Her lover one day takes O for a walk, but this time in a part of the city – the Parc Montsouris, the Parc Monceau – where they’ve never been together before . . .
1: Decisive as a Letter
Literature made me aware that both parks were styled after English Gardens; and experience told me that the streets around us resembled the fourteenth, or maybe even the eighth arrondissement. I was in an unfamiliar Jardin Anglais in a familiar looking part of town, and so concluded, via a chain of inductive reasoning, that we might now be in either of these places.
Then I remembered that one (as oppose to which) park housed Baucour’s Premier Frisson; and, simultaneously, what it was like to realise, while still asleep, that you were dreaming. I looked at him and said:
“Where are we?”
I suspected him of possessing and hiding a map.
The park contained numerous replicas including a big (although miniature) pyramid, a fort, and a colonnade; but which, the landscape being large and informal could not all be seen at once. Walking across the grass one was interrupted, only occasionally, by follies – objects I did not recall ever having read about.
Instead I remembered that if we were in one of the parks then we would soon see an entrance to the catacombs. I said:
“Are we near the ossuaries?”
Thinking it would be decent for earth to lead to earth.
He said nothing, and led me to a copse at the park’s edge. Dusk was falling and this created a feeling of unease. Instinctively I looked upwards in search of stars, while racking my brains for some forgotten but important piece of information.
Around us were weeping beeches, and I became convinced that the dead were waiting for us beneath their pendulous limbs. I shivered and again said:
“Are we near the ossuaries?”
But a car drew up before he would answer.
The door opened. Someone else got out and we got in. The leather seats, the upholstery, the houses opposite the park – everything was cream, addled by the glare of a nearby street-lamp. I observed myself in the wing-mirror, sallow and painted, and the man, now beside me and also sallow. I pulled out into the shadows with surprising ease – and yet I distrusted the brakes.
My bags at the hotel were still only half unpacked. The linen dress had been hung over a chair, but all the other items remained crushed within their cases, or else strewn over the bed. I remembered a pair of tights snaking across the eiderdown, one black leg enclosing a selection of expensive cosmetics – meaning that they came in glass, and not plastic containers. Wherever I went these pots of fabricated flesh accompanied me; and I saw them now as tiny obelisks rising from the nylon and with my razor at their centre . . . Beside them was a swimming costume – superfluous as we had not planned to see the sea. The pattern depicted either very small apples or very large cherries; and I recalled how, as a sensitive child first biting into the fruit, I had screamed that I was bleeding . . .
As if reading my mind he said:
“The hotel knows.”
I nodded and continued driving. We passed through indistinguishable stucco streets, decaying estates, and finally the city itself faded. Again we merged with the car’s interior – although this time the effect was more ghostly than putrid.
He leaned against the window and the vibrations made his cheek tremble. I watched his face and then my hands.
Rubbing his eyes he said:
“Are you tired?”
I shook my head, transfixed by the road. The headlamps illuminated only the small patch of it in front of us; and I thought of a painting seen by torchlight– a centaur or a cloud glimpsed separately.
He looked at me and reached inside his jacket.
He looked at me and said:
“Do you still want to see the ossuaries?”
The car moved so smoothly that I hardly noticed the loss of momentum as I slowed down and then pulled over. The headlamps shone onto the mud and sometimes grass. In the distance I heard scuffling.
2: The Balconette
We returned to our room. In a foreign language I ordered coffee, and then, replacing the receiver, said:
“Even the air is stale.”
The coat slipped from my shoulders and onto the divan.
When the girl arrived I shut my eyes. Putting down the tray she asked:
“Would you prefer the window open?”
And I nodded, blindly, that I would.
His gaze traveled up and down her figure from the table to the door. I smiled, too brightly, and exclaimed:
“What a lovely view.”
The curtains were now drawn back to reveal a balconette; and I leaned out, swaying, this way and that way with the breeze . . .
The street was sharp and cultivated as a lemon tart. The long yellow walls were accented with iron and ended, abruptly, at the Cimetière de Montparnasse. He had pointed it out, previously, as the burial place of two philosophers, and described both their public and private lives in such a way that I had then pictured their bodies rotting . . . Gripping the metal bar I raised my feet up off the ground. I tipped forwards and my hair billowed out around me like a black flag. When I let go even my bones quivered.
3: Incense to Apollo
We retraced our steps until stood in the same place as before but instead of the pyramid was a couple embracing, and likewise the colonnade had been replaced by a dying lion. The surface of these statues was strangely artificial – matt and nearly beige – and it made me wonder if the stone was, in fact, coade.
Almost immediately I remembered how the hotel had equipped each room with a bible, and that this contained the words:
“And Pilot asked him ‘What is truth?’”
Drawing nearer, I saw that the lion’s base had been covered in candles. Judging by the amount of wax they had once been tall although now only shallow pools remained. Amongst the grease and soot were wilted flowers. There were also several cards – perhaps condolences – too complex to translate.
A gust of wind made it look as though the trees were moving forwards. They appeared so much closer to us that I said:
“Where are they really?”
A hand gripped mine. It was nighttime and every noise became significant. I could hear breathing, the rustling leaves and then, as we neared the park’s perimeter, the sound of dislodged gravel followed by the low purr of a vehicle, waiting. I shook myself free and drew back into the weeping beeches.
Their foliage was so thick that it obscured everything else. I decided to stay there and avoid the edges.
I began walking down a steep slope, slowly, one little step at a time. My feet were bare, and I feared slipping on the cold, smooth stone. The slope was made of marble – an immaculate Venetian slab of it rising high as a mountain – and along its sides stood marble trees. Marble trees covered the marble mountain through which was hewn a sloping path. I began walking down this path, slowly, one little step at a time. I was walking down a steep, marble slope and my feet were bare. I thought that I was wearing pajamas but actually I was naked. It started to snow. The snow covered my hair, which was no longer brown or black (depending on the light). The snow covered my snow-white skin and I became indistinguishable from the marble . . .
5: The Ossuaries
I woke up, dead cold and sudden, and believing a stranger had entered the room. On the chair beside me was a man’s jacket. I picked it up and tiptoed to the window. By moonlight I began going through the pockets. There was some money and also a scroll of paper, which I unfurled:
Various symbols marked the page, some of which – a pyramid, a colonnade – seemed to correlate with the park’s follies. There were other motifs too, a mixture of the Classical and Far Eastern which, when seen together, looked strangely Masonic. A black road cut across them, marked by fruit-bearing trees. On the left hand side was Baucour’s sculpture and, next to it, an opening.
Susan Finlay is a writer and visual artist based in London.