Lewis and Anne's first night.

from Les Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir fiction ~5 min read

The man and the two women stopped and smiled broadly back at him. A moment later I found myself sitting with them at a table in a dreary cafeteria; they were all speaking very rapidly and I understood nothing of what they were saying. Brogan was laughing a great deal, his face was animated; he seemed relieved to have escaped from our long tete-a-tete. It was only natural: these people were his friends; they had a lot of things to talk about. What, after all, did he and I have in common? The women seated opposite him were young and pretty. Did they please him? I realized that there must certainly have been young, pretty women in his life; but how could I experience so much anguish over that thought when we hadn't even exchanged a single real kiss? And I was suffering. Far off, very far off at the end of a tunnel, I saw one of the emergency exits that had made me feel so secure that morning. But I was much too tired to reach it, even on my knees. 'What a to-do about not getting kissed!' I tried to tell myself. But I was much too tired to reach it, even on my knees. 'What a to-do about not getting kissed!' I tried to tell myself. But cynicism didn't help. It was no longer important if I was being more or less ridiculous, worthy of my own approval or deserving of my own blame. I had no control over what was happening; bound hand and foot, I had put myself at the mercy of another. What foolishness! I no longer even knew what I had come looking for here; certainly I must have been out of my mind to imagine that a man who was nothing to me could do something for me. When we were out on the street again, and Brogan had taken my arm, I made up my mind to go right back to the hotel and go to sleep.

'I'm glad you had a chance to meet Teddy,' he said. 'He's the pickpocket-writer I told you about. Remember?'

'I remember. And the women, who are they?”

“I don't know them.' Brogan had stopped at a corner. 'If a streetcar doesn't come along, we'll take a cab.'

'A cab,' I thought. 'It's our last chance. If the streetcar comes along, I'll give up; I'll go back to the hotel.' For an infinite moment, I looked at the menacing glitter of the tracks. Brogan hailed a cab. 'Get in,' he said.

I didn't have time to say to myself, 'Now or never.' He was already pressing me to him, a furnace of flesh imprisoning my lips, a tongue was probing my mouth, and my body was rising from the dead. I staggered into the bar as Lazarus reborn must have staggered. The musicians were taking a break and Big Billy came over to our table and sat down. Brogan, his eyes beaming happily, joked with him; I wanted to share his happiness, but I was encumbered by my brand-new body: it was too large, too burning. The orchestra began playing again; I watched the one-legged tap dancer with the shiny, plastered hair doing his number, and my hand trembled as I brought the jigger of whisky to my mouth. What would Brogan do? What would he say? For my part, I wouldn't be able to make a single move, to utter a single word. After what seemed to me a very long time, he asked in a lively voice, 'Do you want to leave?'


'Do you want to go back to the hotel?'

In a whisper which lacerated my throat, I managed to stammer. 'I don't want to leave you.'

'Nor I you,' he said with a smile.

In the cab, he took my mouth again, and then he asked, 'Would you like to sleep at my place?'

'Of course,' I said. Did he imagine I could throw away that body he had just given me? I leaned my head on his shoulder and he put his arm around me.

In the yellow kitchen, where the stove was no longer crackling, he held me fiercely against him. 'Anne! Anne! It's like a dream! I've been so unhappy all day!'

'Unhappy? It's you who tortured me! You couldn't make up your mind to kiss me.'

'I did kiss you and you wiped my chin with your handkerchief. I thought I was on the wrong track.'

'You don't kiss in waiting-rooms! You should have brought me here.'

'But you insisted on having a room at a hotel! I had everything all planned. I'd bought a big steak for dinner, and at ten o'clock I'd have said, "It's too late to find a room."'

'I knew that,' I said. 'But I'm cautious; supposing we hadn't rediscovered each other?'

'What do you mean, rediscover each other? I never lost you.'

We were speaking mouth to mouth and I felt his breath on my lips. I murmured, 'I was so afraid a streetcar would come.'

He laughed boastfully. 'I'd made up my mind to take a cab.' He kissed my brow, my eyelids, my cheeks, and I felt the earth spin. 'You're dead tired. You must go to bed,' he said. Suddenly he looked dismayed. 'Your suitcase!' he said.

'I don't need it.'

He stayed in the kitchen while I undressed; I slipped in between the sheets, under the Mexican blanket. I could hear him walking about, puttering, opening and closing closets as if we were already an old married couple. After so many nights spent in hotel rooms, in guest rooms, it was comforting to feel at home again in that strange bed; the man whom I had chosen and who had chosen me was going to lie down at my side.

'Oh! You're already in bed!' Brogan said. His arms were laden with clean linens, and he looked at me questioningly. 'I wanted to change the sheets.'

'It's not necessary.' He remained standing in the doorway, embarrassed by his ceremonious burden. 'I'm very comfortable,' I said, pulling the warm sheet up to my chin, that sheet in which he had slept the night before. He moved away, came back again.


The way he said it moved me deeply. He threw himself on me and for the first time I spoke his name. 'Lewis!'

'Anne! I'm so happy!'

Suddenly, he was no longer either awkward or modest. His desire transformed me. I who for so long a time had been without taste, without form, again possessed breasts, a belly, flesh; I was as nourishing as bread, as fragrant as earth. It was so miraculous that I didn't think of measuring my time or my pleasure; I know only that before we fell asleep I could hear the gentle chirping of dawn.

—Simone de Beauvoir, Les Mandarins, p. -1