The Wedding Season
By Jean-Philippe Blondel
Sample translation by Sandra Smith
The alarm clock rings. 6:30. Corentin tries to hold onto his dream for a few seconds, a dream of water, oceans and rivers, but it is too late: the water has flowed away and Corentin is in his bed, bathed in sweat. Next to him, Aurora hasn’t moved one iota. It’s astonishing to be called Aurora and to sleep so deeply. Aurora never emerges before noon, when she doesn’t have to work. Corentin sighs. He has no desire whatsoever to face the day that lies ahead. Outside, the birds are already chirping – which makes you feel like buying a rifle and shooting the lot of them.
Corentin leaves the bedroom without making any noise. He glances at the suit hanging on the curtain rail. Saturday June 8th. Today. A wedding. Another wedding. His mind begins to think ahead – the preparations, hairdos, ceremony – but Corentin refuses to let himself get carried away. First, a coffee. An entire pot full. His parents offered to buy him a new coffee machine, the kind you find everywhere now, with little outrageously expensive capsules you order from the Internet, the kind that give you “smooth, extremely creamy coffee, both full-bodied and rich tasting”, the kind that make recent owners suddenly feel obliged to become marketing men to laud its merits and justify the cost – but he declined. Corentin is attached to his electric coffeemaker, to his slightly waterlogged filter papers that suddenly fold in on themselves, making the anticipated liquid murky, weak and watery; he is attached to the coffeepot’s spout, badly positioned in relation to the handle and which requires and unbelievable contortion of the wrist to successfully pour the drink into a cup. A whole pot of coffee. Two pieces of dry toast. And peace. Corentin’s ideal breakfast – except that it is 6:30 on Saturday morning.
Also missing: the local daily newspaper. Corentin is an avid reader of the paper, which he goes out to buy at the cigarette shop on the corner while the coffee machine splutters and bubbles the nectar that will soon be ready. All his friends make fun of him – no one his age reads the provincial rag that lists deaths, Communions, School fairs, Santa’s visits to old peoples’ homes and sharing the Epiphany cake on January 6th in sports clubs. It’s fine for old people or politicians who want to see their picture on every page. But quite frankly, at twenty-seven, Corentin should have better things to do early in the morning – putting the finishing touches on his Facebook page or sending a few texts, for example. Corentin replies that it’s part of his job. He keeps an eye out for reports of weddings and official ceremonies and laughs at the black and white photos that look like they came out of someone’s grandparents’ closet. But most of all, he gets information. In which village did the event take place? What do the newlyweds do? And most especially, who got the job?
Corentin makes videos of weddings. A seasonal job that starts out slowly in May and ends with the rainstorms of September. Five intensive months of busy weekends, which, combined with the part-time work as a teacher’s assistant in middle school, allows him to earn a decent living, as long as he doesn’t want to go on vacation to the United States or buy an expensive car. Wedding videographer. Every time he says those words, the people he’s talking to frown, wondering what exactly that entails. In general, Corentin clears his throat and quietly explains that it’s like a wedding photographer, but modern, from the 21st century. “I film it, actually.” He often finds it necessary to point out that it’s only a temporary job, until something better comes along – but the more the years go by, the less he is convinced. He dropped out of his Master’s in History because he couldn’t see himself teaching, and even less working for a historical society. His godfather, Yvan, was looking for someone who knew how to use a camera, to help him out. Corentin volunteered. Yvan was surprised, so Corentin showed him the films he’d made in high school, when he was a student – boring short films, but which proved he knew how to use the equipment. Yvan shrugged his shoulders – why not, after all? They could give it a go.
They now were a couple, godfather and godson. Twenty-five years difference in age. Almost nothing in common when it came to what they liked – Corentin was more interested in psychological novels, Yvan preferred books on adventure; Corentin loved deep, meaningful Asian movies, Yvan swore by American TV series; Corentin thought that ecology was more important than the economy, Yvan replied that he had no idea what the hell was going on – but theirs was a strong relationship nonetheless, a relationship that stunned Corentin’s father, who was supposedly Yvan’s best friend. There was a link established between them through their habits that created – for both of them – a familiarity with each other’s presence, the way they smelled, how big they were (Yvan, a tennis enthusiast in his youth, has lost a lot of muscle, to put it nicely), the intimate knowledge of how each of them thought, the association of ideas, which jokes the other would like and which not to tell. They were often taken as father and son. Yvan grumpily rejects being the father, but you can sense that deep down, he is touched by it. Yvan didn’t have any children. A complicated love life – eternal love for a married woman who would never leave her children, interspersed with affairs, some of which lasted longer than others, with women who wanted more attention, someone there, at least, on Saturday and Sunday, what kind of job do you have that leaves you loafing around all week long then keeps you busy at the weekends? None of the women stayed, and Yvan never tried to hold onto them. Sometimes, he warns Corentin: “Because you gorge yourself on weddings all summer long, you end up feeling a kind of nausea, because all those little cakes, glasses of champagne, smoked salmon, as well as all the jabs, reproaches, bitterness you see from behind the camera, all that irritates you, or at least doesn’t leave you inclined or wishing to be on the other side of the lens, and the result, well, you get stuck in your way of life. I forbid you to follow my example, Corentin, there will come a time when you’ll have to stop; you’ll find a real job, full-time, or you can specialize in making videos of weddings, but it will have to be a real business, not amateurs like us, and you know what? You should hire sub-contractors, let them do the hard work, while you twiddle your thumbs, you could call it Corentin: Wedding Videos, and you can find new clients, that’s all, promise me, Corentin, that you won’t let yourself get stuck in the mud?”
Yvan talks a lot. He can carry out a monologue for a long time while simultaneously framing a shot, zooming in or cleaning the lenses. This doesn’t bother Corentin who is hardly talkative. Corentin likes this background noise that reminds him of the television in his parents’ living room. Yvan was one of the witnesses at Corentin’s parents’ wedding, just as he witnessed Corentin’s father Pascal falling in love at first sight with his future wife – Pascale – in a night club in the countryside, over thirty years ago. A time that Corentin’s parents tend to refer to as “good” and “old” while Yvan is constantly cursing the 1980s, the electric blue outfits, the studied mannerisms of the post-modernist youth, and that music, my God, that music that makes you want to walk into the first music store you come across with a baseball bat and smash everything to bits. “When you think,” Yvan often continues, “that today they’re dredging up all that sickly sweet, vintage crap, dreaming about when they were twenty because it was the golden age, well, I’d send them back PDQ to the time of Reagan and Thatcher, the AIDS epidemic, Chernobyl and the early stock market traders, and then you’ll see if they brag as much. The 1980s, it was the same shit as now, period.”
Corentin smiled while having his third coffee. He liked Yvan a lot. Even more than his father, actually – and probably more than his mother. What is sure, in any case, is that he spends much more time with him than with his parents. His parents who are also always worrying, who frown, wonder when he’ll find a real job, secure, so he can get married, have children, a house, because, after all, we were born and put on this earth to perpetuate the traditions of our elders, weren’t we? Corentin does not reply. He still doesn’t have a definite idea of which profession he’d like to pursue. A few years ago, when he was asked the question, he again answered “film-maker or editor. Sound engineer. Something or other in the movies or the theater”, but he never got as far as enrolling for specific training. He told himself that it was better to learn on the job. He was acutely aware that he was deluding himself.
Still not a sound in the building. He is the only one to wake at dawn on Saturdays. On Sundays, there are the sports fanatics – the ones who have soccer matches at the other end of the county, or cycling races whose pictures would end up printed in black and white in the newspaper the next day – but Saturday, Saturday was sacred.
He’s thinking about the bride of the day. She’s called Aline. Aline Dulong who that day would become, for better or for worse, Aline Dulong, the wife of Christophe Célesta, twenty-nine years old, who works in a bank. She is a dull little mouse who is a primary school teacher. Long hair tied back in a ponytail, beige trousers with a top the same color, satin slippers that matched her eyes, about 5’2”. This wasn’t her idea. She doesn’t really like the thought of being filmed during the day. She already knows that she won’t watch the DVD in years to come. She explains that as for the birth of her future children, that’s different, for that, she hopes that Christophe will be there, with his cell phone, to have the moments forever engraved in their memories. As for the wedding, she really wasn’t keen, but all right, her in-laws insisted – it was really especially for them that everything was being organized. If it had all been up to her, they would have gone to City Hall with four witnesses, and that would have been enough. But for her mother-in-law, Catherine, that was simply impossible. Catherine and her husband Jean see the bigger picture. They’d been saving for years for the wedding of their only son, so it was out of the question to let them down. They want to show the whole village that they have money, and know how to take care of their family. After everything they heard when Christophe was born prematurely! That the baby wouldn’t survive, or that he’d be handicapped or even backward. And all that because his mother hadn’t managed to stop smoking while she was pregnant and wanted to keep working when she could have stopped. Christophe’s wedding was an act of revenge. The bridegroom did not object. He didn’t agree either. The bridegroom simply couldn’t wait for this circus to be over.