Silk by Alessandro Baricco Read Free Book Online

Book: Silk by Alessandro Baricco Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alessandro Baricco
Tags: Fiction, General
Joncour say softly
    ‘I never even heard her voice.’
    And after a while:
    ‘It’s a strange grief.’
    ‘To die of nostalgia for something you will never live.’
    They went back across the park walking one beside the other. The only thing Baldabiou said was
    ‘Why the hell is it so damn cold?’
    He said it at a certain point.

    A T the start of the new year – 1866 – Japan legalised the export of silkworm eggs.
    In the following decade France alone would import ten million francs’ worth of Japanese eggs.
    Furthermore, starting in 1869, with the opening of the Suez Canal, the journey to Japan took no more than twenty days. And just under twenty days for the return.
    Artificial silk was patented, in 1884, by a Frenchman named Chardonnet.

    S IX months after his return to Lavilledieu, Hervé Joncour received in the post a mustard-coloured envelope. When he opened it, he found inside seven sheets of paper, covered by a thick geometric writing: black ink: Japanese ideograms. Apart from the name and the address on the envelope, there was not a single word written in Western characters. From the stamps, the letter seemed to have come from Ostend.
    Hervé Joncour unfolded it and examined it for a long time. It seemed a catalogue of little bird tracks, compiled with meticulous folly. It was surprising to think that in fact they were signs; that is, the ashes of an incinerated voice.

    F OR days and days Hervé Joncour kept the letter with him, folded in two, in his pocket. If he changed his clothes, he moved it into the new ones. He never opened it to look. Every so often he turned it over in his hands, while he was talking with a farmer, or sitting on the veranda waiting till it was time for dinner. One evening he began to examine it against the light of the lamp, in his study. In transparency, the tiny bird tracks spoke in a blurred voice. They said something absolutely insignificant or something that could unhinge a life: it wasn’t possible to know, and this Hervé Joncour liked. He heard Hélène coming. He placed the letter on the table. She came in and, as she did every night, before retiring to her room, kissed him. When she leaned over him, her nightgown fell open slightly, revealing her chest. Hervé Joncour saw that she had nothing on, underneath, and that her breasts were small and white like those of a girl.
    For four days he went on with his life, with no change in his prudent daily rituals. On the morning of the fifth day he put on a fine grey suit and left for Nîmes. He said that he would return before evening.

    A T 12 Rue Moscat, everything was the same as three years before. The celebration was not yet over. The girls were all young and French. The pianist played, with the mute, themes that had a Russian flavour. Perhaps it was old age, perhaps some vile grief: at the end of each number he no longer ran his right hand through his hair and murmured, softly,
    ‘ Voilà .’
    He was silent, looking at his hands in dismay.

    M ADAME Blanche received him without a word. Her hair black, lustrous, her face Oriental, perfect. Little blue flowers on her fingers, as if they were rings. A long, almost transparent white robe. Bare feet.
    Hervé Joncour sat down opposite her. He took a letter out of his pocket.
    ‘Do you remember me?’
    Madame Blanche nodded, with an infinitesimal movement of her head.
    ‘I need you again.’
    He held out the letter. She had no reason to do it, but she took it and opened it. She examined the seven sheets, one by one, then looked up at Hervé Joncour.
    ‘I don’t love this language, monsieur . I wish to forget it, and I wish to forget that land, and my life there, and everything.’
    Hervé Joncour sat immobile, his hands gripping the arms of his chair.
    ‘I will read this letter for you. I will do it. And I don’t want money. But I want a promise: don’t ever come back and ask this again.’
    ‘I promise, madame .’
    She stared into his

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