Man’s animal nature and his domestication are at the heart of this literary escapade by Marie Darrieussecq. The author takes up the tale of Bluebeard and offers the reader a disenchanted dystopia in which the cloistering away and smothering of a figure half-woman, half-animal provides a parable on the despotism once described by Orwell and Huxley.
I was separated from the others when we were very young, according to custom. There were four of us in the litter: my sister Anne, my two brothers and me. My master had decided, on the death of the seventh human female, that he wouldn’t have another one. But seeing how cute I was, in the end he kept me.
I could hardly read or write. But I was always well turned out, washed, brushed and copiously fed. I was petted and rewarded. No one ever hit me. My sister Anne was just as fortunate. My brothers, I believe, had a more war-like destiny, hunting for one, surveillance for the other. My master had built for me what he imagined our original habitat to have been, our habitat in the “wilds” if such a thing has ever existed. A gilded chamber full of artificial light which hurts my eyes a bit, but cheerful all the same.
Outside: the world and its conflicts. Inside, that softness that we sometimes enjoy with our masters. The well-known adventure, happy and unhappy … I said to him: “If you send me away, I’ll sleep on your doorstep.”
Obviously we don’t understand each other. What I mean is: we don’t speak the same language. He understands me by looking into my eyes, I think. I stretch my neck towards him. He caresses me. I concentrate and try to communicate with him telepathically: “If you send me away, I’ll sleep on your doorstep”. I tell myself it works, perhaps. If I show him enough love and submissiveness, he will spare me.
He doesn’t talk much. I think that even for their species, he’s considered to be rather taciturn. He often receives guests from his own world, but he stays in the background. He is very rich, in what counts as riches for them: sharp, shiny things, streams of scarlet stuff, softly rippling fabrics, embroidered furnishings, comet stones, and gigantic silos of their food. Silos that I imagine must be gigantic batteries. I can only imagine it. When they connect themselves up in that strange way they have, their glowing blue light becomes more intense, unbearable, impossible to look at directly.
He gave me the name “Madam” because it was the year of the Ms. And to make fun of something or other in humans. To mock our pathetic writing, I don’t doubt. Our pathetic ways, our manners. I think he’s enchanted by the things I do when they remind him, clumsily of course, of their own ways. That’s how we used to gratify ourselves with our dogs, our cats, our wolves. In the stories that I am able to read, you see them sitting up like humans, wearing the same shoes and sleeping in beds wearing old-fashioned nightcaps that a grandmother might wear.
I wait for my master all day. I am lost without him. So I write. I’ve developed the technique by myself from the rudiments I learnt. I’m sitting in front of what serves me as a habitat. A sort of kennel comprising several little cubicles. There’s no table. I write on my knees, in the margins of books. Sometimes he shows his guests how charming I am, always refusing to sleep in my cabin, always installed in front. It’s a sort of little castle, built of those shiny materials they have. A castle that he designed in my size, scaled down for me. I’m a normal size for a female human, and everything is much too small in this castle. There’s a tiny bed, like he imagines humans have, where I have to sleep curled up in a ball. He very kindly put some books at my disposal, I think he put them there to make it feel human, and for their colour, all red and gold. They are books with pictures in and I look at how the Earth was. I read about the life they led in those shelters called castles. “It was nothing but outings, hunting and fishing parties; nothing but dances, feasts and banquets: they never slept, and spent all night playing pranks on each other.” He shows his guests how cute I am, with a book in my hand. I know them all by heart now, those decorative books.
In my shelter there is also a little washbasin and a toilet, a pretend one since, not being concerned, they don’t have any system of this sort. His troupe of servants clean up from underneath, I think, under the sparkly floor; in any case, it all disappears: anyone would think it was all a fiction, including myself. Little dry biscuits appear in my bowl every morning. I suspect they’re not very good but I’ve no way of comparing them with the food we were supposed to eat before, omnivorous predators that we were, until this species imposed order. They’ve combined all the nutriments we need, just as they combined two atoms of hydrogen with one atom of oxygen, in vast quantities, to provide us with water. I so depend on this automatic distribution of food and water that I don’t dare ask for anything else. The apples you see in the stories, the sweets, the honey, where are they to be found? I believe that once upon a time on Earth, bees used to make honey. Bees are little buzzing organisms, yellow and black, not edible.
My master takes me out from time to time. I am so happy to go out, even in their countryside, which burns my eyes, so excited that I sing praises in my head to our lost Earth.
Tender meadows, sombre forests,
Calm rivers, laughing brooks,
Majestic, blue mountains.
I would love to romp around. But he keeps me close because a thousand dangers that I am ignorant of threaten me. And how do you move around in their space, a space that is devoured by light? Earthly landscapes pass through my head, like magic lanterns. I have only seen them in pictures, of course, but they please me.
The outside world is forbidden me: what would I do there? Within his property, I can move around, except in one particular zone. But we are a curious species: there’s no help for it? It was curiosity that once made us conquer the world, at least the males of our species. I’ve learnt in the books that only the males, that is to say, 50% of us, took ships and other means of transport to see what was beyond the horizon. The females were shut inside their husbands’ souls. The husband: that’s what the male is called in the stories. Sometimes he’s called the king, or the prince. Being shut inside their husband’s soul was quite normal, as I understand it. I don’t really know what a soul is: a sort of kennel? A group of little cubicles?
In one of the books, there is a naked female, like me, who is biting an apple; and a creature called serpent, with a very long body, without any arms or legs. Eve is punished for her curiosity. Her husband is called Adam, the male of the species. I also learnt that, unlike what I’d always believed, it was the females that gave birth to the whole species. That explains why the males kept them under such strict surveillance. I used to think that the females gave birth to females and the males gave birth to males, like our masters do, by binary fission. That’s more egalitarian. I am all for binary fission.
My master brought in a male human once, to my little castle, for reproduction. The male and I, we were both so embarrassed by the situation that fortunately, nothing happened other than a hasty conversation, in which we tried to exchange as much news as possible about other domestic humans. About Anne, my sister Anne, about my brothers, about his family…
And I never heard of him again. In view of the failure of his biological mission, maybe they had him put down. My master seems more attached to me than to the idea of my having babies.
Our masters, whether they are male or female, divide into two, and one half goes off and generates another module, or a sort of swarm, I don’t know. Their servants are very numerous. I don’t know how many times they can perform this fission, maybe an infinite number. It’s quite something. Mine shuts himself up for several of my waking-sleeping cycles. I think that towards the end, the process must get a bit sticky, because the servants have to evacuate a sort of shining liquid, I don’t really understand it. Anyway, at those times, nobody pays any attention to me. I can stay really close to the forbidden zone. Our masters look like what they call robots in the books, but robots whose outer casing so to speak, is organic. Or maybe even some of the inner parts, I don’t know. I would like to know.
But my master shuts himself away in the zone that’s strictly out of bounds for me. What goes on in there? It seems he keeps me out for reasons of hygiene: none of my germs, or my genes, must contaminate the process. Imagine if a sort of chimera, half-master, half-human came out! He did warn me: if I try to cross the threshold (a vestibule full of light that terrifies me and attracts me at the same time), if I cross the threshold, he’ll terminate me like all the others before me. And after me, he won’t have another one. That’s what he made me understand. Too much grief and too much disappointment, every time.
Maybe it’s in there that he had them put down. Perhaps it’s only a trap: when he’s fed up with them, he forbids access to that weird zone arbitrarily. And when you go in there all the same, of course, it’s the end.
Anne, my sister, Anne. I miss Anne. If Anne were here, I would ask her. If I’m right. To be curious. To have some ambition other than to remain the creature of a master. But how to escape? We are reduced to this state, both males and females, ever since the Earth was taken from beneath our feet. Our brothers, too, obey, go out on a leash when it’s time for their walk and eat up their biscuits, not at all like in the books. Our brothers are also forbidden large zones of the world, and not just the doorways of light. Our brothers, too, are shut up inside the souls of these giants whose faces, devoured by blue light, we can barely see.
One day, I shall go, to
have done with it. One day, I shall find the key.