Memory Billows

You know, Jeanne D’Arc was burned at the stake in Rouen.  There’s a cathedral shaped like billows of smoke where it happened—and a cross.  Oh, I see the dull incessantness of the train has put you to sleep.  Perhaps it is better that way; a sacrificial lamb who knows not, cries not.  I read somewhere that she died before she really suffered.  The fire was built to smoke and she was suffocated before the flames began licking at her flesh.

I was born in Rouen.  Well, really I don’t know where I was born, but most of my first memories are there, so I tell people I was born there.  I remember standing under the Gros Horloge with my little cup and smiling as hard as I could.  The more you smile, the guiltier people feel about you standing there.  That didn’t make sense to me then, but that’s what Marguerite was always saying, so that’s what I did.  Once, this old man put his hand on my shoulder and bent down so we were face-to-face.  He smelled awful and his smile revealed yellow, rotten teeth.  He said a little girl like me shouldn’t stand under such a big clock.  And then he laughed.  And then he said it might eat me.  Then he left.

I was so scared after that, that my poor little girl legs struggled to support me.  I didn’t want time to swallow me whole.  So I started to run away, back to Marguerite, but I tripped on one of the cobble stones in the road and all of my coins jumped out of the paper cup when my elbow bumped the ground.  I was more upset about the coins than I was about bleeding.  I just lay there crying.  I was dirty, bleeding, and crying.

I’ve been that way a lot of times.

It’s the strangest sound, you know, the sound of coins on cobblestones.  It’s hollow and prickly.  I never found Marguerite.  I never saw her again and so I just assumed that time had swallowed her after she put me under that clock.  I had to clean up my own scrapes that day.  That’s when I became a warrior.

I wasn’t in Rouen much longer after that.  After that, I met Robert and he took me to Paris.  But, I won’t tell you about those things.  You get used to the sounds of coins on cobblestone, though, and you get used to scraping them up.  I believe that if more women knew what that was like, they’d raise better sons.

I suppose that in the end, in different ways, time swallows everyone.

The train’s stopping.  We’re here.  You know, I know girls who just smother their babies and stuff them all sorts of places.  The Seine is full of all kinds of broken hearts, not just that of a saint.

I’m glad you won’t remember any of this.  You’ll have only the newspaper clippings and playground taunting to remind you.  I’m sorry for that, but that’s not the worst life can decree.  When I leave you at the doors of the billows, I’ll pray that you’ll never understand why.  I’ll pray that one day you will understand that I can never remember any of this.  Because, I’ll never forget it.