One night, I don’t know why, they changed our number. The scene of the new sketch was the London Embankment. My misgivings were immediate, our little English girls were expected to sing, off key and ostensibly on the banks of the Thames at night, while I played the part of a policeman. A totally silent role, walking up and down in front of the parapet. Suddenly, when I’d stopped thinking about it, their singing grew louder than life itself and steered fate in the direction of calamity. While they were singing, I couldn’t think of anything but all the poor world’s misery and my own, those tarts with their singing made my heart burn like tuna fish. I thought I’d digested it, forgotten the worst! But this was the worst of all, a song that couldn’t make it … And as they sang, they wiggle-waggled, to try and bring it off. A fine mess, all of a sudden we were knee deep in misery … No mistake! Mooning about in the fog! Their lament was dripping with misery, it made me grow older from minute to minute. Panic oozed from the very stage set. And nothing could stop them. They didn’t seem to understand all the harm their song was doing us all … They laughed and flung out their legs in perfect time, while lamenting their entire life … When it comes to you from so far, with such sureness of aim, you can’t mistake it and you can’t resist.
Misery was everywhere, in spite of the luxurious hall; it was on us, on the set, it overflowed, it drenched the whole earth. Those girls were real artists … Abject misery poured out of them, and they made no attempt to stop it or even understand it. Only their eyes were sad. The eyes aren’t enough. They sang the calamity of existence, and they didn’t understand. They mistook it for love, nothing but love, the poor little things had never been taught anything else. Supposedly, they were singing about some little setback in love. That’s what they thought! When you’re young and you don’t know, you mistake everything for love trouble …
Where go … where I look …
It’s only for you … ou …
Only for you … ou …
That’s what they sang.
It’s a mania with the young to put all humanity into one ass, just one, the dream of dreams, mad love. Maybe later they would find out where all that ended, when their rosiness had fled, when the no-nonsense misery of their lousy country had engulfed them, all sixteen of them, with their hefty mare’s thighs and their bobbing tits … The truth is that misery already had the darlings by the neck, by the waist, they couldn’t escape. By the belly, by the breath, by every cord of their thin, off-key voices.
Misery was inside them. No costume, no spangles, no lights, no smile could fool her, delude her about her own, misery finds her own wherever they may hide; it just amuses her to let them sing silly songs of hope while waiting their turn … Those things awaken misery, caress and arouse her …
That’s what our unhappiness, our terrible unhappiness comes to, an amusement.
So to hell with people who sing love songs! Love itself is misery and nothing else, misery lying out of our mouths, the bitch, and nothing else. She’s everywhere, don’t wake her, not even in pretense. She never pretends. And yet those English girls went through their routine three times a day, with their backdrop and accordion tunes. It was bound to end badly.
I didn’t interfere, but don’t worry, I saw the catastrophe coming.
First one of the girls fell sick. Death to cuties who stir up calamity! Let ’em croak, we’ll all ber better off! And while we’re at it, don’t hang around street corners near accordion players, as often as not that’s where you’ll catch it, where the truth will strike. A Polish girl was hired to take the place of the sick one in their act. The Polish chick coughed too, when she wasn’t doing anything else. She was tall and pale, powerfully built. We made friends right away. In two hours I knew all about her soul, as far as her body was concerned, I had to wait a while. This girl’s mania was mutilating her nervous system with impossible crushes. Naturally, what with her own unhappiness, she slid into the English girls’ lousy song li9ke a knife into butter. Their song began very nicely, like all popular songs it didn’t seem to mean a thing, and then your heart began to droop, it made you so sad that listening to it you lost all desire to live, because it’s true that everything, youth and all that, comes to nothing, and then you start harking to the words, even after the song was over and the tune had gone home to sleep in its own bed, its honest-to-goodness bed, the tomb where everything ends. Two choruses, and you felt a kind of longing for the sweet land of death, the land of everlasting tenderness and immediate foggy forgetfulness. As a matter of fact their voices were foggy too.
All of us in chorus repeated their plaint, reproachful of everybody who was still around, still dragging their living carcasses from place to place, waiting along the riverbanks, on all the riverbanks of the world, for life to finish passing, and in the meantime doing one thing and another, selling things to other ghosts, oranges and racing tips and counterfeit coins … policemen, sex fiends, sorrows, telling each other things in this patient fog that will never end …
Journey to the end of the night
translated into English by Ralph Manheim
New Directions isbn 0-8112-0847-8