I did an about-face and entered the Select, hoping to see Louis. He wasn’t there, and because it was cold outside no tables inside were open. I leaned against the crowded counter next to a young stranger and ordered a cappuccino. As I lifted my cup, a high-pitched, maniacal scream burst from the lips of the young man sitting next to me. Out of surprise, I fairly peppered the waiter with foam as that man—tall, dark, and wearing a theatrically penciled moustache—heaved into a series of guffaws that bordered on hysteria. His laughing-jag continued as he opened his near-empty wallet to reveal the few, large bills that he had, in denominations too large to break for his bowl of coffee. I watched in amazement as the man threw back his sleek head and let out jolting shrieks that stunned the whole room. The waiter irritably swiped at himself with a warm, wet rag, then threw it at me so I could daub my shirt. “Don’t have anything smaller, eh?” he sneered. “Well, don’t carry on like that. What’s wrong with you?” The man continued to laugh, then tried to speak and sprayed the counter with spittle. He was shaking convulsively. The waiter lurched backward, his face red. “Look here—stop that!”
“I’ll get it,” I put in quickly, sliding a coin across the counter to the waiter, who then looked relieved. The giggler turned to me as if in gratitude and tried again to speak, and I ducked, expecting more April showers.
“Man, just go. Get out,” growled the waiter, and the youth fairly ran for the door, knocking into men on the way and tripping over his own feet, and bawling with laughter the whole time. “Thank you, Monsieur Weidmann,” said the waiter to me, for the first time using my name despite having seen me here for years. He took back the rag and gave the counter another wipe, then picked up the coin and wiped that, too.
“He was nervous,” said the elderly gentleman sitting on the other side of me.
“He was an idiot!” I grumbled.
The old man shook his head. “No, no, he was nervous. I’ve seen that boy before. The other day he didn’t know how to board the trolley. He tried to ask me for help, very politely, and then started laughing just like what you saw. He couldn’t stop. He has a nervous nature.”
“He’d never ridden a trolley before?” I asked incredulously.
The old man pursed his lips and shook his head. “He is from Spain, he says; grew up quite cloistered. A bit of a mother’s boy, I’d say.”
We went on drinking in silence. I drained my cup, pushed another coin forward on the counter and left, the remnants of my good humor ruined. Brooding, I took one trolley and then another, trying to think of where to go when in fact I didn’t want to go anywhere. I just wanted to sit by a window and watch the landscape rush by. It was soothing somehow, mesmerizing, seeing the blur of streets and buildings.
As soon as it began to get dark I disembarked and, restless and not yet willing to go home, I decided to walk around a bit. My God, I thought, Artaud’s only been gone a day. Did I miss him already? It was odd, because over the past few months when he had been in town I hardly visited him at all. He was seeing another doctor, a homeopath and psychoanalyst named René Allendy, the same man who briefly funded the Theatre Alfred Jarry and whose wife, Yvonne, had been the treasurer. Still, his sessions with Allendy and his dinners at the doctor’s house were only weekly and I could have gone to see Artaud yesterday, or last weekend, but only now that he was gone did I wish I could see him. As a friend I took him for granted then spun in circles like the needle of a demagnetized compass when he was beyond reach. Besides, he left without a goodbye again. Sometimes I wondered if this was deliberate. Since his warm and close embrace of me that day after my visit to the Mairie I was constantly preparing myself for another and it never came, not even after I deflected Gaston Ferdière’s jocular blabbers.
“You worship Artaud, I think,” Louis had said to me the other night at the Select after we both had had too much to drink.
“Louis,” I had replied irritably, “I don’t worship him!”
Shaking my head, I stalked down the sidewalk, and by sheer coincidence, my steps took me right past the rue Fontaine—the former home of André Breton.