The Women Who Watch by trans. Edward Gauvin
Thomas Owen, “Les Guetteuses.” La Truie (1972)
Here what we call chance and coincidence begin to work.
—Arthur Machen, Novel of the Black Powder
What a funny figure she cut, the little old lady sitting with her knees pressed tight, the tips of her shoes touching the ground, her large purse, worn and brown, clasped warily against her.
Alone on that bench, in that park, the setting behind her a grassy slope that ran up fairly steeply to a copse of birch and pine.
A man was walking by: dreamy, so lost in thought that a blackbird, shooting by like a bullet, almost knocked him off-balance. He stopped, collected himself slowly. From where he stood, he could see the old lady in a sunbeam, spotlit like a person in a play. Dark—almost too dark in the harsh light—against a backdrop of greenery the sun enlivened through the break in the clouds, she seemed, on her bench, like a neorealist statue whose sculptor had striven to perfectly reproduce daily life.
The sight of her, in her prim stillness, with her small round hat, also brought to mind little tin soldiers sitting rigidly upright, planted on iron tacks atop the caissons of a tiny artillery wagon.
Why had this little old stranger—banal, uninteresting, insignificant—caught his eye? As he drew closer, she lost her hieratic aspect. Remaining still all the while, stuck on an imaginary tack like a little gunner, she began to come alive in a remarkable way. Frozen there almost ominously, her gaze fixed on his, exerting a kind of magnetism. Such that, beneath their imperious interrogation, he submitted to what could only be called a strange enthrallment.
Sometimes such gazes meet your own: they seem to know you, seek to pierce your silence. And so, anywhere at all, you might stumble across such women, who stare at you as at someone familiar. Seated, like her, in a public place, seemingly idle; or else worn and resigned in a doctor’s waiting room; or patient on a station bench as if abandoned by the whole wide world.
Sometimes men stop for them. What signal are they obeying? Are they rescuers, or themselves in need of rescue? He didn’t stop. He knew these fearsome women. He hastened his step, passing quickly, pretending not to see. But no matter how careful a man may be, there’s always a snag. The eyes of the woman lying in wait met his for a moment, and he couldn’t keep from checking—furtively!—the expression on her face. And, like all the others, this one in the park had the truth of the unreal to it: a half-smile not a smile at all but a certain set to the lips, or rather the sudden absence of lips.
This time, he had the feeling that before him sat a skeleton in clothes, that these were dolled up bones to be buried without delay. Hiding (more…)
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