Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud – Come Out, Come Out
A lonely old man wishes to watch his grandchildren play on his land to help ease the pains of age. He fills his house with the sort of equipment and games children love: scooters, tricycles, ninepin sets, a pony, a pool... but he realises that a grandfather, however much loved, is not and never will be the primary focus of a growing child's life. They will become teenagers, achieve maturity and independence, and then it won't matter how many toys or games he has bought. He will be alone once more. Thus Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud's Come Out, Come Out (trans. Edward Gauvin), an initially sad story which gradually adds strangeness and vaguely defined menace to its blend of humour and pathos.
Now he loved only the year's lambent half, spring and summer, which seemed to him shorter every time. Had he been fabulously well-to-do, he would have followed them, in a plane, around the world. Alas, he was but well-off.
The above quoted paragraph highlights well the subtle cleverness and humour of Châteaureynaud's story. There are a number of such jokes hidden throughout Come Out, Come Out, the humour largely the kind that relies on the shock of juxtaposing an ordinary sentence with a sudden twist, such as when the old man waxes eloquently on his love for his grandchildren, only to refer to them as “brats” throughout – hardly a loving term.
At any rate, whether they be brats or no, he wishes to have them in his life. The years behind him have been long, and the years ahead, he believes, will be few. Thus, he wishes to surround himself with youth, and watch them play and enjoy themselves:
...he also invited his nephews, the children's friends, their friends' cousins.
And yet, we are told, “He hired a pretty student to watch over the swarm, with whom he didn't really mingle.”
Again, “swarm” is hardly the word one would use with loved ones, but there it is. The story carries with it such oddities, where the sentences themselves seem fine on the surface, but if you scratch them even a little, they reveal quirks and strangeness. A memory concerning the old man when he was a young child alone and frightened in a game of hide and seek falls awkwardly between him reminiscing about the grandchildren hiding and playing and having fun. The awkwardness provides another clue and, when the story is finished and the identity of the “children” are revealed, the odd sentences and awkward insertion makes a good deal more sense.
Châteaureynaud's story reminds one of the opening scenes to a horror movie, when everything is superbly ordinary and normal. The anticipation comes from knowing that, somehow, this normalcy is to be disrupted, probably horribly. The ordinary activities of, say, making breakfast or arguing with one's wife takes on a menacing hue; entire scenes build tension and add to the sense of anticipation by doing – nothing at all. Come Out, Come Out follows a similar vein, layering various mini-sequences either in the old man's memory or in the present which, taken on the surface, seem ordinary, but – the odd word choice here, the odd inflection there, and we know that something will happen to shift the meaning of everything that came before.
Come Out, Come Out is a story of a lonely, well-off man who, too old now to make new friends, too old now to be anything other than a waypoint for his family members as they shift from one adventure to the next, and too enamoured with horrible memories of abandonment as a child, creates his own method for ensuring he will never be alone again. Châteaureynaud makes menace and oddity out of the ordinary; throughout the text we expect either a melancholy, somewhat bucolic protagonist-death ending, or a horrible, violent, “unexpected” chilling end. We get neither - Châteaureynaud's ending is better.
Come Out, Come Out by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud is a short story from Small Beer Press' Châteaureynaud collection, A Life on Paper, translated by Edward Gauvin
Other stories from Small Beer Press' Châteaureynaud collection, A Life on Paper include:
---January 1973 - April 1974 (Paris): The Peacocks
---December 1981 - February 1982 (Bures): A Room on the Abyss
---February 1983 (Bures): A City of Museums
---May 1986 (Lozère): Come Out, Come Out
---October 1988 (Lozère): Unlivable
---March 1989 (Lozère): A Life on Paper
---February 1991 (Lozère): Icarus Saved From the Skies
Other stories translated by Edward Gauvin under review include:
---Adamek, André-Marcel - The Ark
---Quiriny, Bernard - A Guide to Famous Stabbings
Index of short stories under review