A novel featuring a Chinese doll, a French woman and a flute

12 December 2006

11. Conversations with Philip

Conversations with Philip had always been wild. He had arrived in the area quite late, had planted his tent on the grass in front of the kitchen and had undertaken to convince Elle that organic agriculture was about to save humanity from its near ending. As Elle did not believe in either the imminent end of the world or organic agriculture, she quickly lacked arguments in this sword fighting of ideas. Specially when this Welshman stressed the guilt or incompetence of France in all fields.

In the car taking them to Auckland they went on fencing.

- "Stop it! let him talk... he's going to be reunited with his girlfriend arriving from England. That'll calm him down!" Liyan was saying with a laugh.

Yes, sure. And me, Elle thought, what is going to calm me down? I could well spend the night with this Philip, it would be fun... In the hostel bedroom in Wellington Elle found herself snug in her sleeping bag on the small bed in the middle between Matt's bed, the impatient teenager going back home to his northern city after a sad stay in the South Island, and Philip's bed, who never stopped whining. Elle was mad at all men on earth, at Him the teaser, at Matt, at Philip... She soon sank into a dreamless sleep.

After a long day's drive from Wellington to Auckland they split in the middle of Queen Street all good friends.

At the hostel in Auckland Liyan advised Elle not to let F-sharp out of her box.

- "Before she was left lying on a shelf in Motueka", Liyan told, "she had belonged to a musician of the New Zealand Philharmonia orchestra. He had given her to his cousin in Nelson one day, that's how F-sharp had landed in the South Island."

- "Well! well!" Elle had exclaimed, "a musician of the Philharmonia! Just that!"
- "Yes, here in Auckland as a matter of fact."

In the hostel room two German ladies were discussing the program of the day. Would they go down to Taupo or up to Whangarei? The two places were attractive: Taupo, a pretty holiday town on the shores of a lake by the same name, said their travel guide book. It could be reached in a few hours by bus to the South. Whangarei, a small harbour mainly peopled by Maoris, was a few hours to the North. What to do?

Elle wanted to sleep all day. The ladies and Liyan were getting on her nerves. She was hardly listening to her going on with her story.

- "When she belonged to the musician, F-sharp had worked at a concerto for flute and oboe for a charity concert. She had fallen in love with the oboe."

Liyan stopped telling. Elle had slipped into her French army sleeping bag and had pulled the zip right up above her head. Liyan heard her cry.

11 December 2006


- "What's wrong Liyan? you make a funny face!" the flute was saying, "we are soon going to meet adventures, you don't want to spend the rest of your days here, do you?... I am keen to leave this place and to be in a city!... a concert with flutes, oboes and clarinets! ha, Liyan, you will see!"

- "Yes but Elle hasn't been able to love Him. I find this very sad," the doll insisted.

- "Do you really want to have my opinion?" F-sharp asked without waiting for an answer. "If she really wanted it, Elle could probably conquer Him, settle with him in his town of the other island and become his beloved woman. Do you see her sitting by the fireplace for the rest of her time?... Even for the love of Him... she would die!"

Elle, back from the supermarket, doublelocked the door. Her six square meter kingdom could be used as a dungeon when needed and she had no intention to come out of it until real departure in three days time.

- "I saw him again at the supermarket," Elle said to Liyan in a monochord tone.

He was shopping with his girlfriend, pushing a trolley full of goods in front of him. Elle had left Cameron make a conversation with them. But at the last moment, at the cash register, Him had come out of an alley and had smiled at her, undressing her with his eyes. Ultimate shiver.

The next morning a knock on the door. Who is it? Elle questioned not too keen to open her dungeon's door onto the outside world.

- "Me!" said Him.

And for the last days of her stay in Motueka Elle picked apples in a neighbouring orchard with Him, under the sun and under the rain, in the euphoria of time suspended just for them... the last three chords of the first movement of some unfinished symphony.

9. Elle told peacefully

Elle told peacefully she had been so scared to see Him again. So scared. She did not want that torture. Passionately wanting a man you live side by side with. Unreachable. A kind of sympathy you keep tearing apart. A refined on going pain. Him must have anticipated this painful moment he was reponsible for, after all. Without greeting her, he had quietly given her instructions for the day. During the morning from a distance on his tractor he had thrown a long glance at her without a smile, that Elle had returned in the same way. 'I love you still' had been Elle's interpretation. Yes but there was no hope.

Days were going by. A kind of complicity had settled in between them. An on going silent understanding which put some balm on the tearing apart.

F-sharp had asked her if she didn't feel like cheating at times. After all...

- "After all, F-sharp," Elle had answered, "if I leave with the memory of having desired with passion, it will be like a miscarriage... that I'll forget. But if I leave with the memory of an ardent physical love, it will be like the death of a new born... I'd rather not..."

In any case Elle knew perfectly well Him would not cheat and she loved him for it all the more.

- "What I don't understand," Liyan had intervened, "is how he can love you so much and stay faithful to the other one. If he loves you, it means he doesn't love the other. And then, why should he be faithful to her?"

Elle thought that Liyan wasn't all that Chinese. According to the little doll passion excused all crimes. That was a French creed. Him was Kiwi and in the anglo creed applicable in this instance, passion was synonymous with dirt, filth, sin.

One day there was no more apples to pick. Plans for departure became more precise. Elle would travel by car with Philip and Matt to Auckland from where she would sail to the tropics. A last visit to the supermarket with Cameron who had volunteered to take her there. Elle would not see Him again, ever.

09 December 2006


- "Have you been living here for very long?" Liyan asked F-sharp instantly.

- "Where? in Motueka?... don't mention it!... it's been years since I was left in my box on a shelf... I was beginning to think I was going to stay there until the end of times when Elle opened the box, put me back together and started to play G's and F's...the other day... Apparently she had been lying on a shelf too for a while because she coudn't even find the notes."

So, Liyan thought, all three were just born to their present existence. What was their life going to be?

- "Life is made of beginnings," F-sharp added as if reading Liyan's thoughts. "When I left my friend the oboe, I thought I was dead, that all was finished, done... and then you see, I am here... happy to play G's and F's with Elle and you."

- "What are we going to do exactly? Elle says we are going to travel to China," Liyan said.

- "I don't have plans for myself," F-sharp answered but the idea to go back to Shanghai to see the place where I was made appeals to me. In any case, you know, life is a music score. You just play it... the best you can!"

When Elle came back from the orchard, the two were still chatting. They were up to wondering whether Elle had seen Him again.

7. This exhausting day

This exhausting day was coming to an end. After saying good night to Liyan, Elle went to bed.But even in the dark of night she was thinking and living her happiness over again wanting to persuade herself that she hadn't just made it up.

There had been once between them a so powerful eye exchange that Elle had shivered. It had been in the orchard near the airfield where they had taken all the equipment, ladders, bins and tractors, to pick red crisp apples called Braeburn. As he was driving by on his tractor, Him, without a smile had stared in her eyes, his light blue gaze going right through her. She had felt the shock down in her womb. She had kept her gaze on him in the same way. Right there, in the space of a few seconds, they had like made love, with all the intensity of their desire. That stare, she had not been dreaming it.

Wrapped up in this memory Elle managed to fall asleep.

For the next two days she played Greensleeves on her flute. In G, and an octave higher. In F, and finally in E minor to sound more pathetic. The last evening, as Elle was about to put the flute away, Liyan intervened:

- "No, don't put her away, don't take her to pieces, otherwise I can't talk to her."

- "But I have to clean her anyway!"

With the check handkerchief around the stick Elle had sponged up in the inside of the three pieces the condensation forming as one blows air into the instrument. She had then put it back together and had left it lying flat on the other bed to keep Liyan company. Early in the morning she had gone back to the orchard.


- "I wonder, Liyan, really I wonder!... Once, my bin was full and I had finished my row, which means a tractor was going to come and get my bin and take me elsewhere. The other tractor was coming along fine when Him bolted out of a row of appletrees and literally swept me off my feet. I was sitting on his mud gard, next to him, my bin of apples in front and another one behind with my ladder on top. Him reversed quickly to get out of the row of trees, by a couple of centimeters only missed the other tractor on the way... It wasn't an ordinary manouver, Liyan, he didn't have to do that if he didn't really want to."

- "Do you think so?"

- "I am sure! Because what followed was a great moment of happiness. We drove to the shed via an outside road and up the hill we both laughed when he opened the throttle to go faster."

- "That doesn't mean a thing,' Liyan intervened.

- "Yes, it does, and a lot. He was happy too. I am sure of that, Liyan."

Elle thought nothing in this story could be proved by algebra in any case.

They had arrived like conquerors in the shed yard and had had to part quickly as if nothing had been because the boss had seen them.

- "Another time again, now listen carefully, I believe this one is evidence. Our team of pickers had been split in two groups, some working in a patch of appletrees with one tractor, and the others in another with the other tractor. Him had decided to put me in the group with the other tractor and for the whole day, I was like punished to see him at all. I thought he had done that to make me understand that there was really nothing betwen us. So, at lunch time, I avoided his eyes, I didn't smile or laugh and probably even pulled a long face. At knock-off time I went to the office to pick up my payslip which I normally would have asked him. And like by magic, he appeared next to me, on the office threshhold, looking at me radiant. He really didn't have to do that, you know, specially as he was laying himself open in front of the boss. But I understood he wanted me to know that..."

Elle could not utter the word. Liyan helped her.

- "That he loved you."

- "Yes, that's right."

Elle said no more.

5. You really don't want to see him

- "You really don't want to see him again?" Liyan asked.

On that question Elle got up from the chair in a jerk, answered nothing, started to dismantle the flute and to clean it with a handkerchief there for that purpose. She put the pieces back in the box which she closed with a sharp click. She placed Liyan on top of it and went out.

At the end of the five rooms was a common kitchen where Elle used to cook her evening meals. Others occupied the other rooms and were cooking their meals there too. It had been a hard day, the rain to start with, and Him. He had been telling her that he was not free, he lived with a girlfriend who worked in the shed packing apples.

She found the others in the middle of a heated conversation on the subject of washing up. The day before there had been a row about it and Elle had been really angry. She had even gone as far as saying that she did not tolerate sharing the kitchen with pigs. That was insulting Brenda's hippy friends, a Berlin applepicker had said, who were pacifists and as such did not tolerate her violent anger. Too much! Coming into the kitchen she saw the zinc sink shining and the crockery tidy on the shelf above.

She ate a lamb chop with carrots, hung around a while sipping her mug of tea, washed up and went back to her room. She sat again at the little desk, placed her chin on her hands and her elbows on the desk, looked at Liyan on the flute box against the wall and said:

- "You know the flute, do you?"

- "No more than you do. We had a bit of a conversation. Her name is F-sharp. She was made in China like me. That's it."

- "And that oboe story, do you think it's true?"

- "I'll ask her if you like," Liyan said.

- "What? If it's true?"

- "No. I'll ask her to tell me about her life" Liyan answered shrugging her shoulders. "And you, your tractor driver story, is it true?"

Good question, Elle thought. She was beginning to doubt it herself. Perhaps had she simply made it up, Him would never have had any feeling for Elle. It was all in Elle's head, only. She tried to re-live her moments of happiness with a more critical eye.

08 December 2006


- "One day I was in a row of appletrees on my own, a little entreprising bird came and was telling me lots of things. It never stopped cheeping and trying to perch on my bag. I was startled. Had never seen such a bird trying to get in touch with someone! Him arrived walking and stretched out his hand. The little bird started talking to him too. It was fabulous, Liyan. It as a 'fantail', he explained, a small bird of New Zealand not scared at all.

Many days later I was again on my own in a row of peartrees this time. I am not the fastest picker, you see, the others finish their rows before I do and they go and pick elsewhere. A young fantail, the same one I believe, was following me from the tree to the bin and up and down the peartree. Him arrived. He stopped his tractor, sat there on it and we got talking. The little bird flew off after a while."

She stopped talking, stared at the wall a long moment reliving this past quarter hour of bliss.

- "Is he handsome?" asked the flute.

Pushing her chair and putting Liyan against the wall, Elle glanced at the flute and went on:

- "He is indeed. I would so much love to love him."

- "But you love him already!" the flute said.

- "I would love to merge my body with his body..."

- "Us, when we love," the flute went on, "we merge our voices together. I was madly in love with an oboe once. It was divine when we merged our voices."

Liyan remained silent.

- "You know," said Elle to the flute, "his tractor has a forklift in front and at the back. The bins of apples have a hollow space underneath so that you can lift them. When he came to get my bin, he drove backward and slid his forklift under my bin. I was watching him do that. I had the feeling he was penetrating me... when he turned around, he had blushed... blast! he had the same thought... I lowered my eyes, I didn't know what to do with myself..."

- "My oboe's name was Remi. The vibrations of his notes used to drive me crazy and when we vibrated together, it was..."

The flute could not find the word. Something in nature creates a great harmony between two beings. She could not explain it.

07 December 2006

3. That's his way

- "That's his way to look at me which makes me happy, you know Liyan", Elle had said holding the doll in her hands sitting at the little school desk facing the wall.

- "And you don't want to see him any more?" Liyan asked.

- "It's as if... he took pleasure looking at me live, watching me be... I don't know how to explain... It's as if the way I do things, just being me, made him happy."

- "A man's eye on you often makes you feel rather ill at ease", said the flute spread out on the bottom bed on the left hand side as you go in since Elle had dropped her there to go back with Him.

Elle turned around and looked at her flute, her mouth wide open.

- "Yes, she is bilingual", Liyan interfered.

What did Elle actually know of this flute? She had just adopted her having found her lying iddle in its case on a shelf at that friend's place where she had been staying. An inscription on the main part of it said: LARK SHANGHAI CHINA M4006.

- "The other day I saw him watch me drink my coffee at morning smoko. I put a lot of coffee, a lot of sugar, not much water, plenty of milk and I gulp that! I had never noticed about it before I saw his eyes on me. Another time he was standing at the end of an alley in the orchard and he was watching me arrive on my bicycle. I changed alley on purpose, he changed too to watch me arrive. Maybe it's the crazy way I drive this old bike that makes him happy! I love watching him drive his tractor as if it was a racing car. I saw him skid in a curve in the muck, I swear Liyan!"

And Elle was going on and on bright with joy as she was recalling her short happy moments, leaving no chance to Liyan to place a word. The flute was listening.

05 December 2006


If Liyan knew nothing much of geography she was about to learn fast. She had been made in China, the bowl where she had bound herself at the papershop in High Street Motueka was in New Zealand and there was this plan of going to Polynesia. After the apple picking season, of course.

One morning Liyan asked Elle to take her to the orchard. Snug in the pocket of her red coat she had seen the ows of apple trees loaded with apples, people harnessed with big bags on their stomachs go up and down ladders, fill up their bags with apples and enmpty them in a big wooden bin. Little by little the rows of apple trees had been emptied of their apples and the people in the evening, tired, had said 'see you tomorrow' to one another.

Liyan hadn't been game enought to come out of the coat's pocket to introduce herself. At lunch time Elle had climbed onto a small table to eat her three sandwiches dangling her legs, without helping Liyan to get to know her workfriends. She was a bit mad at her for this, to have ignored her all day like this. Work! Work! The apple bins had to be filled and too bad for Liyan.

Not very long ago Elle had come home earlier than usual looking funny. She hadn't been whistling away out of the shower, hadn't even had a shower. She had sit at the little desk, had taken Liyan in her hands and had declared she was overworked and that she wouldn't go and pick apples the next day. And not the day after either.

- "I don't want to see him again", she had said straight on.
- "Who?" Liyan had asked.
- "Him!"

That day had been rather hectic. She had left Liyan early in the morning as usual but as it had started raining hard, Elle had come home a few hours later drenched, saying they had stopped working until the rain would cease. Then, dressed in dry clothes, loaded with her half used energy, Elle had started vacuumcleaning, doing her laundrey, and finally, pulling the instrument out of its case, she had been practising scales and sequences on her flute. The door wide open.

All of a sudden Him had appeared. He was there in front of the door, tight here. As a perfect chord with a pause before discordant sounds start again. She was not expecting him. Not at all. In fact he was not coming to see her, he was coming to get her to go back to work because the rain had stopped. And Elle had gone with him, to resume the apple picking, in her nice dry clothes.

The flute, stranded on the bottom bunk bed, had established a conversation with a somewhat astonished Liyan.
- "Yes, I'm bilingual", the flute had explained, "My natural tongue is played in music and the other one, the one you speak, I just picked it up from listening to people."

'A flute that listens, wow!' Liyan had thought. She had then learnt that her name was F-sharp and that she had been made in Shanghai.

- "But that's in China?!" Liyan said.
- "Yes, why? Have you been there?" F-sharp had asked.
- "Yes, no, well... I was made in China too."
- "... Ha..."

Thereupon they had exchanged what they knew about life until Elle came back looking funny.

1. Once upon a time

Once upon a time on a Sunday morning under the Pacific sky, one autumn day in Motueka. It had been raining for three solid days, a well tempered rain, small drops, big drops, clouds dragging upon the ground their load of water. It smelt of mushrooms. Apples and mushrooms.

Liyan was lounging on the small school desk stuck between a wardrobe and two bunk beds on the right as you come in. On the other side of the soom, same setting. On the other school desk, a comb and a hair brush, a tooth brush, a bottle of shower and shampoo liquid marked 'Tahiti'. On the inside of the door, a piece of red motley tahitian mateial.

Liyan was finding herself in this universe by chance. Or was it destiney? A doll with round eyes and the face of a clown, with a ridiculous yellow pointed hat on, she had only just woken up to her existence. In High Street Motueka the other day the papershop was full of people. She was there with other dolls cramped up in a plastic bowl with a sign saying $2.95.

- "Hello you!" she had heard as a hand grabbed her out of the bowl.

Then, in a paper bag on the rack of a bicycle, she had slowly come to the diea that a world existed. Because someone had talked to her. Because she was no longer without a name. Because she was on this bicycle going somewhere.

Elle's kingdom was much bigger than the dolls bowl at the papershop. Liyan felt comfortable. That's where she had just been born in this six square meter room, numbered 1 in the row with four others. Examining her, Elle had said that she had been made in China. But that didn't mean much really as she had round eyes. She had also said that she looked like another doll of her acquaintance called Zoubelle. This Zoubelle must be a distant relative. Very distant eve, as she apparently lived in Europe.

Right across under the window between the two sets of bunk beds, a mattress on the floor was used as a lounge by Elle who used to flop on it when she came back from micking apples. Liyan didn't didn't know much of Elle except that she used to leave every morning on a bicycle and come back in the afternoon, tired but looking contented. She used to come back whistling away from having a shower, with wet untidy hair, a towel on her shoulder and a piece of tahitian material round her body. She used to flop then on the mattress under the window and knit for a while without saying anything.

- "Are you knitting?" Liyan had thrown in to make a conversation.
- "I am. It's for that girlfriend where I stayed. As for me I don't want to wear a jumper. We will leave for the tropics again as soon as the apple picking season is over."

And out of the blue she had added:
- "You Liyan, you're coming with me to Polynesia. Later we will go to China and see where you were made."

About Me


This is not a novel really. It has no plot, no beginning and no end. It is a slice of life, the way it happened, portraying real people. A slice of life set with fantasy. This text is my own bad translation of what I wrote in French between 1996 and 1999.


Copyrights 2006-2010 Frankie Perussault All rights reserved.

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