‘Je voudrais un verre de vin rouge et un expresso, s’il vous plaît.’ Peirene is sitting on a chair in the middle our office, wearing a red summer dress, dark shades and a beautiful straw sun hat with a wide brim. Her right leg is elegantly crossed over her left, the right foot is playfully bouncing up and down. ‘Merci, monsieur,’ she giggles. ‘Je fume aussi.’ She leans forward now pretending to hold a cigarette between her fingers. ‘C’est très gentil.’ She blows the pretend smoke up into the air. ‘Je suis la éditeur célèbre de Londres…Oui, c’est moi.’ She throws her head back and laughs happily.
I’m standing in the doorframe. I don’t think she has yet noticed me. For a moment I hesitate, I don’t want to embarrass her – her little act is clearly not meant for an audience. But at the same time I do need to get to my desk. So I decide to cough lightly.
The Nymph is now leaning forward picking up a pretend wine glass from a pretend bistro table. She doesn’t seem to have heard me. I cough a bit louder.
‘Entrez, entrez,’ She waves at me.
I shuffle over to my desk. Behind me the Nymph continues her flirtatious conversation with her made up French waiter. She tells him that she’ll be coming to his French village from now on for two months every summer. ‘No, no,’ it’s not her house. But ‘je suis très célèbre,’ she stresses again. Then she explains that a reader who loves her books has given her their holiday home for two months a year. This a places, she says, where she can relax, catch her breath and revitalise so that she may continue publishing great international literature.
‘Hm, hm,’ I clear my throat and turn in my chair towards her. ‘I’m sorry to interrupt your little French party, Peirene. But the house is actually not meant for us.’
‘What?!’ The Nymph pulls down her sun glasses and looks at me in shock.
It is true. A few weeks ago I received an email from a Peirene subscriber with a wonderful proposal. The subscriber owns a holiday home in the Pyrenees. Would our authors or translators be interested to use it as a retreat for two months a year. I had never met this reader before, so needless to say, I was intrigued. During our meeting, the offer turned out to be even more generous. It includes a significant sum of money to set up a translation prize. I’m now in the process of figuring out how we can best make this prize work.
‘So our sponsor has withdrawn the offer!’ Peirene slums back in her chair. ‘C’est pas vrai. Incroyable.’ She puts her arm across her face as if she’s about to faint. ‘All these French conversation tapes I’ve been listening to day and night – for nothing. For nothing.’
‘The sponsor has not withdrawn the offer,’ I interrupt the Nymph’s lamentation. ‘But you, Peirene, has misunderstood. The house is not meant for us. Instead it will be used by our translators.’
Peirene doesn’t react, lies in her chair perfectly still. Then she sighs. A deep, sad sigh: ‘That’s even more incroyable. Who needs a holiday more than anyone else? Me. Who works harder than anyone else? Me. But no one ever cares for me!’
‘Peirene,’ I say in a stern voice. ‘You are being ungrateful. This reader cares a lot for you that’s why they are making this generous offer. And truth to tell, once the prize is up and running, you will become even more célèbre than you are already,’ I smile.
The Nymph’s eyes suddenly gleam again. ‘You are right! And for the prize’s inauguration party we will both get ourselves new dresses worthy of our celebrity status.’
By Meike Ziervogel
(Image by decar66, Creative Commons)
This blog was originally published on 23 July 2018 as part of Peirene Press‘s series The Pain & Passion of a Small Publisher.