Photo by Lionel Allorge on Wikimedia Commons

Memories of Chevreuse

Patrick Modiano

Leaving Chevreuse, there’s a bend in the road, then a narrow tree-lined highway. After a few miles, the entrance to a village, and soon you were running alongside train tracks. But very few trains passed over them. One at around 5 a.m., which they called the “rose train,” since it carried that variety of flower from the regional nurseries to Paris; the other train at 9:15 p.m. sharp. The small station looked abandoned. To the right, opposite the station, an alley rising in a slope past an empty lot led to Rue du Docteur-Kurzenne. In that street, slightly to the left, was the front of a house.

On the old Geological Survey map, the distances did not match Bosmans’s recollection. Chevreuse in his memories wasn’t as far from Rue du Docteur-Kurzenne as it was on the map. Behind the house on Rue du Docteur-Kurzenne were three terraced gardens. A rusty iron gate in the wall surrounding the highest one opened onto a clearing, then came the grounds that were said to belong to the Mauvières chateau, a few miles away. Bosmans had often walked far down the forest paths, without ever reaching the chateau.

If the Geological Survey map contradicted his memory of the place, it was no doubt because he had passed through the area in various stages of his life, and the years had ended up shortening the distances. Moreover, it was said that the game warden of the Mauvières chateau had once lived in the house on Rue du Docteur-Kurzenne, which was why that house had always seemed like a border post to him, with Rue du Docteur-Kurzenne marking the boundaries of a domain—or rather, a principality of forests, ponds, woods, and parks—named Chevreuse. He tried to reconstruct a kind of Geological Survey map of his own, but with holes, blanks, villages, and back roads that no longer existed. Little by little, the routes came back to him. One in particular seemed quite precise. A car trip, its point of departure an apartment somewhere near Porte d’Auteuil. People gathered there in late afternoon, often after dark. The ones who seemed to live there permanently were a man of about forty, a small boy who must have been his son, and a young woman who worked as the boy’s nanny. She and the boy occupied the room at the back of the apartment.

Some fifteen years later, Bosmans thought he recognized that man, alone and grown older, through the window of a Wimpy’s on the Champs-Elysées. He had gone inside and sat next to him, as often happened in self-service restaurants. He wanted to ask for explanations, but he suddenly experienced a memory gap: he couldn’t recall the man’s name. Besides, bringing up the apartment in Auteuil and the people Bosmans had once met there might have embarrassed him. And what had become of the boy? And the girl, whose name was Kim? That evening, in Wimpy’s, a detail had caught his attention: the man was wearing a huge wristwatch with multiple dials that Bosmans couldn’t stop staring at. The other noticed and pressed a button at the bottom of the watch, which triggered a soft chime, no doubt an alarm. He smiled, and his smile, that watch, and that chime evoked a childhood memory.

From Scene of the Crime: A Novel by Patrick Modiano. Published by Yale University Press in 2023. Reproduced with permission.

Patrick Modiano, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature, was born in Boulogne-Billancourt, France, in 1945, and published his first novel, La Place de l’Etoile, in 1968. His previous books include Invisible InkSleep of Memory, and Family Record. He lives in Paris. Mark Polizzotti has translated more than fifty books from the French. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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