The girl made elastic movements around the counter and the machine. She held it out to customers with a pinched look. Then every time a customer turned his back she looked up. To admire me, all alone, standing there, at the other end of the room. At one point, it was too itchy, so I got in line. There were a few old women, but it was a Monday and in the middle of the day. People are working. I waited my turn like a sea lion waiting for its fish. And then the human tide cleared before me. The lady looked at me nicely, in the eyes, with a brand new look, a little grin at the corner of her mouth. And she said: « A popcorn? It broke my confidence a little, I almost left her there and let her alone with her little trick.
She didn’t even know how to serve, she was waddling around. She couldn’t fill the entire line with popcorn. She was an incapable. People were glancing at her. They didn’t want to miss their movie. You could feel a wave of annoyance hovering like a dark kite. But the kid didn’t care.
My circle of friends was like a bad deck of cards, riddled with brutes. I would soon have to reconsider the cards that surrounded me. I had nothing else to do in the meantime, and I ended up asking the lady for her number. She blushed, looked down, then wrote some numbers on the back of my ticket. But that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to wring out of her the promise of an upcoming reunion. So I asked her what time she’d be done with the popcorn.
« Isn’t it almost over? » grumbled one of the old ladies behind me.
The vixen was waving her shiny, curly hair up and down like she was possessed. I was scared for a moment. It’s best not to answer the Evil One.
Will you come with me for a drink? I asked the girl. She blushed, which I took as a yes. The old woman was still grumbling. Her husband had put an arm on her shoulder. Probably to keep her from devouring me. She bellowed like a donkey.
I left under a flood of insults. But I didn’t care, my friend had just arrived. The film was a series of bourgeois shots with Elsa Zylberstein (*French stupid actress), I can’t stand her but she plays in almost every film now. The young actor sputtered while giving the line to Elsa who quoted intellectual names in each scene to show that she had a certain socio-cultural level.
After the movie, I pretended to go home so that my friend wouldn’t suspect anything, then I sat down on a lump of earth, behind the cinema. I lit a cigarette and smoked. Seeing the evening fall gave me a chill. The cinema had turned on its night lights, it was pretty, it gave an impression of human warmth. Of course they were only neon lights without humanity. I remained frozen by the melancholic beauty of it all. Then, around 10 pm, I went to look for my waitress.
I learned that her name was Deborah, that she lived in a town not far away. And that she had a boyfriend, but not every night. In this case I had stumbled upon the right night. We went for a steak behind the highway, and I listened to her talk about herself. I think she saw me as a sort of steak provider, and that was that; and that bothered me a little, but I didn’t have much choice. I ended up stroking her cheek, and she looked at me and asked:
— What do you do for a living?
My discomfort with this question dates back to the 1990s. I’ve been trying to break into acting for ten years. That’s why I go to the movies. I try to immerse myself in the screen, in what I see unfolding before my eyes. I didn’t choose art, it was art that imposed itself on me. Art had caught me like an easy prey. My true vocation was not that, I wanted to be a cop.
Finally now it was necessary to be reasonable. But I couldn’t tell her that. That’s why, in the little restaurant, while the wind was blowing through a badly closed door, I said these stinging words of truth in front of Deborah:
— I am a policeman.
I don’t know why I chose to say that. Usually when I take gals out for a drink, I’m an actor. Almost not anonymous, soon to be famous artist, about as sexy as their grandfathers.
— My uncle is a policeman.
Deborah smiled and her teeth revealed a small manufacturing defect. I felt that I was going to fall in love with her. In a premonitory gesture, I grabbed my fork and squeezed it hard until it hurt.
I drew a sign of the cross on the white tablecloth. The tablecloth tore a little, my resistance gave way, and I pulled her out of the restaurant better. We scoured a few streets looking for a bar. And then finally we ended up at my place.
I could describe the next few hours to you but you’d hate me for it. I’m still pretty good at sex for my age, maybe my nose is too round, a few blackheads but I’m a heartthrob, maybe that’s why I want to be an actor. I can play any role.
The morning came. Deborah had to leave. Her cinema was opening. I didn’t try to hold her back, but I made her promise that we would meet again. She smiled at me. It wasn’t the same smile as the day before, there had been a fatal evolution, her smile had nothing charming about it anymore, it was full of pity.
She left while throwing me this assassinating sentence:
— Your apartment doesn’t look like a cop’s. An unemployed man’s, maybe.
I realized that my bachelor pad was the dingy kind, with holes in just about every corner of the floor. And dust in a comatose state on almost every piece of furniture covering. I felt anxious. I would never see Deborah again, I thought. So I lied again for the sake of our common future. Who knows, we would probably make a beautiful couple, and when I put a ring on her diaphanous finger, she would surely forget my little lies. It was for a good cause, for her own good too, my little popcorn dispenser with a seductive look.
— I’m moving soon.
My friend picked me up two hours later, and we spent half an hour at the hospital. I clown around in front of patients. I lead a little troupe of actors who are trying to break through, like me. We try a few silly things in front of the kids. No red nose, no wig either, we’re cheap clowns. No disguise, the hospital we work for didn’t want us to. Just our talent, our smiles frozen in the confined air of the rooms and our iron will.
I wouldn’t say that this job gives meaning to my life, since my life has lost almost all proper meaning for a while, but it gives it an air of coherence. And it forces me to talk to other human beings than my reflection on the fridge. I have a certain tendency to narcissism. I think it comes from my youth.
On the way home, there is always a truck selling chickens. I usually don’t pay attention to it. The guy in the truck calls out to me though. I see his long black beard emerge from the white truck, and I pass by like the wind, insensitive to the smell of burnt chicken flesh. Insensitive to the wonderful smell of potatoes cooked in chicken juice.
This time I bought a chicken. It was one of the chickens that the guy hadn’t had time to cook yet. It sat in the back room like a President of the Republic at a formal dinner. Fat, shiny, and full of ambition. I asked the guy if I could have it. He gave it to me twice at the price. But too bad I had my chicken. That was all that mattered. I walked back to my dingy apartment thinking about Deborah.
I was almost in love with her. I swung the paper bag that held my chicken back and forth. I waddled down the street, one step at a time, like a military first class. Hop to it. I got home and the first thing I did was to free the dead chicken from the paper that was holding it. I placed it on my kitchen counter, then went to get a big knife. I turned on the radio. It was the weather. So I changed the frequency and turned it up pretty loud. So much for the neighbors, and I hope you like it, rap, chicken. I also took out a lump of butter. I laid it out in front of the animal. Then I made two cuts in the dead animal to place the butter inside. But before I could anoint my bird, a crazy thing happened: I heard a moan.
The chicken was moaning. He was calling from his death. He was telling me to spare him. I figured it was a whiny hoax on his part, and grabbed my knife again. At that moment, the rap on the radio began to crackle. Instead, I heard the radio make a chicken sound. Cot cot cot all over the room, and I froze. I froze, incredulous. I was blown away by what was happening. It didn’t take me long to realize that my chicken didn’t want me to put it in the oven. It didn’t want me to make it my lunch.
I’m not a clever person. But the chicken had been relatively clear. I put my fist on the table and gritted my teeth. A waitress was fine, but a chicken was not. I wasn’t going to be led around like that. I took the knife, and I stabbed the chicken in the belly. Radical. Then I heard ting ting ting and a flock of beads started to flow from the hole. I was flabbergasted by the absurdity of the scene. Me, the miserable actor, hero of an improbable tale with a chicken who was playing the horn of plenty? I picked up the pearls and thought about how many I would have to sell to buy an apartment worthy of Deborah. Then I thought about it more calmly, and I cut up my dead animal. It hadn’t moved an inch. I had a handful of pearls in my left hand and the knife in my right. But this time, no beads. However, the chicken started to moan again.
That’s when I decided that I had to establish a reliable means of communication between the chicken and me. I went to my computer to see if there was a specialized site. But the Internet gave me nothing. The breeders’ websites didn’t talk about zombie chickens. Nor chickens in which pearls had been hidden. And then it hit me. The chicken had never moaned. But someone had gutted it, and stuffed it with pearls. And whoever it was had to be as human as I was. I lost all faith in humanity.
I took the pearls, put them in an envelope. Then I carefully placed the still fat and shiny chicken back into the paper bag. I left my house. I didn’t feel like acting anymore. I went to the movies but Deborah was missing. So I left the envelope with the pearls and her name on it. The girl to whom I gave the envelope seemed jealous. So I insisted several times. The letter had to reach Deborah and her alone.
Afterwards I went back to smoke behind the cinema. I still had my dead chicken in my hand. I slumped down on the lump of earth, and I smoked, thought, smoked, and then I went down a little way. There was a stream. I took off my clothes. It was getting dark and no one was coming. So I walked, naked with the chicken, thinking of how happy Deborah would be when she’ll have seen the pearls.