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The Erasers - Alain Robbe-Grillet

Feb 18, 2018

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    Alain Robbe-Grillet

    The Erasers

    TRANSLATEDBY

    RICHARDHOWARD

    1964Originally published as

    Les Gommes

    1953

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    Time that sees all has found you out

    against your will.

    Sophocles

    PROLOGUE

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    1

    n the dimness of the caf, the manager i

    arranging the tables and chairs, thashtrays, the siphons of soda water; it i

    six in the morning.

    He has no need to see distinctly, hdoes not even know what he is doing. H

    s still asleep. Very ancient laws rul

    every detail of his gestures, saved fo

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    once from the uncertainty of huma

    ntentions; each second marks a pur

    movement: a side-step, the chair eleve

    nches out from the table, three wipes ohe rag, half-turn to the right, two step

    forward, each second marks, perfect

    even, unblurred. Thirty-one. Thirty-two

    Thirty-three. Thirty-four. Thirty-five

    Thirty-six. Thirty-seven. Each second i

    ts exact place.

    Soon unfortunately time will nonger be master. Wrapped in their aur

    of doubt and error, this days events

    however insignificant they may be, wiln a few seconds begin their task

    gradually encroaching upon the idea

    order, cunningly introducing a

    occasional inversion, a discrepancy,

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    confusion, a warp, in order t

    accomplish their work: a day in earl

    winter without plan, without direction

    ncomprehensible and monstrous. But s still too early, the street door has jus

    been unbolted, the only person on th

    scene has not yet recovered his ow

    existence. It is the moment when th

    dozen chairs gently come down from th

    mitation marble tables where they hav

    spent the night. Nothing else. Aautomatons arm puts the setting back i

    place.

    When everything is ready, the lighgoes on

    A fat man is standing here, the manager

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    rying to get his bearings among th

    ables and chairs. Over the bar, the lon

    mirror where a sick image floats, th

    manager, greenish, his features blurrediverish and fleshy in his aquarium.

    On the other side, behind the mirror

    he manager again who dissolves slowln the dawning light from the street. It i

    no doubt this silhouette that has just pu

    he caf in order; now it need onl

    disappear. In the mirror flickers threflection of this ghost, already almos

    completely decomposed; and beyond

    ncreasingly undecided, the waverinrigmarole of shadows: the manager, th

    manager, the manager The manager,

    mournful nebula, drowned in his halo.

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    Painfully the manager emerges. H

    fishes up again some random snatche

    hat are still floating around him. N

    need to hurry, theres not much current a

    his hour.

    He leans on both arms against thable, body tilted forward, not wid

    awake, his eyes staring at something

    hat fool Antoine with his Swediscalisthenics every morning. And his pin

    ie the other day, yesterday. Today i

    Tuesday: Jeannettes coming later.

    Funny little spot; this marbles n

    good, everything stains it. It looks lik

    blood. Daniel Dupont last night;

    stones throw from here. Funny business

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    a burglar would never have gone into

    ighted room on purpose, the man mus

    have wanted to kill him. Revenge, o

    what? Clumsy in any case. That waesterday. Look for it in the mornin

    paper. Oh yes, Jeannettes coming later

    And have her buyno, tomorrow.

    An absent-minded wipe of the rag

    as an excuse, over the funny spot. On

    way or another vague masses pass, ou

    of reach; or else theyre just holes.

    Jeannette will have to light the stov

    right away; its getting cold early thi

    ear. The pharmacist says it always doef it rained on July fourteenth; mayb

    hes right. Of course that other foo

    Antoine, whos always right, just had t

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    prove the opposite. And the pharmacis

    was beginning to get mad, four or fiv

    glasses of white wine are enough fo

    him; but Antoine doesnt see anythingFortunately, the manager was there. I

    was yesterday. Or Sunday? It wa

    Sunday; Antoine had his hat; it make

    him look sharp, that hat. His hat and hi

    pink tie! No, wait, he had his tie o

    esterday too. No. Besides, wha

    difference can it make?A peevish wipe of the rag onc

    again wipes yesterdays dust off th

    able top. The manager straightens up.Against the glass he notices th

    reverse of the sign Furnished Rooms

    from which two letters have bee

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    missing for seventeen years; fo

    seventeen years he has been going to pu

    hem back. It was already like that i

    Paulines time; they had said when thefirst came

    Besides, there is only one room t

    rent, so in any case its ridiculous. Aglance at the clock. Six-thirty. Wake th

    man up.

    Get to work, slacker!This time he has spoken almos

    aloud, with a grimace of disgust on hi

    ips. The manager is not in a good mood

    he has not had enough sleep.

    To tell the truth, hes not often in

    good mood.

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    On the second floor, at the end of

    hallway, the manager knocks, waits

    few seconds and, since he hears n

    answer, knocks again, several times,

    ittle louder. On the other side of th

    door an alarm clock goes off. His righhand frozen in its gesture, the manage

    keeps listening, spitefully waiting t

    discover the sleepers reactions.

    But no one turns off the alarm. Afte

    a minute or so it stops of its own accor

    with astonishment on a few last abortiv

    sounds.

    The manager knocks again: stil

    nothing. He cracks open the door an

    puts his head inside; in the dim mornin

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    ight he sees the unmade bed, the room i

    disorder. He walks in and inspects th

    premises: nothing suspicious, only th

    empty bed, a double bed, without pillow, with a single depression marke

    n the middle of the bolster, the blanket

    hrown back toward the foot of the bed

    on the dresser, the enamel basin full o

    dirty water. All right, the man ha

    already left, its his business after al

    He went out without going through thcaf, he knew there wouldnt be any ho

    coffee yet and after all he didnt have t

    say anything. The manager leaves with

    shrug; he does not like people who geup ahead of time.

    Downstairs, he finds someon

    waiting, an ordinary-looking man, a littl

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    shabby, not a regular customer. Th

    manager goes behind his bar, turns on a

    extra lamp and stares at the custome

    rudely, ready to spit in his face that itoo early for coffee. But the other ma

    merely asks:

    Monsieur Wallas, please?Hes gone, the manager says

    scoring a point all the same.

    When did he leave? the man asksrather surprised.

    This morning.

    What time this morning?

    An anxious glance at his watch, the

    at the clock.

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    I havent any idea, the manage

    says.

    You didnt see him leave?

    If I had seen him leave, Id know

    when it was.

    A pitying pout emphasizes this eassuccess. The other man thinks for a few

    seconds and then says:

    Then you dont know when hel

    be coming back either?

    The manager does not even answer

    He attacks on new grounds:

    What can I serve you?

    Coffeeblack, the man says.

    No coffee this early, the manage

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    says.

    Definitely a good victim, a sad littl

    spiders face, perpetually reconstitutin

    he tatters of his frayed intelligence

    Besides, how could he know that thi

    Wallas came last night to this obscur

    bar in the Rue des Arpenteurs? Itunnatural.

    Having played all his cards for th

    moment, the manager is no longenterested in his visitor. He dries hi

    bottles with an absent-minde

    expression and, since the other man i

    not drinking anything, he turns off thwo lamps, one after the other. There

    plenty of daylight now.

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    The man has gone, mumbling somethin

    ncomprehensible. The manager find

    himself back among his wreckage, th

    spots on the marble, the varnish of thchairs which the dirt makes sticky i

    places, the mutilated sign on the glass

    But he is the victim of more insisten

    specters, spots darker than those of th

    wine disturb his vision. He tries to brus

    hem away, but it is no use; at every ste

    he bumps into another The movement oan arm, the music of idle words, Pauline

    sweet Pauline.

    Sweet Pauline, who died sstrangely, so long ago. Strange