Aline and Jérôme had met at a party they had both gone to without any great enthusiasm. In the middle of the evening, the sudden, accidental contact between their bodies at the coffee machine, followed by exchanged first glances, unleashed a chain reaction that bore all the signs of love at first sight: adrenaline production, increased heart rate, heightened blood pressure, sparkling eyes, blushing cheeks, clammy hands, hot flushes, stomach rumblings, stammered excuses and badly constructed sentences. What else? Love at first sight and a tsunami of coffee, which they sprayed all over each other in the heat of their emotion. Within a few hours, they got to know each other while drying each other off, then accepted each other, as they were so far ahead in the process of making each other’s acquaintance,. Hurray! A future of love, complicity, humour, romance and sensuality ouvrait ses jambes bleues* (as Jean Ferrat used to sing).The spontaneity in their relationship was so strong that it made them feverish. They grew worried. What could you do to ensure you were never cured of a fully-diagnosed attack of love at first sight? They drew up their first prescription, logical, pragmatic, and ridiculously reasonable:
- Make an objective and relevant analysis of the situation. In light of the results, take the appropriate measures.
- According to the extent of the damage, schedule several consultations per day to ensure the amorous fever does not abate.
- Do not remove coffee stains from the blouse and shirt. Preserve these relics religiously in their original state, as they constitute the only tangible proof of an exceptional phenomenon.
It was just before they separated that they jointly came up with this dramatically romantic idea: to embark upon an epistolary relationship in the manner of… (They found so many examples that they were able to get rid of the ellipses.)
Waiting for a letter, thinking of how to reply to it, imagining how the relationship would develop, would not this give a new purpose to a life that was just a smidgen humdrum? Is an exercise in style not a form of spirituality whereas other relationships are based solely on the physical?
They both considered that there was an obvious logic to beginning with love at first sight and then nourishing it with letters. Anyway, Aline would contact Jérôme by post the following day, and would give him her address. A wonderful love story imbued with romance would be written.
The first week, Jérôme’s head was in the clouds, bathed in a euphoric sense of well-being under the effects of a legal drug - love. As one might expect, he analysed the situation, weighing up the pros and cons. He couldn’t find any cons. He smiled at the angels, the workings of Saint Valentine were not so mysterious after all. Another positive effect was that he was working really hard in college. The exams were not far off and he was bursting with energy. He was also having a ball at the waiter’s job that helped him make ends meet. He had become impervious to the regular criticism of the head waiter. He stayed cool, an infuriating martyr, willing, smiling and understanding. That was the first week.
At the start of the second week, things were still OK. When he came back from college, he rushed to the letter-box. Nothing. It would come. How could it not? Aline! Darling angel! His head was not quite so high in the clouds, he could make out the ground. He worked fairly hard at his studies. He couldn’t keep his mind on his waiter’s job and began forgetting orders and giving poor service. The boss gave him a few harsh words. His nerves were on edge, his anxiety grew over the week. By the weekend he was really worried. Had Aline changed her mind? Why?
The third and fourth week were horrific. Something was not right. But what? He could not understand, he had trouble concentrating on his classes and his job. He was becoming short-tempered.
It was at the beginning of the fifth week that things changed. He was feeling misogynistic. “Damn it!” Aline’s image was now tarnished. Despite everything, he continued to cram for his exams. From an instinct for survival, out of vengeance, to prove her wrong if he ever met her. It was on a Saturday night that the incident happened. There were a lot of people in the restaurant and the head chef was in a particularly foul mood. It was when the desserts were being served. Jérôme had worked himself up thinking angry thoughts about Aline. He might have been a smiling waiter but underneath he was a human pressure cooker. Under huge pressure. He exploded, swinging the enormous raspberry cream cake into the chef’s face shouting “Damn it!” It was hard to interpret the dumbstruck expression of the victim through the sponge cake and raspberries trickling down his face. Did it portray his surprise at being sworn at or his indignation at being disguised as a dessert? Nobody could tell. Jérôme left his job to the applause of the customers, like a toreador to whom the crowd has presented the ears and tail of the bull.
From that moment on, Jérôme tried to forget Aline. He could have sought her out to demand an explanation. He did not do so. She was supposed to contact him, she had not done so. He respected her decision, although he did not understand it. The weeks passed, slow and cruel.
Now that he had that wretched letter in his hands he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Aline had indeed stuck to the timeframe of one week. But the postal service had not. The delay had obviously been caused by a very long journey around the whole of Europe, Asia, Oceania, Africa, the Americas and the Middle East. Had the letter got stuck behind a piece of furniture in a post office? Could it have been found when they were having some work done or moving premises? What diabolical force had urged them both to choose this means of communication from another age? What an absurd idea! Why a letter? Did you not have to be nuts to make such a choice? Ah, this arrant non-conformism, this antediluvian romanticism, it came with a heavy price. What were the percentage odds that Aline’s letter would get lost or mislaid? A thousand to one? Two thousand to one? If only he had known he would have rewritten Murphy’s law of maximum irritation for himself: if a letter can get lost, then it is inevitable that this letter will get lost.
Jérôme raised Aline’s letter to his face, closed his eyes and recalled all the feelings that had been disturbing him for the past six months.
Then he, in his turn, wrote a letter: an official letter with acknowledgement of receipt. He disguised himself as a bailiff and rang Aline’s doorbell. Jérôme had come to ensure his rights were respected, to carry out an immediate seizure of Aline’s goods, of all her goods: her kitchen, her living-room, her bathroom, her bedroom, her heart, her body…
And she let him.
* Literally, ”opened its blue legs” (“Hourrah”, Jean Ferrat)
Translated by Wendy Cross