How Lucky You Are by Denis Michelis

Eponine Howarth

An extract of La chance que tu as by Denis Michelis (éditions LIBRETTO, January 2023), translated by Eponine Howarth.


He’s got fifteen minutes left, so he hurries. He feels like taking an ice-cold shower and he also feels like drinking a tall glass of cool water. His lips are dry and he feels a slight headache coming on.

The shower gives him just a trickle of lukewarm water. Then he looks for a towel, but to no avail; the piece of cardboard he sees balanced on the washbasin doesn’t appeal to him.

Luckily, he’s brought a big, fluffy bath towel, but when he’s about to open his bag, which he'd put on the top bunk (he'd chosen the left-hand bunk), his fingers run over the rough surface of the sheet, but his hand finds nothing. He stands on tiptoe because the beds are really high, higher than usual, and notices that his bag has disappeared. It’s been replaced by two white underpants, two pairs of black socks, a pair of black patent shoes and two bow ties.

The briefing is in five minutes.

A guy has just come in, whom he had vaguely spotted earlier. He too looks exhausted. He feels ridiculous, naked and wet, so he turns round, grabs one of the boxer shorts and hastily puts it on.

The shorts are too big, they look like a tutu. Where's my bag?
Hello, first of all.
He was very insistent on the first of all.

I'm Amaury, your other flatmate, and you've got to be ready in five minutes, Gina doesn't like us to be late.

Where's my bag?

He would have liked to elaborate, introduce himself and say something nice, but he's almost naked and his personal belongings have disappeared.

He repeats where's my bag and his voice wavers slightly, breaking.

Hey mister new guy, mister I want everything right here right now, if I were you, I'd change tone, he says, scrutinising him from head to toe.

He lingered for a moment on his pants.

Had the white become transparent with the humidity?

You know, we're all in the same boat, so there's no point in being inquisitive or prudish. He adds, as if to anticipate the next question: you don't need your bag here, you just need your clothes and a bit more goodwill.


It won't do you any good to fly solo, it's just a piece of advice I'm giving you.


He would like to say I have a right to my privacy.
What you are doing is illegal.
It's an attack on individual freedoms, but he abstains because he doesn't find the right phrasing.

Nothing fits his state of mind, everything seems grandiloquent, inappropriate, hyperbolic.

After all, it's just a bag.

It's the rational part of his brain talking. It adds: three work clothes and something to get you through the night should be enough.

He's convinced.

A little common sense never hurt anyone.

Maybe I shouldn't ask for too much in the beginning? The hardest part is fitting in, the hardest part is being part of the team, so don't go throwing it all away over a few clothes, people will think you're shallow.

He puts on his outfit and thinks how lucky he is to be wearing a bow tie.

You look good like this, concludes Amaury, the Chef will appreciate it.


It's a restaurant like so many others: the tables are round, the chairs comfortable, the tablecloths white, the cutlery silver, and good quality china.

Classic and boring, it makes you wonder why the place is so popular.

There are fresh flowers on every table: roses, amaryllis, gladioli, poppies but also camellias and hibiscus flowers, almost all of them red, so red it hurts your eyes. The light isn't very good, and with all these windows and the clear weather, the room should be flooded with light, that's the first thing he thinks to himself, why on earth is there so little light, and he realises that the windows, all of them without exception, are obscured by hydrangeas. They're everywhere: blue, pink and white hydrangeas, abnormally large hydrangeas.

And he, who loves hydrangeas so much...
A voice calls out to him.
Shall we go for a walk and admire the view?
He hadn't noticed the only untended table in the left-hand corner, around which most of the team are seated.

The curly-haired woman is in the centre, surrounded by her new colleagues. She smokes very long cigarettes and says to him, just in case, I'm Gina, just in case you'd like to know the first names of the rest of your team, and then goes on to mention others, vaguely naming each member, but he's unable to concentrate.

He mentally repeats each name but he knows he'll forget them the next minute. The important thing is Gina, he says to himself, Gina, he repeats Gina inwardly, marking his mind like a branded animal.

Gina doesn't introduce him, she just calls him the new guy. There's a big jug of water on the table with ice cubes floating on the surface, but she doesn't tell him help himself.

Come here, we won't eat you!

Next time, try to be really on time, so you can admire the flowers later, eh?


Well, now that the new boy has done us the honour of joining, I can get started.

She lights another cigarette, the others look concentrated or absent.

Their eyes are slightly cloudy.

A couple of things: first, the set-up, which is taking a while. If one of the bosses turns up unannounced — and believe me, that's what they're best at, turning up unannounced — it’s me who has to answer for it, and I don't like having to answer for other people.


So let's get busy, let's get moving, let's avoid unnecessary pauses.

I need you all to be up and running.

I need you to be with me one hundred per cent.

A hundred and fifty percent.
And even two hundred percent.
Do you take offence at what I'm saying?
She looks him straight in the eye as if she were trying to hypnotise him.

You know, I'm a straightforward person, I prefer to be honest from the start, because if there's one thing I hate, it's phoney arseholes.

He manages not to say anything at all, and that's all she'll give him.

Because we don't want uptight, pushy, in-your-face types here.

We don't have time for that.
You know what I mean?
Those who secretly dream of changing everything are the worst.
Do you understand? ...
I hope I've made myself clear. ...
Now my main problem is that mister here is going to serve this evening, and mister doesn't know how to serve, and yet mister arrived here, how, we don't know, probably by the magic of the Holy Spirit.

Gina laughs.

Another imitates him, then another, then another. An echo of cackling that is both distant and close.

Then she points to a small woman with glasses so thick that her eyes look like two tiny black marbles.

That's Veronika with a k, she's a head waitress, she's going to train you, or at least she's going to try.

He says hello to her but Véronika doesn't answer, she just stares at him with her little black beads, and he struggles not to look away, it wouldn't be polite.

Tonight, continues Gina, lighting yet another cigarette, we must insist on the duck breast, and even if the mixture with the rhubarb is a bit confusing, we absolutely must get rid of these duck breasts, I don't feel like eating them all week.

Any questions?
No, so let's all sit down and enjoy the meal.


A young girl with owl eyes says to him, we're going to get our lunch. Her smile was either shy or forced, he couldn't make up his mind, but it was still a smile and he took it in his stride.

On the way to the kitchen, he asks her: do you know who I should speak to about the contract?

She stops in the middle of the corridor.

Her huge eyes seemed to devour his forehead and go right up to his hairline.

It's impossible, he thought, to have such wide eyes.

The contract?
Yes, the contract.
You'll have to ask Gina, but my guess is that you've already signed it, we all signed it the minute we set foot on the estate.

I don't think so.

That was his answer, what else could he say?

He repeats that I doubt it and goes on.

I haven't had a minute to myself since I arrived and if I'd signed anything, I'd have noticed.

The girl's eyes widen again, they seem to stretch unnaturally and he finds it hard to look at her.

You must have signed it, everyone signs their contract the minute they set foot on the estate, everyone, you're starting to scare me.

And she adds in a whisper, almost a whisper: I think you're wrong, you can't joke about these things.

Born in 1980 in Siegen, Germany, Denis Michelis arrived in France at the age of six. After working as a writer for cultural programmes on Arte, he published his first novel, La chance que tu as, with Stock in 2014. His next three novels were published by Notabilia: Le bon fils (2016, Prix des lycéens d'Île-de- France 2018, finalist for the Prix Médicis), État d'ivresse (2019) and Encore une journée divine (2021). He has also translated several novels from German and English, including Les Pleureuses by Katie Kitamura (Stock, 2017, Prix du meilleur roman Points) and Peur by Dirk Kurbjuweit (Delcourt, 2018).

Eponine Howarth

Eponine Howarth is co-editor-in-chief of La Piccioletta Barca.

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