Saturday, November 11, 2006
The petticoat blue
It was then that I came to a great realization and sense of purpose in my life. I knew that my destiny was tearing me apart. I had two lives, my life with her, and my life alone. My life of pleasure and the never ending nights lounging with the sea-horse tattoo girls at The Gin Palace and my ordinary life. I was perpetually crossing to the other side. Running. I was constantly running from something. I fled myself every waking hour and then there was always the war, the entrenchment, between the life I wanted to live, and the life I was to live. And they were never going to meet.
So I wandered in and out of time. Moments of happiness came, but greater moments of dispair and deception, came as well. I went beyond. My life was searching, for the impossible. Love. The unrequited dream. The girl in the picture. The life we dream, and the dream well spent. I was the last Edwardian.
So the story begins at the end. The day I die. It is March. That much, I remember. The year, 1917. The war drags on. I am in a entrenched somewhere. They call this place Passchendale. I call it hell. It is cold and the sky blue. The petticoat blue.
I have been lying in the mud for sometime, staring up towards the eternal. Could it be Wednesday? I think to myself. Or does it even matter?. I'm dying. I can't feel my body anymore. I live with my final thoughts and I treasure them. They will never come back. So where will my memories go, when I am found and hauled onto some horse-drawn cart to be indexed, filed and buried ?.
I was struck down. By a bullet, you see. I saw it coming. It was a day in slow motion. I heard the crackle of the gunners, at close range in the St Jeanne forest and then, I snapped, like a twig. I fell on my back and there, face up in the mud, I have remained, until the end.
It was strange to die. It happened in a flash. I grabbed by rifle and starred at the mud, the mud wall and the mud caked ladders. It was time to go 'over the top'. Today, was my day, to die. Soldier of the British Expeditionary Force, tag number 557893. I don't remember when I was born, but I remember the day I died. It was a beautiful day. Then the blast of a whistle, and over the top we went. carpe diem.
I rose out of my darkness and stormed the wall of the trench. I saw a forest and ran towards it. There were birds, strange black birds, flying overhead. Crows, maybe. Larks. I began to run, but my boots dragged me down, to the ground. The mud was deep. Everywhere I could see them fall. One by one, we all began to fall. And then it hit me. There was a burst of light in my head. I lost control. I was shot. Near the heart, I believe. I never actually saw the wound. But I bled. It took me a lifetime to hit the ground, and then it all came back to me. Everything. Everything I had ever thought, I began to think again. Every dream, I ever dreamed, I was dreaming again. They were my final dreams. The nightmare over. This was my end. And then, as I looked up towards the sky, I saw that it was still blue and the cold morning air crept over my face and I thought of her one last time.
I first laid eyes on her in summer. Walking on the rightside of the left bank. She appeared in a book merchant's stall in black and white. A picture postcard. Lepage sold pictures of the many pretty girls to been seen and had, in Paris and his collection of daguerrotype cards - Les Nuits de Paris-the nights of Paris-and he always clutched them for quick viewing. So I purchased the girl in the picture. I held her in my hands as I browsed my eyes over her chestbnut hair and pale skin.
She lay on a bed in a sunlit room. Her legs curled up against the dying light. She had broad shoulders and well developed lips. She had been photographed recently, probably in one of the studios near the Pigalle. Many foreign girls ended up on the hill, as entertainers of the wayward Englishmen and their glowing bottles of gin.
I looked at my dark angel and imagined her as an aspiring painter, poet maybe. I searched for every meaning and detail in the picture. Her hips were white and soft like the first november snow.
I placed the picture postcard on the ledge by my window. There were women in the street down below, and the air was damp. The white washed linens turned our street into a ship. I remembered The Calcutta.