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Day 1 – Prompted by Je Crois Entendre Encore by Alison Moyet

April 12, 2012


From my childhood we were two sides to the same coin.  Flesh of my flesh, that slender body that made mine, that mind that shared my deepest secrets and desires; those shrewd eyes that saw everything and could not be deceived.

My bedtime stories were tales of her student days in Paris living with a penniless artist, who later became a world-renowned film-maker.  But that was before the student riots when a young photographer captured her soul and became my father, until she cast him aside for a scandalous liaison with a night club chanteuse.

She was a bright star, shining with passion for culture and ideas.  She held parties where impossibly intellectual people drank gin and smoked until dawn, and I sat at their feet to devour the crumbs of their conversation and worshipped with the others at the altar of her beauty.  She had no time for housekeeping and once moved the whole family into an hotel while a team of cleaners made our house habitable again; only to decide on our return that she couldn’t bear the tidiness and we spent a happy day “distressing” the place to her satisfaction.

We discussed everything in front of the blazing 3-bar electric fire (she had to be warm).  Impossible, circular, metaphysical ponderings.  She had studied under Derrida.  What is existence? How should we define a life well lived?  And we shared our hopes for the future and our fears.  After a life of defiant hedonism, of always being sure, never questioning, the thing she dreaded most was a loss of control.  It was the thing which caused her smile to falter, caused her to pause and turn inward.   When our conversations came to this, which they did more and more frequently, she would snatch up the gin bottle and light each new cigarette from the stub of the last and insist that I accompany her whilst she sang Jacques Brel chansons in her beautiful, melancholy contralto.

I first realised there was something amiss when she called me by my sister’s name.  Small enough a slip to be of no consequence, but obscenely revelatory from her.

She retreated from me. The inconsequential details and bit-part players of her life stole the spotlight of her mind’s focus away.  Things that happened at the Sorbonne became folded neatly into contemporary events.  In the quantum chaos of her mind each of us shared the stage with equal billing; her lovers, her children, her tutors, De Gaulle.

At first, it was I who was unhappy.  I tried to tell myself she was suffering, losing herself.  But then I had to admit that she was not.  Whatever internal theatre she followed whilst I sat with her in the sterile sanatorium captivated her.  I no longer had a rôle in her life.

Gradually, though, she came back to me.  More and more often, she would suddenly focus upon the real, mundane world where we sat among formal English gardens or returned through corridors stinking of cabbage and piss.  Confusion would crease her features until I stopped and took her hand.  She looked at me then with absolute clarity – and absolute terror.

And so we walk, though the sun is below the horizon and the evening is brisk with the promise of an early frost.  She, borne along like a lady, a pink summer shawl covering her nightdress, hair loose and lifted by the motion of the wheelchair, I striding briskly, singing loud enough for both of us.

            « J’arrive, j’arrive!

Mais qu’est-ce que j’aurais bien aimé

Encore une fois prendre un amour

Comme on prend le train pour plus être seul

Pour être ailleurs, pour être bien. »


I am coming, I am coming!

But I would have liked

Once more to take a lover.

We take the train to be more alone

To be elsewhere, to be well.

–   Jacques Brel, J’Arrive

  1. I loved this. I put the song on youtube and read the along as it played. The two go hand in hand though I don’t know what the original song is about as it is in french haha!

    • Thank you! I translated the part I used because it seemed to capture the idea of heading into the unknown – to be elsewhere, to be well.

      It’s a different song than the prompt, but the words fitted better than the Alison Moyet one, which is by Bizet, from The Pearl Fishers.

      Glad you enjoyed it, please come back for more 🙂

  2. justafewlittlewords permalink

    I’m hooked, I will be following your posts. Thank you for posting on Lapidus.

  3. Beautifully written… I was genuinely moved.

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