The Belly of Paris
a few pupils and set himself up with little Quenu on rue Royer-Collard at the corner of rue Saint-Jacques in a large bedroom that he furnished with two iron frame beds, a wardrobe, and a table with four chairs. From now on he would raise a child, and he was pleased by this sudden paternity. At first he tried to give Quenu lessons when he came home in the evening, but the thickheaded child barely listened and refused to learn anything. Instead he would start sobbing and recall with nostalgia the days when his mother had let him run in the streets. In despair, Florent stopped the lessons and promised the boy an indefinite vacation. He excused his own weakness by repeatedly arguing that he had not brought the boy to Paris to harass him. His singular code of conduct became making sure that the boy's childhood was a happy one. He adored him, was enthralled by his laughter, took endless delight in being surrounded by the child's well-being and carefree life.
    Florent remained skinny in his threadbare black coat, his face yellowing with the grinding burden of teaching, while Quenu became a cheerful, plump man, a bit slow, barely able to read, but with a pleasant good spirit that nothing could shake. He gave brightness to the large, somber room on the rue Royer-Collard.
    The years went by. Florent, with a devotion like that of his mother, kept Quenu at home as though he were his grown-up, shiftless daughter. He did not even bother Quenu about household tasks, doing the shopping and cooking the food himself. This, Florent reasoned, helped him to escape his own dark thoughts. He had a sad nature and thought he had evil tendencies. In the evening, when he returned home, splattered with mud, his head bowed by his irritation with other people's children, he would be revived by the big, chunky boy whom he found spinning a top on the tile floor. Quenu laughed at his brother's ineptitude at making omelettes and the seriousness with which he prepared a pot-au-feu.When the lamp was put out, Florent sometimes grew sad again as he lay in his bed. He dreamed of returning to his law studies and plotted how to divide his time in order to take courses at the law school. Once he had figured this out, he felt content. But then a slight bout of fever that kept him home for eight days created such a hole in his budget and worried him so much that he dropped all thoughts of returning to his studies.
    His child grew. Florent found a position as instructor at a school on rue de l'Estrapade at a salary of eighteen hundred francs a year. This was a fortune. With some frugality he could even save some money for Quenu. When Quenu was already eighteen years old, Florent was still treating him like a daughter whose dowry must be set aside.
    While his brother was having his brief illness, Quenu too had spent time reflecting. One morning he announced that he wanted to work, that he was now old enough to earn his living. Florent was deeply moved. Just across the street from them lived a watchmaker whom Quenu could see through the curtainless window, leaning over his little table all day, adjusting delicate things and patiently studying them through a magnifying glass. Seduced by this sight, the boy declared a taste for watchmaking. But after fifteen days, he became restless and started crying like a ten-year-old that the work was too complicated and that he would never know “all the dumb little things that go into a watch.”
    Then he decided he would like to be a locksmith but found the work tedious. In the next two years he tried more than ten trades. Florent thought that Quenu was right, that he shouldn't take up a trade if his heart was not in it. Meanwhile, Quenu's noble ambition to earn his own living was putting a serious strain on the budget of the two young men. Since he had started hopping from craft to craft, there had been constant new expenses, the cost of clothing, outside meals, entertaining new colleagues. Florent's eighteen hundred francs were no

Similar Books

Patricia Hagan

Loves Wine

The Promise of Stardust

Priscille Sibley

Reckless

Anne Stuart

Foreigner

Robert J. Sawyer

Touch of Love

E. L. Todd