“Literature begins at the moment when literature becomes a question.“ (Maurice Blanchot)
Back when I lived in Paris, we’d go for a coffee at the Café Ruc, once a week, on Wednesday mornings. You would always order a cup of espresso; I would always order a café au lait and eat a baguette with butter.
Once we finished, we would go for a walk. Either to the garden of the Palais Royal or, through the Passage de Richelieu, to the Cour Napoléon and stroll around the glass pyramid.
We’d met at the Bibliothèque Nationale while queuing up to get one of the rare seats inside. I didn’t know a lot about you. I never asked you whether you were married or had kids. Nor did you ask me. I didn’t tell you that I had split up with my fiancé recently and vowed never to date again.
We spoke about other things. Books and movies. Philosophy and art. Psychoanalysis. You were writing a thesis on degenerates, using a psychopathological approach. You quoted Lacan and Freud and Levinas. I did research on Haitian literature, studying the use of vodun in novels.
You used to say you were not religious but every time we passed by a synagogue, you’d stop for a few moments, inhaling deeply, chasing a delicate aroma I couldn’t detect. “Quince,” you’d say. “Reminds me of my childhood.” And once a year you fasted for religious reasons.
That day, we entered the passage Richelieu and you stopped abruptly. Over your shoulder, I saw the glass pyramid. If I had taken a photograph, it would have been a picture of perfect symmetry.
You looked at me and I saw pain on your face. I had noticed it earlier at the café but couldn’t place it.
“I don’t know what I would do without you,” you said.
I didn’t know what to answer. I could have told you that I felt the same.
“I’m getting a divorce.”
I felt a shiver run down my spine. Married, I thought, of course.
“Say something,” you said.
“There’s something I should have told you before.”
“Yes,” you said, your eyes glistening.
“My research is finished. The two years are over. I’m leaving.”
An emotion I couldn’t name flickered across your face and vanished.
“Let’s go,” you said. “Did you finish that book by Julia Kristeva?”
“Oh yes. I almost forgot to give it back.” I rummaged in my bag.
We only circled the pyramid once that day before you walked me to Pont Neuf, my métro station. Normally, you’d say goodbye at the entrance, but that day you followed me inside and we waited for my train together. When it came, I stepped in, leaving you there on your own, waving. I never saw you again.
Years later, I found a note in one of my Blanchot books— “Between the lines, always. R.”