I invited him to choose between women and me. I thought he was going to choose me and that he’d strive to renounce them. I was in error. “I risk making a promise,” he replied, “and not keeping it. That would pain you. I don’t want you to be in pain. Breaking off would hurt you less than false promises and lies.”
I was leaning against the door and I was so pale that he was frightened. “Good bye,” I murmured in a dead voice, “good bye. You gave my existence a meaning and an orientation and I had nothing else to do but lead it with you. What’s to become of me? Where am I to go now? How shall I ever endure waiting for night to fall and after it has fallen, for day to come, and tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that? How shall I pass the weeks?” I saw nothing but a room swimming on the other side of my tears, and I was counting on my fingers like an idiot.
Suddenly he came to himself, waking as though from a hypnotic spell. He sprang from the bed upon which he’d been biting his nails, he clasped me in his arms, begged me to forgive him and swore he’d send women to the devil.
He wrote a letter to Madame V***, informing her that it was all over. She feigned suicide by absorbing the contents of a tube of sleeping pills, and we lived for three weeks in the country, having given no one our address. Two months went by, and I was happy.
It was the eve of an important religious holiday. Before repairing to the Holy Repast my custom was to go to have my confession heard by Father X***. He was virtually expecting my arrival. Crossing the threshold, I warned him that I’d come not to confess but to relate; and that, alas! I knew in advance what his verdict was going to be.
“Reverend Father,” I enquired of him, “do you love me?”
“I love you.”
“Would you be happy to hear that I find myself happy at last?”
“I’d be delighted.”
“Well then, rejoice, for I am happy, but my happiness is of a variety the Church and society disapprove, for it is friendship that causes my happiness and, with me, friendship knows neither boundary nor restraint.”
Father X*** interrupted me. “I believe, said he, “that you are the victim of scruples.”
“Reverend Father,” I rejoined, “I’d not insult the Church by supposing that she negotiates compromises or omits to cross the t’s and dot the i’s. I am familiar with the doctrine of excessive friendships. Whom can I deceive? God sees me. Why reckon the distance in fractions of an inch? I am on the downgrade. Sin lies ahead of me.”
“My dear child,” Father X*** told me in the vestibule, “were it but a question of jeopardizing my situation in heaven, the danger would be slight, for I believe that the goodness and mercy of God exceed all that we can imagine. But there is also the question of my situation here on earth. The Jesuits watch me very closely.”
We embraced. Walking home beside the walls over which poured the scent of gardens, I considered God’s economy and deemed it admirable. According to the divine scheme, love is granted when to one love is lacking and, to avoid a pleonasm of the heart, denied to those who possess it.
Text: Jean Cocteau, The White Paper (Le Livre Blanc), (1928), excerpt
Image: Subjects/photographer unknown, via Osvaldo_E/flickr