marthe passed away. this event shocked me as no other before or since.
"the first death is the most final." did some wise and ancient philosopher say that or did i just write it now? it just "popped into my head" as i sit here.
no doubt the last - one's own - will be even more final.
charles and berthe had been kinder to me than marthe had, and after being taken up by mademoiselle i had spent more time with charmian, but marthe's sudden - sudden to me - demise had an effect not only on my feelings but perhaps on my fate.
"good god, what are you blubbering about?" these were the first more or less harsh words i can remember mademoiselle uttering to me. "stay away from me, please, until you can compose yourself in a more civilized manner."
and so i did - compose myself in a more civilized manner, before returning myself to mademoiselle's company. and how long did it take me to do so? ten minutes? an hour? a day? did this little event i am describing even happen?
my old acquaintance the philosopher the baron de b------- (of whom more later - perhaps - if i continue this memoir) spent long hours boring myself and others on the subject of the porous and self-regenerating (was that his phrase - self-regenerating?) nature of memory. i had quite forgotten his lectures until now - when the circumstances - the winter sun through the window of the comte de f----'s chateau - the green dress of the englishwoman lady dodsley - suddenly spring back into my brain as framed as any painting -
yes, lady dodsley - of all those who - or should i say, whose pictures - come back to me from that time, somehow i think you are the most likely to still be alive somewhere - even if you are over a hundred years old - for what could happen to you - you who seemed above even boredom - who had a dozen or so houses in the somnolent english countryside to escape to if need be - what could mere time do to you?
and your green dress - and your white hat! even if by some chance - and no one is entirely immune to chance - you perished a week or a day after i saw you last - surely the dress and the hat are preserved in one of the aforementioned country houses - immune to dust and time and fashion -
with a younger version of yourself - one perhaps actually titled "lady dodsley" - at this very moment contemplating it with a smile and and an upraised eyebrow as her freckle faced maid holds it up to the sunlight streaming through the casement as outside in the bracing british air the current lord dodsley bounds and bounces over the hills in quest of poor reynard…
but of the baron de b---'s lectures themselves - except that he delivered them - and the phrase "self-regenerating", what remains?
are these memoirs only "self-regenerating"? in my memory it seems that mademoiselle never was quite the same to me after that, but, really, how likely was that? would i have taken up enough space in her mind that her attitude had any room for change?
i may have actually spent more time in the drawing room with mademoiselle and charmian and aristide and polyceute , and less in the kitchen with marthe gone.
or i might not have. my ability to talk to animals, and mademoiselle's amusement at my ability, certainly continued after marthe's death.
so perhaps poor marthe's passing, which just (almost) brought a tear to me eye after all these years, really had no effect on my existence after all.
where was i?
"yes, where is she?" nanette said aloud, and stopped pecking at her typewriter.
lulu, her regular day guard and new best friend, turned from the window.
"problem?" lulu asked.
"want me to look at it?"
"if you want."
lulu took the freshly pecked page over to the window - through which a pale winter light shone - and nanette went over to the bed and lay down with a yawn.
"well, what do you think?"
"i'm still reading it."
"take your time."
"it could be shorter. not so many words."
"i told you - it's supposed to be like that. like proust."
lulu came over and sat on the bed beside nanette.
"you could just write something like -
'the cat died.
i was sad.
the old lady told me to stop sniveling.
so i did.
but maybe she didn't really care.'
- see. like james patterson would do it."
"but it's not supposed to be like james patterson. it's supposed to be like proust." nanette sat up and stretched a little bit. "the books on the top shelf over there - there're proust."
"i know, you told me. i tried a few pages."
"it wasn't my style. i like james patterson better."
nanette sighed and took the page out of lulu's hand. "besides, we have to get a certain amount of words. so proust is good that way."
lulu got up and went back over to the window. "you're doing o k with the words. i'll talk to zelda tonight, see if i can find out more about the other girls are doing."
"thank you. i appreciate it."
lulu braced herself against the windowsill. "want to go out?"
"there's nobody out there?"
"sari's out there with minette. but it looks like they are heading back in."
click here for previous chapter, here to begin at the beginning
editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo
the buildings in which the princesses were housed were on top of a hill six miles from the nearest village, known simply as "the village" to the girls and the staff.
a bus drove up twice a day from the village, bringing up and taking back the guards and cooks and other staff who chose to live off post and bringing up any mail. the guards who lived off post were assigned turns driving the bus and got a little extra pay for doing so.
no "outsiders" ever came up, though there was nothing to prevent them from coming up and gawking at the buildings if they had a mind to. none ever did.
miss prue could have gone down to the village, but she never did.
the buildings were set about a hundred yards back from the road. at first a guard had always been stationed outside the main building, but after a while miss prue and helga had decided it was a waste of time.
during the daylight hours there was almost always somebody outside anyway.
at night the front door was locked and there was always someone in the guards room just inside the door. the area around the buildings was always lit at night and the area between the buildings and the road was brightly lit.
nobody in the village seemed to be particularly interested or curious or to find the place mysterious. guards and staff members - some of whom had lived in the village all their lives - came and went every day, and told anybody who asked that nothing very exciting was going on.
there were not very many men in the village, and especially not very many young men.
the guards locker room and lounge area was just inside the front door.
helga had a desk in a little area partitioned off in a corner of the room. she was sitting at it one morning making out a duty roster when two of the guards - zelda and monika - came in. they walked over to the desk.
zelda spoke. "good morning, helga."
"good morning." helga looked up, mildly curious. the guards did not have to "report" to her, they just had to be where they were supposed to be at the right time.
zelda looked down at the paper helga was writing on. "any changes?"
"no. not really. why, did you want some change?"
"no. but i got a question."
monika sat down on the edge of the desk. "you don't mind if i park my fat ass here, do you?"
"be my guest. what is your question?" helga asked zelda.
"some of us were hanging out at terry's down in the village last night, and we got to talking - " zelda looked over at monika but monika was just staring at helga .
"and -?" helga prompted her.
"well, you know how some of us are helping the girls - our girls - with their books that they're writing -?"
"yes, i've heard that some of you are," helga answered.
"and besides," monika eyed helga. "you're pretty busy running the place and all."
helga stared back. "i don't run the place. i just help prue out a little."
"do you want to do what i do? just stay up here like i do, and never go down to the village. that's why prue gives me a little extra to do. that's all."
"how come you like it up here so much?" zelda asked.
"you know why. no men."
zelda and monika both laughed. "i'd think you'd want to see a guy once in a while," said zelda. "even if you don't want to fuck them or anything. just for a change of pace, to see someone a little different."
"that's not the way i see it. now, did you have anything else to ask me? or were those your questions?"
"no," zelda said. "like i said, we had a question about helping the girls."
"and that question is - "
"well, when we get together - at terry's or wherever - we know - most of us - how our girls are doing and we can exchange information, you know?"
"i wouldn't have thought you were all that interested," said helga. "but go on."
"what's to prevent us from passing the information on to the girls, so they know how the others are doing?"
helga thought a few seconds. "nothing, i suppose."
"so it's cool?"
"let me think." helga rubbed her eyes. "just - just use some common sense. don't talk about it in the lunch room or the library. don't flaunt it. wait until you are alone with your girls." she looked up. "does that answer your question?"
"maybe," zelda answered, with a glance at monika.
"there could be more to it," said monika.
"suppose they actually want to help each other? if one of the girls wanted to help another one, they could use us. we could pass information back and forth. would that be o k?"
helga stared at monika. "has this actually come up?"
"not yet," said monika. "but what if it did? it's kind of a hole in the whole system, if you think about it."
"why would they want to help each other?" asked helga. "they are competing against each other. one of them is going to get fed to the lions or whatever."
"why?" zelda asked. "the whole system is set up so they can't help each other. so they must think they will if they can. that's what half the rules are about. the ones that aren't about them escaping."
helga sighed, and slapped her pencil down on the desk. she looked around. the other guards on the morning shift had all gone to their posts. some of the guards and staff who had been relieved were outside on the bus. "what is this? do i need this? what are you, a couple of fucking troublemakers? who needs this shit?"
"hey, don't get pissy on us !" monika answered. "we thought we were doing the right thing coming to you."
helga frowned, then laughed. "yeah, you're right. i'm sorry. i shouldn't have snapped at you. it's just - none of this entered my mind before."
"maybe we should go to prue," zelda said.
"no, no, don't do that - yet. let me think about it. i'll ask her if i think i have to." helga looked down at the desk, then back up at zelda. "let me ask you - how much are any of you actually helping them?"
zelda shrugged. "it's fun. it's something to do. it beats just sitting up there staring at the wall. but i don't want to lose the job over it."
"or go to jail," monika added.
"nobody's said anything about jail," said helga. "the worst that could happen is you could lose the job."
"if you say so."
"how about you?" helga asked monika. "you helping your girl?"
"i don't have a regular girl. i do swings. you know that."
"yeah, that's right."
"but i'll tell you who is. olga - the bible lady. i talk to her some on the bus and she says she's helping her girl, practically doing it for her."
"huh." helga rubbed her forehead. "all right - just - for now i'm going to pretend we didn't have this conversation. just be cool and use your common sense, all right? and i'll think about talking to prue about it."
"we thought we were doing the right thing asking you," monika repeated.
"you were, you were. i shouldn't have got mad. i'm sorry. anything else?"