It was the first time that I had ever hated the sound of my own name. “Tommy, you’re up,” the coach had yelled down from the entrance of the dugout. I was sitting on the end of the bench next... [+]
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I don’t want to boast, but I’ve just pulled off a real masterpiece. At the age of seventy-five, I have become the unrivaled outrageous old lady of Moussy-lès-Limas. I live in this peaceful little town of three thousand inhabitants where daily life flows seamlessly, only punctuated by the regular arrival of market day, school celebrations, garage sales and funerals. The opening of a new pharmacy and the renovation of the Post Office were major events and monopolized all conversations apart from well-considered observations of the weather and time passing. Every year was a repeat of the previous one, every Christmas the same dreadful illuminated decorations which were meant to cheer up the streets and the same firemen coming around offering the same calendars for sale. Every year, the mayor makes the same speech at the same festive lunch for the elderly, and the same competitors for the prize for best floral house divide opinion between those who prefer all geraniums and those who go for mixed planting. All of which means that the place is not exactly a bundle of laughs and that I am sometimes overcome by wild desires, the urge to make mischief, or even to misbehave, just to shake up this miserable, lumpen tedium.
And now I have suddenly landed on the wrong side of the law! In an instant, years of respectability have been erased and my image as a worthy person lies in tatters. In order to have kept my position, I should have remained faithful to my designated role, taken part in activities suitable for my age and contented myself with commenting to my fellow elderly on the disgraceful state of society in general and youth in particular. Right now, for example, I was expected to deplore along with everyone else the appearance of symbols marked out in aerosol spray paint, during the night, on the walls of the town. Strange, intolerable characters which Mr. Fructus, the council workman, hastened to cover up in the morning with a beige-colored paint.
That was why for some time now large stains of vague shape and color had been spreading all over the place. Beneath them you could still make out the original crime. These efforts at camouflage seemed only to stimulate nocturnal operations. The inscriptions reappeared mockingly on top of the beige paint itself. There was one in particular, “KRAB,” written in scrolling letters, that was endlessly repeated, taunting the passerby. In the council newsletter, the mayor had threatened this KRAB with the direst of retaliations when he got caught. Which he would be soon, as all the population was so much on edge.
For myself, I wasn’t so bothered by these inscriptions themselves, as by the pathetic standard of their execution. There is impressive graffiti everywhere. I quite like those big round letters, puffed up or pointed, threatening, balancing on top of each other. I have no idea what they mean, and that’s even better, they are modern hieroglyphics, they remain a mystery to me. They are nothing like the inelegant decorative frescoes that adorn the town like make-up on old skin. And this KRAB daubed opposite my house was devoid of any talent, a poor piece of scribble, a defacement with neither spirit nor beauty. Pathetic. That botched scrawl there, in front of my eyes, bugged me like a personal provocation. So, after weighing up various means of expressing my disapproval, I decided to send a message to my graffiti artist. To use his own methods to inform him about the lack of taste and imagination in his efforts.
When the pharmacist asked, “An aerosol for what?” I replied as naturally as possible: “For graffiti.” The slight hesitation in the way he looked at me warned me that this was not going to be so easy. His expression closed and I could see his thoughts as clearly as if they were written in a bubble over his head—“Another mad old woman who’s going to cause me problems”—while what he actually said was, “Sorry, we don’t have anything for that sort of painting.” I got the message. I was going to have to be crafty. At the garage where I left my car for service, I complained about our walls being ruined. How did they manage to paint so fast? Where did they get their supplies from? “That’s not difficult,” Manu told me, “they can buy bodywork paint anywhere to do their stupid stuff with...” The car maintenance store had a whole section of it. I came home with four Ironlak aerosols, two black and two white, to highlight the letters of the text I was going to write.
Now I needed to decide what to write. I had thought I would put, “Krab, you are a terrible artist!”, but I realized that wouldn’t work. The language and expression were not on the right level. And how could I provoke his pride and goad him into improving? Suddenly the idea came to me: ‘Clown’! Yes, that was the word. I would write ‘KRAB = CLOWN’. Or ‘KRABCLOWN’. We would see. I would have to practice first. The shed door became covered in uncertain signs. The wood was plastered from top to bottom with misshapen letters and unfinished streaks. Now it really would be protected against bad weather! The whole business proved more difficult than I had imagined, but by persevering in my efforts I gradually made progress. Finally, one evening, I thought I was ready. Around midnight I opened my door, looked to the right and left and, as the street was deserted, ventured out, armed with the two spray cans I had left, the trials having used up a lot of paint. By the light of the streetlamps, I carried out an almost perfect operation. It looked great and, with the instrument in my hand, I stood back and gazed with satisfaction at my superb KRAB=CLOWN, well visible above the pitiful signature.
I was about to tear myself away from this admiration of my first work of art when the noise of an engine could be heard coming from the direction of the square, getting louder as it approached my quiet street. Before I had time to pick up my equipment and make myself scarce, a car had appeared, a door was slamming and I heard behind me the alarmed voice of the mayor, “Miss Gourdon! Is it you…? It’s not possible! Whoever would have thought it?”
The following day, I was soon well aware of the effects of my artistic prowess. When I went into the bakers, the customers already there became statues, every eye burning into me at the same time. I heard my voice asking for “A small loaf, please,” and an exceptionally intense silence was followed, as soon as I was out the door, by a cacophony of noise.
In the afternoon, there was a ring at my doorbell. It must be the police, surely, I must be due for a steep fine along with a little lecture to set me back on the straight and narrow! I assumed my most respectable expression and prepared to face them. But outside, where I was expecting to see two cops framed in the doorway, stood a young boy I didn’t know but whose identity I guessed at once. Thin, tee-shirt and trainers, cap on backwards as if to give me an obvious clue, here was my Krab, half embarrassed, half rebellious, and after staring at me, he grunted in a voice rather lacking in assurance, “What do you mean, clown...?” Despite his stubborn face and dark expression, public enemy number one of the village did not look very frightening. I opened the door wide, “Don’t just stand there, let’s talk!”
This morning I received a note from the mayor’s office informing me that “in light of certain regrettable activities” it would not be appropriate for me to remain as Vice-President of the Senior Citizens’ Club of Moussy-lès-Limas. I am more than happy to accept that decision, now I have found some entertainment that is a lot more stimulating than the Thursday sewing group. Krab has seen my work and the efforts I made to produce my tag. He’s a very cheerful lad, when I told him all about my first attempt at being a street artist, he laughed into a bursting fit. His laughter was contagious, I joined in, we fell about, laughing our heads off, we couldn’t stop, tears were streaming down my face, I hadn’t laughed like that for years. Stuffing away the tea I made him, he told me how he operated and shared all his tricks with me. He wants to take me along for a session with his ‘crew.’ We’re going to do some stuff together. My creative spirit will know no bounds, I have already spotted some very well-placed walls. From now on, I think I’m going to have some fun.
Translated by Wendy Cross