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  • 7. French Artist Killed in Sunday’s Earthquake

    By Simon Van Booy

    I have long been fascinated by the idea that an entire story—potential, conflict, joy, agony, completion—could be contained in a snapshot. In this story from his luminous debut collection, The Secret Lives of People in Love, Simon Van Booy proves not only that it can, but also that the snapshot itself is optional.
    Words are enough.

    The final moments of her life. Marie-Françoise lay crushed under tons of rubble.

    The fish she had been eating was still in her mouth.

    Her eyes would not open.

    She could sense the darkness that encapsulated her. She could not feel her body, as though during the fall, her soul had slipped out and
    lay waiting for the exact moment when it would disappear from the world.

    Then her life, like a cloud, split open, and she lay motionless in a rain of moments.

    The green telephone in her grandparents’ kitchen next to the plant.

    She could feel the cool plastic of the handle and the sensation of cupping it under her ear. She could hear a voice at the other end of the line that she recognized as her own.

    The weight of her mother’s shoes as she carried them into the bedroom.

    The idea that one day she’d be grown-up and would have to wear such things.

    Running into a friend.

    That time had passed.

    And then the rain of her life stopped, and she was in darkness, her heart pushing slowly against her ribs. Muted noise as though she were

    Then the rain of moments began again until she was drenched by single esoteric details:

    Morning light behind the curtain.

    The smell of classrooms.

    A glass of milk.

    The hope for a father and the imagined pressure of his arms against her.

    Laying her head upon her new boyfriend’s cool back in the morning.

    She had done it twice. It was as important as being born.

    Her grandparents again, but characters in their own stories—walking barefoot in the snowy mud and stepping on a buried hand.

    The end of the war.

    A bungalow in France.

    A daughter.

    A granddaughter.

    Her mother’s elbows as she drove their old brown Renault.

    Marie-Françoise could not feel her body and was unable to shout.

    There was no sound, nothing stirred but the silent movies projected on the inside of her skull.

    She was not so much aware that she was dying as she was that she was still alive. Had she more time, she may have nurtured a hope of
    being rescued. Instead, memory leaked out around her.

    Blowing out candles unsuccessfully—birthday year insignificant, just the aroma of smoke as small fires were extinguished by tiny helping

    Then the sound of footsteps in the hall, and creeping barefoot to find her grandfather dead at the kitchen table with the refrigerator
    door open.

    An egg unbroken on the floor.

    Her grandmother’s screams.

    This memory was not painful to her now. Her life was an open window and she a butterfly.

    If not for her intermittent returns to darkness—the body’s insistence on life—she could have been on vacation, swimming underwater,
    each stroke of her arms in the cool water a complete philosophy.

    And then she smelled her grandmother’s coat, hanging loyally behind the kitchen door with a bag of bags and a broom.

    She wondered if she had lived her entire life from under the collapsed building. That her life was imagined by a self she’d never fully known.

    And then with the expediency of the dying, she immediately fell in love with the darkness and the eight seconds she had left in it—each
    second like a mouthful of food to a starving man.


    From the collection The Secret Lives of People in Love. © 2007 by Simon Van Booy.

    The Secret Lives of People in Love is being reissued by Harper Perennial next week, with an all-new story. Pick up a copy here!

    One Comment

    1. Beauty Salon Plano on February 16, 2010 :

      An Earth-quake causes heavy loss. Experts call for taking adequate precautions to minimize losses. Alarmed by the recurrence of quakes during recent years, should be taken as a signal for a major earthquake.

    2 Trackbacks

    1. […] latest Fifty-Two Stories article is up and this week we have – French Artist Killed in Sunday’s Earthquake by Simon Van […]

    2. […] I was compiling a list of my favorite stories from the book but the list grew too long. French Artist Killed In Sunday’s Earthquake stuck out to me the most. It was not only the most poignant of all the stories but I believe it was also the shortest in the collection. You can read it for free here. […]

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