Marble [6] Second of January

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] [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

On the second of January at dawn, on planet Earth, Bub was cold after staying up all night gazing at the sea. In fact, he was blue with cold and couldn’t move his fingers or toes. For the fingers, it wasn’t too serious, because the last packet of peanuts was now firmly in the past. The cold wasn’t too serious, either. You wouldn’t expect it to be a mild night if you were gazing at the English Channel on the night of the first of January.

Suddenly, while moving around to warm up a little, Bub felt something rough under the left side of his bottom. Groping around with his hand, he pulled out a small, round, flat object that had been stuck between two stones.

“Hurray,” he shouted into the wind, “it’s a coin!”

Bub moved from a sitting position to a standing position. You don’t get anything for nothing, he thought. That was the first Earthly expression of the day, a short expression, just to practice.

His first steps on the sea wall were rather laboured, but walking cleared his head. He made himself a programme for the day, immediately classifying the activities in chronological order, as a true researcher. One: get up at dawn. That was already done. Two: drink a coffee with a drop of milk. This was for soon. Three: go to Hermanville-sur-Mer, hoping that the tide would be out. Four: find some money. Five: buy some peanuts. Six: go to the lost and found office in the city hall; you never know, just in case. But a day divided into six points didn’t augur well. On Coral, he preferred ordinary days divided into three points and busy days divided into seven points. Fortunately, a last point showed quickly. Seven: gaze at the sea, of course.

Before going any further, he would have to tackle point two, probably the best time of the day. He rummaged in the bottom of his pocket with his numb fingers to make sure that the miracle coin was still there, hoping this coin would do. He wasn’t Coffee, but still, some habits in life are essential. For some people, it’s a cigarette; for others, it’s a coffee with Calvados. For him, at least for the time being, it was a coffee with a drop of milk.

Bub walked in the direction of the first café that was open. When he arrived at La Taverne, he pushed the door open with his numb left hand and closed it violently. He apologised, lifting his cap up slightly, a simple movement, which was a great effort for a frozen man. He went up to the counter and asked for,

“A coffee with a drop of milk, please.”

“Do you mean a café crème?” Asked the proprietor.

“Yes,” Bub replied. “For the drop of milk, could it be frothed up five centimetres above the coffee?”

The proprietor didn’t understand this very well, but she could see that this chap was really cold. Moreover, with his accent he was definitely a foreigner, English maybe. The English always had to have milk with their coffee; they couldn’t drink it without.

“Do what you like with the milk,” replied the proprietor. “Here’s the jug of milk.”

“Is it possible to warm the milk?” Asked Bub.

“No problem” Replied the proprietor.

“Do you have any peanuts?” Asked Bub, drinking his coffee.

“No, not here, but you’ll find supermarket nearby. You walk down the Rue des Bains, and turn right,” Replied the proprietor.

“Will this coin be enough to pay for the coffee? I’m not used to the currency here, and in any case I’ve no money.”

“It’s ten centimes short, but it’ll do for now.”

Bub pulled his cap down onto his head. Now he had drunk his coffee he would have to think about the marble. He said goodbye and left, slamming the door. There were no doors on Coral. Next time he would see a door, he would close it instead of slamming it.

Bub walked briskly. The coffee had started to circulate in his bloodstream and had reached the tips of his toes. He spotted the supermarket, where they sold the peanuts, and went back to Hermanville-sur-Mer in a jiffy, to begin the third activity of the day.

He surveyed the landscape with his beady eyes. On Earth, the tide comes in, and ends up as the high tide. Then the tide goes out, and ends up as the low tide, like a gigantic dance that has taken place for many millennia. Bub knew all about it, because he had explained it regularly to an enraptured audience in his lectures about the Earthly seas.

The sea had uncovered the beach of Hermanville-sur-Mer. To work! Bub went down onto the beach and combed the beach with his eyes, inch by inch. Sand, seaweed, rocks; nothing escaped his gaze. He was relying on his amazing intuition to guide him, but his amazing intuition wasn’t telling him anything at the moment. Fortunately, there weren’t many people on the beach. Because we were in winter, no-one was sunbathing on a big beach towel, which would have complicated his search even further.

From time to time, someone or other would ask him,

“Have you lost your watch?”

“No, a marble,” Bub invariably replied.

Taken aback, they would walk away with a sigh or an encouraging remark, such as,

“Well, you’ll be lucky if you find that!”

The hours passed, with no sign of the marble. It must have been at least three o’clock in the afternoon. The tide was coming in, and was now encroaching on his working area. Bub decided to stop. His staring eyes were burning with the effort of working too hard on the thorny problem of the lost marble.

Where was he on his seven-point programme? Oh yes, point four: money problem.

He walked back to Lion-sur-Mer. In Rue Edmond Bellin was a clothes shop named La Compagnie des Cigales (The Cigadas’ Company). It was open. He pushed the door open and closed it again without slamming it.

Bub went straight to the heart of the matter.

“Bonjour, Madame! Look, I’ve a beautiful suit and a lovely cap.”

The lady agreed; it was true.

Bub continued,

“I am a foreigner and I have no money. I want to sell the suit and cap, and buy some cheaper clothes, to get some cash. I’ll keep the shoes, because I walk a lot, and as someone said to me, it’s better to wear shoes you’re used to.”

The lady seemed to understand.

“But can’t you get some money out from the bank or the post office?” She asked. “It would be a pity to sell your suit, it’s really lovely, and you don’t often see them like that, and in such good condition.”

“No, that’s not possible. It would take too long to explain,” Bub replied.

“I mostly sell original clothes coming from Asia,” the lady explained. “But I also have a bag of warm clothes my companion doesn’t use any more, if this can be of some help. May be he himself will be interested in your suit and your cap.”

In the next ten minutes, Bub changed his corduroy suit and matching cap for some slightly washed out jeans, a large, very warm checked shirt, a blue and white striped knitted sailor’s hat – necessary in that weather – and some five euro notes.

With those notes, if his calculations were correct, he would have just enough to last for three days if he only bought the essentials: peanuts and coffees. This time, no hotel, no hot shower, no meal in a restaurant, no fish, no seafood, no beer, no wine, no cinema and no camera rental for a new maritime video. This regime was bordering on depressing. Luckily there was the sea; otherwise, he couldn’t have lasted.

Bub thanked the lady effusively. He was careful not to slam the door. This wasn’t the right time to have to pay for a broken pane of glass while he was on a budget. Large panes of glass were darned expensive. On his last trip he had to pay for three of them.

Point number five of the programme. Bub went into the supermarket after turning right at the end of Rue Edmond Bellin. After plodding up and down nearly all the aisles with the obstinate determination of a carthorse, he finally found a row of packets of peanuts, artistically lined up one behind the other. His mouth started to water and he began to open a packet. A glowering look from a passing housewife with a shopping trolley brought him to his senses immediately. It was true that on Earth you only start eating after you have paid at the checkout.

Bub went through the checkout with five packets, one for each pocket and one for immediate consumption. He had made sure that his new jeans and large checked shirt were both well equipped with two pockets.

What did he still have to do today? Oh yes, sixth point of the programme, the lost and found office in the city hall of Hermanville-sur-Mer. He walked back along the sea before turning left inland. When entering the city hall, he took hold of the door handle carefully so he wouldn’t cause a shower of broken glass.

“Hello, I’ve come to see if by any chance a marble was handed in here on the thirty-first of December.”

“We don’t accept marbles, Sir,” said a smiling woman, “otherwise there would be no end to it.”

She wasn’t at all shocked by Bub’s helpless look and staring eyes. She must have been used to strange questions.

The only easy solution had just been ruled out for once and for all. It was time to drink a draught beer to clear his head. But no, that wasn’t possible on his tight budget.

Go to the library, that was open? Unfortunately he had no time to read books, he was on a mission, and Coffee was watching.

Walking slowly, he dawdled along the beach, checking if the marbre was not hiding there, and taking a few moment in between to watch the sky and the sea gradually change colour.

When night fell, he walked on the sea wall of Lion-sur-Mer and sat down half way in the corner he had found the day before. He squeezed a packet of peanuts between his knees, because of the gusty wind.

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

Next chapter: Third of January

Copyright © 2017 Marie Lebert (text) & Jane Golding (translation)