From Book 1: Men vs. Women, Part 3

            Justine trudged up to the back door, turned to fix Louis with a shriveling look, and went in. “Ah, it’s their turn to cook!” Louis cried, and got up to follow her. I meandered over to the kitchen window to spy, and Artaud was at my side.

            “Are you ready?” Justine said mysteriously to Génica. She smiled at us through the window but for Louis she only had a glare. He was inside now, leaning against the doorjamb and obviously gloating, but his smile faltered when Justine laid slices of bread in a bowl of water to soak. Artaud left the window and went into the house as well, passing Desnos who was coming out with glasses and a bottle of wine. Desnos settled on the blanket with Roger, and I joined them there.

            The three of us lounged on the blanket, drinking and enjoying the shade. It was noon but I was determined to enjoy any wine we had left. From the kitchen we could hear Justine’s voice, edged with impatience: “Yes, I am smashing chick peas. That is how it is done.”

            “Chick peas?” Louis sounded uncertain.

            “Louis Landis! You’re Egyptian and your Maman never made you any hummus?”

            “I just never thought I’d eat it again, that’s all. And who told you I was Egyptian?”

            “Antonin Artaud, so help me, you stick your fingers in that and I’ll serve them right in the dish!” Génica’s words were punctuated by a loud, wooden thwack. Justine, whose voice had been growing more strained by the minute, let loose a peal of laughter that was echoed by us.

            Desnos smiled at Roger. “This was a good idea, Thurmon. Artaud’s relaxing a bit, spending time with Génica, getting a reprieve from his family, even being served Mediterranean cuisine.” He filled my glass again even though it was still half-full. “Keep up, Weidmann, don’t be shy.” Despite his friendliness he called me Geoff only sometimes, whereas Artaud never did at all, yet Roger and Louis were very casual with each other and with me. Even Roger, who had known Desnos and Artaud longer, was not on a first-name basis with them. At any rate, Americans were superficially casual about social graces while revealing a rather cool interior, whereas it took some Austrians years, or never, to call even their dearest friends by their Christian names. And the French—well, one never could tell what they would do.

            “So that’s why you wanted Justine to cook.” Roger nodded. “I knew Artaud would enjoy himself once I dragged him here. He could have a little fun sometime.”

            Desnos leaned close to us, loosening his collar against the heat. “Yes, he’s not a happy man, but things aren’t easy for him.” His face was uncharacteristically sad. “I try to lift his spirits whenever I can.”

            “Is his father—?” Roger clutched his throat and made gurgling sounds, and the other man nodded sullenly. “What a shame it’s tearing him apart. Although he is losing one of the few men in the family.”

            “For all the good they did him, his old man especially.” Desnos lit a cigarette and whipped his match into the grass. I didn’t say anything. It was beyond me how I could have been so cold to a father who had always doted on me, while Artaud was consumed with self-recrimination about a father who had apparently never cared for him. “His father was always gone from home, and when he wasn’t away he was stern. Justine remembers him. He didn’t approve of his son going to Paris, but his parents were desperate. Also, his mother is a scold.* I met Artaud around the time you did, I think—he was still with Dr. Toulouse.”

            “But it is not good for a man,” Roger insisted, “to grow up surrounded by women. Ask Justine—she doesn’t think it was good for her, either! Justine’s a suffragette but she doesn’t get along well with many women, even other suffragettes. She says women are jealous and cut each other down. And she’s right. A lot of women are cruel to her. Most of her friends are men.”

            Desnos chuckled. “She’s a vision, that Justine. Brilliant, too. Naturally other women are jealous. But Simone and she are friends!”

            “Justine and Simone are partners in crime,” Roger agreed. “And Péret joins in. Breton has no say in it. Geoff, you must meet Simone.”

            “I want to,” I said eagerly. “Benjamin Péret seems to flout the rules without any penalty, though.”

            Roger nodded. “You’re putting two and two together!”

            “Ahh, Breton’s got a crush on Justine,” Desnos giggled. “So does Péret, Aragon’s got it bad, but Éluard? I want to knock that man in the head! All he does is moon over his ex-wife. Him marrying the Party doesn’t fool me.”

            “You moon over someone who’s not even a fiancé,” Roger snorted.

            Desnos drew himself up. “Not yet.”

            Justine smiled wickedly as she and Génica stepped outside carrying trays. Louis and Artaud followed in anticipation of the food and the women kept their eyes on Louis especially as they set their trays on our blanket. When the meal was uncovered, Artaud sat down and reached forward eagerly; he was the only one to do so. The rest of us looked at the dishes in silence. The bread I could recognize, though it was round and flat, but the bowls of white and of yellow mush and the green, bun-shaped things—I surmised they were leaves wrapped around something—did not look appetizing at all.

            “What’s the matter?” Justine barked. Génica looked triumphant but now Justine was insulted. Artaud ripped one of the loaves into two saucers, then into pie pieces, and scooped sauce with it and Desnos followed his lead, smothering a laugh as Louis squirmed under the attack by Justine: “Don’t you like our food? Do you wish you’d gotten that bucket?”

            “No one raided the dried chickpeas last night,” put in Génica, “so that’s what we’re having,” and Desnos giggle-choked with his mouth full.

            “Oh, I thought you brought them,” Roger said to Justine.

            “I’ll eat it,” Louis replied. “I’ll eat anything, but we are in France, are we not?” He dipped in reluctantly.

            I picked up a stuffed leaf. “These are like my grandmother’s cabbage rolls, somewhat.” For that, Louis glared at me.

*Artaud’s family is criticized early in the book because Geoff gets Artaud’s history from his friends. That changes later when Artaud’s family enters the novels are complex people in their own right. I am not a “fanatic of Artaud” although others tragically have been, and they have spread misunderstandings about Antonin Artaud.

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