On the Edge
A loud ‘pop’ ensued by the finest fizzing bubbles required all the guests’ attention. As the champagne cork was removed, everyone would swarm like moths towards the marvellous fountain of the full-flavoured bottle of Folies de la Marquetterie. In tribute to a holy-day autumnal evening, this delicate choice of beverage was served with all-kinds of delicatessens — glistening canapés, sweet and sour appetizers and the most subtle too-precious-to-eat selection of desserts that included feather-light millefeuilles. But for the occasion the emphasis was set on the crystallised lemon meringue swirls bought at the Fresh Market Hall of Harrods. The charming effervescence of warming aromas kept hypnotizing the upper-class family gathered for Alma’s birthday. As a half-glum-looking evanescent figure in a navy-blue corduroy dress, she was standing apart on the terrace of the semi-detached house. Alma did not look like the young girls in their twenties, actually she did not want to be attractive in the same way as they usually do. As the result of a mysterious connection between her will and morphology, she was tall, skinny, flat-chested in an androgynous body. By the peculiarity of her appearance, she did not fit into the contemporary standards of beauty but her delicate gestures had a charming effect. Her light auburn hair gracefully echoed to a naturally gifted honey-tinted skin that perfectly matched with the myrtle green and green celadon hues of her eyes.
Right under the porch, she was backing onto one of the Corinthian columns. She had an exclusive bird’s-eye view upon those strangers below her. They were acting like miserable little beings in quest of self-confidence and entertainment. Among the guests were her parents’ friends. Hardly did she look at them, that she could feel how vain was the illusion of friendship they pretended to nourish along the years. They were adopting a grandiloquent air as proving their semblance of rhetorical skills, which was a precious key value among the high society. But the most vicious aspect dwelled upon the lack of control of their gestures. There, some male furtive fingers were caressing the most charming feminine silhouettes of the audience, running down the delicate hollows in-between their hips. The ladies did not protest, they knew it was part of the game. All of them were deliberately sinking into a shallow drunken stupor. Forthwith Alma could only perceive their shallowness if not their incapacity to grow up, stuck in their primitive neurosis. She had a strong feeling of bitterness regarding the so-called feeling of innocence which prevails in any normal childhood or youth, as she has always been deprived of its sweet flavour. Because Alma was understanding too much about the world, she was too receptive, too sensitive, to what was going on around her. At this time of the evening she felt like a usurper. And a feeling of guilt was emerging.
After having drawn on her resources, she eventually reached the first cluster of guests at a snail’s pace. Among them were her aunt and two cousins. But she always naturally referred to them by their names, even from her earliest childhood.
“Whaouh Alma, you made up your mind to join us !” she cried out with a clear well-intentioned lack of tactfulness. While she was still hugging her, she was almost squeezing her fragile body. “You never change, you’re still so scrawny. You need sports practice !” She uttered. “I always told you that, but you never listen to me…” There was a moment of hesitation. “So, what are your plans for the next step ?” She perfectly understood the answer she was expecting. The heaviness of her remark was oppressing. There was no possibility to escape, except the one of giving her the right answer. Alma was accustomed to that speech and had no more energy to embark upon a long fight doomed to failure. That’s why she naturally prompted “I plan to take the PGCE examination after getting prepared for it”.
Alma sighed with the best discretion and looked away in the garden. The barely visible branches of the willows were fluttering. Dusk was approaching and her vision started to be hazy. While the branches got tangled ever faster, the foliage was waving at her in some ways that she felt the abyssal call of Nature. Floating up out of her body, she felt herself gently melting away among that verdant booshy rug. Her aunt looked up and Alma felt the looming threat to be unmasked. In a heartbeat, she immediately prompted “I hope to see you again, nevertheless I must go and chat with the other guests.”
Her two cousins did not utter a single word since the beginning of the conversation, they wouldn’t have disturb a single strand of a feather — they were standing as usual uptight, stuck in their body and straight like ramrods.
Hardly did she move back that the heel of her stiletto slipped into a small earthy hole, she lost her balance, her ankle twisted and she bumped into her mother, who hosted her in her arms.
“Ahh, these poisonous shoes want to make me die. I always knew they had something tragic ! ” she mumbled.
She hated those bloody stilettos at that point. It was a present that she has been nicely offered by her aunt and so for the special occasion she somehow tried to display of sympathy towards her.
“Please, it is not a big deal. Don’t make a mountain out of the molehill. You can look happy for once, this occasion only happens once in a while.” Her mother said in a reproachful tone. Alma shooted her a dirty look and the impact of her mother’s words was such that she was welling up. Fortunately nobody saw that small accident. But it was enough, an extreme sadness and exhaustion permeated in her whole body. Therefore, she wisely decided to slip away from that confusion that could only get even worse.
As she fled the guests, she climbed up the creaking wooden staircase, before reaching her room. Unexpectedly it was a small homely one, though with a Louis XVI marble chimney, an antique carved bed and a giant eclectic bookcase that included the crème de la crème — from Baudelaire, Burroughs, Camus, Dostoïevski, to Emerson, Gide, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Rimbaud, and many others that were so close to her heart. A delicate lemon verbena incense stick was regularly burning, alternatively a patchouli flavour would take over. She slipped into her bed and sank into the first chapter of Swan’s Way, Combray. The depiction of the narrator at bedtime, regretting his dearly-beloved mommy was her favourite passage of all times. Probably because she would have loved to nourish such an affection for her mother. Yet she scarcely developed nothing more than a semblance of sympathy. While her head started to bend on the left side, her eyelids delicately closed, her eyelashes joined, her jaw unclenched; her stillness was so profound that she was disposed to feel the sweetness of Wordsworth’s poem.
The blessing in the air… which seems a sense of joy to yield, to the bare trees and mountains bare, and grass in the field… Your morning task resign; come forth and feel the sun… No joyless form shall regulate our living calendar… We will frame the measure of our souls… They shall be tuned to love… For this one day, we’ll give to idleness…
A burst of laughter from the guests suddenly disrupted her comforting day-dream and she awoke dizzy in the midst of desolation.
On the day after, once the guests had left, she headed, in spite of the melancholy that struck her down, towards the bus stop and stepped into the bus for The National Gallery. As usual she sat in the back of the bus and grabbed her diary from her handbag. She started to write a few thoughts, but she rapidly felt the intrusive, insistent looks of several individuals upon her. She didn’t need to look up to be sure, because her intuition was reliable. So she did not raise her head and kept writing as if she wouldn’t have noticed them. Yet the discomfort was growing as she started to imagine some malevolent mockeries and disdainful words whispered in each other’s ears. She felt like an outsider. But was she ? Was her unusual physical appearance disturbing ? Her morose facial expressions could have attested for a form of psychotic melancholy… Could the mere old fashioned habit to open a diary be perceived as a proof of a disconnection with her time ? But most importantly, was her gifted and vivid intelligence detected ? Alma was afraid of being unmasked. As if her clear-headedness upon any situation were a shameful gift. Witnessing things as they really are, with no veil, with their defects appeared to be an inconvenient for her sociability. The more she felt the reproachful judgement of the others, the more her marginality unconsciously tended to be emphasized. It was too much. Deep down a feeling of shame was filling the void in her heart. She felt overwhelmed by such a hopeless bleak sensation of despair. She was welling up. She eventually slightly raised her watery eyes, a bunch of girly fashionable British ladies were fluttering around, taking snapchats of their glowing and sculpted faces, if not gossiping about each other’s most recent story. The bus was approaching Trafalgar Square. She pressed the button, discreetly stood up and lowered her eyes all along the path until reaching the middle door of the bus. Surprisingly one of the girls was following closely behind her. Her nerves were about to loosen at jumping off the bus, but with a careless motion, the girl suddenly jostled her. Alma lost her balance and her little head banged against the glass of the automatic door. The girl ran away. Half traumatized, Alma was now standing on the pavement with some weird sensations in her head. Was it a nightmare ? When would she wake up from that confusion ? Alma was wondering why she did deserve all that pain. But after all, that girl had no reasons to resent her and neither to provoke an outburst of violence. Still, Alma was shocked. Nobody helped her, while many people had jumped off the bus in the meantime. She would need time to regain her composure. The pulsing turmoil of London’s city life was in full swing. She crossed the square as fast as she could but the nightmare was still going on. The smell of pollution intermingling with any kind of fried greasy food was invading her nostrils. Firefighter sirens, children’s laughs or babies’ cries — she could not distinguish anymore — were howling in her ears. While the tourists foolishness made her blood boiling — they were taking photos everywhere, encroaching on the scarce spaces left even invaded itself by their bloody muck. She had to walk zigzagging to avoid them, because they wouldn’t care one single moment about anything different from them, themselves, their little miserable being. They were polluting London. London was suffering from them, London and the one inhabitants who yearned for a minimum of tranquility and respect.
She finally reached the National Gallery. Once in the museum, she started to relax as if she were being rocked in a smooth floating field of cotton. Now in her element, she was wandering freely in the rooms. Paul Cézanne was one of her favourite painter, as the impressionist movement always fascinated her. Her attention was immediately drawn upon Hillside in Provence. She sat on a velvet sofa just in front of it. She could now drift into the imaginary world of the sweet symphony of colours. The tepidness of the colours started to warm her up, while she went into raptures — resorting to the power of her imagination, she could now contemplate the gentle touches of the hesitant paintbrush caressing the surface of the canvas giving birth to a miraculous representation of a slice of life. Half real, blurred, imaginary in the meantime, the sweet evocation of a bygone era was nothing but a stress-relieving therapy, if not a spiritual equivalent to remain in contact with the residuum of a dearly-beloved space-time.
After that sweet mindfulness, she wanted to wake up and headed towards Covent Garden. Now in the midst of one of the most touristic areas, everything was flying all over the square. While the singers and jostlers were entertaining the most gullible families, so absorbed by the show, some furtive hands would delicately grab their wallet. Children were howling of excitement, a bunch of families were queuing to take pictures on the floral swing, if not from all angles of the square. The landscape below her eyes started to be hazy. Her eyes fluttered closed. She was there, of a small size, poorly dressed up with rags, a bunch of flowers in her hands. While she was howling, singing at the top of her voice, her cockney accent spreaded on all parts of the Square, outraging some ridiculously uptight men. “I have the right to do that, let me alone, I’m more respectable than you think, you should help me rather than…” A swarming flock of people jostled her and squashed her feet, she fell down, dizzy, baffled, she opened her eyes — a young woman was being violently harassed by an old man. The square was almost empty. At that point she felt that Hobbes was right when he coined “man is wolf to man”. But she still had the hope of finding a place where living is of a serious concern, where she would be gifted with the natural ability of appreciation. Therefore, she decided to go to the serene atmosphere of Neal’s Yard.
In spite of its tourists, it was a homely haven of peace. The colourful architecture, the artistic eco-friendly decor of the shops, the endless climbing plants till the bushy plants of the secret rooftop hardly visible revived her taste for life. While she sat on one of the wooden benches right next to Neal’s Yard Remedies, the freshness of a zesty blend of lemon overlapping with an uplifting aroma of eucalyptus radiata leaves invaded her senses. Her nostrils started to get confused with the flavour of lemon. She could now experience again the delight of a charming olfactory experience with the flavour that became most significant to her eyes, the one that shaped her intimacy not only with the smell itself, but with the external world that became suddenly fascinating. Out of time were the days in the pretty little town of Uzès, in the Gard departement, while at dawn the light breeze would bring the lemon trees’ aromas into her bedroom, at midday the disconcerting sour-tasting homemade lemonade prepared by her maternal aunt would sharpen her taste buds and usher the first hints of summer time. One day, while she was strolling alone in the old town on a warm afternoon; with the soft clicking sound of cicadas in the background, relaxed, happy with herself, without any concern except the one of keeping the memory of such a state of bliss; she stepped into l’Occitane as her attention was drawn by the Citrus Verbena eau de toilette that was the fashionable fragrance of the moment. She bought one small bottle as an ode to the softness of the blissful summer days in The South of France that reconciled her with her own existence. It was one of the few times when she could appreciate an empiric experience for its direct flavour and not for the evocation of it. All of a sudden, a new influx of light connected this miraculous reminiscence with her true self, the one that remained under the surface for so many years. She understood that her dark representation of reality was inextricably linked with her incompatibility with her current miserable existence. It is to say that the decaying terms with her vain family and her incapacity to fit in social norms within an urban restless environment could only lead her to a bottomless fall into melancholy at the very risk of never resurfacing. Now, everything was crystal clear. She hurriedly went back home, prepared her suitcase, with her favourite books and wrote a few words for her parents. The call of the wild South is stronger, thank you for your loved-based understanding. Anytime soon, she would fly to Marseille, before reaching Uzès by train, then she would settle in the unoccupied studio of her aunt. She would devote most of her time to set down on paper the reflection of her confused sensory perception, to which are correlated its overflow of emotionally-charged reminiscences. She would also attempt at understanding and above all at accepting her most paradoxical nature — her tendency to be insanely affected by any empiric experience for better or for worse. The natural and wild environment would suggest her all the inspiration and relief necessary, if not a legitimate sweet life, under the serene blessing of idleness.