On The Seventh Day

Luc Lang

Translated by Laura Marris

 

Book One

This flesh is but a memento,

yet it tells the true.

Cormac McCarthy

 

…did she just hang up? Hang up on him…he feverishly presses the redial button, but it’s a private number. He tries to call her cell. Which is dead, he turns to messenger. Nothing. She won’t respond. Not tonight, for God’s sake, not tonight…Elsa sticks her head into his room, her long curly hair submerging her face. Did you have a fight?…No, little one, don’t worry. When he remembers the sudden sinking he felt, he wonders if he had an inkling of such a definitive break. The image that appears to him now is more mineral, more narrative, that of a steep drop, he still holds her by the hand, she struggles, hanging in the air, he doesn’t let go, but exhaustion wins out, their hands unravel, she’s going to fall into the abyss, he’ll be left alone, his muscles guilty of not being able to hoist her, guilty and beaten. When she comes back from Le Havre every Friday, at the end of the work-week, she’s emotionally exhausted. It’s better to wait until tomorrow to celebrate their ten years of communal existence. He corrects her every time: their marriage. But she feels some kind of hesitation to pronounce the word. He pins her to the wall with his look: we’re married, no? And yet it’s probably this way that…This Friday evening, in spite of everything, he’d bought Scottish salmon from the shop, with rice pilaf, and fresh vegetables, chilled a white bottle of Graves. This was the fourth Friday she’d ditched the family after work in less than seven weeks. She’d come back Saturday, late morning, he’d have to look after Elsa and Anton, and with his own projects to wrap up, wasn’t he also…It’s 7:34, right now she’s leaving the offices of Delta something or other, a major contract, 250,000 euros, maybe more, without even counting the maintenance, she’s setting up their Internet/telephone customer base, directing a team of engineers and designer-developers, she’s responsible for the region of Lower Normandy and the industrial park in Le Havre, her job for the last eighteen months, a meteoric rise, in seven years with Orange, she’s doubled her salary with a bonus for closing deals, he’s impressed by her career, soon she’ll make more than he does, even though he…If this keeps up my dear, I’ll have to retrain as a house husband and family man. They laugh about it together. Besides her absences during the week…She tries to come home Wednesdays, in the early afternoon to see her children and half the time she manages it, leaving Thursday mornings at 6 to spend three hours in transit. Until lately, on Friday night she would be home by 9:30 or later. But even when she’s here, it seems like she lives in Le Havre—while she’s with them, he feels she is over there, no longer as attentive, as centered on their family life, she’s distracted, he seems to hold a shadow in his arms. But this evening, she has to come back, she owes it to…It floats between them, it becomes slack, less immediate, their regard for each other crumbles, dilutes itself in an area that is invisible to the other, they are demagnetized, they drift, both carried on the ever-present tide of their professional lives, with no energy left to dip into the same current, yawning across from each other. They don’t talk anymore about a third child. But tonight, all the same, she owes it to…He climbs the stairs, stands on the threshold of their rooms—Dinner in five minutes! Ok, Anton replies as he plays with toy knights around a castle. And mom? Elsa asks, looking up from her scrapbook She’ll come back tomorrow morning, she’s been held up…Too bad, she sighs, her eye captured again by the patterns in her album. He doesn’t say anything, goes back downstairs, reaches the kitchen, sticks the rice in the microwave, takes the salmon out of the fridge, the table is set, he takes away Camille’s plate, arranges the candle holders, tonight when Elsa and Anton are asleep, he had planned to bring up just that—the third child You’re 36 my dear, I’m 37, it’s time we thought about it. And this plan could also magnetize them, fill the gulf between them. He imagines on Friday nights she might stay with a lover who she…He crosses their vast bedroom which opens on to the garden, sits down at Camille’s computer, logs into her inbox and glances through her emails, 457 unread, which she must open and peruse on her smartphone, a lot of advertisements, exchanges between friends, coworkers, nothing that could rouse his suspicion. He goes into the folder of images, looks at her on the screen, a tablecloth unfolded beneath a cedar, her brown skin vibrant in the sun, she runs toward Anton as he stumbles. In the next photo, she holds their son at age three, she’s big, looking at him with green eyes. Aquamarine she calls them. She’s sharp, cruel, she wields her words like a saber master You scan your grievances into a folder, we’ll go over them together.

Click! she hung up.

At the table, his children are in a glass bubble, their lips move but no sound comes out, then their harsh words melt over him like a wave.

Dad?…dad! You asked me the same question three times! No, I don’t have homework, just a poem to revise.

And you, Elsa?

Addition, subtraction, and then scales. Will you take me to my piano lesson tomorrow? Dad?

Sorry sweetie, yes, of course.

His plate is almost untouched, he tastes the salmon, he chews, he swallows, he eats a mouthful of rice and vegetables, moves his jaw, pushes away his plate and rests his elbows on the table, the children have cleaned their plates, no they aren’t hungry anymore.

Remember, dad, you promised to take us to see a movie tomorrow afternoon?

That’s right, you rascals. Time for bed! It’s late.

He doesn’t clean up, leaves the kitchen as it is and sits back down at Camille’s computer, opens the unread emails and the ones she sent in the past few weeks, looking through them one by one, more carefully. He thinks she’s a bit familiar with one of her engineers but in the end, nothing that…He sends her a text, wishes her goodnight. Don’t be too late tomorrow morning, we’re waiting for you, it’s the celebration…He’d bought a simple ring from Boucheron, elegant: an emerald enhanced by two diamonds, an antique setting, serpentine. No, he isn’t through with her, not at all. Still pensive. He sits in front of his own screen, tries to finish up a couple of urgent projects for clients. A digital time-management platform for a cleaning company, another for an important lawyers’ office. He falls asleep beside the keyboard, his arms on the desk. He opens a door, bumps into his father who’s shaving his salt and pepper beard, who smiles at him, his legs are bleeding, crushed, broken, he crawls among rocks under a white sky. His mother calls him but he can’t grab the receiver. It rings, rattling his eardrums, no, it rings again, his cell phone, on the unpolished glass of the desk…What time is it? What? 4 a.m.? It’s an unknown number. Hello?...yes? A serious voice, authoritative, which answers, the police station in Saint-Eustache-la-Forêt…

What?...Saint-Eustache-la-Forêt, in Normandy, so sorry to disturb you in the middle of the night, Camille Texier is your wife, correct?...the emergency room in Bolbec…a car accident. We wanted to inform you as quickly as possible. No, he’s awake, it really is the police. Is she seriously hurt? They give him the number of the emergency room. He calls. She’s in intensive care. They are going to transfer her to the University Hospital in Rouen, he should come immediately…immediately? And the children? Should he bring them? Yes? No? He calls the woman who watches them on weeknights. He also works late, his responsibilities as a member of the Nuxilog company, sometimes he gets home only to glimpse them, already in bed, half-asleep. The woman is from Cameroon, talkative and warm, the children love her, they found her thanks to an ad at the pharmacist’s, she lives ten minutes away by bus, in a housing project in Montreuil, her children work, one in Marseille, the other in Spain, in the construction business, she’s a widow, her husband was killed on a walkway in La Défense, the scaffolding collapsed, a rare accident. What makes him think of that? He tries again, she finally picks up. He stumbles through some excuses, explains the situation. Not to worry, she’ll be there before 8, before the children even wake up, she has the keys. He climbs to their rooms, gets closer, there’s an almost pinkish blush on their velvety cheeks, despite their brown skin. Their breathing is even, imperceptible, they give off a smell of pastry, sleep with closed fists. Anton’s hips have slipped off the bed, his legs fallen in a tangle on to the thick carpet, his frail body drowned in yellow pajamas sprinkled with giraffelings. He lifts him, puts him back in bed, pushes his comforter back in place, then lingers, bent over his smooth face, before tiptoeing out. “Elsa, Anton, left early this morning for an emergency. I’ll tell you later. Daba will take care of you, she’ll be here at 8. Kisses for my tiger cubs.” On the kitchen table, he props up the paper scribbled in an intentionally round and readable handwriting with these few words, noticeably balanced against a bottle of water, he pulls on his jacket, pats the pockets: wallet, car keys, phone, he takes a raincoat off the hook in the hall, then finds himself outside, pushed by a firm, invisible hand, the door sharply shut at his back, unable to retreat, alone in the arena. The night is luminous, the air damp and sweet, spreading the smell of flowers, of wet grass, the Audi is parked in the garage, the windshield speckled with delicate condensation. He catches his sleeve on the thorns of a big rosebush, tugs nervously, a vermillion flower bursts and scatters in velvet flakes, a rustle of wings in total silence, he reaches out a hand and catches a few petals in flight, they palpitate in his hand, he tightens his fingers on their saccharine consistency then slips them into his pocket, he lifts his head, the next-door neighbor’s white cat watches him, sitting on top of the ivy-covered wall. It’s like leaving for vacation, a promise of happiness, when dawn will fade out the night, towards the east, on the horizon. But he’s alone, he can’t catch his breath, he shakes himself, takes another few steps, opens the door, gets behind the wheel, turns the ignition, types into the GPS: Saint-Mandé/Bolbec hospital, opens the electric gate, no lights shine in the upstairs façade, he presses the clutch, pulls out, slips noiselessly through the empty suburb, gets on the ring-road above the porte de Vincennes, moves towards the porte de Saint-Cloud, the highway for Normandy, Rouen, Le Havre, the asphalt ribbon unfurls, almost empty, he wants to stomp the accelerator, going 150 with a motorcade around him, he restrains himself. Camille, Camille what do you think you’re doing? On the highway now, the first tollbooth behind him. He robotically inserts a CD, it’s Pat Metheny in the middle of a long solo: A Quiet Night, his guitar chords fill the car, he sees the night open and dilate, he advances through the almost barren plain pierced by reddish, rocky crags, marked by sparse flocks near secluded ranches, he smells the dust on his lips and tongue, the beginnings of sadness, of having to cross the overwhelming beauty of a landscape without being able to immerse yourself in it, confined and forbidden on the threshold of unattainable, perfectly coordinated colors. Colorado, New Mexico, they’d driven through them ten years earlier, a honeymoon of holding still in an endless expanse, they didn’t move forward, they unwound in a slack and vacant present, a geological eternity, rolling through their own desert, which so troubled Camille, contained in a hopeless emptiness, carried toward an interior, naked solitude. But the plucked cords combine with his nerves, he stops the music, puts on the radio, it’s a news hour: massacres of the Syrian population by Hafez el-Assad’s army, Greek debt, France losing its triple A rating. He turns off the radio, watches the security barriers, the jumpy effect of each jointure on the metallic cord, the image of a poorly loaded film reel twitching as it unrolls. He doesn’t hear the motor, just the wind resistance. He moves forward, he thinks he moves forward, he sees a cursor on a line, he is the speed, the motive, he doesn’t go over 80, afraid of radar cameras, the grey and white surface his headlights illuminate unfolding in slow curves, in the undulating rhythm of the Seine valley. What could she have been doing in Saint-Eustache-la-Forêt? He hadn’t stopped to find the precise location of the accident, as for Bolbec, it seems to him like a lost place at the very bottom of…But why did she hang up? It isn’t like her. He will tell himself later that instead of their hands over the cliff, it’s their voices that are cut off. He realizes that she’s been constantly anxious, irritable over the last few weeks. She claims to have three more years. Then she’ll ask for a management position in Paris, something focused on international business. This mission to Le Havre, it’s the last tour. If she keeps her branch, her deals, her clients, she proves herself. Over nine months, she repeats the same arguments, this is her career plan, her road map. She sticks to it. He does too. They want to buy a mansion with a big garden in Vincennes. Until now, no wrong turns. It’s an undeniable professional rise. The man who came from an unheard of village in the Pyrenees, his father a peasant, eventually a livestock breeder, with his own brand of cheese, a house-care aid for a mother. His brother and sister have wasted their careers. And probably their lives. As the youngest, he’s a bit of a model for the family, after studying software engineering in Bordeaux. Everything is set up, in its place. Plus, he’s the only one who has kids. Thanks to him, his mother is a grandmother, thanks to him…a perfect trajectory. Saint-Eustache-la-Forêt, that’s not on the way back to Paris. She usually stays at the Accor hotel in Le Havre. Sometimes with her friend Myriam in Tancarville. He passes Rouen on his right, it’s 5:20, the horizon blurs with the orangey-mauve glints of dawn, he feels no tiredness, just his nerves cracking. Damn! A flash, he’s pressing too hard on the accelerator, the speed limit is 60 in the outskirts of Rouen, the radar camera is there on the GPS, he hadn’t paid attention, that’s two or three points off his license. He has to restrain himself, watch himself, with a sedan that goes almost 160…maybe the clouded windows hide his face, he’ll ask his mother to take the points, she’ll argue but she almost never drives anymore. For him, the car is a tool for meeting clients around Paris. Three more years…It’s not the time to have a baby, darling, that’s what she would have said tonight. In less than four years she’ll be forty, Elsa and Anton will be grown up, the age difference will be too big, the camaraderie gone. He knows what he’s talking about: he and his brother Jean are nine years apart, he and his sister Pauline six years, did they really share a childhood? If not for the sudden death of their father…he would have liked him there, right then, in his car, to calm him, comfort him. He imagined what could have been his presence, held out his hand and touched his arm, his father would reply in his serious, serene voice. The day before, they’d celebrated his seventh birthday, with his mother and sister at the farm. His father and his older brother were out at pasture with the herd. He was devouring the rest of a mirabelle tart, his mother approached, she put her hand on his shoulder, a kind of electrocution and tenderness at the same time, she had just hung up the phone, Pauline was in her room, he could squeeze the sudden silence, mold it with his child’s hands, his jaws made an unbearable racket, he stopped chewing, he held his breath, she bent down towards him like she was lifting her baby from the rocking of a bassinet, her eyes darting, she…You must be brave, my sweet Thomas, you must be a man now. Your father, he fell…And Jean?...There was nothing Jean could do, that was him calling from the emergency room. He got up, she held him in her arms, the child’s head against her suffocated chest, this mother usually so controlled, almost distant, he soon felt the hot liquid tears of Valencia sinking into his hair, running over his scalp. He started crying too, united with his mother in a despair he didn’t feel at all, giving himself over to mix with her. His father fell, three words without much truth, it wasn’t until weeks later that he cried for his father, for himself, exposed to what he guessed was the harshness of the world without a father to protect him or envelop him in his long shadow. Why did this scene absorb him with such focus? Yes, he would like his father with him in the car that carries him toward Bolbec hospital, because he speaks little, because his presence is crystalized like a wall of rock which shelters and regards him, with that astonishing gaze which gives him more weight, makes him exist, at once fragile and wanted and strengthened. At least these are the confused shards of childhood, enameling the memory of this person he lost. The sign pops into sight, here is Bolbec, the next exit in a little more than a mile. He keeps going, passes two tractor-trailers, slows down at the last minute, turns onto ramp 18, stops at the toll booth, the GPS tells him to take a left at the next intersection onto the D 149. Day has come, with a milky, undefinable blue. The computer on the dashboard shows 125 miles at an average speed of 79 mph, the outside temperature is 60 degrees. He takes the bridge which straddles the A 29, the provincial road cutting across the Norman pasturage in a sinuous line, twice he finds himself stuck behind a tractor he can’t pass, tapping the steering wheel with his skinny fingers, he thinks Camille did finally decide to come home, but why did she leave the highway to get in an accident in Saint-Eustache-la-Forêt? He drives through Bolbec, Jacques-Fauquet street, two more streets, right, left, he sees a long 19th century structure in white plaster with heavy wooden beams, then two other more recent brick buildings, practically cubes with slate roofs. A tree-covered lawn surrounded all three. The gravel driveway crunches under his tires, he parks close to the emergency room entrance. Hurries toward the sliding glass doors. A blond woman in front of him at the check in desk, her feet bare, swollen and swirled with yellow pink grey stains in old checkered slippers, her hand in a voluminous reddened bandage, who trembles, complains of waiting for an hour already, it hurts, it hurts she moans. A head taller than she is, he tries to get the attention of the receptionist who…Calm down, Madame Coquelin, calm down, a doctor will be here right away…Yes, but its urgent…The waiting room is full, look around, you’re not the only one!...He fidgets to the side, wanting to catch the receptionist’s eye, ready to grab that thick, chubby face in his hands to force her to listen: my wife is here, they called me, a car accident, Camille Texier…Camille Texier? Oh yes, let me call the intern. Four times, he goes back to the desk, harasses the guardian of the place who knows everything and gives nothing away, besides the promise of a momentary delay whose length fluctuates, under a windy porch he sees the flame of a match in the palm of her hand, it hesitates to sink into the wood, too much air, not enough…it’s been twenty minutes and…

Monsieur Texier?

Sorry, yes.

Hello, I’m Doctor Dumont, your wife in fact passed through my care, we had to send her to the University Hospital in Rouen in an Ambulance.

But I…I called you, you told me to come immediately, I live in Paris, I drove as fast as…you didn’t tell me she was being transferred! What the hell am I doing here? In your…

So sorry, Monsieur Texier, we didn’t have your number, your wife was our priority, we don’t have a surgical ICU here or a trauma unit.

And her state? How is she?

We understood we couldn’t help her here, and we got her out right away. They can tell you more when you get there.

He rails, his hands tremble when he types the Rouen hospital into the GPS. It displays 38 miles, a 58-minute route. He could have been with her an hour ago, they were playing with him, a mixture of neglect and casualness. He is on the highway again, in the other direction, it’s past 7, the flow of traffic grows, a sort of grey mist, probably heat, covers the countryside in a bluish gloom. His phone rings, it’s the house number

Dad?

Anton, how’s it going?

Daddy where are you?

On the road, bud, on the road. Daba will be there with you at 8, don’t worry, go back to bed, it’s too early to be up.

Is everything ok, Dad?

Yes, my sweet boy I’ll explain when I get home…I’ll call you in a few hours, reassure your sister if she wakes up. Love you, talk to you soon.

Central Rouen appears on the sign, in 7 miles he’ll find Camille, she’ll explain everything to him, it’ll work, everything’s ok. He gets off the highway, onto the route du Havre, rue du Contract-Social, brick and stone façades, old, half-timbered houses, he turns past the imposing Abby of Saint-Ouen de Rouen, he crosses the Seine, there it is, raised lawns of smooth grass without trees or flowerbeds, geometric buildings from the seventies, six crossbars for stories, raw, rough, glass, aluminum, and dirty concrete. He asks for the emergency room, sails along the parking lots, finds a spot far away, he walks quickly, big strides, his chest thrust forward as if he were walking against the wind, then he starts to run toward the glass doors, a dozen people wait with vague looks, more or less collapsed into orange plastic chairs set up along a pale green wall. There are three receptionists behind the desk, two of them dealing with patients, including a man with his elbows on the counter, speaking loudly, bleeding from his head, it beads from behind the compress, Thomas approaches the one who types admission records on her keyboard, she’s wearing glasses low on her nose, her thick red hair hiding her face Excuse me? Excuse me? She looks up, her eyes blue, a delicate face pricked with red spots, she points to her colleagues with her finger Please, my wife is here, I’m looking for the department, just…Two seconds. She has unfolded her hand, her long, delicate fingers, her white palm opened to him above her monitor as if to stop his momentum, she keeps banging on her keyboard, he waits, he doesn’t move Yes? You were saying? Madame Texier? Her fingers run over the keys, her eyes slide across the screen: Camille Texier?…she arrived at 6, in…surg ICU, Building C, third floor, take the corridor in the back to the right, then the covered walkway, it’s the other block, behind us, Professor Magnien’s ward. He wants to run, he walks, oversized steps that sway him, he passes a young man, in striped pajamas, leaning on crutches, standing still, his eyes fixed, straight blond hair in snarls, he turns into a glassed-in gallery which spans a poorly maintained lawn, passing a stooped woman who teeters, taking little steps, her hands clutching a walker, her forearms pierced with tubes, she gives off an acrid smell of clammy skin. His soles squeak on the linoleum, he feels loud, the sound of his steps is deafening, he doesn’t stop in front of the elevator but takes the stairs two at a time, spots the entrance to the ward, the nurses’ station on the left, they’re having a coffee, they jump because he comes in too quickly, brusque Excuse me, Camille Texier? Am I in the right place?

A slight movement from the oldest

You are?

Her husband, she…

She’s in the operating room, they’re trying to evacuate a temporal lobe hematoma.

Is it serious?

The surgeon will explain, you have to wait, take a seat in the hall, we’ll call you as soon as he arrives.

Wait, wait. He notices the long corridor lined half-way up with aluminum plates, blocked 100 feet further down by double doors with portholes. The aluminum sidings are streaked with scrapes, deep scratches, traces of scuffed rubber. Faded reproductions of famous paintings are stuck at regular intervals along the pale grey, almost greenish wall. A white light reigns, flat, buzzing fluorescents. Elbows on his knees, he stares at his boots, observing the stitching on the contour of the sole, the shine of supple leather, the strap across the instep, the square double buckle, these are his favorite shoes, his…she gave them to him last year, no, the year before, they were strolling down the boulevard Saint-Germain, he stopped in front of the window, she took his arm Come on you have to try them…But…Shh. And then they kissed as they pushed open the door of the boutique. She worked in Guyancourt back then. Already the head of a project, she led a team of engineers to develop innovative telephone and mobile TV service. She often came home late, but they still had the free time to come together. They bought the house in Saint-Mandé five years earlier, he remembers their euphoria which lasted a whole year, their nesting time. Choosing curtains, fabrics, floor tiles, the living room furnishings, Elsa and Anton’s rooms, the plantings for the garden, the selection of rose bushes, the purchase of a little Japanese maple which decorated the terrace in a black porcelain pot. Friday evenings were long epochs when they looked back at stories from the week, and once the children were in bed, they talked, they imagined new software platforms together, their way of being on the same page, the same skills, the same focus. They met at graduate school in Bordeaux in a program for software engineers. They were in the same year, he’d noticed her right away, as soon as they were plunged into the pool, that computer room they stayed from 8 am to 11 at night every day for three weeks, some sixty students in front of their screens, rubbing elbows, getting down the basics of the Unix System, the ordeal driving them to nervous exhaustion and delirious power, their first steps as programmers. Thomas had just gotten a degree in applied math from the University of Bayonne, Camille was younger, joining the school after a year of preparation at Berkeley, not far from Silicon Valley. She felt a kind of scorn and annoyance for this uncultivated young man, his borrowed charm, almost rural. He was intimidated by her beauty and assurance, her ease in every situation as if the world were hers. She consented to speak to him in the last two years of their training, especially when they crossed paths in school activities and important social groups: the poker club, the volleyball tournaments, and even more when they ended up on the same team, among the finalists for the French Robotics Cup, the famous Eurobot, where they could measure the responsiveness, the invention of each person as they created their aeronautics robot which finished third. They became close in the months before they got their degrees, as their school celebrated fifteen years of existence. There was a grand gala. With a huge HD publicity video as a backdrop, the school administrators took turns at the podium, along with representatives from the most important partners: Cisco, Sun, Microsoft, HP, Oracle, the minister of Industry, alumni who had become bosses at Orange, Total, Thales, BNP Paribas, or executives at young start ups with vertical growth curves. The champagne kept on flowing, and the best wines from the region, the tables were overloaded with all kinds of fancy food, for the first time, Thomas discovered the briny taste of caviar, the crunchy suppleness of lobster meat. A popular DJ called Black Fire got them dancing until dawn, Thomas moved badly, shy and constrained by the too-tight suit he’d bought for the occasion. She taught him a few dance steps in the beams of turning multicolored lights, in the end, the awkwardness of his gestures was endearing to her, she enjoyed dressing him, sculpting him, she became a horse trainer, in her designer dress, her delicate, silky stockings, her vine-like curves. In this they weren’t much different from the other students at Épitech, but nonetheless they discovered a kind of shared faith, almost ferocious, in the high-tech universe of business, managerial and conquering, a belief in the infinite expansion of digital markets, working together for an unstoppable transformation which would rush previous generations into total obsolescence, wildly living through the creation of a global world where they would be the principal actors, this new society would be theirs, they already embodied the emergence of a new technological and intellectual power, both of them melted into an alliance, a merger of innovators eroticized by the certainty of their dazzling social and financial success. He is still staring at his shoes, his elbows on his knees, in the overheated corridor of the ICU, his eyes blank, his mind numbed by this crouched posture of waiting, his body still in a kind of sinister sleepiness, which graces him with her appearance in a yellow dress with smooth pleats fluttering on a curving path in the sand of a desert where the air trembles. Her face is fleeting, her features exposed, she turns inward, he’s anxious to know if she’s smiling or…He hears his name called twice, he looks up, discovers legs in turquoise blue scrubs and and bare feet in matching Crocs

I’m sorry, I dozed off.

Of course. Doctor Bernard, would you like to come with me to my office?

You’re not Professor Magnien?

I’m the one on duty this morning.

They go toward the swinging double doors, crossing the threshold, the doctor opens a door on the left, 15 feet further down they enter an office flooded with light. Thomas looks at his watch: 9:40, had he waited for two hours? He’d been asleep. How is that possible? The surgeon is kind, too courteous, as if swayed by compassion. He’s about forty, curly black hair, little glasses without frames, just red arms fastened to corrective lenses. He’s bare chested beneath the gap of his coat

We were able to reduce 70% of the temporal lobe hematoma, but we weren’t able to further evaluate the cerebral trauma. We will operate on her again tonight. Her crushed ribs damaged the left side of the pleura, she’s on a respirator, but we’re worried about a tear, we have to insert pins in her spine, there’s a serious fracture of the last cervical vertebrae.

How is she feeling?

She hasn’t regained consciousness, she’s in a stage 3 coma. Which means nothing to you and doesn’t explain much. In medical jargon, the GCS, which is a scale for measuring the depth of a coma, puts her at a 5 due to cranial trauma. It’s very serious, I won’t pretend otherwise.

When will she…

We don’t know. There have been some indications of a vegetative state, for the moment we can’t determine the prognosis. The hematoma was considerable, we have to reduce the cranial pressure as fast as possible before attempting other procedures.

Can’t determine the prognosis, what does that mean?

Monsieur Texier, we still don’t know if we can save her.

But, there were airbags everywhere in the car and…

Airbags protect you from external injuries, but the impact was so violent, most likely at top speed, that they didn’t protect from internal injuries at all, the organs slammed into the skeletal structure, the brain against the skull cavity, for example, understand? The pressure was too strong, too sudden. And on top of that, the thoracic impact and the neck fracture…I fear there may be a medullary hematoma.

What does that mean?

Possible paralysis from C3, C4, from the base of the neck down.

Thomas’ chest and back start to hurt

Where…where is the car, I don’t understand.

You’ll have to look into that with the police, it’s not our place to say. The firefighters’ report mentions that she was trapped, it seems they had to cut open the car.

Can I see her?

Your wife?

Yes, my wife, Camille…

His eyes flooded, it hurt to swallow

You can glimpse her through the glass of the control room, but with all the tubes…

I would like to, doctor.

Of course, let’s go.

He went back out into the hallway, it’s a door 60 feet down on the right, he puts one foot in front of the other, he moves forward, his soles keep squeaking on the linoleum, he stops, takes off his shoes, places them against the baseboard, the surgeon tells him it’s not necessary, he says nothing. They enter a kind of soundproof booth with a wide glass window opening into the ICU. Lights blink on the consoles, numbers and graphs move across the screens, it’s a dull hum of information, punctuated by regular beeps. It’s the second bed on the left. He can’t make out anything, a form under a sheet, a few fuzzy locks of her hair on the bed…a breathing mask and tubes covering her face, he glimpses purple and red fragments of her skin, he just knows that it’s her

You should go home now, Monsieur Texier, there’s nothing you can do right now, get some rest, have someone with you, I can prescribe you a sedative if you’d like?

No, I’m not the one who…tomorrow, can I?

Yes, you’ll come by, of course. In any case, we’ll keep you informed as soon as anything changes. They shake hands, Thomas moves toward the double door Monsieur Texier! your shoes…he retraced his steps, picked them up, left again, barefoot, his boots in his hand. He greeted the nurses with a nod and left the ward, went down the left side of the staircase, entered the glassed-in walkway once again, people look at him as he passes, its on the threshold of the emergency room that he realizes he’s in his socks. No chairs are free, he sits on the floor, slowly puts his shoes back on, stands up, pushes the double door, approaches the desk. He waits his turn, leans toward the same receptionist, who recognizes him.

Did you find the ward?

Yes, I’d like to see the report.

What report?

The police report when they…

It wasn’t the police, it was the Bolbec EMS that brought your wife here.

Oh, and the police?

We had no contact with them.

But the ambulance, didn’t it say where they picked her up?

Give me two seconds, that should be in here…I’m bringing up the form for her transport. Yes, they took charge of her at the site of the accident, the D 17, in a place called Haie-Bance, Le Grand-Trait.

Do you have a pen?

Wait, I’ll write it down for you…here.

Thank you. Thanks.