TEARS IN THE TUILERIES
He has a small brown suitcase that he takes with him everywhere he goes: in the car on long journeys; on the bus into town; carried to the shop at the end of the street when he needs a quarter ounce of Ogden’s Redbreast Flake tobacco for his pipe. The suitcase is old, the stiffened corners battered and scraped, and fading travel stickers covering one side, reminders of where he has been – where they have been. Always with the one suitcase; to Morecombe, and Blackpool, and Edinburgh, and to St Ives in sunnier days.
Once, he went over to Paris. Years back, that was. There was a reason for going, but he does not think of that now. He remembers smoking his Kaywoodie pipe sitting on a bench in the Tuileries Gardens, the sun on his face, the air sweetened by something, and a sculpture by Aristide Maillol that made him want to laugh – it was of a woman as thick as a tree and as heavy.
In the Gardens he watched a puppet show telling the story of lost or unrequited love. The strings of the puppets were soon invisible and he became so wrapped up in the story that it made him cry and a young girl in a summer dress and with ribbons in her hair pointed and said something to her mama and the woman pulled her daughter quickly away.
Now he just travels into town and back, or over to his sister’s on Sundays for lunch. And always the suitcase goes with him. Used to be that people would ask about the suitcase and why he was never without it. They thought he might be a travelling salesmen and inside the suitcase were samples of what he had to sell – ladies’ perfume, or handkerchiefs made from silk in all colours, or watches bearing the names of great makers. He told them the suitcase contained a change of clothes: a suit and a fresh shirt and clean socks. ‘Just in case,’ he said and he laughed at his own joke and the laughing diverted attention away from the suitcase. No one asks anymore, or even notices.
When he is alone, the curtains drawn and the door to his room shut and the key turned, he lays the suitcase on a bed or a table and he flicks the catches and lifts the lid. Inside is a doll, a stringless wooden puppet girl dressed in old lace and with her hair loose, and her name is Emily. He takes her out of the case, as gentle as though she is blood and breath, and he sits her on his knee. He fixes her hair and the folds of her dress and then he takes one small wooden hand in his and he tells Emily about his day, where he has been, where they have been. And he tells her what he has seen and heard and felt. He tells her everything, and she listens as only wood or stone can listen, patient and unresponsive. And as he talks, he strokes the back of her wooden hand, and the smoke from his pipe sweetens the air in the room, and he cries again, like that day in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris.
→Thanks again to Lindsay for letting me bring this work to you. Want more? Go to Lindsay’s page: “Just a Writer’s Page.”-PMc