Anne Serre (tr. Mark Hutchinson)

The Governesses

‘One less,’ thought the elderly gentleman to himself as he folded up his telescope. This one wouldn’t be wriggling about anymore, this one would never do anything unexpected again. He’d learn nothing more about her from the dress she was wearing, the locks of her hair, her way of pacing up and down. To find a way in, he’d have to look much further afield than her delectable flesh. Stretched out on his bed, with his game of solitaire spread out on the sheets and his big book at his side, he would have to close his eyes.

It was a bit worrying. What if the other two were to marry and leave the house, or, like Laura, give birth to a child – what would become of him and his midnight vigils? Would they simply abandon him one day, after all the joy and hope they had given him? Would he be forced to look out over an enormous, icy garden? He had other distractions, of course: there was his book to examine, the slow procession of the seasons to be followed in the sky and trees; his games of solitaire; the occasional visit perhaps. But these faces he loved, the expressions they wore as they came and went in the garden, which would change suddenly when one of the governesses ran across it – how he would miss it all. . . .  He vowed he would break his telescope in two when the last of the governesses left the stage. He would draw the curtains. He might even up sticks and move to another town, another country, and begin afresh. A new life, with no telescope, no standing at the window, no dark-room where you conjured up images, darkening or lightening the black parts, adding pink or brown tints to the white bits, playing around with colour and form.

No, in his new life he would live. He’d meet other women perhaps, and instead of watching them come and go and rush about, instead of deciphering the mysterious speech on their lips, he would love them in earnest. He would go down to the gardens and terraces, the houses they inhabit, and engage them in conversation. He would untie their ribbons and their bows and unfasten their small pearl buttons. He would run his fingers through their mysterious long hair, touch their lips, put his finger between their teeth.

Because of the governesses, he can’t help imagining women in threes. He tries to merge them into a single woman, long and frail, pining for love yet firm as a reed, and at the same time moody. He permits his hands, his mouth and his sex to explore those moods where they are found, at the junction of the thighs, beneath a thatch of pale summer straw. His fingers slip into moist caverns, make their way up to the soft, sloped belly with its shimmering blonde down, and on up to the tender pale breasts, the tips of which are like everything he ever longed for. And then the frail, willowy neck under a forest of hair. And at last the eyes, the lids fragile as egg-shells you can kiss, and the fearless, dreaming brow, the brow that remains so still in the presence of men.

Oh yes, he can see himself living at last. He’ll continue to observe her, of course, but she’ll observe him, too. She’ll call him ‘darling,’ or words to that effect. They’ll go travelling together, or maybe they’ll stay at home – it’s really not important. She’ll be there with him, he’ll be able to touch her, and speak to her as well. He’ll wonder how he managed to spend all that time simply watching and listening.

There were times, it’s true, when he enjoyed being in his poorly lit room. He loved being tucked up in bed in that warm, dark chamber papered with unicorns and ivy, then pulling out his telescope and snooping about in the house and garden. What a delightful way to spend the day! And life was so much less cumbersome, so much less bewildering when kept at bay through that lens. He would watch, write something down in his big book, watch again and write something else down. From time to time, a woman would come in to change the sheets, shake out the pillows and present him with a crisp, gold- en-brown roast chicken and a few apples. Then she would disappear.

Did he want to go out sometimes? No, he never felt the urge. He didn’t want to be distracted from his task, because that task was the only thing that could make him happy, he knew this perfectly well. Before growing old, he had tried all kinds of things. He had gone out. He, too, had seen the roads and towns. He’d had friends. But he’d never been a good traveller, or a good friend. When he travelled he couldn’t wait to get home, and when he spent an evening with friends he couldn’t wait to leave. When he was obliged to go out, he was like someone disturbed in a dream and forced to get up in the cold. To go where? He has no idea. He does as he’s told, quickly gets to his feet, puts on his clothes and follows his guide downstairs and out into the road that leads to the bustling, well-lit town. All these lights hurt his eyes and the noises deafen him. He shakes hands, chats, drinks wine, but he still doesn’t know what’s going on. He’s lionized, he is sure he loves his friends, and for a moment he wonders why he doesn’t get out more.

The above is an excerpt from The Governesses by Anne Serre, translated by Mark Hutchinson and published in the UK on the 2nd of April 2019  by the excellent Les Fugitives. For more information on their books, visit Les Fugitives.

Read our review here.

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