The Doll’s Head by Adrien Remacle
I saw it rolling between the gaunt, hooked fingers of an old hand that was rummaging through some old nails in an old box of tools. It looked like the head of a gloomy old man: eyes a little alarmed, an Arab nose, long in the face, drooping lines. It was carved of flint, barely polished. Or so it seemed to me at first.
The man standing over the box of nails, looking for a hook in the scanty light of the narrow window on this rainy day, got irritated at feeling this ball of stone continually roll around under his fingers wherever he was searching. He grabbed it and was about to throw it out the window.
I stepped in and stopped him, without knowing why. I had been staring at the little head for a moment and when it was about to be thrown out, it seemed to me that in the shadow of the old hand the face had fallen into a frown.
“What’s that?” I asked.
I took the doll’s head and examined it more closely. It was better sculpted than I’d thought at first. The features were cleaner, sharper, the suffering expression was more than alarmed—it was frightened. The neck was sectioned off perfectly flat, absolutely smooth, like the stone had been carefully sanded.
I left with it. But it bothered me. It vaguely intruded on my thoughts. I rolled it between my hands, back and forth, back and forth. I didn’t want to just put it in my pocket because it worried me to think that this doll’s head would rub against my keys, the edge of my pocketknife, the ring on my wallet or my pack of cigarettes. But I was tired of having my hands full so I made a place for it all alone in one of my coat pockets. And I went about my business.
But I kept thinking about the head. I had to keep taking it out of my pocket and look at it. Yes, it was certainly better chiseled than I first thought! But it seemed to me that the features were less tense, maybe calmer, the expression less sad… An annoying conjecture! I was going to get rid of it, really, drop it on the ground for good… I didn’t dare. I looked at it again. No, it wasn’t as calm as I’d thought a minute before. And the eyes were so big now… There was terror, I think, yes, terrified suspense in the face. How did I not see this before?
I put the doll’s head back in my pocket and went on, dreaming of what this old face could have been in the past. Environments, landscapes passed through my brain. First it was under the earth – piles, blocks, beds of flint. Dark and disordered caves, human limbs squatting, kneeling before some manual labor that I didn’t see. Then all of a sudden, an old Arab, tall, bearded, grizzled, wearing a dazzling burnous; palm trees, an African sky, sand. The confused notion of a story, a complete story, distended, twisted in my mind, drifting, drifting, becoming clearer at times… Words appeared, phrases formed and repeated. It seemed to me that the old Arab had his head cut off. He told me what he felt, these words: “My body is long, long, long, long! My burnous will never be able to cover it from head to toe!”
Still I walked down the street, quickly. The sight of a junk shop aroused me, attracted me. Among the scraps lay a bag of Saharan fabric, a bag stitched with thread that pierced the frayed, dirty tissue and bit into the lines of still lively color. The pressing need to reunite these two objects, the patched up satchel and my doll’s head, froze me. I bought it. Feverishly I took the head of the old Arab from my pocket and… it seemed to be smiling! The features were very balanced now, perked up in hilarity. Certainly, just a minute ago, the right eye was a little lower than the left… but there it was, climbed back into place…
I hurriedly stuck the stone into the bag and feverishly twisted it closed. It, at least, was locked up safe and sound.
And I walked. I went without seeing anything, except in my head. The story picked up again, continued. I distinctly noticed in my thought a black man, a hideous black man who lifted a large scimitar over my Arab who was tied to a tree, exhausted, with his face turned to the sky and… his eyes alarmed like the first time, my first sight…
At that moment, awake again. A stream swollen by the rains crossed my path. I raised my eyes, remembering where I was, and saw, through an open window, the inside of a factory. A fat black woman was leaning out the window, her round, glistening face blossomed into a lascivious smile. Workers bustled about in the shop and then one of them broke away and approached the window, a black man, my black man! The doll’s head was seen at that instant within me… Ah! It really was him! There he was, making big, white eyes, sticking his red, foot-long tongue out at me, planting a huge slap on the ass of the woman. She was not upset and did not turn around; her black meat jiggled a little under her shawl is all. She laughed more lewdly while watching me. Then she lifted one of her elbows and darted a long, sharp finger at my satchel! She pointed at the head of the old Arab – I saw it! And putting her finger to her neck she moved it like a blade cutting her throat and made a little air-like noise, “ffftt”…
I was forced to take the head out and look at it again. Oh! This time it was horror! It was waiting for the blow, its mouth was contorted and its wide eyes saw the flash of steel!
I ran away with the doll’s head.
Since that time it has obsessed me, possessed me. It’s attached to me for the rest of my life. Maybe longer. I won’t ever dare banish it. I dreamed that if my house burned down, maybe I’d be free of it. Now that is the thought of a lunatic! It cannot burn or melt. I would find it again in the ruins. It would come back to me. Even a cataclysm can’t help. It is over. I will never escape. It will never end. A shape, especially the shape of a face, is not destroyed. It is never harmless to let a new face into your life… Others took hold of me in a similar way that I could not refuse… But if on the day of the box of nails I had not…? No, I couldn’t help myself… We are not free.