Translated by Michelle Bailat-Jones
Régine Dupuis lived in a two-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor of a relatively comfortable but charmless building. From her balcony she watched, not without a certain thrill, the arrival of her new, young neighbors.
Régine had not worked for thirty years. The alimony her ex-husband gave her was ample enough to support the simple life she lived. She rarely went out, and then only to do her shopping and she didn’t even bother going all the way to the supermarket at the end of the street. She settled for buying her groceries at the Arab shop located on the ground floor of her building.
Régine had not made the mistake of having children. In truth, she had not had much experience with men. She also hadn’t made love very often with her husband, a laid-back fellow who had quickly understood that his wife’s desire for the act was particularly weak, almost nonexistent. He resigned himself to his lot. Perhaps he’d visited professional women? She could not have cared less. He had his own pocket money, he could spend it as he liked, as long as he refrained from slipping his limp hands under her dress any time she made an effort to mop the floors or wash the dishes. Their conjugal life had lasted no more than five years. They never argued; perhaps they should have and in this way would have escaped the tediousness of their life together since indifference is what finally finished off their relationship. In the end, they were leading separate lives, finding themselves crossing paths in the small apartment like two tourists in a train station.
Soon after her husband left, Régine attempted to put some fun into her life. She got in contact with a cousin, a woman Régine remembered as having had plenty of good humor. Unfortunately, fate had not smiled on Régine’s cousin and she had lost her son and her husband within a year of each other. The first died in a motorcycle accident, the second of liver cancer. Thus the two women settled for eating a roast together every Sunday and chatting in front of the television. Quickly, Régine found it too exhausting to cook two Sundays a month and even more so to travel to the suburbs on the other two Sundays. Besides, she found her cousin’s chatter tiresome in the end. It didn’t matter a penny to her whether the heater still wasn’t working in the building or that the vegetables were never as good as years past. She explained to her relative that their Sunday visits were too tiring for her and she would have to give them up. Her cousin persisted in telephoning each week and asking after her, but Régine put an end to this harassment by refusing to pick up the phone.
For a while Régine amused herself with television programs, but they quickly bored her silly. And so she saw a piece of good luck in the moving truck, something to save her from the tedium in which she was drowning.
She was not disappointed. The young couple who had rented the small two-bedroom apartment next to Régine had a passionate relationship. They were continually at each other’s throats. Seeing as the walls were thin, the noise of their quarreling traveled through to Régine and often woke her in the middle of the night. Far from making her angry, these arguments gave her the pleasant impression that something was alive in the building, and she would fall back to sleep with this happy thought. One day, her curiosity aflame, she wanted to understand what the young couple was squabbling about. She was having trouble making out their words and could only perceive the intonation of their voices. Not able to stand it any longer, she grabbed a funnel and pressed it against the bathroom wall. The girl was crying. She reproached her partner for neglecting her. He thought only of his work, forgetting her very existence, forgetting that she needed attention too. She didn’t want to be his trophy wife or his housemaid. Régine savored this tasty morsel of real life.
Every day for an entire month, she sat on the toilet seat waiting for the slightest hint of raised voices. When this happened, she stuck the large end of the funnel against the wall and the little end against her ear and enjoyed her session of live theatre in a state of insane delight. One day when the couple was particularly mean-spirited, she rejoiced to hear them so until it seemed she heard some reference to herself. The young woman was asking her boyfriend to keep his voice down. She was ashamed that the neighbors could hear them. She was sure that the old biddy next door would complain and that they would have to move, launching an entire series of troubles. Régine would have liked to reassure the young girl, tell her that nothing of the kind would ever happen. She listened more attentively, flattered to be included in their universe. The young man yelled that he couldn’t care less what the old lady thought and that if the witch got it into her head to offer an opinion, it would be his pleasure to tell her how much she disgusted him with her hypocritical little smiles. He wanted to slap her across the face but the thought of touching her sweaty, withered skin was far too revolting. Régine could hear no more. She threw her funnel in the garbage, knotted the big plastic sac and went down to put it in one of the huge bins whose smell was always stinking up the courtyard.
Translated from the French. Originally published as l’Indiscrète in the collection Les Velléitaires by Editions Luce Wilquin, April 2010.
Note: The French word velléitaire, taken from the title of Laure Mi Hyun Croset’s collection, is an adjective used to describe a person with fleeting desires, someone who might assert a certain ambition but then never manage to follow-through. A weak-willed individual, someone with short-lived intentions. A rather unique character trait to explore in a collection of twenty-two short pieces, yet Croset manages to mine this theme with considerable variety and skill. Indiscretion is just one small piece of a unified whole, but an excellent example of Croset’s careful style.