Chapter 1 continued, part 2 of 3
It was always the same places in the streets, in the houses or in the parks that set off my spells. Each time I entered these spaces, the same swoon and the same vertigo overtook me. Veritable invisible snares placed here and there in town, not any different from the things that surrounded them—with ferocity they lay in wait for me to fall prey to the special atmosphere they exuded. Were I to take a step, a single step, and enter such a “cursed space,” the spell became inevitable.
One of these spaces was in the town park in a small clearing at the end of a path that no one ever used. Bushes of sweet briar and dwarf acacia that surrounded it opened up on one side to the desolation of a deserted field. There was no place on earth sadder or more abandoned. The silence lay thick on the dusty leaves in the stagnant heat of summer. From time to time the echoes of the trumpets from the regiments could be heard. Those drawn-out calls in the wasteland were heart-rendingly sad . . . In the distance, the air ignited by the sun quavered vaporously like the transparent steam that rises above a boiling liquid.
The place was wild and isolated; its loneliness seemed endless. There I felt the heat of the day was more tiring and the air I breathed heavier. The dusty bushes baked yellow in the sun, in an atmosphere of perfect solitude. A bizarre sensation of uselessness floated in the air in that clearing that existed “somewhere in the world,” somewhere that I myself had happened upon without purpose, on some summer afternoon that was likewise without any meaning. An afternoon that had strayed chaotically in the heat of the sun, through some bushes anchored in space “somewhere in the world.” I felt more profoundly and more painfully then that I had nothing to do in this world, nothing other than to tramp through parks—through dusty clearings burnt by the sun, deserted and wild. It was a vagabondage that broke my heart in the end.
Another cursed place was situated just at the other end of town, between the high and pitted banks of the river where I used to bathe with the other kids.
In one place the bank had caved in. Above the shore a factory had been set up for extracting oil from sunflower seeds. The shells of the seeds were thrown into the pit of the riverbank where it had caved in, and with time the heap had risen so high that a slope of dried shells had formed above the shore to the edge of the water.
The others would go down to the water on this slope, cautious, holding hands, stepping deeply into the carpet of decay. The walls of the pit on either side of the heap of dried shells were steep and full of fantastic irregularities. Rain had sculpted long streaks of fine cracks like arabesques but hideous like badly healed wounds. They were veritable rags in the flesh of the earth, horrible gaping wounds.
I too had to go down to the river between these walls that affected me beyond measure. Even from far off and much before arriving at the riverbank, my nostrils were filled with the smell of the putrefying hulls. It prepared me for the “spell” like a short period of incubation; it was an unpleasant smell though mild. Much like the spells.
My olfactive sense separated in two somewhere inside of me, and the two effluvia of the odor of putrefaction reached different regions of sensation. The gelatinous smell of decomposing hulls was separate and very distinct, though concomitant, from the pleasing, warm, domestic aroma of roasted hazelnuts.
As soon as I smelled it, this aroma transformed me in a few instants, circulating fully throughout all my internal fibers dissolving them and replacing them with a more airy and uncertain material. From that moment on I could avoid nothing. A pleasing and intoxicating swoon began in my chest, which propelled my feet toward the shore, toward the place of my definitive defeat.
I would descend to the water at a crazy speed on the mound of hulls. The air opposed me with a sharp and hard density like a knife blade. The contents of the world hurtled chaotically into an immense hole through mysterious powers of attraction.
The other kids watched my insane flight with horror. The gravel strip down below was very narrow and the smallest misstep would have hurled me into the river, into a place where the whirlpools on the surface of the water showed its great depth.
I wasn’t really aware of what I was doing. Once I arrived at the water, I went around the mound of hulls with the same speed and ran along the bank down the river to a certain place where there was a hollow.
At the bottom of the hollow a small grotto had formed, a cavern shaded and cool like a small room dug out of rock. I entered and fell to the ground, sweating, exhausted and trembling from head to toe.
When I revived a little, I found near me the intimate and indescribably pleasing decor of a grotto with a spring that spouted slowly from the rock and that trickled along the ground, forming a basin of limpid water in the middle of the gravel, above which I bowed to see, without ever tiring of it, the wondrous lace of the green moss at the bottom, worms hanging from bits of wood, pieces of old rusty iron with silt on them, animals and a whole variety of things at the bottom of the fantastically beautiful water.