I said that I had gotten six thousand words into a novel. I worked on it for a week or two. I really felt it had promise. But then I just stopped. I had gotten painted into a corner and I couldn't find my way out. What usually worked – just keep writing and let the Ouija that hides in my keyboard take me someplace wasn't working. But the Ouija had apparently departed, or was being obstinate. Nothing came. When I decided to spend four months in Paris I decided that the obvious thing to do with some of that time would be to try to shake that god damn Ouija back into action. I haven't done that yet. I decided to just expose some of what I had gotten done up to the point of bouchon and see how it feels. Here it is.
An event that I have never been able to forget never actually happened. More accurately, it happened, but it was staged. I saw the result of that staging and could never forget it. There was a loosely knit band of randomly dressed men making their way in an understandably stumbling manner across a brush grown field of football sized rocks. They were all playing musical instruments. The music was a dirge but it had some life to it making it less of a dirge. Years later Elvis Perkins would employ a similar approach to a song. In the case of the one in the scene that never really happened except as a staged event it was the beginning of Godfather II.
As I rounded the leg of the path that passed the Senate and all the old gnarled trees that inhabited the grounds beyond the plantings of the senate museum and forged forth onto the straight stretch skirting the inside of the Jardin wall along rue Guynemer I thought that I was hearing that exact band playing that exact music.
But it was a different dirge for a different death.
It was a sunny September pre-noon in 2002 and I was in the midst of my daily run in the Jardin. As soon as I heard the dirge I saw the source. There were a group of uniformed people with two flags, one the tricolor, the other the stars and stripes. And there were some men in business suits. And then the music stopped and the suits began giving speeches. In any event this group had moved into the portion of the Jardin and its path that I had been intending to traverse on my way around to the orchard of espaliered fruit trees – espaliered except for the persimmon which was allowed to grow unfettered – and the rest of the two kilometer course that I liked to run around several times each day.
But on that day I had to alter my course into the center of the Jardin. When I got to the pool where little Parisian kids sailed their toy boats I just sat down. September 11, 2002 became a day of no running and lots of remembering.
But the memories weren't what one might have expected on the first year anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, with the US Ambassador to France a few yards away giving a speech to a gathering of French military and civilians, thanking them, I supposed for their memorial of the event. The memories were from a completely different time and place, although a time and place that probably had a direct link to my ultimate existence in the then current time and place.
The dominant initial memory was of a place that was appallingly hot. It was so hot that my khaki short sleeved uniform shirt was almost completely soaked – soaked as if I had been immersed in a pool. But the soak wasn't like such a pool immersion would have caused. The soak was almost more like a thin slime that oozed out of the garment just short of the point of dripping to the ground. I felt as if I were engulfed in a well saturated sponge. This was the state of being I had been enduring for months and months. That state of being had long since altered the state of the skin on my back where instead of skin there existed a mass of pus filled eruptions, all of a redness akin to some kind of fatal festering infection, an infection that probably was in fact the case. But I had long since accepted this as a normal state of affairs, and a state of affairs that I couldn't any more recall having a predecessor, and couldn't any more imagine as having a termination. It just was, just as I just was, and just as I couldn't expect to ever not be, and just as I couldn't remember ever having not been.
I was walking from the hootch where I worked to the Officers' Club where I lived. At least I told myself that I lived at the Officers' Club. I "lived" as in "came alive" not as in inhabited. I inhabited a grim little room elsewhere not on the base where I was making my contribution to the "war effort".
As I walked the smell of the ditches wafted to me. The smell was a mix of the smell of raspberries mixed with urine in some deviously beguiling blend.
"Living" at the Officers' Club, I was telling myself, was to have special meaning on this day. I was meeting someone. And my sense of the act of being on the brink was at an all-time high point. My entire life to that point could have been summed up with brief descriptions of a few other such feelings of having been on the brink, and having been correct and having gone over, in each of those cases, the brink each of those occasions had revealed. The intensity of the feeling this time was beyond any I had ever felt. "This must be going to be good," I had thought to myself. "This may turn out to be that life changer that you have always imagined."