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from The Kingdom of Farfelu

by André Malraux translated by W.B. Keckler

From Paper Moons
     Death inhabited a chamber with immense mirrored walls, reproducing to infinity the furniture in the room. Her furniture seemed to be reddish eiderdown cushions of various sizes. Among them, Her Majesty resembled a giant insect, because of her dinner jacket. She wore it out of modesty, or perhaps from fear of the cold, and despite the perfection of its cut, it fluttered on her, and gave her wings in the breeze.
     A valet entered. He looked old and wizened, but itís also possible that he was a foetus.
      "The Royal Physician waits in attendance until it might please Your Highness bid him enter."
      "It pleases me now."
     He was immediately ushered in. He wore a black frock with a yellow ribbon rosette, a mark of his dignity. His features were rather Japanese.
      "Would Her Highness deign to disrobe?"
     Death removed her dinner jacket and her slacks; two cushions, hopping up, snatched them and carried them off, walking on tiptoes.
      "Iíve already had the very great honor of caring for Your Highness," began the doctor, "a long time ago. My predecessor, the Royal Physician, had retired to his country estate, and Your Highness, who suffered from a slight catarrh, had deigned to believe that my services might be of use to Her."
      "Of course, of course! You and I are old acquaintancesÖ"
      "Had not Your Highness, back then, vertebrae in the Royal Back?"
      "Yes, yes; but I have had them replaced with these, which are aluminum, and much more practical. The maintenance is so simple--after an hour of brisk polishing I am meticulously clean."
      "What? Your Highness must make the Royal Toilet...Herself?"
      "Oh, you know, Iím a good-natured Queen. They always say Death! Death! Truth is, my soul is like a telegraph pole thatís gone sentimental because itís transmitted too many love letters."
      "And to tend to your own toilet, you find it as pleasant as when it was done for you in days of old?"
      "As pleasant! Come off it! My dear man, youíre making fun of me! To let them polish me is one thing--but they used to scrape away half my back!"
     The doctor apologized for speaking in such a manner.
      "This new skeleton," she said, "has turned out to be so much more elegant than the old one...just look, when the sunset strikes it..."
     Death walked to the window: sunlight bounced around her thoracic cavity, and the aluminum glowed like red copper.
      "A novel effect," agreed the physician.
      "Isnít it? And the metalís so delicate, so light. Anyway, we must keep up with Progress. Everything has become mechanical, metallic, dazzling, and yet my beauty remained Gothic. I was slipping into the passé."
      "And you have been able to create a skeleton entirely of aluminum?"
      "No, alas! My joints--see here in my arm for instance--are brass."
      "Brass! Ah! Brass! Amazing! Brass!"
      "That surprises you?"
      "Er...no, Highness, no--it uh...delights me...Yes, delightful! I mean the aesthetics of the thing. Your Highness would permit an auscultation?"
     And she bent over. The doctor gave a little tap to the aluminum and it echoed with a noise that might have come from a mechanical rabbit....

From The Kingdom of Farfelu
     "And me, I sell dragons. They are immortal, and so beautiful that mere contemplation of them overcomes the worst suffering, the most poignant sorrow. They can also be used as barometers; when the crest on their backs is erect, then rain is coming. Sometimes they give good advice too. And I buy them in their native countryÖI also sell this gloomy fish, whose only amusement is to light up each of its eyes in turn, red or white light according to the time of day. Its habits gave rise to the fable of the Sirens, because it inhabits only those shipwrecks that still hold great treasures. Among pearls adding opalescence to the sea, among forgotten green glimmering coins, among clustered jewels scattered by giant crabs, this fish swims, wearing lightly its title: King of Swallowed Riches..."
     Jostled by crowds, I passed sidewalk displays: trays full of orange eggs, rose-colored lime and leaves, tattooed ducks, dehydrated rats translucent as gray jade and tied by their tails into bouquets, trays full of oblong tortoiseshells, tiny paper horses, pictures, delicately colored candies--and flowers, innumerable flowers: sewn into garlands, woven, arranged, bound together, displayed luxuriously or sparely; we never stopped crushing them as we walked on, and their perfume overwhelmed all other smells of the bazaar. The fabric boutiques looked like rays of the sun broken by a prism. Antique dealers displayed magic chests from Siam, little balls to amuse birds, shadowplay theatres shaped like chimeras, Chinese hats, an amputee-incubus, worn-out games of Literature and Vanity....

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