Pork Kidneys to Soothe Despair

Alejandro Ricaño

Illustration by Guillaume Gilbert



MARIE: After his father's funeral, Samuel went into hiding for a couple of days in London before returning to Paris. Around that time, Gustave left the apartment with a typewriter under his arm.

GUSTAVE: I needed to have Godot with me. I went back to his apartment to transcribe it. I could now read it every single night and sleep in peace. And I could memorize it in the event it got lost.


MARIE: What's it about?

GUSTAVE: Well, there are...two men. Waiting for someone who never arrives.


MARIE: That's all?

GUSTAVE: Well, yes, but they're under a weeping willow, see?

MARIE: A weeping willow?

GUSTAVE: Very desolate, leafless.

MARIE: Waiting for someone?

GUSTAVE: Who never arrives.

MARIE: ...

GUSTAVE: You'll have to read it, Marie! It's so...(Leans on his hands.) So...(Can't find the right word.) Wouldn't it upset you to suspect that you were waiting for someone who may not arrive?



MARIE: Well, I would stop waiting for him.

GUSTAVE: Shit, Marie, exercise your mind a little!

MARIE: Who waits for someone who will not come? You have to be stupid.

GUSTAVE: It's a metaphor, Marie! A metaphor of...of...all this! Understand? In the end, if you think a little, life is but waiting.

MARIE: For what?

GUSTAVE: Death, Marie. What else. It's always a matter of...Shit! Shit!

MARIE: He grabbed his coat and walked out saying: Shit, Shit. Where are you going, I shouted from the window, but he was already halfway down the street, saying...

GUSTAVE: Shit, Shit! The title was unfinished. I went back to his bedroom to make the necessary adjustments.

MARIE: Waiting for Godot?

GUSTAVE: Godot was not enough.

MARIE: He'll notice the change.

GUSTAVE: He'll like it, and will stop searching for an explanation. Besides, I emulated his handwriting to a T.


MARIE: He came back this morning.

GUSTAVE: From London?

MARIE: Perhaps right after you left his apartment.


GUSTAVE: Fine. (Pause.) Fine. Nothing to be done, just one more denizen of Paris. We shouldn't give it too much importance.


GUSTAVE: I'm going to sleep.

MARIE: It's the middle of the day.

GUSTAVE: Well, I'm sleepy in the middle of the day!

MARIE: He didn't leave his room until midnight, and only then to repeat that it truly wasn't important that Samuel had come back. Then locked himself up again. (Pause.) Never would we have imagined what would happen at daybreak.


MARIE: Gustave! (Pause.) Wake up, Gustave!


MARIE: They tried to kill him.


MARIE: They stabbed him on a pier on the Seine.

GUSTAVE: Is he dead?


GUSTAVE: Where is he?

MARIE: Nearby, in the hospital with the red flowerpots.

GUSTAVE: Who did it?

MARIE: A drifter.

GUSTAVE: Did they arrest him?

MARIE: I believe so.

GUSTAVE: Believe so?

MARIE: Get dressed, you must go see him.

GUSTAVE: I should've been paying attention, Marie. I should've predicted something like this would happen.

MARIE: You couldn't have known.

GUSTAVE: It's my fault, Marie.

MARIE: It is not.

GUSTAVE: I should have protected him.

MARIE: It wasn't your responsibility.

GUSTAVE: Shit, shit, shit!

(He slaps his face, MARIE stops him.)

MARIE: Hurry up.


MARIE: Offer him your assistance.


MARIE: But soon after he left, looking out the window, I saw him coming back. He was dragging a bouquet of flowers.

GUSTAVE: Fucking Irish.

MARIE: How is he?

GUSTAVE: He has a punctured lung.

MARIE: Did he accept your help?

GUSTAVE: Mr. Joyce had taken charge. (Pause.) And there was somebody else there. A woman.

MARIE: A nurse?

GUSTAVE: Suzanne. He called her Suzanne, with a certain...fondness.

MARIE: Maybe she's only a relative.



GUSTAVE: It seems to me they have spent too much time together.

MARIE: She's attractive.

GUSTAVE: You think so?


GUSTAVE: Perhaps she is, a little, but Lúcia, even with...well, her eyes are...Don't make me say it!

MARIE: We moved to the fourth floor of a building near Samuel's home. Suzanne had now moved in with him. We could see them over a pair of rooftops.

GUSTAVE: Did he cough?

MARIE: I don't know.

GUSTAVE: It's his lung, Marie. It didn't heal completely. I think he should go back to the hospital.

MARIE: Really?

GUSTAVE: He coughed again! What do I do, Marie?


GUSTAVE: That woman does nothing but play the piano. (Pause.) What is he doing?

(He takes his hat from the stand.)

MARIE: Where are you going?

GUSTAVE: He went out. (Exits.)

MARIE: He started following him everywhere. Soon after, we moved into their building, the apartment above. When they were not there, Gustave would take the opportunity to drill small holes through their ceiling.

GUSTAVE (Lying down with one ear on the floor.): Two sneezes more than yesterday! It's that damn dusty piano, Marie. I'll go down and clean it tonight.

MARIE: He kept count of his sneezes. The number of trips to the bathroom. The number of...

GUSTAVE: Insatiable whore! Does she want to kill him? Had I not oiled the bed, Marie, I wouldn't need to lie on the floor to hear them.

MARIE: Until one morning when the newspapers carried a report that should have worried us more than Samuel's well-being.


MARIE: I'm upset, Gustave.

GUSTAVE: Is it about Sam?

MARIE: Look.

(She hands him a newspaper.)


MARIE: The Germans invaded Poland.

GUSTAVE: What does that have to do with Sam?

MARIE: There will be another war, Gustave. I know it.

GUSTAVE: What are you talking about?

MARIE: The British will declare war, and then we'll have to do the same.

GUSTAVE: For heaven's sake, Marie, stop predicting tragedies! It's an inconsequential fact. There will be no war.

MARIE: You promise?

GUSTAVE: On your mother's grave. How many sneezes this time?

MARIE: None.

GUSTAVE: Fine. Let's eat. (Pause.) A war! You are grim, Marie.


GUSTAVE: You read it somewhere!


GUSTAVE: Liar! How could you have predicted there would be war?

MARIE: Intuition.

GUSTAVE: A feeling! Well.

MARIE: What are we going to do?

GUSTAVE: Stay here. I have a medical excuse because I'm short-sighted. The army won't enlist me.

MARIE: And me?

GUSTAVE: I don't know, wait for your "intuition." (Pause.) Samuel left for Ireland, at least I won't have to worry about him.

MARIE: But a General who was doing who-knows-what in London, called for all French citizens to join the Resistance and continue fighting. Samuel must have heard him on the radio.

GUSTAVE: He's not even French, Marie! Why the devil did he come back?

MARIE: "War has a meaning and a purpose, and all French citizens..."

GUSTAVE: You memorized the speech?

MARIE: Part of it. I thought I would impress you.

GUSTAVE: Yes, Marie, an uplifting speech.

MARIE: Isn't it?


MARIE: Samuel's group was betrayed. He and Suzanne managed to sneak out of their apartment only a few hours before the Gestapo arrived. That evening, we found them lying on a park bench. Gustave pretended not to see them.


MARIE: Gustave?


MARIE: Was it them?



MARIE: Samuel and Suzanne. In the park.

GUSTAVE: I don't think so.


MARIE: I think it was them. I'm sure.

GUSTAVE: Really?

MARIE: We should help them.

GUSTAVE: What do you suggest?

MARIE: I don't know.

(They think.)

GUSTAVE: Fine, give me your coat.

MARIE: What?

GUSTAVE: I'm giving them your coat.


GUSTAVE: Then they'll freeze to death!

MARIE: I was thinking of something else.


MARIE: Invite them to sleep here.

GUSTAVE: They don't even know us.

MARIE: It's the perfect occasion for them to meet us.

GUSTAVE: I'd rather give them your coat.


GUSTAVE: Your damn coat!

MARIE: I said no!

GUSTAVE: So heartless!

MARIE: He cooked a pork kidney and toasted some bread. With my coat under his arm and a basket of food, he headed to the park at midnight.

GUSTAVE: I felt for them. Samuel and Suzanne sleeping on a bench, like two homeless drifters. (Pause.) It would have been heartless not to take them home. (Pause.) But then, a miracle occurred. A tear rolled down his cheek and clung to his chin. The filthy Irishman was crying, crammed on a park bench with his woman lying on his lap. (Pause.) I put Marie's coat on over mine, and sat down to consider his suffering as I enjoyed the kidney and licked my fingers, right in front of them. (Pause.) After all this, I forgave him.


MARIE: Gustave returned in a rush that morning. You're sweating!

GUSTAVE: Like a pig in a bacon factory!

MARIE: You're wearing two coats?

GUSTAVE: They went to the train station, Marie. They're leaving.

MARIE: Where to?

GUSTAVE: I don't know. Heading south. I must go with them.

MARIE (Not satisfied.): Must?

GUSTAVE: Think, Marie. Without my company they'd be completely unprotected.

MARIE: They'll work it out on their own.

GUSTAVE: Pack my bag. Quickly.

MARIE: Don't you know what day tomorrow is?

GUSTAVE: Wednesday. No Thursday!

MARIE: My birthday!

GUSTAVE: Good God, Marie, can you stop thinking about yourself for once!

MARIE: I never think about myself! It's always about you, Samuel, or anybody else. My only concern should be you. And...It's fine, at the end of the day. (Pause.) I'm going to pack your suitcase.


GUSTAVE: Leave it!

MARIE (Excited, hopeful): You're staying?

GUSTAVE: I'll pack my bag myself. You do enough already.

MARIE: Go to hell!


GUSTAVE: I dragged the suitcase all the way to the station and took the train heading to Bordeaux.

MARIE: I went into the street to follow Gustave, but the fleeing crowds dragged me in another direction. Among the crowd I recognized the Joyces, burdened with suitcases and a catatonic Lúcia, as if she were one more bag. I decided to follow them thinking they would go in the same direction...

GUSTAVE: Upon arrival in Bordeaux, Samuel and Suzanne headed east with another group of French refugees.

MARIE: In Zurich I learned I had ended up in the wrong place. They deported me to Ireland, where someone had heard that Samuel was in a small town east of Bordeaux working on a farm with Suzanne.

GUSTAVE: Marie showed up one morning amid the wheat fields, on a mule led by a child.

MARIE: We stayed in a small cabin near the farm that gave sanctuary to Samuel and Suzanne.


GUSTAVE: So, you were in Ireland?


GUSTAVE: They remain neutral?

MARIE: Up to now.

GUSTAVE: Does anybody read Ulysses in Dublin?

MARIE: Jews.

GUSTAVE: And the intellectuals?

MARIE: They are interested in a young Czech.


MARIE: Kafka. I believe.

GUSTAVE: I have never heard of him.

MARIE: Wrote something about a cockroach.

GUSTAVE: About a...! Well.


MARIE: Gustave?


MARIE: Mr. Joyce died.

GUSTAVE: In Zurich?

MARIE: He had peritonitis. I'm sorry.


GUSTAVE: Find some pork kidneys.

MARIE: I brought some from Ireland. They're on the table.

GUSTAVE: Good. Prepare some tea and bread, well-toasted please.

MARIE: They're next to the kidney.


GUSTAVE: I'm going to sleep.

MARIE: Yes. (Pause.) Yes.


MARIE: Devouring a pork kidney, well-toasted bread, and plenty of tea, we commemorated Ulysses on the 16th of June those three years we stayed in Rousillon, hidden from war. At night, Gustave would sneak into Samuel's barn and borrow the play to make small corrections...

GUSTAVE: Bashful or...annoying?

MARIE: Annoying.

GUSTAVE (Making the correction.): Bash...ful.

MARIE: Then small corrections turned into radical changes.

GUSTAVE: I am incorporating a character, Marie, a boy. He'll be a kind of messenger.

MARIE: He rewrote the text every night during those three years. He'd secretly take it, then return it before dawn. (Pause.) One night, I remember, I saw him put his name on it. He placed it on the table and stared at it for hours. Then, just before sunrise, he erased his name and changed it back to Samuel's.


MARIE: Is it a radio?

GUSTAVE: It was in the barn.

MARIE: Does it work?

GUSTAVE: It worked moments ago. The Germans are losing hold.


MARIE: Gustave?


MARIE: When will all this end?

GUSTAVE: The war?

MARIE: Us and Samuel. When are we going to stop following him?

GUSTAVE: When we finish writing the play.

MARIE: It's not finished?

GUSTAVE: Needs polishing.

MARIE: But...


(He succeeds in tuning the radio.)

MARIE: What?

GUSTAVE: Good news, I hope.

LOCUTOR: "...the Allied forces took part in the largest amphibious invasion to date. Close to 152 thousand men crossed the English Channel on board of more than 25 hundred vessels towards the beaches of Normandy which were taken by assault. With this we accomplished that..." (The radio loses signal.)

GUSTAVE: What, what? (Hits radio.) Accomplished what? (Shakes it over his head.) Move away, Marie, you're causing interference!


MARIE: Then, one morning, just like that, the war ended.

GUSTAVE: The Germans couldn't stand the snow. We can go back to Paris.

MARIE: Snow? What does that have to do with anything?

GUSTAVE: Samuel and Suzanne are on their way to the train station.

MARIE: Snow?

GUSTAVE: I saw them go out an hour ago.

MARIE: I've never heard of snow ending a war.


GUSTAVE: The return to Paris was bleak.

MARIE: The Allied forces had occupied the streets of Paris.

GUSTAVE: We walked under the Arc de Triomphe next to a group of German soldiers.

MARIE: They were forced to walk with their arms in the air.

GUSTAVE: You don't have to raise your arms, Marie!

MARIE: I feel sorry for them!

GUSTAVE: Traitors were tied to posts and executed in public.

MARIE: The women were simply forced to shave their heads and walk in their underwear.

GUSTAVE: What are you doing, Marie?

MARIE: I spit at the traitors!

GUSTAVE: Good God, Marie, that woman has cancer!

MARIE: French flags waved everywhere.

GUSTAVE: And there were many soldiers from the United States riding their tanks through the streets of Paris.

MARIE: It didn't matter who had liberated us. It was a day of celebration, after all.



(Gustave and Marie's apartment, right above Samuel and Suzanne's.)

GUSTAVE: Marie! He's in danger!


GUSTAVE: Who else? An American soldier wants to assassinate him.

MARIE: The Americans are gone.

GUSTAVE: Precisely. There is no other reason for him to be here. Germans were expelled, traitors were executed, the Resistance dissolved. I have not seen any other soldiers.

MARIE: He might be on vacation.

GUSTAVE: No, Marie, he's here to kill him.

MARIE: Why would he want to kill him?

GUSTAVE: I don't know, literary envy, their playwrights are hopeless.

MARIE: It's absurd, Gustave.

GUSTAVE: I don't trust him, Marie.

MARIE: He would spend all day at the window keeping an eye on Samuel's apartment.

GUSTAVE: It's him!


GUSTAVE: The American, in the street.

MARIE: Where?

GUSTAVE: Right in front, see him?



GUSTAVE: He's next to that nurse, Marie!

MARIE: The one with the flowers?

GUSTAVE: Bastard.

MARIE: He's handsome.

GUSTAVE: They send attractive ones to avoid suspicion.

MARIE: You see? He's leaving.

GUSTAVE: Clearly to wait for a more favorable occasion.


MARIE: We took the bed out of the bedroom and placed it next to the window to keep an eye on Samuel's apartment. If Gustave managed to fall asleep, he would immediately wake up cursing the American. Finally, after the sixth night, he decided to put an end to the matter.

GUSTAVE: His untied bow fluttered over his shoulder. From a deserted bridge at early dawn, the American gazed distractedly at the Seine.

MARIE: He silently stood up and remained standing at the window. Then, he grabbed his hat and left. After a while, I went down to wait for him at the front door of the building.

GUSTAVE: I crossed the bridge, like an ordinary passer-by, slowly and imperceptibly. When I got by his side, I turned to him. Violently.

MARIE: I could make him out through the fog at the end of the alley. He was running, gripping one hand to his chest.

GUSTAVE: I buried the knife in his back right around his lungs, thinking this would be enough. Alas, it wasn't.

MARIE: He stood in front of the door for a while without saying a thing. Come in, I said, you're soaking wet.

GUSTAVE: He fell in the river and swam to the edge, bleeding. I had to jump off the bridge and swim to him.

MARIE: I heated some water for a bath.

GUSTAVE: I covered his mouth pushing until his head was buried in mud.

MARIE: His shirt was soaking, covered in sludge. Sleeves mangled.

GUSTAVE: Marie was waiting at the door of the building.

MARIE: He shivered in the tub as I washed off the splattered blood in his hair.

GUSTAVE: I had to do it, Marie.

MARIE: I know.

GUSTAVE: Samuel was in danger.

MARIE: What happened to your hand?

GUSTAVE: The American took a bite out of it.

translated from the Spanish by Daniel Jáquez