One day the writer Adam Haberberg sits down in front of the ostriches on a bench at the Jardin des Plantes menagerie in Paris and thinks, this is it, I’ve found the poorhouse position. A spontaneous position, he thinks, you can find it only when you’re not trying. One fine day you sit down and there you are, you’re hunched in the poorhouse position. He feels at ease in this position; I feel at ease in it, he thinks, because I’m young and there’s no onus on me to stay like this. In normal times Adam Haberberg soon bounces back, but these are not normal times for him, a man who’s paid six euros to walk a few yards parallel with the Quai Saint-Bernard, then come back again and collapse onto the very first bench, opposite the ostriches in what is undoubtedly the ugliest and least attractive part of the garden.
So, one day, there in front of the ostriches in the Jardin des Plantes, Adam Haberberg sits down. The bench is wet from invisible rain. The two flabby, gray creatures are eating a kind of straw in front of their hut in a totally bare enclosure. The cell phone in his pocket rings. “Hello?” “Did you see the weather?” says the voice. “Enough to make you blow your brains out.” “Forget it. That’s how it goes.” “Where are you?” “In the Jardin des Plantes.” “What are you doing in the Jardin des Plantes?” “Where are you?” “In Lognes. Eldorauto car accessories. In the parking lot.” “What the hell are you doing in Lognes?” “Waiting for Martine. How’s the book?” “Disaster.” “Will I see you?” “I’ll call you back.”
At the brick entrance to the big cats’ house the word shop
looms monstrously. The optometrist, he tells himself, the optometrist was not all that reassuring. On the other hand he was not alarmist. But then would an optometrist be alarmist? Would an optometrist say, Monsieur Haberberg, we can’t exclude the possibility that very soon you’ll have lost the use of your left eye, dear Monsieur Haberberg, what guarantee have we that when you leave here you’ll still be able to cross the street like before? No. The optometrist says, the second angiogram confirms the diagnosis of partial thrombosis in the central vein of the retina. Showing more hemorraging than in the first. This is normal. It’s normal for the edema to deteriorate before beginning to be absorbed. It may take between six months and two years before becoming stabilized, it could deteriorate, remain stable or improve. The optometrist also says, you’re lucky, Monsieur Haberberg, you still have good close vision, you’re not seeing things blurred, you’re not seeing them distorted. And he adds, we must also do a visual field test since the back of the eye you present is of a type that could give rise to glaucoma; this is only a suspicion, but the iris is furrowed and we have no right, you understand, to ignore what might be the start of something. Adam Haberberg is forty-seven. A young age, he thinks, at which to see the murkiness of death winking at him. It had begun with a flickering sensation, it always begins with things like that, he thinks, a flickering, a buzzing, a smarting sensation, these barely perceptible things, little alarm bells ringing. He had covered his right eye with his hand and said to his wife: my vision’s blurred. That’s all we need, was her comment. The sight in my left eye’s all hazy. It’s a speck of dust, it’ll pass. She didn’t give a damn. She’d already left the room, she didn’t give a damn about anything to do with him. The word thrombosis
, modestly articulated a few days later, only irritated her. The word thrombosis
had swept away any residue of indulgence or understanding within Irène’s heart.
Adam Haberberg thinks about Albert out there at Lognes waiting for Martine in the Eldorauto parking lot. He thinks about his wife; he thinks about his eye. He thinks about the catastrophe of his book. He thinks about that animal whose canine teeth project beneath its lower jaw, stooped there in a corner of the garden between two ovals of shrubbery. Solitary, he read on the panel, habitat: the mountain forests of Asia. Solitary, yes, he thought, watching the tailless quadruped trembling as it grazed, but not a solitude like this, the solitude of flat ground, no air, with unappetizing grass and the noise of cars, in that part of the world, shown in red on the panel, which is your habitat, you can see the sky through gaps in the darkness, I’ve never written about mountains, he thinks. When it comes to the footpaths and trails I love, I’m tongue-tied.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Adam Haberberg by Yasmina Reza. Copyright © 2007 by Yasmina Reza. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.