Plume at the Restaurant

Plume was having lunch at a restaurant, when the maître d’hotel approached, frowned at him and said in a low, mysterious voice, “What you have there on your plate is not on the menu.”

Plume excused himself at once.

–Ah, well—I was in a rush, and didn’t bother to consult the menu. I asked for a pork chop off the top of my head, thinking that perhaps you’d have one, or could find one nearby, but ready to ask for the next thing if no chop was to be had. The waiter didn’t seem to mind—he hurried off and, not long after, brought it here and voila

Naturally, I will pay what I must. It’s a nice little morsel, I won’t deny it. I will pay for it without a moment’s thought. Had I known, I would have gladly chosen some other kind of meat, or perhaps an egg…in any case, I’m not so hungry anymore. I’ll pay you right away.”

But the maître d’hotel didn’t budge. Plume found himself terribly uncomfortable. After a while he looked up and…hmm! It was the owner of the establishment who stood before him now.

Plume excused himself at once.

–I had no idea that pork chops were not on the menu. I didn’t look, because I’m very short-sighted, and I didn’t have my spectacles with me, and then reading always gives me an atrocious headache. I asked for the first thing that came to mind, not so much to state my preference as to invite other suggestions. The waiter was surely preoccupied and didn’t think twice about it; he brought me this, and rather distracted myself, I began to eat, and, well, in short…I’ll pay right now, since you’re here.

But the owner didn’t budge. Plume was making himself feel more and more nervous. As he held out a bill, he suddenly saw the sleeve of a uniform. It was a policeman standing before him now.

Plume excused himself at once.

–So, an old chap comes in here to rest for a bit, when all of the sudden he’s being hollered at…’And for Monsieur? What’ll it be?’ ‘Oh…a glass of beer,’ he says. ‘And then…?’ cries the waiter, in a huff; so, more to get rid of him than anything, ‘Alright, a pork chop!’ The chap has already forgotten about it by the time the chop arrives, but since it’s right there in front of him…

Listen, if you would be so kind as to settle this matter, I’d be very much obliged. This is for you.

And he handed him a note for one hundred francs. When the policeman had gone, Plume thought he was free; but now it was the Chief of Police who stood before him.

Plume excused himself at once.

–You see, a chap has a rendezvous with a friend who doesn’t show up, and he spends all morning looking for him. He knows that his friend crosses this street on his way home from work, so the chap comes in here, takes a table by the window, and since he might be there a while, he asks for a pork chop, just to have something in front of him. Not for one second does he consider eating it. But having it there, he begins to eat without thinking, without even realizing what he’s doing.

You must know that nothing in the world could compel this chap to go to a restaurant. He only ever ate lunch at home. This was a case of pure distraction, of the sort that might affect any restless man…a moment of thoughtlessness, nothing more.

But the Chief of Police had already telephoned the Chief of Security.

“Go on,” he told Plume, handing him the phone. “Explain yourself once and for all. It’s your only chance to be saved.”

Another policeman gave him a hard shove. “You’d better shape up now, hey?” And watching a bunch of firefighters rush in, the owner said, “Look, you! What a disaster for my establishment. A real catastrophe!” He pointed to the dining room, which all the customers had fled in haste.

Now Plume was surrounded by agents. “This is about to get ugly,” one said. “We’re warning you,” said another, “It’d be better to confess the truth. It’s not the first time we’ve dealt with your kind, and we’ll tell you something. When we get this far, it’s serious.

Meanwhile, another big, hulking security guard was leaning on Plume, saying, “Listen, I can’t do anything. It’s orders. If you don’t talk into the phone, I’ll bash your head in. You understand me? Say you understand me! If I don’t hear you say it, I’ll bash your head in.”

By Henri Michaux
translated, from the French, by Katherine Assef

Katie Assef holds a B.A. in French from Sarah Lawrence and is currently an M.F.A. candidate in Fiction from Brooklyn College. She lives in Berkeley, California, where she is working on a novel.

Henri Michaux, born in Belgium in 1899, is best known for his highly idiosyncratic verse and prose poetry (and was also an accomplished painter). Michaux wrote in French, took French citizenship in 1955, and died in 1984 in Paris.