He's Gone. In a city of sticky, heat entoxication she muses in the midst of it all.
It is raining outside.
From May to September the sun always shines here... It’s settled and balanced and the clouds which streak through the cloak of cerulean blue are pushed aside with ease. It’s as if the whole world is happy with itself and there’s nothing that can blemish its contentment. From late August... things become tempramental. The sunny days become plagued with freezing nights, the likelihood of tempestuous days increases. On the coast you generally escape the fiercest summer heat, except when a hot dry sirocco from the south carries the heat of the Sahara northwards. It’s times like that which turn the air into a shimmering heat, morphing the hot granite streets and wavering buildings into sizzling, glittering canyons. It is always far too hot to work but the blacked out shadows of men in shirts and ties as they walked, dreary and confused by the light glinting off windows and richochetting off cars. This year was full of that heat, that dangerous light from the unmoved mover, the sun.
And this year that summer heat was followed by purple storms that left the sky bruised and weeping. Moisture lingers and drowns you as you breathe. That feeling of helplessness is overpowering, there is no chance to think clearly or act desively... It’s as if the very thing that should grant you freedom from the heady heat is suffocating you and dragging you somewhere forbidden. Every time the rain cascades down the desire to carry through on any plans is thwarted... The sweating beasts sag and sigh as steam rolls out from under their heavy heat laden lifes. Then they shiver and moan as the vehicles, that had dozed in the fierce glare of summer’s noon sun, are rendered useless by torrential flood waters. The birds which had frollicked in the heat now twitter and shelter in the alcoves made by windowsills. The younger people, like us, who were bronzed in the warm arms of early June and which swam in the silken sheets of the sea now settle in cafes and as their skin pales they begin to look like they’ve been living hooked up on a diet of caffeine and benzandrine.
I have closed all that out. In this room, the curtains are drawn across the window shutters to block out each blink of the sun through the cloud. There is one light, a yellow glowing bulb that makes the cream walls look sick with jaundice. It hangs down over the boudouire my grandmother had given to me in her will and reflects in the mirror.
It is in front of this mirror that I am sitting now, listening to the rain and the chatter from the family with three children downstairs. It is not so very different from any other mirror. The light is its sole companion in the dark normally yet it must hate it; as the glow bounces off its cold face and slits a hole in the darkness about us without collecting any warmth. It ignores the light and me... The face is warped ever so slightly with age and there is a spider web of cracks in the top left hand corner from an accident I know nothing about. I sometimes want to laugh at what I see in this sad, obedient ornament.
Its sole purpose is to reflect back what it sees in its one dumb eye. It reveals who you are, as you are, all faults and flaws faithfully, cruelly portrayed in the silvery surface. It cannot tell lies. The truth is there, undiluted and inevitably ugly and the only thing culpable for that vile creation is yourself. The waif in the window in front of me with the dank, unkempt hair and skin drawn over potruding bones and red rimmed eyes that look too big for her face... That is all my fault. It does not matter that, like the sky, the white skin is battered and painted grey and blue and mottled with yellow and that those marks were not made as part of a self portrait but by a different artist... And I feel like laughing at how pathetic it all has become.
I remember that the crying started after Garlon was slashed. It had seemed as if each act of violence towards those Arab natives became worse and worse. I was scared then and when he came back alone... There was some awful disquiet between us all. We all waited and circled each other with words, stalking out our pessimistic voices and praying on someone elses. It was much easier to pretend that our fears were unfounded like that. Then the gulls were screaming, their pencil line bodies fleeing into the sky and we all drew breath as if afraid of the inevitable and then across the water a ship trumpeted. I laughed because it seemed so silly the fact that we had assumed something terrible when quite clearly it must have been the boat... And then Garlon walked out again. And when he came back I cried again.
Very little made me laugh after that. The trial was arranged and I fretted. Every day I woke up and ate and went out to buy fresh meloui bread then came back home to wait to see if anything had changed. I would pinch myself sometimes and other times Garlon would visit me in my house because going to his made me want to cry some more. It reminded me of everything that was happening and the conversations we had... He would reassure me that everything would be fine. We’d go to court and say some good stuff about you and people would realise that you 'was a man of the world', a nice bloke and they’d prove you innocent and that would be that.... You would come home and we’d be married and move to Paris. I would smile and sometimes Garlon would make me laugh. But it wasn’t very often and soon enough the lawyers descended and a plethora of questions were asked that made each of us regret every word we had ever said.
I suppose it had never mattered to us much, that you hadn’t sunk into a well of depression after the death of your mother. It had never mattered to me even though I’d found it slightly odd at first. And it had never mattered to us that you never saw the point in saying how you felt or even feeling anything at all in some cases... Even when I asked if you loved me and you said it didn’t really matter... As if love was so small a thing that it made no difference to anything else. But you seemed to love me all the same. You and I were to marry...
The guilt came with the first few winds of Winter. It was mid-September. It wasn’t cold. It’s never really cold here. Sometimes there’s a slightly chill in the evening air but between dawn and dusk it is rarely so cold we need more than a thin jumper. It was cool though at night and I would shiver in my sheets, waiting for the appeal that I was sure would occur. But it wasn’t and for a week visitors rights were revoked and I didn’t visit you but I did visit Garlon. Sometimes we would talk, other times we would sit in silence and drink coffee and eat semolina. The week after that I didn’t want to visit because the date had been set. The week after that Garlon took me with him but I never went in. The week after that... The guilt was too strong and I suspected that you didn’t really miss me at all. Garlon told me that you had just nodded and said ‘yes’ when he had asked if you missed me. You didn’t send any words from your prison. Just ‘yes’.
So I stopped crying. I felt numb a lot of the time. It was as if a huge clock was ticking above us but time was never moved... March... It rushed towards us. It was six months of monotony and time... Until then I had never known the feeling of how a moment could be so long, each second ticking away, and yet nothing change. It was stagnant... The air too heavy to breath, the world so sluggish it stilled... The talks with Garlon increased. He said we should go together... To the execution... And then he stayed with me that night, sleeping on the couch because by the time I had stopped crying it was almost morning.
Things with Garlon became different after that. The rain fell and intervals of sunshine became rare. The twisting green vines that had bloomed at the end of summer were fading now, coiling around itself as if strangling its own roots. Bouganvillia was growing now. Its wintery leaves trying to sprout despite the sodden soil. We went to the execution. I thought I caught your eye and saw you smiling slightly as your pale face tilted ever so slightly to the heavens as if relishing the feel of the wind and the cool air across your flushed skin. You had never been passionate about anything so much as entoxicated... and it showed as you ignored the jostling arms and the hands putting you into position. You looked contented and at peace. It wasn’t the same man I had seen, confused and defensive at the trial, nor the same man who had ambled leisurely through the streets of Algiers with me before. This was a man I hardly knew... I tried to smile at you but I don’t think you saw it. I didn’t cry. It’s so pathetic I can almost laugh at it.
I look into this mirror and sigh and a giggle rises in my throat before hacking into a flem-filling cough. I see the mottled skin from where a bruise has risen and I wonder at the life I could have had in Paris.