By Marie Lebert, 21 December 2016.
“Moon” is a collection of six timeless short stories, which are related, in one way or another, to the book. Here is the first short story, translated from French by Jane Golding.
This planet belonged to a faraway, multicoloured galaxy that sparkled continuously like a thousand fireworks in the Paris sky on the evening of Bastille Day, the fourteenth of July. It was a planet in the shape of an egg. From very far away, it resembled an orangey-coloured jade egg; on approaching closer, a jade egg with a hint of pink, and from very near, it was quite clearly pink with very fine orange streaks.
Long, long ago, a founding president was specially elected for the new planet’s official naming ceremony.
He was a very handsome man who attracted attention to himself because of his shiny black top hat. He wore multicoloured Bermuda shorts and a green tee-shirt with two portraits of himself, one on the front, and one on the back.
What was amusing about these two portraits was that on the back, he was making a face. You would have thought the Founding President had a raging toothache! On the front, however, he sported a wide, friendly smile, a smile that had nothing to do with elections.
To complete the picture, it should be added that the Founding President had a very high opinion of himself. This was probably an essential quality, considering his role.
When the big day of the naming ceremony arrived, everyone gathered round giant screens to watch the live ceremony. Whole families arrived in clusters, with enormous picnics, special celebration party picnics, with ketchup sandwiches and bottles of champagne with rainbow-coloured corks.
As the planetary anthem rang out, the Founding President appeared in his legendary multicoloured Bermuda shorts, his legendary self-promoting tee-shirt and his legendary top hat, which looked even more shiny than usual; he had obviously polished it specially for the occasion.
Then, when he decided that everyone had admired his impressive stature enough, he sat down in front of an enormous leather-bound book, or imitation leather, or even leatherette. Only a specialist could really have told what material it was made of.
This enormous book was a dictionary that had been compiled specially for the official naming of the planet. It was a complete inventory of the names of all the known planets, including those of the neighbouring galaxies and galaxies further away. This exhaustive work had been compiled under the expert direction of the very best man of letters.
This man of letters wouldn’t tolerate the tiniest spelling mistake. Not a single accent escaped his supervision. He judiciously hunted down incorrectly used capitals and lower case letters. In short, he was a very pernickety specialist in his field, which didn’t stop him being a charming man in everyday life.
After sitting down majestically in front of the dictionary, the Founding President began to read in a low voice. When he had finished reading a page, he turned to the next page with a very expansive gesture, making sure that his gestures looked good on television, as he was very conscious of his brand image.
In fact, he felt as if he had never worked so hard in all his life.
The reading lasted several hours. The planet followed it closely, eating ketchup sandwich after ketchup sandwich and drinking numerous bottles of champagne. When they managed to make out the name of one of the planets that the Founding President was whispering, they played word games with the name. Some families played subtle word games; others, funny word games or even word games of a dubious nature.
The Founding President read the great book from one end to the other, once in one direction, once in the other. The planet was getting fed up with it, and wondering when it would all be finished. Some people had a roast dinner waiting for them in the oven, others had organised card games, and the children were looking forward to ending the day with roller skate or skateboard races.
As for the television and radio programmes, they had unfortunately all been halted for the whole of the official naming ceremony, and would only resume once the planet had been named.
Some people felt that was a pity. They were the ones who had very little sense of civic duty. They would have preferred to watch a good western or a good detective programme, rather than the Founding President reciting a litany of names and turning the pages as slowly as a dribbling snail or a blind tortoise.
After reading the dictionary in both directions, the Founding President paused to wolf down a ketchup sandwich and guzzle a bottle of champagne, in full view of the live audience. He was not the sort to refuse an offer like that.
His political adviser whispered in his ear that all good things must come to an end. The Founding President twigged immediately that he shouldn’t spin things out too long.
With the back of his left hand, he wiped away the traces of ketchup that adorned the edge of his lips, then began turning the pages again with his right hand, a little faster this time.
The author of the dictionary sighed with relief, from somewhere in the middle of the crowd. He didn’t want the Founding President to inadvertently smear ketchup over one of the pages of his dictionary, as later on it would be placed in the planetary library, and specifically, in the reserve collection, where the planet’s most beautiful books were kept.
Suddenly, the Founding President stopped the index finger of his right hand on the name of a planet. It should be mentioned that he had never been able to read without following the text with the index finger of his right hand, like people do when they first learn to read. His teachers had tried for years to break this habit, but none of them succeeded. When he was studying at university, people tried to point out that it was rather childish to follow the text with your finger, but did it really matter all that much? Everyone knows that all geniuses have their little foibles.
The Founding President had been struck by the name “Moon”, which was the name of the Earth’s satellite. The Earth itself belonged to a galaxy that was quite far away, but not too far.
This word “Moon” reminded him of the way he moved his lips in front of his thumb and his index finger and curled them into an “O” shape for blowing soap bubbles in his bathroom. That was his main leisure activity, which he practiced ambidextrously, that is to say he was able to make bubbles equally well with his left thumb and finger as his right thumb and index finger. This unusual activity was a great vote catcher and had helped him win elections.
But how could his own planet be distinguished from the planet moon, the Earth’s satellite?
The Founding President still remembered the rudiments of how to spell, although this kind of skill was usually forgotten almost as soon as it was learned. He had a foggy memory of the basic ideas from primary school: the difference between capital letters and lower case letters, which was indelibly printed on his memory because of numerous pages of handwriting done with an old-fashioned dip pen, with the inevitable blot that always happened when the page was almost finished, never at the beginning of the page, with the pupil redoing the same page umpteen times with a line of capitals, a line of lower case letters, a line of capitals, a line of lower case letters, and so on, which engraved the important difference between capital letters and lower case letters on your memory for ever.
To distinguish his planet from the moon, the Earth’s satellite, he would quite simply add a capital letter. The Founding President even remembered that one did not put the capital letter in front of the lower case letter, but one replaced the lower case letter with the capital. He was delighted to realise that he was so well educated, contrary to what members of his family said to him. They didn’t mince their words and were especially hard on him when it came to culture.
He had made up his mind. The Founding President pushed away the dictionary with his right hand. In the crowd, the author of the dictionary sighed with relief. At the height of his excitement, the Founding President could easily have used his left hand, the one that was smeared with ketchup.
The Founding President sat up in his seat. He pulled up his multicoloured Bermuda shorts, which had slipped down on his hips and made him look rather silly. He pulled down his tee-shirt, as it had begun to move upwards, revealing the rolls of fat around his middle, which also made him look rather silly, especially when they were advising the young people of the planet not to stuff themselves with ketchup sandwiches so they would stay slim and beautiful. He readjusted his top hat so it was completely vertical, as it had slipped over to the left a little since reading from the dictionary. He adopted the most military position possible, sitting perfectly straight and holding in his stomach as far as he could.
Then the Founding President took hold of the planetary microphone that an anonymous arm was holding out to him, a tanned and muscular arm, which made him green with envy for a second. He sighed as he compared this arm to his own arms, which were pink and puffy.
All the inhabitants of the planet suddenly stopped gobbling their ketchup sandwiches and swigging their bottles of champagne. Many of them stood up, which was quite a feat in their intoxicated state.
Even the babies could sense they were going to witness an exceptional moment in history and stopped screaming with tiredness for a while. Fashionable women quickly dabbed on some lipstick and passed their hands through their hair to take out the blades of grass that were stuck in it. Fashionable men pulled a tube of Brylcreem from their pockets, put knob of it in their hands, then rubbed their hands through their hair to make it shine for this historic moment. Young people sprang out of the thickets where they had been kissing and cuddling. Children stopped chasing each other on roller skates for a moment. Dogs stopped gnawing their bones and stood up on their hind legs.
Straight as a ramrod, with his top hat impeccably lined up with the middle of his neck, his stomach held in exceptionally well, his Bermuda shorts pulled up decently and his tee-shirt pulled down over his hips, the Founding President announced in a trumpeting voice that the planet was called the Moon, with a capital M, and we the inhabitants were Moonians, with a capital M.
The historic moment, which would be recounted at meetings and reunions and talked about for generations to come, had just happened.
All the inhabitants of the planet Moon dropped everything they were holding, whether it was their lipstick, their tube of Brylcreem, their ketchup sandwich, their bottle of champagne, their roller skates, their girlfriend’s hand or their boyfriend’s hand. Some even dropped their babies, which is monstrous, but, luckily, all the Moses baskets gently moved together at exactly the same time to save the babies.
So in a fraction of a second, all the hands were free to applaud, and huge rounds of applause rang out from all four corners of the planet for a very long time.
Then the babies grew tired of trying in vain to tap the palms of their little hands together and found it more practical to scream. The dogs could no longer stay up on their hind legs, so they sprang back down on all fours, barking and wagging their tails. The lovers knotted their hands again to celebrate this historic moment together and their lips joined in passionate kisses. The children jumped with joy and danced round wildly in circles.
All this took place a long, long time ago, but the memory of this momentous day has been passed down from generation to generation and is still very much alive. Nicolas knew the story word for word, as his grandparents and his parents had recounted it many, many times in great detail.