Breton’s anger was further stoked when The Enigma of William Tell won the right to be displayed at the Salon des Indépendants in the Grand Palais. Surrealists were not supposed to enter contests, much less win them and have their works hung in museums. Breton issued an order for Dali to appear at his apartment in the rue Fontaine to answer for “counterrevolutionary acts tending to glorify Nazi fascism.” Breton, with Péret and a few other Surrealists in tow, stormed into the Salon des Indépendants to destroy the painting but it had been hung too far up the wall for Breton to reach. Even when Breton batted at it with his cane, lumpy Lenin with his soggy buttocks remained above it all.
The whole situation delighted Desnos, who seemed ready to forgive Dali for replacing him as Breton’s erstwhile favorite. He, Louis, Justine and I trooped to the museum to stage our own little drama. “I can’t reach it!” bawled Desnos as he waved a frantic hand beneath the painting in mockery of Breton. Like a toddler he jumped up and down, flailing his arms and whining. “I can’t reach it! It’s too high!” Justine and Louis smiled, but we were also twisting our heads on their necks for fear that Breton would swoop down on us all any second while brandishing that cane. Éluard and Nusch and Tzara, who had taken Dali’s side, watched us silently from down the hall.
Desnos stopped his antics and regarded Justine’s nervous grin, and then he stepped forward, wrapped his arms around her waist, and lifted her up toward the painting. Justine laughed and bounced in his arms while Desnos struggled not to drop her. “I can’t reach it,” she husked, “I can’t reach it, higher, right there!” and her throaty moan gave the words a new meaning. Blood rushed to Desnos’s face. He shuddered with laughter, while Éluard gazed in undisguised lust at Justine and Tzara clutched his rotund belly and burst into guffaws as well. I imagined him plopping down on that rounded derriere of his and bouncing on it down the length of the hallway, past us, and out the door like a rubber ball. Louis laughed so hard that he doubled over, bent his knees, and sat down on the floor, but his skinny frame stayed where it was. Éluard and Nusch walked up to us, laughing, to get a better view. “I can’t reach it, Robert! Higher! Harder! Faster!”
“Now, don’t make fun of me!” gasped Desnos as he staggered beneath the force of Justine’s bouncing. “I’ve heard that enough in my life from females!”
“You, Desnos?” I taunted him. Desnos set Justine down again and turned to apply his hands to my shoulders. I shoved him in turn. “You, so masterful with women? They don’t ‘reach it’ with you?”
“It’s not my fault if they’re not tall enough to be moll enough,” he retorted. He, in turn, leered slobberingly at Nusch who stared coolly back at him. Desnos, with his eyes locked on her, put both hands behind his back, lowered his face to regard her from beneath his brows and walked toward her lustfully and menacingly, and Nusch gave him a big smile and made a show of ducking behind me and clutching my arm for protection. “Hey,” her husband said to her and she focused her jubilant beam again on him, “get away from that Jesui-wet!”
I turned with a smile to Louis who by now was flat on his back on the floor, limbs splayed and twitching with laughter at all of us. Tzara so admired our little send-up that he came up to us too and offered to secrete us in Breton’s flat for Dali’s upcoming trial. His invitation was directed as Desnos, but… “Really? I’d love it,” yelped Louis as he climbed to his feet. “We won’t make any noise. We promise. We’ll be as quiet as mice, or men.”
“Mice-men! Go if you want. I don’t promise,” sniffed Desnos, “because I’ll never set foot in that hovel again. I can’t stand the stench.”
Tzara sneered at him. “You can’t stand the wench.”
“Well, I’ll go!” I put in. “I am a mouse.”
Justine threw her handbag down on the floor in disgust. “You know, if you stupid males would take a moment to analyze your feelings, you’d realize that you’re all neurotically fascinated with André Breton.” This from the woman who I knew was secretly writing him.