Merry Suicide and A Happy New Year!
Sophie de Villenoisy
Translated by Regan Kramer © Denoël 2016
Who are you, Sylvie Chabert?
Papa died in the early morning. When the phone rang, I knew right away that it was the
hospital, but I didn’t have the heart to answer. What was the point? I already knew what
they were going to say: “Your father died this morning. It’s over, the end was painless.”
Now I’m an orphan. People don’t really feel sorry for 45-year-old orphans. Yet the
emptiness you feel inside is the same. Except that at age 45, no one’s going to want to
adopt me. I’m past my sell-by date.
Past it for having children, and for having a man, too, it looks like.
If I were to change my Facebook status, I would say that from now on, I am nobody’s
daughter. Nobody’s wife or mother, either, for that matter. I’m just me. But just who is
Who are you, Sylvie Chabert?
I’m emotional, that’s for sure. At the funeral counselor’s, I was absolutely useless. All I
could do was cry, blubber and blow snot bubbles out my nose.
The man just observed me, staying very dignified behind his little glasses, his properly
dark suit and his poker face. It was his lucky day. I had to buy a new plot for Dad because
Mom’s was full. And then I added, “As long as you’re at it, I’ll take two. The other one
will be for me.”
His veneer of professionalism cracked ever so slightly. “Don’t look at me like that,” I
said. “I’m single, with no kids, no one. I’m the only person who’s worrying about my
“Don’t say that, Miss. You’re still young, life is full of surprises!”
“Oh stop,” I answered, blowing my nose. “If I didn’t catch anyone’s eye when I was 20,
it’s not going to happen when I’m 45, or 60.”
He didn’t say a word. Silence is consent?
Then I pulled out my checkbook. It’s the most expensive present I’ve ever bought myself.
Some people treat themselves to jewelry, spas or cruises… For me, it’s a plot in a
cemetery. A personal gift, but without the pretty gift wrap.
I came out of there wrung out, lost and almost €4,000 lighter. The price for a cozy six-feet
under, with an unobstructed view of earthworms at work. I would have been better off
getting a Costa cruise. With any luck, I could have drowned in the Sea of Sicily. That
would be so much more stylish.
But I have no luck and no style.
In fact I don’t look like much of anything at all. In a mirror, I see a brunette with a shock
of hair as dry as a horse’s tail. It’s so dense that even cancer couldn’t get through it. I had
the misfortune to be born brown-haired, flat-chested and hunched over at a time when
men are into busty blonds with their shoulders thrown back. I’m cursed. Guaranteed
never to attract anyone. Neither ugly enough to inspire pity, nor pretty enough to incite
desire. I’m average, atonal, transparent, half-ugly, half-so-so, anything but a turn-on.
I hurt everywhere, I’m as broken as a share-bike crushed by a garbage truck. The last few
weeks have been particularly trying, what with running between work and the hospital all
the time. Between my gray carpet and their sterile linoleum. But all that’s over now. Dad
is gone, I’m going to be able to get back to normal life, as my friends say. Hello TV
dinners! Sushi in front of a dud film, or soup, yogurt and bed!
What can I possibly talk about now? Devoted daughter caring for her sick father wasn’t
such a bad role after all. It gave some meaning to my life. Alright, it was pathetic, but it
had an “admirable” side to it too. I was giving myself to my dad, body and soul. People
worried about my well-being, asked if I was tired. “Are you taking care of yourself? You
have to think of yourself, too; you can’t give everything to your father. “
Now I’m just another dull, pre-menopausal single woman, who isn’t giving herself body
and soul to anyone. But who’s going to ask, “Are you taking care of your sex life? You
have to think of orgasms, too. You can’t give everything to loneliness.”
I feel so lonely; lonely and misunderstood. And ugly.
“Why not get a dog?” Véronique suggested. “They’re very affectionate, and they create a
real presence!” And why not a rat? They’re very affectionate too, and it’s a real presence.
In my case, any old thing, as long as it’s alive, could act as a presence. “Maybe you could
adopt? An African child? With the AIDS epidemic, I don’t think they’re as fussy about
families. That would keep you busy and take your mind off things.”
“And it would be a presence?” I asked facetiously.
But she didn’t notice.
Véronique loves trying to make me feel better. She’s a wonderful person, but after a few
hours with her, all I want to do is throw myself under a train… which, just between you,
me and the lamppost, wouldn’t be such a bad idea. I’ve been thinking about it more and
more. It’s a comforting thought, like a soothing hot-water bottle in one corner of my brain.
Not that I’m really dying to throw myself under a metro car – I’m too chicken, too much
of a wimp for that. Besides, as unlucky as I am, I’d probably survive! Then go try to cheer
yourself up with no legs! I’m not that much of a fighter.
But laying myself out on my bed after swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills… why not?
It’s tempting. Some days I feel like I’m already dead. I feel hollow. I have a body, and a
heart that beats, but my soul has floated away. I don’t know if I turned the light out
myself, or the fuse blew. But there’s no gleam in my eye any more. The hermit crab has
deserted the shell. So why not get this travesty of a life over with already? When I found
out that I was going to inherit €500,000, I felt nothing. Actually, that’s not entirely true. It
made me feel even worse. The money represents an entire life’s savings, but what life are
we talking about? All the trips and the happy times my parents could have had together,
the holidays in the sun, in the desert, in China, Mongolia, Tunisia, Croatia, in a hot-air
balloon, on camel back or in the snow. The five-star restaurants, the bouquets of flowers,
the weekends in the country or the mussels in cream sauce gobbled up on a whim on a
sunny Sunday afternoon. But no, dad preferred to pile it up, day after day, week after
week, month after month, year after year. Like a lifer with his ever-growing pile of stones.
My father piled up money. To tell you the truth, I was stunned. But I haven’t got the heart
to be happy about it, or to spend it. They say that money has no smell, but it’s not true.
Dad’s money has a stale smell. It’s sad and moldy. It isn’t inspiring or even promising.
Maybe Véronique’s right, and I really should see a shrink. That would really make her
day! At least she’d stop sending me all those ads about abandoned dogs, each one looking
scruffier and more underfed than the last.
As if my own despair weren’t enough!
How do bank robbers cope with the stress?
Oh fiddlesticks. I’m going to do it. I am going to stand up to 45 years of blameless
behavior. I’m doing it. I’m slipping into my trench coat and stepping outside. The idea is
not to let your thoughts paralyze you. Empty your mind, put yourself on automatic pilot.
All right, I’m on my way. As soon as the front door slams behind me, my palms get
sweaty and my heart starts pounding in my chest, I’m this close to imploding. How do
bank robbers cope with the stress? My life is so boring that I’m a wreck at the very
thought of breaking the law (yeah, right… stealing candy – a baby in a stroller could do as
much!). I’m shivering like a stick-bug.
On the way, an invisible force paralyses my legs, but somehow I find the strength to
propel myself to my local Monoprix supermarket. I’m swimming against the current of
my fear. Head down, looking busy, I stroll in, unnoticed as usual. Incognito, I pass the
drowsy security guard. To calm myself down, I decide to visit the aisles I’m somewhat
obsessive about. The tea shelves have always had a mood-enhancing effect on me. I like
to take my time over all the different containers. Some brands have the knack for helping
me get away from it all. The smell that wafts from the boxes, the appealing colors and
refined calligraphy on some of the packages, and the exotic origins are like so many
cardboard mirages, like tourist traps. I find their presence soothing, but not enough to
make me forget today’s mission. Breathe.
To buck myself up, I think about Christmas, when I’m going to swallow my dose of
sleeping pills with a big glass of water. I’m bound to be feeling bloated, because I’ll have
stuffed myself with Yule log cake. Swallowing all those white pills probably won’t be a
very pleasant affair, especially with my digestive issues, but I know I’ll do it. My arm
won’t fail me, my hand won’t shake, my throat won’t regurgitate. Then I’ll slip, dressed in
my prettiest bathing suit, into a warm bath. And with a final sigh of contentment, nestled
in the moist heat of a bubble bath, I’ll fall into a peaceful sleep, never to awake again.
That comforting thought cheers me up. If I’m not afraid to die, I shouldn’t be afraid to
live. A little.
To give myself a little extra motivation, I head towards the bubble-bath aisle. I don’t want
to die breathing in one of those nauseating artificial apple or peach scents. I want
something sweet and comforting. The scent of vanilla from Madagascar for the final
journey. But before I can freak the medics out a second time, I have to achieve what I set
out to do. C’mon, Sylvie! You can do it! I take a quick peek in both directions. Nobody.
About as relaxed as a picket fence, I slip a bottle of Bourbon-vanilla shower gel into the
right pocket of my raincoat. I feel it weighing down the lining. I’d swear it weighs a ton,
and it’s ruining the neat, straight lines of the coat. It’s banging against my thigh, and the
very contact is like torture to me. It’s mortifying. As penance, I shove the most expensive
stuff I can find into my shopping basket. Organic wrinkle-reduction cream, a non-stick
pan, four-ply toilet paper, and – probably going from cause to effect – extra-powerful
drain-clog remover. If my basket weren’t chock-full already, I could have thrown in a
toaster and an electric coffeepot as a way of redeeming my sin against the god of money.
Mother Monoprix, absolve my sins.
With all the junk I’m buying, I could have bought a whole case of Bourbon vanilla bubble
bath, but that’s not the issue.
The issue is: how am I going to manage to get to the check-out line without peeing
myself? My legs are like cotton wool. I have to stay upright. I panic at the thought of lying
collapsed on the floor with the bottle of bubble bath rolling out of my pocket all by itself.
Abject failure is simply out of the question. I walk, wobbly-kneed, over to the check-out
line. I’ve got a lump in my throat, and I can barely breathe. I have to stay calm. Breathe.
In a flash, I stagger over to the liquor aisle. Too many people, so I grab a bottle of vodka
and head towards the toilet-paper aisle, which is quieter. Shit, I’m never going to get the
bottle open, it’s got one of those anti-theft devices on it. I really need something strong to
calm my nerves. Breathe. And think. I’ve got an idea. I set the bottle down noisily in the
middle of the bathroom air fresheners and head over to household cleaners.
I don’t know if it will do the trick, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I grab
a jar of old-fashioned floor polish, wrench it open and take a huge sniff, as a way of
dulling my senses. Some people snort glue, or poppers, I’ve always had a thing about
beeswax. And why shouldn’t I? Anything to keep me from thinking about what’s
bouncing against my thigh. I’m concentrating on that freshly-polished-floor smell I like so
much. I do it again, and count to three. Without taking the time to think, I charge head
down towards the check-out line. That’s when I realize that my weird behavior has shaken
the security guard out of his torpor. He’s on my trail. I’m having hot flashes: my trench
coat is drenched in sweat. I’m anesthetized with fear. Instinctively, my lizard brain takes
over. My bowels are rebelling; I’m going to soil myself.
“Ma’am! Ma’am!” I act like I can’t hear him.
My jaw is clenched too tight to be able to scream out a confession, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
It wasn’t me, I didn’t do it on purpose,” but I’m this close to lying down on the floor to
make it easier for him to arrest me.
“Ma’am. Excuse me, Ma’am!” He taps me on the shoulder, in my panic I nearly drop my
“Yes?” I can’t hear a thing. A swarm of bees is buzzing like mad in my ears, I’m on the
verge of apoplexy.
“Are you going to buy it?”
“Excuse me? I can’t hear you, I’ve got tinnitus!” I’m in total panic mode, and his African
accent is making me fear the worst.
“You opened a jar of floor wax, so now you have to pay for it.”
“Do you understand what I’m saying? You have to pay for the wax you opened!”
“What? Oh yes, I’m sorry. It must have fallen out of my shopping basket. Thank you,
On the verge of tears, I snatch the tub from his hands and storm to the check-out line,
clenching my buttocks as hard as I can. It looks like I’m going to need that four-ply toilet
paper sooner than I thought.
On the check-out line, I put my sunglasses on. What difference does it make at this point?
I’m trying not to think about the bubble bath that is literally burning my thigh. Let alone
my bowels gone wild. I wince in pain.
“Do you have your Monoprix card?”
“I’m in a hurry, I want to go home!”
The Indian cashier looks at me, imperturbable, “With the Monoprix card, you get 30% off
certain items. It would save you a lot, especially on the wax and the pan.
“I couldn’t care less, OK? I’m out of my mind, you get it? My stomach hurts, I’ve got the
runs, I need to get home.” She gives me a big white-toothed smiled as though I’d just told
her a great joke. Some customers are looking at me as though I’d just farted in their faces,
while others are sniggering and looking away. Will this ordeal never end?
“OK, OK!” she giggles.
I hand her my credit card as I’m bagging my groceries: half of them wind up on the floor.
Feverishly, I take my card back and dash away.
“Ma’am, you’ve left half of your groceries!”
“It doesn’t matter!” I shout, without looking back, and I leap outside to take a deep breath
of fresh air.
Then I run home as fast as I can. I barely manage not to soil my pants in the elevator,
which has never been so slow. I squeeze my buttocks and take deep breaths to try to calm
the storm in my bowels. I make a huge racket dropping the groceries on the landing, but
the silver lining to my clumsiness is that it covers the sound of a noisy, wet fart. As I’m
fighting with the lock I’m still clenching my buttocks.
I finally get the door open, then slam it shut behind me.
My sphincter’s last bit of strength goes into not letting go until I’m undressed. I sigh with
happiness as I sit on the throne, where I can finally relieve the overflow of emotion. My
legs are shaking as my bowels turn into Niagara Falls. An unbearable stench fills the
bathroom. The smell of my fear. Head in hands, I realize that I may have avoided the
embarrassment of getting caught shoplifting, but I found a way to embarrass myself even
more by referring to the worst possible excuse. All that to skitter away like a thief
anyway. Pretty ironic, considering that on top of everything else, I left half of my paid
groceries behind. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Laugh because the last few
minutes were the most intense ones in my entire life. Or cry because it truly wasn’t
anything to write home about. Also because now I can never set foot in my favorite
supermarket again. Hello on-line grocery shopping.
After airing out the bathroom and taking a shower, I allowed myself a nap. I needed to
succumb to sleep before taking stock of my lame self.
For the moment, it looks like nothing much has changed. I am still that shy, chickenlivered
girl. The passage of time hasn’t made the slightest difference. I’m even more
hopeless than I thought!