I passed the Coupole, then the Dôme, looking in each for anyone I knew. Seeing no one, I continued down the boulevard and walked without purpose, enjoying the darkness that stretched above me.
“Monsieur Weidmann!” It was a familiar woman’s voice. I turned and saw the face of Lise Deharme as she hurried up to me. I didn’t like Lise; she was dark and attractive but too clever and changeable, and very driven. That was fine for managing her publication, but I thought her too literal-minded to truly enter dreams. She had taken a pen name and married Paul Deharme, Desnos’s radio colleague and though she was no longer Breton’s love interest she would always be the “lady of the glove” in Nadja. Also, she had promised to help Artaud raise money for his Theatre of Cruelty and he had given a reading at her house to assembled financiers, but his article on Lise’s poetry had not appeared in the January issue of the NRF as he had promised. Paulhan had pulled it at the last minute and that was hardly Artaud’s fault, but Lise had turned cold to Artaud after that.
However, her face registered shock as she stopped before me. “Antonin Artaud is all right. Nothing has happened to him. I wanted you to know in case—”
“What are talking about?” I demanded.
“Balthus attempted suicide earlier this evening,” she said in a voice that trembled. Her usual gliding confidence was gone and she clutched her hands in front of her chest as if trying not to wring them. “He will be all right, too. Artaud and Pierre Leyris rushed him to a doctor. Sometimes people mistake them for each oth—”
Despite my dislike of her I placed a hand on both of hers. “What time tonight?”
“I don’t know, but Artaud found him.”
I scoffed, shaking my head. “Then it wasn’t a suicide attempt, really.” Poor Artaud, he was sure to be in a state. “Why? What possessed the boy?”
“Oh…” The woman separated one hand from mine to apply the back of hers repeatedly to her perspiring forehead. “Some woman he’s been wooing for years ran off and married a diplomat. Balthus placed her photograph by his bed and took too much laudanum. Artaud telephoned Leyris who contacted a doctor and a few other friends, and I’m afraid it turned into the proverbial game of telephone. So when I saw you walking alone, I thought—” She didn’t finish. I pulled out my handkerchief so she could apply it to her face. “Thank you.”
“That was kind of you to think of me,” I said gently. “What are you doing out, walking by yourself? You’re far from home, aren’t you?” She and Deharme had dropped their apartment for their house in the country.
“We’re staying in the city with friends. After all that’s happened, I just needed some air.”
“Let me escort you back to them.”
Lady that she was, she took my arm and we walked back in the direction of the Coupole. “Tonight is a strange night. I needed to get out, anyway. I’m afraid André Derain is having a great row with his art dealer, Paul Guillaume,” Lise added, “over Guillaume’s wife. They—”
“Two men fighting over a man’s wife?” I asked in disbelief. “That’s resolved, if it must be, with gunshots or an agreement for both to keep their mouths shut in public.”
“Oh, you are so old world!” Lise honked in amusement. She had a strident voice and I did not like it. “You almost never say anything, Geoff, and then when you do you come out with some gem. I wonder what you’ll think when I tell you.” I deliberately did not say anything and naturally she volunteered to tell me. “Paul Guillaume’s wife had her tubes tied. And Paul is threatening to—”
“She had her what?” I knew about contraceptive sponges, mostly from Desnos’s poems, but this was something else again. I also knew from André Derain, Artaud’s colleague on Heliogabalus, that the Guillaumes’ marriage was an open one but more out of necessity than lust. Guillaume’s business had gone steadily downhill since the stock market crash. Also, everyone knew Derain was sleeping with Guillaume’s wife. Artaud, of course, knew it too and my goody-goody did not approve. But a wife not wanting her husband’s child? I think what horrified me was to find that I was not alone in my pain with both Marianne and Justine; perhaps it was common for women to hate sex with their husbands, and certainly childbirth was very dangerous.
The door to the Coupole banged open and a woman came out shrieking, pursued by a man in a fur coat—in this heat—whom I recognized. I had seen him talking to Derain and I found the man ugly, with straight black hair parted in the middle and long sloped eyebrows over dull black eyes. He had a chiseled face like Artaud’s but wider and flatter and not handsome, and a moustache molested his insolently pouting lips. He looked like a corpulent Charles Chaplin aping Hitler. “I have changed my will!” barked the man after the fleeing form in her glittering dress and heels. Horrified, I dropped Lise’s hand to place myself between this bully and his victim. “Unless you bear me a child, I will leave my money to a foundation.” Lise ran to place an arm around the woman. She glared at the woman’s attacker and so did I.
“See here,” I said, giving him a little push backward.
His face and throat were fairly purple with rage. He shoved me in turn. With that fur coat he looked like a great buffalo. “This is none of your affair. Who are you?” I caught a huge whiff of cologne and body odor.
Lise murmured, “Domenica, come away,” but the woman shoved at her and approached us. She had a beautiful, symmetrical oval face with a long nose, bright blue eyes and brunette hair twisted into a knot. The man I took to be Guillaume shoved me again and I shoved him. Lise pulled at his wife’s arm, but she yanked it from Lise’s grasp again.
“Go home,” he sneered at me, “you low-level bank clerk!” Yes, this was Paul Guillaume who was so ashamed of his father being a bank messenger that he’d struck out on his own in the art world while working in an automobile garage until he acquired enough Picassos, Braques, Derains, and Matisses to start his art dealership.
“Go back inside,” I retorted, “you high-class wife beater.” By now people had gathered at the windows and another man came out to hold Guillaume back when he tried to swing at me. It was probably a servant; Paul Guillaume and his wife sailed around Paris surrounded by both male and female attendants like Pharaohs. For her part, his wife was now also charging forward and swinging at her husband. No shrinking violent, she landed a good cuff on his mouth and Guillaume, still being dragged backwards by his valet, managed to grab her shoulders and shake her violently. He was chubby and his skin looked shiny and pasty, while she all hard and gleaming twisted out of his hands and smacked her palm against his cheek. Lise wisely kept away from her but I tried to get between them again.
More men came out, probably from Guillaume’s entourage. They pulled the woman away and walked her down the street where a shiny Hispano-Suiza that was the size of a parade float was snaking along the curb like an errant husband mincing back home after a night courting chancres. The lady was placed into the back seat by the men, and suddenly regal in her disarray, she sat back and barked a command at the driver. He and she sailed past, she with her head held high. I saw that Derain was with her.
Guillaume was still struggling to follow her. “Come back inside,” pleaded Guillaume’s man.
“I have sold out!” cried out Paul Guillaume, falling to one knee in the street with a hand cupped upward as if to hold an invisible skull and proclaim, Alas, poor Yorick. “And this is the result. My stomach can handle less and less food, yet meals cost more and more. Overpriced spew! A wife who made herself barren before I placed the ring on her finger. And who hawked the ring to do herself over as a goddess! Domenica—” and he spat. “Juliette is her name. I am sick to death of this life, the bullshit, the bill collectors, all the worthy art pieces I didn’t buy because Her Lordship didn’t think it went with the rugs!”
He rose then and stumbled toward me and grabbed my collar like a drunk beggar. I tried to support him with my hands on his elbows as he weaved toward and away from me. “I miss the adventures in my youth,” he exhaled into my face. “Do you miss the adventures of your youth? Are there any adventures anymore?” Pleadingly he pawed at my chest with his flabby fingers. I nodded, supporting him and looking around for help. That ineffectual sop of a servant was using this time to lean against the café wall and smoke a cigarette, and I glared at him. “Before I collected popular sewage to feed our money pit, I used to deal in modernism, in art nègre. Do you like those things?”
“Yes, yes, I do. Let’s go somewhere,” I said, thinking primarily of Derain, “and talk.”
He reared up in disdain, though he still clutched me. “I don’t want to go somewhere with you, you fucking bank clerk!” I was larger than he was so he did not shake me as much as he staggered into me with his hands clutching my shoulders and his elbows working up and down as if trying to bump mechanical levers with them. Over his shoulder, his servant laughed at us.
And where was the brash Lady of the Boxing Glove all this time? She was wiping the air with her bare hands and yelling, “Paul! Paul!” and Paul Guillaume began to mock her. “Paul! Paul!” he yelled in my face, while his valet leaned against the wall and guffawed and I tried to pry the man’s fingers from my neck. “Paul! Paul!” he and she both screamed. I gathered suddenly that the bystander’s name was also Paul. Perhaps a waiter at the Coupole regularly abused by this gibbon was named Paul, too. The waiters stood inside at the window and none stirred. For all I knew the name of the proprietor of the Coupole was named Paul. Or perhaps they were yelling for St. Paul.
“Paul!” shrieked Lise.
“Paul!” shrilled Guillaume, holding onto me but now looking at her. He released me long enough to send his fist into my face. Actually, all he had done was charge forward with a fist as if suddenly reenacting fond old protests from his youth, but I sat down hard on the cobblestones with a singing eye.
“I’m here; I’m here; I am here,” said a new man, and from the way he gently took Lise aside and also perhaps from a memory of him sharing a smoke with Desnos I realized Lise had been calling her husband, Paul Deharme.
Because I heard Artaud’s self-righteous protestation of innocence in my head I said then, “I am a mouse.” Deharme, trying to help me up, gave me a grin but Guillaume blared like a lighthouse with sound, turning completely in a circle. “Paul! Pall! Pahl!” he bellowed, turning around and around as if to gather ships for a voyage to Troy, namely to his mansion where I presumed his wife was already fucking her willing abductee Derain. Paul Deharme sat down hard with me on the street and we both burst into laughter. Deharme did not look like Desnos. He had a long, thin face and a high forehead, though his brows were straight and his eyes deep like Artaud’s, but I definitely recognized a taint of the Corsair Sanglot giggle as we helplessly held onto each other. “Paul is a louse,” I told Deharme and we guffawed, clinging to each other like shipwreck survivors as beside us Paul Guillaume twirled like a great shining mirror, sirening out his own name.
“Come to my house,” Deharme rhymed.
“Let’s drown that mouse,” I said, and we collapsed into absurd guffaws while Lise was now bending down and tugging at her husband’s arm.
“Don’t be a souse,” Deharme sniggered toward Guillaume who stopped twirling. The art dealer squatted as if ready to heave. Nothing came out so he stood up again and sneered down at us with great dignity. Deharme helped me up. “Jesus, man,” he said to the Other Paul, “Weidmann was only trying to help.” Guillaume filled his cheeks with air and in contempt let out a pouf from his lips. Deharme checked my face, but I waved him away. “No, let me see. You’ll have a black eye tomorrow.”
“No, I won’t. Trust me. It’s all right.”
“You’re more than generous with people, Weidmann. I want to put some ice on that anyway.” Guillaume’s man had put out his cigarette, and I surmised I had taken a blow meant for him. He finally bestirred himself to pull the disheveled, fur-clad fop back into the Coupole. A waiter brought me a cloth wrapped in some ice and I thanked him. (I noticed since my late-nights with Artaud and company the waiters at both the Coupole and at the Dôme were conspicuously kinder to me.) Deharme guided me toward another metal monster that had glided up to us, and it sat waiting with a door open like a hungry insect.