It was morning. I had woken up a little late. I had missed the streetcar. I was screwed. I called my boss. He had been thinking to fire me for a long time, I knew it. And yet I still got myself into trouble. He answered in a slow voice. Like a spit that would take three hours to get to the ground:
– Munc? Is that you?
– Yes, it is.
– I hope you’re not calling me to get days off It’s overheating here.
– Unfortunately, sir, I fall on a staircase. I need to see a specialist.
– You’re fired, Munc.
And what can I do? When I open my eyes at the sound of the alarm clock, it’s not just the light that assails me, it’s the whole room. It goes inside my skull. It opens compartments of flesh that I didn’t even know existed. As if there was a torch burning inside my brain. My head is made of fire. And sadness too. Maybe because I lost my wife two years ago. That’s when the torch started to burn the fibers of my skull. I think. It must have something to do with it. What do you want me to say? Never mind the bastard.
Still, it was morning, and I was fired. Bad news. It took me a few hours to get over this news, after which I opened the newspaper to the relevant page. You have to find a new job, I thought to myself eagerly. You have to move on, you have to make fun of all your melancholy thoughts. You have to redeem yourself as a worker. But there she was, my Madonna, with her eyes like luminous chasms, glowing with ascetic hope. She held out her arms to me with her pure eyes. She cajoled me, and prevented me from thinking about the future. And I had only one desire, to jump from the window with my crumpled newspaper under an arm to join her.
Of course, I didn’t do that because we are all responsible adults, I think, and we have to participate in the effort of the nation. As if we had no past, no ghosts, no bruises, nothing. So I lifted my wet chin, made myself a nice oily decaf and looked for a new job.
I don’t know how, but as soon as I said it, I found myself outside. I had run down the seven floors of my tower.
I skated a few hundred meters on the smooth sidewalk. A market stretched out under the stormy sky as if to protect itself from the thunder. With tin shacks, and well-filled stalls. And piles of bins full of steaming food. I wanted to try some accras, but a good woman spoke to me. She handed me a rose
– Will you vote tomorrow?
– There is a vote I answered her
She looked blown away by my ignorance. She took a step back. As if I was the devil himself.
She told me that the mayor was being re-elected. Could he fix my personal situation? I doubted it. I was worried about the woman because she was pretty. And she was the first person who had spoken to me in weeks. So I grabbed her flower and stuffed it in my pocket. Then I left the lady with these meaningful words:
– Thank you comrade.
I resolved to return. And then, as if by a stroke of fate, I came face to face with a skinny fish. Its owner was rolling his eyes at me. He smiled at me:
– Did you fall in love at first sight? Hurry up. My mackerels are a huge success.
His mackerels were caught the day before between France and England, he explained to me. I took my hand out of my leather fleece jacket. Then I passed it over his glistening body like a fortune teller.
– What are you doing? asked the chief fishmonger.
– It’s to feel the vibrations of the fish. There, in the palm of my hand.
He frowned. But I wasn’t afraid of the ridicule. It was a shock. I suddenly remembered that I was still alive.
I bought the beast. It was delivered to me as it was. Head, scales and fins included. I grabbed the plastic bag that the fishmonger handed me with a troubled look. I trotted towards my two-room apartment. In the elevator, I met my neighbor.
– How are you, Mr. Munc?
– Very well, Mrs. Dupuis.
– We don’t see much of you in the building anymore
– That’s because I have a lot to do, Mrs Dupuis.
– And what is that? The viper hissed at me, as she noticed the bag that smelled of dead fish.
– A fish, Madam. A good fish.
– Can you cook it?
The elevator opened on the fourth floor and closed on his fat back. Cooking, come on. My shoulders twitched with revulsion as I thought of Madame Dupuis, standing in front of her stove preparing endive. The fish would have recognized me as his compatriot like that. I was petrified in front of the mirror of the elevator and during this limited time the machine always took me in the heights of the tower. On the 7th floor I finally got off and happily opened the door to my home.
I shouted to the crowd:
– Here I am again!
Of course, nobody could hear me. I had not invested in a pet since Mathusalèm. I had a vision of a big cat sharing a piece of raw fish with me, its master. I squinted and smiled: I owned a fish. I was going to be able to get busy in a clever way.
When I reached my kitchen, I spread the dead animal out on a plate. The moisture of the mackerel began to soak the wood. The smell of it invaded the already humid air of the room. I took out a kitchen knife. The fish looked at me with its sparkling eyes. Did it have something to say to me? It was fired, done, damned though. I gave him a few seconds to decide to talk to me, then I pushed the blade into his slimy body. Before I touched the wood of the blade, I changed my mind. I had to make things right. I ran into the living room, a fixed idea in me, and turned on the tape recorder. A little music. It would set the mood. I played my wife’s favorite record.
Then I went back to my work site. The fish was still dead. I turned it over, and decided to break with the strategy I had been using. I placed it with a light hand on the wooden board. We looked good, him losing a few scales in the process and me starting to sweat in this maneuver. I held it up for a few seconds, undecided. Then I grabbed the knife like a sword and slit him from side to side. There was a sound of soft flesh being torn away. It was hanging, but I had managed to keep most of the flesh inside the two halves of the mackerel. The fish remained silent. This mackerel has style, I thought, and I had great respect for the cut-up animal.
Its future was in my hands. In the meantime I put a pot of water to boil, and in it I prepared a clay mixture.
I sighed with relief: thus, by my martial tactics, I had succeeded in doubling my possession of fish. I had not one but two glowing beasts, two halves of a dead fish. I thought that diamonds are also divisible. And that the ones you buy in the luxury stores on a good day are also fragments. That doesn’t make them any less brilliant. And my fish was shining too, like a diamond preserved by misfortune. Its open body shone, its scales glittered, and I wanted to leave it there, to frame it and hoist it to the top of one of the walls. I wanted to show my wife’s ghost that I had become someone who was sensitive to art, and contemporary with it.
Instead, I washed my hands and turned on the oven. Then, gently, I poured the clay inside my two fish halves. I smoked a cigar in the living room while waiting for the clay to dry. My wife’s music began to run through my head. I stopped it and enjoyed the silence disturbed by my breathing. My work was quite beautiful. The clay had created a fish mask and welded each gram of fish flesh together. I contemplated the mask and caressed its surface. I had added some plaster and glue to the clay, as well as several ingredients to make the plaster usable.
The oven was still running at full power. It was even starting to smoke. I turned on the gas. I put the mask on my face and tied it with a blindfold. Many pieces of flesh came off. They fell to the floor. No matter. My cigar lay on the living room table like a surfer on a wave isolated by the current. I gathered my courage and went down a few flights of stairs. Then I rang the bell at Madame Dupuis’.
She screamed. Then she fainted. I entered her house without difficulty by stepping over her. I had to wait for the oven upstairs to take effect. I regretted having forgotten the knife. I could have cut her. Now I only had my hands left to finish it. But once at home, she stammered:
– Face… Face…
– I am a fish.
– But you… Are you well?
– Extremely well.
I smiled under the mask. The wall clock interrupted our meager exchanges, tick tock tock. I saw that she wanted to get up, probably to call for help. I crushed her hand before she could move any of her fingers. She seemed convinced that I was crazy. I liked that, and decided to leave her alone. Anyway, the oven was on, the gas was on. It was going to go boom soon. I entered her living room and took off my mask. There I saw a cat as big as a turkey. He smiled at me, I smiled at him, and this exchange of friendships gave me a new lease on life. Mrs. Dupuis ran away. No doubt she would come back with the police. My new friend and I had a few moments left. But the cat went around me. And came to lick the fish. The fish mask was lying on the floor of the entrance. I felt a great existential anguish. So, are our relationships only the mirror of our unconscious desires, without any link with reality or with any supposed affection? I began to hate the cat, as I hated the world, as the world hated me back, but already the doorbell was ringing. I could hear Madame Dupuis yelping, and other manly voices too, but suddenly the ceiling collapsed under the blast and swallowed up the yelps and the cops’ voices. Will someone come and cut us up when we’re all cold, spread out in a death chamber? That’s what I thought in a half-coma, before I collapsed to the floor, my head buried in dead fish.