No, silly, you’re not swimming

Obeying a sign shaped like a triangle, I left the highway and headed for the sea. Parking lots followed one another, monotonous, crowded with cars baking in the sun. Finally I noticed an out-of-the-way trail and took it. It led to a little stretch of beach, none too clean, but almost empty: only a few people had spread out the colored squares of their towels and were lazing about, naked and ruddy, exposed to the rage of the sun or else half-hidden under the laughable disks of little parasols. This suited me, and I too undressed and went into the water. It was warm and soft, and instead of waking me up, this monotonous, lapping expanse, swollen with a huge repetitious murmur, lulled me to sleep even more, enveloping my dormant body in the sinuous play of its forms and sounds. Naked, I floated on my back, my head borne by the waves, my eyes blind beneath the triumphant sky, pierced at its zenith by the bleak insatiable fire of the sun, and I dreamed I was swimming out to sea, calmly, with patience and rhythm, pitting without exhausting it the strength of my muscles against the inertia of this immense, shapeless, sly mass agitated by a placid, continuous violence; from time to time, my head went under water, and, with eyes closed against the biting salt, I lost all notion of space, I found myself tossed about, overcome, a dull anguish weighing down my limbs that seemed to move like seaweed, with no more force or power, each limb separate from the others and incapable of rediscovering a whole that might have served to give sense and direction to this movement; in my lungs, the air was turning sour, sucking in my ribs; then a contrary surge of the waves would hurl me back to the sky, my mouth open in a circle just above the waves, whipped by seaspray, and I resumed my regular movements, forcing my way through this endless waste. This lasted a long time, until I heard a voice, a young woman with a loud, tinkling laugh: “No, silly, you’re not swimming, you’re dreaming you’re swimming. Do you even know how to swim?”—“Of course I do,” I wanted to protest: but I opened my eyes in vain, I saw no one.

Jonathan Littell, The Fata Morgana Books , transl. Charlotte Mandell, Two Lines Press

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