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Authors: Michele Halberstadt

Mon amie américaine

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The Pianist in the DarkLa Petite

Copyright © Éditions Albin Michel, 2014First published in French asMon amie américaineby Éditions Albin Michel, Paris, in 2014.English translation © Bruce Benderson, 2016

“Comic Strip” lyrics onthis pageby Serge Gainsbourg, from the albumBonnie and Clyde, 1968. Translated from the French by Bill Solly.

Production editor: Yvonne E. Cárdenas

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from Other Press LLC, except in the case of brief quotations in reviews for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, or broadcast. For information write to Other Press LLC, 267 Fifth Avenue, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10016. Or visit our Web site:www.​other​press.​com

The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:

Names: Halberstadt, Michèle. | Benderson, Bruce, translator.

Title: Mon amie américaine / Michèle Halberstadt; translated from the French by Bruce Benderson.

Other titles: Mon amie américaine. English

Description: New York : Other Press, 2016.

Identifiers: LCCN 2015031208| ISBN 9781590517598 (paperback) | ISBN 9781590517604 (e-book)eBook ISBN: 978-1-59051-760-4

Subjects: LCSH: Female friendship—Fiction. | BISAC: FICTION / Contemporary Women. | FICTION / Literary. | FICTION / Psychological.

Classification: LCC PQ2668.A3637 M6613 2016 | DDC 843/.914—dc23 LC record available athttp:​//​lccn.​loc.​gov/​20150​31208

Publisher's Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.


For Arthur, my son


If the sky above you

Grows dark and full of clouds

And that old north wind begins to blow

Keep your head together

And call my name out loud

Soon you'll hear me knocking at your door.




Other Books by This Author

Title Page




Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11Chapter 12Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16Chapter 17Chapter 18Chapter 19Chapter 20Chapter 21Chapter 22Chapter 23Chapter 24

About the Authors

I HAD GONE DOWN TO BUY SOME HONEY COUGH DROPS. There was a ticklish feeling in my throat and my nose was stuffed, the beginnings of a cold. It was ten p.m. and the drugstore was about to close. In the distance, a dance of cranes signaled the putting up of Christmas decorations on the Champs-Elysées, decking out the plane trees with white tulle, which made them look like gigantic candies.

I took the six flights back upstairs on foot to get some air into my lungs and clear out the cold. By the time I'd turned the key in the lock and pushed open the door, Vincent was coming toward me with a rueful look I'd never known before. I'd seen him defeated, depressed — but this was different. It was me he was sorry for, like a doctor with bad news he wished he didn't have to announce.

Instantly I thought of you, so intensely that I said aloud what was already no longer a question but a fact: “Molly.”

His head nodded so sadly that it seemed to move in slow motion. “She's in a coma.”

I raised a hand to interrupt him.

I didn't want an explanation. I didn't want to hear anything, understand anything, discuss anything. I opened the door to the bedroom and carefully closed it behind me.

Alone. I needed to be alone to face the din roaring in my head. It was as if a thousand people had connected to my brain to scramble its data and keep me from thinking.

I sat down in an armchair without turning on the light. A red button was blinking noiselessly on the keys of the telephone. The darkness gave it a scarlet tinge I thought was appropriate, since red was the color of a scream, emergency, fear. The blood in my veins was like an immense wave that had invaded everything and suddenly pulled away. I'd been so warm, and suddenly I felt frozen. My heart was beating to the rhythm of the gleam, which was still blinking imperturbably, giddily, like a flashing ambulance light with the siren cut off.

Images of you passed before my eyes. Dancing with our eyes shut while singing Tina Turner in your kitchen. Trying on every single pair of sunglasses at a shop in the Gare de Lyon without buying any. Disguised as a blonde for a costume party. Wolfing down a hot dog on a London street last week. At the airport, five days ago, buying a carton of cigarettes. Your willowy figure dragging the too heavy suitcase you hadn't wanted to check. Your violet-scented perfume when you kissed me goodbye. Your smile when you came back to shout to me, “Bon voyage!” Your voice hoarse, mocking, inimitable.

I didn't know I could produce so many tears.

MOLLY, I HAVE TO TALK TO YOU. Even if you can't hear me. The words I can't share with you are choking me. So I'll write to you. Not to record my actions, but to tell you what's happening during the undetermined length of your absence. Try to understand how differently we both live. I'm going to try to find the words.

I'm not going to lay them down on paper, as they say. It's a lovely expression, but it's much too gentle. No, I'm banging out my words. My two index fingers dart over the keyboard vehemently. I type the way I am: like an amateur, too fast, too hard, and often hitting the wrong key. Impetuously, imprecisely, like a beginner, everything I hate about myself. The opposite of you, always levelheaded, organized. You type like a girl Friday in the movies, at top speed, a butt hanging from your mouth casually, without ever looking at yourhands, nonchalantly tinkling out your ten-finger ballet.

You've never written me. You'd rather call.

It's two p.m. where you are, in New York. In your office, you just had a bagel with smoked salmon, and you're about to tear into your second pack of menthol cigarettes for the day. But first you dialed my number and, after a few minutes of conversation, I hear you remove the cellophane and slip the cigarette between your lips. It distorts your voice long enough for the first puff, which you inhale as if exulting, with delight.

Now I know that you'll be able to concentrate on what I'm telling you. Or else you're the one who spoke first, then paused, after saying what was on your mind, before you flicked your lighter.

You used to say you'd stop smoking when you found a man to give you children, since a pregnancy was, you'd maintain, the only way to make yourself give up your three packs a day.

You didn't know that illness was another way to achieve abstinence.

There are no smoking sections in intensive care.In German,Kommais pronounced almost the same waycomais in French, but it's spelled differently and means something else. AKommais a comma in German. A pause between two words. In your case, between two territories: sleeping and waking. Rest, Molly, as long as you want. Provided you wake up.

If you knew how much I resent you! How many times in the last ten years have I repeated you ought to see a specialist, instead of “doing the ostrich.” I had a hard time explaining to you what that expression— faire l'autruche— means in French: it means the same asbury your head in the sandin English. And you really got a kick out of that. A few months later, you brought me back some sand from a beach in Bahia and had written with a blue marker on the plastic bottle you'd filled: OPEN. MY HEAD'S INSIDE.

On your planet “Comma,” there's neither sand nor pebbles. Only your consciousness, which it's your job to bring back intact.

Strange how you can tell yourself stories to avoid facing reality. A long weekend without being ableto reach you. It didn't feel normal. I said to myself, We just came back from London, tired and jetlagged, and she must be up to her ears in work. As if that had ever kept you from sending some news, leaving a message, answering mine. There was a holiday that Monday in the United States. During those few days I figured that you'd had to leave. As if you'd take a vacation out of the blue — you, who always plan them because you hate improvising.

I tried to reach your partners. Couldn't. Only reached their secretary's voice mail. Nobody called me back. As for Tom, he's only been your assistant for a few months, and I don't know him. I didn't have the nerve to leave him a message.

The morning of the day you lost consciousness, I was in the bathroom and I heard your horoscope on the radio: “Taurus, today you'll need the love of the people close to you.” Stupidly I took that for a good omen.

IT'S SATURDAY AFTERNOON, AND THE WEATHER'S HORRIBLE. So much the better. It matches the way I feel. I burst into tears in the kitchen a little while ago. The radio was playing a French oldie, “C'est la fête,” and its exuberant cheerfulness grabbed me as only a song can do. A feeling coming from far away, from the deepest reaches of my memory, and going directly to my heart. I was standing in front of the window making tea. That snatch of music pulled the ground out from under me.

In a flash I was sitting down, and the children, who were having their after-school snack, got scared and tumbled into my arms. They'd never seen me cry. What can I say to them?

Clara runs to get the giant kangaroo you gave her. It's her favorite stuffed animal. The thing is so tall that she's been curling up in it for a long time. Benoît gets miffed because he doesn't knowwho we're talking about, so I show him a photo of you. In it you're trying to keep on a straw hat that might have flown away an instant later. You're in a garden, it's sunny, and you're talking to someone who can't be seen, the photographer perhaps. He's managed to immortalize that pout of yours that always comes before a smile. Benoît studies you intensely. He says you're good-looking and adds, “She looks nice, why is she making you cry?” I explain to him that you're lying in a hospital bed, that I don't understand very well why and that you're sleeping so deeply that you don't hear anyone who speaks to you. Clara looks hard at me, as if she has guessed everything that I'm not saying, while Benoît smiles, because the reason seems so obvious to him. “She's waiting for Prince Charming to come and give her a kiss!” I answer that in real life it's sometimes complicated to awaken a princess. He shrugs. “Then you need to lend her your alarm clock.”

If only he were right! I'd set off all the sirens in Manhattan if they could bring you back to life. Not to mention the firemen's here in Paris, which go off at noon on the dot the first Wednesday ofevery month. When I was little, I was convinced that there was a hidden message in that signal. So much noise couldn't be used only to indicate the day and the hour. It was a message in code, and I was willing to stake my life on it. Maybe it was signaling the beginning of the end of the world? Why wasn't anyone paying attention to it? I'd get so frightened that I'd bite the inside of my lips to the point of drawing blood. Then, as if by miracle, the ringing would stop; but I'd keep scanning the sky to spot the moment when it would become night in broad daylight. Then everyone would understand that it was a signal, but it would be too late already …

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