The current (Fall/Winter 2011) issue of Hayden’s Ferry Review includes my translation of “If the Sun Were Never to Return,” a beautiful story by C.F. Ramuz. This happens to be one of my very favorite Ramuz pieces, for the reasons I mention in my translator’s note, and so I’m obviously thrilled that Hayden’s Ferry has published it, but I’m even more thrilled that it was selected as one of the online sample pieces from the issue. Ramuz deserves as wide an audience as possible, and now everyone can read this story.
“If the Sun were Never to Return” is actually two stories in one. The first is the story of a village that wakes to total blackness. The villagers slowly realize that the sun is not coming back and that this encroaching darkness means they are all going to die. But the real story starts halfway through, and it’s about having lost in love, about revenge. It is one of Ramuz’s most violent stories, even if no real violence actually occurs.
The village is still sleeping and this reassures him for a moment. Maybe he’s actually woken up at the wrong time, or he’s having a bad dream. But all of a sudden his muscles tighten below his Adam’s apple, pushing it upward; he breathes with difficulty. The need to shut his door comes upon him, he closes it, and he stands behind the door, not knowing what to do, waiting.
Five o’clock rings, and we can see it isn’t yet light out.
Yet this is May. The five bells ring out, and it seems like the sound they make has doubled, even tripled in strength. They ring and echo and echo for a long time, as if they are hitting sheets of metal. It’s impossible for us not to hear them. And Larpin moves his head forward. He rests his forehead against the door panel, he listens, the clock rings again, each new ring quieting in its turn, then a door opens, then a second door, then a long voice calls out in the dark.
He recognizes the voice of a neighbor, and she’s calling her husband, “Julien! Julien!” We hear Julien answer her, “This is the devil’s work.” A third voice comes in from the opposite side, “What’s going on?” And now, from all around, the voices cross and question each other.
Aside from what I write in my translator’s note, one of the other reasons that this story is one of my favorites is because it was the genesis for his incredible novel with the same title. The short story and the novel actually have very little in common – the characters are different, most of the story is different, but the psychology is all there. The fear of living in darkness.
Finally, just a funny note. Living in Switzerland, just a few kilometers from where Ramuz spent most of his life and the fact that I’m obsessed with his work means that I see reminders of him just about everywhere. A few weeks ago, a truck passed me while I walked with the dog and my daughter on a country road. The name on the truck read “Milliquet” which is the name of the café owner in La Beauté sur la Terre. In this Hayden’s Ferry Review short story, Ramuz mentions a man named Larpin, the old man who is up walking around because he doesn’t sleep anymore. Well, my doctor’s name is Larpin and every time I drive past his office (which is just in the village, so I go past at least three times a week) I’m reminded of the scene of Larpin checking his watch and standing at the doorway, staring out on the dark night.