She introduced me to her brother a few weeks after we’d met, a brother she had never mentioned before. Once or twice I’d tried to find out more about her family, but I could tell she was reluctant to answer and I didn’t insist.
One morning, I entered the café on Boulevard de la Gare and found her sitting at the usual table across from a dark-haired boy about our age. I sat on the bench, next to her. He was wearing a zipped jacket with padded shoulders, which seemed to be made of leopard skin. He smiled at me and ordered a grog in a ringing voice, as if he were a regular customer.
Geneviève Dalame said, “This is my brother,” and from her discomfited expression I understood that he had shown up unexpectedly.
He asked me “what I did in life,” and I answered evasively. Then, as if this bit of information could be useful to him, he asked a question that surprised me: “You live in Paris?” I thought to myself that he hadn’t always lived in Paris. Geneviève Dalame had told me she was born in the Vosges, though I don’t remember whether it was in Epinal or Saint-Dié. I could easily imagine her brother at a café table in one of those two cities at around 11 p.m., a café near the train station, the only one still open. He would no doubt be wearing the same ill-fitting jacket, in fake leopard skin; and that jacket, entirely unremarkable in a Paris street, would have attracted plenty of notice down there. He would be sitting alone, gaze unfocused, in front of a pint, while the last game of pool was being played.
He wanted to accompany Geneviève Dalame to her office, and we walked along the median strip of the boulevard. She looked increasingly uncomfortable in his presence, as if she wanted to get rid of him. My impression was confirmed when he asked whether she still lived in that same hotel on Rue Monge. “I’m moving out next week,” she told him. “I’ve found another place, near Auteuil.” He kept asking for the address. She gave him a number on Rue Michel-Ange, as if she’d been expecting the question. From the inner pocket of his jacket he took a black leather address book and jotted down the information. Then she left us at the door of Polydor Studios, telling me, “See you later,” with a slight nod of complicity.
I found myself alone with that fellow in the leopard-skin jacket. “What say we go have a drink?” he asked in a peremptory tone. Snow had begun falling in heavy wet flakes, almost like raindrops. “I don’t have time,” I told him. “I have to meet someone.” But he kept walking beside me, and I was tempted to shake him by running to the nearest metro stop, Chevaleret, a few hundred yards away. “Have you known Geneviève very long? Doesn’t she get on your nerves with all that crap about magic and séance tables?” “Not at all.” He asked if I lived in the neighborhood, and I was certain he’d try to find out my address so he could enter it in his little black book. “I live outside the city,” I said. And I felt a bit ashamed of that lie. “In Saint-Cloud.” He took out his black book. I had to invent an address, an avenue with a name like Anatole-France or Romain-Rolland. “And do you have a phone?” I hesitated a moment on the exchange, then came up with “Val-d’Or,” followed by four digits. He wrote it down carefully. “I want to enroll in an acting class. Do you know of any?” He gave me an insistent stare. “People tell me I’ve got the look.” He was tall, with fairly regular features and curly black hair. “You know,” I replied, “in Paris, there are bucketloads of acting classes.” He seemed taken aback, no doubt because of the expression “bucketloads.” He zipped his fake-leopard-skin jacket to his chin and turned up his collar against the snow, which was falling more heavily. I had finally reached the subway entrance. I was afraid he’d follow me and I’d never lose him. I went down the steps without saying good-bye or turning around, and I snuck onto the station platform just as the barrier swung shut behind me.
From Sleep of Memory by Patrick Modiano. Translated by Mark Polizzotti. Published by Yale University Press in 2020. Reproduced with permission.
Internationally renowned author Patrick Modiano has received many prestigious literary awards, among them the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature. Mark Polizzotti is the translator of more than fifty books from the French, including eight by Modiano.