Obscurity, The Sixth Chapter
In which we discover three men with rather nefarious intentions.
We last read The Fifth Chapter, in which the widow entered the sacrament of confession.
Séverine sat alone in the convent chapel for the remainder of the day. She felt, for the first time, some sense of peace, and so she wrapped herself up in her faith and knelt on that chapel floor in prayer.
A cool breeze settled on her skin and she closed her eyes against the night.
When she awoke, she was in a beautiful valley—her body wrapped in the delicate lacings of an intricate veil. Wildflowers bloomed up beside her as a warm wind rustled their leaves against her skin—every part of her body touched by the evening dew.
There was a man beside her, so it appeared, and He wrapped his arms around her, cloaking her in a blanket of stars. His lips touched her eyelids, one and then the other, her eyelashes fluttering with the dust from comets and creation. Sometimes she wondered if He remembered her creation, the moment she fell from her mother’s womb. The moment her head left the heavens and her feet met the earth.
She was born breach, she remembered her mother saying, feet first—as though she was not yet ready to meet that cruel and brutal existence and so clung to the Beyond. She cried as the air touched her lungs, the pain of breathing forced upon her. She wailed as the weight of gravity crushed down upon her.
Her parents held loving conversations above her pram, attempting to soothe that ailing spirit, and eventually they did. The girl grew up in the world, as all children do, and the Other One became long forgotten—the fantasies of child turned to the harsh realities of an adult.
There were still glimpses, brief moments of wonder, small hints of some Other. Sometimes Séverine felt His hand in hers as she walked down the streets of Lyon and she would turn around frightened—wondering who it was that stood beside her. Other times He wiped a tear from her cheek when she cried for the death of a flower in her hand and she would wonder how it became stolen by the wind.
Her wedding day was meant to be a happy one—her parents attempted to convince her of that fact, as well as they did themselves. But she looked at her groom’s eyes across the threshold and saw greed—hunger—a desire to solve some deep and existential pain. She knew that pain. It was the pain of existence. But when the two became one, a light fell upon her face and a shadow crossed his.
She felt His hand then, this time with more certainty. He brushed the hair back from her face and for a moment she saw His eyes looking adoringly into hers. She felt, in that instant, the collision of two worlds: The small alter where her feet stood and the farthest point in the universe where her soul dwelt—her hair a shimmering cascade of star dew, alight against a thousand galaxies as Her eyes fell captivated by the cosmic dance of His.
Alas these sentiments were soon forgotten. As her world darkened, so did her vision, and she ceased to look for Him. When she did look for Him, she couldn’t find Him. She would let her hair fall back into her eyes and look the other way, tormented by her husband’s demons, drowned by her tears. But even when she was planted solidly in the ground, He saw her. Like a lover longing for his desired’s touch, He always watched her, and waited for her.
Some nights she remembered to return His gaze but could not find Him. She would become lost in the torments of her reality, her consciousness waning between one world and the next. She tried to see her Savior’s face through her tears. She cried out for Him. She would become desperate for Him to save her, to take her from the world at last. But she could not find Him.
But even in that darkness, she knew now, He heard her voice. He wept for her. He waited her for to remember. Now she did. Like two lovers lost from one another for many centuries, He kissed her and cherished her. The skies wept stars against her cheeks, the winds touched their breath against her breasts, the wildflowers rustled against her thighs. He touched her body with the cool dust of the moon and kissed her body with the sweet taste of the sun.
Séverine felt that they used to spend eternities like this, and that they would spend eternities like this once more. Silently, tears began to stream down her face, overcome by the remembrance that her time had not yet come, and she would have to return to the world once more, her toes returning to the ground even as her hands reached for the heavens.
With that realization, the memory left her and she fell to the floor of the chapel. Opening her eyes once more, she found the world as it was: her neck bent against a wooden pew, her body stiff with sleep, her head aching from where it lay. The last light of the day fell waning through a pane of stained glass, and she felt the distance between herself and her dream so plainly it hurt.
Séverine left the chapel that evening to find a steady rain pattering against the palm leaves. The wood, brick, and iron buildings were drenched all the way through, coating the air with a sweet, terra cotta scent.
The dirt turned to mud beneath her feet, and the sound of her boots touching the soft ground squished softly beneath her. The town was abandoned, the whole of it scattered into the taverns that would hold them, warming their bodies near raging fires as barmaids tended to their every thirst.
At first there was just the sound of the sun leaving, the early evening calm. Then, slowly, a small fear trickled into her consciousness and she could not rid herself of the feeling that she was not so alone as she believed. She looked behind her, but peered only into an empty night. Light flickered into the streets from candles perched on nearby windowpanes, and it played tricks with her eyes.
She hurried her steps past small alleyways that hid unseen secrets. She thought she heard a step not too far behind her, but when she turned no one was there. Fearing she was being followed, the widow turned down the first alley and stopped, her body obscured by the wall that hid her. She caught her breath, silencing her exhale as her heart raced through her chest. She listened, her ears straining for some foreign sound. She watched, for some shadow to pass. But nothing did.
She remained in place for a moment more, trying to determine how much of her fear was intuition and how much of it was paranoia. Water dripped from the rooftops, and the widow became steadily more soaked by it. Finally convinced the intrigues of the night were all in her head, she stepped from the alley into the street.
It was then that a sound rose behind her. She turned, and nearly startled herself to death at the sight of a slight silhouette that stood there. He was a small boy, dark skinned, no more than four years of age. She knelt before him, looking into his eyes. He had been crying. She spoke to him in French, but the boy did not answer her.
Unsure as to his circumstances, she was hesitant to remove him. But he was clearly destitute, and so she made up her mind quickly. She reached a hand toward his. Hesitantly, he took it. They walked in this way until they reached the cabaret, their bodies drenched by the evening’s downpour. Then the widow lowered herself to the boy’s level and held out her arms. He hesitated for a moment, but wrapped his hands around her neck, nonetheless.
Without a thought as to her reputation, she picked him up and carried him through the cabaret, the entire town peering from behind velvet drapes as she did so.
There were three men particularly transfixed by the widow that night—each curious for their own set of reasons, each driven by their own set of motivations, each acting by their own sense of morality. They tilted their heads from their tables as the widow walked past, watching her with a sort of synchronized fascination.
The first man our mercenary. What a coincidence it must have seemed when an unknown, yet entirely wealthy constituent turned up in his path, opening a cabaret with a surfeit of funds and furnishing its upper levels with a most decadent sum. It was thus that the mercenary watched the widow with a sort of rapt apprehension—determined to discover the source of her ceaseless coffers—and perhaps even the location of her murderous weapon.
His mind stumbled, however, when the widow walked past, cradling a small child against her hair, her red lips pressed against his Black cheek. Indeed, the mercenary pondered these circumstances quite thoroughly.
As the reader may be aware, there are some individuals who have a deeper interior well than others—by this we mean the reservoir of emotion living deep within the human psyche. Some can tap into this well easily, much as one can catch a handful of water from a running stream. Others have more difficulty—they can sense the presence of this well, but they either cannot or do not wish to reach its surface, much less break beneath it. To those, the interior well is quite difficult to reach, if not impossible. It remains hidden from them, keeping secrets even from themselves, much as a ship that has become lost at sea cannot be found by its captain.
Those who do not examine their own depths do so at the peril of their morality. They assume themselves to be men of logic, not emotion, and they pride themselves on following every order and unquestioning every command. These are the men who fight the revolution with brawn, power, or at the very least, prestige—never pondering whether the actions demanded of them are right or just.
But the mercenary was one of the sort who knew his own interior well intimately, and had explored its depths thoroughly. He was not one to brush off a feeling or leave a command from his clientele unmeditated. Led by an inner compass that pointed only toward justice, every decision he made was designed to meet just such a qualification, even if it might appear run to the desires of his employer.
The mercenary was the keeper of his own mind, and he kept his mind closed to the public. Like a stone fortress keeping its inhabitants safe from turbulent weather, he guarded his interior well with steadfastness and so was able to protect his mind from those who did not possess such a quality.
So it was that he regarded the widow with a sort of suspenseful fascination. Wondering whether she was one who swindled a man’s great fortune or whether she might have some other motive entirely. He turned these thoughts over in his mind for a moment or two, then downed the last of his drink and placed them into his pockets for safekeeping as he stepped out into the storm to think.
The second man watching the widow that night was a philanthropist, a Spaniard of some sixty years whose ruddy, worn complexion, thick graying eyebrows, and sternly set jaw belied a man of insatiable brutality—one which was formed by a poison as ancient as Cain and Abel themselves.
According to the biblical story, the reader might do well to remember, one brother is favored by Divine Providence while the other is not. This incites in the less favored an envy and lust after those fortunes obtained by the more favored brother. Unable to obtain for himself the attentions of heaven, Cain became consumed by jealousy and made a vow of vengeance: To eliminate that competitor with whom he could not compete.
Cain murdered Abel in the first act of violence the world has ever seen, and so the descendants of Abel are no more, and the descendants of Cain continue to wander the earth in search of their reward. We see this lust most commonly among the wealthy. Those individuals who have much, and yet could never have enough. They lust after the fortunes of those more endowed than themselves and disdain the poverty of those less fortunate than themselves.
This is the very affliction we will come to see in the figure known as the philanthropist. For though he accumulated great wealth for himself and used that wealth to purchase a name, a title, and a position among the society of la Louisiane, he could not reach the fame and fortune he so desired. Despite his attempts, his constituents did not admire him. Indeed, they scorned him. He was a foul man, they said, languid and uncultured. He was not born into such privilege but bought into it, and that was all the more insipid to them. He may have donated nearly every building in town, but he could still not reach the true aristocracy he so desired.
It was for this reason that the philanthropist made a thorough study of the widow. For she appeared in their midst without a past and yet was already the most powerful creature in town. Her intrigue equaled her notoriety and she was spoken of behind every door, in every home, in every office. Her fortune made her alluring, her past made her an enigma, and her reputation made her an obscurity—all things the philanthropist could not attain in some sixty years of his life.
For that, he watched her. She was hidden away at the convent during the day, she went home at night, drinking red wine in the cabaret before retiring to her residences at night. Then one evening, if he could see it correctly, all eyes turned to the woman as she entered her cabaret in the most spectacular fashion, soaking wet from the rain and holding a Black child in her arms. They very sort of thing that would keep the city talking for going on a decade.
Mierda, the Spaniard muttered to himself, as he ordered one more drink from the bar.
The third man to have witnessed the widow in the cabaret that evening we are less familiar with. In fact, all we can be certain of is that he lingered in the cabaret, drinking a rather stiff liquor as he peered at the widow from behind his illusory table.
We are not yet aware who this personality is, or what his motives are. All we can notice at this time, is that he was there—perhaps always so. For while we have been following the mental and spiritual intricacies of the woman named Séverine, and the three others we have found so incensed by her, this man has been following the physical tendencies of the very same woman, yet ever on the outskirts of her tale.
If we were to have paid closer attention, we might have found him sitting at the edge of her story, watching, waiting. Indeed, on the night in question, as he sat in the cabaret, watching as the woman made her way past it with a child in tow, this man appeared mysteriously wet, as though he had just come from the rain. As though, perhaps, he had been watching as she walked from the convent, as she hid in the alley, as she found the child, as she held his hand, as she reached out to him and held him in her arms.
But again, these wonderings are only hearsay. It is possible he had other errands to run while we weren’t paying enough attention to his whereabouts. But then again, we do recall the widow feeling as though she were being followed. And perhaps she was.
We next read The Seventh Chapter, in which we wade into the swamp for a cure.