What You Need from the Night Buy from other retailers

Publication Date: Oct 3, 2023

160 pp


List Price US: $15.99

ISBN: 978-1-63542-350-1

Trim Size: 5.24 x 7.94 x 0.48 in.


List Price US: $8.99

ISBN: 978-1-63542-351-8

What You Need from the Night

A Novel

Fus charges across the pitch. He goes in for a tackle. He likes tackling. He does it well, without throwing his opponent off course too much, but viciously enough to stop him for a moment. Sometimes the other guy fights back, but Fus is big, and when he’s playing he looks mean. He’s been called Fus since he was three. Fus is short for Fussball. Luxembourg-style. No one calls him anything else anymore. He’s Fus to his teachers, to his mates, to me, his dad. I watch him playing every Sunday. Come rain or frost. Leaning on the barrier, apart from the others. The pitch is a long way from everything, framed by poplar trees, with the car park at the bottom of the hill. The little shack used for serving drink and snacks and storing equipment was repainted last year. The grass has been excellent for a few seasons although nobody knows why. And the air’s always cool, even at the height of summer. No noise, just the motorway in the distance, a faint hum that keeps us in the world. A lovely place. You’d almost think it was a pitch for posh people. You’d have to go fifteen kilometers up to Luxembourg to find a better-kept pitch. I have my spot. Far away from the seats, far away from the little group of loyal fans. Also far away from the visiting team’s supporters. A direct view of the only hoarding at the field, the kebab stand that does everything – pizza, tacos, the American (steak and chips in a half-baguette) – or the Stein (white pudding and chips, also in a half-baguette). Some people, like Mohammed, come and shake my hand, “Insh’Allah we’ll destroy ’em – is Fus on form today?” and then go off again. I never get worked up, I never complain like the others do, I just wait for the match to be over.
This is my Sunday morning: I get up at seven, make coffee for Fus, give him a shout, he wakes up straight away without a word of complaint even if he went to bed late the previous evening. I wouldn’t like to have to push it, to have to shake him, but it’s never happened. I say through the door: “Fus, get up, time to get going,” and he’s in the kitchen a few minutes later. We don’t usually speak. If we do, it’s about the previous day’s Metz game. We’re in department 54, but locally we support Metz, not Nancy. That’s just how it is. We always keep an eye on our car when we park it near the stadium. There are idiots everywhere, morons who get worked up at the sight of a “54” registration, and who are quite capable of giving your car a going over. If it’s the day after a match I read him the report from the paper. We have our favorite players, the untouchables. The ones who will leave sooner or later. The club doesn’t know how to keep them. They get lured away as soon as they start to shine. We’re left with the rest, the sloggers, the ones we shout at twenty times a match, telling ourselves that they should get the hell out of here, we’ve had enough of their bullshit. All in all, if they get their jerseys wet, even when they’ve got two left feet, they can stay. We know what we’re worth and we know how to make do.
When I watch Fus play I tell myself that there’s no other life, no life apart from this one. There’s this moment of people shouting, the sound of studs making contact with the grass and pulling away again, the shouts of his teammate, the one he doesn’t get to quite on time, not playing deep enough, that rage they yell from the depths of their throats when scoring or conceding their first goal. A moment when there’s nothing I need to be doing, one of the only moments I still have with Fus. A moment that I wouldn’t lose for anything in the world, the moment I wait for more than anything else throughout the week. The one that gives me nothing but the fact of being there, that resolves nothing, nothing at all. When the game is over Fus doesn’t come back straight away. I don’t wait for him, and he doesn’t show up until his brother and I have nearly finished lunch. “Hey, Fatboy, wash my kit?” “Oh sure, and why would I do that?” “You’re my little brother, don’t worry, I’ll make it up to you.” He picks up his plate, serves himself and goes and sits down in front of afternoon TV.
At five o’clock, when I can face it, I go up to the clubhouse. There are fewer and fewer people there since they stopped doing early evening drinks. It had gone nuts, the guys had stopped working and they just waited for the bottles to come out. There are four or five of us, rarely more than that. Not always the same ones. There’s no need to unfold the big tables the way we did twenty years ago. Most of us don’t work on Mondays. Pensioners, Lucienne – “la” Lucienne, we would say around here – who comes along as she did in her husband’s day, with a cake that she cuts up nicely. Nobody says a word until she’s cut eight lovely slices, all the same size. One or two of the guys have been unemployed since the Dark Ages. The topics are always the same, the village school that can’t last when it’s losing a class every three years, the shops getting boarded up one after the other, the elections. We haven’t won for years. No one here voted for Macron. Nor for that other one either. That Sunday we all stayed at home. Even so, we were a bit relieved that she didn’t go through. And I still wonder, though, if deep down some people mightn’t rather she had.
We hand out the odd leaflet. I don’t think it achieves that much, but there’s one young guy who has a way with words. A guy who can sum up in a page the shit that our coal mines and our lives are drowning in. Jérémy. Not “le” Jérémy, just Jérémy plain and simple, because he’s not from round here and he’s forever taking the piss out of us for putting “le” or “la” in front of everyone’s names. His parents came here fifteen years ago when the engine-casing factory was setting up its new production line. Forty jobs all at once. Unimaginable. If they haven’t launched that line twenty times they’ve never launched it at all. The whole region, the prefect, the deputy, every class in the school turned up to wet themselves about it.
Even the priest who came to bless it several times on the quiet. The journalist from Le Républicain was forever turning up to go on about the conveyor belt, which she reckoned was a symbol, if you could believe that. “Lorraine is industrial and it will remain so.” A pretty blonde doing her job as she was supposed to with suitably optimistic words. She took the photographs as well, and she varied the shots so that the Villerupt–Audun-le-Tiche page didn’t look the same every day. That conveyor belt was a long time being launched, perhaps too long. The day they’d finally trained all the foremen and the operators, the day they’d finally found a way of dealing with the problem of the solvent – not a huge deal, just a leakage of a few centiliters a day that stopped them getting their accreditation – and they were back in the middle of a crisis, one with the banks this time, the one that would ultimately finish off the production line and everything that went with it. The factory could have been spewing out radioactive material and I don’t think I’m lying when I say the village couldn’t have cared less, they’d sooner have drunk water from the toilets than slowed down the launch of that production line. There wasn’t much debate about it at the section, we weren’t all that eco-aware at the time. Still aren’t, in fact. Jérémy was part of what we used to call the “springtime class,” a couple of dozen kids who turned up in March and April whose parents had just been hired, and who had taken a couple of catch-up classes by the start of the following school year.
Jérémy’s twenty-three, a year younger than Fus. At first the two of them were mates. Fus liked him. He brought him to our house a few times, and he didn’t bring a lot of people home. I think he felt a bit ashamed. Of his mother who could barely leave her bed. Maybe of me. Whenever Jérémy came it was a lovely day for my wife. If she had the strength she would get up and make waffles or beignets. She yelled at Fus a bit and said he should have told her, she’d have made the dough sooner, the day before, it would have been a lot better, but she ended up making those beignets of hers, crisp and sugar-glazed. There were enough of them for dinner with a big bowlful left over for the next day. Jérémy and Fus went on seeing each other till middle school. And then Fus’s schoolwork started getting worse. He started bunking off. Not going to class. He had ready-made excuses. Hospital. His mother. His mother’s illness. The few good days that we needed to take advantage of. His mother’s final days. Mourning for his mother. Three terrible years, sixth grade–fifth grade–fourth grade, when he saw me completely powerless. Unable to believe it. Having lost all faith in a recovery that wouldn’t come. Not even capable of giving up smoking. No longer capable of sitting down next to him, when he was crying on his bed, no longer capable of lying to him, telling him that la moman would be fine, that she might come back to us. Just about capable of feeding him and his brother. Just capable of rebuking myself for having children too late. We were both thirty-four when our Gillou was born. By his final year in middle school Fus had stopped keeping up. He dropped the last of the friends he still had from the good times, when the teachers of the littler classes still liked him. The middle-school teachers were a lot less patient. They acted as if there was nothing going on. As if the boy wasn’t spending his Sundays at Bon-Secours. At first he used to take his homework to the hospice, then he did the same as me, he just sat down by the bed, he looked at the bed, his mother in the bed, but most of all the bed, the covers, the way they were arranged. The little flaws in the weave from being boiled and bleached. For hours on end. It was hard to look at la moman, she had turned ugly. Forty-four. You’d have thought she was twenty, thirty years older. Sometimes the nurses made her up a bit but they couldn’t hide the ocher tone that was slowly invading her exhausted face week after week, and particularly her arms sticking out from under the blanket, already at the end of life. Like me, he must sometimes have wanted just not to go to the hospice, just to have a normal Sunday, or else have wished for some kind of freak event to stop us setting off, but it never happened, we had nothing better to do, nothing more urgent, so we went to see la moman at the hospital. Sometimes we had to leave Gillou with the neighbors for the afternoon. On the stroke of eight, when they served dinner, we came out relieved to have left. Sometimes in the summer we were glad we’d opened the window. That we’d taken advantage of one of those hours when she was conscious, and listened with her to the noises coming from the courtyard. We lied to her, we told her she was looking better and that the consultant we’d bumped into in the corridor seemed pleased with her.
Still, I should have pushed him. I watched him slide back little by little. His marks weren’t as good as before, but what did that matter? I used the little energy I still had to go on working, to go on keeping up appearances in front of my colleagues and the boss, to make sure I kept that lousy job. Taking care, exhausted as I was and sometimes a bit pissed, not to do anything stupid. Looking out for short circuits. Looking out for power drops. Overhead cables are a long way up. Get home safe and sound. Because I had to see to it that my two little weirdos got fed, making sure I didn’t start drinking till they’d gone to bed. And then I’d let myself go. Not always. Often, though. That’s how we made it through those three years. The hospice, the Longwy railway depot, sometimes the one at Montigny, the Aubange–Mont-Saint-Martin line, the Woippy marshalling yard, the house, the union branch and the new Bon-Secours. And then the nights away at Sarreguemines and Forbach, seeing to it that the neighbors could keep an eye on Gillou and Fus. Fus who had to prepare the food, ready meals, all he had to do was heat them up: “Be careful, don’t forget the gas, don’t set fire to the house on us. Don’t go to bed too late, if you need to go and see Jacky, he knows you’re on your own this evening.” Fus was a grown-up from the age of thirteen. He had a man’s responsibilities. A good lad, and the house was always spick and span when I came home the next day. He didn’t once go and see Jacky. Not even when the hail shattered the kitchen window, hailstones big as your fist. Not even when Gillou couldn’t sleep, he was frightened because he wanted his mother. Fus had always managed. He did what had to be done. He talked to Gillou, he woke him up the next day, made his breakfast. And still found time to clean up after himself. In other circumstances he would have been a model child, rewarded twenty times, a hundred times, a thousand times over. Here, with all the things that were going on, it had never occurred to me to say thank you. Just “Everything go OK, no mess-ups? We’ll go to the hospice on Sunday.” La moman knew how to look after Fus and Gillou. She went to all the school meetings and insisted that I take a day off and come along too. We were always the first to arrive, sat in the front row, wedged in behind the little primary-school desks. Listening attentively to the teacher’s advice. La moman took notes that she read back to the kids in the evening. She had put Fus down for Latin, because the best ones did Latin, it helped you get a grasp of grammar, it was organization, like maths. Latin and German. They’d have plenty of time to do English in fourth grade. She was ambitious for both of them. “You’ll be engineers with the railway service. There are decent jobs. Doctors too, but most importantly railway engineers.” When her illness was discovered, she talked to me again about the children’s future, but that was just at the start. I didn’t believe in that cancer, and I don’t think she did either. I’d heard the news without paying attention, and then she’d slipped quite quickly into suffering and never recovered from it. Over the last few weeks, when she knew it was over, she hadn’t reviewed her life, she hadn’t issued advice. She’d just looked at us for those small moments when she was conscious. Just observing us, not even smiling. She made me no promises. She left us. She had struggled with her cancer for three years, without ever saying that she was going to make it out the other side. La moman wasn’t one for bragging. I’d once said to her: “You’re going to do it for the kids.” She replied, “I’m the one I’m doing it for.” But I think she riled the doctors, she wasn’t motivated enough, or at least not defiant enough. They waited for her to fight back, to say like the others that she was going to grab this cancer by the seat of its pants and send it packing. But she didn’t say that. That was something for films, for other people. Like final instructions. Too much for her. It wasn’t real life, it wasn’t what her life was like in any case. And nobody at her funeral talked to me about her courage.

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