He had written about his desire for me several times in letters, but on the evening we had decided to spend together he seemed intimidated, hardly speaking. Doubtless because he’s a student, much younger than me, and I write books. After the theatre – his arm and mine had often touched on the armrest – I invited him for a drink. We went to a pub in rue Monsieur-le-Prince. I was no longer sure I wanted to make love with him, though for several weeks I had been longing for the relationship to develop. He was sitting opposite me, watching me speak. At the low tables nearby, there were groups of young men and women, sitting on stools. The waitress in a black mini-skirt kept passing by our table. He was drinking a cocktail with alcohol, mine was just fruit juice. It was a moment when all the details of your surroundings seem to have a meaning, because nothing has happened yet, perhaps nothing will happen.
When we left the pub, I invited him back to my house for another drink. He accepted immediately. I still didn’t know whether I wanted to make love with him. I was giving myself more time to decide, whilst at the same time realizing that in taking him to my house I was making this scenario more and more likely. In the car I put on a cassette of pop songs. Every time I changed gear, my hand brushed past his leg.
In the living-room we sat in armchairs quite a long way apart from each other, without any real conversation (‘Do you like sake?’ etc.), waiting. It was up to me to make a move, to begin. It was obvious that nothing would happen unless I took the initiative.
I didn’t think about exactly what I should do, I just thought that I had to do something. I got up from my chair, walked towards him, and stroked his hair. He pressed his head against my body, then he got up and held me in a violent embrace. I could feel the as yet unknown penis pushing against me through our clothes, with a force and rigidity that explained his silence that evening.
After he left, the next day, I re-ran the scenes of the night, the sight of his body, his penis at the moment I first saw it – always an indescribable moment – later half imprisoned in a condom which was too small. I kept going back to my gesture, my hand in his hair, without which nothing would have happened. The memory of this gesture, more than anything else, filled me with intense, almost orgasmic pleasure.1 It occurred to me that it was of the same nature as the act of writing the opening sentence of a book. That it was based on the same desire to intervene in the world, to open a story. It seemed to me that for a woman, the freedom to write without shame is connected to that of being the first to touch a man’s body with desire.
We made love on a Sunday in October, I was lying on a piece of drawing paper spread out on the bed. He wanted to know what kind of picture the mixture of his sperm and my menstrual blood would make.
Afterwards we looked at the paper, the damp picture. We saw a woman whose face was being devoured by her thick mouth, whose body seemed to fade and flow, formless. Or perhaps it was the northern lights, or a sunset.
We were amazed not to have had this idea before. We wondered if other people had had the same idea. The next day he framed the picture and hung it on the wall of his room.
We did the same thing in the following two or three months. It had become an added pleasure. The impression that the orgasm was not the end of everything, that a trace of it would remain – we wrote the date and the time on the paper – something similar to a work of art..
Writing and making love. I feel there is an essential link between the two. I can’t explain it, I can only record those moments when this appears most clearly to me.
I would like to thank Gallimard and Annie Ernaux for permission to publish this translation. The original text, ‘Fragments autour de Philippe V.’, was published in L’Infini.
Translated by Lyn Thomas. This translation first appeared in Feminist Review 61:1 (April 1999), 49-50. With thanks to the journal for their permission to reproduce it. Published here on 3 May 2022.