1936: Then It Will Be Over

Adam Stennett - Mouse on Book 1 (Death on the Installment Plan) (2005)

Here we are, alone again. It’s all so slow, so heavy, so sad … I’ll be old soon. Then at last it will be over. So many people have come into my room. They’ve talked. They haven’t said much. They’ve gone away. They’ve grown old, wretched, sluggish, each in some corner of the world.

Yesterday, at eight o’clock, Madame Bérenge, the concierge, died. A great storm blew up during the night. Way up here where we are, the whole house is shaking. She was a good friend, gentle and faithful. Tomorrow they’re going to bury her in the cemetery on the rue des Saules. She was really old, at the very end of old age. The first day she coughed I said to her: “Whatever you do, don’t stretch out. Sit up in bed.” I was worried. Well, now it’s happened … anyway, it couldn’t be helped …

I haven’t always been a doctor … crummy trade. I’ll write the people who’ve known her, who’ve known me, and tell them that Madame Bérenge is dead. Where are they?

I wish the storm would make even more of a clatter, I wish the roofs would cave in, that spring would never come again, that the house would blow down.

Madame Bérenge knew that grief always comes in the mail. I don’t know whom to write to anymore … Those people are all so far away … They’ve changed their souls, that’s a way to be disloyal, to forget, to keep talking about something else.

Poor old Madame Bérenge; they’ll come and take her cross-eyed dog away.

For almost twenty years all the sadness that comes by mail passed through her hands. It lingers on in the smell of her death, in that awful sour taste. It has burst out … it’s here … it’s skulking through the passageway. It knows us and now we know it. It will never go away. Someone will have to put out the fire in the lodge. Whom will I write to? I’ve nobody left. No one to receive the friendly spirits of the dead … and let me speak more softly to the world … I’ll have to bear it all alone.

Toward the end the old lady was unable to speak. She was suffocating. She clung to my hand … The postman came in. He saw her die. A little hiccup. That’s all. In the old days lots of people used to knock on her door and ask for me. Now they’re gone, far away into forgetfulness, trying to find souls for themselves. The postman took off his cap. I know I could talk about my hatred. I’ll do that later on if they don’t come back. I’d rather tell stories. I’ll tell stories that will make them come back, to kill me, from the ends of the world. Then it will be over and that will be all right with me.

—Louis-Ferdinand Céline: Death on the Installment Plan (1936); trans. Ralph Manheim

Adam Stennett: Mouse on Book 1 (Death on the Installment Plan) (2005)

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