From Book 1: Holiday with Artaud and Desnos

            During breakfast the clouds gathered together and pelted the house with darkness and drops, a steady rain I could tell would not clear up soon. We dodged raindrops out to the woodpile, stacked up wood beside the hearth in the front room, built a fire in the fireplace and lit the lamps, and resigned ourselves to a day trapped in the house.

            Antonin Artaud was an extremely odd person. This morning, like the previous one, he monopolized the makeshift outdoor shower and five buckets of warm water, and the ground around the wooden platform became muddy. When Desnos called him a water-hog and suggested he bathe in the river instead, the actor launched a horrified face through the part in the curtains and announced he would never! Enter a body of water! Ever! “So don’t bathe in the river, then,” Desnos grumbled, stumbling back to the kitchen stove with another sloshing bucket to heat, and Roger kept an eye on the curtain, ready to throw himself in as soon as it was empty. Into his coffee Artaud dropped some of the raspberries Justine had gathered and stirred them, and exclaimed they did not dissolve. He put the remnants of last night’s ice cream on his baguette, butter, cold ham, and soft cheese. “Actually, this is good,” Louis admitted to us when he tried it, ham and cheese and all. Artaud, seeing Roger fiddle with his violin after breakfast, asked him why no violin had keys and if it was possible to draw a bow across the strings in a piano or to pluck them like a guitar. Then he asked me if I had ever considered (apparently I had sermonized about nature and the cosmos during my nocturnal blathering) that if a man farted, belched or ejaculated in a vacuum he would be launched like Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s rocket.

            “Ignore him,” Roger hissed to me when I put my hand to my face and laughed. “He does it for the attention.”

There was not much to do on this rainy day except to listen to Roger play the violin, or read, or talk. After a period of almost blank reticence Artaud could wander into a conversation and soon yank together words in a maze of strange images that made me forget what the initial subject was. Desnos could do this too, and when those two played off each other it sounded like automatic writing, though Desnos treated it as a joke whereas Artaud was insistent and pressed on with full moral import. Also, they seemed to be competing, and I had not sensed that between them before. Justine and I broke ranks to prepare luncheon together, and after we ate she and Roger retired to their bedroom. “Lucky,” Desnos muttered under his breath as Roger shut the door behind them. Without those two the conversation in the front room fell apart. Soon Artaud and Genica had retired to their room as well, and the three billy goats gruff were left to their own devices again.

            “Writing another poem for Yvonne?” Louis teased Desnos as they both scribbled in the light of the fire. I stole to the closet in our room to reach into the pocket of my suit jacket and feel for the bullet. It was still there. Desnos hadn’t asked about it yet; I wondered when he would notice that it was gone and what I would say when he did.

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