An extract from While Waiting by Marcel Aymé

Translated by Sophie Lewis

‘I’m sick of it,’ said a girl of low reputation. ‘You know what I am, but I wouldn’t recommend joining me. Lots of people, they think that the profession is a good way to get fat. Of course, you’ll find some women who make all their cash during the day, but that kind of punter isn’t my bag. My set are the standard clients, the average clients who fiddle their monthly salary for a bit of fun. [private]Before, I used to make my hundred francs in the end, perhaps a little over, scarcely though. We lived sparingly, my gentleman and I, and we managed to make ends meet and even put a little away in the savings bank. Fernando, his idea was that one day we would buy a little café beside the river Marne. Remember, before the war, these things were by no means impossible. And then, the war could have been good for us, if only the country had been ready for it. But at every level there’s been too much complacency, we French are too devoted to pleasure. Mistakes were made rounding people up. Top to bottom, it’s a total black-out.

Still, we didn’t suffer too much during the Phoney Fight, on the contrary. There were people about, men weren’t scarce, they still wanted a bit of skirt. Even after, when the Germans came charging into Paris, we had a good time. They sent all their military men to visit Paris. Now, the military has wised up. Quite finished, it is, that tourism stage. On top of that, you’ve hardly the time to get any work in. In this season it’s already dark at six. You have to work in the cafés. The drinks are dear and we do add up to a lot of single women and, for the client, atmosphere-wise, it’s really not the same as the streets. And it doesn’t do me any favours either. You know some women have that wicked eye or come-on cleavage. My best feature, don’t know if you saw already, is from my feet up to my waist, but I can hardly sit on the table. And some of the women can speak German, that helps quite a bit with the military. Fernando, he wanted me to learn it, he used to send me to a school for it every morning. But I didn’t understand a thing, I dropped out.

See my problem is, even our slang, I’ve never managed to get the hang of it. My education’s a problem too. We never spoke slang at home. My old folks, they’d never put up with it. For them it came down to work, work, work. A day of work for an evening out. In a way, they weren’t wrong. Today, for whatever it brings in, it’s evenings out every time. Prices really have gone up a bit, but with what everything costs these days, it doesn’t matter so much. To keep a roof and feed a man, you realise the difference. Besides which, I need underwear, silk stockings, and Fernando has to wear something too. He’s a bit of a dandy, you ought to see him. At least he has to be if he wants work. I know some women, their men work things out fixing up deals on the black market. But Fernando, well he’s much too frightened and anyway, he has no idea. Sometimes, when I’m feeling low, he makes me angry, I clobber him proper with my boots, but I regret it after, I think that’s his weedy nature, what can you do, poor bugger. Perhaps you know him? Yes! A skinny fellow in a beige overcoat, one shoulder higher than the other, with a face like a slice out of the moon. In our trade, before the war, the fashion was to shack up with crooks, runts, moron types. You remember what we used to sing: He’s a real little midget, no higher than a Basset. With that type of thinking, there’s no chance of us winning the war. Because, make no mistake, morality is about how you’re brought up. In any case, now I have my scruffy rascal to myself. With that one I can sleep sound, they won’t be sending him to Germany.’

‘As for me,’ said an old lady, ‘it’s now a fortnight since I’ve had anything over to feed my cat. His name is Kiki.’

‘And me,’ said a man, ‘in the name of God and all his billion holy hosts. Won’t they give us some wine? I can’t go on. I can’t! I can’t! Their rations are no better than a kick in the backside. I’m used to drinking six litres of wine a day, four aperitifs and a glass of brandy after the Camembert. I was as strong as the Pont Neuf, never a day off sick and always ready for work in the morning. Now look at me, I’m fifty-four and no good to anyone any longer, of course. I’ve left my plumbing work, I shake all over, see my hands, you’d put me at ninety, my legs are shivery, they feel like lead and I keep losing my thread all the time. How would you explain it? I tell you, strong as the Pont Neuf. Like the Pont Neuf, as solid as that. Good God, the Pont Neuf! But no wine. What can you do without wine? Take away the wine and you’ll destroy the man. I can feel a fire inside me. I can’t take it any more, I tell you. I can’t take it! A litre of wine per week. Murderers.

My wife, she gets her litre too, but would you believe it, she drinks it all, leaves me none. Yesterday morning, we’d got our ration. In the evening, my wife kept a glassful at the bottom of her bottle. I couldn’t hold back, I wanted to take it from her. In actual fact, I couldn’t help myself. We were like lunatics, both of us, she threw a plate at my head. The Pont Neuf. Ah! They never suspected what evil they would do with their rationing.

My little boy who’s nearly thirteen, he gets nothing. But he has needs too. A boy well cared for, he’s never lacked for wine. At the age of three, he was already glugging down his glass of red with all his meals. We were getting him used to it little by little. Had to watch not to overdo it. Enough is enough, but this is too much, too much. The Pont Neuf. At nine he was drinking his litre a day and often a litre and a half. How is a child meant to get on when he has nothing left in him? And my son particularly, he lacks my strong disposition. He’s always been scrawny, weak nerves, festering boils. All he had to keep him going was his little daily litre to drink. Now he has to drink water. If that isn’t vile. The Pont Neuf. And he’s still young, he’ll be able to catch up. But I, a man of fifty-plus, keep it up on a litre a week? A litre. No, one litre. And to have to wait for it for days. I can’t go on!'[/private]

Extracted from While Waiting, a short story from Marcel Aymé's collection The Man Who Walked through Walls, to be published by Pushkin Press in February 2012.  See


Marcel Aymé

AUTHOR: Marcel Aymé (1902-1967) is considered one of the great French writers of the twentieth-century. A devoted Parisian, he was a prolific journalist, novelist, essayist and playwright. He is best known for his short stories—the most famous of which is Le Passe-Muraille, which exhibits his hallmark blend of fantasy, humour and irony.

Sophie Lewis

TRANSLATOR: Sophie Lewis specialises in translating short prose from French. Her forthcoming publications include Thérèse and Isabelle, a ground-breaking feminist novella by Violette Leduc, for Salammbô Press. She is currently working on Sans Dessus Dessous, a novel by Jules Verne, for Hesperus Press. She is also Editor-at-Large at And Other Stories press (

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