“We have started the crossing
Who knows? It may end badly …”
– Jim Morrison
Saturday, 3 July 1971. Le Marais, Paris.
It is after eight in the morning. I wake to find your side of the bed cold. Curled up naked, I blink groggily and stretch, the twisted sheet wrapped around my legs. A terracotta pillow retains the faint imprint of your head. Where are you? Through the closed louvres I hear the rumbling traffic along rue Beautreillis and the shrill, excited voices of chattering children.
Our palace of exile is stuffy and warm, shrouded with dope and stale sandalwood. Your khaki slacks, a musty sweater, lie discarded at the foot of the bed beside a whisky bottle and an open notebook, the pages tattoed with your large, sprawling scrawl. A rudimentary French-English dictionary. A dog-eared translation of Une Saison En Enfer. A scattering of clippings and photographs: our memories of another life: Laurel Canyon and Love Street, Venice Beach and Sunset Strip.
I reach for my white djellaba. A robe of dawn dreams and sacred stars, you said; the one you bought me as a gift in Algiers. The dripping tap draws me barefoot through the bedroom. Past an overflowing ashtray, another empty bottle. Past your favourite pair of boots, ready to walk along the banks of the Seine or across the road to Les Beautreillis with its blue and white striped awning.
I call your name and open the door. Summer sunshine slants through the small high window illuminating a mosaic of dust motes. The smell of urine from the unflushed toilet. The smell of vomit: sharp, acidic, partially digested pineapple chunks. You are soaking in the bathtub, your tilted neck nestled in the porcelain curve. The taste of iron as rust flakes on the roof of my mouth. Are you trying to scare me? Even in sleep, I have not seen you this peaceful.
Blood blossoms beneath your right nostril. The pale pink water is lukewarm, your hooded reptilian eyes half-open. Breath stilled, a slight smile becalms your face like fading faith. My arms and legs shake. I try to lift you, cradle you, naked and wet, to my breast. Instead, water splashes the dirty linoleum. Again, I cannot hold the weight of you. A renegade cockroach crawls through the dead zone.
Somewhere upstairs, strains of Piaf: a far-off mourning for no one and everyone. Absence. Fear. Guilt. A kaleidoscope heart eroded, exploded. Did I truly think we could grow old together? Did I think you would live forever? Our strange course is run. No time for guardian angels and highway Indians, for pagan enchantments and shamanic visions.
Crouching down on the slippery floor, I trace the blue veins in the palm of your hand. Too many things I still need to say … I kiss you. Again and again. The slow ache possesses me. Alone you have journeyed to the shadowy cave. Maggots have not yet devoured you though the dark gods have delivered your final poem. The tap drips.