Visions Fugitives

Article excerpt

"Keep straight on, and shortly St Julien (St Julien-sur-Meuse) comes into view. The village (completely ruined) is reached after crossing first the railway and then the small River Andon. Motor cars can climb as far as the church. Turn to the right after passing the church. Numerous German dug-outs and gun emplacements can be observed here. Down the lane about 300 yards from the village there comes into view on the side of the hill a very large American cemetery containing some 28,000 graves. There is a fine view from here of the lower town and the valley of the Meuse (photo pages 12 and 13)."

Paris. Yesterday. Watery November sunshine on glossy cobbles. A rime of sleet melted by breakfast. With sullen aplomb the waiter scooped our plates and coffee cups from the table. My daughter's hands were raw and scraped from shucking four hundred oysters the night before, her knuckles badged with tiny, brilliant, forming scabs. I saw, as she handed me back the letter and the old guidebook, that her fingernails were bitten half- way down to the cuticle. She looked beautiful, I thought, but deadly tired, her beauty draining from her.

"Who's the little girl with Grandma?" she asked. "No, great-grandma." I took the photograph from her. "You look malnourished, Millie," I said. "It's your great-aunt Sarah." "Malnourished . . . all chefs are malnourished," she laughed. My daughter had been working in Paris since the summer. "Do you know where you're going?" "I'm heading for Metz." "Well, drive carefully. What's gotten into you, anyway? I thought you were on holiday. Is this wise?" "I am on holiday. I'm seeing you. And I'm going to St Julien. I have to be there on the fourth." I handed her a cutting from a French newspaper. "This was what inspired me." She read the cutting: MAVROCORDATO S'EST SUICIDE. "I still don't get it, Dad. Who's Mavrocordato?" "He's a film director. Was a film director." The man lit his cigarette from the butt of the one he had just smoked. The girl reached across and lifted his sunglasses from his face and put them on. Lifted the sunglasses from his face and put them on. She stared sulkily through the windscreen, making a moue with her lips. "I'm tired," she said, "I want to stop." "Okay," the man said, "We'll stop at the next town," he turned and looked at her, "Baby." "Never call me Baby," the girl said, "Never." "Okay, Baby," the man said. From the car, a roadside indicator could be seen flashing by: it read - St Julien 3 kms. Through the windscreen there was a hazy view of a town ahead. A small town on a hill. An ancient church surrounded by cypresses. The man glanced over at the girl. (The naked woman is standing in what looks like an artist's studio, one knee, her right, resting on a chaise longue. Some sort of ornate wall-hanging behind her. She is completely naked, her upper body turning slightly towards the left. In her left hand she holds a looking- glass into which she stares. The fingertips of her right hand touch the underhang of her left breast, gently. She has bobbed, badly permed hair and the heavy make-up and dark lips of a soubrette. Nineteen-twenties, definitely, perhaps earlier. Her shoulders are thin, girlish, and her head seems ever so slightly too large for her body. At the foot of the picture someone has written her name in a bold, cursive hand: Irene Golan. ) "Okay, Baby," the man said. He threw his cigarette out of the window. Exterior, day: the car turned off the route nationale and made briskly, at a careless lick, for St Julien, snare drum on the soundtrack going tssssss-tup-a-tssssss, tsssss-tup-a-tssssss, tssssss, tssssss, tssssss. "Dear Mrs Culpepper Thank you for your letter. I do not know if I can be more precise but I will try. The village was in near complete ruins and was called St Julien, I think. I remember we crossed a railway line and then a small stream. There was a lower town and up on a hill beyond there was a church and other buildings, all fairly knocked about. …