My Will, My Way

Work has been hectic the past couple of days, finally being back in Brussels and all. Callers, too, in and out, every day. It’s nice to have a peaceful moment Now, in my own petit jardin, in the shortening summer evenings. I can almost feel the fading heartbeat of summer, sitting Here. The smell of sun-skies dimming…

So it is the perfect time to write of William. I just have to remember not to get too far ahead of myself…

It was the Season of 1821, I should think, that I made my debut in London. This act was not as fun, but precisely as frivolous, as it sounds. The entire purpose, I am aware of now, was to wear women ragged so that only those with the stamina to appear lovely and pink the following morning would be married off. I luckily, was one of those ladies married off.

William was nineteen years older than me, which was not so great a difference back then. He didn’t look as old as he was, but he was a bit weathered. A military man, a colonel, he had come into a bit of land and a title after Napoleon’s second defeat, and this, as much as his youthful looks, made the matchmakers call him “dashing.” I certainly found him dashing, and I believe to this day that I fell more than a little bit in love with him on the dance floor where we first met one night, at one of the Assemblies.

It was hard though. I was so young and misunderstood, a mystery even to myself. Anne and I constructed a brilliant story for me: a Paris girl, comfortably wealthy, but with no family to speak of. I was the simpering victim of a crazed emperor’s exploits, and William was easily made by Society to seem a knight in shining armor to cradle and protect me. Really though, I was nothing more than the fourth daughter of a middle-class merchant from the countryside, and he was just a country squire with a sometimes arthritic shoulder. This we found out only after we were wed. These things, after all, are not the stuff courtships are made of. Instead, William and I danced. We danced every dance we were allowed, and he came to call on Tuesdays, and we drove in the park after church on Sundays. I think that maybe William was an easily smitten man, and maybe I was too naïve a girl. But I was not all naïve. I knew that I had to marry, and I was simply fortunate enough to fancy the man who had chosen me.

After less than a year of knowing one another, we were married in a church just past St. Georges. I can’t remember what it was called, but it doesn’t exist anymore, so I shouldn’t think it matters much after all. I believe it’s been replaced with shops. Hardly a high society function, we received more than a decent share of attention, being the whirlwind romance of our moment, as we were. Anne stood as my bridesmaid as she had not been offered for that Season herself. Or rather, she had been, but not by any men deemed suitable by her uncle, the Duke. The Duke walked me down the aisle, filling my own father’s duties, and from that day on, I needed no longer to search for “fill-ins” in my life. Williams family, the Edesons, took me kindly under their wing until I felt very nearly as though I had always been a part of their family. I loved his brothers and his sister as much as if they’d been my own, and his father took a paternal interest in me in the few years before he died peacefully in his sleep.

As for after the ceremony, lovely as it was, we did not really honeymoon in those days as we do now. William and I had both lived on the Continent, and so we shunned Paris and Vienna, choosing instead to take to the countryside for a few weeks.

He was thirty-eight, and I was but nineteen when we were married. He had graying hair in the corners which I found distinguished, and I was still blushed with youth, as William’s father often told me. Understandably, I recreated myself over time to fill the needs of William’s life. I cannot say I didn’t do it happily, either. Will made no demands on me and was always such a comfort. When I caught cold, he would run out for the doctor himself, though he need never have fussed so. He’d shower me with little presents, from jewelry to books and all the fine things that a Squire’s wife might enjoy. We made mandatory appearances in Town each Season, but otherwise stayed at the manor in the country, or traveled between his cheerful siblings. I had all I ever needed or desired, and no worries that I would suddenly be tossed out or destitute, homeless or penniless. Our home was always full of parties and laughter, of friends and tenderness… I don’t mean to make my life seem so idyllic, nor like a cheap piece of romance fiction, but it was a bit of a game to me, even then, and I cannot help but remember it as such. I can romanticize Will, and our marriage, certainly, but I could never romanticize the life, especially in the country. Reading and writing occupied most of my days, there was no modern plumbing, no modern electricity, and certainly nothing as convenient as an automobile. We were awake when there was light, and we mostly slept when it was dark. These days, believe me, are infinitely more riddled with comforts than back then.

I do think though…and I have come to this conclusion over the centuries…that William has been the only husband who ever truly cared for me. Loved me. We were married for sixteen years and not once did he raise his voice, let alone his hand, to me. He was, in many ways, a perfect husband to me. But husbands were different back then. Rest assured I did everything I could, as well, to be the perfect wife. My dearest wish was to give him children. Back then, it was all the thanks a genteel woman could give her husband, but as it turned out, it was not to be so. Will should have resented me for this, Lord knows I resented myself, but he offered only comfort. Always, he was a comfort, and I feel a sense of security even now, just thinking of him.

It was shortly before Will’s fifty-fourth birthday that he caught a fever and a chill which rapidly developed into pneumonia. I nursed him as best I could, with the little medicine and technology that existed then. No expense was spared on my part to recover his health, but it was not enough. He was considered fully lived when he died and left me all alone. I was utterly heartbroken. For weeks after we put him in the ground, I’d lie in bed all day, or walk around the house and weep. His brothers and his sister all offered to take me in, urged me, in fact, to close up the house and come to them, but I refused. I haven’t mentioned yet, that of the sixteen years that we were wed, I had not aged a single day. And there I was: widowed, childless, and left with a sum of money more than many independent women dreamt of back then. Society was suspicious and spiteful at first, rightfully so, and it is no small miracle London did not lynch me.


Life Transitions and Stalls Sometimes

Ici: Bruxelles
Maintenant: Je ne sais pas…

Comfy and cosy in my Eames chair in Brussels. Jonathan just phoned. Of course. And of course he knows where I am. More than that: of course he asked how Washington was. As for him, he, too, is home: New York City. Manhattan. Upper East Side. I remember the Upper East Side back in a different day. When those townhouses were nearly new. When wealth and family names ran even wilder than they do today. Jonathan lives in a sleek apartment, though. Nothing elegant and timeless like my townhouse here in the middle of it all. The heart of Brussels. Sometimes…when I am far away from Jonathan, like now…he annoys me. But it is an annoyance born of a disturbing amount of affection. An affection, in fact, that I have not felt in a long while.

That discussion is not for Now, though. It’s for another Time because I should continue my Tale.

I found myself sitting, once again, in a stiff chair in front of M Durant’s large desk in his dusty office. It seemed, at least to me, to be dustier than when I’d last been in it. He frowned a great deal and rubbed his chin constantly.

“They’re all dead?” he repeated for about the hundredth time.

“Yes. All.” I answered with the same even tone in which I’d attempted to conduct the entire encounter. “I am here, Monsieur Durant, because I desire to know what you will have done with me. And I desire to know when I may come into my inheritance.”

“Done with you? What’s to be done with you? Well, you’ll return to school, of course. You still have your things, I presume?” --Of course, I did, they were in the carriage. “Well, then you will return to school immediately.”

He packed me up and shipped me off, muttering about what was to be done with the family home and property. I didn’t stay at school long though. I was not met by Anne. No, Anne had gone, graduated, and left the Academy. Madame met me with surprise, I then realized, because she had been certain that I, too, would perish of illness. My last weeks at school were quite tense.

However, my first task when back in my old room was to write to Anne and beg her to call me to her in England. I told her how I’d lost all my family, how I had a bit of money, how I could finance my own way and buy my own dresses if she would just please let me share her roof, or her father or uncle’s roof, I did not care… I waited for those weeks, at school, sullen in my lessons, for Anne’s reply. And at last, it did come. She answered my call and said that not only she, but all of London society would await my arrival. She told me things that would have sounded magical had I not felt nearly so dead inside. Bows to the Queen, champagne soirées, gowns, balls…gentlemen callers… I was simply ravenous to leave though. So with all the lady-like command I could muster, I returned to M Durant for the final time. I wore my most somber mourning dress. And I held my head higher than even my family name warranted. I told him that I was leaving: that I would hire a servant girl for myself, take the Mail Coach to Calais, the boat to Dover, and from there hire a chaise to London. I demanded my full account, my full inheritance. I looked my guardian in his face and told him that from then on he need neither concern himself with my person or my affairs.

I doubt I was either as cold, or as harsh, as I retrospectively report, but I was certainly bold to approach him thus, and he was clearly stunned enough to let me have my way. That, or he really had no desire to be responsible for my life and whereabouts. He was, after all, a little young to have a charge such as me. And as I was displaying a rebellious streak, he’d probably rathered to have washed his hands of me.

The travel portion of this journey does not exist in my memory anymore, nor does arriving at Anne’s family townhouse. There was bustle and excitement and I was cooed and shooed over ridiculously. I was told I would be a charmer in the Season with my quaint French accent and fashionable Paris clothes. This much, remains in vague recall. Anne, though, remarked that I was much changed from when she’d seen me last. By the time I made it to her it had been close to five months, and that is a worthy amount of time for a body and mind to change. Although…perhaps not as much as mine actually had.


The Smell of Fields

I have free-time in the Present, and I cannot think of a better time to retell the Past. And so, the thread of Tale where I left off was sixteen…

On a sunny afternoon in Paris, we were girls eager for the park. We had sang and played our instruments and painted from the windows, but we craved the attention of passerby. Collecting parasols and bonnets and gloves and any number of such items, I was delivered a note by Madame. She handed it to me solemnly in the chaos, and I read it carelessly, my head filled with hopes for the day. Hopes, of course, quickly dashed away. I let out a cry at the news therein, but Madame informed me calmly that I must pack and I would leave the next morning.

“What is it?” begged Anne in the suddenly hushed hall of girls. My cry had startled all of them, and I stood in shock as Madame retreated with her stately stride.

The note contained a frantic message from my mother, informing me that my father was struck suddenly and mysteriously ill. It was so serious that they feared he would die soon. I was to make haste home, and so I left my colleagues in their own abandoned clutter to run up the stairs and immediately throw all I could get my hands on into my trunk. Later, Anne held me as I cried, and a maid from the kitchen was sent up to organize my messy packing. Anne tried to get permission to accompany me, but it was made clear that she was to remain, lest the illness be contagious. I didn’t realize, as I left Madame’s school, that no one expected ever to see me again, and that Anne cried in the doorway more for herself than even for me. I waved my handkerchief to her in farewell, and felt a boulder slowly growing in my throat.

My father was dead by the time I got home. I didn’t even get to give him one last adieu. But, even worse than that, the illness had spread. The entire town was pale and drawn; totally sleepless and totally dreamless. My family was stricken, from my mother and sisters to little Eduard and the servants. Even as I crossed the threshold, my mother begged me to leave for fear that I’d contract it, too, but strangely enough I did neither: leave nor contract the illness. As everyone around me grew progressively worse, more sleepless and weak, I remained unaffected. They lived longer than my father had, but at the same time, they were not really living: just suffering prolonged deaths.

I tried everything to take care of them. To save them. But it was no use.

Charlotte died next. She, too, had come to our father’s bedside, and she was the first in the house to be stricken with him. Her yellow hair turned brittle, like straw, and began to fall out. Already thin, she became skeletal, and her eyes, once as bright as the summer skies we played beneath, sank into the hollows of her cheekbones. I was sitting by her bedside, writing a letter to Anne by candlelight the night she died. She had finally closed her eyes in sleep, and of a sudden she gasped out, eyes wide, and grabbed my arm, which was close to her. She gripped me, and looked at me with eyes so full of fright that it was absolutely chilling… And then she fell back against the pillows, face serene and heartbeat ceased.

Marguerite died next, her death not as memorable as Charlotte’s –my favorite sister. A day later, Elisabeth, too, succumb to Darkness. Mother, of course, was valiant, for Eduard’s sake, I think. He cried and cried…endlessly. Each gut-wrenching scream making his small frame shudder and the house walls shake. Mother quickly followed my father and my sisters to the grave, leaving me with nothing but the screams, the screams which ripped my mind apart in agony.

I remember begging him to stop. To hush. To quiet. My foot would rock his cradle, I would hold him in my arms, I would do anything I could think of. The illness in Eduard was more a madness than it had been in the others, though, and sometimes I would leave the house –at that point devoid of servants –and hide in the fields, just for the silence it offered. One day, one grey day, I carried Eduard with me to the fields. In the breeze and swaying grasses. And he cried his labored breaths and beat his fists and head against me. My breastbone ached from the force of his resistance, but there was nothing I could do. I had failed, I was haunted. My childhood home, darkened by death, was no longer the haven it had once been: it reeked of death, and apparitions of my family haunted every corner of every room, and even invaded my mind. I felt the desperate need to get away, and take Eduard with me. As though it were the place and not his body that was sick.

I was holding the last hope for my family line in my arms. And when his screaming voice went out, the voice of my family, too, would be silenced from history.

Suddenly…he went still. After all my hushing, all my pleading, there was silence in the heavy air, and stillness in my heavy arms. It was the weight of lifelessness, and I didn’t even need to look down to know it. But I lifted his head from my chest, in shock more than disbelief. It lolled back grotesquely, and it was maybe even worse than the other horrors of the other deaths…

I laid him on the ground and attempted to blow warmth back into his cheeks, rubbing his hands franticly in mine. It was hopeless, and I knew it, but I couldn’t stop myself. And when I had exhausted these efforts, I unleashed my rage upon the ground, pounding it with my fists and digging into it with my nails. I screamed and cried as I had yet to do. I cursed the Lord, I cursed the sky, I cursed all manner and number of things as they came into my head. I stood and yanked the hair on my head. I ripped it out to hurt myself. I felt wild in rage and grief, ripped apart by the strength of the emotions inside of me. I paced, and then broke into a run, careening down the slope blindly, clawing at my face, as well as my hair… It’s such a blur, but also a rush of adrenaline to remember that moment: the moment that I Fell…

I tried to catch myself, when I felt it coming on. I reached out for anything, but there was nothing. And it started gradually enough, as though the ground were coming up to meet me in slow motion. But I never crashed into it, rather it felt as though I had dived through and into the ground: a deep sea of dirt and roots. Roots that grabbed me and pulled me down farther, faster, with vise-like grips. There was so much darkness, pressing my mind and body, cramming lifetimes into seconds and thereby stretching my own lifetime to an unimaginable length. My lungs filled with mud from futile attempts to scream, and my body was scratched in wasted efforts to fight what was happening. Faster…faster… My eyes burned and my skin was raw. Faster…faster…

And then, as suddenly as it began, it was over. One minute there was speed and darkness and the next I was springing back up slowly from the depths of the Earth. In retrospect, I sometimes wonder if Death tried to swallow me, and then spit me back out instead. To walk this cursed earth a cursed soul: quick to feel, slow to age, and long to live.

I woke up on the ground at the bottom of the hill, disheveled and battered. I can’t know how long it was that I lied there, and my confusion was so complete that I didn’t not even recall Eduard immediately. When I did, I scrambled to reclaim him, stopping myself from calling out his name. –He was dead, after all. After my initial search for him was fruitless, I began to become frantic, searching higher grasses than where I thought I would have been. But I had to find him. I couldn’t just leave him out there, out in the cold. He needed to be buried, with the rest of our family. I can still remember my sickening dread –it was such a day for sickening dread –when my toe struck something that seemed almost like a rock as I walked through the field, my thoughts slightly distracting me from my search. Of course, looking down, I stared into the white face of my baby brother, wrapped in a blanket and one of my old shawls. It was disgusting.

But I picked him up, gently, almost as though he were still in life, and I whispered things, as though he could still hear, and I headed back to the silent house. The next day, I buried him at the end of a row of five other tombstones. I left them there: my family. I left our town, still screaming of death, and I doubt I even cared what happened to the rest of them. I was alone. In the world. With myself and no one else. There was my inheritance, of course, and M Durant in some Paris bank, but that’s not family. I could never go back to the girl I had been: happy in the countryside, innocent at school, and brimming with romantic dreams. It all died in that tiny town. And I am glad that it is gone. Because the fields will never smell the same again.


Nat "King" Cole

I go through phases where I sometimes miss a certain era. In a way, missing it also helps me relive it, at least in my heart. Tonight, for example, my Here and Now are not Washington, DC in 2005, but New York City in 1952. I thought I was in love with this man then. Ironically, it was not the man I was living and sleeping with at the time. No, this man was a little different. I met him in an uptown club one night James had stood me up. I remember I was wearing red, my hair swept back, although I’d let it grow quite long by then. Strangely, it was my natural color. I recall lighting a cigarette for myself and being in a rage at my table-for-two, inhabited solely by me.

That was when I heard his voice.

He was telling a story to a group of friends, three females and two men. They were sitting in one of the larger booths, laughing, and I had the feeling that they were all enthralled with him. Just one glance and I felt enthralled. –He looked like my typical train wreck. Tallish. Dark. Probably came from an Italian family. Handled himself like he owned the world.

But God, that voice…

I straightened up as the band hit full-swing. Most of his table got up to dance, but he waved them off, uninterested. He had seen me looking, but then I was purposely looking away. I finished my cigarette coolly, but quickly. I waved off some acquaintances who attempted to catch my attention. All the while, I could feel his eyes, and I swear that I could hear his silence. 1952 was not a time for forward women, but I had known more constrained times, so I turned –deliberately, and calmly –to look him directly in the eye. He smiled this…this great smile, all even, white teeth, and though I didn’t smile back, I held his gaze. Sometimes I feel empowered by my eyes, and I willed him to my table. He rose and complied, but his face said that he not only knew he was answering my own desires, but that mine coincided with his.

He said something wretched in that marvelous voice. Something about a beautiful woman sitting at a table alone. “Well, since you were kind enough to notice, won’t you ask me to dance?” I asked, raising an eyebrow, a skill I had only recently acquired and used to deadly advantage. “You preempt me, my dear.”

My dear.

He said it as though he’d called me his dear all his life. The band hit the notes for “Unforgettable.” He sang it in my ear as we danced too-closely together. I remember being, not breathless, but breathing erratically. I had had sensual moments in my life, but that particular moment felt as though it were set on fire. –And we still had our clothes on then. Oh, yes. Later, I let him take them off of me, and his voice whispered a name that I’d chosen for my name at the time, and I remember almost wanting to cry for wishing that he had, instead, said the name I was born with: that quiet, secret name. There was just something about his voice that felt more right than any other thing I’d known.

Tonight, I can hear his voice. And just once, I say his name out loud as I play Nat “King” Cole’s Unforgettable. The moment melts in my mind and my mouth. I loved that man, and that man loved me for a little while. It’s because of that love that he is still alive inside me –fifty years later when he himself is either dead or too old to move.

“Unforgettable…that’s what you are…”


The Art of Leaving

Here: Washington DC
Now: Thursday evening

Jen’s home is as lovely as ever, and the weather is surprisingly nice. I have tried Catherine’s mobile, but there is no answer. Her screenname says she is out to dinner with suspicious people whom I must remember to quiz her on. (Drat for ending sentences with prepositions).

The thing about blogs, I have learned, is that they are terribly messy. You have one intention, perhaps, one goal in mind, but it never works out how one hopes. It’s like writing a novel, or living a life. It’s unpredictable. And that is why today, instead of my Tale, I choose to discuss the topic of leaving. Because you see, (although you do not see at all yet), leaving has played a crucial role in my life thus far. It has ramifications that are not even fulfilled within the average human lifetime. I have left and been left, over and over again, and yet the sensation is always new. This morning, I left Jonathan.

I left him fast asleep in the tangled sheets of his bed in the Congress Hilton. As I mentioned earlier, he does not stay at the Drake, as I do, but rather, around the corner. I spent last night with him, in what he did not know was good-bye. And it is not the first time I have left him, nor is it the first time I have left him in this manner: fast asleep. In this century, I have finally mastered the art of the tiptoe, the getting dressed swiftly in the dark, the leaving without a backward glance, the quiet click of the doorknob lock. It’s all become quite simple. And I have no fear, this time, for Jonathan’s emotions. Quite the contrary, I know that he can handle it. I don’t make promises, because I know that I will break them. I have offered him nothing to hope for. –And even as I tell myself this, I know it is only half of the truth. Because, you see, part of it has to do with him, I am beginning to realize. The only reason he does not mind is because he knows that he can find me. He has done it more than once before. So when he wants me, if he wants me, no matter how I’ve hid my trail, he will appear. And I’ll be helpless to refuse him.


Life Interrupted

Well, that was an inconvenient interruption. Luckily, Amelia sleeps Now and I can try to pick up the thread of my Tale once more. I will speak more of Amelia some other time.

Shortly after Charlotte’s marriage, I received another letter from my home, informing me that my mother was with child. It was great news, perhaps even greater than Charlotte’s match. We were all instructed to pray for an heir to the Lambert name and fortune. At school, I did my best to do my part, but soon forgot to include that request in my bedtime prayers and Sunday penance. This did not inhibit my mother, however, for she gave birth to a healthy, rosy-cheeked baby boy fifteen years my junior, and he was named Eduard Michel Joseph Lambert. The family’s future was secured on the shoulders of an infant, and I merrily went about my daily lessons in feminine virtue and afternoon gossip with Anne. Gossip, you see, was even better than virtue back then, and I am often inclined to think that it still is.

I was not called home to see the new child and was therefore blissfully ignorant of his entire life. In a year, just one brief year, I would finally be allowed, with the other girls of my age at school, to go about in Paris society. We would make curtsies and be fitted out fashionably. I wrote my father in preparation for this momentous occasion. I asked for and was granted a ridiculous sum of money and came into contact for the first time with M Durant, my father’s Parisien man of business, and quite actually, my legal guardian should my father pass while I remained unwed.

M Jean Durant was a short man, although surprisingly enough, not as stout as one might imagine a “man of business.” He was, instead, terribly average: medium height, brown hair, nondescript eyes, and even features. He didn’t even wear spectacles, which I had thought a critical component to his profession. Alas, I was fooled.

A brisk man, I remember being ushered into his office and offered a seat. He gave me a short lecture on how I’d grown and he was to understand any number of things about my life, which I could not fathom how he knew, unless my father had written him of me. I was briefly instilled with a sense of responsibility over the money he was about to place in my hands and instructed to continue to be a good girl. It was only by the kindest miracles he did not pat me on the head. I remember telling Anne that he was quite possibly one of the strangest men in the world. –Recall, however, that I’d not met many men.

Here, I must interrupt myself again, simply to point out that I amaze myself occasionally with the sheer volume of details I can conjure from such a long time past. I can remember the face of M Durant, but I cannot remember the face of my mother. Silly, isn’t it? The things memory chooses to save and discard?

I’m afraid that I am about to embark upon one of the more bizarre parts of my life: the tender age of sixteen. Sixteen has always, I think, been a momentous age for females, and mine was rather stressfully so. I don’t know if I can tell it in one piece, but I shall try. For now, however, my body demands rest, and I cannot help but comply.



Alas, it was not Jonathan, but Amelia who telephoned. And now I have to interrupt the story flow to try to explain something which is neither Here nor Now, per se, but is certainly neither There nor Then. Amelia… Amelia, Amelia, Amelia…

I have explained her once, and yet I have never explained her at all. She is standing in the corner even Now, as I type. She is thin and dark, like a shadow. There is only a single light on in the suite, and it is in the bathroom, too far to light this room. Only the glow from my iBook breaks the darkness. Amelia looks out through the drapes, and the lights of the city fall sickly on her sharp cheekbones. If the definition of Mystery were to take life and form, I am convinced it would look like Amelia. If one were not careful, she could vanish as you looked at her, like a beautiful half-thought. She is silent as I type, arms crossed, black eyes knowing but untelling. They have much to tell, too.

Amelia is an unknown age which we (Eleanor and I…drat, I am introducing too many characters I had not meant to introduce for entries yet!) guess to be several thousand years old. She has lived a hundred lifetimes, if not more, and she has died as many deaths. For this reason, she is my Death Muse. Whereas my life is a continuous stream of life, Amelia’s is punctuated by death of every kind. You see, she accomplishes what I have yet to, and that is to die. To die, and yet be born again. I would not mind so much, being born again, but there are moments I would very much like to know what it is to die. Once might well be enough for me.

Amelia, though, Amelia. I know not how she came by her name. She tells us she was cursed in her girlhood in Egypt, by a priest who hated her father. I know it sounds like madness, but all of it is madness. Each and every one of my two hundred and one years is a madness, so what are a few thousand extra years of insanity?

I met Amelia at some point in the 1840s or 50s. I was still confused about my ageless condition, but she insisted…she insisted that she could smell the Timelessness on me, even then. I shook her off then, thinking her a raving gypsy, for I believe she is always born a thin, dark creature, with those bottomless black eyes. Anyhow, I do not think I ever lost her, and I eventually sought her help as my…Timelessness, so to speak…became less and less avoidable. It is easy for me to think that Amelia has seen it all, but only because I feel as though she has lived through it all. –“Lived” being used very loosely, of course. She has rather, I suppose, “died” through it all: poisoning, sickness, stabbing, shooting, hanging, burning, drowning, beating. I asked her once which was the worst, and she said that they were all the worst. That when they happen, each one is the worst, but when she is resurrected, the pain is just a memory, like all our memories of hurt. We remember that there was pain, awfulness, but we cannot feel it, let alone with the intensity with which we felt it in its occurring moment. So each death is the worst, but at the same time, none of them are. I think, that of the Timeless of us, it would be worst to be Amelia, but she just smiles, her special, ambiguous smile.

Ah, she has just turned to me, sensing, perhaps my thoughts, but likely just cognizant of the pause in my typing. Not anxious to answer any more of her questions tonight though, I quickly recommence with this entry. Amelia can send me into astonishing acrobatic acts inside. I love her in a way in which I am actually quite afraid to love her. It is the most unique sensation in the world. I ask her Now, absently, if she will accompany me to Washington, DC.

“Will you see Catherine?” she asks.

“Yes, I suppose so,” I answer honestly.

“Then I shall come.”

And it is settled then, I guess. I’ll have to let Jen know that she’ll have two guests, not just one this week. It will hardly be a problem, as she and Dave are all alone in that Georgetown row house, but still: Amelia is heavy baggage for a hostess unprepared. I wish she would not stare at people sometimes, as she does…

Je t’aime, Amelie, mais tu es difficle.


Skyline Souvenir

Here, Now: the skyline looks lovely. The buildings are so tall… It really does strike me, every times I come to this city, that it is composed of phenomenal height. Even New York, for some reason, does not seem quite as tall to me as Chicago. Jonathan does not stay with me at the Drake, and so I have the suite to myself tonight. He’s been busy all day with business things; no time for me. So I went for a walk in Grant Park, and I photographed the Bean. I watched children in the Faces Fountain. I even went to the Art Institute to see the Toulouse Lautrec exhibition. My life in the Here is lazy, and I am restless in the Now. On Thursday morning, I leave for DC, and I haven’t even told Jonathan yet.

I left off rather abruptly in my Tale, didn’t I? That’s because Charlotte’s engagement was complicated. I took the week-long journey to my childhood home with one of my father’s servants, whom he had sent, and Anne. Having received special permission from Madame, Anne was allowed to accompany me on holiday. Though the traveling portion of the trip was not pleasant, (Anne and I not only had to share a bed chamber, but a maid as well), our welcome was quite warm at Lambert House, and my mother approved of Anne’s French and manners.

Charlotte was eighteen. Marrying age. She was even prettier than I’d remembered, but she was different, too. All of my sisters were different, and not just older. They were slower and almost, I think, resigned. While I had been sent to Paris for education and the opportunity to improve the family –as there was no heir yet, to speak of, and little likelihood that there would ever be one –it seemed only fitting that the youngest should try what she might. Charlotte, on the other hand, was bartered for and auctioned to the wealthiest buyer. You see, we all had jobs back then, even girls. More often than not, ours were the worst menial sort: to warm beds, whether in marriage or in outright prostitution. The latter, of course, I had yet to learn anything about.

In our late nights before the wedding, I lay awake with my sisters and Anne, all of us crowded into one bed, combing one another’s hair and whispering. We had questions for Charlotte about kissing and dancing and assemblies and operas, all of which she had had the fortune to experience ahead of us all.

“Est-ce que tu l’aimes?” I asked pensively one night as I stared into the blackness of the night. No skyline but the trees and no lights save a slivered moon and a flickering candle reflecting in the glass of the window. “Do you love him?”

I wasn’t raised with a sense of romance. Not really, anyhow. Even Here and Now, I am still surprised that I thought to ask such a question. It was wrong of me. Love him? She didn’t even know him. He was seventeen years her senior and he was taking the loveliest flower from our family’s garden. He was doing us, as well as himself, a favor. It was my foolish questioning that put an end to the late-night gatherings of myself and my sisters. Anne and I only would reconvene in my bed each night.

“Do you believe in love?” she asked me the night before the wedding.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “No one has ever taught me anything about love.”

There was poetry, of course. And romantic prose. But these were academics. The only men I had ever known in my life had been my father and the stable boys of my childhood, and then the footmen at my school. I had rarely seen another man, let alone gotten the chance to speak to one. And at fourteen I had simply thought that maybe eighteen unlocked more of the mysteries of the other sex than apparently it did in that day.

Charlotte looked beautiful on her wedding day. An announcement appeared in the Paris papers, Anne and I learned on our return to school, as her husband was quite important. I stood behind my three sisters, the youngest and the last at the front of the church. I listened to my sister’s soft voice swear to obey a stranger and put her life and happiness in his hands. And do you know? It was only two days later that Anne and I set off for school once more. We never spoke of the wedding again, as it had had a profound but indefinable impact on us. For years after that trip, I would remain staunchly disinterested in the prospect of my own marriage.

Now the telephone rings. It will be Jonathan, of course. Perhaps he has not forgotten me after all…


Puddles Of My Mind

In the Here, the Now: I am sitting at the desk in the suite. It is roughly 11:06pm, and Jonathan and I have just returned from a night of dinner and theatre. We went to the Steppenwolf to see The Sparrow Project. It was a thrilling piece about neurotic rich girls encountering the real world and becoming frustrated by their own inability to manipulate it. In a way, such storylines bore me, and I feel a spiteful desire for the players to meet swift deaths. That is just me, however, and it was fairly enjoyable for what it was. Afterward we went to eat at the incredibly pompous Signature Room, a place totally unknown to the proletariats of Chicago, but a favorite of its Gold Coast trash –or so I hear. The view and food were as magnificent as reviews declare though. Jonathan declares I must come to bed immediately, but I tell him to give me a few more minutes... He turns on the television to drown out the sound of my typing.

I left off talking about school. School back then was very different, you know. Particularly for girls. But at the same time, it was much the same. Girls are mean and sneaky and know precisely how to make life seem interminably long for one another. I did my share of torture, to be sure, but I felt like I received a disproportionate amount due to the previously mentioned malady of being “common.”

Then, of course, there was the political turmoil. My family had done nothing but prospered under Napoléon, but as a little girl, there was something magical about the coronation of Louis XVIII. We were allowed, through the generosity of one of the girls’ mothers, to watch the procession from the windows of her drawing room. It was not the last coronation procession I was to see, and it was not the most glamorous. In fact, I don’t recall that there was much enthusiasm for the man at all. What I do recall is that some English girls came to our school shortly after. Anne, for example.

Anne was not the prettiest, but she was the niece of a Duke in England and was, for that reason, popular amongst the girls, at least on the surface. Behind her back, we all had pity for her disadvantageous looks. Even I, I was told, was prettier than Anne. The worst of it was the jealousy, I think. Because we all knew that Anne would marry better than any of us. If not some foreign Prince, than another Duke, and certainly no one below a Count. She would live the same life she had been born into, and there were not many others like that in Madame’s school. Understandably, Anne was also popular with Madame, and less understandably, so was I. So, to improve Anne’s French, I became her conversation partner, as mine was by far the best English from among my peers. That is, I suppose, how our friendship emerged.

Then the Emperor escaped Elba and Anne quickly vanished, not to return until we were both fourteen. Life at fourteen is quite different than life at nine, and although Anne and I had written one another during the Post-War years, she was much more polished when she returned and didn’t need my help with French. At fourteen, she had come to learn the arts, as that was all that was left to our educations. Anne and I danced and played and stitched and sang. In retrospect, it does not seem like a difficult life at all, except, perhaps, for the fact that I rarely saw my family. When Anne returned to school, it must have been several years since I had seen any of them. That year though, Charlotte became engaged to another merchant’s son, who was to inherit a booming shipping business in Antwerpen. It meant incredible wealth for my family, but for me it meant only the loss of golden curls and comforting arms. My feelings were considered inappropriate: I was meant to feel joy at my sister’s fortune. Besides, I would attend the ceremonies and spend one month at home. It was to be an unexpected holiday.


An Unsteady Start

I’ve had to recreate this blog because I have let it lay idle for nearly a year, much to the admonitions of ma petite fée. I didn’t know, when I began it, what purpose I was aiming for, what I wanted it to be and become in the future. Believe me when I say that its path is much clearer now. A year of unabated travel can do that to a person, and that is precisely what has happened to me. –Which is all beside the point, I might add. So let me begin at the beginning…or rather, the middle. I don’t even think there is a beginning, it’s all so far in the past and muddied and muddled, like the grey sludge on Rome sidewalks. So let me start with the Here, the Now.

When people ask me who I am, I sometimes find myself not knowing what to say. After two hundred and one years in this world I sometimes get lost in the lives I’ve led, the names I’ve had, the roles I’ve played, and the memories I’ve invented. Eventually, truth and reality, whatever they are, don’t really seem to matter. The imaginary, the invented, are just as relevant to me as anything supposedly “real.” So who am I? I’m a dreamer, who are you? I’m a traveler on a long ribbon of Time that has yet to bring an end to sight. I am a woman sitting in a Lake Suite in the Drake Hotel, typing on a G4 iBook at 2:28pm CST. That’s the Here and Now.

I am seeing a man named Jonathan. He is just below two metres tall, with thick dark hair and smooth, brown eyes. He’s an investment banker and I met him in Washington, DC almost precisely one year ago. In precisely twenty minutes, he will ring the in-house telephone and call me down to tea, after which, I have an inkling, we will stroll the Lake. Twenty minutes isn’t very long, though, is it? So I shall begin as much as possible:

I was born on the 18th of May in 1804. I had a name, but it doesn’t matter. My surname was Lambert. My father, Michel, was a wealthy textile merchant in what is now the province of East Flanders in Belgium, not far from Ghent. We lived in a French-style home, we had French names, my siblings and I, we spoke French at home…after all, we were under the Bonapartes. In fact, I was born on the same day our Emperor became our Emperor. Maman used to say that I was born at the precise moment that Napoléon took the imperial crown from the Pope’s hands and placed it on his own head; I was born in that Divine moment. Well, my mother is long-since dead and it was likely nothing more than a childhood faerytale, but I do wonder, sometimes, whether there was some kind of Divinity or another in the moment I was born, which made me as I am: cursed and blessed me as I am.

I was the fourth of five children. Before me had come Charlotte, Marguerite, and Elisabeth. I don’t remember their faces anymore, but I remember that they all smelt warm, like sunshine. It was a good home, where we were raised, and we were wild girls in our youth, roaming the countryside in bare feet in the most ungenteel manner. Charlotte, I remember, had soft blond curls. I can still almost feel my baby fingers wrapped inside her hair, lying on the grass, under balmy summer skies…

Charlotte was six years older than I, Marguerite four and Elisabeth three. I was almost fifteen when Eduard was born –at last the heir my father longed for. Not that it mattered in the end. I didn’t know Eduard. When I was eight, I was sent away to school in Paris. At that time, the Emperor was losing badly in the East, in Russia, and by the next year I was present at the coronation of King Louis XVIII. And we all know how well that worked out.

School was wretched, I recall. I never felt like I fit in. I was not as pretty as the other girls, not as wealthy, not as noble, not as socially acceptable: I was a cloth merchant’s daughter from the country. They, on the other hand, were born into names and histories and all the good things young girls needed back in that day to catch good husbands. I had friends at school, of course, and liked my studies well enough. I learnt Latin and English and bit of German (Flemish was considered uncouth to my peers, though my home in Flanders had, at that point, been joined into the Kingdom of Holland and Dutch was supposedly our official language.). Living in Paris, through all the chaos of the times must have taken a toll on my young self, but it is so long passed that I can’t be certain even of that. There were a couple of English girls who came and went in and out of the school through that turmoil, and I became acquainted with a few, particularly after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Anne was to play a key role in my life a few years after we left school. And an Austrian girl as well, Therèse, whom I liked very much and got on with well.

And that is as good a place to pause as any. But I will be more faithful in the telling of my Tale. The phone is ringing Now, and I have told you what that means.

A bientôt, mes chers.