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  Jealousy (excerpt)

For a reading by the author, in French, listen to item 5





Now the shadow of the southwest column— at the corner of the veranda on the bedroom side— falls across the garden. The sun, still low in the eastern sky, rakes the valley from the side. The rows of banana trees, growing at an angle to the direction of the valley, are everywhere quite distinct in this light.

From the bottom to the upper edge of the highest sectors, on the hillside facing the one the house is built on, it is relatively easy to count the trees; particularly opposite the house, thanks to the recent plantings of the patches located in this area.

The valley has been cleared over the greater part of its width here: there remains, at present, nothing but a border of brush (some thirty yards across at the top of the plateau) which joins the valley by a knoll with neither crest nor rocky fall.

The line of separation between the uncultivated zone and the banana plantation is not entirely straight. It is a zigzag line, with alternately protruding and receding angles, each belonging to a different patch of different age, but of a generally identical orientation.

Just opposite the house, a clump of trees marks the highest point the cultivation reaches in this sector. The patch that ends here is a rectangle. The ground is invisible, or virtually so, between the fronds. Still, the impeccable alignment of the boles shows that they have been planted only recently and that no stems have as yet been cut.

Starting from this clump of trees, the patch runs downhill with a slight divergence (toward the left)) from the greatest angle of slope. There are thirty-two banana trees in the row, down to the lower edge of the patch.

Prolonging this patch toward the bottom, with the same arrangement of rows, another patch occupies the space included between the first patch and the little stream that flows through the valley bottom. This second patch is twenty-three trees deep, and only its more advanced vegetation distinguishes it from the preceding patch: the greater height of the trunks, the tangle of fronds, and the number of well-formed stems. Besides, some stems have already been cut. But the empty place where the bole has been cut is then as easily discernible as the tree itself would be with its tuft of wide, palegreen leaves, out of which comes the thick curving stem bearing the fruit.

Furthermore, instead of being rectangular like the one above it, this patch is trapezoidal; for the stream bank that constitutes its lower edge is not perpendicular to its two sides— running up the slope— which are parallel to each other. The row on the right side has no more than thirteen banana trees instead of twenty-three.

And finally, the lower edge of this patch is not straight, since the little stream is not: a slight bulge narrows the patch toward the middle of its width. The central row, which should have eighteen trees if it were to be a true trapezoid, has, in fact, only sixteen.

In the second row, starting from the far left, there would be twenty-two trees (because of the alternate arrangement) in the case of a rectangular patch. There would also be twenty-two for a patch that was precisely trapezoidal, the reduction being scarcely noticeable at such a short distance from its base. And, in fact, there are twenty-two trees there.

But the third row too has only twenty-two trees, instead of twenty-three which the alternately-arranged rectangle would have. No additional difference is introduced, at this level, by the bulge in the lower edge. The same is true for the fourth row, which includes twenty-one boles, that is, one less than an even row of the imaginary rectangle.

The bulge of the bank also begins to take effect starting from the fifth row: this row, as a matter of fact, also possesses only twenty-one trees, whereas it should have twenty-two for a true trapezoid and twenty-three for a rectangle (uneven row).

These numbers themselves are theoretical, since certain banana trees have already been cut at ground level, once the stem has matured. There are actually nineteen tubs of leaves and two empty spaces which constitute the fourth row; and in the fifth, twenty tubs and one space— that is, from bottom to top: eight tufts of leaves, an empty space, twelve tufts of leaves.

Without bothering with the order in which the actually visible banana trees and the cut banana trees occur, the sixth row gives the following numbers: twenty-two, twenty-one, twenty, nineteen— which represent respectively the rectangle, the true trapezoid, the trapezoid with a curved edge, and the same after subtracting the boles cut for the harvest.

And for the following rows: twenty-three, twenty-one, twenty-one, twenty-one. Twenty-two, twenty-one, twenty, twenty. Twenty-three, twenty-one, twenty, nineteen, etc....

On the log bridge that crosses the stream at the bottom edge of this patch, there is a man crouching: a native, wearing blue trousers and a colorless undershirt that leaves his shoulders bare. He is leaning toward the liquid surface, as if he were trying to see something at the bottom, which is scarcely possible, the water never being transparent enough despite its extreme shallowness.

On the near slope of the valley, a single patch runs uphill from the stream to the garden. Despite the rather slight declivity the slope appears to have, the banana trees are still easy to count here from the height of the veranda. As a matter of fact, the trees are very young in this zone, which has only recently been replanted. Not only is the regularity of the planting perfect here, but the trunks are no more than a foot and a half high, and the tufts of leaves that terminate them are still quite far apart from each other. Finally, the angle of the rows with the direction of the valley (about forty-five degrees) also favors their enumeration.

An oblique row begins at the log bridge, at the right, and reaches the left corner of the garden. It includes the thirty-six trees in its length. The alternate arrangement makes it possible to consider these same trees as being aligned in three other directions: first of all, the perpendicular to the first direction mentioned, then two others, also perpendicular to each other, and forming angles of forty-five degrees with the first two. These last two rows are therefore respectively parallel and perpendicular to the direction of the valley— and to the lower edge of the garden.

The garden is, at present, only a square of naked earth, recently spaded, out of which are growing perhaps a dozen thin young orange trees a little shorter than a man, planted at A...'s orders.

The house does not occupy the whole width of the garden. Therefore it is isolated on all sides from the green mass of the banana trees.

Across the bare ground, in front of the west gable-end, falls the warped shadow of the house. The shadow of the roof is linked to the shadow of the veranda by the oblique shadow of the corner column. The balustrade here forms a barely perforated strip, whereas the real distance between the balusters is scarcely smaller than the average thickness of the latter.

The balusters are of turned wood, with a median hip and two accessory smaller bulges, one at each end. The paint, which has almost completely disappeared from the top surface of the hand-rail, is also beginning to flake off the bulging portions of the balusters; they present, for the most part, a wide zone of naked wood halfway up the baluster, on the rounded part of the hip, on the veranda side. Between the gray paint that remains, faded with age, and the wood grayed by the action of humidity, appear little reddish-brown surfaces— the natural color of the wood— where it has been exposed by the recent fall of new flakes of paint. The whole balustrade is to be repainted bright yellow: that is what A... has decided.

The windows of her bedroom are still closed. However the blinds which replace the panes of glass are opened as far as possible, thus making the interior of the room bright enough. A... is standing in front of the right-hand window, Iooking out through one of the chinks in the blinds toward the veranda.

The man is still motionless, bending over the muddy water on the earth-covered log bridge. He has not moved an inch: crouching, head lowered, forearms resting on his thighs, hands hanging between his knees.

In front of him, in the patch along the opposite bank of the little stream, several stems look ripe for harvesting. Several boles have already been cut in this sector. Their empty places appear with perfect distinctness in the series of geometrical alignments. But on closer inspection it is possible to distinguish the sizeable shoot that will replace the severed banana tree a few inches away from the old stump, already beginning to spoil the perfect regularity of the alternate planting.

From the other side of the house can be heard the noise of a truck coming up the road on the near slope of the valley.

A...'s silhouette, outlined in horizontal strips against the blind of her bedroom window, has now disappeared.

Having reached the level portion of the road, just above the rocky outcrop that marks the end of the plateau, the truck shifts gears and continues with a less muffled rumble. Then the sound gradually fades as it drives off east, through the scorched brush dotted with motionless trees, toward the next plantation— Franck's.

The bedroom window— the one nearest the hallway— opens outward. The upper part of A...'s body is framed within it. She says "Hello" in the playful tone of someone who has slept well and awakened in a good mood; or of someone who prefers not to show what she is thinking about— if anything— and always flashes the same smile, on principle; the same smile, which can be interpreted as derision just as well as affection, or the total absence of any feeling whatever.

—translated by Richard Howard

Reprinted with permission from Grove Press.
© Section 23, Aspen Magazine, No. 5 +6



Original format: Single sheet, 8 inches square, printed on one side.



Adapted for the web by Andrew Stafford.
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