He sat down on the carousel and delighted in its peace. All around him the fair was alive with noise and excitement, entrapping all in its thrilling web. Lights breathed with colours, music pounded with swinging, mechanical arms and people cried with laughter. But here, in the corner, ‘La Belle’ carousel waited and so too did Thomas. Old-fashioned in this modern world, Thomas watched time flash in transparent pleasure while thinking on dreams and memories of grey.
He pulled his large, heavy coat around him and ran his fingers through his thick hair. He felt cold, even though the sun was full of summer, he couldn’t feel its heat.
Thomas was lost in distant thought, lost in foreign shores, forgotten and faded, almost wasted in the muddied uniform.
He felt alone but for the darkness stalking him, it breathed on his neck and laughed at the humour of fate. He covered his ears but it was within him, deep and pointed. War. A cloth fashioned by blind men, woven by fools and worn by the dead. All he wanted in this mixed world of shade and light was silence and peace.
He reached into his pocket with a trembling hand and pulled out a worn and faded photograph. This was his shield, when the storm of war had torn through each breath, he would hide in the memories of the carousel. He would touch the gilded calm of its regal horses calling each one by name as if they might forget him. He would hum the piped music that inspired them to dance and he would bask in the smile of Alice. His Alice.
Would she remember, would she come?
He studied once more the black and white picture, for even though he knew every detail by heart the touch of it brought her closer. In his mind’s eye he dreamed of those bright, amber eyes sparkling with the glitter and magic of the carousel. He heard her laughter as she rode the golden horses with her unruly hair falling behind her in a mess of curls.
They were La Belle’s Romany children, young and headstrong, a promise made under the multi-coloured canopy that whispered forever. This was their world, their endless place, so he would wait. Just as he had waited for his comrades on a cold September morning, just as he had waited in the dark until dawn had lit up the sky, just as he had waited for death; she would come.
The old lady moved into the shadows, she walked slowly but her course was eighty years set. Her heart was heavy, the bouquet of silk poppies, light; both were carried with painful pride.
The carousel was faded, aged like herself, tarnished, yet decorated with a thousand pieces of broken glass and coloured paper that kissed the light breeze in memorial to its old self. As she stood before it, her eyes danced in the romance of youth and a smile pushed at her lips. She closed her eyes, feeling time slip away and just for a moment she faltered, just for a second she wanted to run into the night and not look back, but some deep determination kept her on her feet.
She slowly stroked and kissed each horse, calling each one by name so they’d remember her. Old friends, with broken legs and missing ears but in her mind they were perfection. She took a deep breath and spoke in a voice of autumn leaves.
She called his name and waited for the silent reply, the hush of the horses that stood waiting, ears fixed, eyes glued. She pulled out his last letter, written in untidy thick pencil, smudge by the certainty of death and began to read it again; for although she knew it by heart the touch of the paper brought him closer.
“Remember my love for it is as the canopy of stars that will guide your nights. Hear my voice in the softness of Irish showers. See me in the reflection of your smile and find my soul on carousel. I will look for you there, always.”
But she had not come until today. She wanted to say she was sorry, sorry for believing in the lie, the lie that was whispered with down cast lips: the lie that was dishonour.
She thought of Thomas, she had no photo, only what was etched on her pale memory, shrouded for so long. A boy of nineteen. A boy who thought in rainbows, who saw the world in the same light that illuminates dreams and whose being was full of sunlight. A boy who knew a hundred ways to make her laugh and who had made her woman with tender passion.
She sighed, closing her eyes to stop the emotion from washing away the clarity of her thoughts. She placed her head in her hands. One shot is all it took. She could almost hear it above the others, that one bullet fired at a paper target that had hit both their hearts, killing her love, killing her future with the yellow of dishonour.
““I could not look on Death, which being known, Men led me to him, blindfold and alone,”” she spoke the words with an uneven voice, realising her grief.
She had never cried before just hidden the woman inside with his last letter, unopened and discarded on the heels of time.
Even when she’d learnt the truth and dared to read his words, she had not come to the carousel, she was ashamed: ashamed of her own cowardice and ashamed to face her ghosts. It had taken time to persuade her to look upon it, to remember and open her heart from where it was buried.
Tears ran down her face, she clutched at the bouquet unsure what to do next. She wanted so much to settle in his warm embrace and feel his kisses take away the pain.
To touch and to love in the colours of youth but it was too late and she was a foolish old woman who wanted to turn back the clock. Alice sighed, and just for a moment she thought she heard music as the carousel began to rotate.
The next day, when dawn touched the carousel, they found her. She had died in the night, an old trench coat about her shoulders, a bouquet of silk poppies in her lap and an old black and white photo in her hand. She had come home finding what she had lost and carousel still turned in celebration.
Quote from The Coward – Rudyard Kipling
Copyright RMC Dec 2017