The whole gang was there and each one of them streaming along into the night, wrapping ideals around themselves as they fought for space amongst the crowd of Montmartre, living only through lack of a better idea, turning tables on the tourists getting their picture painted artists in red neckerchiefs and paint stained trousers. Trying to preserve some piece of their mothers love between the sweat stained shirts of the other, all the while hoping for that infinite moment of divine awareness on these red and black rained stewed streets. Each one cracked over with that golden egg and burning in every moment of splintered memory where love was forged to find their mates, chewing them in slivers down to their leather road-bitten shoes of worldly denotation.
“Till the seas run dry.” Emmanuel said as we straightened our way to the Sacre Coeur past gymnasts and Shakespeare and live fucking bears, walking on stilts to the white steps now abandoned by the negro hustlers and conmen that beat the tourists raw by day and left us alone at night. To the call, whether it be beds or bars, families or fornications, as we strayed satisfied and groaning in this penultimate bliss, sweet nausea, following the well right to the womb as the sodium glow caught the bonze of spherical leaves beginning an early fall. Talking to God in our heads and begging to know which one of us was sane, which one of us right, which one of us perfect, which one of us will be bound effortlessly in the immortalities of night, rising up with flow of beer, marijuana seeping from the eyes and cigarettes, cigarettes, cigarettes.
What cost will this be? What moment of shame will perform like burning with fresh excitement towards a logical next step? What will this husk seize to bring about this life? Some force ricocheted off my empty bones, and spends this hollowness into a decrepit dusk of burnt childhood memories, where shame sits at the heart of love and I cannot gather my thoughts to mean what they should. Those cold shirtless nights where loneliness and fatigue are interchangeable and all forms of life crawl from my mouth. These were the sweetest and the hardest, biting into my naivety as the coal dust six floors up lay heavy on my lungs and coated my rib cage with every breath. Memories wandered with the darkened moon like lost motherless children whose toes and fingers turned blue in the hanging fog. Every sound and thought came to rest with me bearing canonical feeling in the hum of the city which we call silence. Not the true silence of sitting in the sun waiting for a train, with your head back against the wall and the strain of your pack taken up by the floor. Not allowing the optimism and necessity of these moments to be thought or recollected without betraying your own curious heaped inspiration. Thousands of lives who breed beneath the oppression of night and day and noise, keeping eyes in place and thoughts in the head which would otherwise pierce and flow with the purple street lamps of dawn.
As I have been away for some time, without posting anything, i thought it might be prudent to get a fresh start with a different piece of work before returning to finish the story already written.
I was into four uninspiring weeks of university when I next saw her again. A short enough time for their still to be food left in the parcel sent from home, but long enough for my room to have transfigured into a tormented cyclone of paper, maps, empty wine bottles, ashtrays piled ten high and all the paraphernalia that runs with a man of my condition. Cartography was a small passion of mine then and the room was littered with maps depicting landscapes and seascapes from Angola to the Northwest Passage. A particular favourite was a map used for charting racecourses in the inaugural Americas cup, which remained fastened behind glass on my wall. It was necessary to insist the landlord give at least a days notice before a visit to give me time to correctly arrange my room. Clear it of tea stained shirts and books all piled into the cupboard or under any surface where they would be concealed. Unfortunately the landlord was suspicious and wily. Straining his Kurdish brow on every visit looking for wrong doing, then sending polite messages in fractured English concerning debts incurred. He rarely gave the notice, and in fact showed my room to prospective tenants while I slept soundly in my bed and was none the wiser until informed by my flatmates.
I had taken to dressing at this time in whatever inspired my interest and struck quite an esoteric and oriental figure around campus. Most days sporting a cravat and shawl big enough to cover myself entirely if the world ever became too bleak. Boredom brewed this behaviour, there being little to capture my attention besides study, drink, women and warfare. All of which I had engorged myself upon and become a wholly opulent beast not fit for human consumption. It did not matter however languid or violent my appearance became, as I was surrounded by the dull impressionability of young minds labouring under the false pretence of higher education. These self conscious children made redundant before they had begun to live were quite happy to accept any irregularity as long as it flattered their strained vision of themselves.
I was dressed as such and sitting at my den of a writing desk when I heard the tapping at the door.
“There’s a person here to see you.” Came the voice with the obligatory opening of the door.
“So what does it want?” I replied.
“To see you.”
“What kind is it?”
“Argh, fine send her up. But this is the last one this week.”
My housemate was short and stocky with a mind not yet out of adolescence and an appearance and life to match. Unabashed arrogance and pretentions towards every form of activity imaginable. A man always ready to excuse himself unless he was absorbed thoroughly by all he met. Yet he could not be respected, and therefore ever really liked due to his desperate self-consciousness. Completely unable to see himself in any kind of realistic paradigm, priding himself on his intellect and power over language despite building much of his character and mannerisms from those around him. A homosexual, of the type who feel it necessary to justify the righteousness of their own actions at every turn. Unable to temper himself and unable to show class. “They said I had the physique for swimming but no lungs.” “I was pitch perfect until my voice broke”. “I get extra marks in exams because I’m depressed.” I do always seem to attract the mediocrity of humanity. Rough figures who have enough mind to recognise greatness or genius, but too little to ever reach it. Callous and fearful, encrusted beneath their own false decoration.
I struck my head onto the landing and saw a girl at the bottom of the stairs, It was her, and she had a boy with her. What could it mean? My housemate was directing her up the stairs. As I started back into the room around the bed to straighten my appearance I knocked over the lamp while adjusting my shawl and felt that inconsistency of form wash over me. I was an apparition, I’d scare her.
“Hello Teddy.” Why does everyone keep saying that?
“I sent you letters, with long and loving words. Though I suppose you haven’t been home yet.”
“Couldn’t we get some air in here?”
“No please don’t come any closer.”
“Well all right.” But she walked over and opened the window anyway.
“I was tormented by l’espirit d’escalier, hmm. I have too many corruptions and irregularities that occasionally the truth doesn’t take the time to fight its way through.”
“That’s alright baby.”
“You see I’ve got myself into a rhythm here, and…”
I slumped on the bed with my eyes glazed. I was sure I’d left my body somewhere along the conversation without noticing. I felt light and foolish but she came and sat down on the bed next to me. Too strong, overpowering in this matriarchal dominance. Pushing by sheer force of will against my weekend bones. It was too aggressive, I did not need this burning ache in me now. I wanted something other, more than desire or love. To exist separate, with the body only as a housing. I wouldn’t be controlled by it. But I was weak, and she overcame me. She was a woman possessed by the idea that she needed to make up the wrong-doing of all other women, and was devoted in her best intentions.
We left not the room for three days, eating the fruit from the parcel my parents sent and any other goods that didn’t need cooking. All the while revelling and infusing and talking in words of love into which she places so much of herself. In all that love that meant so much in her darling world, it broke over my and I babbled, became incoherent and let myself be free in her hands. At times my consciousness resurfaced and I loathed and lamented my lost self. A cold sat deep into the base of my spine in times she slept and I could not. She washed in me and took all she could until I was gaunt and tight and sat silent in her will.
“If you could only touch me three more times in our life together, when would it be?” She asked as we lay face to face with the cold morning spilling over us.
“Now, because I am weak. When you are most unhappy, because I am weak. And at your time of dying, because I am sentimental.”
“You don’t think I’ll be most upset while I’m dying? You might have wasted a touch there.”
“I don’t believe so. You are not weak and mindless and should not fear death. It is a station not to be feared or admired but accepted with heart and reason. You cannot succumb to the vacuous notions of eternal life but instead revel in the fragility of mortal existence; you must understand the insubstantial nature of being. Death is unforeseeable yet always known. If you weep when you die it is because you are naïve. If I weep, it is because I am selfish.”
“Do you think you’ll still be around when I die?”
“Oh assuredly, I will never die. But I’ll come to your funeral, and stand in the line of trees wearing an overcoat and watching your husband and children bury you. Then I shall walk a slow walk away as they lower your body and fade to black.”
“You mean you wont marry me then?”
“I shouldn’t think so, nor do I think I should ever marry. I am too insubstantial, too impractical to ever merge as two parts of the same whole. I have not the business sense to keep a women through money alone, and not the heart to keep one by love.” I finished with a flourish.
“But I love you.”
“I know, you really do don’t you. But we cannot marry. The love you need is all consuming, and you need a man strong enough to bear your love and love you equally back.”
“How do you know what love I need?”
“Because I have seen you, and come very close to loving you and have at times and gloriously so, It is time you really need. I would ask too much of you and not let you grow. I’d use you only as a stopper between myself and death. Your idea of love now is flawed, and your merely following routines and social norms. You will need a man to give you time to discover who you are and the truth of love.”
“What while you keep boring girls with your worldliness and sit in you room shut up and dead. It is funny really, how much you talk and how little you know. Well keep it I don’t care.” She moved from the bed in anger, her tanned body emerging beautifully from the sheets while I looked at her like I did when I first met her. Reaching up, I pulled her gently back to me, her face scrunched and indignantly facing away from me.
“See darling this is it. I’m too mean to you. Because I cannot be anything else.” She watched me now. “I’m sorry I truly am, but don’t be silly and please say.
She looked still for a moment at me, calculating I suppose, trying to contain me in a character of her mental creation. Forcing my form into shapes that fit her ideal, rationalising my poor points and ignoring the terrible. She grabbed both hands on the back of my neck and lowered me down to her. She would be gone within a day and I back in my oriental shawl drinking tea at my desk and spilling ash on my maps. Wondering why would I bother myself with such a trifling thing as humanity.
The sophisticates looked hatefully at our prescence and we’re forced uncomfortably from their languid positions to make room for George and I to sit down. “We’ve got to get out of here, these people aren’t built the same way as us.” I said to George in what I presumed to be a whisper but as I could tell from the waspish look of the women next to us was much loader than I intended. “So what do you do then?” She said, glowering us right out of the party into some harsh desert with no water and gnats to suck our blood.
“US? We run a bioethical design firm that specialises in media and the alterations of the heavenly mandate. We’re small at the minute, but consulting on big deals, it is so hard to start an environmentally friendly company with not for profit ideals in this climate.” I answered, seeing a few head nod in solidarity I continued. “That’s why we’re here actually, to attend a conference on diversity and synergy in the new world. We came straight from a ball raising money for new offshore wind farm in Norway, that’s why we’re dressed like this. We’re having trouble convincing people to address the bigger issues you know?
My speech seemed to appease the waspish woman who sat back with a smell of content about her while the rest continued the conversation with more enthusiasm than I could ever garner. How long would we last before these eco-fascists found us out? I needed a break feeling tight as hell, so shit my eyes over the smooth cream sofa. “Well come and sit over here by me then” I knew that voice, my eyes bolted with 220watts as Marlena was pulled into the embrace of a man I should have noticed immediately, curling up on his lap.
“Teddy, George, this is Jack.” She said. I recognised his voice from an advert for sailing shoes that had a short run in England. He was at least 6’ foot and crippled in English tradition. Having all the makings off a Windsor without that name to prove it.
“Isn’t she beautiful? How’re you doing Teddy?”He said.
“Yes I remember your picture.” I replied. I always felt sorry for the cameramen lugging thousands of pounds worth of kit around on a hot day just to film his balding head and aristocratic ankle. George as always filled in my conversational gaps, yet it never ceased to astound me how amicable he could be without the slightest hesitation. Jack’s mood only dropped when Marlena took the drink from his hand saying, “Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”. He was a alcoholic I remember her telling me, a mean drunk. Yet she only curled further and further into his lap.
“Hallo Teddy.” She said.
“This is Paul Owen, isn’t he a dear. She said motioning a man curled up in her wake, wearing an expensive but ill-fitting suit on his thin body. His pink-rimmed milky eyes drew little from his waxen face. One of those typically found lurking around anything beautiful, without any beauty to offer themselves. “He’s just come back from Afghanistan or Iraq or someplace, you served didn’t you Teddy? God knows why.”
“Good performance, absolutely perfect, I’m sure you heard me clapping. You just don’t get things like that anymore….”
“Congratulations on the baby.” Said a passing someone, squeezing my shoulder, who left before I could barely get out a “hey thanks.” Paul Owens looked mortified at the intrusion onto his own speech but soon continued unperturbed.
……..I wish someone had filmed it, I could have put it right up on my homepage. No, wait. A thing like that should only be experienced once.” This boy’s mouth was running fast.
“A polarising moment in the life of young Mr Owens.” I said.
“Exactly!” He replied, before looking at the floor and drawing himself behind Marlena again. This sun was taking forever to go down, showing off to the last, with its pinks and blue threads across the sky.
“Come on Teddy, I must introduce you to everyone.”
It transpired that everyone was a group, approximately 10 strong, laid out on a set of leather sofas beneath some absurd masterpiece of nauseating shapes and colour. They were different from the rest. Their dress was more suited to the cuttingly fashionable areas of London or Paris, and had an audible and visual, healthy distain for the rest of the party. These were the really sophisticated cats, elegant, who believed in nothing and had the arrogance to believe that their lives were given meaning by their acceptance that life is meaningless. As I walked over I saw one man deep into a speech, his eyes bulging and hands uncontrollable , while a girl clung proudly to his arm not taking her eyes of him. “It’s just totally organic.” I heard him say. “Lets get out of here.” I thought to myself before I felt George’s steadying presence at my elbow.
“Everyone listen in. This is Teddy, and George.” Marlena said breaking the conversation, with Paul Owens still at her elbow. It was the first time I had really looked at her and hated myself for leaving it so long. Wearing a loose fitting white shirt with piano key braces, her hands firmly into a baggy pair of chinos that were rolled up at the bottom where miniscule feet in brogues pointed out. I almost lost it seeing her.
The party was livening up now, at least on the crowded veranda where music not of Georges making was still being played. From it you could take in the entire bay in one great panorama with the two great seismic bookends. I couldn’t tell how long we’d been here, but as I plucked another drink from a long trestle table I knew it would be long yet until my head found solace in sleep. “Move over you drunkard, lets play a Cab Calloway.” I shouted to George loosening my tie, and so we started over the slowly rumbling scale, George on the high and myself on the low, before breaking into the clunk and break of the St James Infirmary Blues.
“Well folks I’m going down to St James Infirmary,
To seeeee… My little baby,
Stretched out on long white tables,
Oh she looks so cool so calms so fair
Let her go, let her go, God bless her,
Wherever she may be,
You may search this whole wide world over,
But you’ll never find another sweetheart like me.
Take apart your bones and put ‘em back together,
Tell your mama that you’re somebody new.
Feel the breeze blowin’, come on, look out, here it comes,
Now I can say whatever I feel like to you……”
We crashed through the remaining verses increasing our tempo, George leading the singing while I imitated great blues pianists with little mimicking flourishes. It was rusty but honest, and by the end of it we had all eyes on us sweating and heaving over this beautiful instrument. I thought we might inspire a sing along on the final verse but were instead met with silence. I stood up and bowed down low. “You’re now all honorary pearly kings and queens.” I said receiving a smattering of applause before turning around to George who had already started playing a more mellow number.
“Are you ready for this?” He said.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t see her over there.”
“What of it?”
He just looked at me, all sincere, before playing the opening of ‘As Time goes by’.
“You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sign is just a sigh…”
“You better knock that off. Don’t you know anything current?” I said spilling my drink over his hands and those shining keys before stepping down from the platform, where I was greeted by Marlena.
Poppy’s apartment turned out to be the entire top floor of an old army barracks approximately half a mile back from the beach now converted into fashionable apartments for the nouveau riche. This was the realm of footballers wives and their ilk. The apartment was littered across the board with ex-public school rugby players turned businessmen and their wives, just thin enough to be called pretty in the right light, all coloured up like tropical birds in the dress of their time. Big-smiles and laughter dripped from the ceiling, sincere or not, I’m not even sure they knew themselves. Occasionally you could find more serious groups of men hidden in an alcove, whom I knew would be ready to eat each other after the right amount of liquor had been consumed and if the mood was right. They didn’t have time for two black and white fools and their banshee woman.
Poppy attempted to make our introductions to a few groups of smilers while I struggled to see straight and George tripped over his feet on the wooden floor. It was nice of Poppy to let us stay here, still guilty about the mess he made in St Jean de Luz I suppose. We really did look like two fools of a forgotten age next to this crowd. “My father owns oil land in South America.” A voice from my mouth said. Perhaps we should have been put to death after all. “Polo oh really? I played at Gad’s Hill before breaking my leg. Last time I trust an unbroken horse.” I said. I had butted in on a conversation, and could see a circle of people waiting for me to explain what had called my presence suddenly into their lives, yet were all of them too polite to ask.
“But I’m sure they don’t play polo at Gad’s Hill.” I could tell the young man was just humouring me, yet the girl on his arm shifted worriedly.
“No, not after they shut us down. Steroids, nasty business. The boy swore he didn’t do it but the bastards took him anyway. It was all political.” I said authoritatively as I watched George run over to the sound system and begin pressing buttons and pulling wires until the music stopped. What was I saying? What was he doing? He pushed past a military looking guy as he made his way to a Steinway that stood on a round stage in the corner. He began playing a very ragged Cole Porter song.
“This is Lady Patience.” I continued. “She’s carrying my child. If it’s a boy we’ll call him Charlemagne. Lord Charlemagne with her title. Or perhaps Alonso, isn’t that right dear?” I pulled her close and smiled, though I could see something in my speech had upset her. “Here hold this would you.” I past the humouring man my half empty class and struck out to meet George on the piano.
I woke to find George and Patience striding across the beach, arm in arm with the setting sun and my head feeling clear as day. The watermark moved with the setting sun and had rises almost to my feet. I knew the sun had already dropped below the horizon, taking America by storm over the crystal cold mountains of Colorado then hitting the hot fog of LA. All I saw was it’s light refracted around the world to trick me. I was settled now with the cool breeze, taking apart the weariness of last nights desperate hours.
“Hello old duck, how are you? Finally woken from your darling slumber?” George said. Those bastards were tight as hell.
“We got you a gift.” Said Charlotte placing in my hands a heavy bottle of whiskey and sitting in front of my chair cross-legged with their feet in the sand.
“Atta boy.” George said as I twisted off the cap and gasped at that unmistakeable taste, hoping it might sterilize my stomach as it would sterilize a wound.
“Today’s a day for silence George.” I said.
“Nonsense, it’s a day for laughter. We’ve finally got here!” He responded.
“Marseilles? Really? That’s where you want to be?”
“Where else is there?” He said. I looked at his crooked smile for a while to see if it broke. It never did.
“Fine.” I said, gulping down the whiskey. “I need a wash, if anyone would like to join me?”
And off I ran like a child with the beach and my clothes spinning around me until finally my body plunged into the surf, gasping for air and felt two splashes either side of me. I pounded the waves until I was out of my depth and looked back at my two companions doing the same. It was beautiful. The salt crackling my skin. Years later I would bring a girl here and make love with her in the very same spot I was in now. Young and taught and tanned, and I would never speak to her again. We swam and howled as much as we dared, my voice hoarse with the whiskey and I just floated on my back while George and Patience played, splashing and kissing in the water. I watched waiting for the stars to blink in and the breeze to build up.
“Come on you cats.” I called in from the now empty beach, my shirt clinging to my wet body as I sprawled in the sand pulling too many legs into too few trouser legs. We finished the whiskey as we dried off on the warm sand until we were glistening with ease and charm.
“How much money have you got George?” I asked.
“About two thousand, why?”
“I’ve got about half that, Patience?”
“A bit more than George I think doll.”
“What’s going on here Teddy?”
“Well we’re going to need money if we want to buy morning dress.”
“Are you serious?”
“God I hope so.”
Taking out huge wads of money from several cash points, we accosted a passer by for the nearest suit shop and he directed us to a row of back street boutiques just about to close for the night. Though they were happy to spare us a few minutes after Patience pulled out 1000euros in cash.
“We want your finest suits and champagne.” I said throwing the empty whiskey into a bin. The teller, a small witted French man who sent a boy out for two bottles of warm champagne as he put George and I on a pedestal to get measured. A woman from the shop opposite who had heard our ramblings took Patience into her shop looking like some seer or wiccan to try on dresses.
We drank and spilled the champagne and laughed all the way through our measurements and fitting and must have tried on all the suits in the shop before we were satisfied with our tradition stone cold black and white suits. We gave the man however much cash and ran out into the street looking like a P.G. Wodehouse nightmare. There stood proudly in front of the store was Patience, in what looked like an incredibly beautiful and uncomfortable dress.
“Goodness.” I said. She smiled and wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed me long on the mouth before turning to George and doing the same and grinning like mad we ran through the streets looking for Poppy’s flat.
I avoided the coast road as much as possible, and opted instead for those highways where the car could roll along smooth and flat for miles without skipping a beat. Finding another gear to quell my bleary eyes and bleating stomach I let George and Patience sleep all the way in back. As always when returning from the countryside the landscape changed immediately and almost unrecognizably to graffitied trains and great concrete grave stone buildings lined with crisp packets and blundering corpses of men. At this hour the streets of the incubator suburbs were cold and mocked our irregularity. These were the homes of the great, monotonous masses who comprise the bulk of a countries tapestry yet blend inextricably woven into the back in lieu of the more versatile or more interesting. This was the machine-house of society, and had no room for three dangerous mistakes like ourselves. I only condone a place if I leave there feeling less cynical than when I arrived. But it could be too harsh to judge a town by what we now saw. We’d have to get to the beating heart before we made our analysis.
I drew the car into an American style road side diner stuck deep into French territory: a remnant of their cooperation in the revolutionary war. We had arrived steady and safe. Eggs and pancakes and bacon all washed down with orange juice, coffee and cigarettes. Four aspirins and two pints of water. I couldn’t say what the waitress looked like or the colour of the walls, but I could describe in detail the bathroom stall where I spent much time with my face over the bowl and sunglasses braced to keep out the foul sun. What could we do on a day like this but convalesce on the beach with two litre bottles of water to steady our hands. Chairs 5Euros, sunshades 2. There was a long plaza along the beach to house the tonnes of anchovy Englishmen who come to boil in the summer sun. Where once there was marble, there is now linoleum, where once elegance there now lived plastic decadence, all purpose built to stop their humanity from spilling out. Patience left us on the beach to deal with the rental car and promised to return with food from the market. We bought ice creams which were left in the sun for the flies. It was all cut glass and crystal seas, but calm now Teddy.