Two days ago, I received in the mail an envelope from France. I opened it and discovered within photocopies of two manuscript pages consisting of the following the short story by the authors of the novel “Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist.” Along with this treasure was a note, the details of which I’ve been asked not to divulge. Suffice it to say that there is an underground network of “FOAs” (“Fans of Arsole”), and I now find myself firmly in its ranks, and charged with getting as much of their work as possible translated into English.
Written in 1914, “La Kite Humain” was probably the last short story that Marcel Maurice and Pierre wrote together before their death. It is significantly lighter in tone than the previous short story I translated on this blog, “The Devil in the Ass,” but it is clearly the work of the same nimble and brilliant minds.
THE HUMAN KITE
By Marcel Maurice and Pierre
Translation © 2009 Ricky Sprague
Kay and I lived together in a small but tastefully furnished one bedroom apartment in the beautiful and overpriced city of Paris. We were both happy and content, save for some unsatisfying dealings with our landlord, the sneering, handlebar-moustached cad named Monsieur Tawdry.
I was seated, reading a Le Figaro “Drama In Real Life” from 1909, involving the twin scourges of drinking and syphilis, when Kay walked into the room brandishing a letter.
“My Expensive, we’ve been invited to be in this year’s big parade. Do you want to go?” she said, excitedly.
“Of course,” I said, because I knew it would make her happy.
“Okay, but there is one catch,” she said, placing the letter in my hands. As I read, I visualized the author, our landlord, snarling as he wrote, pausing every so often to rub his hands together in a parody of menace (the letter was unsigned, but in his unmistakable chicken-scratch).
After reading the letter, I looked up at Kay and said, “’The Human Kite’? That sounds terrible!”
“Yes, it sounds terrible,” she said. “But it might also be a lot of fun, if you look at it the right way.”
I started to say something witty, like, “Indeed; from the ground,” but I decided against it and simply said, “You’re right; let’s do it!”
The next week, Kay and I were seated upon the Human Kite’s crossbar. The Human Kite itself was a large aeroglider attached by a long cable to one of the parade floats. (“City of Paris Youth Organization Supports The Wonders of Kiting.”) We were approximately 10 metres above the ground, but our vertigo made it appear at least 15 metres. Kay turned to me and said, “You know, if this were an aeroplane, I’d be very disturbed right now, but I have to say this Human Kite is most enjoyable!” as we waved to spectators along the parade route.
Monsieur Tawdry watched us from a darkened corner, twirling his ebon moustache. His expression became angry as he muttered, “I can’t believe it! They’re actually having fun!” (He had expected, and not unreasonably that because of our vertigo, the experience would terrify us.) “Well, I’ll show them!”
He crouch-walked beside the floats, and surreptitiously climbed into the bottom of the Paris Youth Organization float. Using a long wrench, he dis-attached the cable that anchored the Human Kite to the float, and Kay and I soared off into the welkin, away from the parade, eventually flying south and floating to a beautiful tropical beach with white sands and clear, blue-green water. But everyone was standing on the shore, their bodies showing agitation.
“Why isn’t anyone in the water, when the water looks so clear and inviting?” I asked.
Kay pointed and said, “I think that might be the reason!”
I followed the imaginary line that extended from the tip of her beautiful finger out into the ocean and I saw the huge, great white shark that had been menacing the beach-goers.
We started to lose altitude, since neither of us had any idea of how to operate the Human Kite, and it was obvious that we were going to land in the ocean. Since there was no hope for us, and we were going down anyway, we shifted our bodies in an attempt angle the Kite so that we would hit the shark. As we hit the water, the hard, sharp-pointed front of the Kite’s frame hit the shark in the head, killing it instantly.
Cheers erupted from the beach-bound crowd as they ran splashing back into the water; arms flailing, faces happy. The owner of the luxurious beachside hotel, whose son had been eaten by the shark a week before, gave us a free room for a week.
The next day Kay and I decided to finally make our romantic partnership legal, and we were married. Our unusual story was picked up by the wire news services.
Back in our hometown of Paris, Monsieur Tawdry was sitting in his setee, no doubt feeling smug about having done away with his best tenants. As he flipped through the newspaper he came upon the story about Kay and me killing the shark and then marrying, and this triggered in him a mild heart attack.
When we returned home after our weeklong honeymoon and visited Monsieur Tawdry in the hospital, he explained, “I used to hate you two, so much so that when I saw your joyful story in the paper I actually had a heart attack. Then, when they brought me here to the hospital, they found that suffered from an unusual number of ailments heretofore unknown to me. For this reason, I’m sorry I hated you; I had no reason to, and I’m sorry I dis-attached your Human Kite from the float...”
“It’s okay,” I said. “We’re just glad you’re alright, and that the doctors caught all of those things that were wrong with you in time to cure them all!”
Monsieur Tawdry said, “And I want you to be in the big parade next year, too, only next time I won’t put you in the Human Kite!”
“Actually,” Kay said, “the Human Kite was a lot of fun!”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t mind riding in that thing again!” I added.
The heart string galvanometer to which Monsieur Tawdry had been attached began to beep rapidly. As the nurse walked in to administer drugs to calm his racing heart, Kay and I laughed the laugh of two young, attractive lovers.