As I remember, it was Maman who had the idea of calling on my father to help. The appointment on Rue Jadin was set for such-and-such an hour on such-and-such a day. I had great expectations for that meeting. If all the stupid doctors hadn’t been able to cure me, who but my father—the eminent psychoanalyst, whose genius I had never once doubted—could understand me, save me? The situation was all the more nightmarish because those around me, understanding nothing of my illnesses and afflictions, seemed to suspect me of malingering, of laziness, even—why not?— of faking it. I see myself on the balcony at the appointed hour, looking out for my father to arrive. Time passed, he still wasn’t there. My impatience grew. How could he be so late, given the circumstances? Rue Jadin is so short you can take it all in with one glance. A few yards from our building was a house of assignation, discreet, frequented by people with “class.” From my lookout, I suddenly saw a woman emerge from it with brisk steps. A few seconds later, a man departed in turn. Dumbfounded, I recognized my father.
How could he have tormented me so just to satisfy his own desires first? How dare he fuck a woman on Rue Jadin, steps away from the home of his children and his ex-wife? I went back inside, seething with indignation.
Several years after my father’s death, I passed through Guitrancourt, where he is buried, on my way back from a weekend in Honfleur with my then-boyfriend. I no longer had my own car, and used the opportunity— a day away from Paris, a vehicle—to pay him a visit. The cemetery at Guitrancourt is on a hillside at the edge of the village. Thankfully, the gate is always open, and you can enter without having to be let in. I asked my friend to wait for me on the road down below. I wanted to see my father alone, without witnesses, one on one. (We will overlook the young man’s annoyed and sulky reaction.) It was to be a private, intimate engagement. I walked through the rows of flower-bedecked graves (were the flowers artificial?) until I reached my father’s, at the upper part of the enclosure. An ugly slab of cement with the traditional name and dates (birth, death). I was moved. It had been so many years since we’d talked. The weather was fine and cool, the air bracing. I had brought a red rose with me. I placed it carefully on the headstone, looking a long time for the ideal position, then I stopped. I waited for contact to be established. Things were harder with the “idiot” waiting for me further down and distracting me with his ill humor. I tried in vain to concentrate, to be there completely. As a last resort, I laid my hand on the icy stone until it burned. (How often, in the past, we had held each other’s hand.) Reconciliation of bodies, reconciliation of souls. The magic worked. At last, I was with him. Dear Papa, I love you. You are my father, you know. He must have heard me. Back in Paris, in the middle of the night, I wrote a long letter to a friend that ended, I remember, with the words: “We ought not to leave the dead too long alone.”
Originally published as Un père: Puzzle © Editions GALLIMARD, Paris, 1994.