Therefore, I am headed slowly toward the date of June sixteenth and I'm not afraid. A few regrets, maybe. But the world, in its present state, is no place for princesses. Having said that, simply because you've made plans to die doesn't mean you have to vegetate like some rotting piece of cabbage. Quite the contrary. The main thing isn't about dying or how old you are when you die, it's what you are doing the moment you die. In Taniguchi the heroes die while climbing Mount Everest. Since I haven't the slightest chance of taking a stab at K2 or the Grandes Jorasses before June sixteenth, my own personal Everest will be an intellectual endeavor. I have set as my goal to have the greatest number possible of profound thoughts, and to write them down in this notebook: even if nothing has any meaning, the mind, at least, can give it a shot, don't you think? But since I have this big Japanese thing, I've added one requirement: these profound thoughts have to be formulated like a little Japanese poem: either a haiku (three verses) or a tanka (five verses).
My favorite haiku is by Basho.
Now that's no goldfish bowl, is it, that's what I call poetry!
But in the world I live in there is less poetry than in a Japanese fisherman's hut. And do you think it is normal for four people to live in fifteen hundred square feet when tons of other people, perhaps some poètes maudits among them, don't even have a decent place to live and are crammed together fifteen or twenty in seventy square feet? When, this summer, I heard on the news that some Africans had died because a fire had started in the stairway of their rundown tenement, I had an idea. Those Africans have the goldfish bowl right there in front of them, all day long they can't escape through storytelling. But my parents and Colombe are convinced they're swimming in the ocean just because they live in their fifteen hundred square feet with their piles of furniture and paintings.
So, on June sixteenth I intend to refresh their pea-brain memories: I'm going to set fire to the apartment (with the barbecue lighter). Don't get me wrong, I'm not a criminal: I'll do it when there's no one around (the sixteenth of June is a Saturday and on Saturday Colombe goes to see Tibère, Maman is at yoga, Papa is at his club and as for me, I stay home), I'll evacuate the cats through the window and I'll call the fire department early enough so that there won't be any victims. And then I'll go off quietly to Grandma's with my pills, to sleep. With no more apartment and no more daughter, maybe they'll give some thought to all those dead Africans, don't you suppose?
Excerpted from The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, translated from the French by Alison Anderson. Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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