as he can. He is no longer thinking about the
body of the murdered man, nor the lost money, nor the lost time, nor the lost act. The
police are probably lurking somewhere. Got to beat it fast. His elbow strikes a vase
standing on a commode. The vase falls down and twenty thousand francs scatter graciously
at his feet.
He opened the door without anxiety, went out on the landing, leaned over, and looked down
the silent stairwell, between the apartments, at the glittering ball of cut crystal. Then
he walked down the nocturnal carpet and into the nocturnal air, through the silence which
is that of eternal space, step by step, into Eternity.
The street. Life is no longer unclean. With a feeling of lightness, he runs off to a small
hotel which turns out to be a dive, and rents a room. There, to assuage him, the true night,
the night of the stars, comes little by little, and a touch of horror turns his stomach:
it is that physical disgust of the first hour, of the murderer for the murdered, about
which a number of men have spoken to me. It haunts you, doesn't it? The dead man is rig-
orous. Your dead man is inside you; mingled with your blood, he flows in your veins, oozes
out through your pores, and your heart lives on him, as cemetery flowers sprout from corpses
. . . . He emerges from you through your eyes, your ears, your mouth.
Our Lady of the Flowers would like to vomit out the carcass. The night, which has come on,
does not bring terror. The room smells of whore. Stinks and smells fragrant.
"To escape from horror, as we have said, bury yourself in it."
All by itself the murderer's hand seeks his penis which is erect. He strokes it through
the sheet, gently at first, with the lightness of a fluttering bird, then grips it, squeezes it
hard; finally he discharges into the toothless mouth of the strangled old man. He falls
To love a murderer. To love to commit a crime in cahoots with the young half-breed pic-
tured on the cover of the torn book. I want to sing murder, for I love murderers. To sing
it plainly. Without pretending, for example, that I want to be redeemed through it, though
I do yearn for redemption. I would like to kill. As I have said above, rather than an old
man, I would like to kill a handsome blond boy, so that, already united by the verbal link
that joins the murderer and the murdered (each existing thanks to the other), I may be vis-
ited, during days and nights of hopeless melancholy, by a handsome ghost of which I would
be the haunted castle. But may I be spared the horror of giving birth to a sixty-year-old
corpse, or that of a woman, young or old. I am tired of satisfying my desire for murder
stealthily by admiring the imperial pomp of sunsets. My eyes have bathed in them enough.
Let's get to my hands. But to kill, to kill you, Jean. Wouldn't it be a question of know-
ing how I would behave as I watched you die by my hand?
More than of anyone else, I am thinking of Pilorge. His face, cut out of Detective Maga-
zine, darkens the wall with its icy radiance, which is made up of his Mexican corpse, his
will to death, his dead youth, and his death. He spatters the wall with a brilliance that
can be expressed only by the confrontation of the two terms that cancel each other. Night
emerges from his eyes and spreads over his face, which begins to look like pines on stormy
nights, that face of his which is like the gardens where I used to spend the night: light
trees, the opening in a wall, and iron railings, astounding railings, festooned railings.
And light trees. 0 Pilorge! Your face, like a lone nocturnal garden in Worlds where Suns
spin round! And on it that impalpable sadness, like the light trees in the garden. Your
face is dark, as if in broad daylight a shadow had passed over your soul. It must have
made you feel slightly cool, for your body shuddered with a shudder more subtle than the
fall of a veil of the tulle known as "gossamer-fine tulle," for your face is veiled with
thousands of fine, light, microscopic wrinkles, painted, rather than engraved, in criss-
Already the murderer compels my respect. Not only because he has known a rare experience,
but because he has suddenly set himself up as a god, on an altar, whether of shaky boards
or azure air. I am speaking, to be sure, of the conscious, even cynical murderer, who
dares take it upon himself to deal death without trying to refer his acts to some power
of a given order, for the soldier who kills does not assume responsibility, nor does the
lunatic, nor the jealous man, nor the one who knows he will be forgiven; but rather the
man who is called an outcast, who, confronted only with himself, still hesitates to be-
hold himself at the bottom of a pit into which, with his feet together, he has--curious
prospector--hurled himself with a ludicrously bold leap. A lost man.
Pilorge, my little one, my friend, my liqueur, your lovely hypocritical head has got the
ax. Twenty years old. You were twenty or twenty-two. And I am. . . . I envy you your
glory. You would have done me in, as they say in jail, just as you did in the Mexican.
During your months in the cell, you would have tenderly spat heavy oysters from your
throat and nose on my memory. I would go to the guillotine very easily, since others
have gone to it, particularly Pilorge, Weidmann, Angel Sun, and Soclay. Besides, I am
not sure that I shall be spared it, for I have dreamed myself in many agreeable lives; my
mind, which is eager to please me, has concocted glorious charming adventures for me,
made especially to order. The sad thing about it is, I sometimes think, that the greater
part of these creations are utterly forgotten, though they constitute the whole of my past
spiritual concert. I no longer even know that they existed, and if I happen now to dream
one of these lives, I assume it is a new one, I embark upon my theme, I drift along, with,
out remembering that I embarked upon it ten years ear. her and that it sank down, exhaus-
ted, into the sea of oblivion. What monsters continue their lives in my depths? Perhaps
their exhalations or their excrements or their decomposition hatch at my surface some
horror or beauty that I feel is elicited by them. I recognize their influence, the charm
of their melodrama. My mind continues to produce lovely chimeras, but so far none of
them has taken on flesh. Never. Not once. If I now try to indulge in a daydream, my throat
goes dry, despair burns my eyes, shame makes me bow my head, my reverie breaks up. I
know that once again a possible happiness is escaping me and escapes me because I
The despondency that follows makes me feel somewhat like a shipwrecked man who spies a
sail, sees himself saved, and suddenly remembers that the lens of his spy-glass has a
flaw, a blurred spot--the sail he has seen.
But since what I have never dreamed remains accessible, and as I have never dreamed
misfortunes, there remains little for me to live but misfortunes. And misfortunes to
die, for I have dreamed magnificent deaths for myself in war, as a hero, covered else-
where with honors, and never by the gallows. So I still have something left.
And what must I do to get it? Almost nothing more.
Our Lady of the Flowers had nothing in common with the murderers of whom I have spoken.
He was--one might say--an innocent murderer. To come back to whose face and death
haunt me: at the age of twenty he killed Escudero, his lover, in order to rob of a pittance.
During the trial, he jeered at the court; awakened by the executioner, he jeered at him
too; awakened by the spirit of the Mexican, sticky with hlot, sweet-smelling blood, he
would have laughed in its face; awakened by the shade of his mother, he would have
flouted it tenderly. And so Our Lady was born of my love for Pilorge, with a smile in
his heart and on his bluish white teeth, a smile that fear, which made his eyes start
out of his head, will not tear away.
One day, while idling in the street, Darling met a woman of about forty who suddenly
fell madly in love with him. I sufficiently hate the women who are in love with my
lovers to admit that this one powders her fat red face with white face powder. And
this light cloud makes her look like a family lamp shade with a transparent, pink
muslin lining. She has the slick, familiar well-heeled charm of a lamp shade.
When he walked by, Darling was smoking, and a slit of abandon in the woman's hardness
of soul chanced just then to be open, a slit that catches the hook cast by innocent
looking objects. If one of your openings happens to be loosely fastened or a flap of
your softness to be floating, you're done for. Instead of holding his cigarette be-
tween the first joint of the forefinger and middle finger, Darling was pinching it with
his thumb and forefinger and covering it with the other fingers, the way men and
even small boys usually hold their pricks when they piss at the foot of a tree or into
the night. The woman (when he spoke to Divine about her, Darling referred to her
as "the floozy" and Divine as "that woman") was unaware of the virtue of that pos-
ition and , as far as certain details are concerned, of the very position itself. But its
spell therefore acted upon her all the more promptly. She knew, though without know-
ing why, that Darling was a hard guy, because to her a hard guy was, above all, a male
with a hard-on. She became mad about him. But she came too late. Her round curves
and soft femininity no longer acted upon Darling, who was now used to the hard con-
tact of a stiff penis. At the woman's side, he remained inert. The gulf frightened him.
Still, he made an effort to overcome his distaste and keep the woman attached to him
in order to get money from her. He acted gallantly eager. But a day came when, un-
able to bear it any longer, he admitted that he loved a--earlier he might have said a
boy, but now he has to say a man, for Divine is a man--a man then. The lady was out-
raged and uttered the word fairy. Darling slapped her and left.
But he did not want his dessert to escape him (Divine was his steak), and he went
back to wait for her one day at the Saint Lazare Station, where she got off, for she
came in every day from Versailles.
The Saint Lazare Station is the movie-stars' station.
Our Lady of the Flowers, still and already wearing the light, baggy, youthful, pre-
posterously thin and, in a word, ghostlike gray-flannel suit that he was wearing the
day of the crime and that he will be wearing the day of his death, came there to buy
a ticket for Le Havre. Just as he got to the platform, he dropped his wallet which
was stuffed with the twenty thousand franc notes. He felt it slip from his pocket
and turned around just in time to see it being picked up by Darling. Calmly and fat-
ally, Darling examined it, for though he was a genuine crook, nevertheless he did
not know how to be at ease in original postures and imitated the gangsters of Chicago
and Marseilles. This simple observation also enables us to indicate the importance
of dreaming in the life of the hoodlum, but what I want particularly to show you by
means of it is that I shall surround myself with roughnecks of undistinguished per-
sonality, with none of the nobility that comes from heroism. My loved ones will be
those whom you would call "hoodlums of the worst sort."
Darling counted the bills. He took ten for himself, put them into his pocket and
handed the rest to Our 'Lady, who stood there dumbfounded. They became friends.
I leave you free to imagine any dialogue you please. Choose whatever may charm
you. Have it, if you like, that they hear the voice of the blood, or that they fall in
love at first sight, or that Darling, by indisputable signs invisible to the vulgar eye,
betrays the fact that he is a thief. . . . Conceive the wildest improbabilities. Have
it that the depths of their being are thrilled at accosting each other in slang. Tan-
gle them suddenly in a swift embrace or a brotherly kiss. Do whatever you like.
Darling was happy to find the money. However, with an extreme lack of appropriate-
ness, all he could say, without unclenching his teeth, was: "Guy's no dope." Our
Lady was boiling. But what could he do? He was too familiar with Pigalle-Blanche
to know that you must not put on too bold a front with a real pimp. Darling bore,
quite visibly, the external marks of the pimp. "Have to watch my step," Our Lady
felt within him. So he lost his wallet, which Darling had noticed. Here is the se-
quel: Darling took Our Lady of the Flowers to a tailor, a shoe shop, and a hat shop.
He ordered for both of them the bagatelles that make the strong terribly charming
man: a suede belt, a felt hat, a plaid tie, etc. Then they stopped at a hotel on
the Avenue de Wagram. Wagram, battle won by boxers!
They spent their time doing nothing. As they walked up and down the Champs-Elysees,
they let intimacy fuse them. They made comments about the women's legs, but, as they
were not witty, their remarks had no finesse. Since their emotion was not torn by
any point, they quite naturally skidded along on a stagnant ground of poetry. They
were child-roughnecks to whom chance had given gold, and I enjoy giving it to them,
just as I enjoy hearing an American hood--it's amazing--say the word dollar and speak
English. When they were tired, they went back to the hotel and sat for a long time
in the big leather chairs in the lobby. Even there, intimacy evolved its alchemy.
A solemn marble stairway led to corridors covered with red carpets, upon which one
moved noiselessly. During a high mass at the Madeleine, when Darling saw the
priests walking on carpets, after the organ had stopped playing, he began to feel
uneasy at the mystery of the deaf and the blind, the tread upon the carpets that
he recognizes in the grand hotel, and as he walks slowly over the moss, he thinks,
in his guttersnipe language: "Maybe there's something." For low masses are said
at the end of the halls of big hotels, where the mahogany and marble light and
blow out candles. A mingled burial service and marriage takes place there in se-
cret from one end of the year to the other. People move about like shadows.
Does this mean that my ecstatic crook's soul lets slip no opportunity for falling
into a trance? Oh to feel yourself flying on tiptoe while the soles of humans
move flat on the ground. Even here, and at the Fresnes Prison, the long fragrant
corridors that bite their tails restore to me, despite the precise, mathematical
hardness of the wall, the soul of the hotel thief I long to be.
The stylish clients moved about the lobby in front of them. They took off their
furs, gloves, and hats, drank port, smoked Craven cigarettes and Havana cigars.
A bellboy scurried about. They knew they were characters in a movie. And so ming-
ling their gestures in this dream, Darling and Our Lady wove a brotherly friend-
ship. How hard it is for me not to mate the two of them better, not to arrange
it so that Darling, with a thrust of the hips--rock of unconsciousness and in-
nocence, desperate with love--deeply sinks his smooth, heavy prick, as polished
and warm as a column in the sun, into the waiting mouth of the adolescent mur-
derer who is pulverized with gratitude.
That too might be, but will not. Darling and Our Lady, however rigorous the des-
tiny I plot for you, it will never cease to be--oh, in the very faintest way--
tormented by what it might also have been but will not be because of me.
One day, Our Lady, quite naturally, confessed to the murder. Darling confessed
to his life with Divine. Our Lady, that he was called Our Lady of the Flowers.
Both of them needed a rare flexibility to extricate themselves without damage
from the snares that threatened their mutual esteem. On this occasion, Darling
was all charm and delicacy.
Our Lady of the Flowers was lying on a couch. Darling, seated at his feet,
watched him confess. It was over, as far as the murder was concerned. Darling
was the theater of a muted drama. Confronting each other were the fear of com-
plicity, friendship for the child, and the taste, the desire for squealing. He still
had to admit to the nickname. Finally he got to it, little by little. As the myster-
ious name emerged, it was so agonizing to watch the murderer's great beauty
writhing, the motionless and unclean coils of the marble serpents of his drowsy
face moving and stirring, that Darling realized the gravity of such a confession,
felt it so deeply that he wondered whether Our Lady was going to puke pricks.
He took one of the child's hands, which was hanging down, and held it between
"...You understand, there were guys that called me..."
Darling held on to his hand. With his eyes he was drawing the confession toward
"It's coming, it's coming."
During the entire operation, he did not a the eyes of his friend. From smiled
with a motionless smile that was fixed on his mouth, for he felt that the slight-
est emotion on his part, the slightest sign or breath, would destroy . . . It
would have broken Our Lady of the Flowers.
When the name was in the room, it came to pass that the murderer, abashed, open-
ed up, and there sprang forth, like a Glory, from his pitiable fragments, an altar on
which there lay, in the roses, a woman of light and flesh.
The altar undulated on a foul mud into which it sank: the murderer. Darling drew
Our Lady toward him, and, the better to embrace him, struggled with him briefly.
I would like to dream them both in many other positions if, when I closed my eyes,
my dream still obeyed my will. But during the day it is disturbed by anxiety about
my trial, and in the evening the preliminaries of sleep denude the environs of
my self, destroy objects and episodes, leaving me at the edge of sleep as solitary
as I was one night in the middle of a stormy and barren heath. Darling, Divine,
and Our Lady flee from me at top speed, taking with them the consolation of their
existence, which has its being only in me, for they are not content with fleeing;
they do away with themselves, dilute themselves in the appalling insubstantiality
of my dreams, or rather of my sleep, and become my sleep; they melt into the very
stuff of my sleep and compose it. I call for help in silence; I make signals with
the two arms of my soul, which are softer than algae, not, of course, to some friend
firmly planted on the ground, but to a kind of crystallization of the tenderness
whose seeming hardness makes me believe in its eternity.
I call out: "Hold me back! Fasten me!" I break away for a frightful dream which will
go through the darkness of the cells, the darkness of the spirits of the damned, of
the gulfs, through the mouths of the guards, the breasts of the judges, and will end
by my being swallowed very very slowly by a giant crocodile formed by the whiffs of
the foul prison air.
It is the fear of the trial.
Weighing upon my poor shoulders are the dreadful weight of legal justice and the
weight of my fate.
How many policemen and detectives, with their teeth on edge, as is so aptly said, for
days and nights, were snaking relentless efforts to unravel the puzzle I had set? And
I thought the affair had been shelved, whereas they kept plugging away, busying them-
selves about me without my being aware of it, working on the Genet material, on the
luminous traces of the Genet gestures, working away on me in the darkness.
It was a good thing that I raised egoistic masturbation to the dignity of a cult! I
have only to begin the gesture and a kind of unclean and supernatural transposition
displaces the truth. Everything within me turns worshiper. The external vision of the
props of my desire isolates me, far from the world.
Pleasure of the solitary, gesture of solitude that makes you sufficient unto yourself,
possessing intimately others who serve your pleasure without their suspecting it,a
pleasure that gives to your most casual gestures, even when you are up and about, that
air of supreme indifference towards everyone and also a certain awkward manner that,
if you have gone to bed with a boy, makes you feel as if you have bumped your head a-
gainst a granite slab.
I've got lots of time for making my fingers fly! Ten years to go! My good, my gentle
friend, my cell! My sweet retreat, mine alone, I love you so! If I had to live in
all freedom in another city, I would first go to prison to acknowledge my own, those
of my own race, and also to find you there.
Yesterday I was summoned by the examining magistrate. From the Sante to the Law Court,
the jolting and the smell of the police van had nauseated me. I appeared before the
judge as white as a sheet.
As soon as I entered his chambers, I was struck by the gloom, despite the dusty, secret
flowering of the criminal files, caused by the presence of the smashed violin that Di-
vine also saw. And, because of that Christ, I was open to pity. Because of it and of
the dream in which my victim came to forgive me. In fact, the judge sinned at me very
kindly. I recognized my victim's smile in my dream and recalled, or realized again,
that be himself was supposed to have been both a judge on the bench, whom I confused
perhaps intentionally with the exam. fining magistrate, and an examining magistrate.
Knowing, that I had been pardoned by him, feeling tranquil and sure, not with a cer-
tainty resulting from logic, but out of a desire for peace, a desire to return to the
life of men (the desire that makes Darling serve the police so as to return to his
place among human beings through having served order, and at the same time to depart
from the human through deliberate baseness), sure that sure that everything had been
forgotten, hypnotized by the pardon, with a sense of confidence, I confessed.
The clerk recorded the confession, which I signed.
My lawyer was stupefied, staggered. What in the world had I done? Who has tricked me?
Heaven? Heaven, dwelling of God and his Court.
I went back through the underground corridors of the Court and returned to my dark and
icy little cell in the "Mousetrap." Ariadne in the labyrinth. The most alive of worlds,
human beings with the tenderest flesh, are made of marble. I strew devastation as I pass.
I wander dead-eyed through cities and petrified populations. But no way out. Impossible
to retract the confession, to annul it, to unravel the thread of time that wove it, and
to make it unwind and destroy itself. Flee? What an idea! The labyrinth is more tortuous
than the summing-up of judges. What about the guard leading me? A guard of massive bronze
to whom I am chained by the wrist. I quickly concoct a scheme of seducing him, of kneel-
ing before him, first laying my forehead on his thigh, devoutly opening his blue pants
. . . . What folly! I'm done for. Why didn't I steal a tube of strychnine from a pharma-
cy, as I had meant to? I could have kept it on me and concealed it while I was being
searched. One day, utterly weary of the land of the Chimeras--the only one worth inhab-
iting, "the nothingness of human things being such that, save for the being who is by
himself, nothing is beautiful, but that which is not" (Pope)--I would, without any vain
ornamentation surrounding the act, have poisoned myself. For, my good friends, I an ripe
for the Send-off.
There are times when we suddenly understand the hitherto unperceived meaning of certain
expressions. We live them and mutter them. For example: "I felt the earth giving way be-
neath me." This is a phrase that I have read and said a thousand times without living it.
But it was enough, when I awoke, to linger over it for ten seconds as I was being visit-
ed by the memory of my arrest (the remains of last night's nightmare), for the dream
element that created the expression to envelop me, or rather to give me the sensation
of internal, visceral emptiness that is also caused by the precipices from which one falls
at night with a feeling of certainty. I felt that way last night. No outstretched, merciful
arm tries to catch me. A few rocks might perhaps offer me a stony hand, but just far enough
away for me to be unable to grab it. I was falling. And in order to delay the final shock--
for the feeling of falling caused me that intoxication of absolute despair, which is akin to
that happiness during the fall, but it was also an intoxication fearful of awakening, of
the return to things that are--in order to delay the shock at the bottom of the gulf and
the awakening in prison with my anguish at the thought of suicide or jail, I accumulated
catastrophes, I provoked accidents along the verticality of the precipice, I summoned
up frightful obstacles at the point of arrival. It was the very next day that the influ-
ence of this un. dissipated dream made me pile up details, all of them serious, in the
confused hope that they were staving off the inevitable. I was slowly sinking.
Yet, back in my 426, the sweetness of my work entrances me. The first steps I take, with
my hands on my hips, which seem to be pitching, make me feel as if Darling, who is walk-
ing behind, were passing through me. And here I am again in the soothing comfort of the
elegant hotel which they will have to leave, for twenty thousand francs is not eternal.
During his stay at the hotel, Darling had not been to the garret. He had left Divine
without any news. Our dearest was dying of anxiety. So, when Our Lady and he ran out of
money, he thought about going back. Dressed like fake monarchs, they returned to the at-
tic, where, with blankets stolen from cars, they arranged a bed for the murderer on the
rug. He slept there, near Divine and Darling. When she saw them enter, Divine thought
she had been forgotten and replaced. Not at all. We shall see later the kind of incest
that bound the two lads together.
Divine worked for two men, one of whom was her own.
Until then, she had loved only men who were stronger and just a little, a tiny bit older,
and more muscular than herself. But then came Our Lady of the Flowers, who had the moral
and physical character of a flower; she was smitten with him. Something different, a kind
of feeling of power, sprang up (in the vegetal, germinative sense) in Divine. She thought
she had been virilified. A wild hope made her strong and husky and vigorous. She felt
muscles growing, and felt herself emerging from a rock carved by Michelangelo in the form
of a slave. Without moving a muscle, though straining within herself, she struggled inter-
nally just as Laocoon seizes the monster and twists it. Then, bolder still, she wanted to
box, with her arms and legs of flesh, but she very quickly got knocked about on the boul-
evard, for she judged and willed her movements not in accordance with their combative ef-
ficiency but rather in accordance with an esthetic that would have made of her a hoodlum
of a more or less gallant stripe. Her movements, particularly a hitching of the belt and
her guard position, were meant, whatever the cost, at the cost of victory itself, to make
of her not the boxer Divine, but a certain admired boxer, and at times several fine boxers
rolled into one. She tried for male gestures, which are rarely the gestures of males. She
whistled, put her hands into her pockets, and this whole performance was carried out so
unskillfully that in the course of a single evening she seemed to be four or five charac-
ters at the lime time. She thereby acquired the richness of a multiple Personality. She an
from boy to girl, and the transitions from one to the other--because the attitude was a new
one--were made stumblingly. She would. hop after the boy on one foot. She would always
begin her big Scatterbrain gestures, then, suddenly remembering she was supposed to show
she was virile so as to captivate the murderer, she would end by burlesquing them, and
this double formula enveloped her in strangeness, made her a timid clown in plain dress,
a sort of embittered swish. Finally, to crown her metamorphosis from female into tough
male, she imagined a man-to-man friendship which would link her with one of those fault-
less pimps whose gestures could not be regarded as ambiguous. And to be on the safe
side, she invented Marchetti. It was a simple matter to choose a physique for him, for
she possessed in her secret, lonely-girl's imagination, for her nights' pleasure, a stock
of thighs, arms, torsoes, faces, hair, teeth, necks and knees, and she knew how to as-
semble them so as to make of them a live man to whom she loaned a soul--which was
always the same one for each of these constructions: the one she would have liked to have
herself. The invented Marchetti had a few adventures with her, in secret. Then, one night,
she told him that she was tired of Our Lady of the Flowers and that she was willing to let
Marchetti have him. The agreement was sealed with a male handshake. The dream was as
follows: Marchetti comes breezing into the place with his hands in his pockets.
"Hello, kid," he says to Divine.
He sits down and they have a man-to-man talk about the grind. Our Lady arrives. Shakes
hands with Marchetti. Marchetti kids him a bit about his girl's puss. As for me (Divine
is talking to herself in secret), I pretend not to see them. But I'm sure that now,
thanks to me, Our Lady is going to tear off a quickie with Marchetti (he has too nice
a name to need a given name). I busy myself for three minutes about the room. I manage
it so that my back is turned to them. I turn around. I see them billing and cooing, and
Marchetti's fly is open. The love-making begins.
Divine had not become virile; she had aged. An adolescent now excited her, and that
was why she had the feeling of being old, and this certainty unfurled within her like the
hangings formed by the wings of bats. That evening, undressed and alone in the garret,
she saw with fresh eyes her white, hairless body, smooth and dry, and, in places, bony.
She was ashamed of it and hastened to put out the lamp, for it was the ivory body of
Jesus on an eighteenth-century crucifix, and relations with the divinity, even a re-
semblance to it, sickened her.
But along with this desolation, a new joy was being born within her.
The joy that precedes suicides. Divine was afraid of her daily life. Her flesh and soul
were turning sour. There came for her the season of tears, as we speak of the season
of rains. Once she has switched off the light and created darkness, for nothing in the
world would she take a step out of bed, where she thinks she is safe, but in the same
way that she thinks she is safe in her body. She feels rather protected by the fact of
being in her body. Outside reigns terror. One night, however, she dared open the door
of the garret and take a step out on the dark landing. The stairway was filled with
the wails of sirens calling her to the bottom. They were not exactly wails or songs,
nor exactly sirens either, but they were quite clearly an invitation to madness or to
death by falling. Mad with fright, she went back to the garret. It was the moment be-
fore alarm clocks start ringing. If she was spared fears, during the day she knew an-
other torture: she would blush. For the veriest trifle, she would become the Very
Crimson, the Purplish One, Her Eminence. It must not be thought that she was ashamed
of her profession. She had known too well and too early how to penetrate steadily to
the depths of despair not to be, at her age, dead to all sense of shame. Calling her-
self an old whorish whore, Divine simply forestalled mockery and insults. But she
blushed about little things which seemed trivial, which we think insignificant, until
the moment when, observing more closely, she realized that the blush had spread just
when someone was humiliating her unwittingly. A mere trifle humiliated Divine. The
kind of humiliation which--she was again Culafroy--laid her lower than the ground, by
the mere power of words. Words again took on for her the magic of boxes empty, when
all is said and done, of everything that is not mystery. When closed words, sealed,
hermetic words, open up, their meanings escape in leaps and bounds that assault and
leave us panting. Brew, which is a word from sorcery, led me to the home of the old
maid who grinds coffee, mixes in some chicory, and brews; through coffee-grounds
(this is a trick of hocus-pocus), it leads me back to sorcery. The word Mithridate:
one morning Divine suddenly comes upon it again. It had once opened up and revealed
to Culafroy its virtue, and the child, going back up the centuries to the fifteen
hundreds, buried himself in the Rome of the Pontiffs. Let us take a look at this
period in Divine's life. As aconite5 was the only poison he could procure, every
night, in a long, stiff-pleated dressing-gown, he would open the door of his room,
which was on a level with the garden, would step over the railing--gesture of a lov-
er, burglar, dancer, somnambulist, mountebank--and jump into the vegetable garden,
which was bounded by a hedge of elders, mulberries and black thorns, but where
someone had laid out, between the vegetable beds, borders of reseda6 and and mari-
golds. Culafroy would gather a bunch of Napel aconite leaves. He would measure them
with a six-inch ruler, increase the dose each time, roll them up and then swallow.
But the poison had the double virtue of killing and of raising from the dead those
it killed, and presto! it would act. The Renaissance would take possession of the
child through the mouth, just as the Man-God does of the little girl who, sticking
out her tongue, though piously, swallows the host. The Borgias,7 Astrologers, Porn-
ographers, Princes, Abbesses and Condottieri8 would receive him naked on their knees,
which were hard beneath the silk; he would tenderly place his cheek against an erect
penis, stony beneath the silk, of stone as unyielding as the chests of negro jazzmen
must be beneath the shiny satin of their jackets.
It was in a green alcove, for feasts that end in death by daggers, scented gloves, a
treacherous wafer. Beneath the moon, Culafroy became this world of poisoners, ped-
erasts, thieves, sorcerers, warriors, and courtesans, and the surrounding nature, the
vegetable garden, remaining what they were, left him all alone, possessing and pos-
sessed by an epoch, in his barefoot walk, beneath the moon, about the cabbage and
lettuce beds where lay an abandoned rake and spade, left him free to lift and draw
trains of brocade with lofty gestures. No episode from history or a novel organized
the dream mass; only the murmur of a few magic words thickened the darkness, from
which there loomed a page or horseman, a handsome cocksman, disheveled by a broad-
cloth night. . . . "Datura fastuosa, Datura stramonium, Belladona. . . ."
As the coolness of the night that fell upon his white robe would make him feel chilly,
he would walk to the wide-open window, slip under the railing, close the window, and
lie down in a huge bed. When day came, he was again the shy, pale schoolboy stooping
with the weight of his books. But one does not have enchanted nights without the days
retaining some telltale signs, which are to the soul what circles are to the eyes.
Ernestine used to dress him in very short blue serge pants, over which she wore a
black schoolboy's smock that buttoned downn the back with white glazed buttons; she
also made him wear black wooden sabots and black cotton stockings that concealed his
rather thin calves. He was not in mourning for anyone, and it was touching to see him
all in black. He belonged to the race of harried children, early wrinkled, volcanic.
Emotions ravage faces, root out peace, swell the lips, crease the brow and make the
eyebrows quiver with shudders and subtle convulsions. His schoolmates called him
"Coolie," which name, uttered during their games, was a slap in the face. But child-
ren of this kind, like vagabonds, have in their bags charming or terrible tricks by
means of which they open out warm and downy havens where they drink red wine that
makes them drunk and where they are loved in secret. Culafroy would escape through
the ceiling of the village school, like a hunted thief, and among the unsuspecting
schoolboys, during the clandestine recreations (the child is the re-creator of heaven
and earth), he would meet Jean the Black Terror. When school was over, he returned
to the house nearest the school and thus avoided having to take part in the voodoo
mysteries of the schoolboys who were freed at four o'clock from parents and teachers.
His room was a little nook with mahogany furniture and was decorated with colored
prints of autumn landscapes, which he did not look at because the only faces he could
find there were those of three green nymphs. Childhood wearies of the conventional
myths foisted upon a conventional childhood; it doesn't care a rap about picture-book
fairies and decorative monsters, and my personal fairies were the slender butcher
with the pointed mustache, the consumptive schoolmistress, the pharmacist; everyone
was a fairy, that is, was isolated by the halo of an unapproachable, inviolable existence,
through which all I could see was gestures whose continuity--hence whose logic and
element of reassurance--escaped me, and every fragment of which raised a new ques-
tion for me, word by word, and disturbed me.
Culafroy would enter his room. Immediately he is in his Vatican, a sovereign pontiff.
He lays his bag, which is crammed with books and pads, on a straw chair; from under
the bed he pulls out a case. Old playthings pile up, torn and dog-eared picture al-
bums, a shaggy teddy-bear, and from that bed of darkness, from that tomb of still
fragrant and radiant glories, he pulls out a grayish violin which he himself has
made. His hesitant gesture makes him blush. He feels the humiliation, stronger than
the green shame of someone's spitting on your back, that he had felt while putting
it together--though not while conceiving it--just about a week before, with the card-
board binding of the picture album, the piece of broom handle and four white threads,
the strings. It was a flat gray violin, a two-dimensional violin, with only the sound-
board and the neck, and four white strings, geometric and rigorous, spanning the ex-
travagance, a phantom violin. The bow was a walnut twig, from which he had peeled the
bark. The first time Culafroy had asked his mother to buy him a violin, she had winced.
She had been salting the soup. None of the following images had appeared before her
eyes with any precision: a river, flames, escutcheoned oriflammes, a Louis XV heel, a
page in blue tights, the page's craft and slyness, but the disturbance that each of
them created within her, a plunge into an ink-black lake, held her for a moment between
life and death, and when, two or three seconds later, she came to herself, a nervous
shudder ran through her which made the hand salting the soup tremble. Culafroy did not
know that a violin, because of its tortured lines, could upset his sensitive mother,
and that violins moved about in her dreams in the company of lithe cats, at corners of
walls, under balconies where thieves divide the night's loot, where other toughs slouch
around a lamppost, on stairways that squeak like violins being skinned alive.
Ernestine wept with rage at being unable to kill her son, for Culafroy was not what
one could kill, or rather we can see that what one killed in him made possible another
birth; rods, straps, spankings and slaps lose their power or rather change their virtues.
The word violin was never uttered again. In order to study music, that is, to make the
same gestures as some pretty youngster in a magazine, Culafroy made the instrument, but
in front of Ernestine never again would he utter the word that begins with the same
syllable as violate. The making took place in the greatest secrecy, at night, During
the day, he buried it away at the bottom of the case of old toys, Every evening, he
took it out. With humiliation he learned by himself how to place his left fingers on
the white threads, according to the instructions in an old manual that he found in the
attic. Each silent session exhausted him. The disappointing squeak that the bow tore
from the strings gave his soul gooseflesh. His heart was drawn out fine and unraveled
into strained silences--ghosts of sounds. His frustration haunted him throughout the
lesson, and he studied in a state of constant shame. He felt shifty and humiliated,
as we do on New Year's Day. Our good wishes are furtive and whispered, as, among others,
those of proud servants and lepers must be. Since these are gestures reserved for the
masters, we often feel as if we were using their wardrobes to receive each other. They
embarrass us, as the unlined dress jacket must embarrass the apprentice butler who
wears it. One evening, Culafroy made a broad, extravagant, tragedian's gesture. A ges-
ture that went beyond the room, entered into the night, where it continued on to the
stars, among the Bears, and even farther; then, like the snake that bites its tail, it re-
turned to the shadow of the room, and into the child who drowned it. He drew the bow
from the point to the base, slowly, magnificently; this final laceration sawed his soul
apart; the silence, the shadow and the hope of separating these diverse elements, which
fell away severally, thus dashed to the ground an attempt at construction. He lets his
arms drop, and the violin and the bow; he wept like a child. The tears ran down his flat
little face. Once again he realized that it was all hopeless. The magic net through which
he had tried to gnaw tightened about him, isolating him. With a feeling of utter emptiness,
he went to the little mirror of the dresser and looked at his face, for which he felt
the tenderness one feels for a homely little dog when that dog is one's own. The shadow,
which had somehow slipped into the room, installed itself. Culafroy let it be. All that
interested him was the face in the mirror and its changes, the globes of the luminous
eyes, the halo of shadow, the black spot of the mouth, the illuminated forefinger that
supported his bent head. His head was bent so that he could see himself in the mirror,
but he had to raise his eyes, and this made him observe him-self in the sly way that
actors do in films: "I might be a great artist." He did not formulate this idea clear-
ly; nevertheless, the splendor involved in it made him lower his head a little more.
"The weight of destiny," he thought. In the gleaming rosewood of the dresser, he saw
a fleeting scene, similar in essence to many others that often visited him: a small
boy was crouching beneath a barred window, in a dark room, where he himself was walk-
ing about with his hands in his pockets.
Capitals rose up from his sandy childhood. Capitals like cactuses beneath the sky.
Cactuses like green suns, radiating pointed rays and steeped in poison. His childhood,
like a sahara, quite tiny or immense--we don't know--a childhood sheltered by the light,
the scent, and the flow of personal charm of a huge flowering magnolia that rose into a
sky deep as a grotto above the invisible though present sun. This childhood was withering
on its broiling sand, with--in moments swift as pencil strokes and as thin, thin as the
paradise one sees between the eyelids of a Mongol--a glimpse of the invisible and pre-
sent magnolia. These moments were at all points like those of which the poet speaks:
I saw in the desert
your open sky • • •
Ernestine and her son lived in the only village, except for the church, that had a slate
roof. It was a large, rectangular freestone building, divided two sections by a corridor
that opened up like a heroic breach between the rocks. Ernestine had a rather large in-
come that had been left her by her husband when he committed suicide by leaping into
the green moat of the local castle. She could have lived in luxury, could havee been
waited on by several servants and have moved about amidst huge mirrors that rose from
the carpets to the gilded ceiling . She denied herself the luxury and beauty that kill rev-
erie. Love too. Once upona time love bad placed her on earth and kept her there with the
grip of a wrestler who is used to pinning huskies to the mat. At the age of twenty, she had
given birth to a le-gend. When the peasants speak of her later, they will be unable to refrain
from evoking the creature whose face was all swathed--like the face of a wounded aviator,
the very face of Weidmann, except for the mouth and eyes--in strips of gauze, so as to
shield the thick coatings of a special beauty cream that protected her skin from sunburn
and hay when she came in summertime to do the haying at her father's place. But bitterness
had passed over her face like an acid, eating away the sweetness. She now feared whatever
could not be spoken of in a simple and familiar way, with a smile. This fear alone proved the
danger of a relapse into the power of the Greedy One (Beauty). Though the fastenings that
bound and delivered her over to powers whose contact or merely whose approach upset her,
were loose, nevertheless they were solid. They were art, religion, love, which are enveloped
in the sacred (for at the sacred, which is called, alas, the spiritual, one neither laughs
nor smiles; it is sad. If it is that which touches upon God, is God therefore sad? Is God
therefore a painful idea? Is God therefore evil?) and which are always approached with a
courtesy that guards them. Among the appurtenances of the village were an old feudal castle
surrounded by moats that rumbled with frogs, a cemetery, the house of the unwed mother and
the unwed mother herself, a bridge with three stone arches above three arches of clear water,
over which hung, every morning, a thick mist that finally lifted from the landscape. The
sun would slash it to tatters, which would then go and, briefly, dress up the scrawny black
trees as gypsy children.
The sharp blue slates, the granite stones of the house, and the high window panes isolated
Culafroy from the world. The games of the boys who lived beyond the river were unknown games,
complicated by mathematics and geometry. They were played along the hedges, with the rams and
colts of the fields as attentive spectators. The players themselves, actor-children away from
school, away from the town, slipped back into their rustic personalities, again became cow-
herds, bird nesters, climbers, mowers of rye, and stealers of plums. If they were for Culafroy
--without being able quite to fathom his feeling, though they suspected it, a race of fascin-
ating demons--Culafroy, on the other hand, unwittingly had for them a certain glamor that he
possessed by virtue of his isolation, of the refinement and legend of Ernestine, and of the
slate roof of his house. Though they hated him, there was hardly a small boy who did not dream
about him, envying the cut of his hair, the elegance of his leather schoolbag. The slate house
was supposed to contain fabulous riches in the midst of which Culafroy had the glamor of walk-
ing about slowly and the privilege of some venturing familiar gestures, such as drumming on
some article of furniture or sliding on the parquet in a, setting that they judged to be regal,
smiling like a crown prince; Perhaps playing cards there. Culafroy seemed secrete a royal mys-
tery. King's sons are too common among children for the village schoolboys to be able to take
this one seriously. But they regarded it as a crime on his part to divulge so clearly an origin
hat every one of them kept well hidden within himself, and that offended their Majesty. For the
royal idea is of this world; if man does not hold it by virtue of carnal transmissions, he
should acquire it and adorn himself with it in secret so as not to be degraded in his own eyes.
Since the dreams and reveries of children interlace in the night, each possessed the other un-
knowingly, in a rapacious (they were really rapes) and almost total way. The village, which they
recreated for their own use, and where, as we have said, the children were sovereign, was en-
tangled in practices that were without strangeness to those who lived in a village of strange
nights, where stillborn children were buried toward evening, carried to the cemetery by their
sisters in pine boxes as narrow and varnished as violin cases; where other children ran about
in the glades and pressed their naked bellies, though sheltered from the moon, against the
trunks of beeches and oaks that were as sturdy as adult mountaineers whose short thighs bulged
beneath their buckskin breeches, at a spot stripped of its bark, in such a way as to receive
on the tender skin or their little white bellies the discharge of sap in the spring; where the
Italian woman walked by, spying on the old, sick and paralytic, whose souls she culled from their
eyes, listening to them die (the old die the way children are born), having them at her mercy, and
her mercy was not her grace; a village whose days were no less strange than its nights, where, on
Corpus Christi or Rogation Day,9 corteges went through the blazing noonday countryside in process-
ions composed of little girls with porcelain heads wearing white dresses and crowned with cloth
flowers, of choir boys swinging in the wind censers covered with verdigris,10 of women stiff in their
green or black moire, of men gloved in black, holding up a canopy of oriental cast that was plumed
with ostrich feathers, under which walked the priest carrying a monstrance.11 Beneath the sun,
amidst the rye, pines, and clover, and inverted in the ponds, with their feet to the sky.
That was part of Divine's childhood. There were lots of other things that we shall mention later.
We must come back to it.
Let us say now that her carnal pleasures never made her fear the wrath of God, the scorn of Jesus,
or the candied disgust of the Holy Virgin, never until Gabriel spoke about them to her, for as soon
as she recognized the presence within her of seeds of these fears (divine wrath, scorn, disgust),
Divine made of her loves a god above God, Jesus, and the Holy Virgin, to whom they were submissive
like everyone else, whereas Gabriel, despite his fiery temperament, which often makes his face turn
red, feared Hell, for he did not love Divine.
And who still loved her, except Darling?
Our Lady of the Flowers smiled and sang. He sang like an Aeolian harp, a bluish breeze passing over
the loves of his body; he sang with his body; he did not love. The police did not suspect him. He
did not suspect the police. The child's indifference was such that he did not even buy the newspa-
pers. He went his melody.
Divine thought Darling was at the movies and that Our Lady, who was a shoplifter, was in a de-
partment store, but . . . Wearing American shoes, a very soft hat, a gold chain on his wrist--in
short, quite the pimp? Darling, toward evening, walked down the stairs from the garret, and . . .
Came the inevitable soldier. Where does he come from? From the street, From the street, into the
bar where Divine was sitting? When the revolving-door turned, at each turn, like the mechanism of
a Venetian belfry, it presented a sturdy archer, a supple page, an exemplar of High Faggotry, one
of those pimps whose ancestors of the dens, when they pandered for Mademoiselle Adna, wore earrings,
and between whose legs, when now they stroll along the boulevard, shrill whistles squirt and fizz.
Gabriel appeared. I also see him going down an almost vertical street, running, running, like the
bewitched dog that went down to the village by the main street, and it is to be supposed that he
collided with Divine as he came out of a neighborhood grocery where he had just bought a surprise
package, just as the bell of the glass door rang twice. I should have liked to talk to you about en-
counters. I have a notion that the moment that provoked--or provokes--them is located outside
time, that the shock spatters the surrounding time and space, but I may be wrong, for I want to talk
about the encounters that I provoke and that I impose upon the lads in my book. Perhaps some of
these moments that are set down on paper are like populous streets on whose throng my gaze
happens to fall: a sweetness, a tenderness, situates them outside the moment; I am charmed and--
I can't tell why--that mob of people is balm to my eyes. I turn away; then I look again, but I no
longer find either sweetness or tenderness. The street becomes dismal, like a morning of insomnia;
my lucidity returns, restoring within me the poetry that the following poem had driven out: some
handsome adolescent face, that I had barely caught a glimpse of, had lit up the crowd; then it
disappeared. The meaning of Heaven is no longer strange to me. So, Divine met Gabriel. He passed
in front of her, and he spread his back like a wall, a cliff. This wall was not very wide, but it un-
furled such majesty upon the world, that is, such serene force, that it seemed to Divine to be
made of bronze, the wall of darkness out of which flies a black eagle with outspread wings.
The army is the red blood that flows from the artilleryman's ears; it is the little lightfoot sol-
dier of the snows crucified on skis, a spahi12 on his horse of cloud that has pulled up at the edge
of Eternity; it is masked princes and brotherly murderers in the Foreign Legion; it is, in the
Mariners of the Fleet, the flap that replaces the fly on the pants of the horny sailors lest, so
they say, finding an excuse for everything, they be caught in the tackle during maneuvers; lastly,
it is the sailors themselves who charm the sirens as they twist about the masts like whores about
pimps; as they wrap themselves in the sails, they toy with them like Spanish women with their fans,
laughing aloud, or, with both hands in their pockets, balancing themselves upright on the bridge,
they whistle the true waltz of the sailors.
"And the sirens fall for that?"
"They dream of that spot where the kinship between their bodies and those of the seamen ends.
'Where does the mystery start?' they ask each other. It is then that they sing."
Gabriel was in the infantry and wore sky-blue cloth, cloth that was thick and fleecy. Later on,
when we have seen more of him and there is less question about him, we shall describe him more
fully. Divine, of course, calls him Archangel. And also: "My Liqueur." He lets himself, be wor-
shiped without batting an eyelash. He doesn't mind. Out of fear of Darling, especially out of
fear of hurting him, Divine has not dared take the soldier to the garret. She meets him in the
evening on the promenade of the boulevard, where he tells her very where he tells her very sweet-
ly the story of his life, for he knows nothing else. And Divine says,
"It's not your life story you're telling me, Archangel, but an underground passage of my own,
which I was unaware of."
Divine also says:
"I love you as if you were in my belly," and also:
"You're not my sweetheart, you're myself. My heart or any sex. A branch of me."
And Gabriel, thrilled, though smiling with pride, replies:
"Oh, you little hussy!"
His smile whipped up at the corner of his mouth a few delicate balls of white foam. Meeting them
one night, Milord the Prince, with his fingers circled in the form of a ring like those of an abbe
preaching, tosses off to Divine, as one tosses an eyelash, "You busy bee, you!" and whisks away,
having united them.
All along the way from Blanche to Pigalle, others bless them in like manner and consecrate their
Aging Divine sweats with anxiety. She is a poor woman who wonders:
"Will he love me? Ah, to have discovered a new sweetheart! to worship him on my knees, and, in
return, he forgives me, simply. Perhaps I can win his love by trickery?"
I have heard it said that one wins the devotion of dogs by mixing a spoonful of their master's urine
in their mash every day. Divine tries this. Every time she invites Archangel to dinner, she manages
to put a little of her urine into his food.
Winning his love. Slowly leading the artless one towards that love, as towards a forbidden city, a
mysterious area, a black and white Timbuktoo, black and white and thrilling as the lover's face on
whose cheek plays the shadow of the face of the other. Teaching Archangel, forcing him to learn, a
dog's attachment. Finding the child inert, yet hot; then, by dint of caresses, feeling him get even
hotter, swelling beneath my fingers, filling out, bounding like you know what. Divine being loved!
On the garret couch she writhes about, she curls like a shaving from a turning lathe. She twists her
lithe white arms, rolls and unrolls them. They strangle shadows. She was bound to have Gabriel up sooner
or later. As the curtains are drawn, he finds himself in a darkness the more massive for having been
mildewed for years (as by a scent of chilled incense) by the subtle essence of the farts that had
Divine was lying on the sofa in a pair of blue silk pajamas with white trimming. Her hair was in
her eyes; she was shaved; her mouth was pure and her face sleek with shaving lotion. Nevertheless,
she looked as if she had just got up with a hangover.
With one hand, she pointed to a place near her, at the edge of the sofa, and held out the fingertips
of the other.
"How's it going?"
Gabriel was wearing his sky-blue uniform. His loosely buckled army belt was sagging at his belly.
The coarse wool and delicate blue got Divine hot. She will say later on: "His get-up got me hot."
A fine and equally blue cloth would have excited her less than a heavy black one, for the latter
is the cloth of the country clergy and of Ernestine, and heavy gray cloth is that of the children
of the state orphanages.
"Doesn't that wool make you itch?"
"You're nuts. I've got a shirt on. Besides, I'm wearing underwear. The wool doesn't touch my skin."
Amazing, isn't it, Divine, that with a sky-blue outfit he dares have such black eyes and hair?
"Look, there's some cherry brandy. Take as much as you like. Let me have a glass too."
Gabriel smiles as he pours himself a glass of liqueur. He drinks. Again he is sitting at the edge
of the sofa. A slight embarrassment between them.
"Say, it's stuffy in here. Mind if I take off my jacket?"
"Oh, take off whatever you like."
He unbuckles his belt and takes off his jacket. The swish of the belt fills the garret with a roomful
of sweaty soldiers back from maneuvers. Divine, as I have said is also wearing sky-blue, which is
loosely draped about her body. She is blond, and under such straw her face looks a little wrinkled;
as Mimosa says, it's rumpled (Mimosa says this maliciously, to hurt Divine), but Gabriel likes her
face. Divine, who wants to know he does, trembles like the flame of a candle as she says:
"I'm getting old. I'll soon be thirty."
Gabriel has the unconscious delicacy not to flatter her by a lie that would say: "You don't look
it." He replies:
"But that's the best age to be. You understand everything a lot better then."
"That's the real age."
Divine's eyes and teeth are gleaming and make those of the soldier gleam too.
"Say, there's something wrong."
He's smiling, but I feel he's embarrassed.
She is happy. Gabriel is now limp, all pale blue against her; two angels, tired of flying, who had
perched on a telegraph pole and whom the wind has blown in the hollow of a ditch of nettles, are
not more chaste.
One night, the Archangel turned faun. He held Divine against him, face to face, and his member,
suddenly more potent, tried to enter from below. When he had found, he bent a little and entered.
Gabriel had acquired such virtuosity that he was able, though remaining motionless himself, to
make his tool quiver like a shying horse. He forced with his usual fury and felt his potency so
intensely that--with his nose and throat--he whinnied with victory, so impetuously that Divine
thought he was penetrating her with his whole centaur body. She swooned with love like a nymph
in a tree.
They played their games over and over. Divine's eyes became brilliant and her skin suppler. The
Archangel took his role of fucker seriously. It made him sing the Marseillaise, for he was now
proud of being a Frenchman and a Gallic cock, of which only males are proud. Then he died in the
war. One evening he went to the boulevard to see Divine.
"I got a furlough. I asked for it on account of you. Come on, let's go eat. I've got some dough
Divine raised her eyes to his face.
"So you do love me, Archangel?"
Gabriel's shoulders twitched with annoyance.
"You deserve a good smack," he said, clenching his teeth. "You can't tell, I suppose?"
Divine closed her eyes. She smiled.
"Go away, Archangel," she said in a hollow voice. "Go away. I have seen thee enough. Thou givest
me too much joy, Archangel."
She spoke as a somnambulist would speak, standing straight and rigid, with a set smile on her face.
"Go away, or I'll fall into your arms. Oh, Archangel!" She murmured:
Smiling gently, Gabriel walked off with long slow strides, for he was wearing boots. He died in the
French campaign, and the German soldiers buried him where he led, at the gate of a castle in Touraine.
Divine came and sat on his grave, smoked a Craven there with Jimmy.
We recognize her sitting there, with her long legs crossed and a cigarette in her hand, level with
her mouth. She is smiling, almost happy.
As she entered Graff's Cafe, Divine caught sight of Mimosa, who saw her. They made a little sign to
each other with their fingers, a trifling flick of the fingers.
"Hello! And how's that Our Lady of yours, sweetie?"
"Oh! don't talk to me about her. She's run off. The Lady's gone, flown. Carried off by the angels. She's
been stolen from me. Mimo, behold me the Quite-Tearful." Make a novena, I'm going to take the veil."
"Your Lady has gone off? You mean Your Lady has wiggled away? But that's just awful! She's a harlot!"
"Let's, forget her."
Mimosa wanted Divine to sit at her table. She said that she was rid of clients for the whole evening.
"I'm having a little Sunday outing, so there! Have a glass of gin, child."
Divine was worried. She did not love Our Lady to the extent of suffering at the thought that someone
might squeal on him, if he should happen to get mixed up in some shady business, but she remembered
that Mimosa had swallowed a photo of him the way one swallows the Eucharist, and that she had acted
very offended when Our Lady had said to her: "You're a real bitch." She smiled, however, and brought
her smile up to Mimosa's face, as if to kiss it, and their faces were suddenly so close that it seemed
to them as if they were present at their nuptials. Both queens were horrified at the idea. Still smil-
ing divinely, Divine murmured:
"I detest you."
She didn't say it. The sentence took shape in her throat. Then, immediately, her face closed up like
a clover at twilight. Mimosa didn't understand what was going on. Divine had always kept to herself the
singular of Mimosa, for she feared that if Our Lady learned of it, he might change his mind and make
coy advances to her rival. Our Lady was coyer than a queen. He was as whorish as a gigolo. To herself,
Divine explained that she wanted to spare Our Lady the sin of pride, for, we know that it was very hard
for Divine to be immoral, and she managed to be so only at the cost of long detours which made her suf-
fer. Her personage is trammeled by a thousand feelings and their opposites, which tangle and untangle,
knot and unknot, creating a mad jumble. She did violence to her feelings. Her first desire was of the
following order: "Mimosa mustn't know a thing. She's a bitch and I hate her." It was a pure desire, born
directly of the fact. However, Divine did not experience it in quite this form, for the heavenly saints
were standing by and watching, the female saints too; they did not frighten Divine because they are ter-
rible, that is, because they are avengers of wicked thoughts, but because they are made of plaster and
their feet are set on lace, in flowers, and because, in spite of this, they are omniscient. She thought
to herself: "Our Lady is so proud! And so dumb!" This clearly implied the first proposition, which fol-
lowed as a natural conclusion. But its moral cast allowed it to be stated. It was by an effort, a swag-
ger, that she managed to say: "She won't know anything, that slut" (Mimosa), but in this way too she
was disguising her hatred beneath a bit of playful tinsel, for she referred to Mimosa as "She." Had she
said "He," it would have been more serious. This we shall see later on. Divine was not so vain as to
believe that Mimosa was offering her a seat so as to enjoy her company. She Was therefore wary. She
"I'm playing Sitting Bull."
"Playing what?" said Mimosa.
Divine burst out laughing.
"Oh, I'm such a camp!"
Roger, Mimosa's man, must have smelled something. He wanted an explanation. Divine had learned through
experience that she was no match for Mimosa II. For though she might not recognize the moment when her
friend's shrewdness was in play, she had had many a proof of detective-like shrewdness. "That Mimo, the
slightest detail is all she needs." None but she could distinguish this detail and make it speak.
"So you're going? And you're taking Our Lady? You're mean. And selfish!"
"Look, angel, I'll see you later. I'm in a hurry today."
Divine kissed the palm of her hand, blew toward Mimosa (despite her smile, Divine's face suddenly took
on the seriousness of the lady on the Larousse covers who scatters dandelion seed to the winds), and
she went off as on the arm of an invisible lover, that is, heavy, weary, and transported.
When she said that Our Lady was proud and, upon learning that Mimosa had swallowed his photo, that he
would have been more kindly disposed toward her, Divine was mistaken. Our Lady is not proud. He would
have shrugged his shoulders, without even smiling, and simply said:
"The chick works hard. Now she's guzzling paper."
Perhaps this indifference was due to the fact that Our Lady felt nothing the way Mimosa did and did
not imagine that anyone could feel a thrill by literally incorporating into himself the picture of a
desired human being, by drinking him down, and he would have been incapable of recognizing in this an
act of homage to his virility or beauty. Let us conclude from this that he had no desire of this kind.
Yet, as we shall see, he was veneration itself. As for Divine, remember that she once answered Mimosa:
"Our Lady will never be too proud. I want to make of him a statue of pride," thinking: "I want him to
be moulded of pride," and further: "moulded in pride." Our Lady's tender youth (for he had his moments
of tenderness) did not satisfy Divine's need to be subjected to brutal domination. The ideas of pride
and statue very rightly go hand in hand, and with them goes the idea of massive stiffness. But we can
see that Our Lady's pride was only a pretext.
As I have said, Darling Daintyfoot no longer came to the garret, and had even stopped meeting Our Lady
in the grove of the Tuileries. He did not suspect that Our Lady knew all about his cowardly doings. In
her garret, Divine lived only on tea and grief. She ate her grief and drank it; this sour food had dried
her body and corroded her mind. Nothing--neither her own personal care nor the beauty parlors--kept her
from being thin and having the skin of a corpse. She wore a wig, which she set most artfully, but the
net of the underside showed at the temples. Powder and cream did not quite conceal the juncture with the
skin of the forehead. One might have thought that her head was artificial. In the days when he was still
in the garret, Darling might have laughed at all these embellishments had he been an ordinary pimp, but
he was a pimp who heard voices. He neither laughed nor smiled. He was handsome and prized his good looks,
realizing that if he lost them he would lose everything. Though the difficult charms employed in making
beauty hold fast did not excite him, they left him cold and drew no cruel smile. It was quite natural. So
many former girl friends had made themselves up in his presence that he knew that the damages to bea-
uty are repaired without mystery. In shady hotels, he had witnessed clever restorations, had watched
women as they hesitated with a lip-stick in mid-air. Many a time he had helped Divine fasten her wig on.
His movements had been skillful and, if I may say so, natural. He had learned to love that kind of Divine.
He had steeped himself in all the monstrosities of which she was composed. He had passed them in re-
view: her very white dry skin, her thinness, the hollows of her eyes, her powdered wrinkles, her slicked
down hair, her gold teeth. He noted every detail. He said to himself that that's how it was; continued to
screw it. He knew ecstasy and was caught good and proper. Darling the sturdy, all and always hot muscle
and bush, was smitten with an artificial queen. Divine's wiles had nothing to do with it. Darling plunged
headlong into this sort of debauch. Then, little by little, he had grown weary. He neglected Divine and left
her. In the garret, she then had terrible fits of despair. Her advancing age moving her into a coffin. It got
to the point where she no longer dared a gesture or manner; people who came to know her during this per-
iod said that she seemed retiring. She still clung to the pleasures of bed and hallway; she cruised the
tearooms, but now it was she who did the paying. When making love, she would experience the wildest
terror, fearing, for example, lest an excited youngster rumple her hair while she was on her knees, or
press his head against her too roughly and push off her wig. Her pleasure was encumbered with a host of
petty worries. She would stay in the garret in order to jerk off. For days and nights on end she would
remain lying in bed, with the curtains drawn over the window of the dead, the Bay Window of the Departed.
She would drink tea and eat fruitcake. With her head beneath the sheets, she would devise complicated
debauches, involving two, three, or four persons, in which all the partners would arrange to discharge
in her, on her, and for her at the same time. She would recall the narrow but vigorous loins of steel
that had perforated her. Without regard for their tastes she would couple them. She was willing to be
the single goal of all these lusts, and her mind strained in an effort to be conscious of them simul-
taneously as they drifted about in a voluptuousness poured in from all sides. Her body would tremble
from head to foot. She felt personalities that were strange to her passing through her. Her body would
cry out, "The god, behold the god!" She would sink back all exhausted. The pleasure soon lost its edge.
Divine then donned the body of a male. Suddenly strong and muscular, she saw herself hard as nails,
with her hands in her pockets, whistling. She saw herself doing the act on herself. She felt her
muscles growing, as when she had tried to play virile, and she felt herself getting hard around the
thighs, shoulder blades, and arms, and it hurt her. This game, too, petered out. She was drying up.
There were no longer even any circles under her eyes.
It was then she sought out the memory of Alberto and satisfied herself with him. He was a good-for-
nothing. The whole village mistrusted him. He was thievish, brutal, and coarse. Girls frowned when his
name was mentioned in their presence, but their nights and sudden escapes during the dreary hours
of work were taken up with his vigorous thighs, with his heavy hands that were forever swelling his
pockets and stroking his flanks, or that remained there motionless, or moved gently, stealthily, as they
lifted the taut or distended cloth of his trousers. His hands were broad and thick, with short fingers,
a splendid thumb, an imposing, massive mound of Venus, hands that hung from his arms like sods. It
was on a summer evening that the children, who are the usual bearers of staggering news, informed
the village that Alberto was fishing for snakes. "Snake fisher, that's just what he's fit for," thought
the old women. This was one more reason for wishing him to the devil. Some scientists were offering
an attractive premium for every reptile captured alive. While playing, Alberto caught one unintentionally,
delivered it alive, and received the promised premium. Thus was born his new profession, which he
liked, and which made him furious with himself. He was neither a superman nor an immoral faun. He
was just a boy with simple thoughts, though embellished by voluptuousness. He seemed to be in a
state of perpetual delight or perpetual intoxication. It was inevitable that Culafroy should meet him.
It was the summer he spent wandering along the roads. As soon as as he saw Alberto's silhouette in
the distance, he realized that there was the purpose and goal of his walk. Alberto was standing motion-
less at the edge of the road, almost in rye, as if waiting for someone, his two shapely legs spread in the
stance of the Colossus of Rhodes, or the one shown us by the the German sentries, so proud and
solid beneath their helmets. Culafroy loved him. As he passed by, brave and indifferent, the lad blushed
and lowered his head, while Alberto, with a smile one his lips, watched him walk. Let us say that he
was eighteen years old, and yet Divine remembers him as a man.
He returned the following day. Alberto was standing there, a sentinel or statue, at the side of the
road. "Hello!" he said, with a smile that twisted his mouth. (This smile was Alberto's particularity,
was himself. Anyone could have had, or could have acquired, the same stiff hair, the color of his skin,
his walk, but not his smile. Now when Divine seeks out the lost Alberto, she tries to portray him on
herself and invents his smile with her own mouth. She puckers her muscles in what she thinks is the
right way, the way--so she thinks when she feels her mouth twisting--that makes her resemble Alberto,
until the day it occurs to her to do it in front of a mirror, and she realizes that her grimaces in
no way resemble the smile we have already called starlike.) "Hello!" muttered Culafroy. That was all
they said to each other, but from that day on Ernestine was to get used to seeing him desert the slate
house. One day Alberto asked:
"Want to see my pouch?"
He showed him a closely woven wicker−basket buckled by a strap. The only thing in it that day was one
elegant and angry snake.
"Shall I open it?"
"Oh! no, no, don't open it!" he said, for he has always felt that uncontrollable repulsion for reptiles.
Alberto did not lift the lid, but he put his hard and gentle, briar−scratched hand on the back of Cul-
afroy's neck as the child was about to drop to his knees. Another day, three snakes were writhing
about each other. Their heads were hooded in little hard leather cowls that were tightened about their
necks by nooses.
"You can touch them. They won't hurt you."
Culafroy didn't move. Rooted with horror, he could no more have run away than at the apparition of a
ghost or an angel from heaven. He was unable to turn his head. The snakes fascinated him; yet he felt
that he was about to vomit.
"You scared? Come on, admit it. I used to be scared too."
That wasn't true, but he wanted to reassure the child. With sovereign superiority, Alberto calmly and
deliberately put his hand into the tangle of reptiles and took one out, a long, thin one whose tail
flattened like a whipcord, but without a sound, about his bare arm. "Touch it!" he said, and as he
spoke, he took the child's hand and placed it on the cold, scaly body, but Culafroy tightened his fist
and only the joints of his fingers came into contact with the snake. That wasn't touching. The coldness
surprised him. It entered his vein, and the initiation proceeded. Veils were falling from large and sol-
emn tableaux that Culafroy's eyes could not make out. Alberto took another snake and placed it on Cula-
froy's bare arm, about which it coiled just as the first had done.
"You see, she's harmless." (Alberto always referred to des in the feminine.)
Just as he felt his penis swelling between his fingers, so the sensitive Alberto felt in the child the
mounting of the emotion that stiffened him and made him shudder. And the insidious friendship for snakes
was born. And yet he had not yet touched any, that is, had not even grazed them with the organ of touch,
the finger tips, the spot where the fingers are swollen with a tiny little sensitive bump, by means of
which the blind read. Alberto had to open the boy's hand and slip the icy lugubrious body into it. That
was the revelation. At that very moment, it seemed to him that a host of snakes might have invaded him,
climbed over him and wound themselves into him without his feeling anything other than a friendly joy,
a kind of tenderness, and meanwhile Alberto's sovereign hand had not left his, nor had one of his thighs
left the child's, so that he was no longer quite himself. Culafroy and Divine, with their delicate tastes,
will always be forced to love what they loathe, and this constitutes something of their saintliness, for
that is renunciation.
Alberto taught him culling. You must wait until noon, when the snakes are asleep on the rocks, in the
sun. You sneak up on them and then, crooking the index and middle finger, you grab them by the neck,
close to the head, so that they can't slip away or bite; then, while the snake is hissing with despair, you
quickly slip the hood over its head, tighten the noose, and put it into the box. Alberto wore a pair of
corduroy trousers, leggings, and a gray shirt, the sleeves of which were rolled up to the elhows. He was
good-looking--as are all the males in this book, powerful and lithe, and unaware of their grace. His hard,
stubborn hair, which fell down over his eyes to his mouth, would have been enough to endow him with
the glamor of a crown in the eyes of the frail, curly-haired child.
They generally met in the morning, around ten o'clock, near a granite cross. They would chat for a while
about girls and then leave. The harvesting had not yet been done. As the metallic rye and wheat were
inviolable by all others, they found sure shelter there. They entered obliquely, crept along and suddenly
found themselves in the middle of the field. They stretched out on the ground and waited for noon. At
first, Culafroy played with Alberto's arms, the next day with his legs, the day after with the rest of
him, and this memory thrilled Divine, who could see herself hollowing her cheeks the way a boy does
when he whistles. Alberto violated the child everywhere until he himself collapsed with weariness.
One day Culafroy said:
"I'm going home, Berto."
"Going home? Well, see you this evening, Lou."
Why "See you this evening?" The phrase came out of Alberto's mouth so spontaneously that Culafroy took
it for granted and replied:
"See you this evening, Berto."
Yet the day was over, they would not see each other until the following day, and Alberto knew it. He
smiled foolishly at the thought that he had let slip a phrase that he had not meant. As for Culafroy,
the meaning of this farewell remained hazy. The phrase had thrilled him, as do certain artless poems,
the logic and grammar of which become apparent only after we have enjoyed their charm. Culafroy was
thoroughly bewitched. It was washday at the slate house. On the drier in the garden, the hanging sheets
formed a labyrinth where specters hovered. That would be the natural place for Alberto to wait. But at
what time? He had mentioned no specific time. The wind shook the white sheets as the arm of an act-
ress shakes a backdrop of painted canvas. Night thickened with its usual quietness and constructed a
rigid architecture of broad planes, packed with shadows. Culafroy's stroll began just as the spherical,
steaming moon rose in the sky. This was to be the scene of the drama. Would Alberto come to rob? He
needed money, he said, "for his chick." He had a chick; hence he was a true cock. As for stealing, it
was possible. He had once inquired aboout the furnishings in the slate house. Culafroy liked the idea.
He hoped that Alberto would come for that too. The moon was rising into the sky with a solemnity cal-
culated to impress sleepless humans. A thousand sounds that make up the silence of night pressed in
about the child, like a tragic chorus, with the intensity of the music of brasses and the strangeness
of houses of crime, and of prisons, too, where--oh, the horror of it--one never hears the rattle of a
bunch of keys. Culafroy walked about barefoot among the sheets. He was experiencing minutes as light
as minuets, minutes composed of anxiety and tenderness. He even ventured a toe dance, but the sheets,
which formed hanging partitions and corridors, the sheets, quiet and crafty as corpses, might have drawn
together and imprisoned and smothered him, as the branches of certain trees in hot countries sometimes
smother careless savages who lie down to rest in their shade. If he ceased to touch the ground, save by
an illogical movement of his taut in-step, this movement might have made him take off, leave the earth,
might have launched him into worlds from which he would never return, for in space nothing could stop
him. He placed the soles of his feet squarely on the ground so that they would hold him there more firmly.
For he knew how to dance. He had plucked the following theme from a copy of Screen Weekly: "A little
ballerina photographed in her ballet skirt, her arms curved gracefully above her head, her toe rooted
to the floor, like a spearhead." And below the picture, the following caption: "Graceful Kitty Ruphlay,
twelve years old." With an amazing sense of divination, this child, who had never seen a dancer, who
had never seen a stage or any actor, understood the page-long article dealing matters as figures,
entrechats, jetas-battus, tutus, toe-shoes, drops, footlights, and ballet. From the aspect of the word
Nijinsky (the rise of the N, the drop of the loop of the j, the leap of the hook of the k and the fall
of the y, graphic form of a name that seems to be drawing the artist's elan, with its bounds and re-
bounds on the boards, of the jumper who doesn't know which leg to come down on), he sensed the
dancer's lightness, just as he will one day know that Verlaine can only be the name of a poet-music-
ian. He learned to dance by himself, just as he had learned to play the violin by himself. So he
danced as he played. His every act was served by gestures necessitated not by the act itself, but
by a choreography that transformed his life into a perpetual ballet. He quickly succeeded in dan-
cing on his toes, and he did it everywhere: in the shed while gathering sticks of wood, in the little
barn, under the cherry tree. . . . He would put aside his sabots and dance on the grass in black wool
slippers, with his hands clinging to the low branches. He filled the countryside with a host of fig-
urines who thought they were dancers in white tulle tutus, but who nonetheless remained a pale
schoolboy in a black smock looking for mushrooms or dandelions. He was very much afraid of being
discovered, especially by Alberto. "What would I say to him?" He thought of the form of suicide that
might save him, and he decided upon hanging. Let us go back to that night. He was surprised and start-
led by the slightest movement of the branches, the slightest breath that was a bit dry. The moon
struck ten. Then came aching anxiety. In his heart and throat the child discovered jealousy. He was
now sure that Alberto would not come, that he would go and get drunk; and the idea of Alberto's be-
trayal was so acute that it established itself despotically in Culafroy's mind, to such a degree that
he declared: "My despair is immense." Generally, when he was alone, he felt no need to utter his
thoughts aloud, aloud, but today an inner sense of the tragic bade him observe an extraordinary pro-
tocol, and so he declared: "My despair is immense." He sniffled, but he did not cry. About him, the
setting had ceased to appear marvelously unreal. Everything was exactly as it had been before: there
were still the same white sheets hanging on wire lines that sagged beneath the weight, the same
star-spangled sky, but their meaning had changed. The drama that was being enacted there had reached
its phase of high pathos, the denouement: all that remained for the actor was to die. When I write
that the meaning of the setting was no longer the same, I do not mean that for Culafroy--and later
for Divine--the setting was ever any different from what it would have been for anyone else, namely,
wash drying on wire lines. He was well aware that he was a prisoner of sheets, but I beg of you to
see the marvelous in this: a prisoner of familiar, though stiff sheets in the moonlight--unlike Ern-
estine, whom they would have reminded of brocade hangings or the halls of a marble palace, she who
could not mount one step of a stairway without thinking of the word tier, and in the same circum-
stances, she would not have failed to feel profound despair and make the setting change attribution,
to transform it into a white marble tomb, to magnify it, as it were, with her own sorrow, which was
as lovely as a tomb, whereas for Culafroy nothing had moved, and this indifference of the setting
better signified its hostility. Each thing, each object, was the result of a miracle, the accomp-
lishing of which filled him with wonder. Likewise each gesture. He did not understand his room,
nor the garden, nor the village. He understood nothing, not even that a stone was a stone, and this
amazement in the face of what is--a setting which, by dint of being ends by no longer being--left
him the writhing prey of primitive, simple emotions: grief, joy, pride, shame...
He fell asleep, like a drunken harlequin on the stage who sinks into his baggy sleeves and col-
lapses on the grass beneath the violent light of the moon. The following day, he said nothing to
Alberto. The fishing and the lolling in the rye at noon were what they were every day. That eve-
ing, the idea had crossed Alberto's mind of prowling about the slate house, with his hands in his
pockets and whistling as he walked (He had a remarkable way of whistling with metallic stridency,
and his virtuosity was not the least of his charms. This whistling was magical. It bewitched the
girls. The boys, aware of his power, envied him. Perhaps he charmed the snakes.), but he did not
come, for the town was hostile to him, especially if, like an evil angel, he went there at night.
They continued making love in the midst of the snakes. Divine remembers this. She thinks it was
the loveliest period of her life.
One night on the boulevard she met Seck Gorgui. The big sunny Negro--though he was only the shadow
of the Archangel Gabriel--was on the make.
He was wearing a gray worsted suit that clung to his shoulders and thighs, and his jacket was more
immodest than the form-fitting tights in which Jean Borlin garbed his round balls. He was wearing
a pink tie, a cream-colored silk shirt, gold rings with fake or real diamonds (what does it matter!);
he had extraordinary fingernails, long and dark, and, at the base, as light as sound, year-old haz-
elnuts. In a trice, Divine was again the Divine of eighteen, for she thought naively, though vaguely,
that, being black and a native of a warm country, Gorgui would be unable to tell her age or perceive
her wrinkles or wig. She said: "My, my! So here you are! Ohl I'm delighted." Seck laughed: "Pretty
good," he said, "and you?"
Divine stuck close to him. He stood firm and straight, though leaning slightly back, motionless and
solid, in the position of a kid who braces himself on his nervous knees to piss against nothing at
all, or in the pose in which, you will recall, Lou discovered Alberto (Colossus of Rhodes), the most
virile pose of sentinels: thighs spread, and their bayonet−guns, which they grip with both hands,
planted smack between their boots, right up to their mouths.
"What have you been doing? Playing the sax?"
"No, I'm through with that. I'm divorced. I dropped Banjo!" he said.
"Really? Why? Banjo was rather nice."
Here Divine got the better of her good nature. She added:
"A teenchy bit plump, a trifle round, but really, she had such a good disposition. What about now?"
Gorgui was free that evening. In fact, he was looking for customers. He needed money. Divine took
the blow without flinching.
"How much, Gorgui?"
It was precise. He got his hundred francs and followed Divine to the garret. Negroes have no age.
Mlle. Adeline could explain to us that when they try to count they get all mixed up in their calcu-
lations, for they are quite aware that they were born at the time of a famine, of the death of three
jaguars, of the flowering of the almond trees, and these circumstances, mingled with the figures,
make it easy for them to go astray. Gorgui, our Negro, was vital and vigorous. A movement of his
back shook the room, the way Village, the Negro murderer, shook his prison cell. I have tried to
recapture, in the cell I am now writing, the odor of carrion spread by the proud-scented negro, and
thanks to him I am better able to give life to Seek Gorgui. I have already spoken of my fondness for
odors, the strong odors of the earth, of latrines, of the loins of Arabs and, above all, the odor of
my farts, which is not the odor of my shit, a loathsome odor, so much so that here again I bury myself
under the covers and gather in my cupped hand my crushed farts, which I carry to my nose. They open
to me hidden treasures of happiness. I inhale, I suck in. I feel them, almost solid, going down through
my nostrils. But only the odor of my own farts delights me, and those of the handsomest boy repel
me. Even the faintest doubt as to whether an odor comes from me or someone else is enough for
me to stop relishing it. So, when I knew him, Clement Village filled the cell with an odor stronger
than death. Solitude is sweet. It is bitter. One might think that the head should be emptied there
of all past entries (precursory practice of purification), but you are well aware, while reading me,
that this is not the case. I was exasperated. The Negro cured me to some extent. It seemed that his
extraordinary sexual potency was sufficient to calm me. He was as strong as the sea. His radiance
was more restful than a remedy. His presence was conjuratory. I would sleep.
Between his fingers he would roll a soldier whose eyes are no more than two musical pauses drawn by
my pen on his smooth pink face; I can no longer meet a sky-blue soldier without seeing him lying on
the Negro's chest, and immediately being irritated by the smell of turpentine that, mixed with his,
used to befoul the cell. It was in another French prison, where the corridors and their straight
lines, which were as long as those in a king's palace, wove and constructed geometrical patterns on
which the gnarled prisoners, tiny in proportion to the scale of the corridors, glided by on felt
slippers. As I passed each door, I would read a label indicating the category of the occupant. The
first labels read: "Solitary confinement"; the next: "Transportation"; others: Hard. labor." Here I
received a shock. The penal colony materialized before my eyes. Ceased to be word and became
flesh. I was never at the end of the corridtor, for it seemed to me to be the end of the world, at
the end of all, and yet it made signs to me, it emitted appeals that touched me, and I too shall prob-
ably go to the end of the corridor. I believe, though I know it to be false that on the doors can be
read the word "Death,' or perhaps, what is graver still, the words "Capital Punishment."
In that prison, which I shall not name, every convict had a little yard, where every brick of the
yard bore a message to a friend: "B.A.A. of Sebasto--Jaquot of Topol, known as V.L.F, to Lucien of
La Chapelle," an exhortation, a votive offering to the mother, or a scathing: "Polo of Gyp's Bar
is a stool pigeon." It was also in that prison that the chief guards used to give each of us a
gift of a small packet of coarse lt on New Year's Dauy.
When I entered my cell, the big Negro was putting blue paint on his little lead soldiers, the big-
gest of which was littler than his littlest finger. He would seize them by the thigh, the way Lou-
Divine used to grab frogs, and slap a coat of light blue over the whole body. Then he would put
them down to dry on the floor, where they lay in great disorder, a tiny, irritating confusion,
which the Negro heightened by coupling them lasciviously, for the solitude also sharpened his las-
civiousness. He greeted me with a smile and a puckering of the brow. He was back from the Clairvaux
State Prison, where he had put in five years, and had been here for a year while waiting to then,
be sent to the penal colony. He had killed his girl; having sat her down on a yellow silk cushion
with little green tufts, had walled her up, arranging the Masonry in the form of a bench. He was
annoyed that I didn't remember the story, which you must have read about in the papers. Since
this misfortune had shattered his life, may it serve his glory, for it is a worse misfortune than
being Hamlet and not being a prince.
"I am Clement," he said, "Clement Village."
I used to think that his big hands with their pink palms tortured the lead soldiers. His round
forehead, which was as free of wrinkles as a child's (Gall would have called it a muliebral13 fore-
head), would bend over them. "I'm making buck-privates."
I learned to paint them too. The cell was full of them. The table, shelves, and floor were cover-
ed with these tiny warriors, who were as hard and cold as corpses, whose number and inhuman
smallness created for them a peculiar kind of soul. At night, I would kick them aside, lay out my
straw mattress, and fall asleep in their midst. Like the inhabitants of Lilliput, they tied me down,
and to get loose I offered Divine to the Archangel Gabriel.
During the day, the Negro and I would work in silence. However, I was sure that one day he would
tell me his story. I don't like stories of that kind. Despite myself, I can't keep from thinking
how often the narrator must have told it, and I feel as if it reaches me like a dress that has
been handed down until . . . And besides, I have my own stories. Those which spring from my eyes.
Prisons have their silent stories, and so do the guards, and even the lead soldiers, which are
hollow. Hollow! The foot of one of the lead soldiers broke, and the stump revealed a hole. This
certainty of their inner emptiness delighted and distressed me. At home, there used to be a plas-
ter bust of Queen Marie-Antoinette. I lived right next to it for five or six years without notic-
ing it, until the day when its chignon14 miraculously broke, and I saw the bust was hollow. I had
had to leap into the void in order to see it. So what do I care about stories of Negro murderers,
when mysteries of this kind, the mystery of the nothing and the no, signal to me and reveal them-
selves, as they revealed themselves in the village to Lou-Divine? The church played its role of
Jack-in-the-box. The services had accustomed Lou to magnificence, and each religious holiday
made him uneasy because he would see emerging from some hiding place the gilded candelabra, the
white enamelled lilies, the silver-edged cloths; from the sacristy came the green, violet, white and
black chasubles, some of moire and some of velvet, the albs, the stiff surplices, the new hosts.
Unexpected and astounding hymns rang out, among them, most disturbing of all, the Veni Creator,
which is sung at marriage ceremonies. The charm of the Veni Creator was that of sugared almonds
and wax orange charm of the white tulle (to which is added still another charm, more peculiarly pos-
sessed by glaciers--we shall speak of this later), of the fringed armbands of children taking first
communion, of the white socks; it was what I am obliged to call the nuptial charm. It is importan to
speak of it, for it is the one that transported the child Culafroy to seventh heaven. And I cannot
Over the gold ring lying on a white linen cloth on the tray which he bears before the bride and
groom, the priest makes the sign of the cross with four little shocks of his sprinkler that leave
four little drops on the ring.
The sprinkler is always moist with a tiny droplet, like Alberto's prick which is stiff in
the morning and which has just pissed.
The vaults and walls of the chapel of the Virgin are whitewashed, and the Virgin has an apron as
blue as a sailor's collar.
Facing the faithful, the altar is neatly arranged; facing God, it is a jumble of wood in the dust
and spider webs.
The purses of the usherette who takes up the collection are made of a pink silk left-over of the
dress of Alberto's sister. But the objects in the church became more familiar to Culafroy. Before
long, only the church in the neighboring town could provide new spectacles for him. Little by lit-
tle it was abandoned by its gods, who fled at the child's approach. The last question he asked them
received a reply as sharp as a slap. One day, about noon, the mason was repairing the porch of the
chapel. Perched at the top of a double ladder, he did not seem to Culafroy to be an archangel,
for the child could never take seriously the wonderland of the image makers. The mason was the
mason. A good-looking fellow, too. His corduroy pants set off his buttocks and hung loosely about
his legs. At his open-necked shirt collar, his neck emerged from a bush of stiff hairs, as a tree
trunk emerges from the fine grass of the undergrowth. The door of the church was open. Lou
passed beneath the rungs of the ladder, lowered his head and eyes beneath a sky in-habited by a
pair of corduroy pants and slipped into the choir. The mason, who had seen him, said nothing. He
was hoping that the kid would play some trick on the priest. Culafroy's sabots rattled over the
flagstones until he reached the spot where the floor was covered with a rug. He stopped beneath
the chandelier and kneeled very ceremoniously on a tapestried prayer stool. His genuflections and
gestures were a faithful copy of those made by Alberto's sister on this same prayer stool every
Sunday. He adorned himself with their beauty. Thus, acts have esthetic and moral value only inso-
far as those who perform them are endowed with power. I still wonder what is the significance of
the emotion that rises up within me when I hear some silly song just as it does when I am in the
presence of a recognized masterpiece. This power is delegated to us sufficiently for us to feel
it within us, and this is what enables us to bear our having to lower our head in order to step
into a car, because when we lower it an imperceptible memory turns us into a movie star, or a king,
or a vagrant (but he's another king) who lowered his head the same way (we saw him in the street
or on the screen). Rising on the toes of my right foot and raising my right arm to take down my
little mirror from the wall, or to grab my mess-tin from the shelf, is a gesture that transforms me
into Princess of T...whom I once saw make this movement in order to put back a drawing she had
shown me. Priests who repeat symbolic gestures feel themselves imbued with the virtue not of the
symbol but of the first executant; the priest who, at Divine's funeral mass, imitated the sly
gestures of burglary and theft, was adorning himself, with the gestures, spolia opima, of a
guillotined second-story man.
So, no sooner had Culafroy taken a few drops from the basin of holy water at the entrance than
Germaine's hard breasts and buttocks were grafted on to him, as muscles were grafted on at a
later time, and he had to carry them in the current fashion. Then he prayed, in pose and mutter,
accentuating the bowing of his head and the noble slowness of the sign of the cross. Shadowy
calls rang out from all corners of the choir, from all the stalls of the altar. The little lamp
was gleaming; at noon, it was seeking a man. The mason whistling under the porch belonged to
the world, to Life, and Lou, alone there, felt himself master of the whole works. He must an-
swer the clarion calls, must enter the shadow, which was as dense as a solid. . . . He stood
up silently. His sabots15 moved forward and bore him with infinite caution over the tufted wool
of the rug, and the smell of the old incense, poisonous as that of old tobacco in a seasoned
pipe, as a lover's breath, desensitized the fears that were born thick and fast with each of
his gestures. He moved slowly, with tired muscles, soft as those of a deep-sea diver, numbed
by the odor which pushed back the moment so artfully that Culafroy semmed to be neither here
nor now. The altar was suddenly within arm's reach, as if Lou had unwittingly taken a giant's
stride, and he felt himself sacrilegious. The Epistles had fallen down on the stone table. The
silence was a peculiar silence, a silence that was present, one which sounds from the outside
could not penetrate. They squashed against the thick walls of the church like rotten fruit
thrown by kids. Though they were audible, they in no way disturbed the silence.
The mason was calling.
"Sh! Don't shout in church."
The two cries made a huge crevice in the edifice of the silence, the silence of cottages that
are being robbed. The double curtains of the tabernacle did not quite come together, and from
the slit, as obscene as an unbuttoned fly, protruded the little key that keeps the door shut.
Culafroy's hand was on the key when he regained consciousness, only to lose it again immediately.
The miracle! Blood will flow from the hosts if I take one! Idle stories about Jews, about Jews
biting into the Holy Species, stories of prodigies, in which hosts falling from the mouths of
children stain the floor and cloths with blood, stories about simoniacal brigands, had all pre-
pared this agonizing moment. It cannot be said that Lou's heart beat faster--on the contrary, a
kind of foxglove (fox-glove is known as Virgin's finger in those parts) slowed down its rhythm
and force--nor that his Fears buzzed--silence emerged from them. A wild silence. He had risen on
his toes and found the key. He had stopped breathing. The miracle. He expected to see the plaster
statues come tumbling down from their niches and crush him; he was certain they would. As far as
he was concerned, it was already done before being done. He awaited damnation with the resigna-
tion of a man condemned to death; knowing it was imminent, he awaited it in peace. Thus, he ac-
ted only after the act had virtually been performed. The silence (it was squared, cubed) was on
the point of blowing up the church, of turning the things of God into fireworks. The ciborium
was there. He had opened it. The act seemed to him so outlandish that he was curious enough
to watch himself do it. The dream almost collapsed. Lou-Culafroy seized the three hosts and
let them fall to the carpet. They descended hesitantly, drifting like leaves that fall in calm
weather. The silence rushed at the child, bowled him over like a team of boxers, pinned his
shoulders to the floor. He let go of the ciborium, which made a hollow sound as it fell on
the wool. And the miracle occurred. There was no miracle. God had been debunked. God was
hollow. Just a hole with any old thing around it. A pretty shape, like the plaster head of Marie-
Antoinette and the little soldiers which were holes with a bit of thin lead around them.
Thus I lived in the midst of an infinity of holes in the form of men. I slept on a mattress
that lay on the floor, as there was only one bed, in which Clement slept. I would watch him from
below, stretched out, as on a bench, on the stone of the altar. He would move only once during
the entire night, to go to the latrine. He performed this ceremony with the greatest mystery.
In secret, in silence. Here is his story as he told it to me. He was from Guadeloupe and had
been a nude dancer at the Viennese Dreamland. He lived with his Dutch girl-friend, whose name
was Sonia, in a little flat in Montmartre. They lived there the way Divine and Darling lived,
that is, a splendid and casual life, a life that a breath might shatter--so think the bourgeois,
who sense the poetry of the lives of creators of poetry--dancers, negroes, boxers, prostitutes,
soldiers--but who do not see that these lives have an earthly tie, since they are big with ter-
ror. Early in May 1939 there took place between them one of those typical scenes between whores
and pimps, for the take had been insufficient. Sonia spoke of leaving. He slapped her. She
screamed. She insulted him in German, but as the tenants of the building were very tactful folk,
no one heard. Then she decided to get her valise, which was hidden under the bed, and she quiet-
ly began to gather her underthings which were scattered about. The big negro went over to her.
His hands were in his pockets.
"Stop that, Sonia," he said.
Perhaps he had a cigarette in his mouth. She continued stuffing her valise with silk stockings,
dresses, pajamas, towels.
"Stop it, Sonia."
She stuffed away. The valise was lying on the bed. Clement pushed her on to it. She lost her
balance, and as she fell back, her feet, which were still wearing silver shoes, flew up to his
nose. The girl uttered a tiny cry. The Negro grabbed her by the ankles, and, lifting her up like
a tailor's dummy, with a dazzling gesture, a sunlike gesture, swinging rapidly on his heel, he
broke her head on the post of the little brass bed. Clement told me the story in his soft Creole
speech, in which the r's are dropped and the ends of phrases are drawled out softly.
"You und'stand, Missie Jean. Ah hit huh head theah. Huh head theah smacked on the brass bed."
He was holding in his fingers a little soldier whose symmetrical face expressed only foolishness
and caused that feeling of malaise which we also get from primitive drawings, from the same draw-
ings that prisoners carve on prison walls and scribble in library books, and on their chests
which they are going to tattoo, and which show the profiles with an eye in full-face. Clement
finally told me of the anguish into which he had been thrown by the rest of the episode: the sun,
he said, was coming through the window of the little apartment, and never before had he noticed
a certain quality of the sun, namely, malevolence. It was the only living thing. It was more than
an accessory--it was a triumphal, insidious witness--important as a witness (witnesses are al-
most always for the prosecution), jealous as actors at not having top billing. Clement opened
the window, but then it seemed to him that he had just publicly confessed his crime; the street
came crowding into the room, upsetting the order and disorder of the drama so that it could take
part in it too. The fabulous atmosphere lasted quite a while. The Negro leaned out the
window; at the far end of the street he saw the sea. I do not know whether, in attempting to re-
constitute the state of mind of the criminal who surmounts the disastrous horror of his act, I
am not secretly trying to ascertain what the best method will be (the one most in keeping with my
nature) in order not to succumb likewise to horror when the time comes. Then, all the possible
ways of getting rid of Sonia occurred to him at once, grouped, interlaced, crowding each other,
offering themselves to his choice as on a street stand. He did not remember ever having heard
about walling up a corpse, and yet this was the means he felt had been singled out before he
"So Ah locked the do'. Ah put key in m'pocket. Ah took the valise f'm off the bed, ah pulled
back the blankets. Ah put Sonia in bed. Funny thing, Missie Jean, held Sonia theah. Blood stuck
on huh cheek."
And then there began that long life of heroism which lasted an entire day. By a powerful effort
of will, be escaped banality--maintaining his mind in a superhuman region, where he was a god,
creating at one stroke a private universe where his acts escaped moral control. He sublimated
himself. He made himself general, priest, sacrificer, officiant. He had commanded, avenged,
sacrificed, offered. He had not killed Sonia. With a baffling instinct, he made use of this
artifice to justify his act. Men enowed with a wild imagination should have, in addition, the
great poetic faculty of denying our universe and its values so that they may act upon it with
sovereign ease. Like someone who overcomes his fear of water and the void which he is about to
enter for the first time, he breathed deeply, and, bringing himself to a point of icy determi-
nation, he became insensible and remote. Having gone through with the irremediable, he resigned
himself to it and came to terms with it. Then he tackled the remediable. As of a cloak, he di-
vested himself of his Christian soul. He sanctified his acts with a grace that owed nothing to
a God Who condemns murder. He stopped up the eyes. of his spirit. For a whole day, as if auto-
matically, his body was at the mercy of orders that did not come from here below. It was not
so much the horror of the murder that terrified him: he was afraid of the corpse. The white
corpse disconcerted him, whereas a black corpse would have disturbed him less. So, he left the
apartment, which he locked with extreme care, and went off at daybreak to a construction yard
to get twenty pounds of cement. Twenty pounds was enough. In a distant neighborhood, around
the Boulevard Sebastopol, he bought a trowel. In the street, he had regained his man's soul;
he acted like a man, giving his activity a commonplace meaning: that of making a little wall.
He bought fifty bricks and had them hauled to a street near his own, where they were left in a
hired wheelbarrow. It was already noon. Getting the bricks into the apartment was quite a job.
He made ten trips from the wheelbarrow to his home, carrying five or six each time and conceal-
ing them under a coat that he carried on his arm. And when all the materials were ready in the
room, he returned to his empyrean. He uncovered the corpse; then he was alone. He set the body
against the wall, near the fireplace. His plan was to immure it standing up, but it had already
curled; he tried to straighten the legs, but they had the hardness of wood and had assumed their
final form. The bones snapped like a bunch of firecrackers. So he left it squatting there at the
foot of the wall, and he set to work. Works of genius owe a great deal to the collaboration of
circumstances and workmen. When his job was done, Clement saw that he had given it--with marve-
lous exactness, the form of a bench. That suited him. He worked like a sleepwalker, preoccupied
and determined; he refused to see the gulf in order to escape from dizzying madness, the same
dizziness which later, a hundred pages later, Our Lady of the Flow did not resist. He knew that
if he flinched, that is, that is if he relaxed that attitude, an attitude as severe as a bar of
steel, he would have sunk. Sunk, that is, run to the police-station and melted into tears. He
understood this and kept repeating it to himself as he worked, mixing exhortations with invoca-
tions. As he told the tale, the little lead soldiers ran rapidly between is big light fingers.
I paid close attention. Clement was handsome. You know from Paris-Soir that he was killed during
the jailbreak at Cayenne. But he was handsome. He was perhaps the handsomest Negro I have ever
seen. How lovingly I shall caress, with the memory of him, the image I shall compose, thanks to
it, of Seck Gorgui. I want him too to be handsome, nervous, and vulgar. Perhaps his destiny
heightened his beauty, like those silly songs to which I listen here in the evening and which
grow poignant because they reach me across cells and cells of guilty convicts. His faraway birth,
his dancing at night, his crime, were elements which enveloped him in poetry. His forehead, as
I have said, was round and smooth; he had laughing eyes, with long curved lashes. He was gentle
and proud. In a eunuch's voice, he would hum old songs of the islands. Finally the police got him,
though I don't know how.
The little soldiers continued their work of invasion, and one day the foreman brought the soldier
that was one too many. Village whimpered to me,
"Ah've had enough, Missie Jean. Look, anotha so'dja."
From that say on, he grew more taciturn. I knew that he hated me, though without my being able
to understand why and also without our comradely relations suffering thereby. He began, however,
to manifest his hatred and irritation by all kinds of acts of petty meanness, about which I
could do nothing, for he was invulnerable.
One morning, after waking up, after waking up, he sat down on his bed, looked around the room,
and saw it full of stupid-looking figurines that were lying about everywhere, as mindless and
mocking as a race of fetuses, as Chinese torturers. The troops rose up in sickening waves to at-
tack the giant. He felt himself capsizing. He was sinking into an absurd sea, and the eddies of
his despair were sucking me into the shipwreck. I grabbed hold of a soldier. They were all over
the floor, everywhere, a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand! And though I was holding
the one I had picked up in the warm hollow of my palm, it remained icy, without breath. There
was blue everywhere in the room, blue mud in a pot, blue spots on the walls, on my nails. Blue
as the apron of the Immaculate Conception, blue as enamels, blue as a standard. The little
soldiers whipped up a swell that made the room pitch.
"Jes' look at me."
Clement was sitting on the bed and uttering sharp lit-tle cries. His long arms would rise and
drop heavily on his knees (women carry on like that). He was weeping. His lovely eyes were swol-
len with tears that ran down to his mouth. "Oh! Ohl" But I, here, all alone, remember only the
elastic muscle he dug into me without using his hand. I remember that live tool to which I would
like to raise a temple. Others were taken by it. And Divine by Seck Gorgui, and others by Diop,
by N'golo, by Small, by Diagne.
With Gorgui, Divine was very quickly all at sea. He played with her like a cat with a mouse. He
As she lies with her cheek on his black chest (her wig is on firmly), Divine thinks about that
tongue of his which is so strong while hers is so soft. Everything about Divine is soft. Soft-
ness or firmness is only a matter of tissues in which the blood is more or less abundant, and
Divine is not anemic. Divine is is she-who-is-soft. That is, whose character is soft, whose
cheeks are soft, whose tongue is soft, whose tool is supple. With Gorgui, all is hard. Divine
is amazed that there can be any relationship among these various soft things. Since hardness
is equivalent to virility...If Gorgui had only one hard thing...and since it is a matter of tissue.
The explanation eludes Divine who has stopped thinking anything except: "I'm the Quite-Soft."
So Gorgui lived in the garret, flying over the rows of graves, the columns of tombs. He brought
his linen, guitar, and saxophone. He would spend hours playing homely melodies from memory. At
the window, the cypresses were attentive. Divine felt no special tenderness toward him. She
prepared his tea without love, but as her savings were running out, she went back to work. ing
the streets, and that kept her from being bored. She would sing. To her lips came unformed mel-
odies in which tenderness blended with pompousness, as in primitive songs which are the only
kind that can stir emotion, as do certain orisons and psalms, as do sober and solemn attitudes
dictated by a code of primitive liturgy from which pure and blaspheming laughter is banished,
although they are still all soiled with the desires of the divinities: Blood, Fear, Love. Dar-
ling used to drink inexpensive pernods, but Gorgui drinks cocktails composed of costly liqu-
ors; on the other hand, he eats little. One morning, it might have been eight o'clock, Our Lady
knocked at the door of the garret. Divine was curled up in the shadow (as fragrant perhaps as
a savanna) of the Negro who was sleeping candidly on his back. The knocking awoke her. We know
that for some tirne she had been wearing pajamas night. Gorgui continue napping. She crawled
over his hot naked belly, hitting against his moist but firm thighs as she climbed over him
"Who is it?"
"Oh, shit! Don't you recognize me? Let me in, Divine."
She opened the door. The odor, even more than the sight of the Negro, informed Our Lady.
"What a stink! You got a tenant. Not bad. Say, I've got to get some sleep. I'm pooped. Got
room for me?"
Gorgui had awakened. He was embarrassed at finding himself with a hard-on, the kind one has
in the morning. He was naturally modest, but the whites had taught him immodesty, and in his
zeal to be like them, he outdid them. Fearing lest his gesture seem ridiculous, he did not
draw back the covers. He simply offered his hand to Our Lady, whom he did not know. Divine
"Would you like a cup of tea?"
Our Lady was sitting on the bed. He was getting used to the odor. While Divine prepared the
tea, he unlaced his shoes. The laces were knotted. One might think that he put his shoes on
and took them off without any light. He took off his jacket and tossed it on the rug. The
water was about to boil. He tried to take off his shoes and socks with the same movement,
for his feet were sweating and he was afraid they might smell in the room. He didn't quite
manage it, but his feet didn't smell. He refrained from glancing at the Negro, and he thought.
" Am I going to have to snooze next to Snowball? I hope he's going to beat it." Divine was not
very sure about Gorgui. She did not know whether or not he was one of the many stool pigeons
of the vice squad. She did not question Our Lady. All in all, Our Lady was his usual self. Neither
his eyes nor the corners of his mouth were tired; only his hair was a little mussed. A few
strands over his eyes. All the same, a bit of a hangover look. He was waiting on the edge of
the bed with elbows on his knees and was scratching his head.
"Your water cooking?"
"Yes, it's boiling."
On the little electric stove the water was boiling away. Divine poured it over the tea. She
prepared three cups. Gorgui had sat up. He was being gradually impregnated with objects and
beings, and first of all with himself. He felt himself being. He emitted a few timid ideas:
heat, an unfamiliar fellow, I got a hard-on, tea, spots on his nails (the face of the Ameri-
can girl who did not want to shake hands with one of his friends), ten after eight. He did not
remember Divine's having spoken to him about this unfamiliar fellow. Whenever she introduces
him, Divine says: "A friend," for the murderer has strongly advised her never to call him Our
Lady of the Flowers in front of a stranger. As things turn out, this has no importance. Gorgui
looks at him again. He sees his slightly turned profile and the back of his head. it's the
very same head that's pinned to the wall with a safety pin. But he looks better in the flesh,
and Our Lady, turning slightly toward him, says:
"Say, pal, going to make room for me? I didn't sleep a wink all night."
"Oh! go right ahead, my boy. I'm getting up."
We know that Our Lady never excused himself. It seemed, not that everything was due him, but
that everything was bound to happen (and happened in due course), nothing was addressed to him,
no special attention, no mark of esteem, that, in short, everything occurred according to an
order with only one possibility.
"Say, Divine, will you hand me my shirt?" said the negro.
"Wait, you're going to have tea."
Divine handed one cup to him and one to Our Lady. So once again begins the three-cornered life
in the garret which looks out over the dead, the cut flowers, the drunken gravediggers, the sly
ghosts torn by the sun. Ghosts are composed of neither smoke nor opaque or translucent fluid;
they are as clear as air. We pass through them during the day, particularly during the day.
Sometimes they are outlined in pen strokes on our features, on one of our legs, crossing their
thighs on ours, in one of our gestures. Divine spent several days with the airy Marchetti who
ran off with Our Lady, and led him astray--and almost murdered him--and whose ghost Our Lady
did not always pass through without carrying off in his movement sparkling shreds, invisible
to Darling and his great friend (perhaps he wanted to say "my good pal” and one day he said
"my pretty pal"). He takes a cigarette. But it is Marchetti who, with a roguish flick, shoots
it from the pack. Shreds of the Marchetti ghost cling all over Our Lady. They disguise him
beyond recognition. These ghostly tatters do not become him. He really looks disguised, but
only like poor little peasant lads at Carnival time, with petticoats, shawls, wrist-lets, button
boots with Louis XV heels, sunbonnets, fichus16 stolen from the closets of grandmothers and
sisters. Little by little, petal by petal, Our Lady of the Flowers plucks off his adventure. True
or false? Both. With Marchetti, he robbed a safe that was hidden in an antique cabinet. As he
cut the electric wire connecting it with a bell in the watchman's quarters, Marchetti (a thirty-
year-old, handsome blond Corsican, a Grew-Roman Wrestling champion) put a finger to his lips
"Now it's quiet."
Squatting, probably on a rug, they sought the number and found it after having entangled them-
selves to the point of despair in combinations which jumbled up their age, their hair, the
smooth faces of their love, with multiples and sub-multiples. Finally, this diabolic tangle was
organized into a rosette and the door of the cabinet opened. They pocketed three hundred thou-
sand francs, and a treasure in fake jewels. In the car, on the way to Marseilles (for even if
one isn't thinking of leaving, after that kind of job, one always goes to a port. Ports are at
the end of the world), Marchetti, for no other reason than nervousness, struck Our Lady on
the temple. His gold signet ring drew blood. Finally (Our Lady learned of it later, through Mar-
chetti's confessing it to a pal), Marchetti thought of bumping him off. In Marseilles, after
dividing the swag, Our Lady entrusted him with all of it, and Marchetti beat it, abandoning
"He's a son of a bitch, Divine, ain't he?"
"You were crazy about him," said Divine.
"Aw, go on, you're nuts."
But Marchetti was handsome. (Our Lady talks about the sweater that shows his figure, like vel-
vet. He feels that it envelops the charm that subjugates, the iron hand in the velvet glove.)
Blond Corsican with eyes...of blue' The wrestling was...Greco-Roman. The signet ring...of gold.
On Our Lady's temple, the blood flowed. In short, he owed his life to the one who, having just
murdered him, resurrected him. Marchetti, by his grace, restored him to the world. Then, in the
garret, Our Lady became sad and joyous. One might think he was singing a song of death to the
air of a minuet. Divine listens. He is saying that, if caught, Marchetti will be transported.
He will be shipped off. Our Lady does not exactly know what transportation is, for all he has
ever heard of it is what a youngster once said to him, in speaking of the courts, "Transporta-
tion's a rough deal," but he suspects that it will be frightful. For Divine, who is familiar
with prisons and their pensive hosts, Marchetti is going to prepare himself in accordance with
the rites, as she explains to Our Lady, perhaps as was done by a man condemned to death who in
one night, from twilight to dawn, sang all the songs he knew. Marchetti will sing songs with the
voice of Tino Rossi. He will pack up. Will pick the photos of his prettiest girl−friends Also his
mother's. Will kiss his mother in the visitor's room. Will leave. Afterwards, it will be the sea, that
is, the devil's isle, Negroes, rum distilleries, coconuts, colonials wearing Panamas. The Beauty!
Marchetti will play the Beauty! He will be the Beauty! I am touched at the thought of it and could
weep with tenderness over his handsome muscles, submissive to the muscles of other brutes. The
pimp, the lady killer, the hangman of hearts, will be queen of the labor gang. Of what use will his
Greek muscles be? And he will be called "Flash" until a younger hoodlum arrives. But no. And does
God take pity on him? A decree no longer allows the departure for Cayenne. The hardened offenders
remain to the end of their days in the huge state prisons. The Beauty's chance, his hope, has been
abolished. They will die nostalgic for the homeland that is their true homeland, which they have never
seen, and which is denied them. He is thirty. Marchetti will remain between four white walls to the
end of ends, and so as not to waste away with boredom, it will be his turn to elaborate these imaginary
lives, never realized and without hope of ever being realized. It will be the death of Hope. Well-to-do
captives of a dice-shaped cell. I am very glad of it. Let this arrogant and handsome pimp in turn know
the torments reserved for the Weakly. We occupy our minds with giving ourselves splendid roles through
luxurious lives; We invent so many that we remain enfeebled for a life action, and if one of them came,
by chance, to be realized, we would be unable to be happy in it, for we have exhausted the dry delights
(and many a time recalled the memory of their illusion) of the thousand possibilities of glory and wealth.
We are blase. We are forty, fifty, sixty years old; we know only petty, vegetative misery, we are blase.
Your turn Marchetti. Don't invent ways of making a fortune, don't buy knowledge of a sure way of
smuggling, don't look for a new trick (they're all used up, more than used up) to fool jewelers, to rob
whores, to bamboozle priests, to distribute phony identity cards, for if you don't have the heart
to try to escape, resign yourself to the possibility of suddenly getting the right break (without
specifying to yourself exactly what it may be): the one that gets you out of trouble forever, and
enjoy it as you can, deep in your cell. For I hate you lovingly.
Despite the abjection in which you may newcomer (pehaps fifteen years old) in shabby linen, who
winks mockingly, a pimp says, shoving her aside:
"Her, she's Divine. You, you're a slob."
Divine has been seen at the market at about eight in the morning. Shopping bag in hand, she was
discussing the price of vegetables, violets, eggs.
The afternoon of the same day, five friends at tea: "Behold, my darlings, behold Divine wedded to
God. She rises at cock's crow to go to communion, the Quite-Repentant."
The chorus of friends:
"Pitah, pitah, for Divine!"
The following day:
"My dear, they made Divine strip at the police station: was all bruised. She'd been biffed. Her
Darling's been beating her."
The chorus of friends:
"Woo, woo, woo, Divine's getting licked!"
Now, the fact is that Divine wore next her skin a clinging hair-shirt unsuspected by Darling and
Someone is talking to Divine (it's a soldier who wants to re-enlist):
"What can I do to get along? I have no money."
"You can't find work right away."
He tries to tempt Divine and persists:
He hopes she will answer, or think: "Steal." But Divine dared not reply, because, musing on what
she would have done in such a case, she saw herself holding out to the birds her crumbs of hunger,
and she thought: "Beg."
"We have seen cyclists, wrapped in the garlands of the song they whistled, going dizzily down the
celestial slope of the hills. We awaited them in the valley, where they arrived in the form of
little pats of mud."
Divine's cyclists awake in me an ancient terror.
It is absolutely essential that I come back to myself, that I confide in a more direct way. I
wanted to make this book out of the transposed, sublimated elements of my life as a convict. I am
afraid that it says nothing about the things that haunt me. Although I am striving for a lean style,
one that shows the bone, I should like toad-dress to you from my prison a book laden with flowers,
with snow-white petticoats and blue ribbons. There is no better pastime.
The world of the living is never too remote for me. I remove it as far as I can with all means at
my disposal.The world withdraws until it is only a golden point in so sombre a sky that the abyss
between our world and the other is such that the only real thing that remains is our grave. So I
am beginning here a really dead man's existence. More and more I prune that existence, I trim it
of all facts, especially the more petty ones, those which might readily remind me that the real
world is spread out twenty yards away, right at the foot of the walls. Among my concerns, I rule
out those most apt to remind me that they were necessitated by established social practice: for
example, tying my shoelaces with a double bow would remind me too sharply that, in the world,
I used to do that to keep them from coming undone during the miles of walking I did. I don't button
my fly. To do so would oblige me to check on myself again in the mirror or when I leave the can. I
sing what I would never have sung out there, for example, that frightful: "We're the ones who are
mopey and lousy and tough...," which, ever since I sang it at La Roquette when I was fifteen, comes
to mind every time I go back to prison. I read things I would never read elsewhere (and I believe
in them): the novels of Paul Feval. I believe in the world of prisons, in its reprehended practices.
I accept living there as I would accept, were I dead, living in a cemetery, provided that I lived
there as if I were really dead. But the diversion must be based not on the difference between the
occupations, but on their essence. I must do nothing clean or hygienic: cleanliness and hygiene
are of the earthly world. I must feed on the gossip of the law courts. Must feed on dreams. Must
not be dandyish and bedeck myself with new adornments, other than a tie and gloves, but must give
up being smart and trim. Must not want to be good-looking: must want something else. Must use
another kind of speech. And must think that I've been imprisoned once and for all, and for eternity.
That's what is meant by "building a life": giving up Sundays, holidays, concern about the weather.
I was not surprised when I discovered the practices of prisoners, the practices that make of
them men on the margin of the living: cutting up matches lengthwise, making cigarette-lighters,
smoking ten to a butt, walking round and round the cell, and so on. I think that hitherto I bore
that life within me secretly and that all I needed was to be put into contact with it for it to be
revealed to me, from without, in its reality.
But now I am afraid. The signs pursue me and I pursue them patiently. They are bent on destroying
me. Didn't I see, on my way to court, seven sailors on the terrace of a cafe, questioning the stars
through seven mugs of light beer as they sat around a table that perhaps turned; then, a messenger
boy on a bicycle who was carrying a message from god to god, holding between his teeth, by the metal
handle, a round, lighted lantern, the flame of which, as it reddened his face, also heated it? So
pure a marvel that he was unaware of being a marvel. Circles and globes haunt me: oranges, Japanese
billiard balls, Venetian lanterns, jugglers' hoops, the round ball of the goalkeeper who wears a
jersey. I shall have to establish, to regulate, a whole internal astronomy.
Fear? And what worse can happen to me than what will happen? Apart from physical suffering, I fear
nothing. Morality clings to me only by a thread. Yet, I am afraid. Did I not suddenly realize, on the
eve of the trial, that I had been awaiting that moment for eight months, during which time I never
gave it a thought? Few are the moments when I escape from horror, few the moments when I do
not have a vision, or some horrifying perception of human beings and events. Even, and especially,
of those commonly judged to be he most beautiful. Yesterday, in one of those narrow cells in the
"Mousetrap" where you wait until its time to go up to the chambers of the examining magistrate,
there were twelve of us, standing, crowded together. I was at the back, by the latrines, near a
young Italian who was laughing and relating some trivial experiences. But owing to his voice and
his accent and his French, these adventures vibrated with pathos. I took him for an animal that
had been metamorphosed into a man. I felt that, in the presence of this privilege which I thought
he possessed, he could, at any given moment, turn me, by his simple wish, even unexpressed, into
a jackal, a fox, a guinea hen. Perhaps I was hypnotizing myself in the presence of this privilege
which I thought he possessed. At one point, he exchanged a few naive and mortal remarks with a
child-pimp. He said, among other things: "I skinned the gal," and in the narrow cell he was sud-
denly so dose to me that I thought he wanted, to love me, and so fierce that I thought he meant:
"I skinned the woman" in the sense that one says of a rabbit: "I skinned it," that is, carved it
up. He also said: "The warden says to me straight off: 'You're a funny egg,' and I answer back:
'Let me tell you eggs like me are worth just as much as eggs like you.' I think of the word
"egg" in the mouths of babies: It's horrible. The marvelous horror was such that when I remember
those moments (it had to do with crap grames), it seems to me that the two kids were suspended in
air, without support, their feet off the floor, and that they were shooting remarks at each other
in silence. I am so certain of remembering that they were in the air that in spite of myself my
intelligence tries to figure out whether they didn't have some gadget that enabled them to lift
themselves up, a hidden mechanism, an invisible spring, under the floor, some kind of plausible
device. But as nothing of the sort was possible, my memory strays into the sacred horror of the
dream. Frightful moments--which I seek out--when you cannot contemplate either your body or
heart without disgust. I encounter everywhere a trivial incident, seemingly innocuous, which plun-
ges me into the foulest horror: as if I were a corpse being pursued by the corpse that I am. It's the
odor of the latrines. It's the hand of the man condemned to death, the hand with its wedding ring,
which I see when he puts outside the grating of his cell to take the soup from the assistant:
since he himself remains invisible tin me, the hand is like the hand of the god of a trick temple,
and that cell, in which the light is kept on day and night, is the Space-Time amalgam of the ante-
room of death—a vigil of arms which will last for forty-five times twenty-four hours. It's Darling
with his trousers down, sitting on the white enamel toilet seat. His face is contracted. When the
hot lumps, suspended for a moment, drop from him, a whiff apprises me that this blond hero was
stuffed with shit. And the dream swallows me with one gulp. It's the fleas biting me, and I know
they're malicious and that they're biting me with an intelligence that at first is human, and then
more than human.
Do you know some poison-poem that would burst my cell into a spray of forget-me-nots? A weapon
that would kill the perfect young man who inhabits me and makes me give asylum to a whole agglo-
meration of animals?
Swallows nest beneath his arms. They have masoned a nest there of dry earth. Snuff-colored vel-
vet caterpillars mingle with the curls of his hair. Beneath his feet, a hive of bees, and broods of asps
behind his eyes. Nothing first whim. him. Nothing disturbs him, save little girls taking mmunion who
stick out their tongues at the priest as they clasp their hands and lower their eyes. He is cold
as snow. I know he's sly. Gold makes him smile faintly, but if he does smile, he has the grace of
angels. What gypsy would be quick enough to rid me of with an inevitable dagger? It takes promptness,
a good eye, and a fine indifference. And . . . the murderer would take his place. He got back this
morning from a round of the dives. He had sailors and whores, and one of the girls has left the
trace of a bloody hand on his cheek. He may go far away, but he is as faithful as a pigeon. The
other night, an old actress left her camellia in his button-hole. I wanted to crumple it; the petals
fell on the rug (but what rug? my cell is paved with flat stones) in big, warm transparent drops of
water. I hardly dare look at him now, for my eyes go through his crystal flesh, and all those hard
angles make so many rainbows there that that is why I cry. The end.
It may not seem like much to you, yet this poem has relieved me. I have shat it out.
"By dint of saying that I'm not alive, I accept the fact that people stop thinking about me."
Though Darling's personal relations had dwindled as a result of his betrayals, Divine's had increas-
ed. In her date book, famous for, its oddness, where every other page was strewn with a jumble of
penciled spirals, which intrigued Darling until Divine once confessed that these were the pages of
cocaine days, where she noted her the counts, fees, and appointments, we already read the names of
the three Mimosas (a Mimosa dynasty had been reigning over Montmartre since the triumphs of Mimosa
the Great, the fluffy-wuffy of high thievery), of Queen Oriane, First Communion, Duckbill, Sonia, Cla-
irette, Fatty, the Baroness, Queen of Rumania (why was she called Queen of Rumania? We were once
told that she had loved a king, that she was secretly in love with the King of Rumania, because his
moustache and black hair gave him a gypsy look. That in being sodomized by one male who represented
ten million, she felt the spunk of ten million men flowing into her, while one tool lifted her like
a mast to the midst of the suns), of Sulphurous, Monique, Sweet Leo. At night they haunted narrow
bars which had not the fresh gaiety and candor of even the shadiest dance-halls. They loved each
other there, but in fear, in the kind of horror we experience in the most charming dream. There is
a sad gaiety in our love, and though we have more wit than Sunday lovers by the water's edge, our
wit attracts misfortune. Here laughter springs only from trouble. It is a cry of pain. At one of
these bars: as she does every evening, Divine has placed on her head a little coronet of false
pearls. She resembles the crowned eagle of the heraldists, with the sinews of her neck visible
beneath the feathers of her boa. Darling is facing her. Sitting about at other tables are the Mi-
mosas, Antinea, First Communion. They are talking about dear absent friends. Judith enters and,
in front of Divine, bows to the ground:
"Good evening, Madame!"
"What an ass!" exclaims Divine.
"Die Puppe hat gesprochen," says a young German.
Divine bursts out laughing. The crown of pearls falls to the floor and breaks. Condolences, to
which malicious joy gives rich tonalities: "The Divine is uncrowned! . . . She's the great Fallen
One! . . . The poor Exile!" The little pearls roll about the sawdust-covered floor, and they are
like the glass pearls that peddlers sell to children for a penny or two, and these are like the
glass pearls that we thread every day on miles of brass wire, with which in other cells, they
weave funeral wreaths like those that bestrewed the cemetery of my childhood, rusted, broken,
weathered by wind and rain, with just a tiny little pink blue-winged porcelain angel, attached
to a thin blackened wire. In the cabaret, all the faggots are suddenly on their knees. Only the
men stand upright. Then, Divine lets out a burst of strident laughter. Everyone pricks up his
ears: it's her signal. She tears her bridge out of her open mouth, puts it on her skull and,
with her heart in her throat, but victorious, she cries out in a changed voice and with her
lips drawn back into her mouth:
"Dammit all, Ladies, I'll be queen anyhow!"
When I said that Divine was composed of a pure water, I ought to have made clear that she
was hewn of tears. But making her gesture was a slight thing compared to the grandeur of soul
required for the other: taking the bridge from her head, putting it back into her mouth, and
fastening it on. And it was no slight matter for her to parody a royal coronation. When she was
living with Ernestine in the slate house:
Nobility is glamorous. The most equalitarian of men, though he may not care to admit it, exper-
iences this glamor and submits to it. There are two possible attitudes toward it: humility or
arrogance, both of which are explicit recognition of its power. Titles are sacred. The sacred
surrounds and enslaves us. It is the submission of flesh to flesh. The Church is sacred. Its
slow rites weighed down with gold like Spanish galleons, ancient in meaning, remote from spir-
ituality, give it an empire as earthly as that of beauty and that of nobility. Culafroy of the light
body, unable to escape this potency, abandoned himself to it voluptuously, as he would have
done to Art, had he known it. The nobility has names as heavy and strange as the names of
snakes (already as difficult as the names of old, lost divinities), strange as signs and escutch-
eons or venerated animals, totems of old families, war−cries, titles, furs, enamels-escutcheons
that closed the family with a secret, as a signet seals a parchment, an epitaph, a tomb. It
It charmed the child. Its procession in time, indistinct and yet certain, and present, a process-
ion of rough warriors, of whom he was, so he thought, the final issue, therefore they them-
selves--a procession whose sole reason for being had been to arrive at the following result:
a pale child, prisoner of a village of thatched cottages--moved him more than an actual and
visible procession of weather−beaten soldiers, of whom he might have been chief. But he was
not noble. Nobody in the village was noble, at any rate nobody bore the traces of nobility. But
one day, among the rubbish in the attic, he found an old history book by Capefigue. In it were
recorded a thousand names of barons and knights-at-arras, but he saw only one: Picquigny. Ern-
estine's maiden name was Picquigny. No doubt about it, she was noble. We quote the passage
from Monsieur Capefigue's Constitutional and Administrative History of France (page 447):
a preliminary and secret meeting of the Estates, which was organized by Marcel and the
municipal magistrates of Paris. It was carried out as follows. Jean de Picquigny and sev-
eral other men-at-arms went to the castle where the King of Navarre was held captive. Jean
de Picquigny was governor of Artois. The men-at-arms, who were burghers of Amiens, set up
ladders un-der the walls and took the guards by surprise, but they did not harm them ..."
In order to get precise information about this family, he read all through Capefigue's history.
Had they been available, he would have ransacked libraries, worked his way through books of
gramarye, and that is how scholarly vocations are born, but all he discovered was that islet
emerging from a sea of glamorous names. But then why didn't Ernestine have a nobiliary particle
in her name? Where was her coat of arms? Indeed, what was her coat of arms? Did Ernestine know
of this passage in the book and of her own nobility? Had he been less young and dreamy, Culafroy
would have noticed that the corner of Page 447 had been worn away by the sweat of fingers. Ernes-
tine's father had known the book. The same miracle had opened it at the same place and had shown
him the name. It pleased Culafroy that the nobility belonged to Ernestine rather than to himself,
and in this trait we may already see a sign of his destiny. To be able to approach her, to enjoy
her intimacy, her special favors, was agreeable to him, just as many persons are more pleased to
be the favorite of a prince than the prince himself, or a priest of a god than the god, for this way
they can receive Grace. Culafroy could not keep from telling about his discovery, and, not knowing
how to raise question with Ernestine, he blurted out to her:
"You're noble. I saw your name in an old history of France."
He was smiling ironically, so as to give the impression of scorning the aristocracy, the vanity of
which our schoolmaster spoke of sumptuously whenever reference was made in class to the night of
August 4th. Culafroy thought that scorn indicates indifference. Children, and particularly her own
child, intimidated Ernestine almost as much as a servant intimidates me. She blushed and thought
she she had been found out, or thought had been found out and blushed, I don't know which. She too
wanted to be noble. She had put the same question to her father, who had blushed in the same way.
This History must have been in the family for a long time, playing as best it could the role of
title of nobility, and perhaps it was Ernestine who, exhausted by a lavish imagination that made of
her an impoverished countess, a marquise, or even several, all of them laden with blazons and
crowns, had relegated it to the attic, out of her sight, in order to escape its magic; but she did
not realize that in placing it above her head she would never be able to free herself from it, the
only effective means being to bury it in loamy earth, or to drown it, or burn it. She did not reply,
but, could Culafroy have read within her, he would have seen the ravages wrought there merely by
that unrecognized nobility, of which she was uncertain and which, in her eyes, put her above the
villagers and the tourists from the cities. She described the blazon. For she was now familiar with
heraldry. She had gone all the way to Paris to ferret in d'Hozier's Genealogy. She had learned his-
tory from it. As we have said, scholars hardly act otherwise or from other motives. The philologist
does not admit (besides, he doesn't realize it) that his taste for etymology comes from the poetry
(so he thinks, or might think, for it is a carnal potency that incites him) contained in the word
esclave (slave), in which are found, if he likes, the word cle (key), and the word genou (knee). It
is because a young man one day learns that the female scorpion devours her male that he becomes
an entomologist, and another becomes a historian when he happens to read that Frederick the
Second of Germany made children be brought up in solitude. Ernestine tried to avoid the shame
of this confession (her lust for nobility) by the quick confession of a less infamous sin. This is
an old trick, the trick of partial confessions. Spontaneously I confess a little, the better to keep
more serious things hidden. The examining magistrate told my lawyer that if I was putting on
an act, I was giving a great performance; but I didn't put it on throughout the investigation. I
multiplied errors of defense, and it was lucky I did. The court clerk looked as though he thought
I was simulating ingenuousness, which is the mother of blunders. The judge seemed rather in-
clined to accept my sincerity. They were both wrong. It is true that I drew attention to compro-
mising details that they had been unaware of. (A number of times I had said, "It was at night,"
a circumstance that aggravated my case, as the judge told me, though he also thought that a crafty
delinquent would not have confessed this; I therefore must have been a novice. It was in the judge's
chambers that it occurred to me to say that "it was at night," for there were things about that
night that I had to keep hidden. I had already thought of parrying the accusation with a new of-
fense, namely night-time, but since I had left no trace, I attached no importance to it. Then the
importance shot up and grew--I don't know why--and I said mechanically, "At night," mechanically,
but insistently. But during a second interrogation I suddenly realized that I was not confusing
facts and dates sufficiently. I was calculating seeing with a rigor that disconcerted the all too
clever. I had only my own case to think about but he had twenty. So he questioned me, not about
things he ought to have examined and would have, had he been shrewder or had more time, and about
which I had planned my answers, but about rather obvious details to which I hadn't given a thought
because it hadn't occurred to me that a judge might think of them.) Ernestine did not have time
enough to invent a crime; she described the coat of arms: "It's argent and azure of ten pieces,
over all a lion gules membered and langued. On the crest, Melusina." It was the armts of the Lus-
ignans. Culafroy listened to this splendid poem. Ernestine had at her finger tips the history of
this family, which numbered kings of Jerusalem and princes of Cyprus. Their castle in Brittany
was supposed to have been built by Melusina, but Ernestine did not dwell on this; it was in the
legend, and her mind, in order to build the unreal, wanted solid materials. Legend is twaddle. She
did not believe in fairies, who are creatures fabricated for the purpose of diverting dreamers of bold
allegories from their straight path, but she had her great thrills when she came across a historic
phrase: "The overseas branch... The singing arms..."
She knew she was lying. In trying to make herself illustrious through an ancient lineage, she was
succumbing to the call of darkness, of the earth, of the flesh. She was seeking roots. She wanted
to feel, trailing at her feet, the dynastic force, which was brutal, muscular, fecundating. In ef-
fect, the heraldic figures illustrated it.
The sitting posture of Michelangelo's Moses is said to have been necessitated by the compact form
of the block of marble he had to work with, Divine is always being presented with odd-shaped mar-
bles that make her achieve masterpieces. Culafroy, in the public park, the time he ran away, had
had the same good luck. He had been strolling through the lanes; when he reached the end of one of
them he saw that he would have to turn about so as not to walk on the lawn. As he watched himself
moving, he thought, "He spun about," and the word "spun," immediately caught on the wing, made him
about-face smartly. He was about to begin a dance with restrained, barely indicated gesticulations,
everything to be merely suggested, but the sole of his yawning shoe dragged over the sand and made
such a shamefully vulgar sound (for this also should be noted: that Culafroy or Divine, they of the
delicate, that is, finical, in short, civil tastes--for in imagination our heroes are attracted,
as girls are, by monsters--have always found themselves in situations that repel them). He heard
the sound of the sole. This reminder made him lower his head. He assumed with utter naturalness a
meditative posture and sauntered back slowly. The strollers in the park watched him go by. Culafroy
saw that they noticed his paleness, his thinness, his lowered eyelids, which were as round and hea-
vy as marbles. He bowed his head more deeply, his pace grew even slower, so much so that all of him
was the very image of vocative fervor and that he--not thought--but whispered aloud a cry:
"Lord, I am among Thy elect."
For a few steps, God carried him off toward His throne.
Divine--let us get back to her--was leaning against a tree on the boulevard. All the youngsters
knew her. Three of these hooligans approached her. First, they came up laughing about something
or other, perhaps about Divine; then they said hello and asked how the grind was going. Divine was
holding a pencil, and the pencil played mechanically over her nails and drew an irregular piece of
lace and then, more consciously, a diamond shape, a rosette, a holly leaf. The little tramps started
teasing her. They said that pricks must hurt, that old men...that women had more charm...that they
themselves were pimps...and other things, which they no doubt say without meaning any harm but
which hurt Divine. She feels more and more uncomfortable . They're just young little hoodlums,
whereas she's thirty. She could shut them up with the back of her hand. But they are males. Still
very young, but tough-looking and with tough muscles. And all three of them there, dreadfully
inflexible, like the Fates. Divine's cheeks are burning. She pretends to be seriously occupied with
the drawings on her nails and occupied with that only. "Here's what I might say," she thought, "
to make them think I'm not upset." And holding out her hands to the children. with the nails up,
she smiles and says:
"I'm going to start a fashion. Yes, yes, a new fashion. You see, it's pretty. The we-women and
the they-women will have lace drawn on their nails. We'll send for artists from Persia. They'll
paint miniatures that you'll have to look at with a magnifying glass! Oh God!"
The three hoodlums felt foolish, and one of them, speaking for the others as well, said:
"Jesus, she's the limit."
The fashion miniatures of decorating fingernails with Persia miniatures dates from this episode.
Divine thought that Darling was at the movies and that Our Lady, who was a prospector of display
cases, was in a department store. Wearing American-style shoes, a very soft hat and a gold curb-
bracelet on his wrist, Darling, towards evening, went down the stairs. As soon as he was outside,
his face lost its steel-blue glints, its statue-like hardness. His eyes grew softer and softer,
until there was no gaze left, until they were merely two holes through which the sky passed. But
he still walked with a sway. He went to the Tuileries and sat down in an iron chair.
Coming from God knows where, whistling in the wind, with a lock of hair standing straight up, Our
Lady arrived and installed himself in a second chair. It began:
"Where are you up to?"
"I won the battle, naturally. So I'm at a big party. You understand, the officers are giving a
big party in my honor, and I deserve it. So I'm handing out decorations. What about you?"
"All right . . . I'm still only the King of Hungary, but you're fixing it to get me elected Em-
peror of the West. Get it? It'll be great, And Yours Truly stays with you."
"Sure thing, mug."
Darling put his arm around Our Lady's neck. He was going to kiss him. Suddenly eight savage young
men leaped forth from Our Lady; they seemed to be detaching themselves from him in flat layers as
if they had formed his thickness, his very structure, and they jumped on Darling as if to cut his
throat. It was a signal. He disengaged Our Lady's neck, and the garden was so calm that it let
bygones be bygones and forgave. The conversion continued on its royal and imperial way. Our Lady
and Darling were winding their two imaginations into one another; they were entwining like two vio-
lins unreelling their melodies, as Divine wound her lies into those of her clients, to the point
of creating a jumble denser than a thicket of creepers in the Brazilian forest, where neither of
them was sure that he was pursuing his own theme rather than that of the other. These games were
carried on consciously, not for the purpose of deceiving, but of enchanting. Begun in the shadow
on the middle lane of the boulevard or as they sat with cups of coffee that had grown lukewarm,
they were continued up to the desk of the shady hotel. There one utters one's name discreetly
and shows one's papers, discreetly; but the clients always drowned in that pure and perfidious water
which was Divine. Without trying to, she would undo the lie with a word or a shrug, with a blink of
her eye; she would thereby cause a delightful agitation, something like the emotion I feel when I
read a thrilling phrase or see a painting or hear a musical motif, in short, when I detect a poetic
state. It is the elegant and sudden, the luminous and clear solution of a conflict in my depths. I
have proof of it in the peace that follows my discovery. But this conflict is like the kind of knot
that sailors call the whore's knot.
How are we to explain that Divine is now thirty and more? For she really must be my age so that I
can appease my need to talk about myself, simply. I feel such a need to complain and to try to win
a reader's love! There was a period, from the age of twenty to twenty-seven, when Divine, though
appearing among us at irregular intervals, pursued the complicated, sinuous, looped existence of
a kept woman. She cruised the Mediterranean, then went even farther, to the Sunda Isles in a white
yacht. She was always forging ahead of herself and her lover, a young American, modestly proud of
his gold.. When she returned, the yacht touched at Venice, where a film director took a fancy to
her. They lived for a few months through the huge rooms, fit for giant guards and horsemen astride
their mounts, of a dilapidated palace.
Then it was Vienna, in a gilded hotel, nestling beneath the wings of a black eagle. Sleeping there
in the arms of an English lord, deep in a canopied and curtained bed. Then there were rides in a
heavy limousine. Back to Paris, Montmartre and the sisters of the neighborhood. And off again to an
elegant Renaissance castle, in the company of Guy de Roburant. She was thus a noble chatelaine. She
thought of her mother and of Darling. Darling received money orders from her, sometimes jewels,
which he would wear for one evening and quickly resell so that he could treat his pals to dinner.
Then back to Paris, and off again, and all in a warm, gilded luxury, all in such comfort that I need
merely evoke it from time to time in its snug details for the vexations of my poor life as prisoner to
disappear, for me to console myself, console myself with the idea that such luxury exists. And, though
it is denied me, I evoke it with such desperate fervor that at times (more than once) I have really be-
lieved that a trifle would be enough--a slight, imperceptible displacement on the plane on which I live–
for this luxury to surround me, to be real, and really mine; that a slight effort of thought would be
enough for mse to discover the magic formulas opening the flood gates.
And I invent for Divine the cosiest apartments where I myself wallow.
When she returns, she mingles more in the faggots' life. She is to be found in all the tiny bars.
She preens herself, ruffles her feathers, and, in the midst of all our gestures, thinks she is toss-
ing, strewing them about her, petals of roses, rhododendra, and peonies, as, in the village, little
girls strew them along the paths of the Corpus Christi. Her great friendly enemy is Mimosa the Sec-
ond. In order to understand her, here are some "Mimosariana."
"I like my lovers to be bow-legged, like jockies, so they can grab me around the thigh
better when they ride me."
At the Tabernacle, the queens:
One, Marquis de?...:
"Mimosa the Second has had the coat-of-arms of the Count de A...painted on her buttocks. Thirty-
six quarters nobility on her ass, with colored inks."
Divine has introduced Our Lady to her. Some days later, showed her, decent girl that she was, a lit-
tle "photomatic" photo of the murderer.
Mimosa takes the photo, puts it on her outstretched tongue, and swallows it.
"I simply adore that Our Lady of yours. I'm communioning her."
About Divine, to First Communion.
"Just imagine, Divine's carrying on like a great actress. She knows how to play her cards. If the
facade collapses, she shows her profile. If that goes, then she turns her back. Like Mary Garden,
she makes her bit of noise in the wings."
All the queens of the Tabernacle and the neighboring bars, about Mimosa:
"She's a plague."
"The Evil One."
"A tart, my dears, a tart."
Divine lightly accepts this moth's life. She gets tipsy on alcohol and neon light, but especially
on the headiness of their Quite-Quite gestures and their dazzling remarks. "This life in a whirl
is driving me mad," and she said "in a whirl" as one says hair "in bangs", a beauty-patch "a la
Pompadour, tea "Russian style." But, Darling's absences from the garret were growing more and more
frequent. He would remain away for nights on end. A whole street of women, the Rue de la Charbon-
niere, had recaptured him, then, afterwards, one woman alone. His bulky prick was working wonders,
and his lacy-fingered hands were emptying the bawd's bag. He had stopped robbing show cases; he
was being kept. Then it was Our Lady's turn to disappear, but him we shall soon find again.
What would the destiny of the splendid Marchettis matter to Divine and me if it did not call to
mind what I suffered upon returning from my adventures, in which I magnified myself, and if it
did not remind Divine of her impotence? To begin with, the tale of Our Lady of the Flowers lulls
present time, for the very words the murderer uses are the magic words that equally handsome
hoodlums spat out like so many stars, like those extraordinary hoodlums who pronounce the word
"dollar" with the right accent. But what is to be said of one of the strangest of poetic pheno-
mena: that the whole world--and the most terribly dismal part of it, the blackest, most charred,
dry to the point of Jansenism,18 the severe, naked world of factory workers--is entwined with mar-
vels, the popular songs lost in the wind, by profoundly rich voices, gilded and set with diamonds,
spangled or silky; and these songs have phrases which I cannot think of without shame if I know
they are sung by the grave mouths of workers which utter such words as: succumb... tenderness...
ravishing... garden of roses...cottage...marble steps...sweethearts...dear...love...jewels...crown of my
queen... dear stranger... gilded room... lovely lady...flowered basket...treasure of flesh...golden wan-
ing...my heart adores you...laden with flowers...color of the evening...exquisite and pink... in short,
those fiercely luxurious words, words which must slash their flesh like a ruby−crested dagger.
They sing them, perhaps without giving them too much thought. They whistle them too, with their
hands in their pockets. And poor, shameful me, I shudder at the thought that the toughest of
crowned at all times of the day with one or another of these garlands of flowers: mignonette,19
and roses which have bloomed among the rich, gilded, jewelled voices, maidens all, simple or
sumptuous, shepherdesses or princesses. See how beautiful they are! All of them, their bodies
busked20 by machines, like a locomotive being inaugurated, are adorned, as the solid body of the
hundred thousand hoodlums one meets is also adorned with moving expressions, for a popular
literature, light because unwritten, light and flitting from mouth to mouth, in the wind, says of
them: "My little monkey-face," "little tramp," "cute little bastard," "little louse" (note that
the word "little," if applied to me or to some object dear to my heart, overwhelms me; even if
someone says to me, "Jean, your little hairs" (or "your little finger," it turns me inside out).
These expressions certainly have a melodic relationship with young men, the glamour of whose
superhuman beauty derives from the uncleanness of dreams, a beauty so potent that we pen-
etrate it in one swoop, and so spontaneously that we have the feeling of "possessing" it (in
both senses of the word: of being full of it and of transcending it in an external vision), of
possessing it so absolutely that there is no room, in this absolute possession, for the slight-
est question. In like manner, certain animals, by their gaze, make us possess at one swoop
their absolute being: snakes, dogs, in a twinkling of an eye we "know them" and to such a de-
gree that we think it is they who know, and we therefore feel a certain uneasiness mixed with
horror. These expressions sing. And the little tramps, cute bastards, little bastards, sweet mon-
key-faces, are sensitive, as is crystal to the finger, to those musical inflexions (they should
be notated here to be well rendered), which, I think so when I see them coming in the song
of the streets, are going to pass unperceived by them. But on seeing their bodies undulate or
contract, I recognize that they have quite caught the inflexion and that their entire being
shows their relationship.
It was this dreadful part of Lou-Divine's childhood that was destined to soothe her bitterness.
For we see her in prison the time she ran away from the slate house. There is no point in going
into the details of her arrest. A simple policeman was enough to throw her into a state of ter-
ror worthy of a man condemned to death, the kind of terror every man has been through, just as
every man has also known in his life the exaltation of a royal coronation. Children who run away
from home all give the excuse of being mistreated. One might not believe them, but they are so
clever about embellishing this excuse with circumstances that are so new, so adapted to them-
selves, to their names and even to their faces, in short, circumstances that are so individual,
that all our recollections of novels and stories in newspapers about children who have been kid-
napped, confined, defiled, sold, abandoned, raped, beaten and tortured come back in a rush, and
the most suspicious people, such as judges, priests and policemen, think, though without saying
so, "One never knows," and the fumes of sulphur that rise slowly from the charged pages of cheap
novels lull them, praise them and caress them. Culafroy invented a cruel-stepmother story. He
was therefore put into jail, not out of unkindness, of hardness of heart, but out of habit. His
cell was gloomy, narrow and inhabited. In a patch of shadow, a heap of covers wiggled and disen-
gaged a dirty, kinky, laughing little brown head.
Culafroy had never seen anything so dirty as this cell, nor anything so sordid as that head. He
did not answer. He was choking. Only evening, with the sluggishness it induces, could loosen
his tongue and open his heart.
"Did you beat it from home?"
"Oh come on, man, you can talk. You don't have to worry with me. We're among men."
He laughed and squinted his narrow eyes. He turned about in his pack of brown rags, which rat-
tled like scrap-iron. What was it all about? It was night-time. Through the closed skylight
shone the icy sky with its free and mobile stars. And the miracle, that catastrophic horror,
horrifying as an angel, blazed forth, though radiant as the solution of a mathematical problem,
frighteningly exact. The little hoodlum pulled back the covers daintily and asked,
"Will you help me off with my leg?"
He had a wooden leg which was fastened to a stump below the knee by a system of straps
and buckles. Culafroy felt the same repulsion for all infirmities as he did for reptiles. He was
assailed by the horror that kept him away from snakes, but Alberto was no longer there to
charge him, by his presence, his gaze and the laying on of his broad hands, with the faith
that moves mountains. The other kid had undone the buckles and freed the rest of the thigh.
With a sublime effort, Lou triumphed. He put his hand to the wood as if to a fire, tugged and
found himself with the apparatus suddenly clasped to his chest. It was now a live limb, an in-
dividual, like an arm or leg detached from the trunk by a surgical operation. The peg spent
the night standing up, a night of vigil, leaning in a corner against the wall. The little crip-
ple also asked Lou to sing, but, thinking of Alberto, Lou answered that he was in mourning,
and this reason did not surprise either of them. Culafroy had also given it so that it might
be an adornment, so that black muslins might protect him from the cold and forlornness.
"Sometimes I feel like beating it for Brazil, but with my trick paw it's not so easy."
To the cripple, Brazil was an island beyond sun and seas, where men with rugged faces and the
builds of athletes squatted in the evening around huge fires like the bonfires of Midsummer
Night, peeling in fine curling strips enormous oranges, with the fruit in one hand and a broad-
bladed knife in the other, as, in old pictures, emperors hold the scepter and the golden globe.
This vision so obsessed him that he said "...suns." It was the word-poem that fell from the
vision and began to petrify it; the night-cube of the cell, where the oranges attracted by the
word "Brazil" whirled about like suns (which mingled with the legs of an acrobat in light blue
tights executing the grand circle on the horizontal bar). Then, releasing a fragment of thought
that had been working its way through him for some time, Lou declared, "What is the People's
wish?" It was a phrase he had murmured mentally one evening when he foresaw himself in his pri-
son. But did he actually foresee himself in the mahogany of the dressing-table, or was it not
rather that an unconscious perception associated the place (his room) and the past moment with
the word and the present moment (but then what was it that brought back this memory of the
room?), superimposing the two ideas so far as to make him think he had had a prevision.
The children slept. Later they were committed to a home--or colony--for Child Correction. The
very day that Lou-Divine arrived at the reformatory, he was put into a cell. He remained there,
crouching, for an entire day. He was alive to what he suspected to be the mystery of child out-
casts (they have their arms tattooed with the words "Child of Misfortune"). In the courtyard,
little feet, dusty no doubt, were lifting heavy sabots in a very slow rhythm. He guessed that
punished youngsters, forbidden to open their mouths, were walking round and round in circles.
During a pause, he heard the following:
"...through the window of the locksmith shop..."
"All right, if I see him this evening."
"Boy, that's some job."
The voice he heard was muffled--like the lanterns of prowlers of old--was directed toward a
single point by a cupped hand framing the serious mouth of a child. It was addressed from the
yard to a friend in a cell whom Culafroy did not hear answer. They might have been whispering
about a convict who had escaped from the state prison, which was not far from the reformatory.
Thus, the reformatory lived in the shadow of all those suns blazing away in their grey cells--
the men--and the kids were waiting to be old enough to be with the big fellows whom they re-
vered, whom they imagined, swaggering in front of the guards, insolent and haughty. So the
kids were waiting to be able to commit real crimes, as an excuse for going to hell.
At the home, the other little tramps performed very skilfully their role of tell-tale imps.
Their vocabulary was shrouded with magic formulas, their gestures were faunlike, woodland,
and at the same time suggested alleys, patches of shadow, walls, scaled enclosures. Amidst
this little word, regulating it just enough so that all that could be heard from it was an
indecent snicker, there moved, borne up like ballerinas on their puffed skirts, the nuns.
Immediately, Culafroy composed for them a grotesque ballet. According to the scenario, they
all went out into the cloistered yard, and, as if they had--Grey Sisters, guardians of the
hyperborean21 nights--got drunk on champagne, they squatted, raised their arms and wagged
their heads. In silence. Then they formed a circle, turned about like schoolgirls dancing
a round and finally, like whirling dervishes, whirled round and round until they fell, dy-
ing with laughter, while the chaplain, with great dignity, walked through their midst car-
rying the monstrance. The sacrilegiousness of the dance--the sacrilege of having imagined
it--disturbed Culafroy, just as he would have been disturbed, had he been a man, by the
rape of a Jewess.
Very quickly, despite his tendency to day-dream, or perhaps because of this day-dreaming,
he became, in appearance, very much like the others. If his schoolmates had kept him out of
their games, it had been owing to the slate house, which had made of him a prince. But here
he was, in the eyes of the other kids, only a vagabond who had been picked up just as they
had been, a delinquent with no other oddity, though it was an impressive one, than his hav-
ing come from somewhat far away. His finely cruel air, his exaggeratedly obscene and vulgar
gestures, created such an image of him that the cynical and candid children recognized him
as one of their own, and he, eager to be conscientious, to be the supposed character to the
very end of the adventure, conformed to it. He did not want to disappoint. He joined in the
rough stuff. With a few others of a small band that was as tightly knit as a gang, he helped
commit a petty theft inside the home. The Mother Superior was said to be of an illustrious
family. Anyone trying to get a favor from her would invariably be told, "I am only the ser-
vant of the servant of the Lord." So vainglorious a pedestal abashes one. She asked Lou why
he had stolen. All he could answer was,
"Because the others thought I was a thief."
The Mother Superior could make nothing of this juvenile nicety. He was called a hypocrite.
Besides, Culafroy had an aversion to this nun which had come about in a strange way: the day
of his arrival, she had taken him aside in her small reception-room, which was very smartly
set up, and had spoken to him about the Christian life. Lou listened to her quietly; he was
about to answer with a sentence beginning: "The day of my first communion...," but a slip of
the tongue made him say: "The day of my marriage..." Out of embarrassment, he lost his foot-
ing. He had the acute feeling of having committed an incongruity. He blushed, stammered, made
efforts to rise to the surface; they were vain. The Mother Superior looked at him with what
she called her smile of mercy. Culafroy, frightened at having stirred up within himself a
whirlpool over a muddy bottom from which he rose up in a dress with a white satin train, and
wearing a crown of artificial orange blossoms, hated the old woman for having been the cause
and witness of that artful and loveliest of adventures. "Of my marriage!"
Here is what the nights in the home--or colony--were like. The heads disappear under the cov-
ers in the motionless hammocks of the dormitory. The custodian has reached his cubby-hole,
which is at the far end. Silence is imperative for half an hour, the silence of the jungle; full
of its pestilence, of its stone monsters, and as if attentive to the repressed sighs of tigers. In
accordance with the rite, the children are reborn from the dead. Heads cautious as those of
snakes, intelligent too, wily, venomous and poisonous, rise up; then, whole bodies emerge from
the hammocks, without the hooks creaking. The general aspect--seen from above--of the
dormitory remains unchanged. The colonists are crafty and know how to draw up and fill out
the covers so that they seem to be wrapped around sleeping bodies. Everything goes on under-
neath. The lads quickly crawl together. The suspended city is deserted. Flint strikes steel,
and with the burning wicks they light cigarettes as thin as straws. They smoke. Stretched out
under the hammocks, in little groups, they draw up rigorous plans for escape, all doomed to
fail. The colonists are living. They know they are free and masters of the darkness, and they
form a kingdom which is administered very strictly, with its despot, peers and commoners. Above
them lie the white abandoned swings. The great nocturnal occupation, admirably suited for en-
chanting the darkness, is tattooing. Thousands and thousands of little jabs with a fine needle
prick the skin and draw blood, and figures that you would regard as most extravagant are flaun-
ted in the most unexpected places. When the rabbi slowly unrolls the Torah, a mystery sends a
shudder through the whole epidermis, as when one sees a colonist undressing. The grimacing of
all that blue on a white skin imparts an obscure but potent glamour to the child who is covered
with it, as a neutral, pure column becomes sacred under the notches of the hieroglyphs. Like
a totem pole. Sometimes the eyelids are marked, the armpits, the hollow of the groin, the but-
tocks, the penis, and even the soles of the feet. The signs were barbaric, and as meaningful
as the most barbaric signs: pansies, bows and arrows, hearts pierced and dripping blood, over-
lapping faces, stars, quarter-moons, lines, swallows, snakes, boats, triangular daggers and in-
scriptions, mottoes, warnings, a whole fearful and prophetic literature.
Under the hammocks, amidst the magic of these occupations, loves were born, flared up and died,
with all the usual trappings of love: hatred, cupidity, tenderness, consolation, revenge.
What made the colony a realm distinct from the realm of the living was the change of symbols
and, in certain cases of values. The colonists had their own dialect, which was closely related
to that of the prisons, and hence a particular ethics and politics. The form of government,
which was involved with the religion, was the regime of force, protector of Beauty. Their laws
are seriously observed. The colonists are enemies of laughter, which might unsettle them. They
show a rare aptitude for the tragic attitude. Crime begins with a carelessly worn beret. These
laws are the products of abstract decrees: they were taught by some hero who had come from a
heaven of force and Beauty and whose spiritual and temporal power existed truly by divine right.
Besides, they do not escape the destinies of heroes, and they can be met every day in the colony
yard, in the midst of mortals, bearing the features of a journeyman baker or locksmith. The
pants of the colonists have only one pocket: this is something else that isolates them from the
world. A single pocket, on the left side. A whole social system is upset by this simple detail
of dress. Their pants have only one pocket, as the skin-tight breeches of the devil have none,
as those of sailors have no fly, and there is no doubt but that they are humiliated by this, as
if someone had amputated a male sexual attribute--which is really what is involved. Pockets,
which play so important a role in childhood, are to us a sign of superiority over girls. In the
colony, as in the navy, it's the pants that count, and if you want to be a man, "you defend your
pants." I am amazed that adults have been so bold as to set up seminaries for children who are
preparing for the role of dream characters, and that they have been shrewd enough to recognize
the details that would make of children these little monsters, whether malicious or gracious or
light or sparkling or uneasy or sneaky or simple.
It was the sisters' clothes that gave Culafroy the idea of running away. All he had to do was
put into action a plan that the clothes conceived by themselves. The nuns would leave their
linen hanging in a drying-room for nights on end, and they locked their stockings and coifs in
a workroom. He quickly learned which was the right door and the way it opened. With spylike pru-
dence, he spoke of his plan to a wide-awake youngster.
"If a guy wanted to..."
"Well, shall we clear out?"
"You think we'll be able to go far?"
"Sure, farther than this way (pointing to his ridiculous uniform), and besides we'll be able to
"Don't complain about improbability. What's going to follow is false, and you are not to accept
it as gospel truth. Truth is not my strong point. But "one must lie in order to be true." And
even go beyond. What truth do I want to talk about? If it is really true that I am a prisoner
who plays (who plays for himself) scenes of the inner life, you will require nothing other than
So our children waited for a night well-disposed to their nerves in order to steal a skirt,
jacket and coif; but finding only shoes that were too narrow, they kept their sabots. Through
the window of the wash-room they went out into the dark street. It must have been midnight. It
took them only a second to get dressed under a porch. They helped each other and put the coifs
on with great care. For a moment, the darkness was disturbed by the rustlings of woollens, the
click of pins between teeth, by such whisperings as "Tighten my string... Move over." In an al-
ley, sighs were tossed from a window. This taking of the veil made of the town a dark cloister,
the dead city, the valley of Desolation.
In the home, they were probably slow to notice the theft of the clothes, for nothing was done
during the day "to stop the fugitives." They walked fast. The peasants were hardly surprised;
rather, they were amazed to see these two serious-looking little good sisters, one in sabots
and the other limping, hurrying along the roads with dainty gestures: two delicate fingers lif-
ting up three pleats of a heavy grey skirt. Then hunger gripped their stomachs. They dared not
ask anyone for a bite of bread, and, as they were on the road leading to Culafroy's village,
they would probably have got there very soon, were it not that, in the late afternoon, a shep-
herd's wolf-dog came up and sniffed at Pierre. The shepherd, who was young and had been brought
up in the fear of God, whistled to his dog, who did not obey. Pierre thought he had been disco-
vered. He rushed off with jittery agility. He ran limping to a lone umbrella-pine at the edge of
the road and he climbed up. Culafroy had the presence of mind to climb up another tree nearer
by. Seeing which, the dog got down on its knees beneath the blue sky, in the evening air, and
uttered the following prayer: "Since the sisters, like magpies, make their nests in umbrella-
pines, Lord, grant me remission for my sins." Then, having crossed himself, he got up and re-
joined the flock. To his master the shepherd he related the miracle of the pines, and all the
villages around were informed of it that very evening.
I shall speak again about Divine, but Divine in her garret, between Our Lady, the marble-heart-
ed, and Gorgui. If Divine were a woman, she would not be jealous. She would be perfectly willing
to go out alone in the evening to pick up customers between the trees on the boulevard. What
would it matter to her that her two males spent their evenings together? On the contrary, a fam-
ily atmosphere, the light of a lamp-shade, would utterly delight her; but Divine is also a man.
She is, to begin with, jealous of Our Lady, who is young and handsome and without malice. He is
in danger of obeying the sympathies of his name. Our Lady, without malice and wily as an English-
woman. He may arouse Gorgui. It would be easy. Let us imagine them at the movies one afternoon,
side by side in the artificial darkness.
"Got your snot-rag, Seck?"
No sooner said than done, his hand is on the negro's pocket. Oh! fatal movement. Divine is jea-
lous of Gorgui. The negro is her man, and that little tramp of an Our Lady is young and pretty.
Between the trees of the boulevard, Divine is looking for old geezers, and she is being torn a-
part by the anguish of a double jealousy. Then, as Divine is a man, she thinks, "I have to feed
them both together. I'm the slave." She is getting bitter. At the movies, well-behaved as school-
boys (but, as around schoolboys, who--and that's enough--lower their heads together behind the
desk, there prowls, ready to leap, a mad little act), Our Lady and Gorgui smoke and see only the
film. In a little while they will go for a glass of beer, unsuspecting, and they will return to
the garret, but not without Our Lady's having strewn on the sidewalk little pistol-caps with
which Gorgui amuses himself by exploding them beneath his steel-tipped shoes; thus, like the
whistle blasts between those of pimps, sparks blazed forth between his calves.
The three of them are about to leave the garret. They're ready. Gorgui is holding the key. Each
has a cigarette in his mouth. Divine strikes a kitchen match (she sets fire to her own stake
each time), lights her cigarette, then Our Lady's, and holds out the flame to Gorgui.
"No," he says, "not three on a match. That's bad luck."
"Don't play around with that, you never know what it can lead to."
She seems weary and drops the match, now all black and skinny as a grass-hopper. She adds,
"One starts with a little superstition and then falls into the arms of God."
Our Lady thinks:
"That's right, into the priest's bed."
At the top of the Rue Lepic is the little cabaret of which I have already spoken, the "Tab-
ernacle," where the habitues practice sorcery, concoct mixtures, consult the cards, question
the bottoms of teacups, decipher the lines of the left hand (when questioned, fate tends to
answer the truth, Divine used to say), where good looking butcher-boys are sometimes metamor-
phosed into princesses in train-dresses. The cabaret is small and low-ceilinged. Milord the
Prince governs. Assembled there are: all of them, but especially First Communion, Banjo, the
Queen of Rumania, Ginette, Sonia, Persifanny, Clorinda, the Abbess, Agnes, Mimosa, Divine. And
their Gentlemen. Every Thursday the little latch-door is closed to the curious and excited bou-
rgeois visitors. The cabaret is given over to the "pure few." Milord the Prince (she who said,
"I make one cry every night," speaking of the safes he cracked and which the jimmy made creak)
sent out the invitations. We were at home. A phonograph. Three waiters were on duty, their
eyes full of mischief, lewd with a joyous lewdness. Our men are at the bar playing poker-dice
for drinks. And we dance. It is customary to come in drag, dressed as ourselves. Nothing but
costumed queens rubbing shoulders with child-pimps, of the Our Lady type. In short, not a sin-
gle adult. The make-up and lights distort sufficiently, but often we wear black masks or carry
fans for the pleasure of guessing who's who from the carriage of a leg, from the expression,
the voice, the pleasure of fooling each other, of making identities overlap. It would be an
ideal spot for committing a murder, which would remain so secret that the panic-stricken queens
(though quickly one of them, startled into maternal severity, would be able to transform herself
into a rapid and precise detective) and the little pimps, their faces tense with terror, their
bellies drawn in, huddling against them, would try in vain to know who was victim and who mur-
derer. A crime at a masked ball.
Divine has dug out for this evening her two 1890 silk dresses, which she keeps, souvenirs of
former carnivals. One of them is black, embroidered with jet; she puts it on and offers the
other to Our Lady.
"You're nuts. What'll the guys say?"
But Gorgui insists, and Our Lady knows very well that all his pals will have a laugh, that not
a single one will snicker; they esteem him. The dress drapes Our Lady's body, which is naked
under the silk. He rather likes the way he looks. His legs, with their downy, even slightly
hairy skin, brush against each other. He bends down, turns around, looks at himself in the mir-
ror. The dress, which has a bustle, makes his rump stick out, suggesting a pair of cellos. Let
us put a velvet flower into his tousled hair. He is wearing Divine's tan shoes with ankle-
straps and high heels, but they are completely concealed by the flounces of the skirt. They
dressed very quickly that evening because they were going out for real fun. Divine puts on her
black silk dress and over it a pink jacket, and takes a spangled tulle fan. Gorgui is wearing
tails and a white tie. Occurred the scene of the blown-out match. They went down the stairs.
Taxi. The Tabernacle. The doorman, quite young and ever so good looking, leers three times.
Our Lady dazzles him. They enter the brilliant fireworks of silk and muslin flounces which
cannot fight clear of the smoke. They dance the smoke. They smoke the music. They drink from
mouth to mouth. Our Lady is acclaimed by his pals. He had not realized that his firm buttocks
would draw the cloth so tight. He doesn't care that they see he has a hard-on, but not to such
a point, in front of the fellows. He would like to hide. He turns to Gorgui and, slightly pink,
shows him his bulging dress, muttering:
"Say, Seck, let me ditch that."
He barely snickers. His eyes seem moist, and Gorgui does not know whether he is kidding or
annoyed; then, he takes the murderer by the shoulders, hugs him, clasps him, locks between
his mighty thighs the jutting horn that is raising the silk, and carries him on his heart in
waltzes and tangoes which will last till dawn. Divine would like to weep with rage, to tear
cambric handkerchiefs with her nails and teeth. Then, a former state resembling the present
one suddenly recalled the following: "She was in Spain, I believe. Kids were chasing her and
screaming 'Maricona' and throwing stones at her. She ran to a side-track and climbed into
an empty train. The kids continued from below to insult her and pepper the doors of the
train with stones. Divine crouched under a seat, cursing the horde of children with all her
might, hating them until she rattled with hatred. Her chest swelled out; she longed for a sigh
so as not to choke with hatred. Then she realized it was impossible to devour the kids, to
rip them to pieces with her teeth and nails, as she would have liked to, and so she loved
them. The pardon gushed forth from her excess of rage, of hatred, and she was thereby
appeased." She consents, out of love, to loving the negro's and Our Lady's loving each
other. Around her is the room of Milord the Prince. She is sitting in a chair; on a carpet,
masks are strewn about. They are all dancing downstairs. Divine has just slit everyone's
throat, and in the mirror of the wardrobe she sees her fingers contracting into criminal
hooks, like those of the Dusseldorf vampire22 on the covers of novels. But the waltzes ended.
Our Lady, Seek and Divine were among the last to leave the ball. It was Divine who opened
the door, and quite naturally Our Lady took Gorgui's arm. The union, destroyed for a mo-
ment in the leavetaking, had been so abruptly reconstructed, unknotting the tricks of hes-
itation, that Divine felt a bite in her side, the bite of contempt with which someone dispatch-
es us. She was a good loser; so she remained behind pretending to fasten a garter. At 5
a.m. the Rue Lepic went straight down to the sea, that is, to the middle lane of the Boule-
vard de Clichy. The dawn was tight, a little tight, not very sure of itself, on the point of
falling and vomiting. The dawn was nauseous when the trio was still at the top of the street.
They went down. Gorgui had very properly placed his top-hat on his kinky head, at a slight
angle. His white shirt-front was still rigid. A big chrysanthemum was drooping in his button-
hole. His face was laughing. Our Lady was holding him by the arm. They descended between
two rows of garbage cans full of ashes and comb-scrapings--those garbage cans which e-
very morning receive the first shifty glances of the roisterers, those garbage cans which
zigzag down the street.
If I were to have a play put on in which women had roles, I would insist that these roles
be performed by adolescent boys, and I would so inform the audience by means of a placard
which would remain nailed to the right or left of the sets throughout the performance. Our
Lady, in his pale-blue faille dress, edged with white Valenciennes lace, was more than him-
self. He was himself and his complement. I'm mad about fancy-dress. The imaginary lovers of
my prison nights are sometimes a prince--but I make him wear a tramp's cast-offs--or some-
times a hoodlum to whom I lend royal robes. I shall perhaps experience my greatest delight
when I play at imagining myself the heir of an old Italian family, but the imposter-heir,
for my real ancestor would be a handsome vagabond, walking bare-foot under the starry sky,
who, by his audacity, would have taken the place of Prince Aldini. I love imposture. So,
Our Lady went down the street as only the great, the very great ladies of the court knew
how to walk, that is, without too much stiffness and without too much swaying, without
kicking aside his train, which casually swept the grey cobble-stones, dragged along straw
and bits of wood, a broken comb and a leaf of yellowed arum.23 The dawn was purging itself.
Divine followed from rather a distance. She was furious. The costumed negro and murderer
staggered a bit and leaned against each other. Our Lady was singing:
Taraboom ti-ay! Taraboom ti-ay!
He laughed as he sang. His smooth bright face, the lines and masses of which had been
knocked awry by a night of dancing and laughter, of tumult and wine and love (the silk
of the dress was spotted), offered itself to the dawning day as to the icy kiss of a
corpse. Though the roses in his hair were only of cloth, they had wilted on the brass,
but they still held up, a flower-stand in which the water had not been changed. The cloth
roses were quite dead. To make them look a bit lifelike, Our Lady raised his bare arm,
and the murderer made almost the very gesture, though perhaps a trifle more rough, that
Emilienne d'Alencon24 would certainly have made in rumpling her chignon. In fact, he resem-
bled Emilienne d'Alencon. The big proud negro was so moved by the bustle of Our Lady's
blue dress (what was called a false-bottom) that he drooled slightly. Divine watched them
tripping down to the beach. Our Lady was singing among the garbage cans. Imagine a blond
Eugenie Buffet, in a silk dress, singing in courtyards one early morning, clinging to the
arm of a negro in evening dress. We're surprised that none of the windows on the street
opened on the sleepy face of a dairy woman or her mate. Such people never know what goes
on beneath their windows, and that's as it should be. They would die of grief if they did.
Our Lady's white hand (his nails were in mourning) was lying flat on Seek Gorgui's forearm.
The two arms grazed each other so delicately (they had probably seen this kind of thing in
the movies) that had you watched them you would certainly have been reminded of the ma-
donnas of Raphael, who perhaps is so chaste only because of the purity that his name im-
plies, for he lit up the gaze of little Tobias. The Rue Lepic descended perpendicularly.
The negro in full-dress was smiling as champagne can make one smile, with that festive,
that is, vacant air. Our Lady was singing:
The air was cool. The coldness of the Parisian morning froze his shoulders and fluttered
his dress from top to bottom.
"You're cold," said Gorgui looking at him.
Without anyone's taking notice, Seck's arm went around Our Lady's shoulders. Behind them,
Divine arranged her face and gestures so that, upon turning around, they both thought her
preoccupied with a very practical inventory. But neither of the two seemed to care whether
Divine was absent or present. They heard the morning angelus, the rattle of a milk can.
Three workmen went by on bicycles along the boulevard, their lamps lit, though it was day.
A policeman on his way home, where perhaps he would find an empty bed (Divine hoped so,
for he was young) passed without looking at them. The garbage cans smelled of sink and
cleaning-women. Their odor clung to the white Valenciennes lace of Our Lady's dress and to
the festoons on the flounces of Divine's pink jacket. Our Lady continued to sing and the
negro to smile. Suddenly they were at the brink of despair, all three of them. The marve-
lous road was traveled. Now it was the flat and banal asphalt boulevard, the boulevard of
everybody, so different from the secret path they had just cleared in the drunken dawn of
a day, with their perfumes, silks, laughter, songs, across houses whose guts were hanging
out, houses cleft down the front, where, continuing their nap suspended in sleep, were old
people, children, pimps--pimple-dimple-girly-flowers--barmen, so different from that out-
of-the-way path, as I say, that the three children approached a taxi in order to escape
the vexation of a commonplace return. The taxi anticipated them. The chauffeur opened the
door and Our Lady stepped in first. Gorgui, because of his position in the group, ought to
have got in first, but he moved aside, leaving the opening free for Our Lady. Bear in mind
that a pimp never effaces himself before a woman, still less before a faggot (which, how-
ever, with respect to him, Our Lady had that night become); Gorgui must have placed him
quite high. Divine blushed when he said:
"Get in, Danie."
Then, instantly, Divine again became the Divine she had left behind while going down the
Rue Lepic, in order to think more nimbly, for, though she felt as a "woman," she thought
as a "man." One might think that, in thus reverting spontaneously to her true nature, Div-
ine was a male wearing make-up, disheveled with make-believe gestures; but it is not a case
of the phenomenon of the mother tongue to which one has recourse in times of trial. In order
to think with precision it was necessary that Divine never formulate her thoughts aloud,
for herself. Doubtless there had been times when she had said to herself aloud, "I'm just
a foolish girl," but having felt this, she felt it no longer, and, in saying it, she no
longer thought it. In Mimosa's presence, for example, she managed to think "woman" with
regard to serious but never essential things. Her femininity was not only a masquerade.
But as for thinking "woman" completely, her organs hindered her. To think is to perform
an act. In order to act, you have to discard frivolity and set your idea on a solid base.
So she was aided by the idea of solidity, which she associated with the idea of virility,
and it was in grammar that she found it near at hand. For if, to define a state of mind
that she felt, Divine dared use the feminine, she was unable to do so in defining an act-
ion which she performed. And all the "woman" judgments she made were, in reality, poetical
conclusions. Hence, only then was Divine true. It would be curious to know what women cor-
responded to in Divine's mind, and particularly in her life. No doubt, she herself was not
a woman (that is, a female in a skirt); she was womanly only through her submission to the
imperious male; nor, for her, was Ernestine, who was her mother, a woman. But all of woman
was in a little girl whom he had known when he was a kid, in the village. Her name was Sol-
ange. On broiling days they would sit curled up on a white stone bench, in a delicate lit-
tle patch of shade, narrow as a hem, with their feet tucked under their smocks so as not
to wet them with sun; they felt and thought in common in the shelter of the snowball tree.
Culafroy was in love, since, when Solange was sent to a convent, he made pilgrimages. He
visited the Grotto Rock. Mothers used that granite rock as a bogy, peopling its cavities,
to terrify us, with evil creatures, sandmen and vendors of shoe-laces, pins and charms.
Most of the children paid no heed to the stories dictated by the mothers' prudence. Only
Solange and Culafroy, when they made their way there --as often as possible--had the sac-
red terror in their souls. One summer evening, which was heavy with gathering storm, they
approached it. The rock advanced like a prow through a sea of golden crops with glints of
blue. The sky descended upon earth like a blue powder in a glass of water. The sky was vis-
iting the earth. A mysterious and mystic air (imitated from temples) which only a landscape
set off from the village could preserve in all seasons: a pond inhabited by salamanders
and framed by little groves of firs which were idealized in the green water. Firs are ama-
zing trees which I have often seen in Italian paintings. They are meant for Christmas man-
gers and are thus involved in the charm of winter nights, of the magi, of Gypsy musicians
and vendors of post-cards, of hymns and of kisses given and received at night, barefooted
on the rug. Culafroy always expected to find in their branches a miraculous virgin, who, so
that the miracle might be total, would be made of colored plaster. He had to have this hope
in order to tolerate nature. Hateful nature, anti-poetic, ogress swallowing up all spiritu-
ality. As ogrish as beauty is greedy. Poetry is a vision of the world obtained by an effort,
sometimes exhausting, of the taut, buttressed will. Poetry is willful. It is not an abandon-
ment, a free and gratuitous entry by the senses; it is not to be confused with sensuality,
but rather, opposing it, was born, for example, on Saturdays, when, to clean the rooms,
housewives put the red velvet chairs, gilded mirrors and mahogany tables outside, in the
Solange was standing at the top of the rock. She leaned back very slightly, as if she were
inhaling. She opened her mouth to speak and remained silent. She was waiting for a thunder-
clap or for inspiration, which were not forthcoming. A few seconds passed in a tangle thick
with fright and joy. Then, she uttered, in a pale voice:
"In a year, a man will throw himself from the rock."
"Why in a year? What man?"
"You're an idiot"
She described the man. He was stout, wore grey trousers and a hunting jacket. Culafroy was
as upset as if he had been told that a suicide had just been committed there and that a body
still warm was lying in the brambles under the rock. The emotion entered him in light, short
waves, invading him, and escaped through his feet, hands, hair and eyes, gradually drifting
throughout nature as Solange went on to relate the phases of the drama, which was as compli-
cated and cunning as I imagine a Japanese drama must be. Solange took great pains with it,
and she had chosen the tone of tragic recitative, in which the voice never joins the tonic.
"He's a man who comes from afar, no one knows why. He's probably a pig-dealer returning from
"But the road's far away. Why does he come here?"
"To die, you innocent. You can't kill yourself on the road."
She shrugged her shoulders and tossed her head. Her lovely curls struck her cheeks like
leaded whips. The little pythoness had crouched. Seeking on the rock the carved words of
the prophecy, she resembled a mother-hen scratching around in the sand to find the grain
that she will show to her chicks. Thereafter the rock became a place that is visited, haunted.
They went there as one goes to a grave. That piety for one of the future dead hollowed out
in them a kind of hunger or one of those weaknesses which resist fever.
One day Culafroy thought to himself: "That was nine months ago, and Solange is returning in
June. So, in July she'll be here to see the climax of the tragedy of which she's the author."
She returned. At once he understood that she belonged to a world different from his. She was
no longer part of him. She had won her independence; this little girl was now like those works
that have long since dropped away from their author: no longer being directly flesh of his flesh,
they no longer benefits from his maternal tenderness. Solange had become like one of those
chilled excrements which Culafroy used to deposit at the foot of the garden wall among the
currant bushes. When they were still warm, he took a tender delight in their odor, but he
spurned them with indifference--at times with horror--when they had too long since ceased
to be part of himself. And if Solange was no longer the chaste little girl taken from his rib,
the little girl who used to pull her hair into her mouth to nibble at it, he himself had been
charred by living near Alberto. A chemical operation had taken place within him, giving birth
to new compounds. The past of both youngsters was already as old as the hills. Neither Solange
nor Culafroy found the games and words of the year before. One day they walked to the hazel
trees, which the summer before had been the scene of their wedding, of a baptism of dolls and
a banquet of hazelnuts. Upon once again seeing the spot, which the goats always kept in the
same condition, Culafroy remembered the prophecy of the Crotto. He wanted to speak of it to
Solange, but she had forgotten. To be exact, it was thirteen months since she had announed the
violent death of the pig-dealer, and nothing had happened. Culafroy saw another supernatural
function fade away. A measure of despair was added to the despair which was to accompany him
until his death. He did not yet know that the importance of any event in our life lies only
in the resonance it sets up within us, only in the degree to which it makes us move towards
asceticism. As for him, who receives only shocks, Solange on her rock had not been more in-
spired than he. In order to show off, she had played a role; but then, though one mystery was
thereby disposed of, another and denser one rose up: "I'm not the only one," he thinks, "who
can play at not being what they are. So I'm not an exceptional creature." Then, finally, he
suddenly detected one of the facets of feminine glitter. He was disappointed, but above all
he was filled with another love and with a certain pity for the too pale, delicate and distant
little girl. Alberto had attracted to him, like a fork of lightning, all the marvelousness
of the external. Culafroy told Solange a little about snake-fishing, and he knew, like a know-
ing artist, how to confess and suppress. She was sweeping the ground with a hazel branch. Cer-
tain children have in their hands, without anyone's suspecting it, inherent powers of sorcery,
and people who are naive are astonished at the perturbations in the laws of animals and fami-
lies. Solange had formerly been the fairy of the morning spiders--Grief, says the chronicle.
I interrupt myself here to observe, "this morning," a spider that is weaving in the darkest
corner of my cell. Destiny has artfully directed my gaze to it and its web. The oracle mani-
fests itself. I can only bow without cursing: "You are your own fate, you have woven your own
spell." Only one misfortune can befall me, that is, the most terrible. Here am I, reconciled
with the gods. The arts of divination do not make me set myself questions, since they are di-
vine. I should like to come back to Solange, to Divine, to Culafroy, to the sad, drab crea-
tures I sometimes desert for handsome dancers and hoodlums; but even the former (especially
the former) have been far away from me since I received the shock of the oracle. Solange? She
listened like a woman to Culafroy's confidences. For a moment she was embarrassed and laughed,
and her laugh was such that a skeleton seemed to be frisking about on her close-set teeth and
hammering them with sharp blows. In the heart of the countryside she felt herself a prisoner.
She had just been bound. Jealous, the girl. She had difficulty finding enough saliva to ask:
"You like him?", and her swallowing was painful, as if she were swallowing a package of pins.
Culafroy hesitated to answer. The fairy ran the danger of oblivion. At the moment when it had
to be done, when the answer was a "yes" suspended whole and visible, ready to break out, Sol-
ange dropped the hazel-wand and in order to pick it up bent down, in a ridiculous position,
just as the fatal cry fell, the nuptial "yes," with the result that it was mingled with the
sound of the sand which she scraped; it was thereby stifled, and the shock on Solange was ab-
sorbed. Divine never had any other experience with woman.
Near the taxi, no longer obliged to think, she became Divine again. Instead of getting in (she
had already grasped between two fingers the ruffle of her black dress and lifted up her left
foot), as Gorgui, already settled, was inviting her in, she let out a burst of strident laugh-
ter, festive or mad, turned to the driver and, laughing in his face, said,
"No, no. With the driver. I always get in with the driver, so there."
And she became kittenish.
"Does the driver mind?"
The driver was a regular fellow who knew his business (all taxi-drivers are procurers and
traffic in snow). The fan in Divine's fingers did not unfold. Besides, Divine did not take
the fan to throw people off the track; she would have been mortified at seeing herself con-
fused with those horrible titty females. "Oh! those women, those wicked, wicked things, those
vile sailors' tarts, those tramps, those dirty-nasties. Oh! those women, how I hate them!"
she would day. The driver opened the door of his own seat and, smiling pleasantly, said to
"Come, get in, baby."
"Oh, that driver, he's, he's..."
Cracklings of taffeta riddled the driver's splendid thigh.
The day was wide-awake when they reached the garret, but the darkness made by the drawn cur-
tains, the odor of tea and, even more, the odor of Gorgui, engulfed them in a night of magic.
As was her way, Divine slipped behind the screen to take off her mourning-dress and put on a
pair of pyjamas. Our Lady sat down on the bed and lit a cigarette (at his feet, the mossy
mass of the lace of his dress made for him a kind of rustling base), and, with his elbows on
his knees, watched---chance having accepted and instantly organized them--Gorgui's evening-
jacket, white satin vest, and pumps assume before him on the rug the form of the evidence
that a ruined gentleman leaves on the banks of the Seine at three in the morning; Gorgui
went to bed naked. Divine reappeared in green pyjamas, because, for the room, the green of
the cloth was becoming to her ochre-powdered face. Our Lady had not yet finished his cigar-
"You coming to bed, Danie?"
"I am, just wait till I finish this."
As always, he answered as one answers from the depths of thought. Our Lady never thought
of anything, and that was what gave him the air of knowing everything straight away, as by a
kind of grace. Was he the favorite of the Creator? Perhaps God kept him informed. His gaze
was purer (emptier) than du Barry's after an explanation by her lover the King. (Like du Barry,
at that moment he did not realize that he was moving in a straight line towards the scaffold;
but, since men of letters explain that the eyes of little Jesuses are sad unto death at the
anticipation of Christ's Passion, I have every right to request you to see, in the depths of
Our Lady's pupils, the microscopic image, invisible to your naked eye, of a guillotine.) He
seemed numbed. Divine ran her hand through the blond hair of Our Lady of the Flowers.
"You want me to help you?"
She meant: helping him undo his dress and taking it off.
"O.K., grab hold, go on."
Our Lady dropped his butt and crushed it on the rug; standing on the toes of one foot, he
took off one shoe, then the other. Divine unlaced the back of the dress. She stripped Our
Lady of the Flowers of one part, the prettiest part, of his name. Our Lady was a little
tight. The last cigarette had made him woozy. His head rolled and suddenly fell on his
chest, like those of the plaster shepherds kneeling on the tree-trunks in the Christmas
mangers when you put a coin into the slot. He hiccupped with sleep and ill-digested wine.
He let his dress be taken off without the slightest movement to help himself, and, when he
was naked, Divine lifted up his feet and toppled him on the bed, where he rolled against
Seek. Usually Divine slept between them. She saw that today she would have to content her-
self with remaining on the outer edge, and the jealousy which had gripped her at the Tab-
ernacle revived her bitterness. She turned off the lamp. The ill-drawn curtains admitted
a very thin ray of light which was diluted into blond dust. The room was filled with the
chiaroscuro of poetic mornings. Divine lay down. At once she drew Our Lady to her; his
body seemed boneless, nerveless, with milk-fed muscles. He was smiling vacantly. He
smiled in this complacent way when he was mildly amused, but Divine did not see the
smile until she took his head in her hands and turned towards herself the face that at
first had been turned towards Gorgui. Gorgui was lying on his back. The wine and liquor
had dulled him, as they had dulled Our Lady. He was not sleeping. Divine took Our Lady's
closed lips into her mouth. We know that his breath was fetid. Divine therefore wanted
to shorten her kiss on the mouth. She slid down to the foot of the bed, licking as she
went the downy body of Our Lady, who awoke to desire. Divine buried her head in the hol-
low of the murderer's legs and belly, and waited. Every morning it was the same scene,
once with Our Lady and then with Gorgui. She did not wait long. Our Lady suddenly turned
over on his belly and, holding his still supple tool, roughly thrust it with his hand into
Divine's open mouth. She drew back her head and pursed her lips. The violent member
turned to stone (go to it, condottieri, knights, pages, ruffians, gangsters, under your satins
go stiff against Divine's cheek) and tried to force open the closed mouth, but it knocked
against the eyes, the nose, the chin, slid along the cheek. That was their game. Finally, it
found the lips. Gorgui wasn't sleeping. He sensed the movements by their echo on Our
Lady's naked rump.
"What a fine pair! You're getting me all hot. I want to get in on this!"
He stirred. Divine was playing at offering herself and withdrawing. Our Lady was panting.
Divine's arms encircled his solemn flanks, her hands caressed them, smoothed them, though
lightly, so as to feel them quiver, with her fingertips, as when one tries to feel the
eyeball rolling under the lids. She ran her hands over Our Lady's buttocks, and behold!
Divine understood. Gorgui mounted the blond murderer and tried to penetrate him. Despair
--terrible, profound, unparalleled--detached her from the game of the two men. Our Lady
was still seeking Divine's mouth and found the eyelids, the hair, and in a voice broken
with panting, but moist with smiling, he said:
"Right," said the negro.
His breath must have been blowing through Our Lady's blond hair. A furious movement start-
ed above Divine.
"That's life," Divine had time to think. There was a pause a kind of oscillation. The scaf-
folding of bodies collapsed into regret. Divine's head climbed back to the pillow. She had
remained alone, abandoned. She was no longer excited, and for the first time she did not
feel the need to go to the toilet to finish off with her hand.
Divine might have got over Seck's and Our Lady's offense, had it not been committed in her
home. She would have forgotten it. But the insult was likely to become chronic, since all
three seemed to be settled in the garret permanently. She hated Seek and Our Lady equally,
and she quite clearly felt that this hatred would have blown over had they left each other.
She would keep them in the garret no longer. "I'm not going to fatten up those two sloths."
Our Lady was becoming hateful to her, like a rival. In the evening, when they had all got
up, Gorgui grabbed Our Lady by the shoulders and, with a laugh, kissed him on the back of
the neck. Divine, who was preparing tea, acted as if her thoughts were elsewhere, but she
could not keep from glancing at Our Lady's fly. A new fit of rage seized her: he had a horn.
She thought she had stolen this glance without being seen, but she lifted up her head and
eyes just in time to catch the quizzing glance of Our Lady who was pointing at her for the
negro's benefit. "
You might at least be decent," she said. "
We're not doing any harm," said Our Lady.
"Ah! you think so!"
But she did not want to seem to be reprimanding an amorous understanding, nor even to seem
to have discovered it. She added,
"You can't stay a minute without rough-housing."
"We're not rough-housing, eh, baby? Here, take a look." He was showing, clutching it in his
fist, the bump under the throbbing cloth.
"That's a serious matter," she said with a laugh.
Gorgui had let go of Our Lady. He was brushing his shoes. They drank their tea. Never had
Divine had the occasion--never had she dreamed of being jealous of the physique of Our Lady
of the Flowers. There is every reason to believe, however, that this jealousy existed, that
it was veiled, idden. Let us re-call a few small facts that we have merely noted: Divine
once refusing Our Lady her mascara; her joy (quickly concealed) at discovering the horror
of his foul breath; and, without realizing it herself, she pinned to the wall Our Lady's
ugliest photo, This time, the physical jealousy (we know how bitter it is) was obvious to
her. She planned and carried out in thought acts of frightful revenge. She scratched, slash-
ed, amputated, lacerated, flayed, vitriolized. "May he be odiously mutilated," she thought.
As she wiped the tea cups, she carried out appalling executions. After laying aside the dish-
cloth, she was pure again, but, however, returned among humans only by a skilful gradation.
Her acts bore the marks of it. Had she taken vengeance upon a faggot! Divine would doubtless
have achieved a miracle of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. She would have shot a few ar-
rows--but with the grace she had while saying, "I toss you an eyelash," or "I toss you a
bus." A few scattered shafts. Then a salvo. Would have defined the faggot's contours with
arrows. Would have imprisoned her in a cage of arrows and finally nailed her outright. She
wanted to make use of that method against Our Lady. But this method has to be carried out
in public. Though be allowed anything in the garret, Our Lady would not tolerate being kid-
ded in front of the gang. He was ticklish. Divine's arrows hit against granite. She looked
for arguments and, naturally, she found them. One day she caught him red-handed in an act
worse than selfish. They were in the garret. Divine was still in bed. The evening before,
Our Lady had bought a pack of Cravens. When he awoke he looked for the pack: there were
only two cigarettes left. He handed one to Gorgui, took the other and lit them. Divine was
not sleeping, but she kept her eyes closed and tried to look as if she were still sleeping.
"It's to see what they're going to do," she said to herself. The liar knew perfectly well
that it was a pretext to keep herself from seeming annoyed if they forgot her in the dist-
ribution, and to enable her to retain her dignity. Now that she was nearing thirty, Divine
began to feel the need of dignity. Trifles shocked her; she who, when young, had been of a
boldness that had made barmen blush, herself blushed and felt herself blushing at the least
little thing recalled, by the very subtlely of that symbol, states in which she had really
been able to feel herself humiliated. A slight shock--and terrible because the slighter--
brought her back to her periods of wretchedness. You will be surprised to see Divine grow-
ing in age and sensitivity, whereas the common notion is that the older one gets, the thick-
er is one's skin. She no longer was ashamed, obviously, of being a queen for hire. If need
be, she would have boasted of being one who lets jissom flow through her nine holes. If was
all the same to her if men and women insulted her. (Until when?) But she lost control of
herself, became crimson, and almost failed to pull herself together without a scandal. She
clung to dignity. With her eyes closed, she imagined Seck and Our Lady scowling in order to
excuse each other for having reckoned without her, when Our Lady made the blunder of utter-
ing aloud the following remark (which grieved Divine, entrenched in her night of closed eyes),
a remark that emphasized, indeed proved the fact that a long and complicated exchange of
signs concerning her had just taken place: "There're only two cigarettes left." She herself
knew that. She heard the match being struck. "After all, they're not going to cut one of
them in half." She answered herself, "Well, he should have cut it (the he was Our Lady) or
even have done without it and left it for me." So, from this scene dated the period when she
refused what Seek and Our Lady offered her. One day Our Lady came home with a box of candy.
The scene was as follows. Our Lady to Divine:
"You want a candy?" (but, Divine noticed, he was already closing the box.)
A few seconds later, Divine added,
"You never give me anything in a generous way."
"I am generous. If I didn't feel like giving it to you, I wouldn't offer it to you. I never
ask you twice when I don't feel like giving."
Divine thought with additional shame: "Never has he offered me anything twice." Now when
she went out, she always wanted to be alone. This practice had only one effect: of drawing
the negro and the murderer closer together. The phase that followed was one of violent re-
proaches. Divine could no longer contain herself. Fury like speed, sharpened her insight.
She exposed intentions everywhere. Or was Our Lady obeying, without realizing it, the game
she was directing, and which she was directing to lead her towards solitude and, still more,
towards despair? She overwhelmed Our Lady with invective. Like fools who do not know how
to lie, he was a dissembler. Caught in the trap, he sometimes blushed; his face lengthened,
literally, for the two wrinkles along his mouth strained it, drew it downward. He was piti-
able. He did not know what to answer and could only smile. This smile, constipated though
it was, relaxed his features, unwrinkled his morale. In a way, like a sunbeam traversing a
thorn-bush, he had gone through a thicket of invective, but yet he knew how to seem to get
out of it intact, with no blood on his fingers. Then Divine, in a rage, tore into him. She
became pitiless, as she could be when she went after some-one. But Our Lady hardly felt her
arrows (we have told why), and if at times, finding a tenderer spot, the point entered,
Divine buried the shaft up to the feathers, which she had smeared with a healing balm. She
feared at the same time that if Our Lady were wounded he would get violent, and she was ang-
ry with herself for having shown too much bitterness, for she thought, quite wrongly, that
Our Lady would be quite happy about that. To each of her poisoned remarks she added a touch-
ing restorative. As Our Lady never noticed anything except the good that one seemed to wish
him (that's why he was said to be trusting and without malice) or perhaps also because he
caught only the ends of her sentences, it was only these ends that struck him and he thought
that she was finishing a long compliment. Our Lady cast a spell on the pains Divine took to
wound him, but, without his knowing it, he was shot through with evil arrows. Our Lady was
happy in spite of Divine and thanks to her. When Our Lady one day admitted to the thing that
humiliated him (having been robbed and abandoned by Marchetti), Divine held Our Lady's hands.
Though she was overwhelmed and her throat grew tense, she smiled gently so that both of them
would not be moved to the point of despair, which would probably have lasted only a few min-
utes but would have marked them for life, and so that Our Lady would not dissolve in that
humiliation. This was exquisitely sweet to her, like the feeling that melted me to tears
"What's your name?" the butler asked me.
and when he called me to the servants' hall for the first time. It was so good to hear my
given name. I thought I had found a family through the tenderness of the servants and mas-
ters. I now confess to you: that I have never felt anything but the appearance of warm
caresses, something like a look full of a deep tenderness which, directed to some handsome
young creature standing behind me, passed through me and overwhelmed me. Gorgui hardly ever
thought, or did not show that he might be thinking. He walked about through Divine's tirades,
concerned only with his linens. One day, however, this intimacy with Our Lady, which Divine's
jealousy had begotten, caused the negro to say:
"We're going to the movies, I've got tickets."
Then he caught himself: "Am I a dope! I always think there're only two of us."
This was too much for Divine; she resolved to put an end to it. With whom? She knew that Seek
enjoyed that happy life; it gave him shelter, food and friendship, and the timorous Divine
feared his anger: he would surely not have abandoned the garret without a negro's revenge.
Finally, she again found herself--after a period of pause--preferring exaggerated virility,
and in this respect Seek more than satisfied her. Should she sacrifice Our Lady? What would
Gorgui say? She was helped by Mimosa, whom she met in the street. Mimosa, old lady:
"I've seen her! Ba, Be, By, Bo, Boo, I love that Our Lady of yours. Always just as fresh,
always just as Divine. She's the one who's Divine."
"You like her? (Among themselves, the queens always spoke of their sweethearts in the femi-
nine.) You want her?"
"My, my, so she doesn't want you any more, my poor dear?"
"Our Lady gives me a pain in the ass. First of all, she's stupid, and I find her lifeless." "
You don't even give her a horn any more." Divine thought, "You bitch, I'll fix you."
"Well, you're really letting me have her?"
"All you've got to do is take her. If you can."
At the same time, she hoped that Our Lady would not let himself be taken.
"You know she detests you."
"Right right right. First they hate me, and then they adore me. But look, Divine, we can be
good pals. I'd like to get hold of Our Lady. Let me have her. One good turn deserves another,
my sweet. You can count on me."
"Oh! Mimo, of course I know you. You have my confidence, my Quite. "
"The way you say that! But look, I assure you, at heart I'm a good girl. Bring her over some
"And what about your man Roger?"
"She's leaving for military service. Don't you worry, down there with those cute officers
she's going to forget me. Ah! I'll really be the Quite-Widowed! So, I'll take Our Lady and
keep her with me. Why, you've got two sweeties. You've got them all!"
"All right, fine, I'll talk to her about it. Come and have tea with us around five o'clock."
"What a nice girl you are, Divine, let me kiss you. You're still pretty, you know. A bit
rumpled, nicely rumpled, and so kind."
It was in the afternoon. It was perhaps two o'clock. As they walked, they held each other
by their two pinkies, curved in the form of hooks. A little later, Divine found Gorgui and
Our Lady together. She had to wait until the negro, who no longer left Our Lady, went to
the toilet. Divine prepared Our Lady as follows:
"Look, Danie, do you want to make a hundred francs?"
"It's like this: Mimosa would like to sleep with you for an hour or two. Roger's going into
the army. She's being left alone."
"Oh! a hundred, hell, it's not enough. If you're the one who made the price, you didn't kill
He sneered. And Divine:
"I didn't make any price. Look, go with her and you'll work it out. Mimosa's not stingy with
guys she likes. Of course, you can do whatever you please. I'm just telling you, you can do
as you like. At any rate, she's coming to the garret at five o'clock. Only, Gorgui'll have
to be got out of the way, you understand, so we can be freer."
"We going to fuck in the garret with you?"
"Oh, don't be silly, no, you'll go to her place. You'll have time to talk the matter over.
But don't swipe anything, please, don't swipe anything, or there'll be trouble."
"Ah! there's something to swipe? But don't worry, I don't rob pals."
"Try to make it last, be a nice little pimp."
Divine had very intentionally and very cleverly suggested theft. It was a sure way to man-
age Danie. And what about Gorgui? When he returned, Our Lady told him what was up.
"You ought to do it, Danie."
All the negro saw was the hundred francs. But then a suspicion occurred to him; up to now
he had thought that the money that Our Lady had in his pockets came from his clients, but
the scruple he observed in him today made him think that there was something else. He want-
ed to know what, but the murderer was suppler than a snake. Our Lady had resumed his cocaine
business. In a little cell-shaped bar on the Rue de l'Elysee-des-Beaux-Arts, every four days
he met Marchetti, back in Paris, land broke, who supplied him. The dope was contained in
little tissue-paper bags, gram by gram, and these bags were themselves in a bigger one of
brown cloth. He had devised the following system: he kept his left hand in the torn pocket
of his pants in order to be able to soothe or stroke his violent member. In this hand he
held a long string from which there swung, inside the pants leg, the dark bag.
"If the dicks come along, I let go of the string and the packet falls to the ground without
making a riot. Like that, everything's all right."
He clung by a string to a secret organization. Every time Marchetti gave him the dope, he
would say, "All right, kid" and accompanied the remark by a look that Our Lady recognized
among Corsicans who make use of it among themselves when they brush against one another on
the sidewalk and mutter, "Ciao Rico."
Marchetti asking Our Lady whether he had guts:
"It's coming out of my ears!"
"Brother Bullshit," someone answered.
Here I cannot keep from coming back to those words of argot which stream from pimps' lips
as his farts (pearls) stream from Darling's downy behind. The reason is that one of them,
which, more perhaps than all the others, turns me inside out--or, as Darling always says,
gnaws at me, for he is cruel--was uttered in one of the cells in the Mousetrap that we call
"Thirty-six tiles," a cell so narrow that it is the alley-way of a ship. About a husky guard,
I heard someone mutter: "the lock-sucker;" then, a moment later: "the yard-on". Now, it so
happened that the man who said that had told us that he had been at sea for seven years. The
magnificence of such an achievement--impalement by a boom--made me tremble from head to
foot. And the same man said a little later, "Or, if you're a fairy, you let down your pants
and the judge gets it in the bull's eye..." But this expression was already rather Rabelai-
sian; it was an unhappy expression and destroyed the charm of the other one, and I regain my
footing on the solid basis of joking, whereas poetry always pulls the ground away from the
soles of your feet and sucks you into the bosom of a wonderful night. He also said: "Cockas-
suckeroo!" but it was no better. At times, during my most harrowing moments, when I'm pest-
ered by the guards, I sing within me that poem "The Yard-on!" that I preferably do not apply
to anyone but which comforts me and dries unwelled tears, as I sail across becalmed seas, a
sailor of the crew we saw around 1700 on the frigate Culafroy.
Darling wandered from one department store to another. They were the only luxury he could
approach at close range, over which he could linger. He was attracted by the elevator, the
mirrors, the carpets (especially the rugs, which muted all the inner working of the organs
of his body; silence entered him through his feet, padded the whole play of his mechanism--
in short, he no longer felt himself); he was hardly at all attracted by the salesgirls, for
inadvertently certain gestures, though very restrained, certain mannerisms of Divine escaped
him. At first, he had dared a few just for the fun of it, but slyly, little by little, they
were conquering the stronghold, and Darling did hot even notice that he was shedding his skin.
It was at a later time--and we shall tell how-- that he realized the falsity of what he had
blurted out one evening: "A male that fucks another male is a double male!" Before going into
the Galeries Lafayette, he unhooked the gold chain that was beating against his fly. As long
as he was alone on the sidewalk, struggle was still possible, but in the meshes of all the
low lanes that the counters and show-cases wove into a shifting net, he was lost. He was at
the mercy of the will of "another," who stuffed his pockets with objects which, when he got
to his room and put them on the table, he did not recognize, for the sign which made him
choose them at the moment of theft was hardly common to the Divinity and Darling. At the
moment of this taking possession by the other, from the eyes, the ears, the slightly open
and even closed mouth of Darling there would flutter out, with a flapping of their tiny wings,
little grey or red Mercurys with wings on their ankles. Darling the tough, the cold, the
irrefragable, Darling the pimp would come to life, like a steep rock from which emerges at
each wet and mossy hollow a brisk sparrow, flitting about it like a flight of winged pricks.
Finally, he had to come round to it, that is, to steal. He had already, on several occasions,
engaged in the following game: on a show-case, among the objects on display and in the most
inaccessible spot, he would place, as if inadvertently, some trifling object that had been
bought and duly paid for at a distant counter. He would let it lie there for a few minutes,
ignoring its existence, and examine the surrounding displays. When the object had melted
sufficiently into the rest of the display, he would steal it. Twice a detective had caught
him and twice the Management had had to excuse itself, since he had the sale's slip.
Stealing from show-cases is done in several ways, and perhaps each mode of display requires
that one be used rather than another. For example, with one hand you can take hold of two
small objects (wallets) at the same time, hold them as if there were only one, examine them
leisurely, slip one into your sleeve and finally put the other back as if it were not quite
what you wanted. In front of piles of silk remnants you casually put one hand into the pocket
(which is slit) of your overcoat. You approach the counter until you touch it with your sto-
mach, and, while your free hand is fingering the cloth, moving it about and throwing the silks
into disorder, the hand which is in the pocket goes up to the top of the counter (still on a
level with the navel), draws in the cutting at the bottom of the pile and thus slides it,
for it is supple, under the overcoat, which hides it. But I am giving recipes that all house-
wives and purchasers are familiar with. Darling preferred to seize, to make the object des-
cribe a prompt parabola from the display-case to his pocket. It was bold, but more beautiful.
Like falling stars, bottles of perfume, pipes, lighters streamed in a pure and brief curve
and swelled out his thighs. It was a dangerous game. Whether it was worth the candle, only
Darling could tell. The game was a science that required training, preparation, like military
science. You first had to study the lay-out of the mirrors and their bevels, and also the o-
blique ones hooked to the ceiling, which reflect you in an upside-down world, but which the
detectives, by a stage-trick that functions in their brain, quickly turn right side up and
orient correctly. You had to watch for the moment when the salesgirl's eyes were elsewhere
and when the customers, always traitors, were not looking. Finally, you had to find, like a
lost object--or better, like one of those picture-puzzle figures, the lines of which on des-
sert plates are also those of trees and clouds--the detective. Find the detective. It's a
woman. The movies--among other games--teach the natural, a natural made up completely of
artifices and a thousand times more deceptive than the real. By dint of succeeding in resem-
bling a delegate to a convention or a midwife, the movie detective has given to the faces of
real delegates and real midwives the faces of detectives, and the real detectives, haggard
amidst this disorder which mixes up faces, unable to put up with this any longer, have cho-
sen to look like detectives, which simplifies nothing... "A spy who looked like a spy would
be a bad spy," a dancer said to me one day (One usually says: "a dancer, one evening."). I
don't believe it.
Darling was about to leave the store. Having nothing better to do, and in order to seem nat-
ural, and also because it's hard to shake off that turbulence, a Brownian movement, as dense
and mobile, and moving, as morning torpor--he lingered, as he passed, to look at the displays,
where one sees shirts, bottles of glue, hammers, lambs, rubber sponges. In his pockets were
two silver lighters and a cigarette case. He was being followed. When he was near the door,
which was guarded by a uniformed colossus, a little old woman said to him quietly:
"What have you stolen, young man?"
It was the "young man" that charmed Darling. Otherwise, he would have made a dash for it.
The most innocent words are the most pernicious, the most wily, and they're the ones you
have to watch out for. Almost immediately, the colossus was upon him and grabbed his wrist.
He charged like a tremendous wave upon the bather sleeping on the beach. Through the old wo-
man's words and the man's gesture, a new universe instantaneously presented itself to Dar-
ling: the universe of the irremediable. It is the same as the one we were in, with one pec-
uliar difference: instead of acting and knowing we are acting, we know we are acted upon.
A gaze--and it may be of our own eyes--has the sudden and precise keenness of the extra-
lucid, and the order of this world--seen inside out--appears so perfect in its inevitabi-
lity that this world has only to disappear. That's what it does in the twinkling of an eye.
The world is turned inside out like a glove. It happens that I am the glove and that I fi-
nally realize that on Judgment Day it will be with my own voice that God will call me,
Darling had known too many--as many as I had--of these world's ends for him to lament in
rebellion against this one when he had regained his footing. A rebellion would have merely
made him flip-flop like a carp on a carpet and would have made him ridiculous. Docilely, as
on a leash and in a dream, he let himself be taken by the doorman and the female detective
to the office of the store's special police superintendent, in the basement. He was done
for, nabbed. That very evening a police-wagon took him to the Station, where he spent the
night with numerous tramps, beggars, thieves, pickpockets, pimps, forgers, people who had
emerged from between the ill-joined stones of houses set up against each other in the dark-
est alleys. The following day Darling and his companions were taken to Fresnes Prison. He
then had to tell his name, his mother's name, and the given name, hitherto secret, of his
father (He invented: Romuald!). He again gave his age and occupation.
"Your occupation?" asked the court-clerk.
"Of course, yours."
Darling was on the point of seeing issue from between his blossoming lips: "Bar-maid," but
"No occupation. I don't work."
However, these words had for Darling the meaning and value of "Bar-maid."
Finally, he was undressed and his clothes were searched right to the hems. The guard made
him open his mouth, inspected it, ran his hands through his thick hair and furtively, after
having mussed it over his forehead, grazed the back of his neck, which was still hollow and
warm and vibrant, sensitive and ready, at the slightest caress, to cause frightful damage.
It is by the back of his neck that we see that Darling can still make a delicious trooper.
Finally the guard said to him,
He bent. The guard looked at his anus and saw a black spot.
"...eeze," he cried. Darling sneezed. But he had misunderstood. It was "Squeeze" that the
guard had cried. The black spot was a rather big lump of dung, which got bigger every day
and which Darling had already several times tried to pull away, but he would have had to
pull out the hairs with it, or take a hot bath.
"You've sure been shitting," said the guard. (Now, to be shitting also means to be scared,
and the guard did not know this.)
Darling of the noble bearing, of the swaying hips, of the tight shoulders! At the reforma-
tory, an inspector (he was twenty-five years old, and wore fawn-colored leather boots up to
his no doubt hairy thighs) had taken it into his head that the youngsters' shirt-tails were
stained with shit. Every Sunday morning, when we changed linen, he therefore made us spread
out, holding them before us by the two outstretched sleeves, our dirty shirts. With the thin
end of his whip he would lash the face, already tortured by humiliation, of the boy whose
shirt-tail was doubtful. We no longer dared to go to the toilet, but, when we were driven to
it by the gripes, after wiping our fingers on the white-washed wall (there was no paper)
which was already yellow with piss, we took good care to lift up our shirt-tails (I say "we",
but at the time each kid thought he was the only one who did it) and it was the seat of the
white pants that was soiled. On Sunday mornings we felt the hypocritical purity of virgins.
Larochedieu was the only one who got tangled up, toward the end of the week, in his shirt-
tails and dirtied them. Though the matter was not serious, the three years that he spent in
the penitentiary were poisoned by the preoccupation with those Sunday mornings--which I
now see, decorated with garlands of little shirts flowered with light touches of yellow shit, be-
fore mass--with the result that on Saturday evenings he would rub the corner of his shirt on
the whitewash of the wall to try to whiten it. Passing in front of him--the boy drawn and
quartered, already in the pillory, crucified at fifteen--the feather-booted inspector, his
eyes tawny and gleaming, remained motionless. Without preconceived cleverness on his part,
there passed over his harsh features (the feelings which we shall say were painted there, b-
ecause of that harshness, like a charge) disgust, contempt and horror. With his body erect,
he spat right in Larochedieu's marble face, which awaited only this spit. We who read this
can imagine that the inspector's shirt-tails and the seat of his underpants were shitty. Thus,
Darling Daintyfoot could divine the soul of a bum like Larochedieu on whose back one spits.
But he hardly paid any attention to these momentary exchanges of souls. He never knew why,
after certain shocks, he was surprised to find himself back in his skin. He did not say a
word. The guard and he were alone in the locker-room. His chest was bursting with fury. Shame
and fury. He left the room, trailing after him that noble behind--and it was by his behind
that one recognized that he would have made a brilliant toreador. He was finally locked in
a cell, and, under lock and key, he felt free and washed; with his fragments pasted together
again, he was once more Darling, the gentle Darling. His cell might be anywhere. The walls
are white, the ceiling is white, but the black filthy floor sets it down on the floor and
situates it there, precisely, that is, between a thousand cells which crush it, though they
are light, on the fourth floor of the Fresnes Prison. We are now there. The longest detours
finally lead me back to my prison, my cell. Now, almost without pretence, without transposi-
tion, without a go-between, I could tell of my life here, my present life.
In front of all the cells runs an inner balcony on which each door opens. We stand behind
our door waiting for the guard, and we fall into poses that identify us; for instance, a
certain bum indicates, by standing with his cap in his extended hand, that he usually begs
in front of churches. When we return from the walk and wait for the guard, each prisoner,
if he leans forward, cannot but hear some guitar serenade, or feel, at this rail, that the
big vessel is lurching wildly beneath the moon and is about to go under. My cell is an ex-
actly cubic box. In the evening, as soon as Darling stretches out in bed, the window car-
ries the cell off towards the west, detaches it from the masoned block and flies off with
it, hauling it like the basket of a balloon. In the morning, when a door opens--they're all
closed at that time and this is a deep mystery, deep as the mystery of number in Mozart or
the use of the chorus in tragedy--(in prison, more doors are opened than closed) an elastic
draws it back from the space in which it had been hovering and sets it in place again; that
is when the prisoner has to get up. He pisses, straight and solid as an elm, into the bowl
of the latrine, then gives his limp tool a bit of a shake; the relief that comes from the
flowing urine restores him to active life, places him on earth, though delicately, careful-
ly, unties the bonds of night, and he gets dressed. With the whisk-broom he sweeps up ashes
and dust. The guard comes by, opening the door for five seconds to give the men time to put
out the sweepings. Then he shuts it again. The prisoner is not quite over the nausea that
comes from waking with a start. His mouth is full of pebbles. The bed is still warm. But he
does not lie down again. He must struggle with the daily mystery. The iron bed fastened to
the wall, the shelf fastened to the wall, the wooden chair fastened to the wall by a chain--
this chain, residue of a very ancient order, in which prisons were called gaols and dungeons,
in which prisoners, like sailors, were galley-slaves, dims the modern cell with a romantic
Brest or Toulon fog, carries it back through time and makes Darling shudder subtly at the
suspicion that he is in the Bastille (the chain is a symbol of a monstrous power; weighted
with a ball, it used to shackle the numb feet of His Majesty's Galley-Slaves)--the dry kelp
mattress, narrow as the bier of an oriental queen, the bare bulb hanging from the ceiling,
are as rigid as a precept, as bones and exposed teeth. When he returns home, to the attic,
Darling will never again, if he sits or lies down, or has tea, be able to forget that he is
resting or sleeping on the framework of an armchair or sofa. The iron hand in the velvet
glove is a reminder. Lift the veil. Alone in the cell, in almost breast-like rhythm (it
beats like a mouth) the white tile latrine gives its comforting breath. It alone is human.
The Darling-Block walks with little swaying steps. He is alone in his cell. From his nos-
trils he plucks acacia and violet petals. With his back to the door, where an anonymous eye
is always spying, he eats them, and with the back of his thumb, where he has let the nail
grow long, like that of a scholar, he hunts for others. Darling is a fake pimp. The schemes
he devises suddenly peter out in poetical meanderings. Almost always he walks with a regu-
lar and casual step: he is haunted by a memory. Today he is pacing to and fro in his cell.
He is unoccupied, which is very rare, for he works almost constantly, in secret, but with
fidelity to his curse. He goes to the shelf-rack and raises his hand to the level where, in
the garret, on a piece of furniture, the revolver lies. The door opens with a great ratt-
ling, as of locks being forget, and the guard yells out:
"Quick, the towels."
Darling stands rooted there, holding in his hands the clean towels he has been given for
the dirty ones. Then he continues by fits and starts the gestures of the drama which he is
unaware that he is acting out. He sits down on h& bed; he rubs his hand over his forehead.
He hesitates to... Finally, he gets up and, in front of the little two-penny mirror nailed
to the wall, he pushes aside his blond hair and, without realizing what he is doing, looks
for a bullet wound at his temple.
Night unlooses Darling from his tough rind of determined pimp. In his sleep, he grows tender,
but all he can do is clutch at the pillow, cling to it, lay his cheek tenderly on the rough cloth
--the cheek of a kid about to burst into tears--and say, "Stay. Please, my love, stay." In
the hearts of all the "men" is enacted a five-second tragedy in verse. Conflicts, cries,
daggers, or prison which resolves; the liberated man has just been the witness and matter
of a poetic work. For a long time I thought that the poetic work posed conflicts: it cancels
At the foot of the prison walls, the wind is kneeling. The prison draws along all the cells
where the prisoners are asleep; grows lighter and slips away. Run, censors, the thieves are
far. The second-story men are mounting. By stair-well or elevator. Subtly they spirit away.
They steal. And steal away. On the landing, the midnight bourgeois, overwhelmed by the
dread of the mystery of a child stealing, of an adolescent jimmying doors, the robbed bour-
geois dares not cry out, "Stop thief!" He hardly turns his head. The thief makes heads
turn, houses pitch, castles dance, prisons fly.
Darling is asleep at the foot of the wall. Sleep, Darling, stealer of nothing, stealer of
books, of bell-ropes, of horses' manes and tails, of bikes, of fancy dogs. Darling, tricky
Darling, who can rob women of their compacts, and, with a limed stick, priests of the money
in the collection-box, and the devout taking communion at low mass of the bags they leave on
the prayer-stool, and the pimps of their beat, the police of their inside tips, concierges
of their sons and daughters, sleep, sleep, hardly has the day dawned when a ray, on your
blond hair, of the oncoming sun locks you in your prison. And the days that follow make
your life longer than broad.
When it is time to get up, a prisoner runs around the balcony and bangs once at each door.
One after the other, with the same gestures, three thousand prisoners disturb the heavy
atmosphere, get up and do the little morning jobs. Later a guard will open the grate of
cell 329 to hand out the soup. He looks about without a word. In this story, the guards
also have their job. They are not all fools, but they are all purely indifferent to the game
they play. They haven't the slightest notion of the beauty of their function. Recently they
have been wearing a dark blue uniform which is an exact copy of aviators' outfits, and I think,
if their souls are noble, that they are ashamed of being caricatures of heroes. They are
aviators fallen from the sky, smashing the glass of the ceiling. They have escaped into
prison. On their collars there still cling stars which, from close, seem white and embroi-
dered, because it is daytime when we can see them. One imagines that they threw themselves
from their planes in terror (the wounded child Guynemer fell curled with fear; he fell with
his wing shattered by the hard air it had to cleave, his body bleeding a benzine25 rainbow,
and that is what is meant by falling into a heaven of glory); they are finally in a world
which does not surprise them. They have the right to walk by all the cells without opening
them, to look at the humble, gentle-hearted hoodlums. No. They do not think of doing so be-
cause they have no desire to. They fly in the air: they have no desire to open the grates
and, through the diamond-shaped opening, take by surprise the familiar gestures of murder-
ers and thieves, take them by surprise when they are washing their linen, tucking in their
bedclothes for the night, sealing their windows, out of economy, with their big fingers
and a pin, slitting matches in two or in four, and to make a trivial--hence human--remark
to them to see whether they are not at once transformed into lynxes or foxes. They are
guardians of tombs. They open the doors and shut them again, unconcerned about the trea-
sures they protect. Their honest (beware of the word "noble" and the word "honest" which
I have just used), their honest faces, pulled downwards, smoothed by the vertical fall
without parachutes, are not altered by rubbing shoulders with racketeers, crooks, pimps,
fences, forgers, killers and counterfeiters. Not a flower bespatters their uniform, not a
crease of dubious elegance, and if I could say of one of them that he walked on velvet feet,
it was because a few days later he was to betray, to go over to the opposite camp, which
is the thieving camp, to go straight back up into the sky, with the cash-box under his arm-
pit. I had noticed him at mass, in the chapel. At the moment of communion, the chaplain
left the altar and went up to one of the first cells (for the chapel is also divided into
five hundred cells, standing coffins), carrying the host to a prisoner who was supposed to
wait for it on bended knees. Hence, this turnkey-- who, wearing his cap, was in a corner
of the altar platform, with his hands in his pockets, his legs spread and in the posture
in which I was so pleased to see Alberto again--smiled, but in a pleasantly amused way,
which I would never have thought possible in a turnkey. His smile accompanied the Euchar-
ist and the return of the empty ciborium, and I thought that, while rubbing his balls with
his left hand, he was jeering at the worshipper. I had already wondered what would come of
the meeting of a handsome young guard and a handsome young criminal. I took delight in the
following two images: a bloody and mortal shock, or a sparkling embrace in a riot of spunk
and panting; but I had never taken notice of any guard, until finally I saw him. From my
cell, which was in the last row, I could hardly distinguish his features so that I was able
to give him those of a young and cowardly Mexican half-breed whose face I had cut out of
the cover of an adventure novel. I thought, "You little rat, I'll give you a communion all
right." My hatred and horror of that breed must have given me a still stiffer hard-on, for
I felt my tool swelling under my fingers--and I shook it until finally...--without taking
my eyes off the guard, who was still smiling pleasantly. I can tell myself now that he was
smiling at another guard or at a murderer and that, since I was between them, his luminous
smile passed through me and decomposed me. I could believe he was vanquished and grateful.
In the presence of the guards, Darling felt like a little boy. He hated and respected them.
All day long he smokes until he rocks on his bed. In his nausea, light spots form islands:
the gesture of a mistress; the face, smooth and beardless as a boxer's, of a girl. He flings
away his butts for the pleasure of the gesture. (One can expect anything of a pimp who rolls
his cigarettes, because this gives his fingers a certain elegance, who wears crepe-soled
shoes so as to take by surprise the people he passes, who will look at him with more aston-
ishment, will see his tie, will envy his hips, his shoulders, the back of his neck, who,
without knowing him, will create for him, despite his incognito, from one passer-by to the
next, a procession strewn and interrupted with homage, will accord a discontinuous and mo-
mentary sovereignty to this stranger, and the result of all these moments of sovereignty
will be that, all the same, he will, at the end of his days, have gone through life like a
sovereign.) In the evening, he gathers up the scattered tobacco, and he smokes. Lying in
bed on his back, with his legs spread, he flicks the cigarette ash with his right hand. His
left hand is under his head. It is a moment of happiness, made up of Darling's delightful
aptitude for being that which, by virtue of his pose, is profoundly that, and which this
essential quality makes live again there with its true life. Lying on a hard bed and smok-
ing, what could he be? Darling will never suffer, or will always be able to get out of a
tight spot by his ease in taking on the gestures of some chap he admires who happens to
be in the same situation, and, if books or anecdotes do not provide him with any, in creat-
ing them--thus, his desires (he realized it too late, when there was no longer time to re-
cede) were neither the desire to be a smuggler, king, juggler, explorer or slave-trader,
desire to be one of the smugglers, one of the kings, jugglers, etc., that is, as if... In the
most woeful of postures, Darling will be able to remember that it was also that of one
of his gods (and if they never assumed it, he'll force them to have assumed it), and his
own posture will be sacred and thereby even better than merely tolerable. (In this way, he
is like me who create those men--Weidmann, Pilorge, Soclay--in my desire to be them; but
he is quite unlike me in his faithfulness to his characters, for I have long since resigned
myself to being myself. But the fact is that my longing for a splendid imaginary destiny
has, as it were, condensed the tragic, purple elements of my actual life into a kind of ex-
tremely compact, solid and scintillating reduction, and I sometimes have the complex face
of Divine, who is herself, first and at times simultaneously, in her features and gestures,
the imaginary and so real creatures of election with whom, in strict privacy, she has con-
tentions, who torture and exalt her but who allow her no rest and give her, by subtle con-
tractions of wrinkles and the quiverings of her fingers, that disquieting air of being mul-
tiple, for she remains silent, as shut as a tomb and, like a tomb, peopled by the unclean.)
Lying on a hard bed and smoking, what could he be? "That which, by virtue of his pose, is
most profoundly that, that is, a jailed pimp smoking a cigarette, that is, himself." You
will therefore understand to what degree Divine's inner life was different from Darling's
Darling has written Divine a letter on the envelope of which he is obliged to put "Mons-
ieur," and has also written one to Our Lady of the Flowers. Divine is in the hospital. She
sends a money order of five hundred francs. We shall read his letter later on. Our Lady has
A guard opens the door and pushes a newcomer into the cell. Is it I or Darling who will re-
ceive him? He brings with him his blankets, mess-tin, tin cup, wooden spoon and his history.
At his first words I stop him. He continues talking, but I am no longer there.
"What's your name?"
That's enough. Like me and like the dead child for whom I am writing, his name is Jean. Be-
sides, what would it matter if he were less handsome, but I have a run of bad luck. Jean there.
Jean here. When I tell one of them that I love him, I wonder whether I am not telling it to my-
self. I am no longer here, because I am again trying to relive the few times he let me caress
him. I dared all and, in order to tame him, I allowed him to have the superiority of the male
over me; his member was as solid as a man's and his adolescent's face was gentleness itself,
so that when, lying on my bed, in my room, straight and motionless, he discharged into my
mouth, he lost nothing of his virginal chastity. It is another Jean, here, who tells me his
story. I am no longer alone, but I am thereby more alone than ever. I mean that the solitude
of prison gave me the freedom to be with the hundred Jean Genets glimpsed in a hundred pass-
ers-by, for I am quite like Darling, who also stole the Darlings whom a thoughtless gesture
let escape from all the strangers he had brushed against; but the new Jean brings into me
--as a folding fan draws in the designs on the gauze--brings in I know not what. Yet, he is
far from unlikable. He is even stupid enough for me to feel a certain tenderness for him. His
narrow black eyes, brown skin, bushy hair and that wide-awake look... Something like a Greek
guttersnipe whom one imagines crouching at the foot of the invisible statue of Mercury, play-
ing snakes and ladders, but keeping an eye on the god in order to steal his sandals.
"What are you in for?"
"Pimping. They call me the Pigalle Weasel."
"Don't hand me that. You're not dressed for it. At Pigalle there's only fairies. Let's hear
The Greek child tells that he was caught in the act just as he was removing his hand, which
was stuffed with bills, from the cash-drawer of a bar.
"But I'll get even. When I get out, I'm gonna bust all his windows with stones, at night. But
I'm gonna put on gloves to pick up the stones. Because of the fingerprints. Can't monkey around
I continue my reading of cheap novels. It satisfies my love of hoodlums dressed up as gentle-
men. Also my taste for imposture, my taste for the sham, which could very well make me write on
my visiting cards: "Jean Genet, bogus Count de Tillancourt." Amidst the pages of these thick
books, in flattened type, marvels appeared. Like straight lilies there surge up young men, who
are, thanks to me somewhat, both princes and beggars. If from myself I make Divine, from them I
make her lovers: Our Lady, Darling, Gabriel, Alberto, lads who whistle through their teeth and
on whose heads you can, if you look closely, see, in the form of an aureole, a royal crown. I
cannot prevent them from having the nostalgic quality of cheap novels with paper as gray as the
skies of Venice and London, all marked up with the drawings and fierce signs of convicts: pro-
files with eyes in full-face, bleeding hearts. I read these works which are idiotic to reason,
but my reason is not concerned with a book from which poisoned, feathered phrases swoop down
on me. The hand that launches them sketches, as it nails them somewhere, the dim outline of a
Jean who recognizes himself, dares not move, awaiting the one that, aimed at his heart in ear-
nest, will leave him panting. I am madly in love (as I love prison) with that close print, com-
pact as a pile of rubbish, crammed with acts as bloody as linens, as the fetuses of dead cats,
and I do not know whether it is stiffly erect pricks which are transformed into tough knights or
knights into vertical pricks.
And after all, is it necessary for me to talk about myself so directly? I much prefer to des-
cribe myself in the caresses I reserve for my lovers. The new Jean came very close to becoming
Darling. What did he lack? When he farts, with a sharp noise, he makes that gesture of bending
on his thighs while keeping his hands in his pockets and turning his torso a little, as though
he were screwing it on. It is the movement of a pilot at the helm, and he is the image of Dar-
ling, about whom I liked, among other things, the following: when he hummed a Java tune, he
would do a dance step and place both hands in front of him as if they were holding the waist
of a partner (depending on his mood, he made the waist more or less narrow, drawing his always
mobile hands apart or together); he therefore seemed also to be holding the sensitive steering-
wheel of a Delage on an almost straight road; he also seemed to be a nervous boxer protecting
his liver with flat and agile hands; thus, the same gesture was common to a number of heroes,
whom Darling suddenly became, and it always so happened that this gesture was the one that sym-
bolized most forcefully the most graceful of males. He would make those marvelous gestures which
bring us to their knees. Tough gestures that spur us on and make us whimper, like that city
whose flanks I saw bleeding streams of statues on the march, advancing to a rhythm of statues
borne up by sleep. The battalions advance in their dreams through the streets like a flying car-
pet or like a tire which falls and rebounds with a slow, heavy rhythm. Their feet stumble in
the clouds: then they awake. But an officer says a word: they close their eyes and go on in
their sleep, on their boots, which are as heavy as pedestals, the dust being a cloud. Like the
Darlings who have passed through us, far away on their clouds. The one thing that makes them
different is their steely hips, which can never make of them crooked and flexible pimps. It a-
mazes me that the pander Horst Wessel, so they say, gave birth to a legend and a ballad.
Mindless, fecundating as a golden powder, they fell on Paris, which a whole night long re-
pressed the beating of its heart.
As for us, we shudder in our cells, which sing or complain with forced voluptuousness, for,
merely suspecting that debauch of males, we are as excited as if we saw a giant standing with
his legs spread and with a hard-on.
Darling had been in the jug about three months when (at the time I met the minors whose faces
seemed to me so wilful, so hard, though so young, making my poor white flesh--where I no longer
see anything of the fierce colonist of Mettray--appear flabby, though I recognize them and fear
them) he went downstairs for a medical examination. There a youngster spoke to him about Our
Lady of the Flowers. Everything that I tell you here in straightforward fashion, Darling learn-
ed in bits and scraps, through words whispered behind a hand spread fanwise, in the course of a
number of medical examinations. Throughout his astounding life, Darling, who is up on everything,
will never know anything. Just as he will always be ignorant of the fact that Our Lady is his
son, so he will not know that, in the story the kid tells him, Pierrot the Corsican is Our Lady
under a nickname he used for peddling dope. So, Our Lady was at the home of the kid who is going
to talk, when the elevator of the building stopped at the landing. The sound of its stopping
marked the moment from which the inevitable must be assumed. An elevator that stops quickens the
heartbeat of the one who hears it, like the sound of nails being hammered in the distance. It
makes life as brittle as glass. Someone rang. The sound of the bell was less fatal than that of
the elevator. It restored a bit of certainty, of the accepted. If the kid and Our Lady had heard
nothing more after the sound of the elevator, they would have died of fright. It was the kid who
opened the door.
"Police!" said one of the men, making the familiar gesture of turning back his lapel. At present,
the image of fatality is, for me, the triangle formed by three men too ordinary-looking not to
be dangerous. Let us imagine that I am walking up a street. All three of them are on the left-
hand sidewalk, where I have not yet noticed them. But they have seen me. One of them crosses
over to the other side of the street, the second stays on the left, and the last slows up his
pace and forms the apex of the triangle in which I am about to be enclosed: it's the Police.
They stepped into the ante-room. The whole floor was covered with a rug. Anyone who is willing
to mix detective-story adventures into his daily life--a life of shoes to be laced, of buttons
to sew on, of blackheads to remove-has to be a bit fay himself. The detectives walked with one
hand on the cocked revolvers in their jacket pockets. At the other end of the kid's studio flat,
the mantle-piece was topped by a huge mirror framed in rocaille crystal, with complicated facets;
a few chairs padded with yellow silk were scattered about. The curtains were drawn. The artifi-
cial light came from a small chandelier; it was noon. The detectives sniffed crime, and they
were right, for the studio reproduced the stuffy atmosphere in which Our panting Lady, his ges-
tures caught in a form stiff with courtesy and fear, had strangled the old man. There were roses
and arum on the mantle-piece, in front of them. As in the old man's apartment, the varnished fu-
rniture was all curves, from which the light seemed to well up rather than settle, as on the
globes of grapes. The detectives moved forward, and Our Lady watched them move forward in a sil-
ence as fearful as the eternal silence of the unknown spaces. They were moving forward, as was
he himself, into eternity.
They came at just the right moment. In the middle of the studio, on a big table, flat on the red
velvet cover, lay a big naked body. Our Lady of the Flowers, who was standing attentively beside
the table, watched the detectives approach. At the same time that the ominous idea of a murder
occurred to them, the idea that this murder was sham destroyed the murder; the awkwardness of
such a proposition, the awkwardness of its being both absurd and possible, of its being a sham
murder, made the detectives feel uneasy. It was quite obvious that they could not have been in
the presence of the cutting to pieces of a murdered man or woman. The detectives were wearing
signet-rings of real gold, and their neckties had genuine knots. As soon as--and before--they got
to the edge of the table, they saw clearly that the corpse was a tailor's wax dummy. Nevertheless,
the idea of murder clouded the simple data of the problem. "You there, I don't like your looks."
The elder of the detectives said this to Our Lady because the face of Our Lady of the Flowers is
so radiantly pure that immediately, and to anyone, the idea occurred that it was false, that this
angel must have been two-faced, with flames and smoke, for everyone has had occasion to say at
least once in his life, "You'd have thought he was a true saint," and wants, at any price, to be
more crafty than destiny.
So a sham murder dominated the scene. The two detectives were merely after cocaine that one of
their stool-pigeons had tracked down to the kid's place.
"Hand over the dope, and make it snappy."
"We don't have any dope, chief."
"Come on, kids, make it snappy. Otherwise, we'll take you away and make a search. That won't help
The kid hesitated a second, three seconds. He knew the ways of detectives and he knew he was
caught. He made up his mind.
"Here, that's all we've got."
He held out a tiny little packet, folded like a packet of pharmaceutical powder, which he removed
from the case of his wrist-watch. The detective pocketed it (his vest pocket).
"What about him?"
"He don't have any. Sure, chief, you can search."
"And what about that? Where does it come from?"
The dummy. Here we must perhaps recognize Divine's influence. She is present wherever the inexpli-
cable arises. She; the Giddy One, strews in her wake traps, artful pitfalls, deep dungeon-cells,
even at the risk of being caught in them herself if she about-faces, and because of her the minds
of Darling, Our Lady and their cronies bristle with incredible gestures. With their heads high,
they take falls that doom them to the worst of fates. Our Lady's young friend was also a crook,
and one night he and Our Lady of the Flowers stole a carton from a parked car. When they unpacked
it, they found it full of the frightful pieces of a wax dummy that had been disassembled.
The cops were putting on their overcoats. They didn't answer. The roses on the mantle-piece were
lovely, heavy and excessively fragrant. This further unsteadied the detectives. The murder was fake
or unfinished. They had come looking for dope. Dope... laboratories set up in garret rooms... which
explode... wreckage... Does that mean cocaine is dangerous? They took the two young men to the Vice
Squad, and that same evening they went back with the Commissioner to make a search that yielded
three hundred grams of cocaine. The kid and Our Lady were not thereby left in peace. The detectives
did all they could to get as much information out of them as possible. They fired questions at them,
searched through the darkness to unravel a few threads that might lead to other seizures. They sub-
jected them to modern torture: kicks in the belly, slaps, rulers in the ribs, and various other
games, first one and then the other.
"Confess!" they screamed.
Finally, Our Lady rolled under a table. Wild with rage, a detective dashed at him, but a second
detective held him back by the arm, mumbled something to him and then said aloud,
"Let him go, come on, Gaubert. After all, he hasn't committed a crime."
"Him, with that baby-doll mug of his? He's capable of it, all right"
Trembling with fear, Our Lady came out from under the table. They made him sit down on a chair. Af-
ter all, it was only a cocaine affair, and in the adjoining room the other kid was being treated less
roughly. The officer who had stopped the game of massacre remained alone with Our Lady. He sat down
and offered him a cigarette.
"Tell me what you know. There's not much harm done. Just a couple of grams of dope. You're not going
to get the guillotine."
It will be very difficult for me to explain precisely and describe minutely what took place inside
Our Lady of the Flowers. It is hardly possible to speak in this connection of gratitude toward the
softer-spoken of the detectives. The easing of the strain that Our Lady felt as a result of the
phrase "There's not much harm done" --no, it's not quite that. The detective said:
"The thing that get him sore was your dummy."
He laughed and drank a mouthful of smoke. Gargled it. Did Our Lady fear a lesser punishment? First,
there came from his liver, right up against his teeth, the confession of his killing the old man. He
didn't make the confession. But the confession was rising up, up. If he opens his mouth, he'll blurt
it all out. He felt he was a goner. Suddenly he gets dizzy. He sees himself clearly on the pediment
of a not very high temple. "I'm eighteen. I can be sentenced to death," he thinks very quickly. If
he but loosens his fingers, he falls. Come, he pulls himself together. No, he won't say anything. It
would be magnificent to say it, it would be glorious. No, no, no! Lord, no!
Ah! he's saved. The confession withdraws, withdraws without having crossed.
"I killed an old man."
Our Lady has fallen from the pediment of the temple, and instantly slack despair lulls him to sleep.
He is rested. The detective has hardly moved.
"Who, what old man?"
Our Lady comes back to life. He laughs.
"No, I'm kidding. I was joking."
With dizzying speed he concocts the following alibi: a murderer confesses spontaneously and in an
idiotic way, with impossible details, to a murder so that they'll think he's crazy and stop suspect-
ing him. Wasted effort. They start torturing him again. There's no use screaming that he was only
joking. The detectives want to know. Our Lady knows that they will know, and because he's young, he
thrashes about. He is a drowning man who is struggling against his gestures and into whom, neverthe-
less, peace--you know, the peace of the drowned--slowly descends. The detectives are now mentioning
the names of all men murdered during the last five or six years whose murderers have not yet been
caught. The list stretches out. Our Lady has the needless revelation of the extraordinary ignorance
of the police. The violent deaths unroll before his eyes. The detectives mention names, more names,
and they whack him. They're getting ready finally to say to Our Lady, "Maybe you don't know his
name?" Not yet. They mention names and glare in the child's red face. It's a game. The guessing-game.
Am I getting warm? Ragon?... His face is too upset to be able to express anything comprehensible.
It's all in disorder. Our Lady screams,
"Yes, yes, it's him. Let me go."
His hair is in his eyes. He tosses it back with a flick of his head, and this simple gesture, which
was his rarest preciosity, signifies to him the vanity of the world. He wipes away some of the drool
that flows from his mouth. Everything grows so calm that no one knows what to do.
Overnight, the name of Our Lady of the Flowers was known to all France, and France is used to confu-
sion. Those who merely skim the newspapers did not linger over Our Lady of the Flowers. Those who go
to the very bottom of the articles, scenting the unusual and tracking it down there every time,
brought to light a miraculous haul; these readers were schoolchildren and the little old women who,
out in the provinces, have remained like Ernestine, who was born old, like Jewish children who at the
age of four have the faces and gestures they will have at fifty. It was indeed for her, to enchant
her twilight, that Our Lady had killed an old man. Ever since the time she had started making up
tales as fatal as poems, or stories that seemed flat and trivial, but in which certain explosive words
ripped the canvas, showing, through these gashes, a bit of what went on, as it were, behind the
scenes, people were staggered when they realized why she had spoken that way. Her mouth was full of
stories, and people wondered how they could be born of her, who every evening read only a dull news-
paper: the stories were born of the newspaper, as mine are born of cheap novels. She used to stand
behind the window, waiting for the postman. As the time for the mail approached, her anguish would
heighten, and when finally she touched the grey, porous pages that oozed with the blood of tragedies
(the blood whose smell she confused with the smell of the ink and paper), when she unfolded them on
her knees like a napkin, she would sink back utterly, utterly exhausted, in an old red armchair.
A village priest, hearing the name of Our Lady of the Flowers float about him, without having recei-
ved a pastoral letter concerning the matter, one Sunday, from the pulpit, ordered prayers and recom-
mended this new cult to the particular devotion of the faithful. The faithful, sitting in their pews,
quite startled, said not a word, thought not a thought.
In a hamlet, the name of the flower known as "queen of the fields" made a little girl, who was think-
ing of Our Lady of the Flowers, ask her mother,
"Mommy, is she someone who had a miracle?"
There were other miracles that I haven't time to report.
The taciturn and feverish traveler who arrives in a city does not fail to go straight to the dives,
the red-light districts, the brothels. He is guided by a mysterious sense that alerts him to the call
of hidden love; or perhaps by the bearing of, the direction taken by certain habitues, whom he recog-
nizes by sympathetic signs, by pass-words exchanged between their subconscious minds, and whom he
follows on trust. In like manner, Ernestine went straight to the tiny lines of the miscellaneous news
items, which are the murders, robberies, rapes, armed aggressions--the "Barrios Chinos"26 of the
newspapers. She dreamed about them. Their concise violence and precision left the dream with neither
time nor space to filter in: they floored her. They broke upon her brutally, in vivid, resounding colors:
red hands placed on a dancer's face, green faces, blue eyelids. When this tidal wave subsided, she
would read all the titles of the musical selections listed in the radio column, but she would never
have allowed a musical air to enter her room, for the slightest melody corrodes poetry. Thus, the
newspapers were disturbing, as if they had been filled only with columns of crime news, columns as
bloody and mutilated as torture stakes. And though the press has very parsimoniously given to the
trial, which we shall read of tomorrow, only ten lines, widely enough spaced to let the air circulate
between the overviolent words, these ten lines--more hypnotic than the fly of a hanged man, than the
word "hempen collar," than the word "Zouave"27--these ten lines quickened the hearts of the old
women and jealous children. Paris did not sleep. She hoped that, the following day, Our Lady would be
sentenced to death; she desired it.
In the morning, the sweepers, impervious to the sweet and sad absences of those sentenced to death,
whether dead or not, to whom the Assize Court gives asylum, stirred up acrid dust, watered the floor,
spat, blasphemed and joked with the court-clerks who were setting out the files. The hearing was to
begin at exactly twelve forty-five, and at noon the porter opened the doors wide.
The courtroom is not majestic, but it is very high, so that it gives a general impression of verti-
cal lines, like lines of quiet rain. Upon entering, one sees on the wall a big painting with a figure
of justice, who is a woman, wearing big red drapings. She is leaning with all her weight upon a sabre,
here called a "glaive," which does not bend. Below are the platform and table where the jurors and
the presiding-judge, in ermine and red robe, will come to sit in judgment on the child. The name of
the presiding-judge is "Mr. Presiding-judge Vase de Sainte-Marie." Once again, in order to attain
its ends, destiny resorts to a low method. The twelve jurors are twelve decent chaps suddenly become
sovereign judges. So, the courtroom had been filling up since noon. A banquet hall. The table was set.
I should like to speak sympathetically about the courtroom crowd, not because it was not hostile to
Our Lady of the Flowers--that's all the same to me--but because it is sparkling with a thousand poetic
gestures. It is as shuddering as taffeta. At the edge of a gulf bristling with bayonets, Our Lady is
dancing a perilous dance. The crowd is not gay; its soul is sad unto death. It huddled together on
the benches, drew its knees and buttocks together, wiped its collective nose and attended to the hun-
dred needs of a courtroom crowd that is going to be weighed down by much majesty. The public comes
here only in so far as a word may result in a beheading and as it may return, like Saint Denis, car-
rying its severed head in its hands. It is sometimes said that death hovers over a people. Do you
remember the skinny, consumptive Italian woman that it was for Culafroy, and what it will later be
for Divine? Here death is only a black wing without a body, a wing made with some remnants of black
bunting and supported by a thin framework of umbrella ribs, a pirate banner without a staff. This
wing of bunting floated over the Court, which you are not to confuse with any other, for it is the
Court of Law. The wing enveloped it in its folds and had detailed a green crepe-de-chine tie to re-
present It in the courtroom. The tie, which lay on the Judge's table, was the only piece of evidence.
The Death visible here was a tie, and that's how I like it to be: it was a light Death.
The crowd was ashamed of not being the murderer. The robed lawyers were carrying briefs under
their arms and smiled as they greeted each other. They occasionally approached the Little Death quite
closely and most pluckily.
The newspapermen were with the lawyers. The delegates of the Church Youth Clubs were speaking in
whispers among themselves. They were disputing a soul. Was it necessary to throw dice for it in order
to send it to the Vosges? The lawyers, who, despite their long silken robes, do not have the gentle and
death-driven bearing of ecclesiastics, kept coming together in little groups and then breaking up. They
were very near the platform, and the crowd could hear them tuning up their instruments for the funeral
march. The crowd was ashamed of not dying. The religion of the hour was to await and envy a young
murderer. The murderer entered. All one could see was strapping Republican Guards. The child emerged
from the flanks of one of them, and the other unchained his wrists. Reporters have described the move-
ments of the crowd when a famous criminal enters. I therefore refer the reader, if I may, to their articles,
as my role and my art do not lie in describing mob behavior. Nevertheless, I shall make so bold as to say
that all eyes could read, graven in the aura of Our Lady of the Flowers, the following words: "I am the
Immaculate Conception." The lack of light and air in his cell had made him neither too pale nor too puf-
fy; the lines of his closed lips were the lines of a sober smile; his clear eyes knew nothing of Hell; his
entire face (but perhaps he stood before you like the prison, which, as that woman walked by singing in
the darkness, remained for her an evil wall, whereas all the cells were secretly taking flight, flown by
the hands, which were beating like wings, of the convicts who were electrified by the singing), his image
and his gestures released captive demons or, with several turns of a key, shut in angels of light. He
was wearing a very youthful, grey flannel suit, and the collar of his blue shirt was open. His blond hair
kept falling over his eyes, and you know about the flick of the head with which he drove it back.
Thus, when he had everyone in front of him, Our Lady, the murderer, who in a little while would be
dead, murdered in turn, jerked his head slightly, while blinking his eyes, which made his curly lock,
that fell close to his nose, bound back to his head. This simple scene transports us, that is, it
raised up the moment, as the fakir's oblivion to the world raises him up and holds him suspended.
The moment was no longer of the earth, but of the sky. Everything gave grounds for fear that the
hearing might be chopped up into those cruel moments that would pull away trapdoors from under
the feet of the judges, lawyers, Our Lady and the guards, and, for an eternity, would leave them
lifted up as fakirs, until the moment when a slightly too deep respiration would restore the sus-
The guard of honor (members of the colonial troops) entered noisily with their hob-nailed boots and
rattling bayonets. Our Lady thought it was the firing-squad.
Have I mentioned the fact that the audience was made up mostly of men? But all of them, sombrely
dressed, with umbrellas on their arms and newspapers in their pockets, were shakier than a bower
of wistaria, than the lace curtain of a crib. Our Lady of the Flowers was the reason why the court-
room, all invaded by a grotesque and dressed-up crowd, was a May hedgerow. The murderer was sitting
on the criminal's bench. The removal of the chains enabled him to put his hands deep into his pock-
ets. He therefore seemed to be in no particular place; he looked as though he might be in the wait-
ing-room of an employment bureau, on a bench in a park, watching a Punch and Judy show in a kiosk a
way off, or perhaps even in church, at Thursday catechism. I swear he was waiting for anything. At
a certain moment, he took one hand out of his pocket and, as a while before, flicked back, with, at
the same time, a toss of his pretty little head, the blond curly lock. The crowd stopped breathing.
He completed his gesture by smoothing back his hair, down to the nape of the neck, and I am thereby
reminded of a strange impression: when, in a person who has been dehumanized by glory we discern a
familiar gesture, a vulgar feature (there you have it: tossing back a lock of hair with a jerk of
the head) that breaks the limy crust, and through the crevice, which is as lovely as a smile or an
error, we glimpse a patch of sky. I had once noted this in the case of one of Our Lady's thousand
forerunners, an annunciatory angel of this virgin, a blond young boy ("Girls blond as boys..." I
shall, indeed, never weary of this phrase which has the charm of the expression: "a French guards-
woman") whom I used to watch in gymnasium groups. He depended upon the figures that he helped to
form and, thus, was only a sign. But whenever he had to place one knee on the floor and, like a
knight at a coronation, extend his arms at the word of command, his hair would fall over his eyes
and he would break the harmony of the gymnastic figure by pushing the hair back, against his temp-
les, and then behind his ears, which were small, with a gesture that described a curve with both
his hands, which, for an instant, enclosed, and pressed like a diadem, his oblong skull. It would
have been the gesture of a nun pushing aside her veil, were it not that at the same time he shook
his head like a bird preening itself after drinking.
It was also this discovery of the man in the god that once made Culafroy love Alberto for his cow-
ardice. Alberto's left eye had been knocked out. In a village, an event of this kind is no small
matter. After the poem (or fable) that was born of it (recurring miracle of Anne Boleyn: from the
steaming blood sprang a bush of roses, that might have been white but were certainly fragrant),
the necessary sifting was done in order to disengage the truth scattered beneath the marble. It
became apparent that Alberto had been unable to avoid a quarrel with his rival over his girl-
friend. He had been cowardly, as always, as the whole village knew him to be, and this had given
victorious promptness to his opponent. With a stab of his knife, he had put out Alberto's eye.
All Culafroy's love swelled up, as it were, when he learned of the accident. It swelled with
grief, with heroism and with maternal tenderness. He loved Alberto for his cowardice. Compared
to this monstrous vice, the others were pale and inoffensive and could be counterbalanced by any
other virtue, particularly by the most beautiful. I use the popular word in the popular sense,
which is so becoming to it and which implies the fullest recognition of the bodily powers: guts.
For we may say of a man who is full of vices: All is not lost so long as he hasn't "that one".
But Alberto did have that one. So it made no difference whether he had all the others; the infamy
would have been none the greater. All is not lost so long as valor remains, and it was valor that
Alberto had just lacked. As for suppressing this vice--for example, by pure and simple negation--
that was out of the question, but it was easy to destroy its belittling effect by loving Alberto
for his cowardice. Though his downfall, which was certain, did not embellish him, it poetized him.
Perhaps Culafroy drew closer to him because of it. Alberto's courage would not have surprised him,
nor left him indifferent, but now, instead, he was discovering another Alberto, one who was more
man than god. He was discovering the flesh. The statue was crying. Here, the word "cowardice" can-
not have the moral--or immoral--sense usually ascribed to it, and Culafroy's taste for a handsome,
strong and cowardly young man is not a fault or aberration. Culafroy now saw Alberto prostrate,
with a dagger dug into his eye. Would he die of the wound? This idea made him think of the deco-
rative role of widows, who wear long crape trains and dab their eyes with little white handker-
chief rolled up as tight as snowballs. He no longer thought of anything but observing the external
signs of his grief, but as he could not make it visible to people's eyes, he had to transport it
into himself, as Saint Catherine of Siena transported her cell. The country folk were confronted
with the spectacle of a child who dragged behind him the train of ceremonial widow's weeds; they
did not recognize it. They did not understand the meaning of the slowness of his walk, the bowing
of his forehead and the emptiness of his gaze. To them it was all simply a matter of poses dictated
by the pride of being the child of the slate house.
Alberto was taken to the hospital, where he died; the village was exorcised.
Our Lady of the Flowers. His mouth was slightly open. Occasionally he would shift his eyes to his
feet, which the crowd hoped were wearing selvage slippers. At the drop of a hat they expected to
see him make a dance movement. The court clerks were still fussing with the records. On the table,
the lithe little Death lay inert and looked quite dead. The bayonets and the heels were sparkling.
The Court entered by a jib-door that was cut out of the wall-paper behind the jurors' table. Now,
Our Lady, having heard in prison of the ceremoniousness of the Court, imagined that today, by a
kind of grandiose error, it would enter by the great public door which opened in the middle, just
as, on Palm Sunday, the clergy, who usually leave the sacristy by a side door near the choir, sur-
prise the faithful by appearing from behind them. The Court entered, with the familiar majesty of
princes, by a service door. Our Lady had a foreboding that the whole session would be faked and
that at the end of the performance his head would be cut off by means of a mirror trick. One of
the guards shook his arm and said,
He had wanted to say "Please, stand up," but he dared not. The audience was standing in silence.
It sat down again noisily. M. Vase de Sainte-Marie was wearing a monocle. He looked shiftily at
the tie and, with both hands, fumbled about in the file. The file was as crammed with details as
the chamber of the examining-magistrate was crammed with files. Facing Our Lady, the district at-
torney did not let out a peep. He felt that a word from him, a too commonplace gesture, would
transform him into the devil's advocate and would justify canonization of the murderer. It was a
difficult moment to endure; he was risking his reputation. Our Lady was seated. A slight movement
of M. Vase de Sainte-Marie's fine hand brought him to his feet.
The questioning began:
"Your name is Adrien Baillon?"
"You were born on December 19th 1920?"
"Very well. Which district?"
"The eighteenth, sir."
"Very well. Your... er-acquaintances gave you a nickname... (He hesitated; then:) Would you mind
telling it to the Court?"
The murderer made no answer, but the name, without being uttered, emerged all winged from the front
of the crowd's brain. It floated over the courtroom, invisible, fragrant, secret, mysterious.
The judge replied aloud:
"Yes, that's right. And you are the son of...?"
"And an unknown father. Yes. The accusation..." (Here the jurors--there were twelve of them--took
a comfortable position, which, though suiting each of them individually because it favored a cer-
tain propensity, was consistent with each one's dignity. Our Lady was still standing, with his
arms dangling at his sides, like those of that bored and delighted little king who from the stair-
way of the royal palace witnesses a military parade.)
The judge continued:
"...on the night of July 7th to 8th, 1937, entered, and no trace has been found of forced entry,
into the apartment situated on the fifth floor of the building located at number 12 Rue de Vaugi-
rard and occupied by M. Paul Ragon, sixty-seven years of age."
He raised his head and looked at Our Lady:
"Do you acknowledge the facts?"
"The investigation specifies that it was M. Ragon himself who opened the door for you. At least,
that is what you have stated without being able to prove it. Do you still maintain it?"
"Then, it appears that M. Ragon, who knew you, seemed delighted with your visit and offered you
liquor. Then, without his expecting it, with the help... (he hesitated)... of this tie, you
" The judge took the tie.
"Do you recognize this tie as belonging to you and as being the instrument of the crime?"
The judge had the soft tie in his fingers, a tie like a piece of ectoplasm, a tie that had to be
looked at while there was still time, for it might disappear at any moment or stiffen in the dry
hand of the judge, who felt that if it did actually become erect or disappear, he would be cover-
ed with ridicule. He therefore hastened to pass the instrument of the crime to the first juror,
who passed it to his neighbor, and so on, without anyone's daring to linger over recognizing it,
for each of them seemed to be running the risk of being metamorphosed under his own eyes into a
Spanish dancer. But the precautions of these gentlemen were futile, and though they were not
aware of it, they were thoroughly changed. The shame-faced gestures of the jurors, seemingly in
connivance with the destiny that governed the murder of an old man, and the murderer, who was as
motionless as a mediumistic subject who is being questioned, and who, by virtue of such immobi-
lity, is absent, and the place of this absence, all these darkened the courtroom where the crowd
wanted to see clearly. The judge droned on and on. He had reached the following point:
"And who gave you the idea of this method of committing murder?"
The entire world understood that Him was the dead man, who was now replaying a role, he who had
been buried and devoured by worms and larva.
The judge started shouting frightfully:
"It was the victim himself who showed you how you were to go about getting rid of him? Look here,
explain what you mean."
Our Lady seemed embarrassed. A gentle modesty prevented him from speaking. Shyness too.
"Yes. You see... M. Ragon was wearing a tie that was too tight. He was all red. So he took it
And the murderer very gently, as if he were consenting to an infamous real or a charitable act-
ion, admitted: "
So I thought that if I tightened it, it'd be worse."
And in a still lower voice, just for the guards and judge (but it was lost in the crowd):
"'Cause I got good arms."
The judge, overwhelmed, lowered his head:
"You wretch!" he cried. "Why?"
"I was fabulously broke."
Since the word "fabulous" is used to qualify a fortune, it did not seem impossible to apply it
to destitution. And the fabulous impecuniousness made for Our Lady a pedestal of cloud; he was
as prodigiously glorious as the body of Christ rising aloft, to dwell there alone and fixed, in
the sunny noonday sky. The judge was twisting his beautiful hands. The crowd was twisting its
faces. The clerks were crumpling sheets of carbon paper. The eyes of the lawyers suddenly looked
like those of extra-lucid chickens. The guards were officiating. Poetry was kneading its matter.
Alone, Our Lady was alone and kept his dignity, that is, he still belonged to a primitive mytho-
logy and was unaware of his divinity and his divinization. The rest of the world knew not what to
think and made superhuman efforts not to be carried off from the shore. Their hands, the nails of
which had been ripped away, clung to any safety plank: crossing and uncrossing their legs, star-
ing at stains on their jackets, thinking of the family of the strangled man, picking their teeth.
"Now explain to the court how you proceeded."
It was awful. Our Lady had to explain. The police had demanded details, so had the examining-mag-
istrate, and now it was the court's turn. Our Lady was ashamed, not of his deed (that was impos-
sible), but of continually going over the same old story. He was so tired of ending his account
with the words "Until he was done for," that he baldly thought of giving a new version. He decided
to say something else. Yet, at the same time, he related exactly the story he had told in the very
same words to the detectives, the judge, the lawyer and the psychiatrists. For, to Our Lady, a ges-
ture is a poem and can be expressed only with the help of a symbol which is always, always the
same. And all that remained with him of his two-year-old acts was the bare expression. He was re-
reading his crime as a chronicle is re-read, but it was no longer really about the crime that he
was talking. Meanwhile, the clock on the wall opposite him was behaving in orderly fashion, but
time was out of order, so that, every second, it marked out long periods and short ones.
Of the twelve good old men and true of the jury, four were wearing spectacles. These four were
cut off from communion with the courtroom, for glass is a bad conductor---it insulates--and they
followed, elsewhere, other adventures. In fact, none of them seemed interested in this murder
case. One of the old men kept sleeking his beard; he was the only one who appeared to be atten-
tive, but, when we observe him more closely, we can see that his eyes are hollow, like those of
statues. Another was made of cloth. Another was drawing circles and stars on the green table-co-
ver; in daily life he was a painter, and his sense of humor led him at times to color pert little
sparrows perched on a garden scarecrow. Another was spitting all his teeth into his pale blue--
France blue-handkerchief. They stood up and followed the judge through the small hidden door.
The deliberations are as secret as the election of a chief of masked bandits, as the execution of
a traitor within a confraternity. The crowd relieved itself by yawning, stretching and belching.
Our Lady's lawyer left his bench and walked over to his client.
"Keep your chin up, my boy," he said, squeezing Our Lady's hands. "You answered very well. You
were frank. I think the jury is with us."
As he spoke, he squeezed Our Lady's hands, supported him or clung to him. Our Lady smiled. It was
a smile that was enough to damn his judges, a smile so azure that the guards themselves had an
intuition of the existence of God and of the great principles of geometry. Think of the moonlight
tinkling of the toad; at night it is so pure that the vagabond on the highway stops and does not
go on until he has heard it again.
"They putting up a fight?" he asked, winking.
"Yes, yes, it's all right," said the lawyer.
The guard of honor presented arms, and the unhooded Court emerged from the wall. M. Vase de
Sainte-Marie sat down in silence; then everyone sat down with a racket. The judge placed his head
between his beautiful white hands and said,
"We shall now hear the witnesses. Ah! first let's look at the police report. Are the inspectors
It is extraordinary that a presiding judge should be so absent-minded as to forget so serious a
thing. Our Lady was shocked by his mistake, just as he would have been shocked by a spelling mis-
take (had he known spelling) in the prison regulations. A clerk ushered in the two detectives who
had arrested Our Lady. The one who had formerly carried on the now two-year-old investigation was
dead. They therefore gave a succinct report of the facts: an astounding story in which a fake mur-
der led to the discovery of a true one. This discovery is impossible, I'm dreaming. "All because
of a trifle!" But, after all, I admit this amusing discovery, which leads to death, a little more
readily ever since the guard took away the manuscript I had in my pocket during recreation. I have
a feeling of catastrophe; then I dare not believe that a catastrophe of this kind can be the logi-
cal outcome of such slight carelessness. Then I think of the fact that criminals lose their heads
because of such slight carelessness, so slight that one should have the right to repair it by back-
ing up, that it's so trifling that if one asked the judge, he would consent, and that one cannot.
Despite their training, which they say is Cartesian, the jurymen will be unable, when, in a few
hours, they condemn Our Lady to death, to figure out whether they did so because he strangled a
doll or because he cut up a little old man into pieces. The detectives, instigators of anarchism,
withdrew with a pretty kowtow to the judge. Outside, snow was falling. This could be guessed from
the movement of the hands in the courtroom which were turning up coat collars. The weather was ov-
ercast. Death was advancing stealthily over the snow. A clerk called the witnesses. They were wait-
ing in a little side-room, the door of which opened opposite the prisoner's box. The door opened,
each time, just enough to let them edge through sideways, and one by one, drop by drop, they were
infused into the trial. They went straight to the bar, where each raised his right hand and replied
"I so swear" to a question no one asked. Our Lady saw Mimosa the Second enter. The clerk, however,
had called out, "Rene Hirsch,"; when he called "Antoine Berthollet," there appeared First Communi-
on; at "Eugene Marceau" appeared Lady-apple. Thus, in the eyes of Our bewildered Lady, the little
faggots from Pigalle to Place Blanche lost their loveliest adornment, their names, lost their cor-
olla, like the paper flower that the dancer holds at his fingertips and which, when the ballet is
over, is a mere wire stem. Would it not have been better to have danced the entire dance with a
simple wire? The question is worth examining. The faggots showed the framework that Darling dis-
cerned behind the silk and velvet of every armchair. They were reduced to nothing, and that's the
best thing that's been done so far. They entered aggressively or shyly, scented, made up, expres-
sed themselves with studied care. They were no longer the grove of crinkly paper that flowered on
the terraces of cafes. They were misery in motley. (Where do the faggots get their noms de guerre?
But first it should be noted that none of them were chosen by those who bore them. This, however,
does not hold for me. I can hardly give the exact reasons why I chose such and such a name. Di-
vine, First Communion, Mimosa, Our Lady of the Flowers and Milord the Prince did not occur to me
by chance. There is a kinship among them, an odor of incense and melting taper, and I sometimes
feel as if I had gathered them among the artificial or natural flowers in the chapel of the Virgin
Mary, in the month of May, under and about the greedy plaster statue that Alberto was in love
with and behind which, as a child, I used to hide the phial containing my spunk.) Some of them ut-
tered a few words that were terrifyingly precise, such as: "He lived at 8 Rue Berthe" or "I met
him for the first time on October 17th. It was at Graff's Cafe." A raised pinky, lifted as if the
thumb and forefinger were holding a teacup, disturbed the gravity of the session, and by means of
this stray straw could be sensed the tragic nature of its mass. The clerk called out, "M. Louis
Culafroy." Supported by Ernestine, who was wearing black and stood bolt upright, the only real
woman to be seen at the trial, Divine entered. What remained of her beauty fled in confusion. The
lines and shadows deserted their posts; it was a debacle. Her lovely face was uttering heartren-
ding appeals, howls as tragic as the cries of a dying woman. Divine was wearing a brown, silky
camel-hair coat. She too said,
"I so swear."
"What do you know about the accused?" asked the judge.
"I've known him for a long time, your Honor, but nevertheless I can say that I think he's very
naive, very childlike. I've always regarded him as being very sweet. He could be my son."
She went on to tell, with a great deal of tact, how they had lived together for a long time.
There was no mention of Darling. Divine was at last the grown-up she had not been allowed to be
anywhere else. By Jove! here he is again, the witness, who has finally emerged from the child
Culafroy whom he had never ceased to be. If he never performs any simple act, it is because only
a few old men may be simple, that is, pure, purged, simplified as a diagram, which is perhaps
the state of being of which Jesus said: "...like unto little children" (though no child is ever
like that), which a life-long withering labor does not always achieve. Nothing about him was
simple, not even his smile, which he liked to draw out with the right corner of his mouth or
spread across his face, with his teeth clenched.
The greatness of a man is not only a function of his faculties, of his intelligence, of what-
ever gifts he may have; it is also made up of the circumstances that have elected him to serve
them as support. A man is great it he has a great destiny; but this greatness is of the order
of visible, measureable greatness. It is magnificence seen from without. Though it may be wretch-
ed when seen from within, it is then poetic, if you are willing to agree that poetry is the break-
ing apart (or rather the meeting at the breaking-point) of the visible and the invisible. Cula-
froy had a wretched destiny, and it is because of this that his life was composed of those secret
acts, each of which is in essence a poem, as the infinitesimal movement of the finger of a Balin-
ese dancer is a sign that can set a world in motion because it issues from a world whose multifa-
rious meaning is unavowable. Culafroy became Divine; he was thus a poem written only for himself,
hermetic to whoever did not have the key to it. In short, this is his secret glory, like the one
I have decreed upon myself so as to obtain peace at last. And I have it, for a fortuneteller in
a fair-booth assured me that some day I would be famous. With what sort of fame? I tremble at
the thought. But this prophecy is enough to calm my old need for thinking I have genius.I carry
within me, preciously, the words of the augury: "Some day you will be famous." I live with it in
secret, like families, in the evening, by the lamp, and always, if they have one, with the shin-
ing memory of their kinsman who was sentenced to death. It illuminates and horrifies me. This
quite virtual fame ennobles me, like a parchment that no one can decipher, an illustrious birth
kept secret, a royal bar sinister, a mask or perhaps a divine filiation, the kind of thing Jos-
ephine must have felt, she who never forgot that she had given birth to the child who was to be-
come the prettiest woman in the village, Marie, the mother of Solange--the goddess born in a
hovel who had more blazons on her body than Mimosa had on her buttocks and in her gestures, and
more nobility than a Chambure. This kind of consecration had kept the other women of her age
(the others, mothers of men) away from Josephine. In the village, her situation was akin to that
of the Mother of Jesus among the women of the Galilean village. Marie's beauty made the town il-
lustrious. To be the human mother of a divinity is a more disturbing state than that of divinity.
The Mother of Jesus must have had incomparable emotions while carrying her son, and later, while
living and sleeping side by side with a son Who was God--that is, everything and herself as well
--Who could make the world not be, His Mother, Himself not be, a God for Whom she had to prepare,
as Josephine did for Marie, the yellow corn-mush.
Moreover, it was not that Culafroy, as child and Divine, was of exceptional fineness. But except-
ionally strange circumstances had chosen him as their place of election, without informing him,
had adorned him with a mysterious text. He served a poem in accordance with the whims of a rhyme
without rhyme or reason. It was later, at the hour of his death, that, in a single wonderstruck
glance, he was able to reread, with his eyes closed, the life he had written upon his flesh. And
now Divine emerges from her inner drama, from that core of the tragic which she bears within her,
and for the first time in her life is taken seriously in the parade of humans. The district at-
torney stopped the parade. The witnesses had left by the open door. Each having appeared for but
a second, they burned up as they passed; the unknown whisked them away. The true centers of life
were the witness-room--a Court of Miracles--and the chamber of the jury. It was there that the
room of the foul crime, with all its accessories, was reconstructed. The amazing thing was that
the necktie was still there, crouching on the green table, paler than usual, soft, but ready to
dart forth, as a slouching hoodlum on the bench in a police station might dart forth. The crowd
was as restless as a dog. Someone announced that Death had been delayed by a derailment. It grew
dark all at once. Finally, the judge called upon the expert alienist. It was he who, really and
truly, sprang up through an. invisible trap-door of an invisible box. He had been sitting among
the audience, which had not suspected him. He stood up and walked to the bar. He read his report
to the members of the jury. From the winged report dropped such words as the following: "unbal-
anced... psychopathy... inter-relation... splanchnic system... schizophrenia... unbalanced, unbal-
anced, unbalanced, unbalanced... equilibrist," and all at once, poignant, bleeding, "the sympa-
thetic nerve." He did not pause: "...unbalanced... semi-responsibility... secretion... Freud...
Jung... Adler... secretion..." But the perfidious voice was caressing certain syllables, and the
man's gestures were struggling against enemies: "Father, watch out on the left, on the right."
Certain words finally ricochetted on the perfidious voice (as in pig-latin words where you have
to unscramble other words that may be naive or nasty: edbay, oorday). One understood the follow-
ing: "What is a malefactor? A tie dancing in the moonlight, an epileptic rug, a stairway going
up flat on its belly, a dagger on the march since the beginning of the world, a panicky phial
of poison, gloved hands in the darkness, a sailor's blue collar, an open succession, a series
of benign and simple gestures, a silent hasp." The great psychiatrist finally read his conclu-
sions: "That he (Our Lady) is psychically unbalanced, non-affective, amoral. Yet, that in any
criminal act, as in any act, there is an element of volition which is not due to the irritating
complicity of things. In short, Baillon is partly responsible for the murder."
Snow was falling. About the courtroom, all was silence. The Criminal Court was abandoned in
infinite space, all alone. It had already ceased to obey the laws of the earth. Swiftly it flew
across stars and planets. It was, in the air, the stone house of the Holy Virgin. The passengers
no longer expected help from the outside world. The moorings had been cut. It was at that moment
that the frightened part of the courtroom (the crowd, the jurymen, the lawyers, the guards)
should have dropped to their knees and broken out into hymns of praise, when the other part
(Our Lady), freed from the weight of carnal labors (to put someone to death is a carnal labor),
had organized itself as a couple and sung: "Life is a dream... a charming dream..." But the
crowd does not have the sense of grandeur. It does not obey this dramatic injunction, and no-
thing was less serious than what followed. Our Lady himself felt his pride softening. He look-
ed at Judge Vase de Sainte-Marie for the first time with the eyes of a man. It is so sweet to
love that he could not keep from dissolving into a feeling of sweet, trusting tenderness for
the judge. "Maybe he ain't a louse!" he thought, and at once his sweet insensitivity collapsed,
and the relief it afforded him was like the release of urine from the penis after a night of con-
tinence. Remember that when Darling used to wake up, he would find himself on earth after
he had pissed. Our Lady loved his executioner, his first executioner. He was already granting
a kind of wavering premature pardon to the icy monocle, the metallic hair, the earthly mouth,
the future sentence delivered according to frightful Scriptures. Exactly what is an executioner?
A child dressed as a Fatal Sister, an innocent isolated by the splendor of his purple rags, a
poor, a humble fellow. Someone lit the chandeliers and wall-lights. The public prosecutor took
the floor. Against the adolescent murderer, who had been cut out of a block of clear water, he
said only things that were very fair, within the scope of the judge and jurors. That is it was
necessary to protect rentiers, who sometimes live all the way upstairs, beneath the roof, and
to put to death children who slaughter them ... It was all very reasonable, spoken in a very
sagacious and at times noble tone. With an accompaniment of his head:
"...It is regrettable (in a minor key; then, continuing in the major) ...it is regrettable..."
His arm, pointing at the murderer, was obscene.
"Strike hard!" he cried. "Strike hard!"
The prisoners referred to him as "The Blowhard." At that formal session, he illustrated very
accurately a poster that was nailed to a huge door. An old marquise, lost in the darkness of
the crowd, thought to herself, "The Republic has already guillotined five of us...," but her
thought went no deeper. The tie was still on the table. The jurymen still had not got over their
fear. It was just about then that the clock struck five. During the indictment, Our Lady had
sat down. The court-house seemed to him to be situated between apartment buildings, at the rear
of the kind of well-shaped inner courtyard on which all the kitchen and toilet windows look out,
where uncombed housemaids lean forward and, with their hands cupped over their ears, listen and
try to miss nothing of the proceedings. Five stories and four faces. The maids are toothless
and spy on each other behind them. Through the gloom of the kitchen, one can make out the gold
or plush spangles in the mystery of the opulent apartments where ivory-headed old gentlemen
watch with tranquil eyes the approach of murderers in slippers. For Our Lady, the court-house
is at the bottom of this well. It is small and light: like the Greek temple that Minerva carries
in her open hand. The guard at his left made him stand up, for the judge was questioning him:
"What have you to say in your defense?" The old tramp who was his cell-mate at the Sante had pre-
pared a few suitable words for him to say to the Court. He looked for them but was unable to find
them. The phrase "I didn't do it on purpose" took shape on his lips. Had he said it, nobody would
have been surprised. Everyone expected the worst. All the answers that occurred to him came for-
ward in slang, and a feeling for the proprieties suggested to him that he speak French, but ever-
yone knows that in trying moments it is the mother tongue that prevails. He had to be natural. To
be natural, at that moment, was to be theatrical, but his maladroitness saved him from ridicule
and lopped off his head. He was truly great. He said:
"The old guy was washed up. He couldn't even get a hard-on."
The last word did not pass his jaunty little lips. Nevertheless, the twelve old men, all together,
very quickly put their hands over their ears to prevent the entry of the word that was as big as
an organ, which, finding no other orifice, entered all stiff and hot into their gaping mouths. The
maleness of the twelve old men and of the judge was flouted by the youngster's glorious immodesty.
Everything was changed. Those who were Spanish dancers, with castanets in their fingers, became
jurors again, the sensitive painter became a juror again, the old man of cloth became a juror again,
so did the old grouch, so did the one who was pope and the one who was Vestris. Don't you believe
me? The audience heaved a sigh of rage. With his beautiful hands the judge made the gesture that
tragic actresses make with their lovely arms. Three subtle shudders ruffled his red robe as if it
were a theatre curtain, as if there clung to the flap, at the calf, the desperate claws of a dying
kitten, the muscles of whose paws had been contracted by three little death throes. He nervously
ordered Our Lady to behave with decorum, and the lawyer for the defense took the floor. With minc-
ing little steps under his robe (which were really like little farts), he came to the bar and ad-
dressed the Court. The Court smiled, that is, with the smile imparted to the face by the austere
choice (already made) between the just and the unjust, the royal rigor of the brow that knows the
dividing line--that has seen clear and judged--and that condemns. The Court was smiling. The faces
were relaxing from the tension; the flesh was softening up again; little pouts were ventured, but,
quickly startled, withdrew into their shells. The Court was pleased, quite pleased. The lawyer was
doing his utmost. He spoke volubly, his sentences went on and on. One felt that they had been born
of lightning and would peter out in tails of comets. He was mingling what he said were his child-
hood memories (of his own childhood, in which he himself had been tempted by the Devil) with no-
tions of pure law. Despite such contact, pure law remained pure and, in the grey drool, retained
its hard, crystal brilliance. The lawyer spoke first of being brought up in the gutter, the example
of the street, hunger, thirst (my God, was he going to make of the child a Father de Foucauld or a
Michel Vieuchange?); he spoke also of the almost carnal temptation of the neck, which is made the
way it is in order to be squeezed. In short, he was off the track. Our Lady esteemed this eloquence.
He did not yet believe what the lawyer was saying, but he was ready to undertake anything, to assume
anything. Yet, a feeling of uneasiness, the meaning of which he understood only later, indicated to
him, by obscure means, that the lawyer was undoing him. The Court was cursing so mediocre a lawyer
who was not even according it the satisfaction of overcoming the pity it should normally have felt
while following the speech for the defense. What game was this idiotic lawyer playing? If only he
would say a word, a trifling or crude word, that would make the jurors, for at least the space and
time of a murderous leer, be smitten with an adolescent corpse and, thus avenging the strangled old
man, feel that they, in turn, had the soul of a murderer (sitting comfortably in the warm room,
without any risks, except merely the little Eternal Damnation). Their pleasure was disappearing.
Would they have to acquit because the lawyer was a blockhead? But did anyone think that this might
have been the supreme foxiness of a poet-lawyer? Napoleon is said to have lost Waterloo because Well-
ington committed a blunder. The Court felt that it had to sanctify this young man. The lawyer was
drooling. He was speaking, at the moment, of possible re-education--in their reserved stall, the
four representatives of the Church Youth Clubs then played poker dice to settle the fate of the soul
of Our Lady of the Flowers. The lawyer was asking for an acquittal. He was imploring. They no longer
understood him. Finally, as with a promptness for sensing the one moment in a thousand for saying
the crucial word, Our Lady gently, as always, screwed up his face and said, though without thinking it:
"Ah no, not the corrida, it ain't worth it. I'd rather croak right away."
The lawyer stood there dumbfounded; then quickly, with a cluck of his tongue, he gathered his scat-
tered wits and stammered,
"Child, see here, child! Let me defend you."
"Gentlemen," he said to the Court (he might, without any harm, as to a queen, have said Madame),
"he's a child".
At the same time, the judge was saying to Our Lady,
"See here, see here, what are you saying? Let's not rush matters."
The cruelty of the word stripped the judges and left them with no other robe than their splendor. The
crowd cleared its throat. The judge did not know that in slang the corrida is the reformatory. Sitting
motionless on his wooden bench, squarely and solidly, between his guards in their yellow leather girths
and their boots and helmets, Our Lady of the Flowers felt himself dancing a light jig. Despair had shot
through him like an arrow, like a clown through the tissue-paper of a hoop. Despair had gone beyond him,
and all that remained was the laceration, which left him there in white rags. Though he was not intact,
he held his ground. The world was no longer in the room. That's how it should be. It all has to end. The
Court was re-entering. The rapping of the rifle-butts of the guard of honor gave the alarm. Standing
bareheaded, the monocle read the verdict. It uttered for the first time, following the name Baillon, the
words "known as Our Lady of the Flowers." Our Lady was given the death penalty. The jury was standing.
It was the apotheosis. It's all over. When Our Lady of the Flowers was given back to the guards, he seem-
ed to them invested with a sacred character, like the kind that expiatory victims, whether goat, ox or
child, had in olden times and which kings and Jews still have today. The guards spoke to him and served
him as if, knowing he was laden with the weight of the sins of the world, they had wanted to bring down
upon themselves the benediction of the Redeemer. Forty days later, on a spring evening, the machine was
set up in the prison yard. At dawn, it was ready to cut. Our Lady of the Flowers had his head cut off by
a real knife. And nothing happened. What would be the point? There is no need for the veil of the temple
to be ripped from top to bottom because a god gives up the ghost. All that this can prove is the bad qua-
lity of the cloth and its rustiness. Though it behooves me to be indifferent, still I would not mind if
an irreverent scapegrace kicked through it and ran off crying "A miracle!" It's flashy and would make a
very good framework for the Legend.
I have re-read the earlier chapters. They are now closed, rigorously, and I note that I have given no
smile to Culafroy, Divine, Ernestine or the others. The sight of a little boy in the visitor's room makes
me aware of this and makes me think of my childhood, of the ribbons on my mother's white petticoats. In
each child I see--but I see so few--I try to find the child I was, to love him for what I was. But when
I saw the minors during the medical examination, I looked at those two little mugs, and I left feeling
deeply moved, for that was not what I had been like, too white a child, like an underbaked loaf of bread;
it is for the men they will be that I love them. When they passed before me, rolling their hips and with
their shoulders erect, I already saw at their shoulder-blades the hump of the muscles covering the roots
of their wings.
All the same, I would like to think that I was like that one. I saw myself again in his face, especially
in his forehead and eyes, and I was about to recognize myself completely when, bango, he smiled. It was
no longer I, for in my childhood I could no more laugh or even smile than in any other period of my life.
When the child laughed, I crumbled, so to speak, before my very eyes.
Like all children, adolescents or mature men I smiled readily, I even laughed heartily, but as my life
rounded out a cycle, I dramatized it. Eliminating the elements of mischievousness, levity and prankish-
ness, I have retained only those which are properly tragic: Fear, Despair, unhappy Love... and I free
myself from them only by declaiming those poems which are as convulsed as the faces of sybils. They
leave my soul clarified. But if the child in whom I think I see myself laughs or smiles, he breaks up
the drama which had been constructed and which is my past life when I think back to it; he destroys it,
falsifies it, at least because he manifests an attitude which the character could not have had; he tears
to bits the memory of a harmonious (though painful) life, forces me to see myself becoming another, and
on the first drama grafts a second.
So here are the last Divinariana. I'm in a hurry to get rid of Divine. I toss off helter-skelter, at
random, the following notes, in unscrambling which you will try to find the essential form of the Saint.
Divine, in thought, pushes mimicry to the point of assuming the exact posture that Darling had assumed
in that very spot. Thus, her head is in place of Darling's head, her mouth in place of his mouth, her
member in place of his, etc.; then she repeats, as exactly as possible-- hesitantly, for it must be done
with studied refinement (refinement alone, by its difficulty, makes one aware of the game)--the gestures
that were Darling's gestures. She occupies, successively, all the space he occupied. She follows him,
fills continually all that contained him. Divine:
"My life? I'm desolate, I'm a Valley of Desolation."
And it is a valley similar--with pines black beneath the storm--to the landscapes I have discovered dur-
ing my imaginary adventures beneath the brown, lice-infested blankets of prisons everywhere and which I
called Valley of Desolation, of Consolation, Vale of Angels.
She (Divine) did not act, perhaps, in accordance with Christ. She was reproached for this. But she:
"Does Lifar dance home from the Opera?"
Her detachment from the world is such that she says:
"What does it matter to me what X... thinks of the Divine I was? What do I care about the memory of me
he retains? I am another. Each time I will be another." Thus, she fought against vanity. Thus, she was
always ready for some new infamy, without feeling the fear of opprobrium.
She cut off her lashes so as to be even more repulsive. Thinking she is thus burning her boats.
She lost her mannerisms. She managed to attract attention by dint of discretion. Freezing her face.
Formerly, when insulted, she could not keep from twitching her muscles. Anguish drove her to that so
that it might be beguiled somewhat; the puckering of her face produced a grimace in the form of a smile.
Frozen, her visage.
Divine, of herself: "Lady of High Pansiness."
Divine could not bear hearing, over the radio, the March from the Zauberflote. She kisses her fingers,
and then, unable to stand it any longer, she turns the dial. Her pale and celestial voice (a voice that
I would like to imagine being that of movie actors, a voice of an image, a flat voice) telling me, as she
pointed to my ear:
"But Jean, you've got another hole there."
She strolls in the street. She is spectral. A young cyclist walks by, holding his machine by the handle-
Quite near, Divine makes an airy gesture (with arm rounded) of enlacing him about the waist. The cyclist
suddenly turns to Divine, who finds herself actually enlacing him. He looks at her for a fraction of a
second, astounded, says not a word, leaps on his bike and flees.
Divine retreats into her shell and regains her inner heaven.
In the presence of another handsome young man, a brief desire:
"It's the Again that has clutched me by the throat."
She will go on living only to hasten towards Death.
The swan, borne up by his mass of white feathers, cannot go to the bottom of the water to find mud, nor
can Jesus sin.
For Divine, to commit a crime in order to free oneself from the yoke of the moral powers is still to be
tied up with the moral. She will have nothing to do with a fine crime. She sings that she is buggered out
She robs and betrays her friends.Everything concurs to establish about her--despite her-- solitude. She
lives simply in the privacy of her glory, of the glory she has made tiny and precious.
"I am," she says, "Bernadette Soubiroux28 in the Convent of Charity long after her vision. Like me, she
lived an ordinary life with the memory of having spoken familiarly with the Holy Virgin."
At times a regiment goes into the desert and--for purposes of tactics--a small column of men detaches it-
self and goes off in a different direction. The fragment may advance thus for some time, quite near the
regiment, for an hour or more. The men of the two sections could speak together, see one another, and
they do not speak together, they do not see one another: no sooner did the detachment take a step in the
new direction than it felt a personality being born to it. It knew that it was alone and that its actions
were its action.
Divine has repeated a hundred times that little gesture for detaching herself from the world. But, how-
ever far she may depart from it, the world calls her back.
She has spent her life hurling herself from the top of a rock.
Now that she no longer has a body (or she has so little left, a little that is whitish, pale, bony and at
the same time very flabby), she slips off to heaven.
Divine, of herself:
"Madame nee Secret."
The saintliness of Divine.
Unlike most saints, Divine had experience of it. There is nothing surprising in this, since saintliness
was her vision of God and, higher still, her union with Him. This union did not occur without difficulty
(pain) on both sides. On Divine's side, the difficulty was due to her having to give up a stable, familiar
and comfortable situation for a too wondrous glory. To retain her position, she did what she thought the
fitting thing: she made gestures. Her whole body was then seized with a frenzy to remain behind. She made
gestures of frightful despair, gestures of hesitation, of timid attempts to find the right way, to cling
to earth and not rise to heaven. The last sentence seems to imply that Divine made an ascension. This is
not so. Rising to heaven here means: without moving, to leave Divine for the Divinity. The miracle, occur-
ring in privacy, would have been ferocious in its horror. She had to stand her ground, whatever the cost.
Had to hold her own against God, Who was summoning her in silence. Had to keep from answering. But had to
attempt the gestures that will keep her on earth, that would replant her firmly in matter. In space, she
kept devising new and barbaric forms for herself, for she sensed intuitively that immobility makes it too
easy for God to get you in a good wrestling-hold and carry you off. So she danced. While walking. Every-
where. Her body was always manifesting itself. Manifesting a thousand bodies. Nobody was aware of what was
going on and of Divine's tragic moments as she struggled against God. She assumed poses as astounding as
those of certain Japanese acrobats. You might have taken her for some mad tragic actress, who, unable to
re-enter into her own personality, keeps trying, trying... Finally, one day, when she wasn't expecting it, as
she lay still in bed, God took her and made her a saint. Let us mention, however, a characteristic event.
She wanted to kill herself. To kill herself. To kill my kindness. The following brilliant idea occurred to
her, and she carried it out: her balcony, which was on the ninth floor of an apartment house, looked down
on a paved court. The iron railing was latticed, but across it was stretched a wire netting. One of her
neighbors had a two-year-old baby girl to whom Divine used to give candy and who occasionally came to
visit her. The child would run to the balcony and look at the street through the netting. One day, Divine
made up her mind: she detached the netting and left it leaning against the railing. When the little girl
came to see her, she locked her in and ran downstairs. When she got to the court, she waited for the child
to go and play on the balcony and lean against the railing. The weight of her body made her fall into
space. From below, Divine watched. None of the child's pirouettes were lost on her. She was super-human,
to the point of, without tears, cries or shudders, gathering with her gloved fingers what remained of the
child. She was given three months of preventive custody for unintentional manslaughter, but her goodness
was dead. For: "What would be the use of being a thousand times good now? How could this inexpiable crime
ever be redeemed? So let us be bad."
Indifferent, so it seemed, to the rest of the world, Divine was dying.
For a long time, Ernestine, did not know what had become of her son, whom she had lost sight of when he
ran away a second time. When she finally did hear from him, he was a soldier. She received a somewhat
sheepish letter asking for a little money. But she did not see her son, who had become Divine, until quite
some time later, in Paris, where she had gone for an operation, as do all women from the provinces. Divine
was then living in rather grand style. Ernestine, who knew nothing about her vice, guessed it almost in-
stantly and thought to herself, "Lou's got a gold mine between his buttocks." She made no comment to him.
It hardly affected her opinion of herself to know that she had brought forth a monstrous creature, neither
male nor female, scion or scioness of the Picquignys, ambiguous issue of a great family, of which the si-
ren Melusina was mother. Mother and son were as remote as if they had been at a distance, looking into emp-
tiness: a grazing of insensitive skins. Ernestine never said to herself, "He is flesh of my flesh." Divine
never said to herself, "All the same, she's the one who spawned me." But Divine was, for her mother, a
pretext for theatrical gestures, as we showed at the beginning. Divine, out of hatred of that bitch of a
Mimosa, who detested her mother, pretended to herself to love and respect her own. This respect pleased
Darling, who, like a good pimp, like a real bad boy, had, deep down in his heart, as they say, "a little
spot of purity dedicated to an old mama" whom he did not know. He obeyed the earthly injunctions that gov-
ern pimps. He loved his mother, just as he was a patriot and a Catholic. Ernestine came to see Divine die.
She brought some sweets, but, by signs that country-women recognize--signs that tell more surely than crape
--she had known that Divine was going.
"He's going away," she said to herself.
The priest--the same one we saw officiating so oddly --brought the Holy Sacrament. A candle was burning on
the little tea-table, near a black crucifix and a bowl of holy water in which a dry and dusty little branch
of box-holly was soaking.
Usually, Ernestine accepted in religion only what was most purely marvelous in it (not the mystery that is
added to the mystery and conceals it); the marvelous that she found in it was as sound as sterling. Judge
from the following: knowing that lightning has a fancy for entering by the chimney and leaving by the window,
she, from her armchair, would watch herself go through the window-panes, retaining--including her bust, neck,
legs and skirts-- the stiffness, the coagulation, of a starched cloth and falling on the lawn or rising to
the sky, with her heels together, as if she were a statue. Thus, she would fall downward or upward, the way
we see angels and saints flying in old paintings, the way Jesus goes straight to heaven, without being car-
ried by clouds.
That was her religion. As at other times, the days of big flush and gush, days of mystic debauch, she would
say to herself, "Suppose I played at believing in God?" She would do it until she trembled.
At the hour of Divine's death, she played so well at believing in God that she couldn't help having a bit of
She saw God gulping down an egg. "To see," here, is a casual way of speaking. Regarding revelation, there
is not much I can say, for all I know of it is what was granted me to know, thanks to God, in a Yugoslav pri-
son. I had been taken from town to town, depending upon the stops of the police-train. I would stay a day or
two, sometimes longer, in each of the town prisons. Finally I arrived and was locked up in a rather large
room with about twenty other prisoners. Three gypsies had organized a school of pickpocketing there. It work-
ed as follows: while one of the prisoners lay sleeping on the bunk, each of us, in turn, had to remove from
his pockets--and put back without waking him--the objects that were already there. It was delicate work, for
we often had to tickle the sleeper in a certain way so that he would turn in his sleep and free the pocket
on which he was lying with the full weight of his thighs.
When it was my turn to operate, the head gypsy called me and ordered me to go to work. Beneath the cloth of
the jacket, I felt the heart beating, and I fainted away. I was carried to the bunk and was left there until
I came back to my senses. I have retained a very exact memory of the arrangement of the theatre. The cell was
a kind of passage-way that left just enough room for the sloping wooden bunks that lined the walls. At one of
the ends, facing the door, of a slightly arched skylight fortified with bars, the yellow light, coming from a
sky invisible to us, was falling obliquely, exactly the way it is shown in prints and novels.
When I regained consciousness, I was in the corner near the window. I squatted, the way Berbers and little
children do, with my feet wrapped in a blanket. In the other corner, standing in a bunch, were the other men.
They looked at me and burst out laughing. As I did not know their language, one of them pointed at me and made
the following gesture: he scratched his hair and, as if he had pulled out a louse, made a show of eating it,
with the mimetic gestures that we see in monkeys.
I do not remember whether I had lice. In any case, I have never devoured any. My head was covered with dand-
ruff that formed a crust which I would scrape off with my nail and then knock from my nail with my teeth, and
which I sometimes swallowed.
It was at that moment that I understood the room. I realized--for a fraction of a second--its essence. It re-
mained a room, though a prison of the world. I was, through my monstrous horror, exiled to the confines of
the obscene (which is outside the scene of the world), facing the graceful pupils of the school of light-fing-
ered theft. I saw clearly ("see", as in the case of Ernestine) what that room and those men were, what role
they were playing: it was a major role in the march of the world. This role was the origin of the world and at
the origin of the world. It seemed to me suddenly, thanks to a kind of extraordinary lucidity, that I under-
stood the system. The world dwindled, and its mystery too, as soon as I was cut off from it. It was a truly
supernatural moment, similar, in respect to this detachment from the human, to the one I experienced when
Chief Warrant Officer Cesari, at the Same Prison, had to write a report on my sexual practices. He said to me,
"That word (he didn't dare utter the word 'homosexual'), is it written as two words?" And he pointed to it
on the sheet with his forefinger extended... but not touching the word.
I was ravished.
Like me, Ernestine was ravished by God's Angels, who are details, meetings, coincidences of the following
order: the toe-step or perhaps the meeting-place of the thighs of the ballerina whom the smile of a beloved
soldier makes blossom in the hollow of my chest. She held the world between her fingers for a moment and
looked at it with the severity of a schoolmistress.
During the preparation for the last sacrament, Divine emerged from her coma. On seeing the taper, beacon
of her own end, she quailed. She realized that death had always been present in life, though its symbolic face
had been hidden by a kind of mustache which adjusted its ghastly reality to current taste--that Prankish
mustache which, once soldierly, now falling from the scissors, made it look as sheepish as a castrate, for
its face at once grew gentle and delicate, pale, with a tiny chin and rounded forehead, like the face of a
female saint on Romanesque stained-glass or of a Byzantine empress, a face we are accustomed to seeing cap-
ped with a veiled hennin. Death was so close that it could touch Divine, could tap at her with its lean fore-
finger, as at a door. She clenched her rigid fingers, tugged at the sheets, which also stiffened, froze.
"But," she said to the priest, "I'm not dead yet. I've heard the angels farting on the ceiling."
"...dead yet," she repeated to herself, and in voluptuously swinging, nauseating and, in effect, paradisial
clouds, Divine again sees the dead woman--and the death of the dead woman--old Adeline of the village,
who used to tell him--and Solange--stories about Negroes.
When the old woman (his cousin) died, he was unable to weep, and in order, nevertheless, to make people
think that he was deeply grieved, it occurred to him to moisten his dry eyes with saliva. A ball of smoke
is rolling in the heart of Divine's belly. Then she feels herself being invaded, as if by seasickness, by
the soul of old Adeline, whose high-heeled button-shoes Ernestine made her wear to school after the old
On the night of the wake, moved by curiosity, he got up. As he started to tiptoe out of his room, there sur-
ged forth from every corner a throng of souls which formed a barrier that he had to cross. He entered into
their midst, strong in his hieratic delegation, frightened, thrilled, more dead than alive. The souls, the
shades, formed an immense, a numerous cortege, rose up from the beginnings of the world; generations of
shades trailed behind him to the death-bed. It was fear. He was walking bare-foot, as unsolemnly as poss-
He was advancing as a thief in the night is supposed to advance, perhaps as many a night he had stolen to
the closet to steal sugared almonds, almonds that had been given to Ernestine at some baptism or wedding
and which he munched with respect, not as a trivial tidbit, but as a sacred food, a symbol of purity, re-
garding them in the same way that he did white wax orange-blossoms that lay under a glass globe: a musty
smell of incense, a vision of white veils. And that air: the Veni Creator.29
"What if the woman keeping vigil is at her post? What will she say?" But she was in the kitchen, drinking
The room was empty. Emptied. Death creates a vacuum otherwise and better than does an air-pump. The bed-
sheets outlined the face in relief, like clay that has barely been touched by the sculptor.
With his outstretched hand and rigid arm, Culafroy lifts the sheets. The corpse was still there. He drew
near so as to be less frightened. He dared touch the face and even kiss the eyelids, which were as round
and icy as agate marbles. The body seemed fecundated by reality. It was uttering the truth.
At that moment, the child was invaded, as it were, by a disorderly troop of memories of readings and sto-
ries he had heard, for example, that the room of Bernadette Soubiroux,28 at the hour of her death, was full
of the scent of invisible violets. He therefore instinctively sniffed but did not recognize the odor that
is said to be the odor of sanctity. God was forgetting His servant. And a good thing too. In the first
place, you shouldn't waste the scent of flowers on the bed of a dead old maid; and furthermore, you should
fear to strew panic in the souls of children.
But that moment seems to have been the starting-point of the thread that was to lead Culafroy-Divine, in
accordance with a superlatively devised fatality, to death. The tentative groping had begun long before.
The preliminary investigation, which had been carried on at first in the wonderment arising at the first
replies, dated from remote, misty, opaque ages, when he belonged to the people of the gods, exactly like
the primitives, who have not yet been unswaddled of their urine-scented wrappings and who possess the dig-
nity--which they share with children and certain animals--the gravity and the nobility that are rightly
called ancient. Now--and increasingly so, until the attaining of the exactly poetic vision of the world--
knowledge having been acquired, the swaddling-clothes were thrust aside. As each questioning, each sound-
ing, rendered a more and more hollow sound, it indicated death, which is the only reality that satisfies
Gone was the joyous rebound upon contact with objects. At each touch, his blindly scrutinizing little
finger plunged into emptiness. Doors turned by themselves and revealed nothing. He kissed the old lady
on the eyes, and the snake-like iciness froze him. He was about to reel, perhaps fall, when the Memory
came to his rescue: the memory of Alberto's corduroy pants. As a man who, through some unexpected priv-
ilege, has caught a glimpse of the very heart of the mysteries, quickly looks away so as to regain his
footing on earth, so the terror-stricken Culafroy flung himself, burying his head, into the warm and en-
veloping memory of Alberto's trousers, where he thought to find, to his relief, comforting broods of titmice.
Then, borne by Alberto, who had come down from heaven, he went back to his room and to bed, where he wept.
But--and don't let this surprise you--he wept at being unable to weep.
Here is how our Great Divine died.
Having looked for her little gold watch, she found it between her thighs and, with her fist closed over
it, she handed it to Ernestine, who was sitting at her bedside. Their two hands met in the form of a shell
with the watch in the middle. A vast physical peace relaxed Divine. Filth, an almost liquid shit, spread out
beneath her like a warm little lake, into which she gently, very gently--as the vessel of a hopeless em-
peror sinks, still warm, into the waters of Lake Nemi30--was engulfed, and with this relief she heaved ano-
ther sigh, which rose to her mouth with blood, then another sigh, the last.
Thus did she pass away, one might also say drowned.
Ernestine was waiting. Suddenly, by some miracle, she realized that the throbbing of their joined hands was
the ticking of the watch.
Because she lived among omens and signs she was not superstitious. She therefore laid out the corpse all
by herself and dressed Divine in a very modest blue cheviot suit of English cut.
So here she is dead. The Quite-Dead. Her body is caught in the sheets. It is, from head to foot, forever
a ship in the breaking-up of ice-floes, motionless, and rigid, drifting toward infinity: you, Jean, dear
heart, motionless and rigid, as I have already said, drifting on my bed to a happy Eternity.
And with Divine dead, what is left for me to do? To say?
This evening, the poplars, of which I see only the tops, are being cruelly dashed together by an angry
wind. My cell, lulled by that kindly death, is so sweet today!
What if I were free to morrow?
(Tomorrow is the day of the hearing.)
Free, in other words, exiled among the living. I have built me a soul to fit my dwelling. My cell is so
sweet. Free: to drink wine, to smoke, to see ordinary people. And tomorrow, what will the jury be like?
I have anticipated the stiffest possible sentence it can inflict. I have prepared myself for it with great
care, for I have chosen my horoscope (according to what I can read of it from past events) as a figure of
fatality. Now that I can obey it, my grief is less great. It is annihilated in the face of the irremedia-
ble. It is my hopelessness, and what will be, will be. I have given up my desires. I too am "already way
beyond that" (Weidmann). Let me therefore live between these walls for a man's lifetime. Who will be judged
tomorrow? Some stranger bearing a name that was once my name. I can continue to die, until my death, a-
midst all these widowers. Lamp, wash-basin, regulations, broom. And the straw mattress, my spouse.
I do not feel like going to sleep. Tomorrow's hearing is a solemnity that requires a vigil. It is this eve-
ning that I should like to weep--as one who stays behind--for my farewells. But my lucidity is like a nak-
edness. The wind outside is getting wilder and wilder and is being joined by the rain. The elements are thus
a prelude to tomorrow's ceremonies. Today is the 12th, isn't it? What shall I decide? Warnings are said to
come from God. They don't interest me. I already feel that I no longer belong to the prison. Broken is the
exhausting fraternity that bound me to the men of the tomb. Perhaps I shall live...
At times I am shaken with a burst of brutal and unaccountable laughter. It resounds within me like a joyous
cry in the fog, which it seems to be trying to dissipate, but it leaves no trace other than a wistful long-
ing for sun and gaiety.
What if I am condemned? I shall don homespun again, and this rust-colored garment will immediately entail
the monastic gesture: hiding my hands in my sleeves; and the equivalent attitude of mind will follow: I shall
feel myself becoming humble and glorious; then, snug under my blankets--it is in Don Juan that the dramatis
personae come back to life on the stage and kiss each other--I shall, for the enchantment of my cell, refash-
ion lovely new lives for Darling, Divine, Our Lady and Gabriel.
I have read moving letters, full of wonderful touches, of despair, of hopes, of songs; and others more severe.
I am choosing from among them one which will be the letter Darling wrote to Divine from prison:
I'm writing a few lines to give you the news, which isn't good. I've been arrested for stealing. So try
to get a lawyer to handle my case. Arrange to pay him. And also arrange to send me a money-order, because
you know how lousy things are here. Also try to get permission to come and see me and bring me some linens.
Put in the blue and white silk pajamas. And some undershirts. Dearest, I'm awfully sorry about what's hap-
pened to me. I don't have a single pal, keep that in mind. So I'm counting on you to help me out. I only
wish I could have you in my arms so I could hold and squeeze you tight. Remember the things we used to do
together. Try to recognize the dotting. And kiss it. A thousand big kisses, sweetheart, from
The dotting that Darling refers to is the outline of his prick. I once saw a pimp who had a hard-on while
writing to his girl place his heavy cock on the paper and trace its contours. I would like that line to por-
Fresnes Prison, 1942