Marble [5] First of January

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By Marie Lebert, September 2016.
Translated from French to English by Jane Golding.
Illustration by Denis Renard.

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


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


On the first of January, just before eight o’clock, Bub took leave of Boubou, his beloved wife. As he was leaving, she slipped a packet of peanuts into the left pocket of his trousers and murmured into his ear,

“It’s my ‘good bye’ and ‘see you soon’ present. Exceptionally, I won’t send you peanuts by express delivery every day, because you’ll be able to buy them there.”

“Anyway,” she added, winking, “Earthly peanuts are the best in the galaxy.”

Bub looked very stylish in his brown corduroy suit and matching cap. Sadly, he took off his plastic flip flops and replaced them with Earthly walking shoes.

“This is not something I enjoy doing,” he explained to Boubou, who was surprised. “I hate shoes, they pinch my feet, but on Earth I can’t walk in flip-flops. It’s the middle of winter there.”

Mouse was waiting for him in the bubble office. When she saw him in his strange getup, she had to stop herself from giggling. Bub looked daggers at her, without saying a word, and swallowed a French translation software programme so that he could communicate with the natives, that is to say the Earthly European French people, and sat down in the fast travel seat.

The journey lasted a fraction of a second. Bub found himself perched on a rock in mid air. His bottom was on the flat part of the rock, and his legs were hanging over the sea. There was not a soul in sight.

He could have sworn that this rock was located near Hermanville-sur-Mer. But that was not the case. Without knowing it, Bub had fallen near the ferry terminal in Ouistreham, the harbour of Caen, and it was pouring rain.

Bub quietly ate his bag of peanuts and looked out over the English Channel, which he only remembered vaguely. Friday’s video was very true to life. In a single leap, he jumped off the rock onto the ground. That’s what it’s like if you’re sporty. He rushed along the sandy path, whistling cheerfully.

Bub asked a man who was passing by,

“Is this Hermanville-sur-Mer?”

The man gave him a funny look. Who was this chap, walking about in this weather without rubber boots or waterproofs?

“No,” he replied. “This isn’t Hermanville-sur-Mer. This is Ouistreham. Hermanville’s over there.”

And, with a sweeping gesture, he pointed at the rainy landscape in the background.

Ouch. Bub, who was naturally intuitive, thought this must be one of Mouse’s practical jokes. She must be curled up with laughter in front of her screen, although this really wasn’t funny. All the same, she could at least have chosen a rock nearer his destination.

Bub gazed at the horizon.

“How can I get to Hermanville-sur-Mer?”

“By riding a bus,” the man replied, making another sweeping gesture. “But the bus might not be running today. It’s the first of January and it’s not a busy day for visitors.”

He was clearly wondering why this strange man was looking for Hermanville-sur-Mer on the first of January.

Bub was still gazing at the horizon.

“Is it possible to walk, if there’s no bus? I really can’t waste any time, you know.”

The man did not know.

“It’s not really impossible to walk, but with this cold … anyway there are people who walk there.”

The man seemed in a hurry. And also, it was cold.

“Just one last question. Where can I find peanuts?”

The man shook his head. He was perplexed.

“There is a café in the ferry terminal. But it’s not certain it’ll be open at this time, and they might not sell peanuts.”

“Where is the café?” Asked Bub.

“Over there,” said the man finally, making a sweeping gesture inland.

Bub carried on walking on a sandy path inland, whistling. He was happy; his French was surfacing in his memory again and it wasn’t difficult to make himself understood.

A few minutes later, he was in the café, which was open.

“A coffee with a drop of milk, please!” Ordered Bub in a booming voice.

It was the very first time he had ordered a coffee with a drop of milk on Earth. It seemed the right thing to do in the circumstances, because he was on a mission to find Coffee’s marble. If he had been on holiday, he would have ordered a beer, preferably a draught beer, or else some wine, a glass of red, a glass of rosé or a glass of white, depending on his mood at the time.

Bub added,

“And I’d like the drop of milk frothed up five centimetres above the coffee, please.”

“You’re three months too early! It’s not the first of April today, it’s the first of January!” Said the proprietor, laughing.

Bub didn’t understand the joke, but he didn’t pursue it. The drop of milk arrived in a little white milk jug. As Bub was a bright spark – to put it mildly – he soon deduced that he had to pour the white drop of milk at an angle into the black coffee, instead of simply pushing it down vertically like they did on Coral. In fact, he achieved a similar result, and the two liquids merged in a creamy blend.

Bub took little sips of his coffee, like a connoisseur. Suddenly, he asked,

“Do you have any peanuts?”

The proprietor pouted doubtfully. Bub’s face went completely white, which for him was a sign of great anxiety.

“Yes, I have four packets left. Here’s one,” said the proprietor, sliding a packet of salted shelled peanuts along the counter.

Bub opened the packet as if it contained fine crystal marbles. He took out the first peanut delicately between the thumb and index finger of his left hand. When the peanut made contact with his palate, he turned green with amazement. How delicious, how wonderfully delicious! These were completely different from the peanuts on Coral. He savoured the hundred and twenty-three peanuts one after the other.

As he paid the bill, he asked the proprietor,

“Is there a bus for Hermanville-sur-Mer today?”

“No, there’s no departure today,” replied the proprietor.

Bub was very annoyed.

“I absolutely have to get to Hermanville-sur-Mer. It’s urgent. I’m going to walk there.”

The proprietor laughed.

“Can’t you wait until the rain stops?”

“No,” said Bub gloomily.

Bub broke out in a cold sweat. He was in such a hurry to leave that he had completely forgotten to call into the planetary foreign exchange office to pick up the envelope of Earthly European money that Chief had ordered, as well as the credit card that went with it. Oh, the proverbial absent-mindedness of the bubble office’s dreamy researchers!

He rummaged feverishly in his pockets. His fingers found a few coins left over from his previous trip. They must have been stuck in the lining. Phew! As long as these coins were still valid.

Bub paid for the coffee, the drop of milk and the packet of a hundred and twenty-three peanuts. The proprietor seemed satisfied with the coins. There was still some money left, so Bub bought the remaining packets of peanuts, three packets, to be precise, one for the left pocket of his trousers and two for the pockets in his shirt. He had exactly the required sum, not a centime more. What a stroke of luck, as they say on Earth.

Bub reached the shore, then dived into the bad weather. A rainy walk for an hour, with the sea on his right all along – an unforgettable moment. He walked briskly, because of the cold. The houses of Hermanville-sur-Mer were now visible and were approaching slowly.

Bub shook himself. Why was Normandy so cold and rainy? He adjusted his clothes, and checked to see if the three packets of peanuts were full of water. No, they seemed perfectly waterproof.

He would willingly have sat on a bench and gazed at the sea, but he was supposed to be on an urgent scientific mission. But he could do it later. That evening, he would go to the end of the sea wall he was seeing in the background, when it was dark and not possible to work any more.

But now it wasn’t the time to dream. He adjusted his cap, walked down the beach, resisting an overwhelming desire to sit on a bench for the rest of the day watching the sea. Moreover, he was more or less certain that Coffee was following his every move on the screen of the intergalactic computer. Up above, on Coral, his friend must have been cheered up to see such a brilliant start to the investigation as he watched it on the screen.

Suddenly, Bub did an abrupt about-turn. What if he asked about the marble in the city hall? There was one chance in a hundred and twenty-three million four hundred and fifty-six thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine that it might be in the lost and found office of the city hall, but why not? Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the Earthly proverb said.

A few moments later, he was walking on the road inland. After walking under the pouring rain for one mile or so, he nervously pushed open the door of the city hall, which was closed. Coffee was watching him, he was sure.

“What are you looking for?” Asked a passer-by walking her dog in the garden of the city hall.

“Where is the lost and found office?” Asked Bub.

“The city hall is closed today. It’s the first of January. You’ll have to come back tomorrow. What have you lost?”

“I’ve lost a marble.”

Then there was a slight pause. The passer-by seemed surprised.

“A marble? I don’t think people hand marbles in.”

Seeing how upset Bub looked, and the way he was gawking at her, she added,

“You know, marbles are two a penny. They don’t even accept lost marbles in the lost and found office. Otherwise there’d be no end to it.”

Bub still looked upset, so the passer-by asked,

“Is this marble especially beautiful? What colour is it?”

“No, it’s an ordinary marble, of no particular colour, but it is important to me.”

“Could you recognise it? You know, all marbles look more or less the same, don’t they?”

“Yes, I could recognise it, I’ve seen it so often. Do you advise me to come back tomorrow, or isn’t it worth it?”

“Oh, it’s not worth coming back for a marble.”

“I’ll come back tomorrow anyway. You never know,” sighed Bub.

Bub’s distressed look still hadn’t gone, so the passer-by started rummaging around in her handbag’s mess.

“Have you lost something?” Asked Bub.

“No. I was just looking to see if I had a replacement marble to give you.”

“Don’t go to all that trouble,” said Bub. “I’ll look for it myself.”

“I wish you well, then,” the passer-by replied, “if you think it’s possible to find a lost marble. You might as well look for a needle in a haystack, as we say here.”

Bub carefully noted this new Earthly expression in the back of his memory. He never wrote anything down. The Earthlings had a lovely proverb for that. It was one of his favourites: “Culture is what remains when everything else is forgotten.” There. If it’s important, we remember it; if it’s not important, we forget about it.

Bub muttered an inaudible goodbye, looked at the library near by that was also closed, and walked back to the beach. After walking back for one mile or so, he sat down on a bench facing the beach and gazed at the area of investigation while opening his third packet of peanuts.

But the tide was high. Well, he would have to wait for the tide to go out to be able to go on the beach, that’s all there was to it. What was the point of getting worked up? You have to let things take their course, as the Earthly expression so rightly says.

Bub watched the pearl waves and the sandy puddles. He had all the time in the world to take in all the little details of the place as he ate his hundred and twenty-three peanuts.

How would he survive during the investigation? He asked himself. This money business was really annoying. He would have to think about this problem in more detail tomorrow.

Could he sell his jacket? But it was cold. Sell his trousers? Ditto. Sell his cap? Maybe, but it suited him, and it did make him look like an Earthly European French Norman.

Bub resolved to put all thoughts of this money business out of his mind. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, as the Earthly proverb said. He would think about it tomorrow.

Only ten metres of beach had been uncovered by the tide, and it was getting dark quickly. There was no point continuing now; he would come back early tomorrow morning.

Bub walked in the direction of the sea wall of Lion-sur-Mer, the next town after Hermanville. He walked down the sea wall and stopped half way in a windbreak corner for the night. His bottom was on the granite wall, with his feet dangling over the edge. He took out the remaining packet of peanuts and squeezed it delicately between his knees. There was no question of letting this last packet be swept into the waves by the north wind. Night was falling, and he felt in tune with the poetry of the place.

Live video, no, sorry, Live English Channel. See you tomorrow.


Next chapter: Second of January


Copyright © 2016 Marie Lebert

Written by marielebert

2012/11/22 at 17:53

Posted in Uncategorized