It isn’t brand spanking new if I’m honest: It is an idea that started out at the end of the nineties.
There comes a time in everyone’s life when the past somehow melds with the now. Within the moments of that day, that hour, that minute, things are remembered that at another time would have a totally different interpretation.
The field is high on the other side of the valley. It is clear to see from Bertrand’s bedroom window. Viewed on a summer’s morning, lit by brilliant sunlight, it appears as an oasis of lush green grass amid the darker verdant trees. Throughout the day it remains magically illuminated, and in the evenings it is the last place to prepare for slumber as the final straggling sunbeams lose their way through the surrounding maze of leaves and branches. Bertrand had taken notice of it, drank in its beauty, sensed it had an air of mystery, long ago, even before the house was finished; He had stood, looking through the window-opening that the builders had left exposed to the elements, picturing it as a secret and special parkland of smooth soft cultured grass.
* * *
The tarot cards meant nothing to Bertrand. All aspects of the Arcana were a complete mystery. One by one the woman collected them from the green baize tablecloth, and, picking up the last, which she called The Temperance, she gripped his right arm and said earnestly, ‘You will find true love… after enduring some test, perhaps an illness.’ Her touch was really cold, and one of her nails felt sharp like a needle on the underbelly of his forearm. It actually hurt. He was so relieved when she took her hand away.
How absurd. How predictable. How stereotypical. If she was a clairvoyant, as he assumed, she could have thought of something more original than true love, couldn’t she!
They were positioned at the edge of the room, and he sensed a chill coming off the tiled wall close to his left shoulder. Bertrand was aware that they were not alone, but she was the only person that he could see, and even her with not much clarity.
She reminded him of someone, but the light, flooding powerfully down onto the table, left her features submerged in shade beneath her wide-brimmed hat. The effect emphasised the hollows of her face, distorted her image, made recognition virtually impossible. In her black eyes he could see reflections, adding many dimensions to what otherwise would have been almost undetectable objects in the darkness. He studied them intently, trying to identify the objects they reflected. He was sure that he could see tiny images of people dressed in blue, but what surprised him was that he could not see the reflection of his own face. Why was that?
The last time he had experienced anything like this, he had been at a fun-fair with a group of his teenage friends, and had only gone into the stall because everyone else had decided to have their fortune told; Fabien had encouraged them all, ‘It’ll be a laugh… It’s only three Francs!’ In fact it had been a quite different experience for Bertrand, for he had found himself really attracted to the young woman inside.
She was, he thought, perhaps ten years older than himself. He had looked across that narrow table, over her crystal ball, into her sparkling brown eyes, and had seen the tiny reflection of his own face. Seeing himself mirrored like that, taking her features in, had been a little disconcerting to him, because he imagined, to someone older like herself, his youthful fascination would be glaringly obvious! He had looked down to break the contact of their eyes, and was surprised by her dry, reddened hands, and a heavy gold wedding band. He imagined her hands had become prematurely aged by washing and cleaning for her husband, and already, perhaps, several children?
He had not intended taking “Madame Zara” at all seriously, and his vision of her domestic life somehow made that even less likely. Still, after all these years, even though he could not remember her words, he could picture her quite clearly: Delicious poppy-red lips, small retroussé nose, smooth unfurrowed brow framed by a red scarf tied about her head, and the plump peach-smooth temptations that were swelling enticingly from her cleavage. She had a strong coffee-like body-smell that he found very exciting. In fact, now that he had gone over the event in his mind his memory of it was so complete that he also recalled the smell outside the stall: Of crepes cooking on an adjoining stall, sweet, chocolatey, and smokey, filling his nostrils again after all those years.
Imagine me remembering Madam Zara! She was a looker though!
But this woman, this woman here in this cold tiled room – she was a very, very strange woman. He thought that it was perhaps to be expected of a seer; They are not ordinary people, are they? He wondered too, how old she was. Here the smell was heady, deep, sweet, chemical, and aromatic. Bertrand looked down at her hands, brightly illuminated now that they were rested palm-down on the table, and it was clear to see that these were young hands. Despite their incongruously cold touch, they were smooth, beautiful, and well manicured. They were so much like Marianne’s hands.
Marianne’s hands were small, perfect interfaces with her world. They had been the epitome of passion, replicating flicking flames, simulating the touch of a feather… stroking, enticing, exciting, and igniting desire. They had been strong and firm, holding, moulding, and guiding their two children through their formative years.
Bertrand recalled their softness, when, looking into his eyes she had caressed his cheek with the velvet back of her fingers, in a silent, but oh so communicative confirmation of her love! With her hand in his, there passed between them sensations that went far beyond simple physical contact, as if their contiguous molecular skins exchanged an occult magma, flowing backward and forward, melting them into one. In his mind’s eye he raised her hand, and kissed it, where he always had, on the soft gentle mound behind her knuckle. It yielded perfectly against his lips and made the whole giving experience wholesome and satisfying.
There had been a whole lifetime of different hands – and eyes.
Bertrand had been mesmerised by Marianne’s eyes. In them he had found mysterious pools, of infinite depth. They enchanted him to descend, down into their secret vaults, where, spellbound, he would be dissolved inside of her. Her eyes were portals to her inner being, and he learned to recognise the almost imperceptible changes in them, to read them, to read her. He could even see them now as she looked back at him; They were truly indescribable… not jade, not emerald, simply her own unique viridescence.
Their first meeting had been at a friends party. From the very moment he had walked into the room, he had become besotted with her. She was talking to Fabien, and his wife, Collette. Bertrand manoeuvred himself across the room, staging from guest to guest, joining their conversations for the briefest of periods, intent solely on getting to his hosts and an introduction to this gorgeous woman. Finally he was beside them, and Collette had introduced her as, ‘…my friend, Marianne.’
Later, he had confided to Fabien that his breath had been caught by the very sight of her, and Fabian had joked, saying, ‘Then you are lost, my friend. Lost!’ It was true, he had been lost. Lost to those eyes, magnetically pulling his attention to her, to the point that he was embarrassed by his inability to look away, even for a second. His face flushed with embarrassment as, in one brief moment he had caught Collette watching them talking, and whispering something to Fabien with a smile; He thought that they, and everyone else in the room, would be witnessing his obvious infatuation. Regardless, he had returned his attention to Marianne, to be further bewitched, to have more of this, to have more of her.
In the end, it was proven not to be infatuation, it was instead a complex all-consuming love. From that moment he met her, his life changed, and from the moment he discovered that she returned his love, it changed further, because then, at every opportunity, Bertrand wanted everyone to witness his fascination, witness his adoration, witness his love for her.
Love: It had been a kaleidoscope of emotions and devotions… a rainbow of sensations; Like those of wanting to protect, when he became warmed inside with an energy of pure tenderness, and would be drawn to place his arm around her to comfort her and hold her near. Or, of hot, fiery, fierce protectionism, when he would have been prepared even to die for her. Of wanting to possess her, as a surge of another love energy, powerful and exciting, grew uncontrollably somewhere deep in the very core of his being, demanding that he, they, discover and rediscover the sweet oblivion of physical bliss. A love that included the feeling of joy, sheer delight, just to be companionable, to be with her. To share all that, in silence, in laughter, and in tears; He judged that they had not cried together often, but had laughed together very very often.
He said to Madame Zara, ‘I have already met my true love. You can not prophesy that!’
‘Oh, but I can! You will see…’ Her words echoed in his head, ‘You will see…. You will see…’ and they became fainter and fainter, as too, did the image of her. The light faded, and darkness crept all around him.
He was left with only his imagination as to what might be before him. Was she still there… the woman? The woman with the cold hands and sharp finger nails? He was about to stretch forward and bravely feel for her when he became fearful of what he might find. Imagination, being creative, can conjure up both good and bad, and the fearful, darker side might lay before him. For a fleeting moment ideas of what could be there, that would not be pleasant, caused a paralysis of his arm and it would not move. He fought with his mind to control the situation, to avoid fear of the unknown, and to bring images of good things into his mind… of Marianne, alive and vital… of them sharing a warm summer’s day on the beach near Sainte-Anne, walking hand in hand, feeling the soft warm sand beneath their feet, and between their toes.
The children had run on before them, just a few metres, Gisèle giggling and shreaking in the delight of their chase; Catching Philipe’s hands, spinning each other around before running off again, giddy, tumbling safe into the sand.
Were there memories more pleasant than that?
The sand was so warm, and the breeze refreshing in the freedom of that quiet Martinique beach, but, sensing a quick movement like an earth tremor in the night, he was, in a flash, unwillingly transported back to the darkness, rudely torn from those pleasant memories. The sudden shock made his heart beat madly in his chest. He neither knew what time, day or place this was, and that was more frightening than… and then he remembered the clairvoyant, the tarot cards, and her parting words.
Bertrand concentrated on taking quiet, deep breaths, until his heartbeat normalised. He waited, listening. No sounds but his heart, no light save for the fleeting and translucent phantoms of a free-wheeling mind. Now there was almost total silence.
With trepidation he called out, “Hello..?” His voice was weak and distant to him. He called louder, “Hello..?”
“Yes Papa, I’m here.’ He felt a hand gently stroke his forehead, ‘Just rest, Papa.’
He fought to understand the situation. Was that Gisèle? He was certain it was the voice of Gisèle. Where was he? He felt the sensation of bedclothes on his left arm, and he tried to move it. He felt incredibly weak, even the effort to move his arm was too demanding. He was confused, dazed, and alternated between the beach with Marianne, Philippe, and six-year-old Gisèle, and the darkness where a grown-up Gisèle spoke with him.
In one longer perception of the darkness – a recognition of time, he ventured, ‘Where am I Gisèle?’ Reassuringly, she replied at once, ‘ You are back home, Papa. Back home from the Clinique St.Antoine.’
Her reply only added to the confusion in his head; A hospital! How could he have been in a hospital
Then he heard Marianne ask, ‘Would you like a drink darling?’
He had been thinking that his mouth felt exceedingly dry, ‘Yes please. I’m so dry. I’d love some water.’
Seeing Marianne open the picnic basket, brought the two children running, ‘Oooh… Lemonade!’ Cried Philipe.
‘Now wait a moment you two, let me give Papa his water first.’
‘I want water. Like Papa.’ Declared Gisèle.
“Papa, are you awake? Papa…?”
Bertrand opened his eyes to see the adult Gisèle leaning over him. Her smile was reassuring. ‘Here Papa. Some water.’ She cradled his head in the crook of her arm and lifted it off the pillow a little so that he could sip.
He felt the glass at his lips, and then the first sip of cold water trickling, first beneath his tongue, and then onto the back of his throat, where he swallowed it. How strange it was to feel its cold progress, slinking all the way down and then onward into his stomach, where it spilled, making a pool of coolness somewhere that he had never sensed before. But never before either, had a sip of water been more satisfying. He relaxed, and sighed.
Bertrand was in the comfortable softness of a morning bed when he first woke to the fact that he had recovered consciousness and should now open his eyes. He luxuriated in the sensation of being warm, and wonderfully at ease. A feeling that was increasingly rare for an eighty-year-old, and he wanted to prolong the perfection of the moment for just a little longer.
In his mind’s eye the images of his expectation for the new day were backlit by a pink glow as the sunlight permeated through his eyelids, and he sensed a very subtle breeze on his face. He imagined that if he opened his eyes in one direction, he would find the sunlight blinding as it reflected off the bedroom’s white walls; that the window net would be swaying gently in the breeze; that through the net he would see the field on the distant hillside.
Turning his head the other way he would see would see Marrianne beside him in their bed. But then, with sorrow he remembered….
When Gisèle had turned off the light and closed the door behind her the night before, the air had been warm. Listening to the constant chatter of the cigales, it had taken his eyes several minutes to accustom themselves to the darkness. When they had, he had seen the stars… thousands of stars. Not all at once of course, as the nets obscured and diffused their light. But by making tiny movements of his head, he had discovered that each position allowed a new extra-terrestrial sparkle to appear through another gap in the net.
He and Marianne had looked up at the stars late into the night on so many lovely summer evenings out on their terrace. They had felt the days warmth radiating from the stone walls behind them, and hand in hand – occasionally sipping some of their favourite Château Saint-Didier-Parnac wine – they would sit there until they would be finally drawn to their bed.
Before drifting off to sleep, he had imagined the field as it would be right now, in bright sunlight. Should he now open his eyes and compare what he saw with what he expected? Could he postpone opening them any longer? He decided that he could.
In his continuing imagination he was in the field, and was walking up its gentle slope past the trees that obscured its upper end, towards a young woman who had long blonde hair and long, slim legs. As he grew close, he felt a sense of anticipation with butterflies in his stomach. She was wearing a summer dress, white, with a print of small pink flowers. She was bare-foot. The pristine white lace edge around her neck, arms and legs, emphasised her tanned skin, just as Marianne’s had, all that time ago, at the party. But this woman was amorphous, and try as he might, he could not see her face.
There was little difference between the image he’d imagined, and the realism of what he was now seeing with his eyes. Betrand’s bedroom was unchanged. He glanced around at the white painted walls and ceiling, oak wardrobe, white crisp bed linen, and white net curtains billowing very slightly in an invading breeze. The comparison was good, but the field, that he could not see? It was later in the day than he had thought, the sun had come around and was lighting the nets so brilliantly that they diffused and blurred the view of what was beyond them. Bertrand was comfortable with that, because he had absolute confidence that if he were just to walk to the window, were just to draw aside the net, then there would be the view, the trees, and… the field, as he had known it to be for over fifty years.
He closed his eyes, just for a moment, as if for one long, slowed, blink.
When he opened them again, he was in the field, and he could feel the heat of the sun on his face. His feet were cool on the soft smooth grass. He could not remember how long ago it had been since he had last walked bare-foot through grass, it was a very welcome sensation.
On the distant hill, appearing through the forest of green, was the upper part of a white painted house. He shielded his eyes with his hand, and could see, two figures framed by a window. He suddenly recognised it as his bedroom window now seen for the first time from within the field, and the figures were those of Gisèle and Philipe. He heard Gisèle cry, ‘Oh Papa!’ It echoed off the hillside.
From behind him he heard someone call, ‘Bertrand!’ He turned… and he smiled; He smiled the broadest, and most happiest of smiles. It was Marianne. Her face was more beautiful than he had ever remembered, radiant, and young. She was walking towards him with her hand held out for his.
Bertrand took her hand, and kissed it on the soft gentle mound behind her knuckle. It yielded perfectly against his lips, as always.
This is a fascinating and intriguing piece of writing, with multiple threads which have been brought together with consummate skill, and all of them leading up to the inevitable ending. I will re-read this many times to savour the multiple facets you have created.
Firstly I must say, you are a kind, and most generous commentator, Bhi! Then I’ll add, I am really appreciative that you have taken the time to read this and to comment – especially as it is a shade lengthy, I feel. But most of all tell you my heart is warmed that you have found some kind of enjoyment in the reading: There is not much more a writer can want for, is there? Thank you again.
I read and enjoyed your story even if it was a little lengthy. It was a fascinating tale of love and loss. The end was a bit predictable, but I didn’t mind that because it was so well told. Keep up the good work.
If I’m blatantly honest, I feel in some way I lived Bertrand’s life: That’s how much telling the story has meant to me. You can’t imagine the number of times I have read, tweaked, and re-read, and now I think it is as finished as it ever will be. Several times I tried making it shorter, but all my attempts were displeasing to the point where I felt I was selling myself and/or Bertrand short! Crazy? Who knows. Maybe. I am therefore truthfully grateful that you took the time to read the piece the whole way through, and then chose… Read more »
Again you have shown you can write. However, this piece is wordy and can do with editing. You are too slow getting to the beautiful end.
*Chuckles* You have no idea how many hours I have slaved over this story, it has been edited so much, and so many times. As you may read in my response to Pronto (above) every time I cut something out, or shortened it, it gave me displeasure. It is a very personal piece that came to me one day many years ago when I was standing in a building that was about to become my home: It was as if I could sense that this really happened. As an aside, the field which my ‘sense’ described, was quite imaginary… until,… Read more »
Perhaps this will help you get you restart editing. It’s worth the effort. THE FIELD The field is high on the other side of the valley. It is clear to see from Bertrand’s bedroom window. Viewed on a summer’s morning, lit by brilliant sunlight, it appears as an oasis of lush green grass amid the darker verdant trees. Throughout the day it remains magically illuminated, and in the evenings it is the last place to prepare for slumber as the final straggling sunbeams lose their way through the surrounding maze of leaves and branches. Bertrand had taken notice of it… Read more »