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Three Tales of the Past Future
by Catherine Dufour

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Computer engineer and Sci-fi author, Catherine Dufour offers here a mischievous trilogy of tales. A literary genre often associated with childhood for its fanciful features but also for its ability to project oneself into the future, one future calling out another. Émile, Émilie and Emmy travel through the past century in the same way as the Pont Royal spans the Seine river…


Once upon a time there was a little boy called Émile, who found life terribly boring. Everything bored him, and he got bored wherever he went, with everyone. Pushing his hoop in the Tuileries with his friend Dédé was a drag; playing with his friend Lulu in the sand, near the large pond, made him yawn. He didn’t even have the heart to run on the lawns in order to catch butterflies with his little green net.

One day, as he was walking by the Seine behind his parents, sighing heavily behind their backs, he spotted something shining brightly beneath an epimedium bush. Leaning down, he made out a large marble that had been abandoned in the mud and was sparkling in the sun.

– Oh! A taw.

Émile slid under the bush to pick up the taw. He rubbed it on his sleeve to clean it. Suddenly, as he did so, everything misted over. As if in a dream, he could see his father and his mother disappearing into a thick fog; he had the sensation of being caught in a strong wind. He didn’t know it, but years were speeding past him, like golden arches


Émile rubbed his eyes with his fists. It was no use: he was now alone on a neatly built embankment, and what looked like the Seine was flowing placidly just two metres below. He looked up: hundreds of airplanes were moving above him, as in some sort of beautiful ballet. Some of them had one, two or three wings, and they were all different colours. Some were minuscule, while others were as large as stagecoaches, and were transporting lots of people, of which Émile could only see their hats poking out above the gondola. In the middle of all that, policemen with articulated wings, recognisable by their uniforms and their white batons, were directing traffic. And higher up, almost level with the pretty white clouds, were brightly coloured hot-air balloons.

They were being powered by large propellers whose blades were glinting in the sunshine. Shouts, engine noises and laughter fell from the sky onto the astonished Émile’s head.

Émile decided to leave the riverbank, and looked for a staircase: he couldn’t see one. But the wall opened up to reveal a row of lifts. As he cautiously approached them, an attendant beamed at him, opened the door to one of the cabins for him and said in a loud voice:

– Mind your step!

Émile cautiously entered the lift, which was lined with mirrors and red velvet. The attendant closed the gate and pushed the lever down: less than a minute later, the gate opened again to reveal a huge boulevard. ‘Everyone get off!’ shouted the attendant. Émile jumped, stepped out of the lift, and nearly fell over: the pavement had just disappeared under his feet.

Astounded, Émile saw that the landscape was slowly scrolling past before his eyes. He recognised the Pont Royal as it was passing and looked down at his shoes: he was on a vast moving walkway, whose wooden slats were sliding silently along the road. Disconcerted, Émile carefully went over to the side and plucked up the courage to jump…


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Three Tales from the Past Future © Catherine Dufour 2021
Translated from French (France) by Bernard Wooding. The Jeu de Paume thanks the author for her kind and generous collaboration.



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