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Authors: Marilyn French

Tags: #Romance

The Bleeding Heart

BOOK: The Bleeding Heart
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The Bleeding Heart
A Novel
Marilyn French

T
O
J
AMIE AND
R
OB

Contents

I

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

II

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

III

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

IV

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

V

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

VI

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

VII

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

VIII

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

IX

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

About the Author

I
1

W
HEN THE DREAM ENDED
, she awoke. (Rock, sway, a railroad carriage.) She lay absolutely still, almost without breathing, trying to sink back into it. She kept her eyes closed, she clutched it with her mind, the feeling of the dream, the sensuousness of the warm body she had fully inhabited back there in that other place. She tried to grab it as it receded, she followed it, she rolled it around the palate of her imagination, sucking it dry. (Rigid in my seat, back stiff despite the train’s motion.) She tightened her eyelids and tried to fall asleep again, although she knew that never worked. Even if you fell back to sleep, even if you dreamed again, it was never the same dream. And she wanted that one, the same one.

(No, a different compartment now, square, like a boy. No fixed seats. Man. Sitting there, staring at me. Stares. I can feel his eyes on me. He’s standing up, he’s coming towards me, why? Passes me, goes behind me, stands there. He’s pressing his body against the seat back. His body is breathing behind my head.)

She remembered the pressure. Terrific, the force of silent existence, a body alone is power, standing there behind her he made her feel his presence. He did not touch her.

(Then, suddenly, it was too much. Too much and she had to let go, and did, ah, bent her head back, let her neck flex, leaned her head, ah, against his belly. Warm. Rest. A sigh ripples through her body, the wonder of it. Rest. Warmth. Another.)

Trust. That’s what it was about, that’s why she wanted to have the dream back again. It had left her body flooded with warmth, liquid, soft. She lay in the lumpy bed in pain with yearning: her body wanted to be lain in some arms, against another body.

(Soft and firm his belly was. Accepting my head. Letting me rest there. Then he touches me, gently. He pulls me up, we go together and lie down. We are lying in a hollowed-out tree trunk, or maybe a large cradle. We lie together fully dressed, holding each other. The cradle rocks, very gently, like the swaying of the train. We do not move ourselves, the motion moves us. The air around us moves, it is electric, vibrant, charged. Everything moves and we with it, accepting. No holding firm, no opposition. Rock, rock and sway.)

The dream and the dream feeling receded further and further, leaving her beached, hollowing, drying. Her body was tingling, her genitals ached. Sandy body drying out. Her cheekbones longed for water. She sat up in bed, frowning. Her body was dying of thirst, it was telling her so. She didn’t like the thought, didn’t want to believe it. Her body was undermining her! How dare it! How could it?

She turned, as always, to analysis, being a twentieth-century woman and so subject to the superstition that what the mind could understand couldn’t any longer hurt the heart, that what the tongue could utter was in the hand’s control. Was that what this dream was about?: sensuality insinuating itself again after all these years? Insidious, invading her body against her mind’s will, after all this time of quiet self-possession. But, no, because there was more. Vaguely, she sensed there was more. She leaned her head back against the hard wooden headboard of the bed, and closed her eyes again.

(Compartment is large, full of people sitting on packing cases. Men on crates sit leaning against the wall looking at nothing. Heads bowed, seeing nothing. In the center, the women with their children, crates dragged up so they can be together, all at angles to each other, but somehow still facing each other.

(Where is the man, my man? In the corner, against the wall, staring at me from his crate. Staring, intense. I look at him. The women are chattering. It is terrible, they say. But did you hear about Anna? And then poor Rosalie! Their voices are easy and rich, they sigh and lament, their voices swoop up and plunge down, they whisper, they laugh. They are telling the stories of their pain. Every woman has many stories: her own, her mother’s, her sisters’. They are wearing scuffed shoes and shabby coats over cotton housedresses. Some of them have babushkas on their heads. They hold their babies in their arms, they bounce them gently while they talk. A woman interrupts them. She is pretty, with a round rosy face. She says her pain is worse. The women fall silent, listening to her. She points to the baby on the crate next to me. It is a little girl about eighteen months old, round and rosy and golden, her hair is a mass of tight golden curls. She is happy, she rocks herself on her crate and babbles and sings to herself. She looks around at us with wonder and pleasure. She does not know, I think, that we are tired and hunched and shabby, with scuffed shoes.

(The woman points to the baby and says she is her child. She tells about it in an even sweet voice—the travels they have taken, she and her husband and the child. They have no money left, they have nothing left. They have been to doctors everywhere, all across the world. But finally the last one gave them a conclusive diagnosis: the little girl has cancer. She is dying.

(The women hush. They hug their babies, silent. The lines in their faces are weeping.

(I look at the baby, at the woman. I look over at the man, my man. They are a family. The baby is his. I lower my eyes.)

She raised her eyes.

Oh God. Yes, a boxcar, that’s what it was supposed to be, as she had imagined boxcars when as a child she had read about their use in transporting people to death camps. Yes, they too, the people in her dream, were going to some terrible place, some final destination. Every one of them knew it, all of them were sad, but the women were lamenting their lives, not their death. Yes, they were simply journeying to death, as anyone does, warming themselves with each other’s company. And across the car, the man, her man, the man she could lean her head against, could trust. Not her man at all.

She did not want to think about it anymore.

She got out of bed and brushed her teeth and dressed and climbed down the three flights of stairs, careful of the dangerously shabby carpet, to the dining room and the greasy eggs, cold toast, and thin coffee that came with the price of the lumpy hotel bed. But now that she didn’t want to think about it, it kept returning. That beautiful baby, sick with cancer! And the relief of leaning back, the wonder of comfort in his body. What was happening to her? She’d noticed herself feeling strange things lately—that odd attraction to crippled men some months ago, searching their faces, thinking that crippled men suffered as women suffer, that they must be more human than the rest. Or once in a while letting herself fall into conversation with a man on a plane or a bus: she hadn’t done that in years. Or talking almost flirtatiously with José, the waiter from Barcelona who served the greasy eggs. He was grinning at her now, as he poured her coffee, and she knew the smile on her face had more than friendliness in it, it glimmered a bit. He was a beautiful golden-skinned boy, he must be starved in the London greyness.

“You leave today?” He smiled, and she nodded. “You come back soon?”

“Yes. In a month or so,” she promised, promising him something, unsure what.

He smiled with satisfaction, knowing he’d been promised something.

She walked back upstairs feeling a little dizzy, seeing things at a distance. Had the eggs been especially greasy today, was it her stomach? An old feeling, terror, feeling as if she were about to fall, something, rose from her stomach, dizzied her head. As if she might suddenly lose her grip on … what? and burst out in uncontrollable crying.

Stupid. Just the lousy sleep on that damned bed, the lousy food, that damned dream. She felt as if she were about to disintegrate.

Carefully and competently, so that nothing was disordered, she packed her notes in her briefcase, and her night things into a small canvas bag. She gazed out the window. The whole world was disintegrating, turning grey and liquid and unclear.

She put on her raincoat, picked up her bags, and went downstairs and out into the drizzly London morning to catch the train for Oxford.

2

T
HE DREAM KEPT COMING
back, obliterating what was around her. Yes, that was why one wanted it, the dream was true, truer than the drab London street, the swaying Underground train, the grey-brown people holding to poles, or the ones swaying in their seats, letting themselves be moved by the motion of the train. She never did that. She held herself erect and still, counteracting the dominant force. Always.

Okay, the dream was true, but what was its truth? The thing that seemed most vivid was the man standing there and the glorious moment of relief when she let her head incline backwards, let herself lean, and her head met his body and lay there secure and trusting, and she felt him solid and accepting, standing there for her, having waited not just for anyone but for her. That was absurd, of course. Who waits for just one person anymore? Who ever had, outside of books? And the leaning back against a stranger—that was a relinquishment of control she could not even imagine feeling in life. Not ever, not even before.

Before. Before my feelings dried up, my vagina too. No gushes shot up her sides anymore, no thumping heart blinded her vision. After all those years of tumult, all that screwing, all that passionate conviction of love, degrees of love, kinds of love, subtle discrimination among loves. Now the word itself disgusted her. Enough. Never again a man in my life, in my bed. “I don’t screw anymore, but I don’t cry anymore either,” she lied to her close friends. It wasn’t a total lie: tears came into her eyes, but they never fell, they dried up on the spot. A dry well, that’s what she was.

It wasn’t as if she had
decided
to stop screwing, had made a New Year’s resolution five years ago that she had since been forcing herself to keep. It just happened. That affair with Marsh that had left her so bruised that for months afterwards she couldn’t draw a breath without feeling a burr in her esophagus, yes, that was it, probably. And the kids had liked it. No more strangers in the house for them to adjust to, resent, work up a whole emotional graph with which she, of course, being responsible, had to monitor. No more drainage of her energies into things that were anyway going to end in barren boredom or some turbulent scene. Passion: it was all just invented, you make up the object, you make up the feeling. You model both on movies and books that show you how you’re supposed to act, what you’re supposed to feel. You call it life. You say, “Well at least I’m alive,” to make the pain more palatable.

Things were so much cleaner and clearer since she stopped. Everything was easier. You didn’t have to watch yourself every time you talked to a man, wondering what messages you were sending, what messages he was sending. No messages sent or received here. Clean and clear. This telegraph station is closed for the duration. And even when the kids had gone away and the house was silent and clean, it was still good, like living in the plains, no emotional bogs or mines, no scratchy briar and underbrush in the forest, no animal traps, no mountains that invariably turned out to be mirages after all your effort climbing them. Mounting, heart beating, air grows thin, feet slip. Put your foot down expecting a rise in terrain and it falls with a shock onto level ground. Look back, it’s all swamp and potholes.

BOOK: The Bleeding Heart
11.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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