-Chapter 4-

The Merlin House, Curepipe

The Merlin House, Curepipe
The Merlin House, Curepipe

15th October, 1956

It was the hottest October in living memory and the heat during the day had been merciless. When night fell, the rampant humidity continued to hold sway, like an unshakeably bad conscience. Joseph Merlin started to get restless and to steal glances at the hand mirror and at his photograph.

 

Mirror-photograph. Photograph-Mirror. Reality-confirmation, Confirmation-reality..

When this manic ceremony of the damned had ended, his restlessness increased to a pitch. Teresa Vinagre and the nurse eyed each other with concern at the thought of the coming storm. Suddenly, Joseph’s morphine-laden eyes began to squirm and to move in sheer terror within their orbs. The body was pinned to the bed by disease but the eyes were trying desperately to flee from the body.

Bichuuuuus……..Bichos [1]……..BICHOS…..B-I-C-H-O-… TA_RAN_TU_LAAAS“, Joseph screeched out of the recesses of the bedroom. In the kitchen, a silver salver smashed into the ground in a shame of noise and the servants held their breath. All was deathly quiet.

“Côôôôôôôô Braaah“, he squealed in a piercing stiletto shriek, CôôôôôôôôBraaaaaaaaaaah“.. and then there was calm.

From this teeth-grinding spark of life, rekindled hope screamed from every cell in his body. It carried all before in a flood of emotion that shook his cancer-pinioned body to the bone. Teresa shivered at the thought of joining him in the conjugal bed but when she finally did that night, he was waiting. He was waiting but did not recognise her, did not know who she was. But he embraced her. He grabbed her as if he was hugging life itself. He touched her; he penetrated her and swam in her warm intimacy. The hardness of his huge, grotesque blood-gorged penis became real hope for him and he worshipped its awesome erect power. He pinned her down and drew strength from her like the forest people hug their sacred trees and slit young babies’ throats in sacrifice. Then he finished with a strong spasmodic shiver that jarred her body to her disturbed brain.

Silence reigned. He lay motionless upon her.

She tapped his shoulder hesitatingly. She couldn’t move. She tried to see if he was still awake, but there was no reaction. The volcano had subsided. She disengaged herself, trying not to awake him but he was already fast asleep in his morphine-driven dreams. Teresa slipped to the bathroom, bolted the door and scrubbed herself. She scrubbed till her skin hurt and a rasping croak escaped from her lips. She then dried herself and returned to bed.

Her feelings of guilt kept her prisoner until the sun’s timid rays peeped though the gaps in the green curtains.  Then her eyes closed and she fell into a profound sleep. When they opened again, they meandered ahead of her sleeping mind in a trance of the deepest silence. They were hypnotised by a fly, which slowly and deliberately rubbed its wings together in a ballet from another world whilst its myriad eyes looked down on her.

As she stared at the eyes, she was brought to her senses by her nightdress, which had glued itself to her thigh. She changed position to free herself and was greeted by a sweet, overpowering odour from the depths of the sheets. She turned towards Joseph, saw the grim expression and froze.

She understood.

Now barely 20 summers old, she proceeded to clean his corpse. She gritted her teeth and imagined she was making him younger in death, now that the disease had disowned him. She turned him into a ruddy, peeling newborn in her arms. First, she sponged the lips, then the chin at that spot where her little Chico had a habit of letting his food overflow. When she came to the deep, humid vale on the back of his neck, she noticed that his face was already billiard hard. She continued. She continued till the yellow soles of his dead feet looked dumbly up at her. She pulled the sheets from under the weight of his hardening body with such gentleness, as if he might awake again and rolled and punched them into balls which contained the testimony to their last night together.

She called the maid from her quarters and telephoned the doctor in a tone of such serene calm as if she had practised it all her life. With these actions accomplished, the final immovable reality of her husband’s death overcame her and she wept hoarsely onto the clean, newly starched sheets of his deathbed.

A soft, hesitant knock interrupted her, nudging the delicately balanced door key onto the stone floor where it fell with a final clink. She straightened up and tears turned to ice on her cheeks.

[1] Bugs or insects in Portuguese

Cup of Vinegar

© Craig Adamson