When it came time for cards, I picked my landlady’s table. My inquiries into the local litterateurs had gone nowhere. But there was still the armoire. If the old lady had wanted to keep its contents a secret, surely she wouldn’t have left it in the office to avoid any possible indiscretion. Unless she’d grown careless with age? I had only to raise the subject and watch for her reaction. She didn’t blink. That worthless old thing? She’d lost the key, but anyway, it was empty. If I wanted to use it, all I had to do was force the lock; no point bothering the locksmith for an old heap like that. I prodded. Was she sure it was empty? The old lady assured me she’d emptied it herself a dozen years ago of nonsense it held, for her first tenant, the trust-fund socialist. Then the key had been lost. Neither the socialist nor the professors that followed had ever expressed any desire to use it. It was probably full of spiderwebs now. Maybe I’d have time to take care of them? I protested that there wasn’t any hurry, the closets in my room were enough for the few bags I had. The hand of whist went on. I lost with a smile and took my leave at an early hour. The old lady tried to hold me back. I pleaded work, and promised to return soon, since she’d asked. The glass of bubbly and the two fingers of cassis I’d had were making my head spin, and my state of nervous excitement only helped that along. I went straight back to my office and fell asleep, head in my hands, among the manuscripts. When I awoke, my decision had been made.
I’ve taken care, with fame, to keep my private life sheltered from the public’s absurd curiosity. The lowest insults are but childish taunts beside the radical shamelessness of art.
Day after day, for ten years, I have transcribed in my own hand the body of work from the perfect calligraphy in the pages of the ledgers. Ten years is quite short for twenty one volumes, but for those then years, I worked ten to sixteen hour days.
I never made do with just copying. Each morning at dawn, I’d open the work underway to where I’d left off late the night before. I’d re-read a few lines before covering up the page, and do my best to guess, to make up the lines that followed. I’d write them down on a sheet of paper. I’d uncover the corresponding passage in the ledger, compare the two texts, doublecheck. I can say that in ten years and some six or seven thousand handwritten pages, I was wrong ninety seven times. These last few years I was so sure of myself I could have dispensed with doublechecking. But I always worked honestly. I always doublechecked. And I always published the text with the mistakes in it. To be found among my papers is the catalogue raisonné of my ninety-seven variations. They will be deemed insignificant, and with reason.
Today, I am done. The final proofs of the final volume arrived the day before yesterday. Here they are, corrected; they will soon be sent back to my publishers. Everything is written, everything published, except these pages. They alone do not belong to the oeuvre in the armoire. They are at once my confession, my memoirs, and my literary legacy.
Don’t go looking for the ledgers. I have burned them. Day is breaking now. In a few minutes, the first rays of the sun will enter my office and illuminate the empty shelves of the armoire. I have nothing more to say, nothing more to do. Perhaps I will not even need to put an end to my days.
Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud has been honored over a career of more than 40 years with the Prix Renaudot, the Prix Goncourt de la nouvelle, and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire at Utopiales. His work has appeared in Conjunctions, Subtropics, The Harvard Review, The Southern Review, Joyland, Confrontation, The Brooklyn Rail, and most recently in the anthologies Exotic Gothic 5 (PS Publishing, 2013) and XO Orpheus (Penguin, 2013) edited by Kate Bernheimer.
Edward Gauvin has received fellowships and residencies from PEN America, the NEA, the Fulbright program, the Lannan Foundation, and the French Embassy. His work has won the John Dryden Translation prize and been nominated for the French-American Foundation and Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prizes. Other publications have appeared in The New York Times, Tin House, World Literature Today, and Weird Fiction Review. The translator of almost 200 graphic novels, he is a contributing editor for comics at Words Without Borders.