The Aerostat Room
Edward Gauvin translating the French of Marcel Béalu
My room was unfolding like a giant cardboard box. Walls and ceiling opened without a sound, letting the sky in as I rose silently up. And so, without having left my desk, I soon found myself at such an altitude the earth below was no more than an enormous, purple-fleshed fruit. I felt no fear, just the ineffable joy of knowing that, at the end of this ascent, arcane secrets would be revealed to me. At some point, hearing something like a moan, I bent my head over the abyss to see where the strange noise was from. A sudden awareness of the void and, at the same time, a dreadful sight: beneath my room, someone was clinging to the dining room chandelier, grip slipping, a stare no longer in any way human lifted toward my own. And in this bundle dangling in space, of floating hair, of flesh and fear, I recognized my mother. What madness to try and follow me! I thought, while my throat produced unformed sounds dictated by pity. Quickly, working loose a floorboard, rupturing the plaster, I caught hold of the chandelier and tried to pull it toward me. Suddenly my extraordinary climb came to a halt and, as I continued my efforts, I felt myself descending back to earth bit by bit, as though the living weight I wished to hoist up to my own level drew me instead toward it. After a moment, my room returned to its place, walls and ceiling folded back up, and I heard my mother's voice calling me to dinner.
Edward Gauvin (edwardgauvin.com/blog) has received fellowships and residencies from the NEA, the Clarion and Fulbright Foundations, the Centre National du Livre, Ledig House, the Banff Centre, and the American Literary Translators' Association. His translation of Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud's selected stories A Life on Paper (Small Beer, 2010) was shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award. Other publications have appeared in Conjunctions, Subtropics, World Literature Today, Epiphany, Tin House, PEN America, The Southern Review, F&SF, and the Harvard Review. The winner of the John Dryden Translation prize, he is the contributing editor for Francophone comics at Words Without Borders, and translates comics for Tokypop, First Second, Lerner, and Archaia.
Marcel Béalu (1908-1993) was best known for the delicacy with which he explored dreams and the unreal in poetry, prose, and painting. A retiring figure, he ran a bookstore, by Paris' Jardin du Luxembourg, named Le Pont Traversé after a novel by his friend, critic and editor Jean Paulhan. There he held readings for a small circle of surrealist and fantastical writers; it is said Lacan, among his first customers, purchased Shakespeare's complete works and forgot to pay for them. Béalu also founded the revue of fantastic writing Réalités secrètes (1955-1971). His work includes four novels and more than seven collections of short-shorts, some of which have appeared in Joyland. His 1945 novel L'Expérience de la nuit was translated by Christine Donougher as The Experience of Night (Dedalus, 1997).