short shorts taken from A Step Inside
trans from the French by Phillip John Usher
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
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!
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
“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
"Thank you, thank you! you have given me some hope" he
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
Denis Emorine's first appearance in Sketchbook.