And they told me.
I don’t like being called at night, it brings back too many bad memories,
of gloomy light, emitted by neon lamps even colder than the bodies they illuminate.
Of shouts, sobs, and lost lives,
all that hullabaloo people make when they realise they will never again say “I love you.”
They called me that night,
and they told me you had messed up.
Messed up bigtime.
I would so much have liked to hang up, but we haven’t been hanging up for a long time,
we make do with an angry gesture with our fingers in one direction or another,
a gesture that then slides into indifference in our daily experience, its hollowness and banality.
What got into you, kid, what got into you?
A broken heart?
A girlfriend or a guyfriend, as my buddy Fred would say,
I am not partisan when it comes to matters of the heart.
Last night’s glass of lemonade, and the promises of a golden future,
what was that all about, ready-made blather to satisfy the hunger of a blind man laughing at seeing you happy at last?
They called me that night, because mine was the only number you had on you,
a lost dog without a collar, who comes and goes,
making do with a bit of food and water,
then goes off again, without a word of goodbye,
because that’s how it is,
because you always come back to where you feel good.
They asked me to come that morning.
They always ask me to come,
because they know I never say no,
because they know the words to say that one is really needed.
It’s often me.
So I went.
What got into you, kid?
If you only knew how horrible your bridge is,
if you knew how gray and disgusting it is,
filthy with all the polystyrene cups in the world, fast food leftovers,
cardboard cartons with a two-tone joker who looks like he’s taking the piss.
It’s not even a toll bridge, no, just a concrete construction where all the trucks pass through that don’t want to pay to go on the highway.
They asked me to come, to come close.
I didn’t do that.
I wanted to hug you hard in my arms, but it was impossible, you can’t hug emptiness, or the overflow from what is left.
Shit, I had your whole life in front of me,
I would have taught you to enjoy wine, from Burgundy to Côtes du Rhône,
the one that goes from Beaujolais right to the sea,
that rotten sea that you wanted to see before you died,
what are we going to do now?
I would have taught you about the Auvergne, brought to you the literature of that region, I would have read Cécile Coulon* to you,
I would have shown you the beauty in the eyes of a David Kadoche*,
I would have introduced you to my friends, men and women,
and told you about the loves in my life even more openly than I did before,
the fake glossy computer paper, and those conversations sometimes so dear to your heart,
and I would have...
Shit, what got into you, kid?
I swear, your bridge is really disgusting,
as dirty as a lonely, drunken lover at four o’clock in the morning,
puking up his vodka till his insides are burning,
as decayed as a little idiot who felt for a fraction of a second that he was flying,
just before the crash, and four tractor wheels, then three axles,
just to scatter your life, your memories, and return you to that freedom that was so dear to you, that you so treasured.
They told me you didn’t suffer.
I don’t believe that, as for me I’m devastated, my whole face is hurting.
Can you imagine that the lightning flash in the human brain does not feel horror and pain, not even for a fraction of a second, just before the end?
I’ll have to ask a neurologist.
At least, if it mattered to me, because you see, right now I couldn’t give a toss, I’m standing here in silence, like an idiot, alone like you left me, with my phone number in your pocket, trying to work out what I have become.
There isn’t a word for it.
Not when you lose a kid.
You’ve only got the pain, but you don’t become anything, such as ‘orphaned friend’ or ‘orphaned parent’, according to who you are.
You’re an orphan of a presence, but you’ve stolen that word from those who don’t have their parents any more.
In the end, whether it’s a child or a friend, it’s visceral, and it’s the same fraternity, that of your blood or your heart.
You, you are going to let me spend the rest of my days searching for what I should be called now,
for the word you have sent me off to find, while from your disgusting bridge you played the part of a phoney Icarus,
a nothing heading for the abyss,
a wingless damselfly caught on the strip of tarmac.
When they saw me, they asked me if you had any family.
I thought of your mother, kid, and about the dreadful searing pain she was going to feel deep in her gut. I said “I’ll tell her, I’ll take care of it.”
I always have to add something, act clever, you know me.
She was very dignified, and looked deep into my eyes, right to my soul, she was even more beautiful, you know, than usual, radiant in her forties, it hurt so much to see it,
and that’s when I got mad with you, yes, really mad, just as the spring was returning,
and the hillsides were starting to blossom again.
You had no right, but you took it, it was just like you.
We saw it was you all over, and I think we even smiled about it.
Then, in carefully chosen words, I told her the unsayable,
leaving out the details about the bright red against the brown, deliberately,
about the crushed pink, the sawdust and the flashing lights, while from the distance, in a nasal echo, came a voice,
asking for backup there, or rather where we are right here.
She clung to me, hugging me to her trembling, unprepared body,
her warm body still smelling of the night.
And as I was leaving again, she just murmured to me, as in supplication, like an utter need to know,
“Pascal, what am I, what am I now I’ve lost a child?”
I shook my head and did not answer, because I don’t know, I don’t know what it’s called, for a mate or a child, you were just a kid.
Our kid, to each of us in our own way.
Every year, at the same time of year, a silly little bunch of flowers will be seen,
under a bridge.
As if to say I haven’t forgotten you,
she will be there, and so will your friends,
watching the flashing lights multiplying and your blood darkening.
But not me, I’ll not be able to,
and anyway, I’d have to find out what I have become from now on.
You will have left me the legacy of that quest.
But just between us, kid, if the soul really does exist,
let it come and give me a sign one day,
just a little sign,
so that I can show it, and only it, how, even with that little bunch of violets,
how filthy and disgusting your bridge is.
Translated by Wendy Cross