“Look,” I said, standing up, “I’m going for a walk. I—I need to think.” My father started to protest again. “This is my life and my problem,” I continued, drowning him out. “Back off!”
As I walked out, I caught a glimpse of Franz and Catherine sitting at the table in the dining room, holding hands and staring at each other in silence. The front door banged behind me. No one followed me. I marched down one street and then another, finding my way blindly.
So where was I going now?
Strange, I had not been so restless on the farm. Now I felt like my walks were really drawn-out pacings, back and forth, back home (home?) and to the Seine, as if I were in a cage. I walked for a long time and reached the heart of the city before I calmed somewhat, and then I crossed a bridge to the Left Bank and leaned against the railing to look down into the water, still feeling as if I were being watched. Being watched, always being watched.
I had no tears. But I looked for her everywhere, even though a part of me was relieved she was gone. What a mistake, what a sad mistake! I remembered that sudden moment in the kitchen years ago when Marianne’s eyes had lit up in joy, after all her attempts, to see me finally look at her with interest, her thin but mature figure, her pretty oval face. She was untutored, could barely read, and I hadn’t cared; I rather enjoyed being worshipped. Compared to her lack of experience, my meager achievements had loomed large. Poor girl, mistaking my willingness to let her fawn over me as a reciprocal admiration on my part. She deserved a husband who would truly mourn, at the very least mourn the child.
It was not the feeling of being watched…it was the feeling of being ignored. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Antonin Artaud sitting on a bench almost directly behind me, and he was smoking and looking decisively past me. Our eyes met reluctantly. I turned away, then looked back, rousing him twice into an expression of polite annoyance. “I’m sorry,” I told him. “I just don’t feel like saying ‘good afternoon’ this afternoon.”
Artaud’s face brightened. “Oh. Neither do I!” We smiled at each other and it dissolved the tension immediately, so I joined him on his bench. We both sat looking out over the water, enjoying each other’s silence. Artaud chain-smoked, flicking the butts with sarcastic glee as close as he could behind the occasional passerby, uttering a progressive chant to himself each time: “I love her, she loves me not.” “I love her not, she loves me.” “She loves me, I love her.”
After he went through each of these phrases twice I asked, “Why don’t you say the fourth alternative?”
“That’s what I’m trying to decide, you see. Whether or not to say it.”
Inspired, I picked up a few small stones at my feet and threw them, one by one, into the river. “I never loved her,” I said, tossing the stone. “I used her. I didn’t want the child. I need her, yet I don’t miss her.” Artaud raised his eyebrows at this, although his face remained impassive. “What did you mean last night—” I stared at him, suddenly unable to guess his age. He had seemed to be about fifty years old the night before. Now, I wondered if he wasn’t twenty. “About the dead part of myself?”
Artaud pointed at the Seine with his cigarette. “What did you do just now? That was a funeral, wasn’t it?” I shrugged, and he added, “I had no idea specifically why what I said disturbed you, but I knew it would. That’s why I said it.” Whenever he smiled, his face leaped from that queer gothic somberness into the face of an extraordinarily handsome young man. “You thought I knew your secret, whatever it is. When you got up from the table and walked past me, you looked like you were going to lunge for my throat!”
I put up a hand as Artaud burst into laughter. “Forgive me. I—since my reintroduction to civilization I’ve done little besides lash out at everyone within reach.” The sun was setting already, and I remembered that I had not eaten all day. I reached in my coat to see what money I had, hoping that my father had not robbed me blind out of fear that I was going to take off. The man beside me watched as I patted my pockets in vain for my wallet. “Oh, damn him!” I swore. Artaud looked amused and leaped off the bench, jerking his chin in the direction of the traffic. “Lash out at and mooch off of,” I added, crossing the street with him.
Artaud smiled again. “It sounds very noble, and not at all respectable. Besides, I want to hear about your five years as a wild man.”
“No one else seems interested in it.”
Down to his last cigarette, Artaud realized he’d never offered me one and sheepishly held out the pack. I shook my head, and he lit the last one in relish. “Those people you met last night—many of them are brilliant,” he told me, “but naïve. Privileged, rebellious, but they’ve never suffered—never felt much of anything, in fact. And so of course they don’t show much interest in your pain. It takes courage to go beyond the intellectual.” Pain, again—Roger had noticed my pain, and Louis, probably Justine, and now Artaud. Whereas the others had tried to distract me from it, Artaud spoke of it freely. “Last night you asked about Surrealism,” he went on. “Pain—that is what we are about, confronting pain, conquering despair. Surrealism, for me, is not art. It’s not literary, and it’s not fun and games. It’s about experiences that are too real to stand.”
“I’m not sure what’s real anymore,” I muttered. That was painful in itself. The sidewalk, the street, the chilly spring air, the faces of tourists illuminated by the electric lights—these stood out in stark contrast against the memory of those last few superstitious weeks in that tiny farmhouse. Even Artaud’s eyes, which the night before had made him seem a clairvoyant, able to see in the dark, to see into my own darkness, were now just a young man’s blue-green eyes, curious and sympathetic.