By Philippe Claudel, from Inhumaines, which was published by Stock earlier this year. Claudel is a novelist and filmmaker. Translated from the French by Camille Bromley.
Last night Roger Turpon, from dispatching, invited us to his suicide. There were twenty of us. Family and friends only. His wife made canapés with tarama. Or shrimp mousse. Difficult to tell them apart. Same color. Same texture. Turpon had been over it for a while. He talked about it nonstop, even in meetings. In the cafeteria too. He would be surrounded by empty seats. No one would eat at his table anymore. A suicidal person is tiresome. He was always saying the same thing. Finally Dupond helped him out. You’re a coward, Turpon. You don’t have the balls. I don’t have the balls. No, you don’t have the balls. You talk but you’ll never do it. Oh so you think I won’t do it. No, you’ll never do it. The scene took place in the Company parking lot. A sharp breeze rattled the bunches of dead leaves. They flew around Turpon and Dupond, who were facing each other. It was early autumn. It was lovely. A scene from a film or a novel. Three days later we received an invitation: Mr. and Mrs. Roger Turpon are delighted to invite you to Roger’s suicide this Saturday the fourteenth at eight o’clock. Cocktail attire requested. No flowers, no wreaths. The address followed. A house in a new zone under development in the middle of cornfields. Subdivision Gai Matin. A muddy place. Contemporary. Come in, come in. The widow-to-be opened the door with a big smile. She seemed relaxed. Are we the first to arrive. Not at all. In fact you’re the last. We were waiting on you. Can I get you something to drink. My wife raved over the stylish interior. I went up to Durand. He was talking to Leroux. I noticed Turpon at the back of the living room. He was holding a glass in his hand and talking to Legros. Bonnet and Brognard watched them. Dupond walked around as if he were in his own house, holding the trays of canapés out in his arms. What’s in them. Either tarama or shrimp mousse. I’m not sure. The wives of some or others were chatting in the corners. The Balearic Islands. Power Plate machines. A slow and velvety bossa nova emanated from the bass speakers. Legros and Bonnet came up to me. So. So what. He must have decided a long time ago but he hasn’t said anything. Such suspense. Tell me about it. Turpon is no Hitchcock. We know how it’s going to end. We laughed. He’s drinking a lot. That’s his fifth bourbon. It’s not great, considering. That depends. Maybe he’ll do alcohol and pills. Not a bad idea. Yes, not bad. Turpon’s wife, whose name I can’t recall, came out to the middle of the room. She cleared her throat. She was wearing a blue dress that was cut quite short with a low neckline. The conversation stopped. Only the bossa nova continued. Thank you for being here for Roger tonight. I assure you I am not going to give a long speech. Some laughter. Actions speak louder than words. Murmuring. Turpon has decided to leave this life. That’s the way it is. I respect his choice. He’s stubborn, as you know. The nitwit. When he has an idea in his head. It stays there. We talked about it together. For a long time. Guns are noisy and the children are sleeping upstairs. We don’t want to traumatize them. Slitting the wrists could be slow and messy, and Turpon doesn’t want to make you see all that blood. Also the carpet is new. Triple weave. Norwegian fabric. Touch it. Don’t be shy. You can see the quality. As for pills we couldn’t find the stock of sleeping pills and tranquilizers we’ve been collecting for months. I always have been absentminded. Turpon’s voice was slow and thick, like magma. Laughs. Actually, maybe you already know. Roger’s decided to hang himself. Applause. Roger, please, I think it’s time. Dupond came forward and gave Turpon’s wife a white nylon rope about the thickness of a thumb. Legros was surprised at their complicity. I didn’t know that they knew each other. Did you see that. Do you think he’s fucking her. It’s possible. Turpon’s wife threw the rope around the oak beam that separated the living room ceiling into two halves. She succeeded on the first try. Admiration. Dupond made a slipknot. It took him two seconds. A real expert. My wife couldn’t keep herself from getting involved; she slid a chair underneath. Turpon watched all this with a detached look. Not detached, focused. He threw back his drink and tried to get up, then collapsed immediately. Leroux and Legros took him by the shoulders and helped him walk to the middle of the room. Do you want to say a few words? Yes. Go ahead. In a few minutes it will be too late. The spirited remarks of his courageous wife were received with laughter. I don’t want to anymore. Turpon shook his head. What do you mean you don’t want to. I don’t want to kill myself. The beat of the bossa nova suddenly seemed to slow. You don’t want to anymore. You can’t do that to us. Your friends came here for this. It’s cost us a fortune. Everyone’s been here for hours. Yes, pretending. Pretending to what. Come on, Turpon. Dupond was taking charge. You’re a pain in the ass. Pussy. Grow some balls. You wrinkly dick. I knew this would happen. You’re not a real man. Queer. Dupond looked furious. How dare you. Turpon’s wife was getting angry. You are ruining the party and disrespecting us. I don’t want to. What will the children think. I don’t care about the children. Really, Turpon, be reasonable. Is this a suicide party or not. Fournier looked bitter, as if he were being cheated. Everyone has better things to do. There was the decapitation of Tzigane at the stadium tonight. I felt a sticky hostility rise in the crowd. I really don’t want to. We’ll help you. Dupond seized him from behind. At the same time, Legros grabbed his ankles, Bonnet put him in a headlock, Dubois lifted him up, and I squeezed him firmly around the legs while Brognard scissored his waist. Turpon let out a primal yell. Be quiet. Think of the children. His wife put the rope around his neck. Shut up. Dupond stuffed a dozen paper napkins decorated with garlands and Christmas ornaments in his mouth. Some were used and stained with tarama. Or with shrimp mousse. Bastard. Fucking fake. Turpon tried to struggle, whining, but we were able to hoist him onto the chair. Piece of shit. Then a chorus of men and women started chanting the countdown. Asshole. Five. Four. Three. Two. Bastard. One. Zero. Piece of shit. I don’t know who kicked the chair. I wasn’t very close. I didn’t have a great spot. Too bad. It was enjoyable nonetheless. Did you see him jerk. I recapped the highlights with my wife. It was still a good party. And that tongue. Yes. That tongue. I would never have thought our tongues were so big. Humans are really something. You’re right. A hanging lasts a long time. Three or four minutes. It seemed longer. Yes but it was beautiful. We have time to see ourselves die. Did you see how he looked at us. Stop being sentimental. Purple. Yes. Turpon had swung to the rhythm of the bossa nova. His legs kicked in empty space and then nothing. He had decisively killed himself. Bulging eyes. Tongue dangling. Mottled. Immense. Spat-out napkins. We were forced to applaud to mask the obscene sound of his intestinal gurgling. Then he went slack. The show was lacking a bit, to be honest. His wife thanked us again for coming. Her eyes were wet. There are still canapés. Who wants some. Please. Take everything. Do you want us to take him down. Legros always lends a hand. No. Leave him there. He’s not bothering anybody. And the children have to see him tomorrow. It’s important for them. To grieve. The psychologist made sure I understood. Of course. Good night, my friends. Well I can help you clean up, Suzette. That’s kind, Dupond. I won’t refuse. Her name is Suzette. Did you notice he called her Suzette. Yes. Suzette. That’s a kind of crepe. Ready to be folded in two. Very funny. Yes. Do you think he’s fucking her. I don’t know. A widow. I’m sure of it. A widow must be nice. It feels good out. Yes. Anyway he stayed after everyone else left. Where are you parked. A little farther. See you tomorrow, Legros. See you tomorrow. There’s no wind. No clouds. The stars are buzzing. My wife went behind a row of corn to pee. I listened to her. Are you looking at the sky. Leroux came up to me. Yes. Why. We never know. What don’t we know. I don’t know. Leroux looked up. The two of us were now looking at the sky. We heard my wife relieve herself, an insignificant little stream. Did you like the shrimp-mousse canapés. That was tarama. Oh was it. Apparently. Remind me what tarama is. I don’t remember. Eggs that you grind up. Whatever. It still tasted like shrimp mousse didn’t it. Yes. Do you see. What. Nothing. Good night. Okay good night. Leroux disappeared into the hot darkness. My goodness that felt good. My wife came back toward me, pulling up her panties. I think I’m happy. Aren’t you ashamed to say you’re happy. What do you mean. Turpon just died. Turpon is dead, I can’t believe it. You’ve already forgotten. But how. He killed himself. We were there. No. Holy shit. Turpon is dead. With so much to look forward to. The happiness of existence. Tarama. Stars. His wife. Yes. It’s that short, my God. Turpon, you say. Turpon. We knew him well. Somewhat. Do I know him. Turpon. One of your colleagues. Turpon. I don’t recall.