Long Story Short

Par William BOYD
Publication en ligne le 28 mai 2013

Table des matières

Texte intégral

Part One

1Louella and I stood alone in the darkening garden. There was the first hint of autumn frost in the evening. The soft light from the drawing-room windows set shimmers glowing in her thick auburn hair. Louella hugged herself, crushing her full breasts with her forearms. I felt an almost physical pain of love and desire in my gut.

2« I think they're lovely, » she said, turning to face the house.

3« So do I… oh, you mean Ma and Pa ? »

4« Of course, I'm so glad I've met them. »

5« They like you too, you know, very much. » I moved beside her and put my arms round her slim waist. I rested my forehead on hers. « I like you too, » I said whimsically. She laughed, showing her pale throat, and we hugged each other. I stared past her at the trees and bushes slowly relinquishing their forms to the night. Then I felt her posture change slightly.

6« Well, hello little brother », came a deep, sardonic voice. « What have we got here ? »

7It was Gareth. And somehow I knew everything would be spoilt.

8Actually it wasn't Gareth at all. It was Frank. God I'm tired of this relentless artifice. Let's start again, shall we ?

Part Two

9Louella and William stood alone in the darkening garden. There was the first hint of autumn frost in the evening… drawing-room windows, yes,... crushing her full breasts etc,... almost physical pain and so on.

10« I don't see why you're so upset, » Louella said. « I mean he is your brother. If I'm going to be one of the family I might as well meet him. »

11« But he's such a shit. A fat smarmy shit and a mean little sod to boot. I know you won't like him. He's just not our type, » William said petulantly, conscious of the fact that he was only stimulating Louella's interest.

12They heard the sound of a car in the drive. William felt his throat tighten. Louella tried to appear nonchalant – with only partial success.

13Frank opened the drawing-room windows and sauntered into the garden to join them. He was wearing a maroon cord suit with unfashionably flared trousers and a yellow nylon shirt. A heavy gold ingot swung at his throat. His once even features, William noticed, had become thickened and distorted with fat. He was almost completely bald now.

14No, it's no good. It keeps getting in the way, this dreadful compulsion to tell lies (you write fiction and what are your doing ? You're telling lies, pal, that's all). And besides, it's very unfair to Frank, who was very good-looking, exceptionnally well-dressed and had as thick and glossy a head of hair as Louella in part one. Louella – the real Louella – in fact had dyed blonde hair, but I've always had a hankering for auburn. (Come to that she doesn't have full breasts either).

15To get rid of the fiction element perhaps I should begin by distinguishing myself from the « I » in part one. I – now – am the author (you know my name – check it out). The « I » in part one is fictional,not me. Neither is the « William » in part two. It's just a device. No doubt, in any case, you thought to yourself « hold on a second », as you read part two. « Little bit odd this », you probably thought, « character's got the same name as the author. Something fishy here. » But you must watch out for that sort of thing, it's an error readers are prone to fall into. There are a lot of Williams about. Lots. It doesn't need to be me.

16But now, having got rid of all this obfuscation, I am speaking to you directly. The author talking to the reader - whoever you are. Imagine me as a voice in you ear, unmediated by any notions of theories you may have heard about books and stories, textuality and reading, that sort of thing. I was, as it so happens, in actual fact, really engaged to a girl called Louella once, and I did have a brother called Frank. And certain factual events to do with the three of us inspired, were at the back of, the two beginnings I attempted. Louella was an American girl. I'd met her in New-York, fallen in love, got engaged and had brought her back to England to meet my parents. She also met Frank.

17Frank. Frank was the sort of older brother nobody needs. Tall, socially at ease, riche, good job (journalist on an up-market Sunday). Very attractive too. He had a polished superficial charm which, to my surprise, managed to take in one hell of a lot of people. But he was a smug, self-satisfied bastard and we never really liked each other. He always needed to fell superior to me.

18« Pleased to meet you, » Frank said to Louella, holding on to her hand far longer than William thought necessary.

19« Hi, » said Louella. « William told me so much about you. »

20Frank laughed. « Listen, » he said. « You don't want to believe anything he says. »

21He didn't say that, in fact. But it's typical of the short of thing I can imagine him saying. Anyway I only did that just to show you how easy it is – and how different. I can make Frank bald, add four inches to Louella's bust, supply William with a flat in Belgravia. But it's not going to solve anything. Because – to cut a long story short (quite a good title, yes ?) – I really did love Louella (we'll still call her that, if you don't mind – saves possible embarrassment). I wanted to marry her. And that bastard Frank steadily and deliberately took her away from me.

22At the time we wer staying with my parents. We hadn't fixed a date for the wedding as we were waiting until we hade a house first. However, plans were being made, Louella's mother was going to fly over, a guest list was being drawn up. Frank was very subtle. He contented himself with being incredibly nice. He was around a lot and spent a great deal of time with Louella - just chatting. I was away in London (my parents live near Witney, Oxford shire) trying to get a job. I can still remember – quite vividly – sitting on the London train, rigid with a kind of frustrated rage. I knew exactly what was happening. I could sense Louella's increasing fascination with Frank, but there was nothing I could do about it, no accusation I could level, without being accused in turn of chronic paranoia. Nothing physical had happened between Louella and Frank, yet in a way she was more intimate with him than she'd ever been with me.

23I couldn't stand it any longer. The house seemed to brim with their complicity. I felt pinioned by their innuendoes, webbed in by their covert glances. It was impossible. Yet the whole relationship was occurring at such a subliminal, cerebral level that any apportioning of blame on my part would look like an act of near insanity. So I went away. I said I had to be in London for an entire week job-hunting and having interviews. I entrusted Louella to my parents' care, but I knew Frank wouldn't be far away.

24I took up an uncomfortable post in the wood behind my parents' house armed with a pair of powerful binoculars and watched the comings and goings. I saw Frank arrive the next day, homing in unerringly. Saw them walk in the garden, go out for drives. Saw Frank take my place at the family dinner table pouring wine, recounting anecdotes that I should have been telling.

25In fact William hated Frank with all the energy he could summon. Hated his lean, permanently tanned face, his fake self-deprecating smile. Despised his short fingernails, his modishly scruffy clothes. Loathed his intimate knowledge of current affairs, his casual travelogues. And he ached when Louella touched his arm in admiring disbelief as Official Secrets were dropped, off-the- record confidences disclosed. Suffered when she showed her pale pulsing throat as she laughed at his smart in-jokes.

26Sorry. Sorry. It's a lapse, I know. I promised. But fiction is so safe, so easy to hide behind. It won't happen again.

27It was a Sunday afternoon when I became really alarmed. My vigil in the wood had lasted three days (sleeping in my car : extremely uncomfortable) and I was beginning to wonder if I'd overdramatized things rather. Mother and Father had gone out on some interminable Sunday ramble in the car (I sense that I haven't really done my parents justice – not that they're all that interesting really – but they play no significant part in the following events). Then Frank came round in his car – a Triumph Stag : pure Frank, that. There was some activity in the house. Frank appeared briefly in the sitting room with two suitcases. I scampered through the garden and peered around the corner of the house. Frank was rearranging luggage in the boot. I saw him take out a fishing rod and repack it. Then Louella appeared, she seemed quite calm. She said.

28« Have you left a note for them ? »

29Frank : « Yes, on the hall table. »

30Louella : « What about William ? »

31Frank : « Oh don't worry about him. Ma and Pa will break the news. »

32Reader, imagine how I felt.

33They drove off. I knew where they where going. I went inside and read the note Frank had written to my parents. It went something like this.

34Louella and I have gone away for a few days.

35We have fallen very much in love and want to think things over. Please break this to William as gently as possible. Back sometime next week.

36Love Frank.

37The family have a small cottage on the west coast of Scotland. We have spent many summers there. I knew that was where Frank was heading. The fishing rod gave it away. Fly fishing is his great "passion". He thinks it somehow both intellectual – respectable literature on the sport – and gentlemanly – Alec Douglas Home and the Queen Mother do it. I filled my car up wich petrol and went to London. There I dropped in on a few friends and made some calls. Then, that night, I followed them North.

38The family cottage – more of a house to be honest – lies off the main road near the village of A……………… (Funny how this is meant to make it more realistic. It seems so obvious. Why not give the name. It's Achranich, not far from Oban. I'm not interested in misleading you.) Behind the house is one of those typical Scottish hills, khaki green, shaded with brown and purple, covered in a thick, moss-sprung grass. An energetic hike over this and you find one of the best stretches of Higland salmon-river in Scotland. Thas was why Frank brought his fishing rod. He can never resist it.

39Picture the scene. Me huddling chilled in a damp clump of bracken, exhausted after an overnight drive. Waiting for Frank to appear. And, sure enough, he does, after a late breakfast (porridge, kippers, toast and marmalade. That's just a guess. How could I know what he'd had for breakfast ?). He looks disgustingly pleased with himself as he strides up the hill with his rod and his bags and his tackle, passing – oh – within thirty yards of my hidding place. I keep still. After all, I know where he's going.

40Thirty minutes later I catch up with him. He's at the big pool. The river hurtles and elbows its way down the hillside. It's the colour of unmilked tea and is shallow with a bed of rounded pebbles and stones. Except at one point. Here there is a cascade that froths into a large, deep, chill pool. A great angled slab of rock justs out into the pool setting up eddies and deflecting currents. Beneath this the fish lurk. Stand on the lip of the cascade (thigh waders obligatory) leaning back against the nudge and pressure of the water, cast down into the pool below the rock and you can't go wrong. Frank was positioned exactly so. Two small creaming waves where his green rubber waders broke the solid parabola of the falling water.

41I enter the stream twenty yards above and slosh down. Frank can't hear me because of the noise of the falling water. I stand behind him. I tap his shoulder. He looks round. His eyes widen in wordless surprise. He instinctively jerks back as though expecting a blow. It is enough. He loses his balance and with a despairing, grabbing whirl of arms is flipped over the edge into the pool. I don't even wait to see what happens. Waders filled with water, heavy clothes sodden, freezing water. He'd go down like… like a stone.

42I was in London by late evening. I was summoned home by a phone call just before lunch the next day. Dreadful news. I have to take the twin blows of my fiancee's infidelity and my brother's accidental death. My parents are grim and unforgiving ; they think Louella is in some way responsible. I am shocked and stunned. But poor Louella. She has to turn somewhere. I am deeply hurt, but relent under the shared burden of grief. We go for drives and talk and, to cut a long story short, we…

43But I've lost you, haven't ? Where was it ? That bit about me hiding in the wood ? Or setting up my alibi and following them to Scotland ? It wasn't a question of continuing to suspend disbelief, but rather the belief beginning to crumble away of its own accord. You were saying : if he wants us to believe him, if he wants us to think we're reading something true, then surely confessing to a murder in cold print is, well, a bit implausible ?

44You're right of course. I got carried away. Fiction took over once again. Anyway, I could never do a thing like that, could I ?

45PS :

46Frank and « Louella », wherever you are, if you should happen to read this – no hard feelings ? It's just a joke.

47William Boyd (1981)

Pour citer ce document

Par William BOYD, «Long Story Short», Cahiers FoReLLIS - Formes et Représentations en Linguistique, Littérature et dans les arts de l'Image et de la Scène [En ligne], Archives (1993-2001), De la brièveté en littérature, mis à jour le : 28/05/2013, URL : https://cahiersforell.edel.univ-poitiers.fr:443/cahiersforell/index.php?id=111.