Haunted by the ifs
Of this life and a next
I bring to you a prose
I praise you in a text
That love birthed all most vicious of a such
That nothing disturbs greater
Than possibility of touch
Will mean to rise again
That moment when you broke that chain
You went to swim
To wash your weathered heart
To find home with the sane
To drift, thus have your love fall
in her hands apart
CHARMS (PARTIR, REVENIR)
The hills of Cavalaire sweep in and out of my view. I sit on the terrace, perfectly motionless. The heat crawls up my legs as I scrunch my eyes, watch a cruise ship prowl over the blue horizon, just behind the brown French summer resort that sticks to the low hillsides like a wet coffee filter. The heat clogs the landscape in silence. A silence so maddening, everyone within must expatiate on it, in an agitated unease, which, after a moment of conversational engagement, segues back into generic maladroit tranquility again. But this time, the ways of nature suit me well. The crickets have stopped chirping this year, just in time for me to lose my words.
The only sound that breaks through our midday haze are the voices on my sister’s infinite radio plays, that she insists on playing full volume even when we are around. She has developed habits such as these since I’ve been away. Soon, the mumble soothingly fills our minds with marvelously detached dialogue and extraneous, irrelevant events. It freezes our white matter, cuts off lifelines to thoughts we’d rather leave where they lie buried, in the sand of our individual desert islands. No harm in that, my father must think. He is on vacation after all.
We have parked the car on the outskirts and walk the rest of the way into town. My sister tries on new water goggles for the pool, but the adult one’s are too big, keep falling off her face, while the children’s ones are tight, they squeeze her ears to her head and cut angry red circles around her eyes. Her lips pout and she starts scratching her flip flops over the concrete, pulls them off angrily, so that her hair is tangled in a fizzy knot on the top of her head. Her mood brightens when we buy ice cream in a nearby shop, though the entanglement stays on her head all the while, uncommented for the sake of the armistice that has just been painstakingly negotiated.
I leave them at the market, at a stall where a man sells kitchen boards made of olive wood. I pass the stall where once we bought porcelain doorknobs for what used to be my wardrobe that is now filled with all my sister’s clothes. I pass the man that sold me the leather bracelet that I was still wearing when I met her, reduced to tatters by now. Her, Virginie, vulture. Oh, but she liked fresh meat. I pass the man that sold me the leather bracelet. In a box somewhere, its scraps remain.
An English tourist asks me in terrible French where he can find the next public restroom as he tugs his red-faced son along. I am turning uncomfortably hot, shade my eyes though I needn’t have to — I spot the foreigners I am personally related to with ease. I carry the bags with the tomatoes, nectarines, and apricots and am the first to fall into the corrodingly hot seats of the sun-kissed sauna of a car.
My mother ekes out her troubled existence on one of the straw armchairs in the shadow when we get back from town. The only thing colored about her now is her honey-blonde hair — dyed of course — that hangs into her pale face. She coughs relentlessly, the sickness clatters in her chest. She pulls herself together and wheezes miserable breaths into her mask, as she shambles past us into the direction of the bedroom.
The smell of roasted fish still wavers over from the quiet kitchen, mingles into the aroma of a summer evening. Down at the port there seems to be a concert of sorts, the cool sea breeze that has brisked up carries instrumentals and a woman’s voice over to us, as we watch the ferris wheel turn and turn and turn and sometimes stop, but always blink in rainbow colours that change pattern almost every second. In Germany, the electricity bill could have ruined them by now, but for ferris wheel lovers, the French patriotism has its merits.
The sun has set without any of us noticing, my mother has gone to bed, her stool still pushed to the other side of the terrace. The deck of cards lies drearily exposed on the table, unopened. My father particularly is disappointed. His love for society games remains unchanged. Since my departure he’s been particularly drained of it, and I somehow convinced myself of feeling guilty about it—three is an unfortunate accumulation of people; Doppelkopf a family game.
A mosquito buzzes somewhere to my right. It is two in the morning, and I am tired but reluctant to go to sleep. When I was little, I was tortured by nightmares. Some shark or other, biting my legs off. My father used to teach me how to modify a dream by willpower, how to become aware I was dreaming, and make myself wake up. I still dream as much as I used to, but the terror has shifted. It comes just when she fades away. I open my eyes, and stare into the dark to where my sister is breathing rhythmically. Behind the door, my father snores on his uncomfortable and hard fold up bed, where the air is less infectious than next to his wife. I flip the small switch for the headlight. A dark spot remains where I squish the mosquito against the wall.
A quiet murmur opposes the silence of the midday, one or two crickets have ventured out of their refuge, the pool that lies just beneath the terrace is occupied. I spend hours lifting a book to my eyes and down again to rest it on my folded legs, but more for the pleasure of smelling the printed paper than for the idle story it contains. My sister leaves a wet mark on the orange tiles, as she stands behind me, new water goggles in her hand. She asks if I want to come to the pool and I ravage and flail, squirm in my chair. She bangs the door as she leaves to return to her lonely circles in the water, as I hide behind my book. My mother soon hears from my reluctance and looms like a dragon at the other end of the terrace, piercing me with an accusing glare, an alarm clock ticking in her scaled hot stomach like a time bomb.
My body shakes as I swallow all sound within me, but still I can’t repress a muffled moan. The bikini lies unforgotten somewhere to my right. Agony has made my body stiff, crouched I occupy my bed and wet my pillow, as wordless tears percolate into putrid obscurity and desolation, and I shut my eyes so tightly that I can see a blue-eyed woman dancing in front of my devil inner eye.
Virginie looks nervous, erratic, as I walk up to where she pretends to do something, her frail back turned, so that first one blue eye flashes at me and then another, as she turns her dark head to face me. Hers is the last portrait to take, I have captured one after the other, out of my hesitation, she is who remains, but the light is slowly fading.
“It’s drizzling, I’m afraid, but would you still join me outside so that I can take your picture? Yours is the last one missing” I murmur.
She lifts her head though she needn’t to since she is taller than me. “Is that so?” she asks briskly, but strives ahead, and I follow her to the door. She pushes it open, looks around, pauses for a second, glances back, her eyes dazed. “Are we going alone?”
“Why yes” I reply dryly, raising a brow. “That is the purpose of a portrait.”
Reluctantly, she brings the doorstep behind her, and we step out into dampness. I study her face, that — even though I have looked at it perhaps a thousand times — remains unfamiliar. She reeks of delusion, yet I play her game, we charm each other — indisputably each other’s favourites.
She follows me in my agitated steps, then we have arrived at the spot, I turn, she stands behind me, we look at each other for a long moment. Small raindrops pelt to the ground, and except for their soft fall and our soft breaths, there is no disarray between us. My pulse skyrockets. “You can choose a colour” I say and point at the three old freight wagons that stand around the center of the circle we find ourselves in. Everyone has chosen the colour of their liking, and I’ve watched the pale one’s pick blue, the free-spirited green, the romantics red. “Would you like green, blue… or red?”
“You are the artist. You choose and I’ll trust your clever instinct. ”
I mean to insist, but she is better at it. “You choose for me” she breathes, as we stare at each other. Her features sharpen, her wrinkles flatten. As I step closer. Closer. Tiger, Tiger. And the little star obediently orbits her sun. I am so close I feel her warmth radiating off her body, her gaze widens. The camera hovers between us, blue on blue. I want you. Click.
Three drive in a car, but all drift into different reminiscent direction. One was still too sick to come, the other, was not invited. My window rolled down, the wind reaches through it and catches in my hair, and I hold the camera in my lap with my right and my sister’s hand with my left, and just watch the soothing glaze of the ocean, for a while.
In Bormes-Les-Mimosas our odyssey comes to a halt. We abandon the car, climb into a sensitivity and acuteness and venture as we come closer to the hill’s top nearer a nucleus still, blinking unbelievingly into the sun as it burns its way meter over meter into our skin. Houses in various states of demolition, women in various states of deterioration; through the lens my vision blooms and superseding thoughts roam into season, like a sea-change, as impressions wash over my conscience in watercolour, seal the peace for a cold eye and an even cooler heart. I look at my father, bad coffee between us, we raise our cups, hide our smiles behind it. Solstice settles in July. “Listen. It is here”.
I feel the sand under my toes, flagging where the weather blows. I feel the water, feel the door within my heart, warmed up passions of a daughter. Along the waves, I follow, veering volume in a sea. I see you and I cease to wallow, I swim past my Virginie.