Edward Gauvin translating the French of Marcel Béalu
Iwas proud of my hands, with their unmarked fates. Whatever possessed me to see a palm reader? Upon arriving, I entered no banal vestibule, but a long glass corridor. From the warm half-light prevailing in the hallway soon emerged several rows of plants whose large leaves seemed made from some dead matter. From the middle of each opened five thick petals, widowed of stamens. I drew closer, curious: the flowers were hands, some open, some half-closed. Just as I realized this, a tiny door toward the back of the greenhouse opened, and a man in a gardening apron appeared, looking furious. But no sooner had he glanced at my palms than he began to laugh silently, grabbed my right hand, and turned it like the handle on a vise. The motion reminded me that one day (until now I'd thought it was a dream), my wife had unscrewed all four of my limbs so I'd fit in her doll's bathtub. Then, as now, it went quite well. When my right hand had been entirely unscrewed, the man in the gardening apron seized my left and unscrewed it even more nimbly. His job done, he pushed me more than showed me to a lower room that was completely dark. I tripped over several stretched-out legs before finding an empty seat and letting myself fall into it. Men—like me, in black morning coats—were seated around the room, but all I saw of them at first were enormous Legion of Honor rosettes. After a moment, I realized these were just the wrists from which their hands, like mine, were missing. What could I have been thinking, to be so utterly wrong? There we sat, perfectly patient clients, despite our dignity and ceremonious attire like vagrants in a waiting room (who wish to feign interest in the passing trains but on whom weariness forces immobility), when suddenly, from behind the wall, we heard an altercation, immediately followed by two ringing slaps as a single word boomed out: Charlatan! Our silence became like the silence before an explosion, flame racing down the fuse. Slowly, light replaced shadow, and I could see in all the widened eyes the wild fear that, for a moment now, I'd been trying hard to hide. This feeling only lasted a few seconds. Abruptly one of the handless men lunged for the door, and we followed in panicked terror. Beneath the glass roof, a horrifying and farcical scene ensued: each of us, looking for a right and left to fit his wrists, using his stumps, mouth, and even feet to try and screw them on when he found them. I ended up with a pair of hands that fit me to a tee, but whose palms were so crosshatched, streaked, and striped every which way that I haven't been able to pick out my life line ever since.
Edward Gauvin (edwardgauvin.com/blog) has received fellowships and residencies from the NEA, the Clarion and Fulbright Foundations, the Centre National du Livre, Ledig House, the Banff Centre, and the American Literary Translators' Association. His translation of Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud's selected stories A Life on Paper (Small Beer, 2010) was shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award. Other publications have appeared in Conjunctions, Subtropics, World Literature Today, Epiphany, Tin House, PEN America, The Southern Review, F&SF, and the Harvard Review. The winner of the John Dryden Translation prize, he is the contributing editor for Francophone comics at Words Without Borders, and translates comics for Tokypop, First Second, Lerner, and Archaia.
Marcel Béalu (1908-1993) was best known for the delicacy with which he explored dreams and the unreal in poetry, prose, and painting. A retiring figure, he ran a bookstore, by Paris' Jardin du Luxembourg, named Le Pont Traversé after a novel by his friend, critic and editor Jean Paulhan. There he held readings for a small circle of surrealist and fantastical writers; it is said Lacan, among his first customers, purchased Shakespeare's complete works and forgot to pay for them. Béalu also founded the revue of fantastic writing Réalités secrètes (1955-1971). His work includes four novels and more than seven collections of short-shorts, some of which have appeared in Joyland. His 1945 novel L'Expérience de la nuit was translated by Christine Donougher as The Experience of Night (Dedalus, 1997).