A Hunting Party

Pages 7-29

I would love to die of natural causes. I would like to grow old. None of our kind grows old. We go in the prime of life.

I would love to have time to emerge from childhood. To know the poignant nostalgia that grips teenagers’ hearts. Something in them mourns the child they no longer are, and it’s a magnificent, speechless sorrow.

I would like to get bored, to know disgust. Then, to enjoy the ease that comes with maturity.

I would like to have the time to know love, and the infinite luxury of losing it.

“I don’t love you anymore, it’s over, we’ve been seeing each other for too long, I don’t feel anything for you now.”

Often, in order to hurt myself, to fully feel the cruelty of my fate, I play out this impossible scene in my head, I repeat this line that I will never utter.

I have a big imagination. They say it’s rare in our family line. My mother told me so. She thought I was smarter than the others. She used to say she didn’t entirely understand me. She would tilt her head while delivering these words, and the sun, held captive for a moment in her iris, pierced my retina.

She died, of course. Very quickly. She hardly spoke to me. None of us has time for anything. But she told me this anyway, that I have a big imagination, and probably a larger brain than my brothers, my cousins, my ancestors, so I use it. I pretend to be old.

Old, aged, elderly—these words make me tremble with pain and joy. They’re the loveliest, sweetest, and most dreadful words of our language. I dare to utter them. I know the risk I take. My heart could give way from an excess of delight. But I bet on the excellence of my heart, I don’t have a choice. I bet on the caliber of each one of my organs and muscles. I am made to last, to endure, to survive. I’m going to make it. I might be the only one, but who knows? Once I’m seasoned and worn out, when my teeth are missing and my blood flows less swiftly through my veins, I’ll be able to teach others, take a few young ones under my wing and tell them my secrets, my tricks, explain to them that it’s possible. “Look at me! See my ears, drooping and weary, my lazy eyelid that half-covers my right eye. The hump on my back. My tired whiskers.”

I will be their prophet, I will find a territory, I will organize the resistance. Too long have we suffered, too long have we submitted to our fate.

We don’t have memories. We don’t have time to build up remembrances, experiences. With each birth, the entire species starts all over again, and we run, we jump, panicked, in zigzags. No sooner have we felt the sun on our brows, the warmth of mother’s milk in our throats than we have to leave home, set off, catch up with the lateness that’s been inscribed in our genetic code since the beginning of time. Late, late, we’re always too late. The threat is engraved in each one of us. The threat is our destiny.

For the moment, I am alone. I’ve found a place. I hold on. I must somehow manage to think, to wait, to get myself organized. It’s unnatural. My tendons are itching to go. My instinct dictates flight, but I’ve seen too many who, in fleeing, were caught, killed in motion.

I attempt stillness, I attempt calm. But my whole body yearns to escape, to slip away. I must control it, impose a law on it that I’ll make up as I go along. I must be my own tyrant.

In order to give myself courage, I repeat my motto, “To die of natural causes,” “To die of old age.” Ah! To be worthy of one’s own demise, to ultimately wish for it, to experience weariness.


Soon, I will have to go out, find something to eat.

Soon, I will have to find myself a companion.

I’ll know how to fuck her like I’m supposed to. No need to think about it. It’s inscribed in us. But that’s the trap: doing what you know how to do. That’s what we die from, from our bodies’ tyranny and our lack of foresight.

I’ll be abstinent. As soon as the desire arises, I’ll repress it. Dying of hunger, is that a natural death? Dying of loneliness, of grief?


There must be another way. I’m having a hard time concentrating, because of hunger, because of urgency, because of my petrified limbs begging for action, for speed. It’s like an impulse within me, a force that disregards my being, despises my willpower. This force is the same one that transforms a stem into a trunk, that makes thunder strike, waves crash and break, volcanoes erupt, planets follow their orbits in the heavens. My body is too small for it, I feel torn apart. This force is going to rip me open if I try to subdue it. I’m still holding on, but a certain tingling under my skin tells me I’m not going to last much longer. I’m going to give in, like elastic, a catapult, a bow, burst out like a cannonball, a lead bullet.

The bullet that shoots from the rifle the instant I shoot out of my hole. What a beautiful encounter. An encounter in time, in the synchronic perfection of chance. The hunter didn’t do it deliberately. He couldn’t have known that my paws would propel me out of the earth at that very second. He didn’t see me. He didn’t aim, but I’m lying here stunned, awestruck, admiring the beauty of the unexpected, admiring the inevitable. I’m so young and I’m going to die. It’s impossible. I had such a big, bright future in store. I couldn’t have inherited this awareness for nothing. Someone, somewhere, must have had an idea in the back of his mind. Or perhaps not.

I’m so small, I’m so sweet. What a shame. The man who picks me up looks like me. We stare at each other. His thumb is on my heart, which is still beating. He’s crying. He tries to hide. He doesn’t want anyone to see him. He’s probably not alone. I hear a voice a little further away. A man’s voice.


“What the fuck are you doing? You didn’t shoot yourself in the foot, did you?”

Bursts of raucous laughter.


A young man, with shaky knees, holds a cottontail rabbit in his right hand. Dawn is breaking. A pearly vapor bubbles up at the top of the meadow. With a thumb on the animal’s heart, he feels the rapid heartbeats that excite his own cardiac rhythm. He is crying. He’s never killed anything or anyone. But the rabbit isn’t dead. If the heart is beating, it means he’s alive. Don’t show him to the others. Keep him. Look after him. Care for him.

Here come the dogs.

He doesn’t like dogs. He’s always been afraid of them. They’re going to smell the rabbit. They’re trained for it. They’re going to betray him, and then Dumestre’s big hands, crack, a quarter-turn will suffice. The head will hang down, as though it’s lost interest in the body, in a blasé pose that makes death look like a welcome nap, a dreamless, pleasureless sleep.

The young man opens his gamebag, a lovely name, a practical object, simple, which keeps its promises—it was Dumestre who let him borrow it—and he slips the trembling rabbit under the dish towel he took when he left the house. He does that. All the time. A sort of compulsive habit. Leaving with a dish towel. At restaurants, he sometimes takes the cloth napkin with him. The dish towel smells like oranges; it came from the fruit bowl. Maybe the dogs will be put off by the scent.

He can still hear the shot’s echo in the air, as though the atmosphere refused to accept the intrusion. No wind in the trees to dissolve it, no breeze in the grass to carry it away. Something has become immobilized, petrified.


“Aren’t you going to say something? You injured or what? Are you dead?”

Raucous bursts of laughter once more. Closer. And wham! A big slap on the back nearly knocks him over. The young man smiles.

“Sorry,” he says.

“It’s okay, you didn’t wake up anybody. No one was sleeping. Ha ha!”

Three men surround him. Dumestre, a barrel mounted on two stiff legs, neck of a bull, large, flat head, crimson face from which his eyes emerge, slightly bulging, like two snails. Farnèse, stealthy, pale eyes, matching his gray complexion, a spectacular thinness, an alcoholic thinness. Peretti, broad hips, hollow chest, bowed legs, weak jawline that merges with his throat, eyes both intelligent and fearful, mouth of a guilty little boy.

Three men. He is the fourth. It’s a hunting party. Joking, beer, warm blood, the scent of dogs, of leather, of steel, of wood.

Tristan lifts his hand to his face, breathes in. The orange fragrance from the dish towel is trapped in his palm. It calms his racing heart.

“Would ya look at that, the dogs are making a fuss over you. Incredible! A success like that with the mutts. You’re the animals’ friend, am I right?”

Yes, thinks Tristan, who feels the rabbit’s heart beating too slowly, too dully against his hipbone.

Live, he silently orders the rabbit. If you live, then everything is possible. What went wrong will be made right.

The three hunters surround him. Farnèse gives him a friendly punch in the shoulder. Peretti deals a light smack to the back of his skull. Dumestre stares at him.

“’Did you see something? Why’d you shoot?”

“The shot went out on its own,” says Tristan.

The three others have a good laugh.

“Premature ejaculation?” Dumestre asks.

Farnèse and Peretti laugh louder than ever.

Tristan laughs with them.


Hunting is Emma’s idea. A good way to fit in, she said to him. We’ll never make it if you don’t fit in. The men around here have certain habits and pleasures you must share. The women will reject me, no matter what I do. But you, you have a chance. You could make it. Do it for us both. Do it for me. I can’t live alone. Even alone with you. Our love will die of it. We need other people. I need them. For us, so that you can go on loving me.

Tristan knows that if he were to brandish the moribund rabbit at that moment, he would’ve won.

Beginner’s luck, the other three would laugh, but they’d grant him respect. Tristan would fit in and Emma would be reassured.


“In another time, I could’ve gone to church on Sundays,” she says. “That would have been enough. But no one goes anymore. So…”

“So fine, I’ll go hunting with them.”

“You’ll see, it’s nothing, it’s easy.”

“Easy to kill an innocent animal?”

“You won’t have to kill anything. You’ll go along with them, that’s all. You imitate them, you speak like them. You laugh at their jokes. You congratulate them. You ask their advice. They’ll take you under their wing.”

“They’ll treat me like a queer.”

“No! They don’t even know what that is. Trust me, my love. Go on. Straighten your shoulders. There. Make your manly face.”

He furrows his brow.

She bursts out laughing.

“Even you don’t believe it.”

“Yes I do. I could eat you up…”

She kisses him. The scent rising from between her breasts, at once piercing and dull, intoxicates Tristan, hardens him, thrills him.

“Okay, fine, you win. I’ll go on Sunday.”

“Not to mass, to the hunt. Hunting,” she says, “will always exist.”


Emma is taller than he is. Heavier as well. She looks like an Indian chief, he says to himself sometimes. He adores her body. It’s his domain. The only territory where he’s ever felt at home. He has become the cartographer of it, the expert.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“I’m looking at you.”


He nods.


Tristan doesn’t take the rabbit out of the gamebag. He waits for the dogs to calm down, pick up another scent. A hen pheasant flutters out of a thicket. It slowly moves forward, in a cautious and stupid way. Farnèse takes aim, his finger quivering on the trigger. He shoots.

“Shit, Farnèse!” Dumestre shouts, “You busted its head open. What a bloodbath!”

The bird runs around, decapitated, for a yard or two, a fountain of blood on two legs.

Tristan suppresses an urge to vomit. He slips his hand into his bag. With the tips of his fingers, he strokes the rabbit’s back, feels a tiny vibration under the pad of his middle finger. Don’t die, he thinks.

I’m not dying, answers the mute rabbit. I’m persevering. I’m starting a new life, a bonus. I see our encounter as a miracle. I don’t know how you did it, you clumsy young man, friend to animals, but you didn’t touch a single vital organ. The proof: I’m thinking. The proof: I’m persevering. I’m focusing on healing as quickly as possible. I promise not to lose any blood. I’m commanding my veins to preserve their wholeness. The bullet only grazed my muzzle. I was knocked out. I’m swallowing the trickle of scarlet saliva staining my chops. You are my chance of a lifetime. I’m not hungry anymore. You’ve freed me from any sense of urgency. Now I’ve been removed from my destiny. Young man, you’re full of kindness. I adore you.


The dogs sniff the pheasant’s remains. They growl, they yap. Farnèse stares at the ground between his feet. He’s ashamed. Tristan doesn’t understand why.

“Good shot, in any case,” he ventures.

“This kid’s funny,” says Dumestre. “You’re funny,” he repeats for Tristan. “That’s some sense of humor, huh? I love humor, but it’s not easy. You have to work at it.”

Tristan nods in agreement. He’s not sure he passed the test successfully. He’s labeled “the joker.” That’s not what Emma had in mind. She was thinking Ulysses, she was thinking Jason, Achilles, even. What trophy will he be carrying when he crosses the doorstep of their house?


“Should we have a cup of joe?”

Peretti’s treat. He brought a Thermos. The four of them use the same cup. The coffee is very strong and very sweet. It has an aftertaste of iron.

“That hits the spot,” says Tristan.

“It’s hot, that’s why,” says Peretti.

“It’s because we’re here,” says Dumestre. “Everything you eat in the forest, everything you drink in the forest is better. It’s the air. Especially in the morning, like now. The leaves sweat during the night. When you breathe, the air that goes into your lungs is different. It’s filled with the leaves’ sweat. The coffee is different too.”

“All that’s in your head,” says Farnèse.

“You’re a dick,” says Dumestre.

“No, you’re the dick.”

Tristan wonders how an argument ends when you have a loaded gun in your hands.


“You’re sure the woman has to be cut open before being burned alive?’

“Yes. Why? Don’t you like it?”

Tristan sets the warm pages on the kitchen table as they come out of the printer. Emma stares at him, a look of defiance in her eyes.

“That’s how it is now,” she explains. “You have to say everything. Stretch the limits. People are numb. They have to be shocked, woken up. We’ve seen everything, heard everything. Blasé, know the word? That’s what we are. Blasé. Take the most inventive geniuses of our time, you know where they are? In prisons and psychiatric wards. They’re serial killers who have used mathematical models, philosophical models. We’ve worked so hard to prolong our lives, to improve them, that the last refuge of creativity lies in destruction. Art has to plant a bomb. If you don’t plant a bomb, you’re dead.”

Tristan can’t think of a response. Emma is always right. And he’s always trailing a little behind, as if he doesn’t want to see things as they really are. She writes novels. But no one’s heard of her. They don’t talk about her in the newspapers. Her photo isn’t published anywhere. In the village, people think she knits, because of the scarves, long and heavy like boa constrictors, that Tristan wears around his neck.


When he met her, he didn’t know she was a writer. She was working as a waitress at a pub in southeast London where he sometimes went to have a Sprite after class.

“French?” she had asked him one evening, even though he hadn’t said a word.

“How’d you know?”

“It’s obvious.”

“And you?”

“Me too. Isn’t it obvious?”

Laughing, she went back to the bar without taking his order. She jabbered something in English to the manager—bald with glasses, pocket Bible in hand—who was standing straight as a totem pole behind the counter, and brought Tristan a beer.

He had never drunk anything like it. But then again, was this even a drink? It was heavy in his mouth, like porridge—thick, slightly viscous.

“You have to adapt, kid,” she said, straddling a chair she’d turned around to face him, like in the cabaret, he thought. “You have to fit in. Sprite, that’s American crap. In Marseille, you drink pastis, in Paris, coffee, in London, it’s Guinness. Get it? And not timid little swallows like a granny sipping her tea. You knock it back, and afterwards you lick the froth off your lips. What brings you here?”

“I come after class.”

“What’re you studying?”

“Russian Symbolist poetry.”

“To do what?”

“I don’t know. When I was a kid, my mom took me to the Opéra Garnier one evening. It was Eugene Onegin. ‘Tebya liubliu Tatyanu’—I remember the words.”

“Pushkin wasn’t a Symbolist.”


How’d she know that? he wondered. Who’s interested in Russian poetry? Even he wasn’t passionate about it. He’d been sent to London to study and, when the time came to choose his courses, he had remembered that evening with his mother. The tears on his mother’s face. He’d often seen her cry, in despair, in rage, in drunkenness, in turmoil. That time, it was something else. He hadn’t understood what, but he had felt infinitely relieved.

He didn’t get the chance to ask the waitress what she knew about Russians and the rest. She’d jumped up to serve other customers.


Sometime later, she confessed:

“I was so ashamed.”

“Ashamed of what?”

“Of my way of doing things, approaching you, completely hysterical. Like a strongman at a carnival. I have a hard time controlling my emotions. That’s the problem incredibly shy people have. I’m not talking about you. You aren’t shy. You’re lots of things, but you’re not shy. But I’m really shy. So, when I spring into action, I overdo it, all hell breaks loose. I’m ridiculous.”

“It’s true.”


“I’m being honest,” he declared, sounding both knowledgeable and ironic.

“You’re maladjusted. That’s what I’d say. Completely maladjusted.”

They were sitting on a bench in Brockwell Park that was dedicated to the memory of Linda B. Delaweare by her loving husband.

“Maladjusted,” she repeated.

Then she leaned toward him, abruptly, like the incredibly shy person she was, and kissed him for the first time. Tristan was floored. If someone had cut open his stomach, he couldn’t have been more surprised or more touched. There was so much vulnerability in this gesture, so much awkwardness. The desperation of her lips. She kissed like an ugly girl, in an apologetic way.

“You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” he told her, caressing her eyes, her forehead.

“In the end, I actually do appreciate your honesty.”

The wind picked up at that moment, hurling a big purple cloud down to the level of the lush grass, which was bent over by the storm. The hail fell. A shower of transparent pebbles beating down on the paths’ warm asphalt, imitating a stampede of thousands of tiny horses.

They ran to the garden flat where Emma lived, without holding hands, without touching each other, saving their own skins, terrified by the power of the air pushing down on their backs, the violence of the diamonds being fired from the sky, and the certainty that they had found each other, that this was for life, forever, true love, the real deal, even though they were still so young. What a waste! they thought. What a waste! Cast down by the weight of their destiny, the new, eternal responsibility, the frightening solemnity of their passion.


“We’re not taking it?” asks Tristan, designating the decapitated hen that the dogs were attacking.

“No,” replies Dumestre. “It’ll get shit all over everything. Apologize, Farnèse.”

“Why should I apologize?” retorts Farnèse, chin thrust out, rifle pointed at Dumestre.

“Say sorry to the hen.”

Peretti laughs softly. He says, “Come on,” in a voice so low that no one hears him.

“It’s my fault,” Tristan asserts, trying to interfere.

The sun, which has just risen above the horizon, poses a golden accusative finger on Farnèse’s face. He squints.

“Sorry hen,” he mumbles, his gun’s barrel pointed toward the ground. And then, after a moment, “Sorry Mother Nature. Sorry Diana the huntress, goddess of the forest. Sorry…”

“That’s enough,” says Dumestre. “Stop your nonsense. You fire like a barbarian, you say sorry. That’s all. We’re not pigs. We’re not criminals. There are rules. We’re not monsters. We’re not maniacs.”

“We’re nice guys,” Peretti concludes, his smile glued to his face.

Tristan feels like something has gone amiss in his initiation. He had dreaded killing, but the spectacle he’s watching is more complicated than death.

“What do we do now?” he asks.

“We’re moving forward.” Dumestre answers.

They all follow him. No one speaks. The dogs, their muzzles covered in blood, rub up against their masters’ legs and perform carefree, risky slaloms, just short of making the firm-jawed hunters stumble.

The ice melts little by little and their boots slip on the muddy leaves. The forest opens and closes, from clearings to leafy tunnels. Nothing more can be heard other than the men’s jerky breathing and the birds’ disorderly and harmonic racket—trills and whistles, cackling and cooing. Do they understand each other? Tristan wonders, listening to the babel in the tall trees. He sticks his hand into his gamebag, strokes the rabbit’s belly, feeling reassured by the touch of his fur, thinking that once the sun reaches its zenith, everything will be over, he will return home, will leave the mysterious world of manly fraternity for the familiar one of the couple.

Living with a woman—isn’t that what he has always known, after all? With his mother during his childhood, and now with Emma. He knows too much about women’s bodies and too little about those of men. But he’s going to learn. His determination is strong; it carries him with each step. He watches Dumestre, imitating his gait.

After a few hundred yards, the four hunters come to a halt. They’ve reached the overhang; they squat, kneel, and lie down in the undergrowth. Before their eyes, a green valley, similar to a vast pool of mist. The dogs are released. Without yapping, stealthy like their fox cousins, like their wolf brothers, they sink their delicate paws into the earth without disturbing a twig, without lifting a leaf. They proceed in surrounding the area. Tristan dozes in the suspension of the moment. Nothing to do but wait.

And if the world stopped there, on the verge of killing, but without firing a bullet? Isn’t this moment the best, the most fruitful? The perfection of the act in its conception. Doing inevitably means failing. Doing is destroying. For him, the idea is always preferable. That’s what Emma criticizes him for. It’s the reason she wants to leave him. I’m done, she says. With you, nothing is possible, we’re not going anywhere. Love isn’t enough. You have to fit in. She repeats this continuously, from morning to night, sometimes gently, often with cruelty. Fitting in, what’s that?

It’s living according to the laws of your species, the rabbit answers. It’s doing what your instinct dictates. Take me, for example—I have three responsibilities: feeding myself, reproducing, escaping from predators. For you, it’s more complicated: your lives are longer, as are your loves. I don’t understand how you do it.

Me neither, thinks Tristan. But I’ve haven’t always been this lost. As a child, I used to soar along a clearly marked trajectory, a ball thrown into the air, with a clear kinetic gift.

You were following your instinct.

Exactly. When I was hungry, I’d eat, when I was tired, I’d sleep.

Did you want to break free?


You should have.



Psssst. Psssst. Slowly, the rifles settle in the crooks of their shoulders. Suddenly, the dogs appear from everywhere, barking. Immediately, the misty grass valley is lacerated with furred and feathered projectiles, chased from their shelters, terrified. The shots rip through the air, deafening. Tristan clamps his hands over his ears and watches the little bodies snatched up by nothingness in mid-flight. A few minutes later, the ground is strewn with remains. The dogs fulfill their duty as undertakers. Docile, calm, hypnotized by their mindless domestic loyalty, they carry the carcasses to their masters, without licking a drop of blood.

They’re full, Tristan says to himself. The headless hen must’ve been fat.

No, says the rabbit. It’s not that. They’re trained. Trained to devour the scraps and bring back the catch. They never confuse the two, afraid of being beaten. For us, these are very strange creatures. They’re no longer animals, and yet not men.

The hunters pat their doggies, congratulate themselves, smile, rub their hands together in satisfaction. Tristan imitates them.

It’s time to uncork the wine, cut the dried sausage. Everyone chews. Tristan dreads conversation. Dumestre brings up public road maintenance, criticizes Peretti, who’s on the town council, for not speaking up enough, for letting himself be bamboozled. The topic moves on to the mayor’s secretary, her bust, then her handicapped son, which puts a damper on things. It takes four seconds to pass from a troublesome subject to an ordinary one.

“Your plonk is pretty nice!”

“Yeah, it’s some good shit.”

Tristan rolls himself a cigarette.

“That’s bad for your health,” says Farnèse, drinking straight from the bottle.

“Hey, boozer, nobody asked you,” says Dumestre.

This is going to end badly, thinks Tristan, sticking his cigarette in his gamebag. He doesn’t light it. The rabbit sniffs the tobacco, wrinkles his nose, sneezes. No one hears.



Agnès Desarthe

Agnès Desarthe was born in Paris in 1966. Since she grew up in a home where Arabic, Russian, and Yiddish were spoken, she learned French through reading and writing poetry. This kindled her love of writing, and she went on to study literature and English at the École Normale Supérieure. Her first book was published in 1991, and in 1996 she won her first prize for Un Secret sans importance. Une Partie de chasse is her ninth book for adults. In addition to writing adult fiction, she has written several books for children and young adults. She is also a translator, an essayist, a songwriter, and a playwright.

Christiana Hills

Christiana Hills grew up in Michigan loving languages, literature, and writing, which led her to the field of literary translation. She received an MA in Literary Translation (French-English) from New York University in 2013 and has since been writing and translating in a variety of capacities, including as a regular contributor for the translation blog, Intralingo. She currently lives in Binghamton, NY and can be contacted at christiana.r.hills@gmail.com.

Une partie de chasse. Copyright (c) Les Éditions de l'Olivier, 2012. English translation copyright (c) Christiana Hills, 2015.