“Don’t mind him. He’s had too much to drink,” I interjected, rising from my place on the floor to go to the fireplace. “Again.” I threw on anther log and surreptitiously dragged a finger across my throat at Desnos. He merely beamed at the murderous glare I gave him. As I turned back to the fire to poke it he hummed, abstractly, that short, plaintive tune that obsessed him lately.
“What is that?” Artaud demanded. “What is that song? I’ve started to hum it myself.” He hummed it too, but it sounded nothing like the tune Desnos mangled.
“So have I,” said Louis, and hummed what sounded like several grunts of pain. “And I’m not the only one who’s noticed that it dates from the Loire, Desnos.”
When I stopped poking at the fire and turned to look at him, Desnos was grinning and blushing under the stare of everyone in the room. “Oh,” he let out at last, fidgeting under our anticipation, “it’s just a song a little car-thief sang me!”
Justine and Louis applauded. Yvonne sat up in her mother’s lap and looked indignant, then clapped her hands, too. Roger gave a long, slow clap and a whistle. Artaud and I glared at Desnos while he wriggled and grinned, and my family stared at us. “Out with it, Rob!” I demanded. “You went to the Loire with us to set up a tryst.”
“No, I didn’t! I didn’t, I swear!” Desnos cried out. “She showed up and stole our car. I never saw her before. She was a complete stranger.”
Artaud whipped his cigarette into the fire. “How could any woman materialize in the middle of nowhere and steal our automobile from beneath our noses?”
Incensed, Desnos turned to him. “Well, as I recall, some people were too busy throwing furniture about the room to notice what was going on in the yard.”
“I recall someone locking you in,” Artaud riposted mildly. My family just sat and watched this exchange as if they were an audience to a play. Artaud and Desnos narrowed their eyes at each other, but both seemed on the brink of laughter.
Justine spoke up. “That was you men, throwing furniture. Genica and I should have brought restraints.”
“Now there’s an idea,” giggled Roger, who had been exceptionally quiet tonight. Unexpectedly he looked at Artaud, who gave him a black stare in turn, and then they smiled conspiratorially at each other. That was a first. Louis looked back and forth between them, sharing that smile.
Franz listened incredulously, his head leaning into his hand so that it partially covered his grin. “I never met her before in my life!” Desnos insisted, flopping about on the floor as he gesticulated. “The car was parked outside La Charité and this girl was sleeping in the back. She was the most feral little beauty I’ve ever met in my life. She had a small battery lamp or something like that, and when I trained it on her, she was wearing pantaloons down to only—” His two hands bisected his legs at the tops of his thighs but he stopped while looking at Catherine, whose expression was shocked. My father looked perplexed as Desnos continued, “And she had a rivet implanted—” Now one hand pointed to his belly as he grinned around at us.
“What, like the robot in Metropolis?” queried a cynical Roger.
“And a tattoo. And a miniature radio. She would not let me keep that radio. She sang me a song about a man who kills a woman by singing a song about—”
“Oh, for pity’s sake, Robert.” Justine shook her head. “You’d just spent five hours in a trance, and we’re supposed to believe you? For all we know you were still in that trance when you set out looking for the car. A tart showing up with strange markings and a miniature radio, singing about murder? This sounds like more of your poetry. In fact, it also sounds like André Breton’s poetry!”
Catherine remarked softly, “That sounds like a perfectly ghastly song.”
“Did she have a mermaid tattoo?” Louis snickered.
“It’s true!” Desnos insisted, looking distraught now. “I found the car outside La Charité, a woman was sleeping in it, she apologized for stealing it, I drove her to town and we hung out in the back seat until the post office opened. And she sang me that song—she had a guitar with her—”
“Oh, a guitar, too,” said Roger. “And she’s a singer! Well, that’s news.”
Justine examined her fingernails. “You did what in the back seat with this girl?”
“—but I don’t remember most of it. And the song wasn’t ghastly. It was very romantic.”
“Same thing, with you,” Louis giggled.
Artaud caught my eye and I put up a hand. “Look, let’s drop the subject, people,” I said.
“I can’t help it if things at the Loire all went to hell after I left!” Desnos barked, intent on the subject, and becoming quite agitated. He flung a finger at Louis. “And you called it the House of Usher before I left! Am I your babysitter? The rest of you were not in a trance, am I right?”
Roger shook his head at me. “This is what happens when someone starts talking about people being in novels and such. I agree; let’s change the subject. ”
Defiantly, Desnos tried to hum the tune again and Artaud hummed it too, and they sounded nothing like each other. Artaud had the better voice, a very pleasant baritone in fact, and his phrasing seemed right. Desnos quacked a bit when he hummed. “That’s not it,” Desnos irritably told Artaud.
“No, I’m humming it exactly as you did the first time. You keep changing it.” They both hummed over each other again and clashed. Louis cut in atonally, and Yvonne, sitting up again in Catherine’s lap, volunteered her own high-pitched interpretation and drowned out the men.
Franz had been resting his arm on the arm of his chair, and now he rested his forehead on his arm, laughing. “Well, this song is certainly killing me! Drop the subject, you two.” Desnos let out a burst of air and glowered into the fire, still wriggling testily. My father smiled, then frowned and then looked confused. Catherine resolutely stood up with Yvonne to put her to bed, whereupon the child twisted in her mother’s arms so that she was almost upside down and extended her arms to Desnos.
He smiled and grasped her hands, put them to his face and made blowing noises on them. Everyone smiled. “Yvonne agrees with me. Yvonne, am I right?” He emphasized the last word.
“Wight!” proclaimed Yvonne.