Blue of Noon

From Chapter One


During the period of my life when I was most unhappy, I used to frequent - for reasons hard to justify, and without a trace of sexual attraction - a woman whom I only found appealing because of her ridiculous appearance: as though my lot required in these circumstances a bird of ill omen to keep me company. When, in May, I came back from London, I was in a state of over-excitement, helpless, almost ill; but this strange girl didn't notice a thing. In June, I left Paris to meet Dirty in Prum; then, out of exasperation, Dirty left me. On my return, I was incapable of keeping up a presentable attitude at any length. I spent as much time as I could with the 'bird of ill omen.' However, I sometimes succumbed to fits of annoyance in her company.

This disturbed her. One day she asked what was the matter with me. (She told me shortly afterwards that she had felt I might go insane at any moment.)

I was irritated. I answered, 'Absolutely nothing.'

She was insistent: 'I can understand it if you don't feel like talking. I'm sure it would be best if I left you now. You're not calm enough to give the project careful thought. But I want you to know that it's upsetting for me. What are you planning to do?'

I looked her in the eye, with no resolve whatsoever. I must have seemed at a loss, as if anxious to escape some obsession that would not be put off. She looked away.

I said to her, 'I suppose you think I've been drinking?'

'No, why? Is that something you do?'


'I didn't know that.'

She thought of me as someone serious - wholly serious, in fact - and for her, drunkenness was a thing that could not be reconciled with other obligations.

'It's only...You look worn out.'

'Let's talk some more about the project.'

'You're obviously too tired. You're sitting there as though you were about to keel over.'

'That's a possibility.'

'What's wrong?'

'I'm about to go insane.'


'I hurt.'

'What can I do?'


'You can't tell me what's wrong?'

'I don't think so.'

'Cable your wife to come back. She doesn't have to stay in Brighton?'

'No. As a matter of fact, she's written me. It's best for her not to come.'

'Does she know the state you're in?'

'She also knows there's nothing she could do to change it.'

The woman sat there puzzled. She must have been thinking that, insufferable and spineless as I was, it was her duty to help me out of my predicament. She finally made up her mind and said to me curtly, 'I can't leave you like this. I'm taking you home, or to a friend's - whatever you like...'

I did not reply. Things at this point started going black inside my head. I'd had enough.

She took me home. I didn't utter another word.


I usually saw her at a bar-and-grill behind the Bourse. I used to make her eat with me. It was hard for us getting to the end of a meal. We spent our time arguing.

She was a girl of twenty-five, ugly and conspicuously filthy. (The women I previously went out with had, on the contrary, been pretty and well-dressed.) Lazare - her surname - suited her macabre appearance better than her given name. She was strange; indeed, somewhat ridiculous. It was hard explaining the interest I took in her. It necessarily implied some kind of mental derangement. At least, that's how it appeared to the friends I used to meet at the Bourse.

At the time, she was the one human being who could rescue me from dejection. When se came into the bar, her frazzled, black silhouette in the doorway seemed, in this fief of luck and wealth, a pointless incarnation of disaster; but I would jump up and guide her to my table. Her clothes were black, badly cut, and spotted. She seemed not to see what was in front of her; she frequently bumped into tables as she walked by. her hair (short, stiff, unkempt, hatless) stuck out like a crow's wings on either side of her face. Between these wings, her nose - that of a skinny, sallow-fleshed Jewess - emerged beneath steel spectacles.

She inspired uneasiness. She spoke slowly, with a serenity of mind to which all things were alien. Disease, exhaustion, poverty, and death did not matter to her. What she assumed in others was an utterly tranquil indifference. She cast a spell as much by her lucidity as by her visionary powers of thought. I used to give her the money she needed to print a tiny monthly review to which she attached great importance. In it she defended Communist principles that were a far cry from the official Communism of Moscow. Most of the time I thought that she was genuinely mad and that it was ill-tempered mischievousness on my part to keep playing her game. I used to see her, I suppose, because her frenzy was as unbalanced and sterile as my own private life and, at the same time, no less anxious. What most fascinated me was the unhealthy eagerness that prompted her to give her life and blood for the cause of the downtrodden. It would, I reflected, be the thin blood of an unwashed virgin.