The Drowning Leaves
This short story was originally written in autumn of 2006.
As the road curved she was Sonia — again. Thinking in Russian, unaware of this equivocal fact. For it was that the barriers of language fell within the walls of her mind. She was only conscious of the urgent observations which palpitated within and over her head: in rhythm with shivering rains and blood coursing through her.
It was the height of autumn, colorfully cold. Hot shades exotically contrasted against the embittered grey of ensuing snows — how she loved the contradictions of her thoughts.
She modestly took a drag from her black Sobranie, and envisioned herself as a thin line of smoke carrying an incongruously bright umbrella. Her slim, pointed demeanor housed the uninhibited lucidity otherwise only mirrored by her blue exhalations and a sometime-trailing shadow. But today was not a day for shadows, not even a day with the obligation of external heat. Sonia glowed through ashen fingers; her intoxicating breath brightened her alveoli; her flushed cheeks shimmered through sheer drizzle. The umbrella’s purpose presented her a mobile, cavernous desert amidst the ceaseless ocean. Her head dry, her mind drenched with observation — she a small girl toeing the line between sand and surf — the essence of her being floating in bits out to sea, carried on smoky exhalations.
The nondescript countryside, possibly typical or unique, depended upon its viewer for definition. Sonia would not indulge the landscape in a response, for to provide elucidation — to harness that place in terminology — would strip it of its majestic repose. She strolled along the gently curving pathway, feeling for a moment that she was a solitary black stripe across a canvas of greys. But her observation expanded once more. Her singular plane of reality intersected a multidimensional landscape of color and form. Her mind was capable of appreciation, and more: she now began to paint light over obscurity: a mid-afternoon aura which smelled faintly of fresh croissants.
Her feet pattered in time with the slight rain, carrying her past the puddled pools of murky water resting alongside the avenue. Suicidal leaves now drowned in vermilion and bittersweet-golden splendor. A drop fell, and the surface of the nearest puddle shuddered, so violently disturbed by the cold sameness. Sonia regarded this event loftily, but felt the tiniest tremor at the obvious expression of unshakable force.
Now, suddenly, the connections were impossible to ignore, and the ocean of thought crashed ferociously upon her. The leaves — so cruelly ripped from their limbs — were the gilt pages of his manuscript, crushed and burned away with ice. The trees would soon stand empty, barren, as the leather binding had. As she had.
Sonia paused. She took one last pull on the cigarette, one last look around the unnamed place, before returning to the urgently commanding past, with too many names. Captured once more.
Now. She was Sennett again. The road still curved. They were walking along the Canal du Midi in autumn, two years prior. Her Gauloise stank; she ignored it. Alain pulled the cigarette from her lip, gratuitously caressing her, taking a considered drag and blowing the smoke into redundant rings. She pulled her crimson cardigan tighter around her thin frame. He wobbled along the edge of the canal, balancing with arms reaching, but not for her.
Alain was so French, but then Sonia had never known what that really meant, only that she wasn’t. They had met here randomly, and Sonia since wondered who planned it. She suspected plots, but her mind had never worked that way. Anyhow, Alain was the writer. She just acted his parts.
They met on a Tuesday. At her introduction of Sonia, Alain proclaimed “Sennett!” and she immediately believed in him. He seemed, in that moment, a wellspring of credibility. She accepted the French name, dazzled by his intense intelligence. She accepted it too, hoping the French could accept her, that Alain, with his darkly curious countenance, would give her more than a passing glance. When he did, she became thirsty, for he sought at the time an empty vessel to fill with his ideas, his politic, his version of truth, and any manner of himself. So she shaped her straight black line, and became the chalice. Alain would proceed to fill her, and quaff his own pretension. Sonia, when she was Sennett, was actress and prostitute, seeing it this way only in shameful hindsight.
There had been many good days, spent mostly in Alain’s house in Béziers, or at the bibliotheque when research was necessary, as he wrote his novel. Sennett quickly found herself playing the role of muse, but it was to be expected, so she accepted it too — and she found a reciprocal muse in Alain. She began to paint. Days passed, though as artists, they felt obliged to notice each one, and in turn, the seasons, until it was autumn again.
A drive to Paris was in order, business and pleasure intermixed. Sennett was ignorant of Alain’s dominance. She gave herself so freely, drawn to his sagacity and mannish bravado. Indeed, she felt herself more quietly perceptive, and so she believed they were a good match.
Alain’s book was soon published, and saw early success. Sennett began to sell paintings to neighbors and small galleries. Their life followed the gaily expected pattern, until something unexpected interrupted — and when this occurred, Sennett discovered how unwise her move into Alain’s life had been. The spring’s new life did not settle well with him. He demanded she reject her newfound condition.
She bore the consequences, rather than their child.
Alain’s temperament was not aborted, however. Sennett could never explain his anger, and she was unqualified to try. He skillfully paired anger and absence, until finally, Sennet refused to tolerate Alain’s brutality any longer. She easily erased herself from his life. She had only one rebuttal to his violence.
Sennett, discovering wisdom, wandered one final Tuesday down the Canal du Midi, eyes wet, cigarette between her lips. She crossed the canal bridge, while Alain arrived home, and discovered the leaves of his novel scattered around the house. Sennett’s escape was evident by the leather binding sprawled on her side of the bed, a single straight black line painted through the former book’s title, daring him to remember it, to remember her.
The nameless place faded back into sight, as Sonia returned to herself and pushed away the memory once again. It was autumn, this time without Alain, and without tears. She smiled faintly at the past, blowing it away on a puff of smoke. Sonia continued walking, carrying herself tall and straight, and full of possibility once more, into the mist.