Ist and Irt
Translated from the French by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert
Towards the south, the lake recedes, its waters are filled with fewer fish. Doubtless it is for this reason that the fishermen of the lake never settled there. It was there, nevertheless, that Ism and Isl decided to live after they met. They bought a new boat, they constructed a cabin. The spot truly pleased them. Ism fished, Isl dressed the filets and went to sell the fish at the market. Ism caught nothing but little fish. That's how it was around this part of the lake; all the fishermen knew. As he was a good fisherman, Ism caught a lot. But his catch was poorly rewarded, because only the big fish brought a good price. Ism didn't regret having settled there with Isl. He had few needs. And they had enough to get by with the money from the little fish.
At the market where she made her way each day, Isl was courted by the most famous fisherman on the lake, Irg. He was always the one who sold the biggest fish. One day, he offered one to Isl. She carefully prepared it for the evening meal. She wanted to surprise Ism. But Ism was somber, and he didn't look the same when he saw the plate which Isl presented him. For some days now, the fishing had been bad, the fish had gotten smaller, and less numerous. Ism feared that the fish were disappearing from this part of the lake. He said nothing about it to Isl. And Isl wasn't bothered by having fewer little fish than ever to take to sell at the market. Besides, she always brought home a big fish from Irg. Chance had smiled upon her. She concluded that Ism had no taste for fish. She had to eat it all herself. In the days that followed, Ism became still more somber, and he brought home fewer and fewer fish. He didn't talk to Isl anymore, he acted as if she didn't exist.
One night, Isl didn't come home from the market. She had accepted Irg's offer to go and live with him at the other end of the lake, there where big fish could always be found. Ism stayed by himself with his boat and his cabin. He kept on fishing. But his fishing got worse and worse. His filets became shreds, the little fish hid themselves in bigger and bigger holes. One day, Ism didn't catch any fish at all. At the market, Isl triumphed. She sold the best fish in the lake. She was happy. She gave birth to a son, Irt.
Ism decided to leave the lake, and move upriver. After several weeks of journeying, he came upon a second lake, smaller than the first. peaceful and fringed with forests. Ism quickly found a spot which suited him, along an isolated and well-protected creek. The next morning, he went fishing. He brought in some big fish. Ism had done well to move upriver. It was on the banks of this river that Ism wanted to live ever after. At the market, he was proud of his fish. Each morning, he went fishing, and each time he caught big fish. At the market, he met a young lake girl, Isn. She pleased him right away, and he asked her to come live with him. Isn was happy with Ism. She went to sell the fish at the market, she dressed the filets. She gave Ism a daughter, Ist. Ism and Isn passed their days along the edge of the lake.
One day, a young fisherman arrived. He was called Irt, he was the son of Isl. He had come up the river, he wanted to settle along the edge of this lake. He built himself a cabin in a little cove at the lake's edge. At the market, Ist now replaced Isn. She and Irt met. Irt had had no luck since settling. He had fished out only little fish in little quantities. Ist was sad for him. She frequently offered him one of Ism's beautiful fish for his evening meal. Irt was ashamed of catching nothing but little fish, and he didn't dare tell her he was in love with her. So it was Ist who took the first steps. A few days later, Irt asked for her hand.
Ist and Irt decided to more up the river, in search of another lake where they might settle. They journeyed long before they came upon a very tiny lake which resembled a lagoon. It was there that the river had its source. The water in the lake was transparent and very deep. Ist and Irt settled along the edge of this lake, they built a cabin. Ist didn't want to stay at home when Irt went fishing. She wanted to go with him. So they went fishing together, each at one end of the boat. They caught some small fish and some big fish.
The years passed. Ist and Irt had no children. They fished all the time, but they had caught only small fish, which just sufficed to keep them alive. The big fish had disappeared from the lake. Then the little fish began to disappear. Ist and Irt were now very old. Every day, they went to the middle of the lake to fish for the last little fishes. Their boat was very leaky, it took on water. While Irt rowed, Ist emptied the water from the boat. One day, Ist no longer had the strength to bail all the water rushing into the boat. And Irt continued to row as if nothing were wrong. When they arrived at the middle of the lagoon-transparent lake, very softly, very gently, the boat was swallowed up, along with Ist and Irt.
English language translation copyright ©2006 by Green Integer.
Born in 1948, Marie Redonnet was trained as a teacher but soon left her job in a public school in the suburbs of Paris in order to devote herself to writing. Since 1985, the year of the appearance of her first literary work, Le Mort & Cie, a set of Haiku-like verses, evoking her father's death—she has published short stories (Doublures) novels and novellas (Splendid Hôtel, Forever Valley, Rose Mélie Rose [published in translation by the University of Nebraska Press] Silsie, Candy Story, Nevermore and dramamtic works (Tir et Lir, Mobie-Diq, Seaside).
One of the most distinctive voices in contemporary French literature, Redonnet is often connected with other young French writers of the period, including Jean Echenoz, Jean-Philippe Toussaint, and Annie Ernaux.