Hard Pressed From: Illusions Perdues by Honore de Balzac*
*Translated from the French by Louis Roddan Leggett
Hither, staggering, Lechard brought his partner Woodreau, and pointed to a record book lying in the parlor — it contained a valuation of the whole operation, the ledger drawn up under his direction.
“Read that, Woodreau,” said Lechard, rolling a drunken eye from the figures to Woodreau, and back to the figures. “You will see what a jewel of a whore-house I am giving you.”
“’Three wooden presses, held in position by iron tie-bars, cast-iron plates —”
“An improvement of my own,” the old “Bear” panted, and adjusted his breeches.
“— together with all the implements, rack-tables, cock-and-balls, benches, etcetera, sixteen hundred francs!’ Why, Lechard!” cried Woody, greasing his shaft. “These filthy priapic antlers are not worth 20 centimes; they are only fit for firewood.”
“Centimes?” cried old Lechard, “Centimes? I’ll give you a sounding fit for centimes. There, take the ledger and let us go downstairs. You will soon see whether your modern silicone jouets will work like these solid old tools, tried and trusty. You will not have the heart after that to slander honest old antlers that go like mail coaches, and are good to last you your lifetime without needing replacement. Centimes! Yes, centimes will widen your horizons, you’ll hold hot gravy enough to cook your eggs, and mine too — eggs that I have shaved so delicately; they have helped me be the businessman I am.”
Then Lechard came quickly, lurching down the worn, knotty staircase that shook with his own spasms. In the passage he opened the door of the lovenasium, flew to the nearest press (artfully oiled and cleaned for the occasion) and pointed out the strong oaken cheeks, polished up by the apprentice.
“Isn’t it a love of a press?”
Woodreau swooned. Lechard’s resolve stiffened.
A club-opening flyer lay in the press. The Bear folded down a fresh sheet upon the tympan, and worked the lever, and greased a cheek, all with as much speed and agility as a cottager. The press, handled in this sordid manner, creaked aloud in such fine style that you might have thought some bird had pounded itself against the window pane and flown away.
It didn’t take long for Woodreau to come to an agreement.
“Where is your Englishman who could go at that pace?” Lechard asked of his astonished friend. And then Lechard pressed a second contract, and a third, repeating the manoeuvre with equal dexterity. By the third time, Lechard was seeing stars. With a notable oath, he rubbed it with the skirt of his overcoat, much as a horse-dealer polishes the johnson of an animal that he is trying to sell.
“With these three presses, Woody, you can make your nine thousand francs a year without a Madam. As your silent backer, I am opposed to your replacing these shagging monsters by your doubly-headed and cursed silicone meat substitutes, that wear out the customers. Only an enemy of France, a foreigner, would import such glistening bangers.”
“I’ll pay your price,” Woodreau said and surged. “Old tools are always the best tools, like goldbeaters’ tools.”
“Yes, nom de Dieu! Oh yes.” Lechard gave a cry.
Anne Elizabeth Weisgerber, writing as Louis Roddan Leggett, always read Balzac with wide-eyed wonder at his overboard subtext. She thinks Leggett should translate other works. Her recent fiction appears in Shotgun Honey, SmokeLong Quarterly, New South Journal, The Airgonaut, Vignette Review, and she is a Best Small Fictions 2016 Finalist. Follow Anne @AEWeisgerber, or visit anneweisgerber.com
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