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The Scents of Marie-Claire

The Scents of Marie-Claire

Habib Selmi
Translated by Fadwa Al Qasem
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 180
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  • Book Info
    The Scents of Marie-Claire
    Book Description:

    This novel from one of Tunisia’s leading writers, the first of his works to be translated into English, narrates a love story in all its stages, in all its glorious and inglorious details. Moment by moment we become acquainted with the morning rituals, the desires of the flesh, the turbulence of the spirit, and even a few unattractive personal habits. It is a journey that takes us inside the nuances of what passes between two lovers, from the first glances of attraction to the final words of anger. It is a journey filled with all the hallmarks of the complex relationship between one man and one woman‹the mystery and the ambiguity, the intricacy and the confusion‹which, in the end, serve to expose its fragility. This is an intimate tale that manages to tell not only the story of two individuals, but also that of the collision of two cultures.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-063-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. 1
    (pp. 1-6)

    “Did you wash?”

    At that time, it was enough for me to nod my head imperceptibly for her to understand what I meant as no one else could. No sooner would I pull out the chair to sit across from her at the breakfast table in the morning than she would ask me this question, in the same tone that had barely changed since she had moved into my apartment.

    After that, we said nothing. We became so absorbed with eating our breakfast, it was as if we were participating in an ancient ritual whose details we’d become highly accustomed...

  3. 2
    (pp. 7-17)

    At first I saw her reflection in the mirror opposite my table.

    Sometimes I would try to recall the image of her that was imprinted in my mind from the moment I had first laid eyes on her, but I could not. When I raised my head, I saw her. I’m not sure whether she noticed my presence or not. I also don’t know when she walked into the café because I didn’t sense any movement, nor did I hear anything around me. I must have been engrossed in reading. She, too, must have been careful not to make a...

  4. 3
    (pp. 18-23)

    I preferred working nights because I liked the night. When I arrived at the hotel, I was usually energetic and in a good mood. I would have slept during the afternoon and had a two- or three-hour nap before lunch; sleeping in the day did not bother me then. I had become so accustomed to it that when I wasn’t working I would spend much of the night tossing and turning in bed or listening to whatever Arabic radio stations I could find.

    I liked leaving my apartment when everyone else was returning home. I would take slow walks alone...

  5. 4
    (pp. 24-36)

    “What strange coincidence brought us together!! A Parisian born in Minelle Menton and a peasant from a small Tunisian village.”

    Marie-Claire laughed as she raised her hands to her face to look at her nails, which were painted to match the color on her lips. She was sitting on a chair that she had placed near the closed window. Her feet and arms were bare, to enjoy whatever warm autumn sun entered though the window into the living room. It was clear that she had had a good night’s sleep and that she had had her breakfast the way she...

  6. 5
    (pp. 37-42)

    I heard the sound of her quick footsteps on the wooden floor, then the door opening and closing, and then her footsteps again on the wooden staircase. I waited a while because I was afraid she would suddenly come back to the apartment, which happened sometimes, because she had forgotten her umbrella, a book to read on the metro, or her cell phone. When I was certain that she was not coming back, I got out of bed.

    I was awake long before the alarm clock went off. I saw Marie-Claire reach out to switch on the little lamp near...

  7. 6
    (pp. 43-55)

    Marie-Claire stretched out her arms. She moved them in the air as if trying to get hold of something unseeable. She had lain down on the only sofa in the small living room. Her legs were slightly raised; her feet were bare, and, as usual, they were touching the sofa’s armrest. Her head was buried in a pillow the color of her hair, which was wrapped in a bun.

    From time to time she closed her eyes or yawned loudly as she looked toward the wall on which she had hung a large, colored painting ofThe Kissby Gustav...

  8. 7
    (pp. 56-60)

    Young Ladislaus was the cause of our first fight. “How could you leave me sleeping on the sofa?” Marie-Claire asked me.

    There was no anger in her voice. Yet her question, which I had not expected at all, upset me—especially as it was the first thing she said to me when I got up in the morning.

    “So that you could be alone all night with your lover, Ladislaus.”

    I don’t know how these words tumbled out of my mouth. It was as if someone else was talking for me. I had no doubt that my jealousy of Ladislaus...

  9. 8
    (pp. 61-66)

    I grabbed her pillow, covered my head with it, and closed my eyes.

    As soon as I woke up, I turned to hold her, but she was not there. The pillow was cold, but her place under the covers was still warm

    I went to work without having seen or touched her, without having smelled the aroma of her sleep. I did not feel her as she yawned, leaned over me, or kissed me. I did not feel her get out of bed, close the door, prepare breakfast, and turn the key in the lock. She must have done everything...

  10. 9
    (pp. 67-71)

    Nothing stays the same.

    That is why we were not really surprised when we went after a while to visit the café where we had first met and found it completely changed. Almost everything about it was different. The counter, the tables and the chairs, the waiters; even the mirrors in which I had first caught sight of Marie-Claire’s face were gone. This made the café seem less spacious and less cozy because of all the bare walls.

    I was not keen on going to any café that evening. I wanted to go straight home. But Marie-Claire called me so...

  11. 10
    (pp. 72-81)

    Marie-Claire kept staring at me, and once we had finished our meal, her stares became more obvious and flirtatious.

    The state of drunkenness that I was in did not dampen my intuition, which told me that she was preparing for another surprise. The longer she stared at me the more I was convinced that the surprise would be bigger than that of the restaurant. I had never known Marie-Claire to smile like that without good reason.

    My intuition proved correct. We had barely taken a few steps from the restaurant when she said, as if unable to contain a secret...

  12. 11
    (pp. 82-87)

    The skies were very clear during the moments that preceded dawn. We walked down what was left of the street where the nightclubs were. We then headed toward the nearest square in search of a taxi. I walked ahead with great strides, ignoring any danger of slipping. From time to time Marie-Claire would catch up with me. She put her hand on my shoulder. She touched my hand. She begged me to slow down and to be careful where I stepped, to avoid slipping. She asked me if I was cold, too. She asked me to wait up for her....

  13. 12
    (pp. 88-97)

    I tried not to make a sound as I opened the door. The room was dark, but there was a faint light entering from the street through the curtains, which were not completely closed, and which also allowed me to see the bed clearly. I approached it slowly. I removed the cover and slid into bed.

    As soon as my head hit the pillow, I realized that I was wearier than I had thought, and that the day, which would be over after a few endless minutes, seemed very long. Unlike other days, my work at the hotel had worn...

  14. 13
    (pp. 98-104)

    I couldn’t bear to see my mother crying so bitterly. I also couldn’t bear the dream ending in this strange and sudden way. I wished that it could have gone on long enough for my mother to forgive my mistake, to be happy with me once again, to go back to the way she’d been, or at least to stop crying so bitterly.

    I was overwhelmed by pain mixed with guilt. I tried convincing myself that everything that had happened to me with my mother, who had died a long time ago, was nothing but a passing dream that I...

  15. 14
    (pp. 105-114)

    I do not think that Marie-Claire loved any word more than she did the word ‘vacation.’ This word had a magical, wondrous effect on her. When she said it, her eyes sparkled, and her round face gave off a combination of spontaneity and calm, making her seem like a happy little child.

    Every year Marie-Claire insisted that we pack our bags and travel. She often said that there could be no holiday without travel. No holiday without adventure, without a delicious tiredness. In the early years, I showed no enthusiasm for traveling unless she agreed to accompany me to Tunisia...

  16. 15
    (pp. 115-120)

    I focused my attention on the plants and I noticed that they had grown taller. Their leaves seemed greener in the morning sun. Marie-Claire leaned over the plants, with her back to me, so that she could feel the plant roots. I glimpsed part of her hips. Usually I did not hesitate or wait. I would approach her immediately and cling to her. She would understand that I desired to take her as she bent over the plants.

    This time I contemplated her hips for a long while, as if seeing them for the first time. When I finally decided...

  17. 16
    (pp. 121-125)

    “Come, I want to show you something.”

    It had not been long since my return home. I was tired that day because I had worked until late afternoon at the hotel, then I had gone to the university where I had given two consecutive lectures that had taken a lot of effort. When I got home, I lay down on the sofa fully dressed. I did not even have the energy to take off my shoes.

    “I will show you something, and then we will take a tour in the city,” said Marie-Claire as she smiled. I stared at her...

  18. 17
    (pp. 126-131)

    Everything about the restaurant where we had our dinner was exceptional.

    The spaciousness that left you feeling safe and comfortable. The traditional Moroccan decor. The round tables that were far apart enough to allow for a conversation that did not resemble whispering and leave you feeling that everyone else was eavesdropping on everything you said. The soft traditional Moroccan music—Melhoun. And most importantly of all, the delicious food and the green mint tea of which we each had three cups—the last on the house as a gift from the owner, who did not stop smiling at us as...

  19. 18
    (pp. 132-138)

    I won’t deny that I felt some measure of joy when Marie-Claire announced that her mother was not feeling well and that she had decided to travel to the country, not only because she would be away for a whole week, but also because she would spend a long time with her mother, whom she had not been to see for over two years. This would surely be an opportunity for them to get closer and understand one another better, something I had always secretly hoped for because of what I felt was a flaw in their relationship.

    It was...

  20. 19
    (pp. 139-143)

    I realized from the moment our eyes met that she knew it was I who had telephoned her the previous day without daring to speak, but contrary to what I expected, she seemed neither annoyed nor upset. In fact she seemed rather pleasant. Had she gathered from my strange silence over the telephone, and especially from the warm welcome I could not hide, that I had missed her and that I was still attached to her despite everything that had happened in our relationship since that morning when she had so harshly spurned me? Had the distance allowed her to...

  21. 20
    (pp. 144-150)

    I had not touched Marie-Claire for a long time. Not because she’d rejected me, which happened sometimes and which I tolerated with some measure of wisdom and patience, but because I could no longer bear the expression that had started to peek through her eyes every time I came near her. It was as though she was saying, as she offered me her cold body, “Take me if you will; I won’t object, but you won’t get anything from me because I won’t give you anything.” Even so, I did not decide to go there; everything that happened and how...

  22. 21
    (pp. 151-155)

    As soon I lay next to her on the bed she put out the light after shooting me a look, which I took to mean that she was upset that I had invaded her private space. She dragged her body to the edge of the bed and turned her back to me. She was completely naked. It had been a long time since I’d seen her like that. I turned to the opposite side. I buried my head in the pillow and began thinking about the verses I had read of the vagrant poets, and the topics I should focus...

  23. 22
    (pp. 156-163)

    I had not seen her in three days.

    I would go home late and find her sleeping, and in the morning when I awoke she would already have left the flat. It was obvious that she had started avoiding me just as I had started avoiding her. Previously, I would see her almost every morning, because the noise she made as she moved around in the living room, had her breakfast, or watered the plants, would wake me up. Sometimes she would look at me half smiling, or she would say something about the weather as if talking to herself....

  24. 23
    (pp. 164-172)

    The living room is bigger and quieter without her. It’s been that way ever since that morning when she had carried off her plants and whatever I had failed to notice of her belongings still left in my apartment. She called me twice in the first weeks after she left to tell me gently and calmly that all my efforts to convince her to return to my home were in vain, because she no longer loved me and she could not imagine for a second living with a man she did not love. It is very important to her to...