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 fifth short story, translated from French by Jane Golding.
Morpheus owed her name to the god of Dreams, the son of Hypnos, the god of Sleep and the night. Despite the lack of culture that is characteristic of the generations who prefer the internet and hypertext books to the silent rooms of libraries and classics of world literature, her mother did at least know that Morpheus was the name of a god from Greek mythology, not a goddess. Despite that, she had taken the liberty of giving her daughter this beautiful masculine name, to encourage her to sleep when she was a baby, thinking that the god of the same name wouldn’t mind.
Morpheus had grown up surrounded by books and travel stories; later, she had packed her bags and set off to see the world. After covering several thousand miles, she decided to stop for a while in a town that some consider the centre of the universe and others the centre of the planet.
Technology had taken over the world, and the computer now took charge of the thankless tasks in libraries, for example, classifying bibliographical records and keeping track of purchases, except when the computer had the bad idea of breaking down or getting completely blocked.
Morpheus had put a wicker crate under her workstation, in which she was rearing two chicks. The library head was not keen, although he did not have any particular objection, the only condition being that the chicks must remain in their crate and not start flapping about all over the place.
Day after day and with the greatest of patience, Morpheus reared her chicks, surrounded by books.
A few weeks beforehand, she had found them half dead, and had rescued them. A reader, who was originally from a faraway country, wanted to give the library head a present, and had given him four male chicks in a plastic bag. She had used the bag to transport the chicks from the market to the library.
This present was a complete flop. Without even opening the plastic bag, the library head dumped his present quite openly under one of the reading tables. A little later, having been alerted by another reader who was intrigued by this moving bag, an intrepid colleague opened it cautiously. He found four chicks in a very poor state and rushed into Morpheus’ office to ask her what to do. Part of Morpheus’ job was finding solutions to difficult problems.
Two of the chicks were already dead, and the two others were in a very bad way. Morpheus buried the two dead ones underneath an olive tree and gave the living ones a good dose of fresh air. Then she found them a wicker crate and put it under her computer desk.
She would really have preferred to keep the crate at home, but she slept outside under the stars, which wasn’t a nuisance, as it never rained in that country, at least, not in the summer months. When winter arrived she would see if it was really worth the bother of getting stuck between four walls and paying rent.
Every morning, Morpheus would feed the chicks some lettuce and some seeds. She would clean the wicker crate, then air the room to give the chicks some fresh air. The days passed, the chicks grew bigger and became chickens. Then, during her break, she would take them into the garden for their daily walk, to the great joy of the local children.
The chickens grew in size but not in wisdom. By now they had managed to open their wicker crate; they flapped around in the office, left droppings everywhere and roosted on Morpheus’ shoulder.
One day, the library head came into the office while the chickens were having a chat, one on Morpheus’ right shoulder and the other on her left shoulder. The library head was very annoyed and explained to Morpheus that they were no longer in the time of William the Conqueror and it was hardly proper to work with a chicken on your shoulder, let alone two chickens, one on each shoulder. Morpheus replied perfectly calmly that, if her memory served her right, the gallant knights in question were not fond of chickens, but falcons, and that the company of chickens had never stopped anyone working.
All that didn’t matter, declared the library head in a resounding voice that silenced the chickens, who were busily commenting on the situation. The chickens were too big now – she would have to clear all that stuff out. There was no point in Morpheus arguing, nor the chickens, as it was impossible to make him change his mind. As we know, as well as having an unfortunate habit of raising their voice at the slightest thing, when people in charge are at a loss for an argument, they almost invariably use their authority to justify the most stupid decisions.
So the chickens moved into a garden shed. The fact of leaving their wicker crate didn’t cause them any major problems. The end of their adolescence was approaching and they were old enough to stand on their own two feet. However, they continued to see Morpheus every day, because she let them out in the morning and put them back at night, and fed them three times a day.
One day, however, the chickens disappeared for ever. Perhaps they ended up in a casserole dish, poor things, or had decided to go exploring.
Winter came. Morpheus had been living in an apartment since the first torrential rains, and now paid rent.
Another festive occasion arose and the same reader, who was originally from a faraway country, again gave four male chicks to the library head. Everyone asked themselves why.
This present was no more gratefully received than the first, and the library head once again deliberately left the plastic bag under a reading table. This time, no-one saw him do it, but no-one doubted it was him. Morpheus was alerted and went to open the plastic bag. Two chicks were dead and two were still alive, and so the story was repeated.
Morpheus buried the two dead chicks next to the ones she had buried a few months earlier. She took the living ones home and put them in her hallway, which was wide and light. She found them a cardboard box so they could frolic around, and fed them daily on lettuce and seeds.
When the chicks became chickens, she found a larger cardboard box and a piece of Perspex to go on top, to stop the chickens leaving their droppings all over the neighbourhood. Every evening, after work, she would let them out for a moment and teach them to walk and flap around. It would be useful for them later, when they were grown up and independent.
The neighbour across the landing took charge of their elocution exercises, because he was a linguist and spoke several languages. He announced that they were managing very well for their age, despite the trauma that had affected their early childhood, and this statement made Morpheus very proud.
The months went by, and Morpheus felt that the hour of departure was approaching. Her travelling bag was soon packed, but there were the chickens. It would hardly be possible to check in at the airport with by two chickens. It was absolutely essential to find them a new family.
She appealed to all her colleagues and neighbours, but all in vain; no-one wanted to adopt the chickens. In the evening, after work, Morpheus would walk up and down up a different road in the town, extending her area of research a little more each day, with no further success. Everyone shook their heads.
One day, she mentioned the subject to one of her friends, who was a film-maker. He said that his daughter had pets, information that did not fall on deaf ears. The film-maker lived in a small village on the outskirts of the town. Morpheus went to inspect the premises on her day off. The house had a large garden; it might do. The little girl agreed to fence off an area to make a chicken run.
A few days later, Morpheus returned with her two chickens, who were very excited by this unexpected outing, and had made a terrible racket in the bus. The little girl hadn’t had time to build the chicken run, so they put the two chickens on the patio by the house until they had something better.
Morpheus went back a week later. The chickens were still on the patio; they did their droppings there, and had lost a few feathers. The film-maker grumbled, not much though, because his daughter loved chickens and he loved his daughter. Morpheus felt that everything would go well, once they had got used to it. With a light heart she took the public taxi to the airport.