CREATIVE Marie Darrieussecq

NWR Issue 111

Three or Four Kilos of Flesh

In my life there is a before and an after. A day that cuts my life in two. In my life, as in all lives, there are happy dates and sad dates. Births and deaths. Meetings and partings. Successes and failures too. But since that day, the day that cuts my life in two, all of these notions have shifted a little.

It’s my body that’s been cut in two. Not in two halves, but in two pieces. The fact that one of the pieces is much smaller than the other does nothing to alter the fact that my body has been cut in two. And I’m writ- ing this today because I’m aware that the date I’m talking about marks the middle of my life now. It cuts it in two equal halves: I was twenty then and now I’m forty.

When Robert Badinter was petitioning against the death penalty in France, I was fifteen. I remember one of the phrases he used in condemn- ing the use of the guillotine: to cut a man in two, he said, is a barbarity. To cut a human being in two pieces.

Of course, I haven’t lost my head. Only an arm. My right arm. But when I woke up after the amputation, I thought of that, of Robert Badinter and the guillotine. I thought about the death penalty.

I’m not dead. It’s no big deal, an arm – even the right arm of a right- handed person. People tell me it could have been so much worse. A leg, that’s worse. Two legs, that’s worse. I heard it all, after my amputation. I was an arm short (and a hand, of course); but on the other hand, I was blessed with no shortage of commentary. Which is worse, to lose a leg or to lose an arm? To be born without an arm, or to lose it along the way? To have no legs or to be blind? Better to hear all of this than be deaf. You quickly learn to laugh at the rehabilitation centre. Let’s just say that if you want to laugh, you’ll find someone to laugh with. What I’ve also learned is that people’s grief cannot be compared. I’ve heard all sorts. I’ve stopped getting angry. And I haven’t lost my tongue.

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Marie Darrieussecq is a French novelist and short story writer whose work has won and been nominated for several prestigious literary awards, including the Prix Médicis, Prix Femina, Prix Goncourt and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her story, ‘Trois ou quatre kilos de chair’, was inspired by Magritte’s painting, ‘Les Marches de l’été’ (1938), held in the Pompidou Centre. Original French publication: © Editions du Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2013, from the anthology Les Mariés de la tour Eiffel.

Suzy Ceulan Hughes is a writer and translator. She was awarded joint third prize in the John Dryden Translation Competion in 2015 for her translation of Kant et la petite robe rouge (Kant and the little red dress) by Lamia Berrada-Berca.


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