Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Alain Robbe-Grillet – Jealousy

The window is closed. The courtyard is empty. The second driver must have parked the truck near the sheds, to wash it. In the place it usually occupies, all that remains is a large black spot contrasting with the dusty surface of the courtyard. There is a little oil which has dripped out of the motor, always in the same place.

It is easy to make this spot disappear, thanks to the flaws in the rough glass of the window: the blackened surface has merely to be brought into proximity with one of the flaws of the windowpane, by successive experiments.

The spot begins by growing larger, one of its sides bulging to form a rounded protuberance, itself larger than the initial object. But a few fractions of an inch farther, this bulge is transformed into a series of tiny concentric crescents which diminish until that are only lines, while the other side of the spot shrinks, leaving behind it a stalk-shaped appendage which bulges in its turn for a second; then suddenly everything disappears.

Behind the glass, now, in the angle determined by the central vertical frame and the horizontal cross-piece, there is only the grayish-beige color of the dusty gravel that constitutes the surface of the courtyard.

On the opposite wall, the centipede is there, in its tell-tale spot, right in the middle of the panel.

It has stopped, a tiny oblique line two inches long at eye level, halfway between the baseboard (at the hall doorway) and the corner of the ceiling. The creature is motionless. Only its antennae rise and fall one after the other in an alternating, slow, but continuous movement.

At its posterior extremity, the development of the legs—of the last pair especially, which are longer than the antennae—identifies it unquestionably as the Scutigera, also known as the "spider-centipede" or "minute-centipede," so called because of a native belief as to the rapidity of the action of its bite, supposedly mortal. Actually this species is not very venomous; it is much less so, in any case than many Scolopendra common in the region.

Suddenly the anterior part of the body begins to move, executing a rotation which curves the dark line toward the lower part of the wall. And immediately, without having time to go any further, the creature falls onto the tiles, still twisting and curling up its long legs while its mandibles rapidly open and close around its mouth in a quivering reflex.

Ten seconds later, it is nothing more than a reddish pulp in which are mingled the debris of unrecognizable sections.

But on the bare wall, on the contrary, the image of the squashed Scutigera is perfectly clear, incomplete but not blurred, reproduced with the faithfulness of an anatomical drawing in which only a portion of the elements are shown: an antenna, two curving mandibles, the head and the first joint, half of the second, a few large legs, etc. . . .

The outline seems indelible. It has no relief, none of the thickness of a dried stain which would come off if scratched at with a fingernail. It looks more like brown ink impregnating the surface layer of the paint.

Besides, it is not practical to wash the wall. This dull-finish paint is much more fragile than the ordinary gloss paint with linseed oil in it which was previously used on the walls of this room. The best solution would be to use an eraser, a hard, fine grained eraser which would gradually wear down the soiled surface—the typewriter eraser, for instance, which is in the top left desk drawer.

The slender traces of bits of legs or antennae come off right away, with the first strokes of the eraser. The larger part of the body, already quite pale, is curved into a question mark that becomes increasingly vague toward the tip of the curve, and soon disappears completely. But the head and the first joints require a more extensive rubbing: after losing its color, the remaining shape stays the same for quite a long time. The outlines have become only a little less sharp. The hard eraser passing back and forth over the same point does not have much effect now.

A complementary operation seems in order: to scratch the surface very lightly, with the corner of a razor blade. Some white dust rises from the wall. The precision of the tool permits the area exposed to its effect to be carefully determined. A new rubbing with the eraser now finishes off the work quite easily.

The stain has disappeared altogether. There now remains only a vaguely outlined paler area, without any apparent depression of the surface, which might pass for an insignificant defect in the finish, at worst.

The paper is much thinner nevertheless; it has become more translucid, uneven, a little downy. The same razor blade, bent between two fingers to raise the center of its cutting edge, also serves to shave off the fluff the eraser has made. The back of a fingernail finally smoothes down the last roughness.

In broad daylight, a closer inspection of the pale blue sheet reveals that two short pen strokes have resisted everything, doubtless because they were made two heavily. Unless a new word, skillfully arranged to cover up these two unnecessary strokes, replaces the old one on the page, the traces of black ink will still be visible there. Unless the eraser is used once again.

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