72 • pearls around the neck
sat comfortably under the large green umbrella and placed a stack of papers on my Singapore teak table
before lighting another cigarette. The man took a stroll through the garden, going to the exact spot
where I’d imagined, this morning, a wet and fertile aquatic Eden: irremediably, this man was having
the very same vision I’d had… It was Bob. As for his feminine sidekick, she was his wife, his companion,
and his muse. I came out through the back door, walked across the porch and down a few steps. My
arrival didn’t seem to particularly disturb the two bizarre eccentrics. I came closer. I drew nearer to the
man and blurted, quite loudly, the American way, all in one breath:
“Hey! Are you Bob? I’m Catherine, we talked on the phone this morning, pleased to meet you!”
He turned around.
He must have been very handsome in his youth, really quite handsome.
Something like Terence Hill, with big blue eyes. As a matter of fact he was wearing the same hat as
Terence Hill. Indeed, he was. His raggedy jeans were falling below his hips in spite of the imitation
leather belt meant to prevent their inexorable fall, and a faded shirt hung on his body, which looked
too scrawny today but must surely have been, in the past, muscular and magnificent.
“Yep. I can see it right he’e. Comin’ from the top o’ the hill and runnin’ smoothly through these bushes
over the’e. I’m gonna chop that tree daawn and look at ’em beautiful rocks ya got, hey, Barbra, did ya
see those heavenly rocks, Baaaby?”
He then turned towards Barbra, who smiled at him tenderly, with the only two teeth she had left. She
took a drag from her cigarette and, without getting up, held her hand out to me: “I’m Barbra, I’m the
manager of the company, Bob’s the creative gu-y,” she said, dragging out each vowel to the limits of its
I sat down, facing her, with the strange impression of having been invited to her table. Barbra seemed
to have said it all for the day. She kept her eyes half-closed and smoked. Bob, still exploring my garden,
had disappeared into the bushes.
I observed my “host”. Barbra was ugly, and had never been anything but ugly. Her greasy hair was
neither short nor long, neither blond nor brunette but an undefined color. Her nose was large, her chin
double, her cheeks flaccid and her shiny skin grainy.
She was wearing a not-so-clean-gray-meant-to-be-white T-shirt, a shapeless thing whose sleeves and
neck gaped. Under the T-shirt, I could make out a pair of sagging breasts, which were no longer breasts
Bob interrupted these lugubrious considerations, planting himself in front of me, holding his firm
hand out to me: “Catherine, ah luuuv yer place, ma’am I do. I’ll get ya some draaawings for t’morrow
but lemme show ya maaa previous creations.”
Barbra, without opening her eyes, and all the while puffing on her fag, ran her hand absentmindedly
through the stack of paper, extracting a few half-torn, grease-stained and yellowed sketches.
Bob then started an enthusiastic monologue whose only goal was to convince me what a good choice
I’d made when calling him. I dared interrupt him to share my views, which he instantly corrected,
nearly screaming that I didn’t seem to see the wider picture, that I lacked ambition. I was stunned into
“Ya see,” he explained, “evurythin’s gotta be e-cologic these days. And ya’ll see, I only use stuff available
on site to do maaa job; ‘xcept for the tarp at the bottom o’ the pond. Evurythin’ll come from yer
Bob then picked a new piece of paper –which I thought I recognized as a speeding ticket– and