Vested in this brief memoir will be no similitude, allegory, or metaphor; the reality of the prosaic word is adequate encasement enough for one woman’s suffering. If the humble chronicler would seem to transgress his prescribed simplicity, he does so because on occasion our lady’s suffering was to her something more than mortal. He forgives her histrionics, and allows her, in his account of her endurance, correspondent embellishment in salute of her pain – as, no doubt, will the reader.
Our lady’s last years were spent in a small cottage. At first there was nothing particularly especial to remark about the residence – it shared all the common characteristics of the cottage in general – but where the writer has decided to pick up this history the cottage’s outward appearance was in a state of change, and had been for some time yet: shrouded in great trees, overhung with foliage, and denied sun: trapped in this moisture its wooden frame was rotting; trapped in this perpetual umbrage, seized by thick vines, enmeshed in moss and lichen, its wooden frame was becoming an extension of the forest in which it was isolated, soon to be reclaimed by the survivors of antiquity.
Of the cottage’s inward appearance, however, there was no semblance of change. While outwardly the cottage passed through temporality as do all human monuments – degenerately – inwardly the cottage’s aspect produced upon the mind the overwhelming impression that it was transcending time; that while without the worms were burrowing their slow way through the pine, there was a point at which they must cease in their efforts, being unable as it were to proceed any further.
For the air was not upset by mold or putrefaction. The fire burned steadily upon the hearth; the crucifix hung in good shape above the mantle, an effigy of grotesque contortion and provincial law gleaming in the glow. The empty kettle sat unrusted upon the hob: it, too, dazzling, sharing in the constant flame. A sizeable clock was lodged in a corner, but it did neither tick nor knell, its brazen pendulum did swing neither this way or that. No second, no minute, no hour was in that cottage ever announced; no day, no week, no month ever marked; and the light never made its way through the walls to guide us. Though once upon a time there may have been movement in our lady’s cottage, it had all tapered into insensibility, caught up and frozen in interminable monotony. And at its core was our lady, fixed to a cushion on her plastic-protected love-seat; as its very source, was her affliction, a trammelling weight upon her old, frail breast. Fixed to her cushion, as the clock was lodged in its corner, her hand outstretched on a side-table, in what might have been a creeping withdrawal from the blackened butt of a final cigarette, our lady was prisoner to a past that had become eternal.
What had cast her into this strait was the commonest occurrence of all – death. Our lady was not exceptional; she was ordinary indeed. But in the eruption of sudden loss relativity disappeared. There was no room left beyond her exquisite pain for comfort in generalizations. No extrapolation, no calculation, no arithmetic could soothe her; no rule, no principle, no adage could amend her woe; no philosophy could remedy the stupor into which she fell when Vimy Ridge became the grave of her dearest husband: when the bootprints, bones, and blood of his compatriots formed his tombstone, and the cacophony of cries, canons, and gunshots composed his epitaph – for none of this artifice had the power to resurrect, and restore. The globe shrank, and her bereaved spirit, voluminous with anguish, enveloped it.
A gravel road once led to her cottage, but after the Official car drove down it, and the Official man delivered the Official telegram, notable for being writ upon a model, and conferred his Official condolences, notable for proceeding from a sympathy that had to be pretended for a few hundred thousand other mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers, and sisters, and Officially disengaged himself from the scene – and our lady was left to weep in a crumpled heap upon the patio – well, then the road fell into disuse, and strewn about it in course of time were the leavings from those same survivors of antiquity who denied the sun to our lady’s cabin, as the Official tidings would blot out forever our lady’s future. The Great War was undertaken to insure the freedom of a few select nations – a Great shame that it should have enslaved so many of their peoples; that blinded by a Great dream the political acumen of our prized state officials should prove so short-sighted, and fettered to their failure, that our lady should have felt so completely the Great disillusionment.
Fixed to her spot on the couch, our lady’s outstretched hand before the ashtray appears no longer to be in a posture of withdrawal, but is rather pointing to an object on the mantle. Perched on that cement slab, beneath the gleaming crucifix, is a frame. Our lady points at it, griping to express a truth. From within the sunken sockets she stares with vacant eyes; and from within the frame life stares back at her – yet a life prematurely taken, made but a picture too soon.
The romantic might call our lady’s loss tragic; the sentimentalist pathetic; the moralist useful; the philosopher a necessary evil; the religious a divine operation; the poet, languishing in his words, a cruel, undeserved, sundering of husband and wife. But we, as a confession to human weakness, will forbear to classify – will content ourselves with the conclusion that behind our lady’s sunken vacancy abound the images, militated by ungovernable passions, of destruction, battle, blood, and an unknown place on Vimy Ridge, marked by the cross she supplied there in his name. And that, while this memoir of our lady’s suffering is not unique, yet it is one to confuse our notions of life and death.
Writer, musician, philosopher, student, teacher, lover, friend.
Photo credit: Natasha Kilfoil