Fiction

Lili Is Crying

Kate Briggs, Hélène Bessette
Illustration by Laura Padilla Castellanos

An extract from a translation-in-progress; the underlinings indicate places to revisit and think on, notes to myself to think on or go back to alternative possibilities—in other words, markers of doubt.

hell damnation, cruelty, lies, deceit, betrayal, tears, severances, assassination, calumny, perfidy, misery and death.
Says the shepherd.
Driving sheep ahead of him down the narrow stony track past the garden, beneath the ruined fort on the empty hill, arid dry and white in the Provençal sun.
Hell damnation, cruelty, lies, deceit, betrayal, tears, severances, assassination, calumny, perfidy, misery and death.
The mistral is up.
Pale blades of wheat swaying alongside the dusty track where packed sheep are pressing forward and, behind them, the shepherd.
Invisible rain, warm and soft, sinking into the dust.
And the mistral to lift it away.
The fort in silhouette against a low cloud running through it from one opening to the other.
A flurry of wind. A block of stone crumbles.

Lili, Lili
calls the mother, Charlotte.
She’s wearing a straw hat with a wide black ribbon.
She’s coming in from the garden.

The dark outline of the cypress grown to the height of the heavy cloud of the overbearing fort which dominates us.
She has cut red roses in the fat and bumping rain.
Lili, Lili, where are you Lili? My Lili.
From a window enribboned with plants Lili leans out and looks around.
Here I am, Maman.
Her faded face, her forty-year-old face, in the frame of the gaudy window.
My Lili, says the mother, Charlotte. I was so frightened.
I thought you were outdoors.
It’s going to storm.
A lightning flash.
Go in, Lili, go in.

Don’t stay there in the frame of that decorated window.
You were calling
me, Maman?
That’s enough little girl, go in now. And I’m coming in too.
The crash of thunder. The gate slammed against the wild mistral, the garlanded window now shut.
And the rain sweeping against the windows, against the lowered blinds.
Lili fetch me a vase I can put these red roses in.
No Lili, not that one, the other one on the living room cabinet.
No Lili, not that one, you’re not there yet.
That’s the one, you found it. Would you know how to put the flowers in the vase, Lili?
My Lili I’ll leave it to you to put the flowers in this vase.
The rumble of thunder.
The simultaneous lightning flash.
The driving wind.
The rain, frantic
loud, wild, panicked, thrilled, folded back on itself, returned.
Don’t put the light on, Lili, you’ll attract the lightning, don’t put the light on.
Yes, Maman.
The falling face of this forty-year-old Lili, her face of shadow against the white screen of the windows zebra-ed with rain, against the whiteness of the long starched curtains.
Yes, Maman.
Come, Lili, come to me,
whispers the mother, Charlotte. (She is whispering because she is afraid of the storm.)
She sits down in the rustic armchair, its seat softened with cushions.
And Lili at her feet.
My daughter, my Lili.
Pressed up against each other.
Thunder, lightning flashes, the rumblings, the crashings, the clappings, the distancings, the mistral unleashed, the mistral shocked, choked, stopped, lurking in the corner of banked clouds. The sky disfigured.
Water tromping.
The fig tree in the garden bent double.
Thank goodness, my Lili, that you and me, you the daughter and me the mother we love each other in life, and we are sheltering together in this sweet and good Provençal house.
The quiet hour striking within the house while, outside, the storm rumbles.
But Lili, you’re crying! Why are you crying?
Lili is crying.
And outside the storm farther away,
the wind beating back,
the rain retreating,
the fig tree righted again.

                                        All the while: Lili crying.

Kate Briggs is the author of This Little Art. She is also the translator of two volumes of Roland Barthes’s lecture notes, The Preparation for the Novel and How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces, and co-translator of Michel Foucault’s Introduction to Kant’s Anthropology. She teaches at the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
Hélène Bessette (1918–2000) was the author of thirteen novels, the first, Lili pleure, published in 1953. Although she was twice nominated for the Prix Goncourt, her books were out of print by the time of her death.
Originally published:
December 1, 2021

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