'All things come to an end': A last meeting with Samuel Beckett
Award winning writer Mark Axelrod recalls a poignant final lunch with Beckett
With the recent publication of the first volume of Beckett’s letters I started to recall the last time I met Beckett in Paris in 1988.
We first met in April, 1985. It had been three years since our meeting at the café in the Hotel PLM. At noon. Noon being the time he had suggested. The suggested hour.
At the time, there was the usual feeling one gets upon meeting one’s hero. Of sorts. Heroes coming in all sorts of sizes. Genres. Modes of discourse.
Our first meeting was all that I hadn’t expected it to be: chatty, informal, with an air of melodious, yet melancholy, music to it.
Yet, in its own way, it was sacrosanct. And so I looked forward to our next meeting, our last meeting. At the café of his choice, the PLM; at the time of his choice, noon.
I had primed myself by seeing “En Attendant Godot” several nights earlier in case one needed priming for such a meeting since my anxieties were much less pronounced than they were three years earlier.
By now we had corresponded, almost called each other by first names, knew where each other lived. He had even consented to reading some blather I had written even though he couldn’t read much by then. Blather is all it was. Can’t remember what I had sent him.
I was early. Always early. One waits for Beckett, if one respects time. If one respects Beckett. It is also a kindness afforded to greatness. My time seemed expendable.
I started to smooth my hair, tapped my fingers on the marble table, would have smoked had I allowed myself to do it.
In between still another hair stroke, still another tapping finger, I saw him walk in and begin to look around. Gone were the grey greatcoat and the blue sweater now replaced with a knee-length, navy blue coat and an orange stocking cap. Tennies.
I walked across the room and tapped his shoulder.
“Mr. Axelrod,” he said as he turned.
Beckett had chosen a booth, in a corner of the café, away from the window, beneath a coat rack. He removed a small, yellow cigar box and placed it on the table. Weathered hands, bent from the fabric of so many rigid pens.
What I noticed this time that I hadn’t noticed three years earlier were the lines in his face. The creases, deep, curvilinear, like furrows that had swallowed certain secrets and kept them irretrievably harbored.
“The weather’s been so bad,” I said, “How do you manage? Morocco?”
A place he said he visited, at times, when Paris got too cold.
“My cottage,” he said, some miles outside Paris. In what direction he didn’t say. A reclusive habitat, no doubt. Doubt needed for reclusion.
We ordered coffees: a café noir for him, a café crème for me.
He seemed much thinner to me. Not a sickly thin, but an aged one, one that seemed to brook the onset of deliquescence. Deathlike, it seemed to me. I quickly discounted the idea.
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