Fragments

Emmanuelle Pagano’s Trysting, a bold collection of cohering fragments exploring desire, love and the end of love, is published today by And Other Stories, translated from the French by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins. Here, in six new fragment stories written by Pagano for PEN Atlas, a foretaste of the book.

*

A man stops me in the street. It’s late, he’s trying to get into his friend’s flat, but he hasn’t got the right code. He could call his friend but his battery’s flat. He asks if I can lend him my phone: he’s written his friend’s number on a piece of paper. He reads the numbers out and, as I’m typing them in, the name of the man I thought I’d finally managed to forget pops up on my screen. I’ve kept his number all these years, not daring to call him, not knowing where he’d moved to after he left me.

*

I met her in a hall of mirrors that had been put there for a festival. It was the last evening and everyone was on the circular parquet dancefloor. The look was art deco, 1920s, the sound was pop, 21st-century. Inside the recess draped in red velvet where she’d retreated in a little moment of sadness, mirrors built into the carved wood multiplied the reflection of her face. She thought no one could see her, so far from the crystal chandeliers and the packed bodies, a long way from the bar. But she was the only one in there: she was all you could see.

*

The day before we split up it was as though I had a premonition. I wanted to get photos taken with him in the booth at the station. We adjusted the stool to the right height for him and I sat on his knee. For once, he didn’t make fun of my sentimental side, and we tried out different poses, even one where he was kissing me. I waited several long minutes, which turned into hours, but the photos never came out of the little slot.

*

On the shelf above the worktop sits his file of recipes, which he hardly uses any more. It’s a battered thing, all blistered and warped, and stained, of course. It’s full of articles cut out of women’s magazines, some no longer even in circulation, photocopies of pages from cookbooks too glossy to be consulted at the critical moment, home-made recipes, hand-written, improved-on plagiarisms of his mother’s and grandmother’s recipes, recipes scribbled down while listening to cookery programmes on the radio. All the recipes are filed in some kind of order in see-through slips or glued onto cardboard pages, holes done with a pastry-cutter. Every one of them is annotated, corrected, amended, commented on, even coloured in, some made practically illegible by stage directions as highly flavoured as the dishes he used to create. He’d even include comments from our guests and – pointless these days – prices for the ingredients. Intending to tidy up the kitchen, I took the file down from the shelf this morning. I wasn’t sure whether it would be right to put it back there or somewhere less accessible, perhaps in a cardboard box, that is to store it right away as it’s been years since he last opened it and that bulk makes it a real dust trap. Undecided, I began to leaf through the file, first standing where I was then sitting at the table. I turned the pages one by one, carefully and lovingly, as if the folder were a photo album. It held all his life’s meals, from his first culinary experiments while still a student dashing around, before my time, almost up to the birth of our grandchildren. Rediscovering the improbable omelettes from when we met, the dried spatters from his slips, the phase of the multi-coloured soups, I couldn’t help smiling. I had forgotten all the doodles that used to embellish his favourite dishes, delicate, hilarious miniatures, somewhere between illuminations and comic strips. I recognised his handwriting, changing slightly through the years, hesitant, firmer and then shakier, and my own hand now and then seconding his.

*

The years have passed, and she hasn’t always the strength to put on a bra. She doesn’t want me to help her but she looks at me, smiling, and says: ‘It’s a shame, a little support can make a body beautiful’.

*

He slept in the spare room at my house after an impromptu party. When he’d gone I changed the sheets: I put the ones he’d used on my own bed, to see, or rather smell, whether I liked his smell as much as I liked him.

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About the Author

emmanuelle-pagano-picBorn in September 1969, Emmanuelle Pagano studied film aesthetics and visual arts. She is the author of a dozen books (novels, essays, collections of news and fragmented stories), and numerous articles in reviews and journals. She won the European Union Prize for Literature in 2009 for her novel Les Adolescents Troglodytes, and her books have been translated into a dozen languages. In 2013-14, Pagano completed a residency at the Villa Medici – the French Academy in Rome. Collaborating with artists of other disciplines (dance, cinema, photography, illustration, visual arts, music), Pagano lives and works on the Ardéche plateau.

About the Translator

jennifer-higgins-picJennifer Higgins is an editor and translator from French and Italian. She has translated several works of fiction, including short stories from another collection by Emmanuelle Pagano, Un renard à mains nues, and has written a book about English translations of French poetry.

 

sophie-lewis-picSophie Lewis is an editor and translator from French and Portuguese into English. She has translated Stendhal, Verne, Noll, Aymé and Leduc, among others. Her latest translation, of Noémi Lefebvre’s novel about Schoenberg, shame and the weight of history, Blue Self-Portrait, will be published by Les Fugitives in 2017. She is also co-founder and workshop leader at Shadow Heroes translation workshops for GCSE students (www.shadowheroes.net).

Additional Information

Find out more about Trysting, winner of an English PEN award, from And Other Stories.

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