Loneliness is my lot. I’m used to it, it sticks to my skin. Through the window of my little apartment, third floor facing the street, I watch my fellow men pass by. Without bitterness. I see little couples hugging or tearing each other apart, carrying packages or walking like crabs, staring at the screen of their smartphones. They make appointments, check in the mirrors of vehicles that a piece of lettuce, left over from lunch, has not become encrusted on their canines.
I observe, and no one sees me. I smoke a cigarette, and a second, come on, which leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I don’t wear pants, but what’s the point, passers-by rarely look up. I envy them sometimes. This girl, with the red dress, two large fabric straps that cross over her bare back, what is she thinking? She sat on the edge of the sidewalk, her legs bent, her chin almost on her knees. The air is moist. In the distance, we hear a song. I freeze, straining my ears to focus on the lyrics. This tune tells me something. “Don’t let the sun blast your shadow…” That’s it, I recognized. Bowie, the singer with a thousand faces. I smile, and hum to myself. “Don’t let the milk float ride your mind…” What I could love this song, anyway. And to think that I had a hard time recognizing her. We listened to it in the evening, on the beach, we drank bad wine while watching the remains of the day sink into the sea. I was still a bit young. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the sea.
I didn’t feel my horizon narrowing. Working without counting his hours, taking care of the children, homework and small dramas, preparing for all the necessities of daily life. The children have their lives now. They are long gone. And I stayed there. They call me from time to time, take news. They are busy. The conversation barely started, I feel them already in a hurry to hang up. One is no less alone when one has children, it is a mistake to believe that. I don’t regret anything, though.
The girl in the red dress stands up. The pretty garment is wrinkled. She tugs the bottom of the fabric a little before walking away, frowning. His hands hang sadly along his body. She’s not that pretty. Hardly has she turned the corner of the street when a car parks on the corner of the sidewalk that she has just abandoned. Red, too. Red, the car, red, the girl. What am I going to be able to make for dinner tonight? Even alone, I like to cook. Simple things. A goat’s cheese pie, a homemade mash flavored with a little cinnamon, three times nothing.
I like this calm. I have my habits. I take a puff pastry out of the fridge, some bacon bits, I take a tomato puree from a cupboard. I dream a little. It would be a few knocks on the door that would pull me out of my torpor. The gentleman of the fourth, a young Polish widower. He repairs elevators. He would knock to ask me for salt – at this hour, all the shops are closed.
“So, Mrs. Martin, what are you preparing that smells good like that?” he would tell me when it was time to leave with my salt shaker under my arm, a greedy gaze behind his battered eyebrows.
“Lamb navarin,” I would announce proudly, blocking the bottom of the door with my leg to prevent the cat from snuggling up the stairs again. “There are too many for me alone, friends were supposed to come to dinner tonight, they had a setback”.
“What a waste, Mrs. Martin!” he would launch with a smile, a little mischievous.
“Do you want us to share?” I would dare to ask him. So I’ll go put on some makeup while he sets the table. From the bathroom, I would hear him whistle. We would chat. “Since when do you live in the building, it’s funny, how long we meet without taking the time to discuss?”
“What a waste, Mrs. Martin!” he would repeat, completely serious this time.
The jar of fresh cream has just slipped from my hands. I was closing the fridge, I wasn’t doing what I was doing, and now they’re everywhere. The white matter spread on the linoleum, stained my blouse, soiled my slippers. My hands are shaking on the sponge, which spreads more than it absorbs a now greyish liquid. As I straighten up, I bang my head on the edge of the counter, where the bacon bits are lying. I bite my lip, on the verge of tears. “All the knives seem to lacerate your brain”…
It’s Bowie, through the open window, who makes me look up. I am now sobbing completely, and with sound, like a teenager.
If I died now, how long would it take to find out? Who would sound the alarm? Who would worry about my absence in the neighborhood? The firefighters would ring the bell, then the front door, before finding me on the ground, smeared with a sticky cream that wouldn’t be fresh for a long time. “I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain… You’re not alone!” shouts David Bowie, and it’s as if he was talking directly to me, with his weird eyes, to resuscitate me.
I sniffle and hobble into my bedroom. I take off my dirty blouse. Tiny splatters dot my forearms and chest. You will have to buy some product, tomorrow, at the store, to wash the floor. Otherwise, it will remain sticky.
I am calm now. Bowie is silent. I light a cigarette with a little silver Zippo, hidden in the back of a cupboard. I started smoking the day of my husband’s funeral. No one knows. It’s my only secret, and I’ve never had trouble keeping it.
After all, loneliness is my lot. I’m used to it, it sticks to my skin. Footsteps on the stairs, which stop at the threshold. A few knocks on the door pull me out of my torpor.
The Association for Aid to Young Authors (Apaj) and Liberation have been organizing a reportage competition for nine years, reserved for people under 30 and sponsored by Erik Orsenna. The theme of the year was “Funny encounter”.
Illustration Xavier Lissillour