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Authors: Georges Simenon

Sunday

 

 

SUNDAY

 

 

 

 

by Georges Simenon

 

 

SUNDAY(Dimanche) was first published in France in 1959 and in Great Britain in 1960

Translated from the French by Nigel Ryan

I

II

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IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

 

 

 

SUNDAY

I

H
E
had never needed an alarm, and he had been conscious for some time already, with his eyes shut, of the sun filtering in between the two narrow slits in the shutters, when he finally heard a muffled ringing in the room above.

It was a narrow attic, directly above his head. He knew every corner of it, the iron bedstead and its dark red coverlet, the wash-basin on a carved three-legged wooden stand and the enamel jug on the floor, the scrap of brown matting which was never in place, and he could have sketched the outline of the stains on the whitewashed walls, the narrow black picture frame surrounding a Virgin Mary in a sky blue dress and hanging crooked.

He knew, too, the half wild, spicy smell of Ada, who was always slow to rouse herself from sleep. She had not yet stirred. The alarm was still ringing and Emile was becoming impatient. His wife, motionless beside him in the big walnut bed, must have heard it too, but she would say nothing, would not move so much as her little finger: that was all part of her tactics.

From now onwards it did not matter. The day had come; he had known it without opening his eyes, even before noticing that the sun had risen, or hearing the piping of the birds and the cooing of the two white pigeons.

Ada, upstairs, was turning over in one movement, stretching out a brown arm, her nightdress open to the middle of her bosom, groping with her hand on the marble top of the bedside table.

Sometimes she was so heavily asleep that she would knock over the alarm clock, and it would go on ringing on the floor, but this did not happen today. The ringing stopped. There was another moment of silence, of stillness. At last her naked feet, on the floor, hunted for her slippers.

If Emile had been asked what he was feeling that morning he would have had difficulty in answering. He had been pondering about it before the alarm went off. To tell the truth he did not feel any different from other days, other Sundays. He was not afraid. Nor had he any desire to retreat. He was not impatient, nor excited. He could hear, behind him, the regular breathing of his wife, was aware of her warmth, her smell as well, which he had never grown used to, so different from Ada's, a smell which, towards morning, impregnated the bedroom, at once stale and acrid like sour milk.

In the attic, Ada did not wash. It was not until later, when the bulk of her work was done, that she would go upstairs again for her toilet. She did not put on stockings, or knickers, contented herself with pulling on a reddish cotton dress over her nightdress, which was short.

She could barely have passed a comb through her thick black hair before she opened the door and started down the stairs, sometimes going back a step to retrieve a slipper.

She brushed against his door as she passed, reached the ground floor, and he could still hear her; although even if he had not heard he would have been able to follow her movements in his thoughts, so well did he know the household routine.

She was going into the kitchen, with its red tiling, turning the big key in the glass door before opening the shutters and revealing the clear blue sky, the two gnarled olive trees, the pines beyond the terrace, and, in a hollow between the hills, the gleaming roadstead which led into the harbour of La Napoule.

The two pigeons would be scratching about for food, like hens, in the gravel. Ada stood still for a moment, gradually waking up, gathering strength from the freshness of the morning, and Madame Lavaud must by now have left her little house at Saint-Symphorien, near Pegomas, and begun the climb up the path.

Emile had plenty of time. Bells were ringing, at Pegomas or Mouans-Sartoux. A car was passing somewhere nearby. Ada was lighting the butane heater and grinding the coffee.

It was the day, the Sunday he had fixed a long time ago, but there was nothing to stop him from going back on his decision, letting things go on as they had been going on for almost a year now.

No such temptation came into his head. The idea never occurred to him that he was free to put everything back once again into the melting-pot.

His pulse was beating normally. He was not afraid. He was not overawed. When he finally got up, at the moment when Ada, downstairs, was pouring the water into the coffee and Madame Lavaud's footsteps could be heard, he glanced at his wife, of whom he could see only the shape of her body beneath the sheet, her hair dyed blonde, a pink ear, a closed eye.

It was she who had insisted that there should be no outward changes, that they should go on sleeping in the same room, in the same bed, which had been her parents' bed, so that it did happen, on some nights, that their bodies involuntarily came into contact.

On tiptoe, from habit rather than from fear of waking her, he went into the bathroom and shaved, just as he always did in the morning on Sundays and market days. On other days he came back upstairs later on, like Ada, to wash and shave.

Downstairs the two women were talking in low tones, sitting at the table, having their breakfast.

It was the end of May. There had been heavy rains in April, then some weeks of cold, with the
mistral
blowing three days out of four. A week ago summer had started; the
bise
in the morning blew from the east, to veer slowly over the sea and, falling in the evening, it would leave the night in absolute stillness.

He did not know if Ada was looking at him in any other way than usual, since he avoided watching her. She served him his bowl of coffee, pushed the plate of pizza towards him, and he cut himself a large slice which he ate standing up, looking out of doors, from the threshold.

She knew. He had not given her any details. They had never exchanged many words.

One day during the week, Tuesday, if he remembered rightly, he had simply said to her:

'Next Sunday.'

She did not know why he had chosen a Sunday, nor why he had waited so long, almost a year. Had she thought he was afraid, or that he was sorry for Berthe?

'Are the baskets in the car?'

Apart from a vague good-morning, Madame Lavaud had not opened her mouth and anyone might have thought she was a stranger in the house. She was a round, yet tough, little woman of sixty-two and she had three or four married children somewhere in France. Refusing to be a burden to them, she had for a long time been a maid in the service of a doctor in Cannes, then at a dentist's.

Two years earlier, she had married a second time a man Emile had never seen, whom nobody at La Bastide knew. She had met him, as far as could be gathered, walking in Cannes during one of her weekly days off, while he, a pensioner in the Old People's Home, was also having his Thursday walk.

He was seventy-two. For months she had been going to see him, taking him sweets. One morning everybody had been surprised to see Julia's name in the newspapers amongst the marriage banns.

Afterwards her husband went on living at the Home. She went on working at La Bastide.

Why had they married ? She had never referred to it. Perhaps he had a little money she hoped to inherit? Perhaps she had acted out of pity?

Emile did not bother about it, as he was not one of those people who enjoy pondering and strive to create problems for themselves.

He had done nothing to bring about the present situation. It was not he who had set the drama in motion and in the last resort he would have been hard put to it to say exactly how it had begun.

The difficulty, when one tries to remember things, is to distinguish between what counts and what does not. One is confronted by a litter of minute facts, some of which seem to be important, others to be insignificant; and then one sees one has got it all wrong, one tries to find other causes, realising that those already discovered explain nothing.

Or else, if one is satisfied with over-simple explanations, one ends by reasoning like the newspapers which state:

'Because he was drunk, a lock-keeper has hacked his wife to death with a knife.'

Why was he drunk? And why a knife? Why his wife? Above all, why does nobody ask whether she was not a natural victim?

For if one admits the criminal type of a murderer, one may suppose there is also the type of the natural victim, all of which leads to the conclusion that, in crime, the man or woman killed deserved to be called to account quite as much as the man or woman who did the killing.

It is a complicated business, and Emile did not like thinking about complicated matters. Besides, as he ate his pizza and gazed at a stretch of the Mediterranean at the foot of the Esterel, he was not thinking seriously, or at least not in any
dramatic
fashion.

There were just odd scraps of ideas which floated into his mind. There was no question of solving a problem. He did not pretend to be able to explain things.

He had found himself in a predetermined situation, from which he had to emerge in one way or another. One single solution had occurred to him, one which seemed obvious.

All his efforts had been concentrated on perfecting this solution, which had taken time, just eleven months in fact.

Now that the day had come, it would do no good to re-examine the whole position. Besides, he had not the slightest temptation to do so. What, at most, gave him a strange sensation was to reflect, as the life of the household began in the same pattern as on other Sundays:

'This evening, it will all be over.'

He was in a hurry to grow a few hours older. When he had finished his breakfast, still standing up, and lit his first cigarette, his hand was trembling slightly. Only then did his eyes meet those of Ada, who was pouring him out a second bowl of coffee, and he thought he read a question in them which irritated him.

He had told her:

'Next Sunday.'

Now it was Sunday. She had nothing to feel uneasy about. She would have been wrong, moreover, to have a guilty conscience, for though she was involved in what was about to take place, she was not the principal reason for it.

She was, in fact, the accident. It could have begun in another way, with anybody else, or with nobody.

'I've made a little list for you, Monsieur Emile. Don't forget the Parmesan cheese . . .'

Madame Lavaud, who had donned her coarse blue cloth apron, was filling a jug of water to go and wash the tiled floor of the dining-room and the bar.

La Bastide was almost like a stage setting, a Provençal inn exactly as people from Paris and the North imagine an inn in the South, with a red paved floor, bricks showing round the windows, ochre walls and big glazed china vases. The bar was constructed on some old winepresses and the tables in the dining-room were covered, as a matter of course, with check table-cloths.

The two residents, Mademoiselle Baes and Madame Delcour, who had just got up, would soon be down in their flowered or spotted dresses, large straw hats on their heads, to have their breakfast on the terrace.

They were both Belgian, in their sixties, and both came each year to spend two months on the Riviera.

Emile climbed into the driver's seat of his two-horsepower converted van, and started the engine. When he turned round, just before the hill, he caught sight of Ada standing on the doorstep and felt no emotion.

The road was a difficult one, with a rock-face to the right and a ditch to the left. He no longer noticed it. A little later he was driving along between two hedges, passing in front of a villa, then a small farm, to come out finally at Les Baraques, on the Route Napoleon.

Several motor-cycles were climbing towards Grasse, and on most of them there were young couples. Some of their riders had already stripped off their shirts. Other cars passed him on the way down, with Paris, Swiss or Belgian number-plates.

At Rocheville he turned right, skirted the cemetery wall, then the hospital, went down the Rue Louis-Blanc and crossed the railway bridge. He took the same road three times a week, always tried first to park outside the butcher's, then, if he could not find a space in the narrow Rue Tony-Allard, near the light blue-fronted dairy where he took in his provisions.

The Forville market was in full swing, and to prove that the season had begun several women were to be seen in shorts, even bathing suits, dark glasses hiding their eyes, hats more or less Chinese in shape shading their heads.

It was good to be busy and to have these familiar sights passing before his eyes. He must not forget his list either.

'Well, Monsieur Emile? Many guests?'

The smells of cheeses. Fair-skinned sales-girls, with spotless white aprons.

'Two boarders, the same old ones.'

'They won't be long now. Yesterday we had our first traffic jams on the road.'

He felt in his pocket for the list, gave his order, deciphering with some difficulty Madame Lavaud's handwriting.

At heart he disliked her. She was a foreign element at La Bastide, and he was aware that he knew nothing about her, that she took no part in the life of the household, that she did her job, and nothing more, to make money.

The others too, perhaps. But not in the same way. For example, if Maubi, the gardener, cheated him, he would know how, why, and it would not even be a secret between them. He could have said to him outright:

'Maubi, you're a thief!'

Maubi would probably have smiled, winking as he did so.

The air was becoming hot. Emile moved from the shade into the sun, from the uproar of the market to the silence of the side streets. Opposite the dairy could be seen a shop selling fishing tackle. It was a month since he had been fishing. He would go as soon as it was all over. That reminded him that he had to make sure that Dr. Guerini's boat had left the harbour.

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