It was at the Dôme, Artaud’s favorite haunt, that a ghost caught up with me. I was already in a particularly wretched mood that evening when my gaze suddenly lifted from the table to lock with a twin pair of eyes, with familiar but never-before-seen blue-green accusation from the face of Marie-Ange Mallausséna. I started as if Artaud himself was standing before me and after such jolting awareness I had to compose myself. “Madame,” I managed to say.
A recognizable stranger, she sat down across from me. She was older but her anger flushed her cheeks and made her rosy and fresh, reminiscent of that luncheon date in Montmartre soon after her marriage. I was grateful for the scouring heat of her expression, for these days I sat in a stupor. My God, she was so like him! “How dare you retain an attorney,” she bit out. Her voice, low and contemptuous, was similar to the sanctimonious and melodious voice I carried inside of me, a murmur and a shout I reached for and replayed in my imagination, fearful I would lose its music someday now that it no longer rang in the streets. “This after I sent your letter on to him, when it was returned from Dublin! I sent it on to him without knowing what it contained, thinking you would never act against us. Were you two conspiring? Do you realize I could have our attorney contact yours? Let us settle this matter amongst ourselves.”
“He is not my attorney anymore,” I told her, “in any way. Yes, let’s talk.”
“Everyone badmouths his family!” said the woman. She was shaking with distress, and it roused me out of my transparent cell which muffled the world.
I leaned across the table toward Artaud’s sister. “I do not! I do not and have never bad-mouthed his family. I did not in that letter, either. I only looked for another way.”
I tried with my face to convey my pity for her and she hardened against it, distrusting me. Oh, what a mask of suspicion, so like his. I wondered if Artaud had seen that same mask on his father’s face too as a child. If so, how terrifying it must have been for him. Poor boy and poor girl, castaways from Smyrna and with Justine also lost to them along with their beloved Neneka. The world had made Marie-Ange suffer, too. Poor Marie-Ange. Poor Fernand, poor Euphrasia. Poor man, poor Antonin Artaud! “Do you think,” she quavered, and now my eyes filled with tears for her—I was grateful for that as well. It felt good to feel compassion after hardening against my spoilt customers who were never satisfied. That department store was poisoning me against humanity. “Don’t you think his loved ones have done anything else all his life but look for another way?”
“I know what he is,” I insisted, “but there? In that place? Among people who do not love him?”
Like a balloon she had swelled with righteousness and in a breath it deflated. As I had done, now she contemplated the table. “Are you sure,” she answered dully, “that he does not make people in that place love him too, that he does not play games, gather followers like Moses, command his friends on the outside like God Almighty—Barrault is his slave! Éluard, Desnos, Landis, all obey him!—and flirt with nurses, flatter then insult his doctors, be a cut-up in the patients’ yard then suddenly frighten them, or withdraw and stare at us and then flee, and confuse me so that I at times walk out of there wondering if he is mad at all?” She looked up at me then with a terrible, beautiful look. “And at other times I wonder if he has merely feigned sanity all his life!”
“How can one feign sanity,” I asked gently, “and not be sane?”
She pursed her lips, looking down again. I motioned to a hovering waiter but she waved him away. “I believe you do not insult my mother, or me,” she said softly, now sounding like the Marie-Ange I remembered and barely knew. “You don’t say much at all. I don’t know your heart, really. And you do not visit him.”
“I would not cause him distress. They mistreat uncontrollable patients.” The thought of him becoming agitated due to me and having to be restrained, or worse, was crueler than never seeing him again. “He wanted me away from him, you see,” I added, suddenly feeling hope. “That was the subject of my letter. He told me leave him alone. Has that changed?”
“Changed!” I knew she smiled only to stifle a sob. “Because you have not seen him since his departure you would ask that. It is the wrong question.”
Oh, to hear that sentence from her—so like her brother. I did not think I would ever want to see Artaud in such a place, but now the thought of seeing him again even at Ville-Évrard was like being lifted in the air and lying on the ceiling like that little girl in Blood of a Poet, safe out of reach of the woman standing with the whip on the floor. It felt like being a statue come to life. If I could have a chance to tell him what he meant to me! Marie-Ange looked up again and saw my expression, and then she leaned forward, too. Her tiny hand touched mine. How fortunate Artaud was to have a sister like her, a family like his. My hand turned and grasped hers. “Then come with us next visiting day. I will call for you early on Sunday. Of course you could phone ahead to be placed on the list and go yourself, but my presence can cushion it a bit and I want to, for your sake, Geoffrey. I know you love him. Come and see what happens.”