Cover image for Chronicle of the seven sorrows = Chronique des sept misères
Chronicle of the seven sorrows = Chronique des sept misères
Chamoiseau, Patrick.
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Chronique des sept misères. English
Publication Information:
Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, [1999]

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ix, 226 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
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Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows traces the rise and fall of Pipi Soleil, "king of the wheelbarrow" at the vegetable market of Fort-de-France, in a tale as lively and magical as the marketplace itself. In a Martinique where creatures from folklore walk the land and cultural traditions cling tenuously to life, Patrick Chamoiseau's characters confront the crippling heritage of colonialism and the overwhelming advance of modernization with touching dignity, hilarious resourcefulness, and truly courageous joie de vivre.

Author Notes

Patrick Chamoiseau's novel Texaco won the Prix Goncourt in 1992. Linda Coverdale's many translations include Chamoiseau's School Days (Nebraska 1997), his Creole Folktales , and Jorge Semprun's Literature or Life , winner of the 1997 French-American Foundation Translation Prize. Playwright, critic, essayist, and novelist Édouard Glissant is the author of The Fourth Century (Nebraska 2001).

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Published in France in 1986 and appearing in the U.S. for the first time in Coverdale's excellent translation, Chamoiseau's first novel, written before Texaco, is an astonishingly assured piece of work. Famous for rejecting the Negritude style of writing, with its combination of leftist sentiment and archly Parisian French, Chamoiseau instead salts Creole narrative styles with vernacular phrases and riddles, songs and occult stories. Narrated by the departed spirits of the djobbersÄindependent haulers of goodsÄof Fort-de-France, Martinique, this novel, set between the 1940s and the 1970s, tells the story of master djobber Pipi. Born to Mam Elo and a dorlis (a kind of incubus), Pipi grows up in the streets of Fort-de-France. His first job, in the time of Vichy France, is transporting Gaullist Martinicans to British Dominica. He and his partner, Gogo, generally drop them in the drink, however, which backfires one night. When Pipi makes it back to land alone, he gives up his oars for a wheelbarrow. Crowned king of the djobbers for his knowledge of shortcuts and traffic, which he demonstrates in a race to transport a country vendor's giant yam, he is nevertheless unable to win Anastase, the beautiful daughter of a master of the martial dance called laghia, and he drinks himself into the gutter. Then he gets the gold bug, and takes up a vigil over the grave of a famous zombi named Afoukal, who supposedly guards a jar of gold. Through Afoukal, Pipi channels the African spirit of Martinican history. An immensely engaging comic figure, Pipi is the catalyst for a host of interlocking stories involving everything from gravedigging to Aim‚ C‚saire. This hallucinatory, bottoms-up account of modern Martinique is a tour-de-force of nonlinear storytelling. Notes. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Every great writer must start somewhere, and this novel was the jumping-off point for French Caribbean master Chamoiseau, winner of the Prix Goncourt for the revelatory Texaco. Published in France in 1986, the current work follows the fate of PipiÄ"grand master of the wheelbarrow, king of the djobbers"Äin the market of Fort-de-France, Martinique. Born rather miraculously of H‚lo‹se after Anatole-Anatole managed to penetrate her locked room as a dorlis, Pi-Pi (short for Pierre PhilomŠne) serves as a pretext for telling the story of Fort-de France's poorÄand a beautifully told story it is, rich with wonderfully wrought characters. There's Gogo the Albino, the hard-working Clarine, the hapless ElyetteÄpierced by love while in a cathedral and widowed early, she takes up a trade in funeral goodsÄand many, many more. Throughout, their privations are evident, but the tone of the novel might be described as bustling, and the characters always sparkle with unrepressed life. Chamoiseau is a born storyteller, unspooling tale after remarkable tale like silken skeins, but the real star here is the language itselfÄso gorgeous, so delectable that you will leave the book feeling slightly drunk. Highly recommended.ÄBarbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Inspiration LADIES AND GENTLEMEN here present, the three markets of Fort-de-France (meat, fish, vegetables) were, for us djobbers, the compass of our lives. A kind of sky, horizon, fate, within which we scrabbled life out of poverty. As we reveal to you who we were, you'll hear no windy boasting: the story of nameless men offers only a single sweetness, that of words, so we'll taste but sparingly of pride. Possessing simply our wheelbarrows and our skill with them, we did not farm, or fish, or bring anything to market. And unlike the railings, the corrugated iron of the roofs, or the cement of the stalls, our participation in market life had none of the comfortable certitude of indispensability. Just when a vendor's baskets became too heavy for her, the djobbers appeared, at first to lend a friendly hand, later to help out every day in exchange for a little something at the end of the afternoon. Soon this settled into a savvy system, and its rules of procedure were passed along. However could we know who our forefathers were? They had certainly -- like many others who were doubtless more talented -- left plantation mud behind to tackle life on city sidewalks less likely to trip them up. Surely, during their wandering in exile, they fell into the habit of lollygagging around places humming with life and the reassuring atmosphere of their native countryside: the markets. People noticed their burly arms. Their brawny thighs. People turned to them for such and such a service, this or that message to be hustled over to so-and-so, thanks a lot ... People called for them to come control the oxen, catch the pigs, budge stubborn donkeys. Our fathers were self-made and we inherited their know-how, the imperceptible something that yet set us apart already from oafish black men whose only industrious activity was the beating of their hearts. Lugging the vendors' baskets of wares to be spread out on madras cloths, fetching the women smallchange, doing them little favors for a few sous -- that was the cream of the djob, our livelihood. But we were so footloose that our presence there was almost imperial among those who, tied to their stalls, had to pluck so many of poverty's feathers to take a bite out of life. Days spent among these baskets of vegetables were less than glorious, and no eye twinkled with exaltation, but here, time after time, dire want confronted its finest adversaries. Well, the finest one of all for all time was Pipi, master-djobber, king of the wheelbarrow, the darling of the young vendors and a son to all the old ones. He was a big calabash, embracing within himself both flower and fruit, and just as a single mango bespeaks the essence of the tree, what he was, we were. So, manmaye ho ! Talking about ourselves makes it inevitable and only right that we should tell you about him ... MOTHER AND DORLIS To start off, let's take the beginning, that means his mother, the woman we'll call Mam Elo, who will become the indisputable queen of macadam . She was neither ugly nor pretty, and there was really nothing special about this placid, tidy black woman. She was the ninth of her father's daughters. After waiting hopefully all night before the door to the bedroom where his wife Fanotte had mired herself in the throes of childbirth, the unfortunate man had cried out in rage and disappointment, "Yin ki fanm, fanm ki an tÿou mwen!" (I'm up to my neck in nothing but women!)     In spite of the little bottle of holy water and the impaled toads, fate had sent him another girl. In despair, he vanished for six whole days into the backwoods. The poor man was a mason, earning good money but not enough to feed his wife and eight daughters, so he also raised sheep, pigs, and poultry, selling them now and then to bring in extra money. He owned two milch cows as well and claimed to be an expert on crabs, because every night, accompanied by his eight reluctant daughters, he scoured a mangrove swamp teeming with these crustaceans near the town of Le Robert. Lastly, through some rather mysterious inheritances, he had come into a plot of uncultivated land where he labored mightily to grow yams, tough cabbages, or sweet potatoes. While his days were filled with small masonry jobs in Le Robert or here-and-there in the shacks of Vert-Pré, a large part of his nights was lost in these other chores, hours of feeling lonely -- too lonely -- among women who didn't care a snip about such things. Muttering at every turn, "Fanm fanm yin ki fanm ki an tÿou mwen!," he imposed upon his clutch of girl-chicks a brutal discipline that his wife Fanotte, speedily relaxed as soon as he reached the foot of the morne where his old mule was waiting for him. As early as five in the morning, the neighbors would hear the booming voice of Félix Soleil (yes, his name was Happy Sunshine) giving strict instructions to his gazelles, winding up with a "Pay attention to me, eh? All right!" Then off he'd go, with his traditional parting shot to his wife, as she handed him his lunch pail of cabbage-avocados-fried-cod: "Bon Fanotte véyé, sé ich ou-a!" (Now Fanotte, keep an eye on your children!) He would hardly have reached the bottom of the hill when his hitherto drooping daughters would bloom like wildflowers, and with their young breasts jiggling beneath their simple cotton shifts, they saluted his departure with energetic grimaces of relief. Fanotte, who also breathed easier, turned a blind eye. But when these monkeyshines were over, the little girls would begin their assorted tasks, anxious to avoid punishment from a green switch on their cringing backs. Alas, since youngsters and responsibility don't mix, Alice and Adèle would prance off to play tag in the weeds they were supposed to pull, pausing in their mad dashes every now and then to delicately pluck a single blade here or there, thus salvaging their consciences for another half hour. Sitting in front of her cutlass on the precise spot where she was to dig holes for yams, Félicité would twist her hair into fresh curl papers. Pauline, for her part, would put on such a nicely ironed dress and such nicely polished shoes that she hardly seemed ready to go foraging for commelina grass in the ravines. Only Armande and Caroline -- who were older, I might add -- would set seriously to work, one at the bottom of the roof cistern, the other in the slough of the crabtraps, but they found these tasks discouraging because the crabs escaped by the dozens and there was no end of slime in the cistern. As for Jocelyne, after flinging two saucepans of water into the pig pen by way of cleaning it and tossing the porkers and the poultry a few hands of over-ripe bananas, she usually howled her hatred at the sheep and cows, sending them galloping helter-skelter all over the savanna. Our bucolic beauty would dawdle dreamily after them, entranced by the blossoms in the bushes. And Ginette? Arriving late at the market in Le Robert, she would find herself relegated to a sparsely visited corner, where she remained behind her basket of scrawny yams, waiting in a daze of eremitic expectation unbroken by her cries of "Man ni bel yanmes vini ouê mwen!" (I've got some fine yams, come take a look-see!) or those hourly magical incantations intended, according to Fanotte, to attract a brisk business. This seclusion did not prevent the girl from refusing any sale should some good woman happen to ask about her prices, so true is it that the only proper customer to start off an honest day's trade, as Fanotte always said, was a ballsy young man. And so, at around two o'clock, with the market slowing down, there she'd be with a full basket, which she'd sell off dirt cheap at rattling speed. Meanwhile, the mother, Fanotte, a woman crushed and deadened by her husband's authority, was paying no attention to her daughters. She'd sweep her shanty, shake out the straw mattresses, set the laundry washed the previous day out to dry in the fresh air, put the rest of the dirty clothes to soak, cook up a few ti-nains and a bit of salt meat, then head off to the corrugated tin stand by the side of the highway where she sold spices and blocks of ice. She'd spend her days there, trudging back up the hill every hour to nudge her cooking along and make sure Alice and Adèle hadn't been struck down by a Long-beast in those rank weeds they were supposed to have yanked up a long time ago. That's how the day went by until the moment Félix Soleil's old mule was heard wheezing on its uphill plod. The mule was barely tethered before Félix Soleil was tugging a green liana from that snarled growth of bushes we call raziés in Creole hereabouts and stroking it with cement-hardened fingers. Without even pausing at the roadside stand where Fanotte was on the lookout for him, he would bolt toward his hut, seething with anticipated fury, shouting the " Sé fanm la mi mwen!" (Women here I come!) that sowed indescribable panic among his daughters. Adèle and Alice, still lingering at their games, were usually the first to try out the vine du jour -- followed by Ginette, who could never account for how such choice yams could bring in only that's all ? in the way of money. Next in line for the plant-of-pain were Caroline (the cistern was still dirty, or not yet full), Pauline (her bundle of commelina grass waved before her like a flag never got her off the hook), Jocelyne (perpetually incapable of explaining clearly where all the cows and sheep had gone), Félicité (Come on now, doesn't take all day to dig one measly yam hole!), and finally Armande, mute under the lash, so exhausted was she from scrambling after scattering crabs, while a sweating Félix Soleil, laying on the now-tattered vine, shrieked out his inability to accept that seventy cages could cough up just fifteen crabs, tonnan di sô ! [hell's bells!] ... After everybody had received her share, the mason would sit at his table, where Fanotte would serve him three fingers of rum punch he'd sip at sourly before going off to hunt down sheep and cows and set out the crab-traps again. So Félix Soleil came to associate women with all the misfortunes of his life, then of the whole world, and soon, of the universe. The time came when his anger went on permanent boil. His terrible voice opened seams in the walls of the shanty, and on certain full-moon nights he could be seen out in his little yard hurling heavenward his Fanm fanm yin ki fanm ki an tÿou mwen ! It was also around this time that some sympathetic friends explained to him how impossible it was for a guy with all balls in working order to beget only girls and nothing but, so Félix you've got to get one thing straight: Somebody's slapped a hex on you! ... Félix Soleil instantly declared merciless war on every toad that wandered across a perimeter traced around the shanty with powdered lime. There were just so many of them every night -- twice as many when it rained -- that he was convinced these beasties (clearly commanded by a spiteful neighbor) were carrying the curse he wanted to dispel. One friday, as the church in Le Robert was about to close its doors, he filled a flask with precious liquid from the holy-water stoop. That same friday the thirteenth, he whittled a hundred tiny stakes of hardest bois-bombe , sprinkled them with church water, and set about pinning to the ground all toads that came within ten yards of the shanty. Around his house could soon be seen a wriggling mass of these batrachians, shriveled, wormy, dying beneath onslaughts of ants, crucified by the stakes. Every evening, Félix Soleil inspected his victims and dribbled holy water on them from the tip of a bamboo stalk, murmuring what he claimed were all-powerful prayers. Félix Soleil's little girls became women. One unbelievable day, they found within themselves the courage to tell him to go jump in the river, him and his chickens, his pigs, his sheep, his crabs, and anything else he might want to take along -- because we've had it up to here with you! Without a word, the mason put on his burial clothes and went into town to get a cutlass sharpened, then came home brandishing the weapon over his head. The blade sliced the air with a horrible hiss as Félix Soleil gave formal notice to his ingrates: "Bunch of sluts beat it wutless good-fa-nuttens! ..." He chased them nonstop all the way to Le Robert, where the wretched women escaped with their lives thanks only to the energetic intervention of the gendarmes-on-horseback. After the dispersal of his daughters, the mason plunged into a blissful quietude and seemed content in spite of the cold rage still driving him to skewer foolhardy toads. Some time later, Fanotte became pregnant again. Félix Soleil let out a war cry that could be heard even in La Trinité: "Aaah, koutala aké an ti bolomm!" (This time it's going to be a lil' fellow!)     His anti-toads campaign grew ever more ferocious. They were found transfixed and holy-watered within a radius of over a mile around his home. His suspicions spread to malefic softcougnan butterflies, red roaches, walking sticks, earwigs, mabouya -lizards tracked down in damp corners, grasshoppers, stinkbugs -- to any tiny critters that showed their noses in his vital circle. He'd wrap the lot in rags the priest would fish from the holy-water basin the next morning. When Fanotte began her labor pains, Félix Soleil sent not for Philomène, who had delivered his eight daughters of misfortune, but a midwife from the Coubaril neighborhood who styled herself Sister Sainte-Marie. The aforementioned prided herself on delivering only boys with nice plump plums. It was a long and difficult birth.     "Must be tethered inside her womb," was Sister Sainte-Marie's instant diagnosis.     To break the charm holding back the child, she applied to Fanotte's suffering forehead a handkerchief moistened with the sweat from Félix Soleil's armpits. The front room glowed red in the lamplight, and there the husband waited in the most agonizing anticipation of his life. At the baby's first wail, Félix Soleil flung himself in anguish against the bedroom door.     "Sister Sainte-Marie souplé, esse cé an tigasson?" (please, is it a boychile?) he stammered.     "Sister Sainte-Marie took off out the window," replied Fanotte, "'cause it's a girl, Félix."     Félix Soleil didn't even want to see the child. He vanished for six days into the woods of Vert-Pré. He was spotted skirting the cane fields in misty drizzles. He was seen running through dense undergrowth, slinking through inaccessible ravines. People thought he was doomed from then on to drift around silk-cotton trees, but he went home in the end, aged by the stubble on his chin, to find Fanotte with her ninth daughter, a charming baby named Héloïse who, heaps of years later, became the queen of macadam at the market in Fort-de-France, and Pipi's mother -- Mam Elo, our friend and compeer. Héloïse did not add one jot to her father's unhappiness. She never tried his temper. Resigned, the mason did not mention crabs, commelina grass, cisterns, or market stalls to his ninth disappointment. He asked her only to look after the sheep and cows, which the little girl loved doing above all else. She felt free on those savannas, where the sun poured out endless crystalline light that sometimes went milky like frosted glass. Despite their delirious profusion, the cabuya plants put on a handsome display of perfumes, hues, undulations. With sheep and cows tagging along, the future Mam Elo investigated the secrets of grassy places where life-and-death struggles pass unnoticed. When it rained, everything melted into another life, with new colors and smells -- but a dull serenity returned with the first rays of sunshine. The animals stayed close to Héloïse. They got along perfectly with the little girl, whose every step was an exploration of this natural labyrinth. And so, through a happiness that simply seemed like taking good care of the animals, Héloïse brought her father some peace. Unlike her sisters, she was able to attend school. This was a new world, outside of reality itself, where she learned to read and write in French, a strange language that astonished her parents. Fanotte demanded on the spot that her daughter speak French to her -- where's your manners, girl? Félix Soleil, however, never seemed able to get used to it. He'd certainly heard French before (the gendarmes-on-horseback used it), but he'd never imagined it in his own house. So, rolling his eyes in a big way, he'd mutter his Fanm fanm yin ki fanm ki an tÿou mwen ! every time Héloïse recited some La Fontaine business about a grasshopper gay singing summer away but winding up poor by winter's first roar ... That's how the future Mam Elo grew up, with a father who was always in a wonder, when he looked at her, over just what misfortune she would bring, and a mother so meek you plain forgot about her. Héloïse often visited her sisters, who had fanned out to Fort-de-France, Le Morne-Rouge, Le Saint-Esprit, Marigot, in huts where, from fear of finding their father again in the guise of a husband or any other kind of man, they lived by themselves. When she couldn't understand the French world at all anymore, Héloïse left school and took charge of the roadside stand, for Fanotte was now wizened and almost blind. As for Félix Soleil, white-haired and wrinkled, he was still djok , strong and alert. He no longer worked as a mason because his sight was failing, and he'd sold his livestock when Héloïse (a young woman with titties) could no longer be allowed to roam the savannas. Still keenly interested in crabs, he now devoted all his time to them, stashing them even in the chicken coops. The girl and the two old folks lived off the roadside stand plus the crabs they sold at Pentecost and Easter. Years slipped away like that. Héloïse became a woman for whom no one came courting. Preoccupied with the stand and with Félix Soleil, now half-paralyzed in a rocking chair, she wound up forgetting Fanotte, who lay so discreetly amid the tatters of her straw mattress that when she died, it seemed only prudent to plop the whole thing in the coffin. Héloïse and her father lived side by side, without speaking to each other. From time to time the virtual spinster was visited by her sisters, who never passed up a chance to persecute their elderly father, pretending to lash him with a liana and crowing in his ears, "Yin ki fanm ki an tÿou'w!?" (So you're up to your neck in nothing but women!?) Félix Soleil did not understand that -- or anything else anymore. Lost in contemplation of a colony of crazy ants that had set up housekeeping in his clothing and the dutty folds of his skin, he let all of life glide by in senile indifference. He died one Sunday, without a drum-roll for the occasion (although the ants did beat a retreat), his only viaticum whatever was left in the flask of holy water he'd had time to empty over his head. Héloïse had this cut into a cement slab for him: Here lies Félix Soleil our father, who had nothing but women before and behind him. When they tried to bury him next to his wife, they could find no trace of her despite a thorough search of the cemetery. And so, in desperation, they dressed him in his one and only city suit, with his church flask and sheaves of white arum lilies, and laid him in the ground all by his lonesome. Now, ladies and gentlemen here present, this is how the dorlis , Pipi's father, arrived on the scene. Leaving the cemetery, Héloïse was toddling off toward a fate sealed into spinsterhood, when something clicked in the brain of Anatole-Anatole, the gravedigger's son, who took it into his head to follow her home. Anatole-Anatole was one of those black folks whose parents, or even great-grandparents, had had nothing to do with the least little béke or mixed-blood. His skin had thus remained a magisterial black that seemed to soak up the sun forever. The grounds of the cemetery had belonged to his father, a jolly nigger if ever there was one, who had chanced to come into this patch of land shunned even by scrappy weeds. His name was Phosphore, he was an atheist, and he openly mocked the church, the white man's gods, and above all the local priest -- whose request for that rocky parcel of land, however, he did not brush off at all.     "If it's for a cemetery, monsieur I'abbé go ahead and take it ..."     It was too bad, said the priest, that people were being buried near the crucifix at the crossroads, under silk-cotton trees, and even tucked away behind fields, where Our-Lord was obviously too busy to go pick up their souls. Given permission to use the property, the priest posted a sign announcing this new burial ground. He had the remains of graves once scattered all around the countryside moved there posthaste. To amuse himself, black Phospore strolled among the modest mounds of the first tombs to appear on his land, letting out great horselaughs as he read the epitaphs. The priest was upset by this and fenced off the cemetery. Nothing daunted, Phosphore knocked down stakes and barbed wire and continued his amused inspections. The priest ordered him to leave. In reply, Phosphore told God's representative that he could go shit himself because this is my property, even if I did let you put your thingummies here. Shocked, the clergyman grabbed Phosphore by the neck, threw him down, and tried to drag him from that place of eternal rest. Phosphore managed to get up and delivered a flurry of blows to the priest with a green switch. Humiliated, the man of the cloth countered with this devastating move, which still makes us tremble in our shanties: he shook his cassock at his adversary. Oh sad life of black Phosphore! Gone were his guffaws and the twinkle in his eye, for this deadly gesture condemned him to straggle among the graves. Hovering endlessly like a drunken hummingbird, he never left the cemetery, staying rooted to the spot where fate had thumped him one. His wife Ninon visited every day with calabashes of soups enriched with herbs soothing to the mind. Phosphore now spoke only to invisible people, a sure sign of hopeless madness. Fatigue alone could bring a halt to his meandering among the graves and drop him in the corner of the cemetery where Ninon, resigned at last, had had a small caye , or cabin, built for him. Everybody grew so used to his condition that soon no one could imagine him any other way. Every midday, every evening, Ninon brought him fresh food but no longer even tried to speak to him. Phosphore took care of the graves, tidying them, relighting the candles, fixing the bouquets knocked about by the wind. One day, he dug the graves for the latest batch of corpses. On Sunday the new priest, who had often come to bless his predecessor's victim, made the appointment official with an announcement from the pulpit. Black Phosphore thus turned into Phosphore-the-Gravedigger, and that's what he was called. As for Ninon, she was the-gravedigger's-wife from then on, which put a flat halt to the sales of her brooms. Their son, Anatole-Anatole, by virtue of the fundamental truth that a tiger's cubs are not born without claws, became the-little-gravedigger ... which, my dear, did not leave him much of a choice when he went looking for a profession. Anatole-Anatole had acquired the habit, moreover, of following his father's endless ambulations around the plot at the back of beyond. He imitated Phosphore's way of walking, the right-left sway of his head. Sometimes Ninon allowed him to spend the night with his father in the little cabin, a reef of life in the ocean of death, and the child would join in listening attentively to the lively sounds simmering up from the tombs. The clods of earth and memorial stones quivered with loves and regrets. The adolescent was astonished at this; Phosphore, gazing upon his son with an eye like a dead moon, murmured to him before plunging back into absence, "Ah, lil' one, what you don't know is lots bigger than you are ..." Anatole-Anatole preferred the cemetery to the benches in school. He spent more time digging graves with his father and chasing body snatchers and other damned souls on darksome nights than he did reading or writing. Making himself comfortable in his father's hut, Anatole-Anatole took over much of the maintenance of the cemetery, for Phosphore's strength seemed to be waning with age. Their complicity cut them off for good from the rest of the world. On occasion they would leave their graves to drink a rum punch in town. That emptied out not only the sidewalk where they marched along but the unlucky bistro as well, the moment their shadows crossed the threshold. They drank alone, laughing silently, proud of the fear lapping all around them. Down at the other end of the bar, the proprietor, Cécène, would intone spells to ward off contagion from the men of death. After their departure, when the midday crowds poured in, Cécène would solemnly shatter the glasses they had used, sprinkling the shards with dust collected from the thirteenth pew in the church. So that's how Phosphore and Anatole-Anatole lived their lives. Ninon, seduced by a couli from Basse-Pointe (a specialist in bamboo brooms) had packed up her things and decamped without even looking in at the cemetery. She was going to grab fate, she said, by a different end. One Sunday, Phosphore and his son, sitting near a grave, were listening to the secrets of a child who'd been afraid to grow up, when word arrived that Félix Soleil was dead: he had dreamed, rumor had it, of a tenth daughter sent over by Fanotte from the other side, and I'm telling you his heart failed at the news, so he needs his hole in the ground 'cause priest says get-crackin'-burial's-at-five-o'clock. As always, father and son debated where to plant the new arrival.     "I hear you, Papa, but listen: we'll put him near that back wall over there -- since he was a mason he'll be able to repair it every now and then ..."     "Just so, lil' one, but isn't it better to stick him in near his wife Fanotte?"     "Well now, I'd sure enough forgotten her!"     They turned the cemetery upside-down without finding hide or hair of Fanotte. When the funeral procession arrived, the grave was ready, near the wall, the cement tombstone sent by Héloïse that very morning set up at the head ... Anatole-Anatole was hoisting one end of the coffin on his shoulder when he locked eyes on Héloïse. He'd seen her before without finding her attractive. But on that particular day, bathed in tears, completely drained of the ruddy sap that imparts a healthy glow, she seemed to have entered the realm of the living dead. Because of his deep familiarity with that other world whose frontiers give the human soul serious pause, Anatole-Anatole appreciated everything that brought life and death together. Héloïse belonged to both worlds: she dazzled him. Leaving his father to put the finishing touches on the new grave, he followed her. Her sisters had gone, and Héloïse was on her lonely way home to the silent shanty when fear struck: one of those men of the night, who lived off the boneyard, was on her heels! ... Every time she looked back she scared herself even more. Anatole-Anatole was closing in on her. They were leaving the town, and when Héloïse walked past the last shack, she burst into a run on the sun-baked road. Anatole-Anatole kept to his steady pace. When she got home, all in a flutter, Héloïse barricaded herself inside. Sitting down for a moment to calm her heart, she was soon peeking out through the shutters. The road ran along in gentle curves until it reached a slope and seemed to break off. That's where the placid silhouette of her pursuer appeared. Héloïse almost went mad. She beat her fists on her temples and tucked her trembling body away into a corner of the front room. She heard Anatole-Anatole's footsteps halt at the door.     "What you want you mis'rable fiend?" she shrieked. "Scram or I'm tossing holy water on you!"     Anatole-Anatole went away. Seeing him all shredded like a banana leaf in the wind, his father realized that love had delivered its opening punch.     "So she called you a damn devil?" asked Phosphore anxiously. "And she didn't open the door? Fine. Well, lil' one, if it's love trouble, I've got just what you need. I'm going to teach you something ..." That evening, Héloïse went to bed a virgin for the last time, because meanwhile, black Phosphore had revealed to his sorrowing son the Method he'd learned from a sepulcher, and had turned him into a dorlis . Anatole-Anatole's modus operandi remains unknown. People get lost in conjecture trying to figure out if he used the technique of the toad hidden beneath the bed, the one of the ant that slips through keyholes, or the one of three-steps-forward-three-steps-back that lets you walk through walls. The fact remains that on the evening in question, he found himself in Héloïse's bedroom despite all locks and barricades. Putting his new expertise as a dorlis to work, he went inside her without waking her up and spent eight delicious hours on her sleeping body. His grunts, his tears, his quiverings, his petites morts in pleasure mingled with the dainty snores of his partner. When the pippiree bird ushered in the dawn, Héloïse discovered she was as bruised as a windfallen fruit. Seeing the bloody stains on her sheets, and feeling her womb still waiting for the satisfaction sleep had denied her, she knew that she had been defiled by the man of death, and she spent the day soaking in a tub of water with a rosary. That night she put a pair of black underpants on backwards, a procedure said to guard against a dorlis . It stopped Anatole-Anatole cold. He had returned and was preparing to thrust home when he dissolved into helpless cry-water over this invincible countercharm. He left the hut to go tell his father, who was powerless as well. Coming back to the bedroom, the dorlis went around in circles, as doleful as a crab without a hole, until a sudden sunrise gave him that colossal slap reserved for engagés surprised by light. Half of Anatole-Anatole's face then turned as white as a Saint-Anthony's candle, and he went bald on one side. After that, he hid his dreadful ugliness under a bakoua with a brim that hung down over his ears, and he left the cemetery only at midnight, wreaking havoc among women who slept without protection. Reassured by the efficacy of her countercharm, Héloïse recovered some of her former serenity and was almost happy. She attributed the cessation of her periods to the ghastly shock she'd endured and devoted herself to selling her spices and blocks of ice. Her womb had awakened, but she did not realize this right away. Neither did she understand when her belly became as curved as a calabash and her breasts as heavy as sacks of salt. Nor did she believe -- it was so unimaginable -- her most loyal customer, who would often remark during her idle chatter, "Aaah Héloïse, I'm so pleased for you, seeing you're in an interesting condition ..." One day, Héloïse felt the presence of an alien life in her womb. This unexpected sensation hurled her into the horrible certainty that she was pregnant by Anatole-Anatole, the new champion dorlis of the land. Too distraught to try and get rid of the child, she shut herself up in her shanty, hiding her shame from bad-mouf gossip. It was a troglodytic pregnancy in the semidarkness of a locked and shuttered house. Her customers thought she was dead. After prowling around outside, they alerted the police, who broke down the door, flung open the windows, shooed out the proliferative insects, tore apart the spider webs, and exposed the hapless woman to the stares of the crowd. The shock caused her waters to break, and Sister Sainte-Marie was urgently summoned. The child she hauled into this world was a boy.     "You see, Elo, boys I know how to do, I told your father the late Félix so, where's he now poor man to see this, him who thought I was lying?" gloated the midwife. "But what you going to call him, hah?"     "Pierre Philomène," murmured Héloïse.     Sister Sainte-Marie helped the newborn get a good start in life. She rubbed him with lemon, guava, and tamarind leaves twisted together and macerated in white tafia. That would allow him, she said, to go through life with the strength and spirit of those trees. She fed him the soft part of some bread dipped in honey, the secret of all intelligence. Then she swaddled him, propped him up on the straw mattress beside his mother, buried his cord-of-life beneath a young coconut palm, and took herself off, after preparing that sovereign herb tea indispensable to the devastated insides of brand-new mothers. Sister Sainte-Marie was hardly out the door when Héloïse felt a presence in the bedroom even through her semiconscious fog. The horror was there: sinister, motionless, with the bakoua 's brim drooping over both cheeks, Anatole-Anatole gazed at his son. Héloïse clutched the baby close and howled. The dorlis hurried away, his heart broken. Héloïse was not to see him again until many years later, in broad daylight, at the vegetable market. That same birth-day she crammed her belongings into an empty sugar sack and jumped into the cart of a big sweaty chabin going down to Fort-de-France. The man thought a gang of zombies was after her and he urged his nags along the rocky road to the city at tip-top speed. Lying exhausted in the cart behind him, with the baby clamped to her chest and the sack under her arm, Héloïse didn't let out one sound during the entire trip. The chabin grew increasingly anxious as night fell and was relieved when the outlying houses of the Château-Boeuf neighborhood heralded their arrival in Fort-de-France.     "Halloo back there madame, where is it you're heading?"     "I'll get out here," quickly replied the woman who was already becoming Mam Elo, and who would wander all night long through the most unbelievable city this side of the black man's hell.     She walked straight ahead, trying to look like someone going somewhere. This wasn't her first visit to Fort-de-France. She had often been there before, with Fanotte and Félix Soleil. But this city previously seen while holding her parents' hands now seemed as hard-hearted as a tarted-up negress, a far cry from the peaceful harmony of village life. Héloïse pressed on past clusters of houses kept in line by the straightest of streets. Night washed the brightness out of wooden façades and their shutters thick with dust from the wind off the jetty. Sometimes the streetlights revealed vivid spots of color, and Héloïse sensed a kind of sadness seeping everywhere. The widest streets, which smelled of soggy cardboard and musty cloth, were those where the Syrian merchants had their shops. Other, more austere streets were usually the territory of shabby tailors who labored endlessly sewing things from sacking. In her roving, Héloïse sometimes went along streets edged with bushes that presaged the presence to the north of the forest of La Trace. She saw cats sleeping on low-slung roofs, and passels of stray dogs. Because during the night -- Héloïse did not yet know this -- the city was invaded by dogs. (Continues...) Copyright (c) 1988 Éditions Gallimard.