Short story Wednesday! Let’s read another Guy de Maupassant short story from 1881. Anything with a citation is directly from the text. You can read it in full here, under a different title, “Tombstones”.
This particular story is about grief being the ultimate turn-on.
LAID TO REST
Given the context, this title is the world’s greatest pun. I applaud you, Guy de Maupassant.
There are five rich old dudes who get together once a month and hang out. It’s like the Red Tent, only for the patriarchy, and loads more fun.
One of the dudes, Joseph de Bardon, is your typical bachelor playboy who has all the crazy stories. He decides to regale his friends with one such story:
One day last year, he went to a cemetery to visit the grave of an old flame. That is the Frenchest thing I’ve ever heard. After paying his respects, he decided to go around and read the epitaphs on headstones, because apparently epitaphs are FUCKING HILARIOUS to this guy:
“I tell you gentlemen, they are absolutely killing. Not even Labiche or Meilhac can give me more of a laugh than the language of the headstone. When you read what the nearest and dearest have put on the marble slabs and crosses, pouring out their grief and their best wishes for the happiness of the departed in the next world, and their hopes – the liars! – for a speedy reunion, it’s hilarious!” (50).
Nope. THAT is the Frenchest thing I’ve ever heard.
Anyway, once he had finished laughing at other people’s misery, he decided to return to the grave of his old girlfriend. Potentially to laugh at what her family had written on her tombstone. I don’t know. But when he gets there, he sees a woman mourning at the next grave over.
He watches her cry for a while and thinks about how hot she is, like a grade-A creeper. Then she faints, so he goes over and slaps her around and “breathed on her eyelids” (51). Who knew that was the cure for fainting? CERTAINLY NOT ANY DOCTORS, THAT’S FOR SURE.
So while he’s curing her with the restorative powers of his breath, he reads the epitaph on the grave we was weeping over. Maybe he presumed that it was so hysterical it had reduced her to tears and the laughter cut off oxygen to her brain.
He sees that it is the grave of a young soldier, recently dead. When she comes to, he thinks, “Well, I’m a pretty hot dude. I can tell she’s super into me. I can tell by the way she’s looking around, all disoriented. Could we maybe get some sex out of this situation?” She tells him it’s her husband grave, and he died in battle after only one year of marriage, and she’s terribly lonely and distraught. She worries she’s going to faint again, so he helps her across the street to a café where they have tea.
After that, she says she needs help getting to her apartment. And once they take a cab to her apartment, she says she needs help getting upstairs.
You see where this is going.
After they finish having sex, he feels particularly magnanimous, so he decides to grace her with an hour of post-coital conversation. Why are all the guys in Guy de Maupassant short stories such reprehensible fuckbags? “Your booty was so fine that you have earned the right to hear me speak on a subject for a short length of time. I will even lower myself to listen to what you say. That’s how fine that booty was.”
He even asks her out to dinner that night, and gets her a little drunk, and goes back upstairs for some more of that sweet slap-and-tickle. He dates her for three weeks, gets kinda bored, and then says he has an unavoidable business trip he has to go on. She makes him swear that he will return to her after his trip, and apparently gives him some impressive sex to remember her by.
He immediately starts seeing a number of other women and feels zero regret. But after a while, her memory starts to niggle at him like there was some sort of mystery left unsolved. When he can’t take it anymore, he returns to the cemetery where they met, on the off-chance that he’ll run into her again. If he feels like it, he will resume the affair.
Glad to know you’re taking her feelings into account, buddy. His reaction to the situation is akin to, “Well, maybe if I feel like it today, I’ll have a cup of coffee. I’ve gone off coffee for a bit, but it’s no big deal for me to resume using it.” I hope he dies in a tragic accident where scorpions are dipped in poison and put in his bed, and then he and his bed are thrown into a volcano. What a tragic, tragic accident that would be.
He returns to the grave, but sees no signs of it having been tended to in his absence. In another section of the cemetery, far away, he runs into her again. She’s in a near faint, being supported by a rich-looking older man. When he gets nearby, she makes a sign for him to pretend that he doesn’t know her.
He’s stunned that he’s been played, and isn’t sure if she’s a prostitute who targets wealthy and grief-stricken men (and if she is, he’s impressed that she cornered that market), or if she’s just a lonely woman who discovered the erotic pleasures of sad sex. He’ll never know.
GOOD. YOU DON’T DESERVE TO KNOW. I STILL WANT YOU TO DIE IN LAVA, DE BARDON.
The moral of this story can be summed up by Will Ferrel in Wedding Crashers (arouund 3:30 in this video): “Grief is nature’s most powerful aphrodisiac.” I really hope the cemetery lady was also named Chazz.