No time to waste. (Marianne and Fosca, scene 3)

from All Men Are Mortal by Simone de Beauvoir page 265 fiction ~6 min read

"I can hear your heart beating," I said to Marianne.

Day was dawning. My head was lying on her bosom which rose and fell with an even rhythm, and I heard her heart beating dully. Every beat drove a stream of blood into her arteries, and then that same moving blood flowed back again to her heart. Somewhere on a silvery beach, waves, snatchedup by the moon, rose and fell, beating against a shoal. In the heavens, the earth was rushing toward the sun, the moon towards the earth, in an immense, frozen avalanche.

"Of course it's beating," she said.

It seemed perfectly natural to her that the blood streamed through her veins, that the earth she stood upon was in motion. But I had still not grown used to these strange ideas. I listened carefully... the beating of her heart... I heard it. Could not the earth's trembling be heard as well?

She gently pushed me away. "Let me get up," she said.

"You have plenty of time. I'm so comfortable..."

A ray of light filtered through the drapes. In the semidarkness I could see the silk-padded walls,a dresser covered with knickknacks, puffy petticoats thrown helter-skelter over a chair, a bunch of flowers in a vase. All these things were real; they bore no resemblance to the objects of my dreams. And yet those flowers, those porcelain figures, that iris perfume, were not entirely a part of my life either. It seemed to me as if, bounding through eternity, I had landed in a moment of time which had been laid out for someone else.

"But it's late," Marianne said.

"Do you get bored with me?"

"I get bored from not doing anything," she answered. "I have so many things to do."

I let her up. She was anxious to begin her day. I was natural; time did not have the same value for her as it did for me.

"What are these many things you have to do?" I asked.

"First, the upholsterers are coming to fix up the walls of the little salon." She pulled open the drapes. "You haven't told me what color you prefer."

"I don't know."

"But you must have a preference. Almond green or linden green?"

"Almond green."

"You just picked that one at random," she said, slightly annoyed.

She had set about redecorating the house from top to bottom, and it amazed me to see her taking into lengthy consideration the merits of the design of a tapestry or the shade of a piece of silk. Is it worth it, going to all that trouble for a mere thirty or forty years? I thought. It was as if she were preparing herself to settle down for eternity. For a few moments I watched her silently busying herself around the room. She always dressed with great care; she liked clothes and jewels as much as she liked flowers, paintings, books, music, the theater, and politics. I admired the way she gave herself to all things with the same boundless passion. She stopped abruptly in front of the window.

"Where shall we put the bird sanctuary?" she asked. "Next to the big oak tree or under the linden?"

"It might be nice if the brook ran through it," I suggested.

"I think you're right! We'll put it over the brook near the blue cedar." She smiled happily. "You see? You're becoming an excellent adviser."

Almond green or linden green? She was right; if you looked sharply there were hundreds of shades of green and as many of blue; there were more than a thousand varieties of flowers in the meadows, more than a thousand species of butterflies. Every time the sun set behind the hills, the clouds wore different colors. And Marianne herself had so many different faes that I thought I would never know them all.

"Aren't you getting up?" she asked.

"I'm perfectly content just lying here and looking at you."

"My, but you're lazy! And you told me you were going to go back to your experiments with diamonds today."

"Yes, you're right," I said, standing up.

She gave me a worried look. "It seems that if I didn't push you, you'd never set foot in your laboratory. Aren't you curious to know any more if carbon is a pure element or not?"

"Certainly I'm curious. But there's no hurry."

"You always say that. It's funny. I always have the feeling of having so little time before me."

She was brushing her beautiful light-brown hair, hair that would turn white, would fall from her head; and then the skin of her scalp would rot and shrivel and turn to dust. So little time... We would love each other for thirty years, forty years, and then her coffin would be lowered into a grave precisely like the graves in which Caterina and Beatrice were lying. And once again I would become a shadow. I suddenly took held of her and pressed her against me.

"You're right," I said. "There's too little time. A love like ours should never end."

She looked at me tenderly, a little surprised by my sudden burst of passion. "It will end only when we reach our ends, won't it?" She passed her fingers through my hair and added, "If you die before me, I'll kill myself."

I held her tighter. "And I promise you I won't outlive you."

I let her go. Suddenly every minute seemed precious. I hastily dressed and hurried down to the laboratory. A hand was turning on the face of a clock; for the first time in centuries, I wanted to stop it. So little time... Before allowing thirty years to go by, before allowing a year to go by, before tomorrow, her questions had to be answered, for what she did not know today, she would never know. I placed a diamond in a crucible. Would I finally succeed in making it burn? It sparkled, limpid and obstinate, concealing its hard secret somewhere within its transparency. Would I ever discover that secret? Would I discover the secrets of the air, of water, of all the familiar yet mysterious things around me before it was too late? I recalled the old attic with its smell of herbs. the secret was there, hidden in the plants and powders, and I had thought angrily, "Why can't it be discovered today? Petrucchio had passed his life bent over his retorts and he died without knowing. Blood flowed in our veins, the earth was turning, and he did not know it; he would never know it. I felt like turning back the clock and bringing him armfuls of those scientific discoveries which he dreamed so much. But it was impossible; the door was forever closed. And one day another door would close.Marianne too would sink into the past, and I was powerless to leap ahead into future centuries to find and bring back to her the knowledge for which she was so hungry. There was nothing to be done but wait for time to pass, to submit minute after minute to its fastidious unfolding. The diamond's false transparency fascinated me; I finally turned my eyes away. I shouldn't waste my time dreaming, I thought. Thirty years, a year, a day, a mere mortal lifetime. Her hours were counted. My hours were counted.

—Simone de Beauvoir, All Men Are Mortal, p. 265