Marble [3] Thirtieth of December


By Marie Lebert, 21 December 2018.
Translated from French by Jane Golding.
Drawings by Denis Renard.

“Marble” is a short, timeless, galactic novel for all ages.
[Summary] [French version]

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

We are the thirtieth of December, already. After introducing the two first researchers, Boubou and Bub, it’s time to introduce their colleagues too.

The third researcher, in alphabetical order, is Chief. Chief is a boss everyone loves. One of his main qualities is his inquisitive mind. He’s a great pipe smoker – another import from Earth. His favourite pipe is a briar pipe. Unfortunately, since smoking has been banned in workplaces and public areas, he no longer fills it with tobacco.

Chief only lives for his work and hates holidays, when he sits at home, bored stiff, in front of his model of the bubble office. He is also a confirmed bachelor, not from necessity but entirely from choice. However, for some time he has been harbouring a secret passion for Plastic.

The fourth researcher, in alphabetical order, is Coffee. As his name suggests, Coffee is a great coffee lover. He always drinks it with a drop of milk, frothed up at a height of approximately five centimetres above the coffee. Then he presses on the frothy milk with his finger and pushes it, little by little, into the brown liquid in the cup.

Before he discovered coffee, this amazing miracle cure – an Earthly import, which he found by chance one day in the intergalactic shop – he used to literally fall asleep at work. Now, he would be completely lethargic if he didn’t drink coffee throughout the day and didn’t have a Thermos of coffee on his bedside table to drink as soon as he woke up. He is a perfect example of a completely calm researcher; too calm perhaps, a researcher who never raises his voice – the only one like that in the bubble office.

Coffee and Bub have been friends for many years. Like chalk and cheese, as the Earthlings say. Bub likes Earthly expressions and peppers his conversation with them, to the delight of Boubou and the annoyance of his colleagues. Luckily for his fellow workers, his range of Earthly expressions is limited, and he often repeats the same ones.

When a new expression crops up in the conversation, his colleagues request an explanation as soon as they hear it, or soon afterwards. It’s quite likely that, sooner or later, this new expression will find its way into the bubble office’s vocabulary, and might later be included in the scientific dictionary that is published every three years.

Bub and Coffee’s offices are next to each other, so, during the breaks that punctuate the working days, they drink a coffee together with a drop of milk and eat a few peanuts. This is purely for friendship’s sake, because Bub is not keen on coffee, and even less keen on coffee with milk, and Coffee finds the taste of peanuts very mediocre.

During this time they talk about work, sport or their private lives. For work, it’s easy; they have something in common, as they both work in the same department. As for sport, Bub keeps fit at the gym, early in the morning and at lunchtime. Coffee hates sport, and only watches Coral Cup matches on television. As regards their private lives, Bub and Boubou are the love of each other’s lives, whereas Coffee changes girlfriends all too often, as his successive girlfriends all find him too wimpish and soon get fed up with him.

The fifth researcher, in alphabetical order, is Hob. As his name suggests, Hob is in charge of the kitchen. As we have already guessed, he has a predilection for baking, especially cakes. His speciality is speedy patisserie. It only takes him a few minutes to rustle up delicious cakes for any occasion, and his flying, remote-controlled trays guarantee a faultless service.

All the researchers in the bubble office, including Hob, love cakes and wolf down whole platefuls of them; or even whole trays of them. None of them has a problem with weight, as they are all so mentally active. Everyone knows that, in terms of calories used, intellectual activity is at least equal, if not superior, to physical activity.

Seen in a certain light, the researcher Frondex could be an exception, because he is unusually strong, although it’s true that the exception proves the rule. However, when his doctor broaches the subject of weight each year during the annual check up, Frondex always replies,

“That’s not fat; it’s muscle.”

Once a year, it’s true, the doctor on duty advises Frondex to make an appointment with a dietician, and Frondex mutters fiercely under his breath. As his natural bulk is equal to at least five times that of the doctor, the doctor usually has the sense to leave it at that, and not persist with advice which, in any case, would fall upon deaf ears.

One year, a young junior doctor was not as good at psychology as the others. He took it upon himself to emphasise the importance of losing weight to stay healthy, recommended a diet to be started the next morning, and so on. It was never clear exactly what happened, but the doctor found himself in hospital; after that, he threatened to resign if he wasn’t posted somewhere else. It was out of the question for him to ever set foot in the planetary centre for scientific research again, he repeated over and over. Because he was so insistent, or as his psychiatrist said, almost obsessed, he eventually got what he wanted.

The sixth researcher, in alphabetical order, is Mouse. As her name suggests, Mouse is in charge of the computers in the bubble office. She is also as small and fast as a mouse, but she doesn’t wear grey. She prefers little suits in gaudy colours and matching high-heeled shoes.

Mouse looks after the computing, which is not a difficult task, because, very quickly, she trained all her colleagues to manage on their own and not bother her all the time with problems of blocked cursors, software full of bugs, and saves that didn’t work.

Her favourite area of research is rapid transport. A few years ago, for example, it still took her five seconds to propel someone onto Earth. Well before that, when she was still a student and was carrying out her first trials, she needed half an hour. Now, her technique is so well developed that she only needs a fraction of a second. She often bursts into hysterical laughter when she watches space voyages organised by other planets.

Mouse loves practical jokes. For example, every time she sends Bub to a planet – he is the only one who likes travelling – she reserves a little surprise for him. Once, he went off to film the Earthly seas. So she sent him straight into the cold water; no-one ever found out whether it was on purpose or not.

Bub, soaked to the skin, went straight back to Coral without completing his mission. Despite his legendary good humour, to Mouse’s great surprise, he didn’t find it at all amusing. No doubt he was more sensitive to cold than he appeared, and in any case, he was very angry. After that, Mouse made an effort to choose her practical jokes more carefully.

It must be added that Mouse lives with Hob, and that they have loads of children, some of their own and some adopted. They can both manage their active professional and family lives because their mothers live with them. Moreover, the two mothers are inseparable, which is rare, but does happen. They look after the children, who adore them, because they are never bored, and they whip through the housework in the blink of an eye.

They also take care of the shopping. While the children are at school and the parents at work, they go round the planetary supermarket, chasing each other with their shopping trolleys and laughing like madwomen. They see who can fill up their trolley the quickest. They buy anything that comes into their head. The only shelves they avoid absolutely are the so-called health food products.

They are delighted that Hob also does the cooking at home, and not them; especially because he lets his imagination run away with him like a galloping horse, depending on what he finds in the fridge and in the cupboards. The meals are always very copious and full of surprises, and they always begin with the dessert.

Both in the bubble office and at home, Mouse and Hob often have epic fits of hysterical laughter. Their colleagues at the bubble office don’t always join in, but at home, all the family gets hiccups and tears in their eyes for minutes on end, even when the story is a bit far-fetched. At first, the neighbours were rather astonished, but now, not at all; sometimes the whole neighbourhood joins in with them when it involves jokes about the local area.

Here’s the story that recently broke all the records for hysterical laughter in the bubble office.

Once, exceptionally, during a meeting in which Frondex was bored stiff – the subject of the meeting wasn’t the problems of catapulting, his specialty – he decided to use a cake as a projectile, in order to analyse its trajectory and include this analysis in a new research project he had in mind. As his mind was always alert, he often looked for different projectiles for new experiments, and as yet he hadn’t tried cakes.

To his horror, the cake did not follow the predicted trajectory but landed at just the wrong moment on Mouse’s keyboard, where it squashed to pieces. At first, everyone laughed a lot, before trying to clean the keyboard. But the cream had seeped right into the gaps between the keys. The damage was irreparable, and a new keyboard seemed necessary. Mouse was laughing even louder, if that were possible, at which point Hob heard her from the kitchen and came to see what was going on.

In fact, for months, Mouse had dreamed of a keyboard with rainbow keys, because of the seven different colours – red; orange; yellow; green; blue; indigo and violet – which would match the seven suits she wore, one for every day of the week. Up until now she hadn’t been able to buy this wonderful keyboard, because she only received a keyboard credit once every three years. These damned keyboards were horribly expensive, especially the model she was coveting. Thanks to the cake’s failed trajectory, a superb keyboard in rainbow colours took pride of place on her desk the very next morning. This keyboard gave her a real boost, and her colleagues were all flabbergasted.

As we have already learned, the seventh researcher, in alphabetical order, is Frondex.

Frondex’s physique is impressive, and so is his strength. His waist measurement is about the same as the Earthly cinema star Obelix. His wardrobe was heavily influenced by the film star’s choice of clothes. His tailor was in heaven. In fact, since Frondex had thrown himself into the adventures of the Gallic warriors Asterix and Obelix, following a marketing campaign from the intergalactic shop to get people to read, not only did he name himself after his favourite hero – no-one can even remember his previous name – but he finally knew what to wear, and from then on, he has always worn blue and white striped dungarees.

Unlike the Earthly film star, Frondex doesn’t need a magic potion. Hob’s cakes are enough, especially as Hob always overestimates the quantities, unlike some Nouvelle Cuisine restaurateurs.

Ever since he was in his cradle, Frondex has been mad about catapults. When he was very young, he would undo the elastic in his nappies and use it to shoot whatever he could put his little hand on as far as he could. His mummy never said anything; at the time, she was already stunned with admiration for her little kid, and bought him the best nappies on the planet with the strongest elastic.

As long as one can remember, Frondex has always had the latest model catapult in one of the big pockets of his blue and white striped dungarees. His regular practice in catapult shooting is directly related to the richness of his inspiration and the quality of his daily research work. Marbles are without doubt his favourite projectiles, but any other object will also do the job.

Next chapter: Thirty-first of December

Copyright © 2012-18 Marie Lebert (text) & Jane Golding (translation)

Written by marielebert

2012/11/22 at 17:42

Posted in Uncategorized