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2004 An Ordinary Week

By Marc Rugani


An Ordinary Week
            Last night I slept well. Morpheus, god of sleep, didn’t hold me for long in his arms of oblivion, but there was no fitful waking in the small hours. I am up before my alarm rings. I feel good. It’s Monday.
            I pull up the blinds. Outside the land is still dark and my old friends the stars are twinkling at me. I open the French windows to smite the bedbugs and other mites that might be hiding in my carpets and bedding. They don’t like the cold apparently. Good. May they all catch cold and die a miserable death!
            The day before I had picked up in the supermarket some ready-made buckflour Breton pancakes. Brush them with oil, heat them up nicely in my frying pan, add a knob of salted butter, and wolf them down! But I’m a reasonable man, I don’t have more than two of them.
            The news on the radio isn’t a bundle of laughs. Killings in Corsica and Iraq, flooding in the south of the country, American forests burning out of control, unemployment on the rise despite the government’s best efforts, the usual cheerless fare. Happily, the weather forecast is good.
            I head to the bathroom. My new razor blade slides easily across my cheeks; too easily, now I’ve cut myself! On the white foam my red blood seems even redder. And a drop on the carpet. Concentrate on shaving!
            I make my bed, then do my exercises; I have taken my sports shoes out for a long time and my figure is bulging rather. I won’t get the old straight lines back with a few sit-ups, but I do them anyway. There must be some benefit.
            What am I going to wear this week? Each Monday I am faced with this conundrum. I rummage through my cupboards: a black polo short with brown trousers will do, which saves me having to wear a tie. My outfit is a bit sombre, but fits the season.
            I lock the door behind me and now I’m off. Luckily I can walk to work across a park. I turn up my collar, pull down my hat; it’s chilly outside. Hardly anyone around, they’ve already gone to work or else still are still nice and warm at home. I pass a woman running with short little steps, panting like a steam-engine.
            I’m the first in the office. At half past eight they start arriving and we go through the rituals of greeting, “Morning!”, “Morning!”, “How’re things?”. It’s a nice moment. A female colleague’s daughter has fallen ill. Flu is knocking people down like ninepins. I hope I’ll get through it unscathed. It’s twenty minutes before we leave off talking and finally get down to work.
            I don’t see the time pass. One of the sales reps takes up half an hour, then a meeting takes me to ten o’clock, then some telephone calls, my e-mails, a few other odds and ends and suddenly it’s lunchtime! I go to a restaurant with two colleagues; this evening there’s the big match at the Velodrome between Marseilles and Paris St Germain, and it’s the main subject of conversation over the meal. We have carrot vinaigrette to start with, followed by steak and chips, cheese, and an ice-cream to finish.
The afternoon is identical to the morning.
            I leave the office at around half past six. The air has warmed up over the day, but I’m still glad I’m well wrapped up. There’s a lettuce and a pizza in the fridge to keep my stomach happy. There’s a de Niro film on the box.
            The film turns out to be a good one, not a disappointment. I read for half an hour and then turn in for the night.
            Like the day before, I slept well. I don’t what’s happening to me, one good night’s sleep after another is not my way. However, Morpheus is stingy with his favours; it’s only five forty five when I wake.
I get up, raise the blinds, open the windows; the sky is overcast, no rain, no wind. No sunburn today, then. The temperature has risen by a few degrees, my bedbugs can shed their woolly socks and pullovers.
            I fry up my two last remaining Breton pancakes with a feeling of regret. A bowl of hot coffee perks me up and brings my synapses back to life.
            On the radio, two avalanche victims in the Alps have been dug up dead. I never learn anything fresh, it’s always dark, never cheering.
            In front of the mirror, I am careful; one shaving cut is enough. Yesterday’s is still very visible, so no point scarring myself any more. My gums are protesting. The bristles on my toothbrush don’t agree with them. I’ll have to get a new one.
            I’ve got loads of time so I iron three shirts which were hanging on the drying rack.
            Same polo shirt, same trousers; I only change my clothes on Thursday, the polo shirt will last today and tomorrow. I give my shoes a quick brush and then I’m locking up the front door again.
            Outside all is calm, just a couple running for the RER train station. I’m guessing they’ll miss it and will be blue with cold by the time the next arrives in about twenty minutes.
            Once more, I am the first in the office. The cleaners are just finishing off as I arrive, switching off the vacuum cleaners and giving the floors a last, quick polish. I like the quiet of the empty offices in the morning. I check my computer for mail. Nothing, it is as silent as the tomb. I don’t mind at all. I really must finish my budget plan which I’ve been working on for weeks.
            My colleagues start arriving as usual at eight thirty: “Morning!”, “Morning!”, “How are things?”. The daughter isn’t any better, the doctor came a second time, the mother is worried, but not the doctor, it seems.
            I have been able to work undisturbed and have made progress; just a few calculations to do, but I’ve broken the back of it. Feeling chipper, I leave early for lunch, treat myself to a little punch aperitif, which makes me feel even better. Football is the subject again; losing to the hated men of the South is a bitter pill. Could Paris win the championship this year? The general opinion is pessimistic.
            The chef’s osso-buco steak is excellent and I give him my compliments.
            I wasn’t able to finish the budget. Too many things nibbled away at my afternoon and six o’clock rolls up too soon. I do a bit of overtime. No-one will do that budget if I don’t.
            On the way back I get some bread. The shop is busy and twinkling with fairy-lights.
            This evening, I cook up some ratatouille. I like peeling all those courgettes, peppers and onions. It’s delicious on a slice of ham.
            Like every Tuesday, it’s a good film night on the telly. I’m tempted by “Run, Lola, Run” on Channel 5. It turns out to be a good choice.
            I go to bed reliving bits of the film.
            And about time! A sleepless night. Morpheus has abandonned me. I feared as much last night when I saw the full moon peering out of the clouds. This morning my head feels like pumpkin.
            My bedbugs didn’t sleep well either, with me tossing and turning all night. Poor things, I don’t think. Well, they won’t sleep with the windows wide, either.
            Outside the sky is grey, as it often is at this time of year.
            The bread I bought yesterday is good. Spread with chestnut purée, it’s even better. My bowl of coffee only half wakes me up.
            For once the news is looking up; no killings, the Corsicans and the Iraqis are taking a break, the rivers aren’t breaking their banks and the forests in the U.S. are being rained on. The office of statistics is almost optimistic; nothing about unemployment and good growth forecasts. This is feel-good radio!
            My morning wash refreshes me, but my gums are hurting. They, too, had a bad night. My exercises are painful. This morning my whole body is creaking.
            In the park, I pass the lady I saw running on Monday. This time she’s accompanied by a pretty girl. I watch them both, the younger one in particular.
            The lights in the office are shining and the freshly-mopped floor is still damp.
            I have trouble getting down to work. I blame the celestial queen of night, personally. To my satisfaction, I manage to finish my budget. I’ll be able to enjoy the New Year’s celebrations with an easy mind.
            At one moment a robin comes and settles for a nap on my window ledge. I become as quiet as a hunting cat, not to disturb it.
            Already the church clock is striking twelve: lunchtime. Everyone stretches. Some eat at their desks, from a lunch box prepared the day before. Others wrap up warm and go and eat a sandwich in the park. Personally I prefer to delight my taste-buds with a freshly cooked calf’s head. This time, no doubt about it, the chef has surpassed himself. I award him two stars and he blushes with pleasure.
            In the afternoon, a fire alarm forces everybody outside. I almost catch my death, pacing up and down the pavement for half an hour. Some colleagues go and warm up in a nearby café. Inside the building, firemen and the company’s safety officers do their thing. When finally it’s over, I gratefully return to my snug little corner.
            I fritter away the afternoon without any surprises. On the walk home I pass a cyclist being pulled by a large Samoyed dog. The animal seemed happy with the arrangement, the master even more so.
            I’m not hungry. I take a few slices of salami sausage, with a glass of good wine; a baked pear for pudding.
There’s nothing on the box. I think about putting on one of my cassettes. I end up reading in silence, like a monk in his cell.
            When I start blinking owlishly a little later, I head for bed, where my duvet opens its arms to me.
            Everything’s going to hell in a handcart. I am caught in a cycle of sleepless nights. The full moon has made me jittery and insomniac. Getting up is a bore.
            Outside, the friends the stars are winking and waving at me. It’s going to be a lovely day.
            I open the windows wide to set the cold air onto the bedbugs. Death and ruin to them and to their children, and to their children’s children! I can picture them shivering on their hooked legs in the dense forest of my carpet: the icy air is back!
            My chestnut purée is really excellent, I slather it on. The hot trickle of coffee down my throat does me a world of good. The news tells the same old joyless story. I change to FIP for some music instead. Johnny Haliday is singing ‘Marie’. I sing along and my mood gets better.
            The same old mug reflected back at me. I can’t say I like what I see. Black circles round the eyes, sagging skin, wild, flyaway hair. I want a two-way mirror. Cold water, the razor and the brush do little to improve the portrait.
What am I going to wear for the second half of the week? Thursday, like Monday, is a conundrum. I finally plump for a mustard yellow shirt and a wine red tie.
In the park, the full moon is throwing shadows. I look for the running woman and her pretty companion. Two women I don’t recognise, armed with a pooper scooper, are walking their dog; they’re deep in conversation but I can’t catch their words.
            The cleaning team is late and the thunderous noise of vacuum cleaners assaults my ears when I open the door. Nothing is as it should be this morning.
            The computer, too, has switched sides; I tremble when I see the serried ranks of e-mails awaiting me.
            At half past eight the usual round of “morning”, “morning”, “how is it going?” half cheers me up. The daughter is better, the mother is all smiles, ready to chatter on about it for hours.
            And then, what I was afraid of occurred. My manager gave me a ticking off, for no good reason, at least that’s my view. To my colleagues, who are watching out of the corner of their eyes, I feign indifference. Water off a duck’s back.
            And then I find the dishes served up at lunch utterly insipid, horrible even, and I say so. My two-star chef gets sulky. He prefers me in a better mood.
            The afternoon seems never-ending and I work without any pleasure. At six on the dot, I stalk out the door without a word or a sign to anyone.
            My appetite has left me. The remains of the ratatouille are uninviting.
            Fortunately the evening film makes me laugh. I slip under the duvet soon after.
            The moon was merciful tonight and I slept well. Through the clouds it is still shining brightly, but it is now on the wane.
            With my blessing, the rush of cold winter air does its cleansing work. The squatters in my bedding will suffer! My morning crusade against the enemy never fails to cheer me up. May the casualties be countless!
            Outside it is drizzling, a freezing winter rain; the window rail shines ominously.
            The weather forecast on the radio confirms my fears: black ice everywhere, be prepared to slip and slide. More good news!
            I gulp down my breakfast and wash hurriedly without paying attention. My mind is already on the walk to work. Should I wear crampons? Take a walking stick? I really don’t want to end up on my back with my legs in the air like an old tortoise.
            For this last day of the working week I make sure I look sharp. Nicely ironed shirt, sharp creases, perfectly knotted tie.
            I lock the house behind me with a feeling of apprehension. The path ahead is laid with traps and pitfalls. I am likely to come crashing down over and again, god knows how I’ll manage. I can see other strange and hesitant shapes moving in the darkness. One of them performs a sudden pirouette.
            I get in to the office at around a quarter to nine. Nobody’s there. My colleagues who came by car are stuck in a traffic jam. It’s only at nine o’clock that the greeting ritual begins, “morning”, morning”, “how are things?”. Everybody has something to say about the icy conditions. I boast about my prowess as an ice-skater.
            My morning work takes place amidst a constant stream of news from outside. The roads are still icy, traffic isn’t moving. I feel snug in my comfortable office chair.
            At lunchtime I try my luck at the restaurant. The chef has come up with a pot au feu. I tell him it’s good and he graciously forgets yesterday’s harsh words. Over lunch we talk about plans for the weekend. If this weather keeps up, it’ll be telly for everyone.
            The afternoon passes in a flash.
            I’m in no hurry to go home. The prospect of the two days ahead is daunting. I don’t like either Saturday or Sunday. At seven o’clock I turn off the lights with a feeling of regret and set off at a snail’s pace, dawdling along the way. I pass the Samoyed, drawing his master behind him.
            I knock back some spirits, order in a pizza which I eat sitting on the carpet, watching the telly. It’s television pizza take-away carpet evening
            I turn in late, fogged with alcohol.
            I stay in bed until midday. I feel low. Blue. Depressed.
            I don’t feel like getting up. What is there to do?
            On the bedbug front, I abandon the field to my enemies. They have won. I can imagine them joyfully re-occupying the terrain they had lost, sucking on my toes out of sheer spite. I don’t care any more.
            With difficulty, I raise myself from my bed. Outside, it’s grey and fog lies heavily across the land. I was right to stay under my duvet. I find something to chew in the kitchen and then I go back to where I came from.
            I finally emerge at around six o’clock. My head feels swollen like a water-melon and my body is soft and slug-like. It’s dark outside. Darkness suits me just fine.
            Today is worse than yesterday.
            Everything is hopeless, everything is grey, everything is dark, inside and outside.
            The weather is unchanging, it just goes on and on, the barometer is stuck.
            What a dreadful day!
            I wish it were over. I wish it were tomorrow. I can’t wait for Monday.