By Marie Lebert, 21 December 2017.
Translated from French by Jane Golding.
Drawings by Denis Renard.
“Marble” is a short, timeless, galactic novel for all ages.
Summary of the novel
On the planet Coral, the bubble office of the centre for scientific research gets ready to celebrate the New Year. But a marble containing ten years of intensive scientific research is sent mistakingly to planet Earth, and more precisely on the Mother of Pearl Coast, in Normandy. On the morning of the first of January, a scientist leaves on a mission to find the marble.
Twenty-eighth of December / Twenty-ninth of December / Thirtieth of December / Thirty-first of December / First of January / Second of January / Third of January / Fourth of January / Fifth of January
It was the twenty-eighth of December. Even on this distant galaxy, the twenty-eighth of December comes after the twenty-seventh of December and before the twenty-ninth of December. On the planet Coral too, time is important.
The head of the centre for scientific research of the planet Coral goes by the name of Plastic. If you want to seem well mannered when you are first introduced to her, whether professionally or personally, or as some would say, if you want to be in her good books – you should pronounce the “a” of Plastic like an “aah.” This has nothing to do with snobbery; no, it’s simply a question of good taste.
As her name clearly indicates, Plastic is mad about plastic. Her hobby is collecting Tupperware. Tupperware is the plastic object which, in her opinion, meets the most stringent aesthetic criteria. For some people, it’s jade eggs; for others, beautifully bound leather books. For her, it’s Tupperware. There’s no accounting for taste on Coral, either.
A few years ago, Plastic lost her left eye because of Tupperware. She was in an interplanetary imports shop and had decided to buy a new piece for her collection. She had been saving up for this purchase for ages. Suddenly, she spotted a superb new piece of Tupperware. It reflected the light like mother of pearl shells in seawater. It had a mauve border that reminded her of her best party dress with a slit in the back.
She picked up this superb piece of new Tupperware and stared at it so intensely that her eyes burst out of their sockets. She just had time to catch her right eye with her right hand but not the left eye with her left hand, because, of course, her left hand was holding the beautiful Tupperware. She couldn’t bring herself to drop it on the ground, as it would have been dented.
In the past few years, the centre for scientific research, of which Plastic was the director, had greatly expanded, and now had seven departments.
The seventh department was rather unusual, as it was the department of dreamy scientists. In the other departments the researchers were great scientists, but not noted for their vivid imagination.
A few years ago, the department of dreamy scientists had been in the basement, like the others. But this department had stagnated, partly because the Director who had been appointed to the post had no imagination. As a result of serious professional misconduct, the Director was transferred elsewhere, which was a great relief to the dreamy scientists. Having to look at this Director all the time blocked their imagination. He didn’t exactly annoy them, but he wasn’t on their wavelength and he didn’t understand anything about anything.
In fact, there had been a mix up over two names that sounded the same. The other person was imaginative, but not the one who was given the Director’s chair. When Plastic discovered her mistake, she couldn’t do anything about it; it was too late, as the contract had already been signed by the two parties. That’s why she had to wait until the serious professional misconduct to replace him.
This time, Plastic was more careful. She had had enough of the dreamy scientists looking daggers at her every time she walked down the corridor. She appointed the right person, whose name was quite simply Chief, a name which was perhaps not very original but left no doubt about his role.
It only took Chief a few hours to analyse the situation in his new department, as he was both efficient and quick thinking. He arranged a meeting with Plastic to explain the problem to her. He sat down in one of the armchairs in her Tupperware office. The three armchairs were also in the shape of Tupperware, like all the other objects in the room – of course. Chief didn’t pass any comment on the beautiful reflections like mother of pearl shells that had just emerged from the sea. He was perfectly polite, but not obsequious.
Chief wasn’t the type, either, to take three hours explaining what could be explained in two sentences. This was one of his many qualities. The first sentence outlined the problems; the second gave the solution. Many other departmental directors could well have taken inspiration from such conciseness, but this was unfortunately not the case.
While Plastic stared hard at him with her plastic left eye, which made her look strangely charming, he explained to her:
“It is just not possible to use our imagination when we have to spend eight hours a day in a basement. My colleagues need to work where they can see outer space, the stars and galaxies.”
Plastic understood straight away.
“Right. Please prepare the plans for an open-air department for tomorrow morning.”
The next morning, Chief sat down again in one of the Tupperware-shaped armchairs with the shiny mother of pearl reflections and showed Plastic the plans for a very large, bubble-shaped office, which was completely transparent.
After studying the document very closely and asking many questions, each more relevant than the one before, she added her large signature to the bottom right and drew a rectangle around it.
When asked about this subject, the graphologist of the centre for scientific research said that the rectangle was a symbol for her favourite type of Tupperware. No doubt he was a particularly psychological graphologist.
The bubble office was installed by the beginning of the following week. Chief supervised the works very closely, and the seven researchers soon moved in, an hour after the post-construction cleaning.
Chief advised them to have a good clear out before the removal, and gave them all a very large blue bin bag for this purpose, rather than a black one. As black is always associated with the loss of beloved objects, they wouldn’t have liked it, and it would have hindered their sorting out.
Chief had chosen the largest available bin bag on purpose, to encourage a large-scale clear out. When he thought about it, it was crazy what his colleagues could amass in and around their offices on the pretext that it might be useful one day, which was a delusion, as the things that were hoarded were never reused.
The operation was partly successful. The bin bags weren’t as full as he would have liked, but he couldn’t bring himself to interfere with this tidying. He swore by the old adage “Mind your own business.”
Besides, Chief had also left a brief message on Plastic’s Tupperware answering machine saying,
“No official opening ceremony, no drinks, otherwise I resign.”
Chief had a horror of social events such as business lunches or dinners, receptions and cocktails. He only agreed to make an effort once a year, for the New Year drinks. Everyone knew that was a huge effort for him, so they didn’t annoy him further by imposing other official engagements on him, especially as it was difficult to impose anything at all on him.
However, on the first day the bubble office was open, very early in the morning – that day, unusually, Plastic had got up at the crack of dawn – Plastic placed a rose on each of the seven desks, a magnificent plastic rose, with petals that reflected the light like mother of pearl shells in seawater.
Everyone in the department was very touched; after all, it’s the thought that counts.
Next morning, the researchers presented Plastic with a new piece of Tupperware for her collection, on behalf of all of them.
This piece of Tupperware, discovered in the drawer of a desk before the big clear out, had miraculously escaped the bin bags, as one of the researchers thought it might come in useful. Too true! He dug out the object from the drawer of his new desk when they were discussing a thank you present for Plastic. Everyone gave a unanimous sigh of relief. It meant that they didn’t have to spend any money; and above all, they didn’t have to rush round the shops when they had heaps of work to do or were thinking about their plans for the end of year party.
That day, Hob, the cook, had prepared cakes in the shape of Tupperware and plastic roses, which they ate politely, on condition that this did not happen again. The scientists couldn’t stand bad taste, even in the shape of cakes.
Afterwards, they had a long discussion about where to put the roses without hurting Plastic’s feelings, and above all so they wouldn’t have to look at them, as that would immediately impede the most active imagination.
Finally, they tied the roses together in a bouquet. The number seven was just right. It seems that the most beautiful bouquets should be made up of an odd number of flowers: one, three, five, seven, nine, eleven, thirteen – thirteen can be left out if you are giving the flowers to someone superstitious – fifteen, seventeen, nineteen, twenty-one. For twenty-one, you need a big budget – not everyone can afford it, especially if you buy the best roses in the shop.
Luckily, in the case of the bubble office, the number of roses stopped at seven because there were seven researchers, and luckily Plastic had only given them one rose each.
With a unanimous decision, the bouquet of seven roses was hoisted up to the top of the glass roof of the bubble office. Each time she visited the department, Plastic would casually peer up to see if “her” bouquet was still in place, as if nothing had happened, which meant that she didn’t have to look at the mess that was all around.
The researchers were also delighted, as they didn’t need to have the bouquet in their sights all the time. Although they were eccentric, they usually worked sitting up and not lying on their backs. Because of the roses, if any of them felt the need for a little siesta, they had to lie on their stomach and not on their back. In serious cases, if they really couldn’t sleep on their stomach, they had to protect their eyes from the sight of the bouquet with thick dark glasses or an open book. It didn’t matter which page; the idea was to use it as a screen.
Chief had got it just right; insight was one of his many qualities. In fact, being in the open air gave free range to the bubble office researchers’ imagination.
Some bespectacled journalists, exaggerating a little, even announced that from now on the most important discoveries on the planet Coral were taking place in this very department. This created problems with the other departments. The researchers in question were highly amused when they followed the news. But really, it didn’t bother them. Their great intelligence put them above such petty rivalries.
If someone went too far, Chief would arm himself with his smart phone and fire off a few well-chosen sentences. If that wasn’t enough, he would repeat his warning on the aforesaid smart phone and threaten to turn up in their office. As Chief was a strapping hulk and a karate champion, they would immediately stop messing around, not keen on the idea of having their features disfigured or, if they happened to be out, having their office devastated by a tornado.