The Lady And Her Man

1

She was ever so careful in her responses, never to commit too hastily to any course of action.  The world is such a stirring and frightening place.  There he was, on his knee, with flowers in one hand and a small box hiding a prize in the other.

“Will you be my wife?” He asked quietly, his voice trembling with anticipation.

Arthur wore his best suit, the beige one his father had bought him last year.  His tie was black, striking against the pearl white shirt.  Gwen focused her gaze intently on his gold tie pin, with its small almost insignificant red stone.  The only bit of color in this image of perfect propriety.  The roses were cream white, the box pale blue, her cheeks reflecting that small stone’s red glow.

She wore her summer dress, the one with golden lions on a green field fighting griffons so valiantly, Arthur was so fond of it, she wore it first for him for her Maying…

Now is the month of Maying,

when merry lads are playing!

Fa la la la la!

Each with his bonny fine lass,

a-dance upon the green grass,

Fa la la la la! [1]

Why is the moon red?  She could not understand the brooding crimson of the moon.  Yet the light of the day was clear, and here she was with her man on his knee before her, and all she could think of was the red moon intruding into her dreams.  She wanted to shake it off, the feeling, the alien lands that she saw in her eye with a red moon and a burning fire.  Why were the warriors with the feathered serpent motifs?  Why were they all screaming?  There was a large lake, and a city in the middle of it.  She couldn’t get the image clear.  Her heart skipped a beat and she blinked her eyes.

The Spring, clad all in gladness,

doth laugh at Winter’s sadness!

Fa la la la la!

And to the bagpipes’ fine sound,

the nymphs tread out their fae ground!

Fa la la la la! [1]

There was a time when she lay awake on her bed after the lights were out and she imagined herself being proposed to.  The horses then, the white horses would gallop across the ceiling.  Her heart would beat, thunderously and she would shudder pressing her head deeper into the pillow.  She was torn then, by guilt and pleasure and the ravishing unknown.  She could not comprehend why.  Then the horses would ride in again with men, many men.  The men were like Arthur.  They were armed with swords and wore shining armor.  Oh, how she wanted to be taken by one such man, flung onto the horse, stolen, plucked away and to ride off with him into the sunset.  Sleep, blissful sleep would take her then and her dreams would torment her, dreams of unknown, unspeakable things.  The darkness of the night swallowed her up like a rock thrown into the murky waters of a dark pond.  Her heart skipped a beat again, and she blinked her eyes, tears were clouding her vision.

Fie then! why sit we musing,

Youth’s sweet delight refusing?

Fa la la la la!

Say, dainty nymphs, and let speak,

Shall we play at barley-break?

Fa la la la la! [1]

When she first met Arthur she had asked him what was peculiar about him, since she was odd, it seemed reasonable to find some strangeness in him.  She was so odd even if he didn’t know it yet.   If only his strangeness could match her own odd nature, oh what bliss that would be.

“My father’s family has this tradition, it takes place on Saint Edmund’s day.  Maybe I’ll tell you one day what it is.”  It was so mysterious.  Now she knew, how wonderful, how odd.  It was cold out.  Saint Edmund’s day had started so wonderfully with Arthur.  A strange tradition for his family, or so he said… only now she knew what it was.  Didn’t Arthur’s father propose to his mother on Saint Edmund’s day some twenty five years ago?

November is such a cold month, almost frosty, but not quite, but the snow had not yet fallen, and they were far enough south to offset the fear of chill, and yet she felt as though she was beneath the Tower of London, in a dungeon falling lower and lower till the earth reached up to swallow her up.

My name should be Étaín, she thought suddenly; and none of it made any sense.  Maybe I was her in a previous life?  She pondered on that for a fraction of a second. But the thought made her head twirl as though she were sitting at the edge of a well, the vertigo was so strong…

She had her thick sweater and knee high leather boots, but she trembled, and Arthur had so kindly parted with his long black overcoat.  How debonair, how chivalrous, she almost expected him to throw it for her on the puddle they passed.  It was such a large puddle, a pond, like a small lake.  Again the thoughts, the dark November thoughts intruding on this beautiful scene.  What was it in the puddle?  It was so huge, she caught a reflection of herself in it, herself and an alabaster hand…

But instead he suggested she sit on the park bench.  The trees were naked, bereft of most foliage.  The grass gone, the piles of rotting wet leaves smelled so wonderfully of late autumn.  Intoxicating.  One of them was on the bench and it looked so pathetic, so fragile, she couldn’t recall what had happened to it; did she sweep it away, or was she sitting on that leaf like an oversized pixie?  Peaseblossom waiting for Titania to ask for something.

Be kind and courteous to this gentleman;

Hop in his walks and gambol in his eyes;

Feed him with apricocks and dewberries,

With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries[2]

She did as he asked, she was always agreeable.  He had such beautiful black hair, dark eyes, and perfect complexion.  Suddenly without warning there he was on his knee.  Where did the roses come from?  Did he even like mulberries, green figs, dewberries and apricots?  Ah yes, the roses were hidden behind the pile of leaves.  He planned the whole thing. Be kind and courteous to this gentleman… what a busy bee he was stealing honey and humbling himself on his knee before her.  When she so fell asleep dreaming of wild horses, her thighs would tremble as did now.  The light in his eyes was as the fire of a glow worm.  Oh, she so desired him.

To have my love to bed and to arise;

And pluck the wings from Painted butterflies

To fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes:

Nod to him, elves, and do him courtesies. [2]

Her mind was a mess, a crop of grass cut down and dried to flaxen hay.  She was as giddy as she was in May and as freighted as on a November moonless night.

“Oh Arthur…” she sighed.

He waited.

She stalled for time.  The leaf, it was next to her after all.  Thank you Peaseblossom, you came through for your Titania.  She picked it up and held on to it, gently but firmly in between her thumb and ring finger as though denying her hand’s immediate availability.

To take him for a husband.  To take Arthur for a husband.  To begroom him before God, family and friends, letting the public share in their marriage.  Why was this such a terrible moment?  What was it that worried her about the future?  The dark vague future of crimson and grey, like a storm of cinnamon, or a gale wind of cochineal dye.

“This is so sudden Arthur, dear, are you really certain?” She stammered.

“As certain as Stonehenge,” he said sternly, he did not move.

A voice in her mind spoke with a strong sense of purpose, an alien voice… that alien voice out of alien lands out of alien time…

How is it possible to remove such vast stones from so distant a country,

as if Britain was not furnished with stones fit for the work? [3]

…but she knew not who said it, her heart was yearning for something, her breath was shallow…

“They are mystical stones, and of a medicinal virtue,”[3] she said laughing at his seriousness and to make herself say something, anything that made the strangeness go away.

He smiled that wonderful smile of his.  He was looking straight into her blue eyes.  So pleading, such a boy.  She so wanted to throw her hands over his neck to just do what he wanted.

“So take your medicine,” he volunteered.

Temptations.  In this world, Gwen thought, in this terrible world we have come to inhabit, where nothing is certain, nothing is sure, everything is in such horrible flux, Arthur was certain he wanted to take her as a wife.  To take Gwen for a wife.  To bebride her before God, family and friends, letting the public share in their covenant.  Why was this such a terrible moment.  What was it that disturbed her heart so strongly?  She felt like one of those Aztec victims on the altar of her love for Arthur, she felt the flint knife gutting her open from her navel, or lower, through her diaphragm and suddenly she saw Arthur holding her bleeding beating living heart in his hand squeezing.  Arthur, the warrior who conquered her.

“I am Malinche and you are Cortés,” she said lightly and her heart pumped the blood to places she’d rather not think about right now.

“I love you…” she began again.  Her legs felt so weak and all the blood had drained from her face.  She was to be his, and he was to be hers, he would possess her, and she would tame him.

But love is not enough when divorce is a single court paper away, or a single Lancelot with whom to stray.  Reason, cling to it, she thought, for dear life… spin, a good spin master can diplomatically come up with any answer, any response to salvage a situation…

She knows not what the curse may be,

And so she weaveth steadily, [4]

“I really love you Arthur…” she said not knowing how to go on…

But what does marriage mean in this world of Las Vegas hitch-ups and un-hitch-ups?  What is a ceremony worth before God when no one believes in God anymore?  What can a promise made at an altar be worth, if anyone can sign the marriage certificate these days?  What do the witnesses mean if those we have befriended are but co-workers and passing through members of our networking entourage from one cross-promotion of their wares and goods to another meeting of the Tupperware and financial instruments marketing self-promotional enterprise?  What does the ceremony of man and wife mean in a world where families no longer exist, where fathers have long ago left and mothers are adopted, or biological, or foster or step or surrogate or donor, anything but what a mother used to be in the days of yore?

Has she even a real father and mother left?  If she does, they might be the last parents on earth to have a real daughter and a real son in law to be.  Has he?  If he does, they might be the last parents on earth to have a real son and a real daughter in law to be.  And the world?  Is it real, is this moment a moment only theirs?

Yet if hope has flown away /In a night, or in a day,

In a vision, or in none, / Is it therefore the less gone?

Is all that we see or seem, / but a dream within a dream. [5]

Is all that we are but a reverie within a trance, or is the magic but an agreed upon convention, an illusion that somehow we all go along with.  She wore the same dress as did at the Maying dance.  Is there any magic left in the world?  Can a proposal be real?  Can one steal… a heart?  Maybe all Arthur wishes to do is to see her naked, isn’t that all that men are really after?  The horses, the gallop of the horses was in her ears.

Gwen looked around.  No cameras in the park that she could see, no scanners undressing her for the security lustful eyes of the anti-terrorist brigade.  No one to check what panties she wore, no gropers wearing official badges asking, demanding, checking manually whether she wasn’t hiding a gun in her vagina or whether she was happy to see any of this….  No witnesses except Arthur and Gwen.  One on one, Adam and Eve in their private little Garden of Eden.  She heard the wind, heard the leaves make a sound.  If he pulls an apple or I spy a snake, she thought, I will run screaming…

I fear me you but warm the starvèd snake,

Who, cherished in your breasts, will sting your hearts.[6]

“Arthur, I am so frightened…” she said suddenly and feeling faint fell into his arms as he dropped the white roses and held her tightly.  She fancied that she could hear his heart, but really it was her own.  It beat ever so powerfully with love for him and warning for her.  In her half closed eyes she saw it all.  It passed through her mind like a lightning bolt.  It was breathtaking but wonderful and a horror movie the likes she always walked out of or never went to.

She whispered “This one day should suffice for all the days of my life[3]

“Gwen, I didn’t mean to frighten you, I love you with all my heart, you are the woman I wish to spend the rest of my life with, any boy, any man would be delighted to be in my place, come now, come, let’s get a cup of coffee or maybe some hot chocolate, yes, that’s it, hot sweet chocolate will do the trick, we’ve walked in this cold park for far too long…”  And with those words he lifted her up and suddenly she was on his arms like a feather.  Those feathers were plucked from a feathered serpent, a rainbow colored serpent that fought the bloody moon.

Sour, bitter, sweet, yes, chocolate will do the trick.  Hot chocolate will soothe her nerves. Xocolatl,” she whispered, “cacaua atl, metztli, nimitztlazotla…” [7] – she was beside herself, at once recovering and succumbing.

“Speak up honey…” Arthur said worried, leaning over her lips.

She returned to her senses. “Arthur don’t, people will talk,” she said this suddenly smiling, giggling almost.  He sat her down.  She stood up, her footing for a moment uncertain, but like a dancer she faked it by leaning over to pick up the roses and then she brushed the dirt from his knees to hide her need to steady herself when getting up.

“Put it away now,” she said pointing at the little blue box that all her heart wanted to tear open, “look, the roses are wonderful but I pricked myself and now I have a drop of blood on my dress.”  She put her finger in her mouth for a moment.  The small blood stain on her mid-summer dress, her Maying dress was like that garnet in his tie pin, two drops of blood in communion.  The image of a chocolate heart, a chocolate covered beating bloody heart came to her mind, she pushed it away, suppressed it, beat it under into the ground, buried it in deep recesses of her mind.

¿Mira su fin o su principio? / Ella dirá que no ve nada.

Es transparente el infinito. / Nunca sabrá que lo miraba. [8]

Regretfully with a pale face Arthur put the box in his pocket, he was pouting, she kissed him on the forehead.

“Arthur, this is not a rejection.  But, really, you should first ask my father and mother for permission, and then when all is right, you really ought to speak to Merlin and get that sword out of the rock before we get wed.”

Arthur smiled and hugged her, then took her under the arm.

“Gwen, that’s why I love you, I can never predict what nonsense comes out of your mouth,” he said, and they ran hand in hand while the sun set on the Salisbury Cathedral where Gwen knew she and Arthur would take their vows before the year was out.  In May… midsummer…. A night of sorrows, “la Noche Triste,” and her mind again filled with strange images, Toxcatl… [9] She smiled and hugged him tighter.

“I am thirsty… lets go faster,” she said, knowing, knowing with some unbelievable certainty that she’d name their son Martin, yes, that’s a good November day… what dread, more, and more dread, oh Saint Edmund and Saint Martin take the dark away… she held on to Arthur.

“You’re shivering,” he said and held her tighter.  Her knight, her knight on a white stallion.

“Yes, the summer dress was a bad idea.  Let’s get that xocolatl.”

“I love your funny words,” he said as they walked ever faster heart’s beating in concert.

So in love were they that neither of them noticed how the leaf Gwen had held on to had slipped from her hand.  Forgotten by the two the wind carried it on its pixie wings to the distant puddle they had passed earlier and there it floated for a brief moment suspendered on the surface as between two folds of time or capturing the last rays of the setting sun in the distant west and then it sank beneath the dark watery surface in the palm of an outstretched alabaster hand.

Konrad Tademar – 2010
Notes on several quotations:
[1] Thomas Morley (1558 – 1602) “Now is the month of Maying”
[2] William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
[3] Geoffrey of Monmouth (1100 – 1155) “ History of the Kings of Brittan”
[4] Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892) “The Lady of Shallot”
[5] Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849) “Dream within a dream”
[6] William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) “Henry VI, Part 2”
[7] From the Nahuatl/Aztec language: “Xocolatl” – chocolate,
“cacaua atl, metztli, nimitztlazotla” – cocoa drink, the moon, I love you.
[8] Octavio Paz (1914-1998) “Girl” translated from the Spanish by A.Z. Foreman.
Did she see birth or her demise? / She’ll say that there was nothing there.
Infinity is imprecise. / She gazed and cannot reckon where.
[9] La Noche Triste: June 30, 1520.  Toxcatl: Nahuatl/Aztec month of May.

1 Comment
  1. Paula Shene says

    Another good tale to the last tittle….always hooked in by your openings and pulled along with your imagery….thank you for the enjoyment.

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