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Tropic of Cancer[北回归线][En/Cn]




About three in the morning Fillmore staggers in… alone. Lit up like an ocean liner, and making a noise like a blind man with his cracked cane. Tap, tap, tap, down the weary lane… "Going straight to bed," he says, as he marches past me. "Tell you all about it tomorrow." He goes inside to his room and throws back the covers. I hear him groaning – "what a woman! what a woman!" In a second he's out again, with his hat on and the cracked cane in his hand. "I knew something like that was going to happen. She's crazy!"



He rummages around in the kitchen a while and then cames back to the studio with a bottle of Anjou. I have to sit up and down a glass with him.



As far as I can piece the story together the whole thing started at the Rond Point des Champs Elysées where he had dropped off for a drink on his way home. As usual at that hour the terrasse was crowded with buzzards. This one was sitting right on the aisle with a pile of saucers in front of her; she was getting drunk quietly all by herself when Fillmore happened along and caught her eye. "I'm drunk," she giggled, "won't you sit down?" And then, as though it were the most natural thing in the world to do, she began right off the bat with the yarn about her movie director, how he had given her the go by and how she had thrown herself in the Seine and so forth and so on. She couldn't remember any more which bridge it was, only that there was a crowd around when they fished her out of the water. Besides, she didn't see what difference it made which bridge she threw herself from – why did he ask such questions? She was laughing hysterically about it, and then suddenly she had a desire to be off – she wanted to dance. Seeing him hesitate she opens her bag impulsively and pulls out a hundred franc note. The next moment, however, she decided that a hundred francs wouldn't go very far. "Haven't you any money at all?" she said. No, he hadn't very much in his pocket, but he had a checkbook at Home. So they made a dash for the checkbook and then, of course, I had to happen in just as he was explaining to her the "No tickee, no shirtee" Business.



In the middle of a dance she suddenly walks off the floor, with tears in her eyes. "What's the matter?" he said, "what did I do this time?" And instinctively he put his hand to his backside, as though perhaps it might still be wiggling. "It's nothing," she said. "You didn't do anything. Come, you're a nice boy," and with that she drags him on to the floor again and begins to. dance with abandon. "But what's the matter with you?" he murmured. "It's nothing," she repeated. "I saw somebody, that's all." And then, with a sudden spurt of anger – "why do you get me drunk? Don't you know it makes me crazy?"



"Have you got a check?" she says. "We must get out of here." She called the waiter over and whispered to him in Russian. "Is it a good check?" she asked, when the waiter had disappeared. And then, impulsively: "Wait for me downstairs in the cloakroom. I must telephone somebody."



After the waiter had brought the change Fillmore sauntered leisurely downstairs to the cloakroom to wait for her. He strode up and down, humming and whistling softly, and smacking his lips in anticipation of the caviar to come. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. Still whistling softly. When twenty minutes had gone by and still no princess he at last grew suspicious. The cloakroom attendant said that she had left long ago. He dashed outside. There was a nigger in livery standing there with a big grin on his face. Did the nigger know where she had breezed to? Nigger grins. Nigger says: "Ah heerd Coupole, dassall sir!"



At the Coupole, downstairs, he finds her sitting in front of a cocktail with a dreamy, trancelike expression on her face. She smiles when she sees him.



"Was that a decent thing to do," he says, "to run away like that? You might have told me that you didn't like me…"



She flared up at this, got theatrical about it. And after a lot of gushing she commenced to whine and slobber. "I'm crazy," she blubbered. "And you're crazy too. You want me to sleep with you, and I don't want to sleep with you." And then she began to rave about her lover, the movie director whom she had seen on the dance floor. That's why she had to run away from the place. That's why she took drugs and got drunk every night. That's why she threw herself in the Seine. She babbled on this way about how crazy she was and then suddenly she had an idea. "Let's go to Bricktop's!" There was a man there whom she knew… he had promised her a job once. She was certain he would help her.



"What's it going to cost?" asked Fillmore cautiously.



It would cost a lot, she let him know that immediately. "But listen, if you take me to Bricktop's, I promise to go Home with you." She was honest enough to add that it might cost him five or six hundred francs. "But I'm worth it! You don't know what a woman I am. There isn't another woman like me in all Paris… "



"That's what you think!" His Yankee blood was coming to the fore. "But I don't see it. I don't see that you're worth anything. You're just a poor crazy son of a bitch. Frankly, I'd rather give fifty francs to some poor French girl; at least they give you something in return."



She hit the ceiling when he mentioned the French girls. "Don't talk to me about those women! I hate them! They're stupid… they're ugly… they're mercenary. Stop it, I tell you!"



In a moment she had subsided again. She was on a new tack. "Darling," she murmured, "you don't know what I look like when I'm undressed. I'm beautiful!" And she held her breasts with her two hands.



But Fillmore remained unimpressed. "You're a bitch!" he said coldly. "I wouldn't mind spending a few hundred francs on you, but you're crazy. You haven't even washed your face. Your breath stinks. I don't give a damn whether you're a princess or not… I don't want any of your high assed Russian variety. You ought to get out in the street and hustle for it. You're no better than any little French girl. You're not as good. I wouldn't piss away another sou on you. You ought to go to America – that's the place for a bloodsucking leech like you…"



She didn't seem to be at all put out by this speech. "I think you're just a little afraid of me," she said.




"Afraid of you? Of you?"



 "You're just a little boy," she said. "You have no manners. When you know me better you will talk differently… Why don't you try to be nice? If you don't want to go with me tonight, very well. I will be at the Rond Point tomorrow between five and seven. I like you."



"I don't intend to be at the Rond Point tomorrow, or any other night! I don't want to see you again… ever. I'm through with you. I'm going out and find myself a nice little French girl. You can go to hell!"



She looked at him and smiled wearily. "That's what you say now. But wait! Wait until you've slept with me. You don't know yet what a beautiful body I have. You think the French girls know how to make love… wait! I will make you crazy about me. I like you. Only you're uncivilized. You're just a boy. You talk too much…"



"You're crazy," said Fillmore. "I wouldn't fall for you if you were the last woman on earth. Go Home and wash your face." He walked off without paying for the drinks.



In a few days, however, the princess was installed. She's a genuine princess, of that we're pretty certain. But she has the clap. Anyway, life is far from dull here. Fillmore has bronchitis, the princess, as I was saying, has the clap, and I have the piles.



Just exchanged six empty bottles at the Russian épicerie across the way. Not a drop went down my gullet. No meat, no wine, no rich game, no women. Only fruit and paraffin oil, arnica drops and adrenalin ointment. And not a chair in the joint that's comfortable enough. Right now, looking at the princess, I'm propped up like a pasha. Pasha! That reminds me of her name: Macha. Doesn't sound so damned aristocratic to me. Reminds me of The Living Corpse.



At first I thought it was going to be embarrassing, a ménage à trois, but not at all. I thought when I saw her move in that it was all up with me again, that I should have to find another place, but Fillmore soon gave me to understand that he was only putting her up until she got on her feet. With a woman like her I don't know what an expression like that means; as far as I can see she's been standing on her head all her life. She says the revolution drove her out of Russia, but I'm sure if it hadn't been the revolution it would have been something else. She's under the impression that she's a great actress, we never contradict her in anything she says because it's time wasted. Fillmore finds her amusing. When he leaves for the office in the morning he drops ten francs on her pillow and ten francs on mine; at night the three of us go to the Russian restaurant down below. The neighborhood is full of Russians and Macha has already found a place where she can run up a little credit. Naturally ten francs a day isn't anything for a princess; she wants caviar now and then and champagne, and she needs a complete new wardrobe in order to get a job in the movies again. She has nothing to do now except to kill time. She's putting on fat.



This morning I had quite a fright. After I had washed my face I grabbed her towel by mistake. We can't seem to train her to put her towel on the right hook. And when I bawled her out for it she answered smoothly: "My dear, if one can become blind from that I would have been blind years ago."



And then there's the toilet, which we all have to use. I try speaking to her in a fatherly way about the toilet seat. "Oh zut!" she says. "If you are so afraid I'll go to a café." But it's not necessary to do that, I explain. Just use ordinary precautions. "Tut tut!" she says, "I won't sit down then… I'll stand up."



Everything is cockeyed with her around. First she wouldn't come across because she had the monthlies. For eight days that lasted. We were beginning to think she was faking it. But no, she wasn't faking. One day, when I was trying to put the place in order, I found some cotton batting under the bed and it was stained with blood. With her everything goes under the bed: orange peel, wadding, corks, empty bottles, scissors, used condoms, books, pillows… She makes the bed only when it's time to retire. Most of the time she lies abed reading her Russian papers. "My dear," she says to me, "if it weren't for my papers I wouldn't get out of bed at all." That's it precisely! Nothing but Russian newspapers. Not a scratch of toilet paper around – nothing but Russian newspapers with which to wipe your ass.



Anyway, speaking of her idiosyncrasies, after the menstrual flow was over, after she had rested properly and put a nice layer of fat around her belt, still she wouldn't come across. Pretended that she only liked women. To take on a man she had to first be properly stimulated. Wanted us to take her to a bawdy house where they put on the dog and man act. Or better still, she said, would be Leda and the swan: the flapping of the wings excited her terribly.



One night, to test her out, we accompanied her to a place that she suggested. But before we had a chance to broach the subject to the madam, a drunken Englishman, who was sitting at the next table, fell into a conversation with us. He had already been upstairs twice but he wanted another try at it. He had only about twenty francs in his pocket, and not knowing any French, he asked us if we would help him to bargain with the girl he had his eye on. Happened she was a Negress, a powerful wench from Martinique, and beautiful as a panther. Had a lovely disposition too. In order to persuade her to accept the Englishman's remaining sous, Fillmore had to promise to go with her himself soon as she got through with the Englishman. The princess looked on, heard everything that was said, and then got on her high horse. She was insulted. "Well," said Fillmore, "you wanted some excitement – you can watch me do it!" She didn't want to watch him – she wanted to watch a drake. "Well, by Jesus," he said, "I'm as good as a drake any day… maybe a little better." Like that, one word led to another, and finally the only way we could appease her was to call one of the girls over and let them tickle each other… When Fillmore came back with the Negress her eyes were smoldering. I could see from the way Fillmore looked at her that she must have given an unusual performance and I began to feel lecherous myself.

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