The second-person protagonist pieces together memories of a life
You know that you’re falling before you open your eyes. You are plummeting rapidly through the darkness. Nothing is around you but pure blackness, uninterrupted by color or light. You try to scream in a panic, but you can’t tell if any sound came out. The silence is too loud. You want to sit up, to grab onto something solid, but your arms are pinned to your body and you can’t move. Struggle is pointless, you realize as you continue to fall. There is nothing, there never was and never will be anything at all other than the darkness. You feel numb, like every piece of you is slowly fading away. You disappear into the darkness, you succumb and let it wash over you, lulling you to sleep.
* * *
You open your eyes. Blue, blue, blueness fills your view, and the light is so bright that you’re blinded temporarily. Blinking, you realize that it’s the clear, open sky you see above you, smooth and unblemished like a perfect china bowl. Groggily, you reach up to touch it, expecting it to feel cool and smooth. But nothing is there. Aching, you sit up, every part of you feeling like it weighs more than an anvil. As you shakily stand, a wave of heat surrounds you and the air almost bubbles as it meets your skin. Your mouth feels so dry, like it’s coated in sand. Water, every part of you is begging. Water, water, water.
You stumble forward and look around. Dry, sun-parched grass sticks up from the ground in dangerous spikes, a menacing shade of yellow. A wide, boundless expanse of sky meets the flaxen grass on the horizon. Everything is flat except for a few buildings, far in the distance. Gray and plain, they cling to the earth like hunched, weeping figures, crumbling around the edges. You know you need to get to the buildings, get water, and figure out where you might be. Have you ever seen those buildings before? You reach into the recesses of your mind, but all you find is a great blankness, like an empty room swept bare. Only this most primal need for hydration moves you along. You continue toward the house, its mild destitution appearing to you like a palace if it contains the thing you seek. The buildings are easily a mile away, however, and you’re unsure if you’ll make it that far. Head throbbing and throat burning, you feel exhausted. Continuing on is futile.
You fall to your knees, the sharp grass pricking your hands. You close your eyes, but respite does not come.
* * *
You are in a lovely garden, full of beds bursting with beautiful flowers. Birds sing from fruit-speckled, velvety treetops, providing a canopy of shade over the soft blue daybed on which you recline. Spreading out around you is lush green grass, soft and inviting. A little girl, clearly no more than seven or eight, with long, flowing dark curls dances around, her soft white dress billowing out around her as she spins. She giggles and smiles at you, her deep brown, sparkling eyes trusting and warm. She holds out a hand to you, and you take it, the little fingers wrapping around your palm. Pulling you up, she spins you around the garden. “Dance with me! Dance with me!” You laugh and spin her around, and she twirls and twirls, free as a bluebird, until she collapses into the grass, still laughing. You lie down beside her, and she rolls onto her back. Her fingers are still intertwined with yours. Together you look up at the trees and the summer sky. Her head nestles into your shoulder, her silky hair tickling your ear. “I love you, Papa.” You don’t respond, just squeeze her hand.
* * *
You start awake, your breathing hard and jagged. You pant for air, and then choke as you remember how hot it is. Your mind races, rushing to catch up with everything you saw. That girl in the garden, her name is Calliope. Calliope, your daughter. Where is she? You suddenly recognize an ache in your heart that you never realized had been there the whole time. You miss this child with the wild, beautiful spirit. You love her more than anything. You need to find her.
Frantically you scurry to your feet, ignoring the sharp, hot flashes of pain that shoot through your legs, and you run. Racing, stumbling, and racing again. Your eyes squeezed shut, you feel the sticky air rushing through your ears. Suddenly you trip over a thick wooden beam. You snap your eyes open and see the porch steps beneath your feet, rough wood peeking through the worn whitewash. Seeing this rubs away at something in your mind. Something itches in your thoughts, but you can’t tell what. Your eyes shut again in concentration.
* * *
You are holding a box made of elegant, glossy blond wood. A small, delicate latch holds the lid flush with the base, every carved detail displaying peerless craftsmanship. You are standing on the shoreline of a beach, feeling cold waves calmly lapping against your feet. Grits of white sand and pieces of broken seashells float to your ankles, softly drifting through the tide. But the stronger feeling that is coursing through you is writhing apprehension. You feel like electricity is coursing through yourveins, and youswallow hard to fightthe waveof nausea thatsits in your stomach. Focus, you think to yourself. You ignore your shaking hands and instead run over your words that have been writing themselves in your heart for months.
You hear a noise behind you, and you quickly slip the box into your satchel. You turn around and see a woman dressed in a long, silky blue dress. Her dark curls are braided and wound into a loose twist at the nape of her neck. In the dim twilight, her brown eyes seem to glow with warmth. She slips out of a tall wrought-iron gate covered in vines and carefully closes it behind her. “Camille,” you call to her, hoping she does not notice the tremor in your voice. When she smiles at you, the corners of her eyes curve like two halves of a heart. She walks down the beach towards you, her skirt waving and flowing gracefully as she moves. Wordlessly, she slips her hand into yours. She looks into your eyes, like she’s searching there for something she’s lost. “It’s a lovely sunset,” she murmurs, looking out again into the rosy glow fading into the cool blue dusk. Your heart pounds as you gently pull back your hand. For a moment she looks hurt and lost, until you pull out your box. She claps her hands over her mouth, and pearly tears well up in her eyes, which smile even more than before.
* * *
Camille, Camille, Camille, you whisper, in time with your heartbeat. As the stark, dusty porch comes back into focus, so do your memories. You remember this beautiful woman, gentle and kind, and your spirited, clever little girl. You recall the bower on the shore where you built your home together, surrounded by gracefully curving birches. You remember how much you love them both. You squeeze your eyes closed as hard as you can. You need to see them again, you need to remember more.
* * *
But this time, you’re in a large room lined with plush red velvet. Magnificent arched windows keep out a steady downpour of rain, accompanied by deep, rumbling thunder that shakes the whole house. A tall man in a rumpled gray suit stands by the window, peering out and stroking his immaculate mustache. “Typical for Paris at this time of year,” he grumbles, shaking his head.
You feel a shiver go down your spine as the house shivers with each blast of thunder. “Papa,” you ask, your childlike voice quavering, “why must the thunder be so angry?”
The man turns to you and kneels down. “Angry? No, no. The storm is magnificent, strong and mighty and beautiful. He scoops you up in his strong arms and holds you up to the glass. “See how it shakes the trees with only a breath of wind? See how it pours down water onto the plants, giving them life? Look how powerful and lovely the storm is.” You nestle into his coat. It smells like pipe smoke and old books. In the circle of his arms, you are protected from anything. He says the storm is beautiful, but you’d rather be here, just in case. He looks you in the eye. “You have a storm inside you, Andre. I cannot wait to see the magnificent things you do.” He smiles at you, and his gray eyes shine like two pools of moonlight. “Now, how about a story? Yes?” You smile, nodding excitedly. He puts you down on a soft plush armchair that smells just like his shirt. He walks over to a wall of bookshelves on the far side of the room. He mutters and shakes his head with mock seriousness, stroking his mustache. Then he pulls out an old green leather-bound volume from the far left, its gilt-edged pages promising many splendid tales inside. He inspects it for a moment, then shakes his head. “No, I don’t think so . . .” You bounce on the seat, impatient, swinging your legs a foot above the soft carpet.
Then a door gently opens, and a slender woman with artfully coiled flaxen hair walks in, holding a tray of beautiful blue china cups, shining and perfect like the sky on a summer day. They match her eyes, you think whimsically. She laughs, the sound bell-like, tinkling like high keys on a piano. She sets down the tray and slips an arm around the waist of your father. “Stop torturing the poor child, Valentin. He seems ready to spring off the seat!” He turns around and kisses her cheek, and she slips the book out of his hand, inspecting the title. “Ah . . . Le Petit Prince,” she reads off of the cover. “You’re in for a treat, mon cheri, if your father will ever read it!”
With a deep laugh echoing the booming thunder outside, your father walks across the room in two long strides and sinks down into the chair, scooping you into his lap. His slight beard tickles the top of your head. “Mama! You come too!” You call gleefully. She smiles and perches on the armrest of the chair, leaning into your father’s shoulder. “Now start, Papa, read!” He sighs and opens the book, flipping through the foreword. Snuggled tight into the soft chair, with Mama and Papa around you, the thunder seems less loud, and the rain pours less violently than before. Papa clears his throat, and with the steady drum of raindrops and the crackle of the fire in the background, he begins.
* * *
You know who you are. You know, you know, you know. You were a boy once, hiding from thunder in your papa’s coat, listening to your beautiful mama’s musical laugh. You were a man on a beach, proposing to a woman named Camille, whom you loved more than anything, until you were a father and there was a child named Calliope who took your whole heart. Your name is Andre Moreau. You were a husband, a son, a father, a man who loved more deeply than words can explain. And you will love again. You will get back to them. You don’t know where you are, but you now know who you are, and that’s all you need.
* * *
But it isn’t quite all you need. You are still so thirsty. You stumble up the bare stairs, and they creak with every step, like trees bending in a storm. You reach for the cold metal knob on the plain door, grasping it firmly and turning it. You push open the door, and step into the cool, dark house. As your eyes adjust to the dim light, you take in a small room, empty and spotlessly clean, with whitewashed walls and a neatly swept floor. The baseboards are scuffed and the single overhead lamp is quite dim. “Hello?” you call, not sure if you want anyone to answer. You hear a noise, a shuffling from deep inside the house. A door creaks open slowly, and an ancient woman emerges. She is hunched over an elaborately carved wooden cane with a gold top, and she is wearing a vast black dress, pearl buttons dotting the bodice like shining stars in the broad night sky. She has a pale silk scarf flowing over her arms, like a stream of pure moonlight. Her face is deeply creased and wrinkled, all of it giving an impression of belonging to another time altogether, except for her clear, bright eyes, which are wide open. Her hair is silvery-white, and coiled atop her head like a nestling dove. “Who is there? Who is there?” she calls, her voice low and creaking just like her home.
“I mean no harm,” you answer. “I’ve been traveling and I’m quite thirsty. Would you mind if I stayed for a minute to have some water and rest? I’ll be on my way in no time at all.”
She looks you up and down, then purses her lips. “That will be fine. Come this way.”
She sweeps out of the room, and you hurry after her. You follow her into a kitchen that is all in white. The old cookstove, the cupboard, the table are all perfectly clean and white, like snow had just fallen in the home alone. The one black object is a large water pump in a corner. The woman lifts a tin mug out of a drawer and fills it at the pump, sighing with labor. She wipes down the already spotless table and sets down the water before you. Eyes wide, you snatch the vessel and drink viciously, lapping up the water like a dog. Only after you feel the last of the ice-cold liquid pour down your throat do you wipe off your mouth and thank the woman effusively. She just shakes her head and makes some odd sort of muttering sounds. She begins pulling out strange things from the cabinets: colored glass bottles that shine like jewels, lumpy paper packages, and carved wooden boxes. She moves around the little space like a bird collecting soft bits for her nest. For such an aged woman, she flutters around the space.
“So,” she begins with her back to you, “What is your name?” Mechanically you answer, “Andre Moreau, ma’am.”
She whisks around to you abruptly, her fine brows creasing together into a single furrowed line. “What are you doing here?” she murmurs, almost to herself, but you think it impolite not to answer.
“I’m looking for my family and my home. My wife, Camille, and my daughter, Calliope. They share my surname. Do you know of any of them?” The woman gets a very strange, unreadable look on her face. She shivers in an unconscious way, and edges away from you. Then she closes her eyes and inhales deeply, her wrinkled hands clutching the table behind her, like she is afraid that she might fall. “Ma’am, are you all right? Can I help you?”
The woman mutters to herself, shakes her head sharply, and opens her eyes. “I . . . I think you’d better go out back,” she says gently, gesturing towards the door. Warily, you cross the room and push open the door with a heave. A wave of sizzling heat nearly pushes you back into the house, but instead you step forward, squinting against the suddenly bright light. You make out the shape of a wide, low tree stretching its branches over the sun-cracked land. As your eyes adjust to the light, you see the ground is scattered with many large rocks. No, you think. Not rocks.
You feel something inside of you plummet. Your heart skips a beat, and then continues pumping twice as fast. Panic rises inside of you and you begin to shake. You turn back to the woman, who is still hovering in the dark doorway, her face in her scarf. Trembling, you kneel down on the hard ground and brush some soil and dust off of the surface of the first terrible stone.
Valentin Moreau, 1832-1908, and Elise Moreau, 1843- 1908. Loving husband and wife.
Your eyes widen in horror. Papa! Mama! Frantically you grope at the next.
Camille Durand-Moreau, 1858-1936
Calliope Moreau, 1897-1959
A horrible sob rises in your chest. A terrible darkness wraps its tendrils around you. You scream, shaking and pounding the dirt with your fists. As you yell, all fight, all life leaves you. You are silent and perfectly still. So is the rest of the world. Everything is gone. Your heart has been wrenched away. You do not feel anything. You are numb and cold. Slowly, mechanically, you crawl to the last stone and read the writing.
Andre Moreau, 1849-1934.
Beloved son, husband, and father. May he rest in peace.