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The Lost Manuscript
Author: Cathy Bonidan

 

 

This is a true story. Or almost …

When we happen to witness a slice of life that occurs before our eyes, we have very little power over where it leads. We observe the protagonists and imagine their feelings, their fears, their hopes.

Of course, sometimes we are wrong.

But we often feel close to the truth and charged with a mission: to recount, one day at a time, the events that we’ve observed. Of course, if we do this, we risk being surprised by the outcome.

And what if the ending disappoints us?

It’s a possibility.

So, if you accept this risk, if you appreciate uncertainty, read these letters, one by one, submitting to the peaceful and unpredictable rhythm of mail delivery …

Only the places and the names of characters have been changed.

 

 

from Anne-Lise Briard

 

RUE DES MORILLONS, PARIS, APRIL 25, 2016

Dear Madam or Sir,

I am sending you this package very late, please forgive me.

After discovering it in room 128, someone else would have immediately handed it over to the reception of the Beau Rivage Hotel; nevertheless, if you were to ask those who know me, they’d tell you just how lazy I can be in my daily life. So don’t take this postponement to mean that I don’t like your book. Not at all. I will even admit to you: I read it.

I had just opened the nightstand to the right of the double bed, which as it happens was quite comfortable, when I was delighted to find the distraction you provided me. You see, I had forgotten to bring a novel to keep me company this weekend on the shore of the Iroise Sea … Since I can’t fall asleep without first reading a few pages, I become very annoying when I’m deprived of the pleasure. Thanks to you, my husband didn’t have to deal with my rotten mood.

Anyway, it was on page 156 that I found—between two chapters—the address to where I’m sending these pages. I hesitated for a long time and, to tell you the truth, my spouse and my children didn’t support my “bizarre” initiative—to use my daughter’s vocabulary, her only excuse being that she’s sixteen years old.

My husband decided it must be an old manuscript turned down by publishing houses and abandoned in a drawer, waiting to attract some desperate reader. My son went even further, arguing that a book in such a bad state and typed on a primitive typewriter must have been lying around in that hotel “for eons” and that its owner would have retrieved it “ages ago” if it held even the slightest interest in their eyes.

I was almost convinced by their arguments, until I arrived at page 164. There, in the margin, was this note:

What’s the point in the end? Don’t lies eventually lead us to the path of truth? And don’t my stories, true or false, come to the same conclusion, don’t they all have the same meaning? So what does it matter if they’re true or false if, in both cases, they signify what I have been and what I am. Sometimes we see more clearly into someone who lies than into someone who tells the truth.

 

I was so surprised to see that quote! I had stumbled upon an anonymous author by chance and discovered that he also was an admirer of my favorite writer. By stealing these few sentences from him, you reinforced the ambiguity of your text. While I was wondering at page 164 whether I was reading fiction or someone’s life story, you sent me, in an aside, a response from Normand …

And then I discovered the poems on the last page, added in pencil, in a slanted handwriting covered with traces of eraser, evidence that someone had deliberated over the right words. Let me assure you that you succeeded. When I read your words, I felt that slight shiver we feel when the lines we’re reading seem to have been written just for us.

It was at that moment, I think, that I decided to thumb my nose at my family’s advice and return the book, without knowing whether I was sending it to a woman, a man, a teenager, or an elderly person, lugging the manuscript from hotel to hotel, like those believers who protect themselves from the wrath of God by carrying a Bible wherever they go.

The only way to get a response was to entrust the package to the postal services, hoping a creative mailman would track you down at the end of the journey (having never sent a package with an address but no addressee, I’m counting on the amused curiosity of an underpaid employee to help me carry out this return).

If you would be so kind as to acknowledge receipt, you’ll find my name and address on the back of the envelope.

Thank you for the enjoyable reading experience you’ve provided me, even if unwittingly.

Sincerely,

Anne-Lise Briard

 

 

from Sylvestre Fahmer to Anne-Lise Briard


LES CHAYETS, LAINVILLE-EN-VEXIN, MAY 2, 2016

I’ve just finished reading your letter for the tenth time … How can I say this so that you’ll understand? This manuscript … it would take so long to explain. And your letter … written by hand and for me alone, reminding me of the letters I received as a child when I was away at summer camp. My mother had that same rushed and slanted handwriting, as if she were trying to recount as much as possible before the mailman arrived. She loved to write and only had the opportunity to do so occasionally. My being away served as an excuse for her to devote herself to that pointless activity, which was put down by everyone around her. Like you, she used terms that were obsolete, practically prohibited, convinced that a fountain pen required more than the everyday lexicon. How she would have appreciated your postponement, thumb my nose, and as it happens! We don’t hear those phrases anymore, especially not in the impersonal and intrusive e-mails that inundate our virtual mailboxes …

So today, once again, I savor the joy and diligence I poured into the responses to my mother, even though I was eager to catch the spelling errors and the vague vocabulary she would always scold me for upon my return. I hope you’ll be more indulgent than she was and keep in mind that I’m out of practice.

I just got your package last night: the address you found belongs to my godfather, who, fortunately, still resides in the same place he’s lived in for the last fifty years …

He was formerly a distinguished chef and it was very difficult for him to accept going into retirement and saying good-bye to his stovetop. That’s why, every Friday night, in his little eighth-floor apartment, he invites a group of regulars to come try out his new culinary inventions. Given that he’s ninety-two years old and has less than perfect vision, you’ll understand why it’s only the adventurous who accept his invitation … Because the mailman is a devotee of the gourmet, unconventional meals organized by my godfather, he’s very familiar with the building and its occupants. So it was easy for him—and even enjoyable—to investigate. After opening the package—and reading the first few pages of the book—he wasted no time making his way through the eight floors of the building to question all the tenants until he finally matched a recipient to that orphan address.

Luckily, my godfather remembered my long-ago writing attempts. He placed the precious package on his dresser and let it gather a layer of dust before he decided to give me a call.

Believe it or not, when I opened it, I could almost smell the salty sea air and hear the rumbling of the surf and the shrieking of the gulls. That feeling has stayed with me since and I’m all the more surprised because I’m not familiar with that region of Brittany where you say you found it. I have never been particularly fond of the sea and, generally speaking, avoid trips and all the disruptions they entail.

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