The Tiger is a Poe-like thriller, an analysis of post-perestroika economic disintegration (with plenty of black humour included), a treatise on biodiversity, an overview of paleoanthropology, and a completely absorbing read. But its essence is an intricate and measured plea for humans to understand and value our co-existence with the natural world.
Like a Beast, by Joy Sorman, II, translation by Lara Vergnaud
Pim is thinking seriously about it: open a butcher shop in Paris, the city where they work meat the best in the world.
He opens a Bud with one jerk against the edge of the bench and tears rise in his eyes as the head rises into the bottleneck. His lower lids are instantly rimmed with salty liquid and the hop’s froth swells then escapes slowly, sliding along the glass container. It’s overflowing from all sides, Pim dries his tears on the back of his sleeve, licks the bottle rim, the others don’t stop their conversation, make like they didn’t see anything, they know that Pim cries, that he’s been crying since always for no reason. Pim are you sad? No. Are you in pain? No. Are you feeling emotional? No way. But Pim you’re crying. Yeah, you could say that. Hey who shook these beer bottles huh? that’s not cool.
Pim you’re worse than a broad, and their laughter laced with tobacco rings out in cascades, exaggerated by the night’s emptiness.
On the opposing bench three girls drink white wine from the bottle, sitting cross legged, apart from the group, they’re whispering, stories about spineless guys, domineering stepmothers, hysterical little sisters, creepy teachers, unforgettable parties, secrets between girls, friendship and the night. There’s one Pim likes, her short hair, her small breasts, her tight jeans and espadrilles worn like Oriental slippers, which are sliding down, exposing tiny toes with chipping red nail polish.
Pim comes closer, hey ladies can I sit? Ya can’t see we’re talking here? You’re bugging us. Lemme introduce myself, Pim, butcher, and soon with some luck pork butcher and deli man, it’s from me that you’re gonna buy your Sunday roast and slice of ham for junior when you all are women for real. Go on get lost. If you all need me I’m over there on the bench, I’ll wait.
Pim leaves walking backwards, his chartreuse eyes riveted on the girl in the espadrilles, the girl with the defiant chin who holds his yellow, wide-eyed gaze.
Later that night she will go to Pim’s bench. He’s there stretched out, hands crossed behind his head, his long legs tucked under him, the square is nearly deserted now, those who remain sleepy besides their bikes, drunk from alcohol, hash and talking. Pim waited for the girl without really expecting her, she holds out her hand, come on get up I could really go for a steak and fries, he grabs it, it’s warm, so much warmer than the night air.
She’s thinking about it of course. That she’s about to sleep with a guy who carves meat all day long, impossible not to think about it, not to wonder what it’s like. Hands reddened by hemoglobin that are going to pass from a carcass to her breasts, go from one meat to another, expert hands that understand anatomy, hands that are used often, that assess what they’re grabbing, hands impossible to deceive, that manipulate death and now tonight a living and dancing body.
But a completely naked butcher demands trust. She takes off her clothes first, he undresses with his back turned, she discovers, occupying the entire surface of his right shoulder blade, a prime rib tattooed, in deep and realistic vermillion. The drawing, perfectly curved, embedded in the skin, rises like a membrane of blood. She comes closer, pinches, licks, nibbles the colored flesh, so thin in this spot, bites the skin, bold meat jus drips from the drawing, the shape of the tattoo adapts to the body’s first movements, the prime rib quivers and unfurls. She’s never seen anything so beautiful and so strange, pushes the butcher onto the bed, takes a running start and joins him.
Pim runs his hand everywhere he can, identifies out loud the shank, the loin chop and the filet mignon—the words make her laugh and then less so when he passes to the thick flank and the haunch. The apprentice’s body stiff from days of carving, boning and cleaning finally relaxes, becomes supple, his hands decompress, the flesh is pliable, the skin crackles, blood thunders through his veins, he places his fingers on the girl’s temples, they’re throbbing.
© Joy Sorman and Lara Vergnaud, 2014
Published with the collaboration of The French Publishers' Agency.
[Photo: C. Hélie. All rights reserved.]
Joy Sorman was born in 1973. She was awarded the Prix de Flore for her first novel Boys, Boys, Boys (Gallimard, 2005). Gallimard also published her other books, Du bruit, in 2007, Gros oeuvre in 2009, and Paris Gare du Nord in 2011.
Translator Lara Vergnaud.