Literary breaks

The Little Key

Lovers’ Waltz

By Véronique Olmi 25 July 2017


© Bernd Uhlig / OnP

The Little Key

Which of us has never shuddered at Bluebeard’s axe? The writer Véronique Olmi has plunged into the meanderings of this immortal story transforming the dangerous adventurer into a powerful narrator. Bluebeard comes back to life under the bloody colours of a verbal dictatorship.

Once upon a time there was an island, an island saved from fascism by an iconic figure of the revolution, a hero named Bluebeard. Bluebeard protected his people from military coups, from famine and from the ambitions of potential invaders. He opened free schools, sent the children on colony holidays, built stadiums, tore down the slums and re-housed the poor. This made Bluebeard a celebrated figure in peaceful lands far away. How considerate he was to everybody. Like a father. Summary executions. Labour camps. Torture. Assassinations. Prisons full of dissidents, of Blacks, homosexuals and probable enemies. His vigilance was greatly praised. Bluebeard was a rampart, a conscience, strength and enlightenment. Neither by air, nor by sea could anyone leave the country. There were neither social networks nor any other connection with the outside world; writers, poets and journalists were censored; the country spoke as one man, and it was easier for the inhabitants of the peaceful lands far away to hear one voice rather than a thousand. How could anyone have untangled, amid such an exotic cacophony, truth from falsehood? A thousand groans, complaints and deprecations are less audible than the single song of one tenor. One single voice for a single political credo: education-protection-repression.

The people had learnt to hold their peace. But every night above the island, above its prisons and its universities, its stadiums and its hospitals, they dreamed. Every night, on the pallet of a cell, a damp hammock, a beach of white sand, the mattress in a brothel, they gave vent to their obsessions for freedom, to their forbidden sexual desires; extracted themselves from the mould of marble and bronze in which Bluebeard had cast them; shed the magnificent muzzle of stone so admired by the inhabitants of the peaceful lands far away. It was true and, escaping in the night, hot like nocturnal sweats, undisciplined and wayward, it smelt of difference and individuality. It stank of treason and danger.

Bluebeard feared the dreams of his people and, as a wise patriarch, every morning, to bring them back down to earth (HIS earth), he gave them a speech lasting over an hour, a whole morning sometimes, or even more than a day. He knew that the story of Bluebeard would be told long after his death, to children and to adults, to his own people and to the peoples in the peaceful lands far away; he knew that knowing how to tell a story is just as important as successfully leading a revolution, protecting borders or finding good allies. Recounting the tragic beginning and the inevitable end, describing battles won, enemies vanquished, with that assurance in his voice, and that menacing note in the loudspeakers, was as vital as air, water or oil. What counts is not what one experiences but what one believes one experiences, the collective fiction, the myth that unifies, and Bluebeard had the power of the storyteller who defies his listeners’ fatigue, leading them into a state of hypnosis, who takes them from suspense to trance, from personal doubt to collective fever. And it was not only a matter of capturing the hearts of his people; of imposing on them a shared reality, it was also and above all, a question of becoming immortal.

Women saw that in him. The immortal man. That dangerous and eternal adventurer, covered in medals. They also saw, with a touch of horror and considerable excitement, the tiny drop of blood on the tiniest of the keys to his kingdom, the ash on the forbidden jewel, and, as women always want to put their doubts into words and have answers to their questions, they threw themselves at his feet to seduce him and discover the secret of the blood stained key. In his arms they came close to the abyss, it was raw and euphoric, deliciously naughty though. In giving themselves to him, they gave to themselves one thing only, and that was death. Bluebeard cut their throats at the height of his pleasure, his crime prolonged his orgasm, led him to unequalled heights of power and assurance. The minuscule key absorbed a drop of their steaming blood and they discovered that it opened the door not to a room, nor a dungeon, a passageway or a garden but to a word. A word on which their blood would never be effaced. A word concealed by the free schools, the verdant lawns in the stadiums and the crowded benches of the universities, a word that the inhabitants of the peaceful countries far away refused to pronounce in connection with Bluebeard, a word hidden in the folds of the flags, the capital letters of the speeches and the nightmares of the dissidents and this word was very simple. Peremptory. Incontrovertible: “dictatorship”.

Dictatorship. Dictatorship. Dictatorship. A dance in three-time, the waltz of Bluebeard’s lovers rotting in their wedding dresses, offering their skeletons sumptuous moth-eaten apparel, gnawed at by rats and other vermin. They died in the bloodiest of the orgies authorised by the law of their Lord, but sleeping with him brought them nothing but a crown of shame and certain oblivion; they joined their inquisitive sisters and rotted one after another. Hanging by their necks from a butcher’s hook, they looked ready for a fashion parade, the last parade, that of a dictatorship applauded like a sacred reign. When the wind blew strongly on the island, bending the palm trees and whipping up the seas; when gusts of wind swept away Bluebeard’s matutinal speeches, the dead women swung back and forth and one might have thought they were impatient and joyful. The clicking of their hooks sounded like that of the masts of all the boats that never left the harbours, clinked like a feverish murmur in the funereal corridor in which they regretted their former curiosity, yet felt relieved also that it was all over: their thirst for knowledge, their need to seduce and be loved, the desire to live and the fear of growing old. And all that grief, those bitter terrors when dreams of peaceful lands far away came upon them. Never more would they dream. Never more would they believe in something else. Their nights were silent; their dreams were ashes. Disappearing from memory, having never bothered anyone, they said to themselves: “ So that was all it was, and nothing more?” Existence had come and gone. And they had never known ecstasy. Silence was their winding sheet, and yet they knew one thing that, sooner or later, everyone must learn: The peaceful lands far away never remain peaceful for long. Two or three generations at most. So what.

So the need to know, the need for opposition, contestation, creation and transgression is, for some beings, just as vital as danger, just as necessary as bread and, sooner or later, that little minority will confront the majority of men lying at the feet of the masters. Those women dead in the full ripeness of their youth knew that man elects his own tyrants and idolises his executioners. Born guilty, he is afraid of wandering from the path and begs for chastisement, waiting for his crimes to be denounced and his sins punished. But, behind the servile herd that kisses the hand that leads them, stand the prophets, the revolutionaries, the mystics and the geniuses whose energy moves mountains, conquers the seas and commands the sky. But what does their triumph portend? Sacrificial heroes or kings without mercy? Saints or evil swine? It matters little what they become. The inhabitants of the peaceful lands far away, free, and still on the right side of the sea, don’t listen to martyred peoples. Ensconced in their democracy, they uphold the just dictators whose women die for nothing. Nothing more than a long silence and a few metallic clinks. Nothing more. Nothing. Truth is a whore swinging from history’s hook.

Véronique Olmi

Subscribe to the magazine

Sign up to receive news from
Octave Magazine by email.


Back to top