Consolation, p.1
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       Consolation, p.1

           Anna Gavalda
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Consolation


  Contents

  Cover

  About the Book

  About the Author

  Also by Anna Gavalda

  Title Page

  Epigraph

  Prologue

  Part I

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Part II

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Part III

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Part IV

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Acknowledgements

  Copyright

  About the Book

  An international bestseller and French publishing sensation Consolation is a dazzling, heartbreaking tale of one man, two remarkable women and an unforgettable transvestite.

  Charles Balanda is forty-seven; a successful architect, he is constantly on the move. But from the moment he hears about the death of the woman he once loved – Anouk, the tragically big-hearted mother of a childhood friend – his life begins to unravel until, one day, he finds himself on a Paris pavement covered in blood. But fate brings him one final chance to be happy in Kate, an enchanting young woman, herself damaged but fearless and in love with life.

  The resulting story is a triumphant, spellbinding and ultimately consoling novel about the power of a second chance.

  About the Author

  Born in 1970, Anna Gavalda was a teacher whose collection of stories, I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere, shot her to fame (published in Vintage together with her novella, Someone I Loved). Her novel Hunting and Gathering (Ensemble c'est tout) was a bestseller in several countries, selling over two million copies, and was made into a film. Her books have been translated into thirty-six languages. The mother of two children, she lives and writes just outside Paris.

  ALSO BY ANNA GAVALDA

  I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere

  (published with Someone I Loved)

  Hunting and Gathering

  ANNA GAVALDA

  Consolation

  TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH BY

  Alison Anderson

  As selfish

  and illusory

  as it might seem,

  this book, Charles,

  is for you.

  He always stood off to one side. Over there, away from the fence, out of harm’s way. His gaze febrile, his arms crossed in front of him. More than crossed – twisted tightly, straitjacketed. As if he were cold, or had a stomach ache. As if he were clinging to himself so as not to fall over.

  Defying us, every one of us, but not looking at anyone. Seeking out the shape of one lone little boy and clutching a paper bag to his chest.

  In it was a chocolate croissant, that I knew, and every time I would wonder if it hadn’t got completely squashed, what with . . .

  Yes, that’s how he hung on – the bell, their scorn, the trip by way of the bakery, and all the little spots of grease on his lapel as if they were so many medals, unhoped-for.

  Unhoped-for . . .

  But . . . In those days, how could I possibly know that?

  In those days, I was afraid of him. Shoes too pointy, nails too long, and index finger too yellow. Lips too red. And coat too short and much too tight.

  And a dark line all round his eyes, too dark. And a voice that was too weird.

  When at last he caught sight of us, he’d smile and open his arms. Leaning forward, silently, he’d touch his hair and shoulders and face. And while my mother moored me firmly to her body, I would count all his rings as he held them against my friend’s cheeks, fascinated.

  He had one on each finger. Real rings, beautiful rings, precious, like my grandmother’s . . . It was always just then that my mother would turn away, horrified, and that I let go of her hand.

  As for Alexis, no. He never turned away. Just handed over his schoolbag and, with the other hand, he ate his snack, and they headed off towards the Place du Marché.

  Alexis with his extraterrestrial in spiky high heels, his circus freak, his primary school clown, felt safer than I did, and was better loved.

  Or so I thought.

  But one day I did ask him, all the same, ‘Well, um, is it a man or a woman?’

  ‘Who?’

  ‘The, um, the person who comes to fetch you in the evening.’

  He shrugged his shoulders.

  Of course it was a man. But he called him Nana, his nanny.

  And so Nana had promised, for instance, to bring him some golden jacks and he’d swap them with me for that marble, if I wanted, or even . . . she’s late, Nana, today . . . I hope she hasn’t lost her keys . . . Because she always loses everything, you know . . . She often says that some day she’ll forget her head at the hair–dresser’s or in a fitting room at Prisunic and then she laughs, and says, thank God she’s got legs!

  But it’s a man, you can tell.

  What a question.

  I can’t recall his name. And yet it was something extraordinary . . .

  A music-hall sort of name, echoes of worn velvet and stale tobacco. Something like Gigi Lamor or Gino Cherubini or Ruby Dolorosa or . . .

  I can’t remember and it’s driving me mad that I can’t remember. I’m in a plane headed for the ends of the earth, I have to sleep, I simply must sleep. I’ve taken some pills, just for that. I have no choice, I won’t make it otherwise. I haven’t slept in so long . . . and I . . .

  I won’t make it.

  Nothing doing. Neither chemistry, nor grief, nor exhaustion. Over thirty thousand feet, so high up in the void, and I’m still struggling like a cretin to rekindle these poorly extinguished memories. And the harder I blow, the more my eyes sting, and the less I see, the further down I fall on to my knees.

  My neighbour has already asked me twice to switch off the overhead light. Sorry, but I can’t. It was forty years ago, Madame . . . forty years, don’t you see? I need the light to find the name of that old drag queen. That amazing name which of course I’ve gone and forgotten, since I used to call her Nana, too. And I adored her. Because that’s the way things were with them: you adored each other.

  Nana who surfaced like a ruin in their life, one hospital evening.

  Nana who spoiled us rotten, who fed us, stuffed us, consoled us, deloused us, genuinely hypnotized us, enchanted us and disenchanted us a thousand times. Read our palms, told our cards, promised us the life of a sultan, a king, a nabob, a life of amber and sapphire, of languorous poses and exquisite love; Nana who left our life one morning with a dramatic flourish.

  Dramatic, which was fitting. Fitting for him, fitting for them, the way everything had to be with them.

  But I . . . Later. I’ll go into
that later. I’ve no strength left right now. And I don’t feel like it, anyway. I don’t want to lose them again just now. I’d like to sit a bit longer on the back of my Formica elephant, with my kitchen knife stuck in my loincloth, with all his turbans and make-up and gold chains, from the Alhambra cabaret.

  I need my sleep and I need my little light. I need everything I’ve lost along the way. Everything they gave me and then took back.

  And everything they ruined, too . . .

  Because, well, that’s the way things were, in their world. That was their law, their creed, the way they lived, like heathens. They loved one another, bashed into one another, they’d cry and dance all night and set fire to everything.

  Everything.

  There should have been nothing left. Nothing. Ever. Nada. Bitter expressions, wrinkled, broken, twisted lips, beds, ashes, ravaged faces, hours spent weeping, years and years of loneliness, but no memories. Least of all. Memories were for other people.

  Overcautious people. Accountants.

  ‘The best parties of all, you’ll see, duckies, are the ones you’ve forgotten by the next morning,’ he used to say, ‘the best parties happen during the party. There’s no such thing as the morning after. The morning after is when you take the first metro and they start harassing you all over again.’

  *

  And what about her? Yes, her. She used to talk about death, all the time. All the time . . . To defy the bastard reaper, to crush him. Because she knew as much, she knew we would all end up there some day, it was her livelihood to know as much, and that was why we had to touch one another, love one another, drink, bite, take our pleasure and forget everything.

  ‘Burn it, kids. Be sure you burn it all.’

  It’s her voice and I can still . . . I can still hear it.

  Wild things.

  *

  He cannot switch off the light. Or close his eyes. He is going to go – no, he is going – mad. He knows it. Sees himself in the black depths of the window and . . .

  ‘Sir? Are you all right?’

  A stewardess is touching him on the shoulder.

  Why have you abandoned me?

  ‘Is something wrong?’

  He would like to reply, No, everything’s fine, thank you, but he can’t: he is weeping.

  At last.

  I

  1

  EARLY WINTER. A Saturday morning. Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, terminal 2E.

  Milky sun, smell of aeroplane fuel, immense fatigue.

  ‘Don’t you have a suitcase?’ asks the taxi driver, pointing to the boot.

  ‘I do.’

  ‘Well, you’ve got it well hidden, then!’

  He chuckles, I turn around.

  ‘Oh, no . . . I . . . the carousel . . . I forgot to . . .’

  ‘Go get it! I’ll wait!’

  ‘No, never mind. I haven’t the strength just now, I . . . never mind . . .’

  He’s no longer chuckling.

  ‘Hey, you’re not just going to leave it there, are you?’

  ‘I’ll get it another day. I’m coming back the day after tomorrow anyway . . . I feel as if I lived here, I . . . No . . . Let’s go, I don’t care. I don’t want to go back in there just now.’

  ‘Hey, you, clap, clap, my God, yes you, I’ll come to you on . . . horse-back!

  Oh yeah, yes, on horseback!

  Hey, you, clap, clap, my God, yes you, I’ll come to you on . . . a bike!

  Oh yeah, yes, on a bike!’

  Pretty lively stuff in Claudy A’Bguahana’s Peugeot 407 number 3786. (His permit is taped to the back of the seat.)

  ‘Hey, you, clap, clap, my God, yes, you, I’ll come to you . . . in a hot air balloon!

  Oh yeah, yes, a hot air balloon!’

  He calls out, looking at me in the rear view mirror, ‘I hope you don’t mind hymns, by the way?’

  I smile.

  ‘Hey, you, clap, clap, my Lord, yes you, I’ll come to you in a . . . jet propelled rocket!’

  If we’d had hymns like this, we might not have lost our faith quite so soon, would we?

  Oh, yeah!

  Oh, yes . . .

  ‘No, no, it’s fine. Thanks. This is perfect.’

  ‘Where did you come in from?’

  ‘Russia.’

  ‘Hey! It’s cold there, isn’t it?’

  ‘Very.’

  Among sheep from the same flock, I would have fervently liked to behave in a more brotherly fashion, but . . . Mea culpa, here I have to beat my breast, and that is something I know how to do, beat my jet propelled breast, because I just can’t.

  And that is my great sin.

  I’m too jet-lagged, too exhausted, too dirty and too dried out to take communion.

  At the next motorway exit ramp:

  ‘So do you have God in your life?’

  Fuck. Jesus. This would have to happen to me . . .

  ‘No.’

  ‘You know what? I could tell that right away. A man who leaves his luggage just like that, I said to myself, he doesn’t have God in his life.’

  He says it again, hitting the steering wheel.

  ‘No-God-in-his-life.’

  ‘Guess not,’ I confess.

  ‘But He is there all the same! He is there! He is everywhere! He is showing us the w—’

  ‘No, no,’ I interrupt, ‘the place I’ve just got back from, where I’ve come from . . . He isn’t there. I assure you.’

  ‘Why not, then?’

  ‘Poverty . . .’

  ‘But God is in poverty! God performs miracles, don’t you know that?’

  I glance quickly at the speedometer, 90, so no way to open the door.

  ‘Take me, for example . . . Before, I was . . . I was nothing!’ He was getting excited. ‘I was drinking! Gambling! Sleeping with loads of women! I wasn’t a man, you see . . . I was nothing! And the Lord took me. The Lord plucked me like a little flower and He said, “Claudy, you . . .”’

  I’ll never find out what sort of pap the Old Man had fed him: I’d fallen asleep.

  We were outside the entrance to my building when he squeezed my knee.

  On the back of the receipt he’d written the address to paradise: Aubervilliers Church, 46–48 Rue Saint-Denis. 10.00am to 1.00pm.

  ‘You have to come next Sunday, right? You have to say to yourself, If I got into that car, it was not by chance, because chance . . . (great big eyes) doesn’t exist.’

  The window of the passenger seat was down so I leaned in to bid farewell to my shepherd, ‘So then . . . um . . . You . . . you don’t sleep with women any more . . . um, not one?’

  Big smile.

  ‘Only the ones the Lord sends my way.’

  ‘And how do you know which ones they are?’

  Very big smile.

  ‘They’re the most beautiful ones.’

  *

  We’ve been taught the wrong way round, I reflected, pushing open the front door; as for me, as far as I can recall, the only time when I was sincere was when I would repeat, ‘I am not worthy to receive you.’

  At that moment, yes. At that moment I truly believed.

  And you, clap, clap, as I was climbing, yes you, my four flights of stairs, I realized to my horror that I had that bloody refrain stuck in my head, in a taxi, yes, in a taxi.

  Oh, yeah.

  The security lock was on and these ten last centimetres where I found my home resisting me were infuriating. I had come from too far away, I’d seen too much, the plane had arrived too late and God was too tactful. I blew a fuse.

  ‘It’s me! Open up!’

  I was screaming, pounding on the doorframe, ‘Will you bloody open this door!’

  Snoopy’s muzzle appeared in the gap.

  ‘Hey, it’s okay . . . Calm down, all right? Calm down . . .’

  Mathilde slid open the bolt, stepped back, and had already turned away from me when I crossed the threshold.

  ‘Hello!’ I said.

  She merely raised her
arm, limply wiggling a few fingers.

  Enjoy, commanded the back of her T-shirt. Well now. For a split second there I entertained the notion of grabbing her by the hair and breaking her neck to force her to turn around, and saying it to her again, to her face, those two oh-so outmoded little syllables, Hel-lo. And then, oh . . . I let it go. And anyway, the door to her room had already slammed shut.

  I’d been gone a week, I was leaving again in just two days and how . . . how important was all that anyway.

  Well? How important? I was just passing through, wasn’t I?

  I went into Laurence’s room, which was also my room, as far as I knew. The bed was impeccably made, the duvet was smoothed, the pillows were plumped, paunchy, haughty. Pathetic. I hugged the wall and carefully set my buttocks on the very edge of the mattress so as not to crease anything.

  I looked at my shoes. For a fairly long while. I looked out of the window. The roofs just below and the Val-de-Grâce in the distance. And then her clothes on the back of the armchair.

  Her books, her water bottle, her address book, her glasses, her earrings . . . It must all mean something, but I could no longer quite grasp what. I . . . I didn’t get it any more.

  I toyed with one of the little tubes of tiny round pills that sat on the night table.

  Nux Vomica 9CH, difficulties sleeping.

  Yes, that must be it, that’s what this place is about now, I thought with a grimace, and stood up.

  Nux Vomica.

  It was the same, and it was worse, every time. I was no longer here. The shoreline was receding ever further, and I . . .

  Stop it, come on, I castigated myself! You’re tired and you’re winding yourself up. Stop it.

  The water was scorching. With my mouth open and my eyelids closed, I waited for it to wash away all my rough scales. From the cold, the snow, the lack of daylight, the hours of traffic jams, my endless discussions with that bastard Pavlovich, all the battles lost from the start and all the faces still haunting me.

  The bloke who’d tossed his hard hat in my face the night before. The words I couldn’t understand but which I could easily guess. The building site, which was getting out of control . . . On all sides . . .

  What the hell had I been thinking to go and get involved in such a thing, honestly? And now! I couldn’t even find my razor in the midst of all these beauty products! Conceals blemishes, period pains, luminous skin, firm abdomen, seborrhoea, fragile hair.

 

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