KNOWING THE MANNER IN which things exist: absurd and alienating in our present day angst is a priori. The degree in which one is willing to override one's innate alienation and embrace society's absurdity is the true litmus test of this treatise.
A cold and hard March rain had come in from the North. The unrelenting onslaught was battering Paris with an icy incisive precision. Sinuses rang a low and unyielding pained note. Everything hurt. Everything existed in the on going agony that we know as life. Most denizens who peopled the amber lit, coal heated flats of Montparnasse huddled for warmth around their stoves.
Gustav Malrausse, the eminent philosopher, had just withdrawn from his lover. He turned on his side and gazed at his intelligent, well-read, articulate, twenty three year old "bitter flower" of the moment. She lay there reverberating in the echo of their tryst. She was beached on the coarse cotton sheets. She lay briny and redolent like the seashore from their love-making.
She looked over at his amphibious brown eyes. She relaxed and her cheeks rose as her lips curved up to a happy hammock shape. She wanted to tell Gustav how content she was, but it was imperative something else had to be relayed. She opened her mouth. He placed his index finger on her lips. Don't., his touch signalled. Lay back and listen to the rain pounding the roofs like a deluge of angry fists beating the breasts of weeping Trojan widows.
The irate storm overhead made Gustav smile. He held his mistress close to him and closed his eyes as he was setting sails to drift off ... just for a moment to be a moment for he too was exhausted. This instant was a respite that he so sorely thought he deserved.
"Gustav," said his supple and soft Sophia. "I feel, I should tell you something."
"Tell me what, my love?" replied a surprisingly tender and vulnerable Gustav, as he had just rounded the bend down the delirious eddy to slumber.
"I think I am pregnant."
Instantly the meaning and emotions of absurd and alienating pounced in to Gustav's frontal lobes. "Why would you do such a thing to me!"
The girl blinked.
"If there is a God," exploded Gustav, "than he will abort it, if not ... then we will!" Gustav knew how to handle these kinds of things. This was, by no means, the first time this had happened.
"But I want the child."
Gustav looked agape at the girl who he once thought was intelligent. "What is wrong with you? It is 1948, look at the world we live in!"
"It's four years ... after ..."
"Yes, four years after the occupation! We are free of the clutches of Hitler ..."
"Things are better. There's butter..."
"But our toilet paper! I've lectured in the States! I know what kind of world it will be!"
"And what is that supposed to mean!" she was screaming.
"France is in the process of being pawed to death!" he blustered.
"Pawed to death by what?"
* * * *
Sisyphus strained hard up the rocky jagged incline, finally tipping the boulder up to teeter atop the mountain's apex. The sun beat down on his sanguined and swarthy body. Glints of light beaded in the drops of sweat and blood. The large stone sat only for a moment before the earth gave way beneath it and it tumbled down the peak again. Sadly, Sisyphus looked upon the rock as it bounced its way down to the deepest bottom of all the ridges. With a reluctant sigh and an acknowledged resolute nature, Sisyphus slowly sauntered down the trail to only push the rock up again. For the same pointless result. Over and over again for eternity
* * * *
FRANCOISE, GUSTAV'S WIFE, WAS waiting for him at home.
"You're in a ugly mood," she noted from just looking at his scowl.
"Life," responded Gustav, "Life."
"Well, Andre came by," she said. "He wants to talk to you about something,"
"About what?" snapped Gustav.
"He didn't say. He was cautious but giddy, he wanted to know what kind of mood you're in."
"And you said ...?" Gustav was leading her on.
"Your mood is your mood, just as my mood is my mood, just as Andre's mood is his alone," replied Francoise with an empirical and ennui laden air.
Her hazel gaze held him. Does she know? Gustav wondered, about my young and bitter flower? Today, she wouldn't think so because he was returning home in a mood that was not symptomatic of leaving a lover's arms. One should return home happy like with the residue of an aphrodisiac -- not sour and withdrawn -- unless, of course, the extramarital affair has severed or worse ... turned pregnant.
Gustav strode over to the refectory table in the dining room where the five wine bottles in a row lay on their side. Angrily he grabbed one by the neck and opened a drawer and pulled out the cork screw. All the time, he was shivering with disgust at how Sophia was telling him it was going to be a Christmas baby. And again, Gustav retaliated that it was going to be an April abortion.
Again, Absurd and Alienating. His two big themes in his work and in his life never seemed to cease. He uncorked the bottle, drank from the glass, thirsting to be soothed.
Andre came over later in the afternoon.
"I received a cable from the States," he said.
"So?" said Gustav.
"The Saturday Evening Post is very interested in you." Gustav was more interested in dealing with the real matters at hand, the liver pate that lay between them and perhaps another opened bottle of wine.
It was dark outside and the temperature had dropped which only heightened the rain's ferocity.
"I am acquainted with The Saturday Evening Post," said Gustav wobbling his head with a haughty sneer. "It is utterly petite bourgeois periodical. Disgusting in its sanitized lies and sensibilities ... what would they want with a great thinker like me?"
"They want you to write an answer to Camus' Mythe de Sisyphe."
"And how is that?"
"They want an upbeat Christmas like ending to it," said Andre.
"You are the most unhappy of the unhappy. To get an uplifting message from you would be as they would say 'dynamite!'"
"This is impossible. Camus is my friend!"
"All they want is three pages! And the amount they are willing to pay ... you could buy the place in Brittany!"
Francoise perked up. "Oh Gustav!" she said as if she were sweet, pliable, and young again. "A place of our own for August!"
Cold hard Francs were certainly what Gustav needed. For the Christmas baby and now a Christmas theme story to complement it. Gustav covered his face with his hands. This immediate darkness was refuge from what was swirling all around and inside him. He bent over in his chair, elbows on his knees, his nose wedged between his hands. He shook his head; no doubt, he looked like a subject from his friend Picasso's Blue Period. Picasso, a fellow artist, who could afford many summer houses.
* * * *
"WHY AREN'T YOU SLEEPING?" asked Francoise.
"If you had to betray your integrity for a summer house," spat back Gustav. "You wouldn't be sleeping either!"
"Integrity," scoffed Francoise. "You sound like a college student!" Gustav wanted to furrow his ears in to the pillow. "For such a so-called 'Realist Philosopher' I would expect a more pragmatic retort!"
"Don't be so dismissive," hissed Gustav.
"That's what wives do from knowing their husbands so well."
"Please," pleaded Gustav.
"What's the matter? Is that over-intellectualized trollop you've been bedding giving you a hard time?"
How dare she be so sapient! thought Gustav behind his monumental forehead. "She's pregnant," he snapped. He'd said it. He hadn't planned to but he'd said it, nonetheless, as he was now operating on instinct alone.
"So abort it and be done with it and her," yawned Francoise.
"It's not that easy, she went on for an hour about how much death she saw as a child and now she wants life. She was surprisingly philosophical about it."
"Sentimental, you mean," qualified Francoise.
"Either way, she is adamant about keeping the baby. What a cruel thing to do to me. I am old enough to be the baby's grandfather!"
"It sounds like the two of you are made for each other. An old fool coupled with a young fool!"
"I want you to know, Francoise, that I would never leave you," confessed Gustav
"I know you wouldn't." said Francoise, now too disturbed to sleep.
"Why wouldn't I?" barked back Gustav.
"If people saw the idiocy of your writing without me once going over it, dear, they would see you for the bilious imbecile that you are!"
Gustav said nothing. The rain had stopped. Right down the middle of their bed an invisible line, a silent armistice was now struck. Gustav inhaled and exhaled dramatically as a transition to talk.
"What am I to do?" said Gustav in a lost tone of one wanting a friend. "She is keeping the baby. She wants one for Christmas."
"It's really" said Francoise with a guttural sigh, "very easy."
"How is that?"
"Write six pages for the Saturday Evening Post so you double the money. Half for her and the baby and the other half for the house in Brittany. Now go to sleep."
Gustav could not sleep.
How was he ever going to face Albert again.
* * * *
Sisyphus strained hard up the rocky jagged incline, finally tipping the boulder up to teeter atop the mountain's apex. The large stone sat only for a moment before the earth gave way beneath it and it tumbled down the peak again. Sadly, Sisyphus looked upon the rock as it bounced its way down the summit. With a reluctant sigh, Sisyphus slowly sauntered down the trail to only push the rock up again. For the same pointless result. Over and over again for eternity
* * * *
IN THE MORNING GUSTAV asked his wife. "How can I write what I have to write?"
Francoise stared at Gustav with a smouldering "Don't You Get It?" gaze. "Make Christmas an act of defiance!"
Gustav's forehead wrinkled: Christmas equals Defiance! "Whatever do you mean?"
Slowly Francoise wagged her head to and fro. "Everybody, even the biggest dolt, knows that life is sad, forlorn, and emotionally famished."
"Exactly! Those are the corner stones of my work!"
"That is true for all the days of the year except for Christmas," continued Francoise. "That's why people decorate."
"I hate that merde!"
"Even though you great thinkers don't appreciate the tinsel, the lights..."
"Yes, the lies," conceded Madam Malrausse. "Those lights and lies are an act of defiance!"
"They are bourgeois!"
"They most certainly are, but they are, also, the inverse to the unspoken acknowledgment of how pitiful and pointless life is."
"The lights, the tinsel, are acts of defiance to how shitty life is, as it were. The decorations are the sugar on top of the shit of life."
"I like that!"
"Now go redress the Myth of Sisyphus so we can buy that property and you can establish a trust for your dim witted bastard."
Gustav was dizzy. He went to the study and lay on the day bed.
* * * *
The boulder was at the bottom of a ravine way below the mountain. Sisyphus rambled down the sinuous travails to the three hundred kilo rock. The winter clouds clustered above to dome the sky with a bleak white helmet. A frigid blast of air scurried behind him as he made his descent. Just as he was at the foot of the peak and shoulder-to-shoulder with the boulder, the earth and the atmosphere exhaled a gush of warm and tepid air, miraculously, wet white snow flakes soon fluttered about him. For a moment, Sisyphus appreciated how white, fuzzy and pretty his wretched lot was. He was mesmerized by the feathery infinity of the fluffy flakes. Sisyphus smiled. He paused at this spanking clean interlude to his dank and dark predicament. He wondered: Is this mercy in my torturous life?