Denis Emorine, FR






Ten short shorts taken from A Step Inside

trans from the French by Phillip John Usher


The Voice


During the night, the voice returned to draw me from sleep. The voice spoke perfect and polished French with a slight Slavic accent. I almost gave myself over. It whispered very low the words I should say, the books I should write, the thoughts that were to guide me. I listened, fascinated. I agreed in silence. It raised me from my bed, led me by the hand towards the sheet of paper that had remained hopelessly blank for weeks. All I had to so, said the voice, was to sit down and take dictation from the voice. You will be given it all, it said. All you have to do is faithfully transcribe each night’s silence: let the light stretch out, let the words resound in your most inner self. Then the voice pronounced the name of the woman I love. That was more than I could bear. I took my fountain pen and stabbed it right into the voice’s face. A bloody stain covered the paper’s whiteness, all of it, drowning the words. The voice disappeared at once. It has never returned.

Since then, I always wake up at the same time, imagining I hear a voice speaking perfect and polished French with a slight Slavic accent. I lend my ear to the night, but I hear only silence. I try to fall back to sleep, but it’s impossible. Each night when I wake up, an unexplainable pain invades my face and, on the pillow beside me, I believe I see a red stain growing, growing... ready to drown me.





Did I not tell you already? You must not take my books without my permission! You know that! Why did you disobey me? Yesterday, for no reason, you opened one of my bookcases—the one that closes badly—and all my books flew out and away. With a butterfly net, we tried to catch them, but in vain. It is the season for major migrations, true. The books will never return; that is certain. Drunk on their freedom and their unconsciousness, they will be caught by the first pen-pushing hack they meet.

And since then, we’ve been sleeping in different rooms. No words leave our lips anymore, for they deserted with the books. At night, I sleep badly. I believe I hear them mumbling as I stand in front of the open window. When I approach your window, I distinctly hear sobs but it is not you, I am sure. It is them. It is them who wander in the night without hope of return. In vain I have called them back with the sweetest words I know: no sound leaves my lips. They will never return, it is certain.



Ecce homo


The man in white approached me. His smile was engaging; he wanted to make conversation, but I was wary. I do not know if he realized that. His face carried traces of the magic spell inherent to lies. "It is I who commands time," he whispered to me. “This is just one of the strings to my bow. You too could make time do as you wish, impose on time the four winds of your will. Approach, do not be afraid!" I was wary of him: what is the point of mastering time if you don’t kill it off? And I closed my eyes. When he returned, his clothing no longer dazzled like before. The glare had faded; the man inside seemed less sure of himself; and I no longer heard his words as clearly "There is no Master of time," I shouted at him: "and you! you are certainly not that Master!" His face saddened. His clothing suddenly took on the color of mourning. Abruptly, as he approached me, I understood: I was in front of the large oval mirror of my bedroom into which, with all my force, I launched the tin vase. Far off, through broken glass, I could see the man fleeing towards the forest, covered in blood. I burst out laughing and fell down onto my bed. Let us go! The night will be serene!



Meeting Again


Tonight, I was woken by a slight scratching at the window. Initially, in a hurry to fall asleep again, I didn’t pay attention. I live on the tenth floor of an old building, it must be a dream. At the moment I closed my eyes again, the scratching began again, in earnest. I opened the shutters and leaned out. It was a dark night, I couldn’t distinguish a thing and then, leaning more, I recognized him, with his small suit and black hat: no doubt, it was Franz Kafka! Amazed, I finally managed to speak to him: “What are you doing there, Franz? It is foolish, you will kill yourself!"

As he did not answer, I believed this must be a hallucination caused deep in my unconscious by a recent trip to Prague. But no, he was still there, clinging frantically to the edge of my window. Initially, I thought—I admit it—of forcing him to let go, thus causing him to shoot downwards into the void. After some reflection, I was ashamed of these impure thoughts: one does not act in such a way with death. It would be against the most elementary rules of courtesy. Kafka remained there, sadly, in front of me. I did not know what to do. Motionless, as if suspended in air, he considered me in silence. Suddenly illuminated, I shouted to him:

"Franz, you climbed to the wrong floor! You want the fifth floor.

“Why?” he answered, disconcerted.

"Quite simply because both your first and your last name have the same number of letters in them: five!" I said victoriously.

"Thank you, thank you! you have given me some hope" he howled.
And, clutching hold of me, he brought me down towards the ground at a tremendous speed.

Since then, each evening, Kafka and I have been hopelessly striking on the fifth-floor window. But nobody ever opens for us. However, the apartment is inhabited, so I am told, by an old Czech lady... Milena Jesenskà, I believe her name is.





When I firmly grabbed the blue stone, I did not suspect my name was written inside it. It exploded right in my face, releasing shards into my eyes of fire.

Now, with no work to be done, I wander on the roads, quicksanded in darkness. Fists and hands reach out towards me but I cannot see them, persuaded that I am the only one to walk in a world taken over by abandonment. The words I have used too often have flown away from my memory. They laugh in my ears, beat wings before my dead eyes, touch my lips with their breath. Plunged in a perpetual night, I have unlearned the taste of time.

I have gathered all my books to make of them a gigantic blaze; but in vain I strike match after match, the fire will not light. I certainly thought of climbing this tower of books but I have always been deprived of any sense of direction. Night is a forest of stubborn signs.



In Solidarity


This time, I could not resist it. When I realized, it was too late: the spider had woven its web on the white page. With the first word, it at once grabbed my pen tip, then what came next, i.e. me! Metaphor had betrayed me. I had always spoken—carelessly—about “webs of words,” about the “crawling insects of writing.” And here I am now, I have become one of those ants scattered on the page, glued into in the dribble of writing! What progress.

At that moment, the other writer sat down at my desk. At first, he hesitated for some time, then I saw his pen-tip advance very slowly towards the paper. All, then, was going to start again. Who ever spoke about writerly solitude as he sits before the blank page? I was free, to some extent. We were to share. When the spider swallowed the point of his pen with remarkable address, I groaned my satisfaction. I was no longer alone: we were finally going to share.

Already, somebody was approaching my desk. I looked at my companion in misfortune, we intermingled our thin black spider-legs with legitimate satisfaction.



That Day


The day will come when I will set out without turning back towards this forest of reaching arms. I will not open my eyes, as I will have to guide me a geography unknown to men. I will have some regrets at heading off in such a manner, with closed eyes, but other certainties will inhabit my name. The day will come when the nocturnal voices of the sirens will no longer succeed in charming me; I will have changed my opinion about all things. At least, I will endeavor to believe that. It will be too late, dear friends. I will no longer perceive your voices, you will no longer reign unanimously over my life. In my sleepless nights, blood will no longer stream over sheets too white... The past will be a shroud, perforated, that I will savagely exhibit, defending this rag against the plans of the daring ones. I will have a flag no more — did I ever have one anyway, except in my most distant childhood? Admittedly, the smell of wisteria will not have disappeared. I will again easily find the path evaporated in ether. The day will come






When a thousand suns exploded under my skull, I was busy writing. The pain I felt was transmitted to the page and the writing convulsed. Seizing the page right away, I immediately stuck it to my face. The freshness of this new sensation did me much good. When I took down the aforementioned page, I noticed that it was once again totally blank. The pain had disappeared.





Soon, I will spear the rainbow to better melt amongst its colors. I will grab its hair with both hands. The mix of colors will leave me drunk.

All I’ll have to do is this: climb out of the window, and let myself be carried by its voice. “Don’t drop me!” I will beg with a delicious shiver in my voice. I will take his silence for agreement. Little by little, overcoming my timidity, we will hug and dance, intertwined, the waltz of dupes.





With eyes turned towards the impassive sky, lips biting the wind’s gusts, thoughts wondering, I wandered for a long time about the countryside. Uncombed and scruffy, the tall grasses opened their arms towards me, trying to hug me. In vain. Why? I drove them away with a frown, crushed them under foot without a thought. I should have guessed however that nothing is ever written in vain, that innocence exists only on the blank page, and that the smallest sign is first written against oneself.
When I opened the door of the abandoned house, I should have remembered... Lady Death was there, on the threshold, behind me. I turned around abruptly. I should have recalled that “she” is never called upon in vain, that one does not pronounce her name —even as a whisper— without compromising oneself. It was indeed “her”. Her green eyes sparkled. Without a blink, we stared at each other in silence. I grabbed her by the throat, beating the air with my arms. She got right away, but I heard her laugh behind my back.

When I came back to consciousness, I was lying on the cobbles. Her breath had quite literally gone to my head. My hair was steeped in that breath. I could easily have remained there on my back, arms crossed on my chest, but no, I got up right away and dusted myself off. I must not broach the question of her name. Not even through the supposed mystery of writing; otherwise, her seal will mark you once and for all. Your life would not be long enough to atone for that moment of abandon.



About Denis Emorine, FR


Denis Emorine is the author of short stories, essays, poetry, and plays. He was born in 1956 in Paris and studied literature at the Sorbonne (University of Paris). He has an affective relationship to English because his mother was an English teacher. His father was of Russian ancestry.

His works are translated into several languages.His theatrical output has been staged in France, Canada ( Quebec) and Russia. Many of his books (stories, drama, poetry) have been published in the USA.

Writing, for Emorine, is a way of harnessing time in its incessant flight. Themes that re-occur throughout his writing include the Doppelgänger, lost or shattered identity, and mythical Venice (a place that truly fascinates him). He also has a great interest for Eastern Europe.

Denis Emorine collaborates with various other reviews and literary websites in the U.S., Europe and Japan both in French and in English...

In 2004, he won first prize for his poetry at the Féile Filiochta International competition.

His poetry has been published in Pphoo (India), Blue Beat Jacket (Japan), Magnapoets (Canada), Snow Monkey, Cokefishing, Be Which Magazine, Poesia and Journal of ExperimentalFiction (USA).

His texts also appear on numerous e-zines such as: Anemone Sidecar,Cipher Journal, Mad Hatters' Review, Milk, The Salt River Review, Istanbul Literary Review, Like Birds Lit,Wilderness House Literary Review.

Emorine’s webpage.

This is Denis Emorine's first appearance in Sketchbook.









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