olivetti and larousse

image by mark_66it via flickr

I wrote yesterday about Tahar Ben Jelloun’s Corruption. Today I carefully erased my pencil marks in the margins, ashamed a bit that I wrote in a book, something I pretty much never do, perhaps because I am child of libraries and the sacredness of shared pages.

In any event, as I was erasing I came across a passage that I did not mention yesterday but—if only for myself—I want to capture here before I return the book to the shelf, and perhaps give away. (It is time to give it wings, I think.) There is magic in the image and its flavor will remain on my tongue long after the book is gone.

Central to the story is an old manual Olivetti typewriter which the main character, Mourad, took home from his office when it was replaced by a newer, electric one. This scene is when he looks for it, having been asked about its absence at the office. His wife tells him that it’s being used to prop up his son’s bed which has lost a leg.

I go into Wassit’s room and bend down. On top of the typewriter is an old Larousse dictionary, which creates the balance necessary to support the bed.

As I stand up, I notice that little pieces of paper full of words are coming out of the bowels of the typewriter. I move closer and notice that between the old dictionary and the old typewriter a hollow has been carved out in the shape of a vertical tube; letters pass through which the machine gathers into words and even sentences: “The cicadas never enter the wake of tears…” “China is near,” “The castle lay down on a bed of ferns,” “The sun and the rain in the schoolmaster’s fez…” “Our need for consolation is insatiable.” I smile and leave the typewriter to write its stories.

And later in the story….

Olivetti and Larousse must have had a fight last night. The words are illegible and the paper is crumpled. I bend over to see if a mattress spring isn’t sticking out and discover a nest of mice hidden in the corner. The mice eat paper. The dictionary, in fact, is full of holes; the typewriter is no longer the only one making beautiful sentences with it. I try arranging a few slips of paper end to end and, lo and behold, the magic couple makes poetry.

“Seasons betrayed, a time of lassitude on the back of thoughts… Dreams written by the lost sleep of a man stalked by the encroaching walls…”

Erased words, a collection of numbers and periods. I cover the typewriter with an old Chinese cloth and watch television […]”

And lastly…

If I tell them what’s going on between the typewriter and Larousse, they’ll think I’m crazy. I’m keeping it to myself, for my moments of fantasy. […]

If I go to prison, I’ll take Olivetti and Larousse with me. I’ll tell them my story and they’ll write it out. I’m sure they’ll turn it into an unusual novel.

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