Vigil

Author | Margaret Siu

 

Love, which absolves no one beloved from loving,
seized me so strongly with his charm that,
as you see, it has not left me yet.*

---

 

Erected in 1828, Pont de l'Archevêché stood as the narrowest Parisian road bridge. The bridge stretched 68 meters, following the majesty of Our Lady’s Cathedral to the main Parisian earth and arching thrice over the indigo of the Seine. Lovers locked pledges of their everlasting passions all along her fences.

And it was there Éloi Carrine sat on a Thursday, 3 PM sharp. He sat on the small ledge of the metal fence. Counter to other falls before him, Éloi had no intention of jumping off the ledge to a certain death, or so he murmured. He carried nothing in his hands and possibly everything in his mind. I glanced at his watch.

“It’s time. It’s time to move on. It’s time to go home. She won’t be coming. I don’t think it’s a good idea to keep coming here and waiting. After all, you haven’t been too work in a long time. Get a new job. Turn a leaf. Turn something. The shop must’ve replaced you by now,” I watched Éloi. I never knew if he acknowledged my presence or otherwise. Recently he had made it a point in his weekly routine to sit on the fence. Today Éloi made no motion to leave this afternoon.

Éloi rolled his head back. A slight stubble splayed across his chin. The leather watch strapped to his left wrist gently ticked to the most dedicated of listeners and his feet dangled from the precipice—occasionally tapping a vague beat against the side of the fence. His chin was well defined and wore a livid shade of fire in his hair, which was the most active part of him. There was nothing about his appearance that seemed strikingly handsome, but it was the way that he carried himself that made him seem jenesaisquoi.

One look at him and even a stranger would understand: Éloi lived in another world. He lived in the imperceptible. He found sonatas and requiems in everything, colors in what could only be heard. He nodded his head and hummed a tune no one else was blessed with. A week before, he had brought a flask of water and some bread to accompany him on his wait. This time, such physical nourishments weren’t necessary.

“Are you alright?”

Éloi looked over his shoulder at the couple behind him.

“You look a bit pale.”

Éloi cleared his throat.

I thanked them for their concern, “Are you here to place a lock?”

“Ouais, enfin…what else could we be here for?” The couple finished writing their names in Sharpie on a red lock before cramming it on a wire below Éloi’s resting spot. And the red lock took its place among the billions of others. A desperation for immortality. “Is your lady here yet?”

“Not yet,” Éloi said.

“Hope she doesn’t keep you waiting long,” the couple spoke as one, “Would you like a lock? We brought an extra, t’sais,”

Éloi recoiled. The locks were too blasé, too corporeal, too cold.

“Suit yourself,” the couple latched themselves in their arms disappearing down the bridge.

He fell back in his reflection, the water nodding back at him.

Was he excited? Was he apprehensive? Éloi played with limbo on the ledge, taking in the Parisian afternoon bustle. Scents of breads and Chardonnays drifted from nearby restaurants. Some confectionery was baking apples and their fragrances laced in warm spice and everything mouthwatering. Streetlights on either sides of the Seine bustled in an effervescence only a faerie festival could hope to provide. I watched life by the river side, wistfully.

“You’ve been here long enough. There’s so much you can do. If you won’t go to work, get off and go enjoy yourself, get a drink, eat something. Do something,” I rested on the rail by him, taking in the artists and their spanning white easels lined up on the sidewalks and the opposite bridge, sketching the magnitude and wonder of the cathedral and her sheer magnificence of her flying buttresses—as if the artists could capture the wonder in cheap paints, Éloi snorted. C'est la vie, I sighed. Such was life.

He continued his vigil. The hours continued with couples of every skin shade hooking locks on wires, latching, and throwing keys into the Seine, pledges of eternal love. Locks upon locks, latches made of matches, vows and vows. Éloi became increasingly tense at the sight of the keys—pitched into the waters below, disdain etching deeper into his features.

She would be arriving sometime soon from the airport. Éloi said he was sure of it. The velvet ring box in his pocket grew hot. He had a sweet patience and it could be the death of him.

“Salut! Hello! How do you do?” A bypasser, cycling casually on an impromptu bicycle rise, waved at Éloi.

Éloi nodded. Curt.

“I think you’d better head inside, it’s about to rain. I hear the storm is a big one,” the stranger said, gesturing at the pregnant grey clouds above them.

Éloi nodded again. Humming.

I motioned for Éloi to leave. “It’s time for supper! Allez! We should really leave.”

“Not yet,” He said. Locked.

 

---

Now you know how much my love for you
burns deep in me
when I forget about our emptiness,
and deal with shadows as with solid things.*

---

 

The stranger’s rain cascaded in thick cries and Éloi clenched the ledge. A heaviness took to the air, a kind of rooted gravity the gloom of the water carried. The deluge was all very dream like, blurred to the senses and at the same time very present. There was a crispness to the cold. Tempest tinged the greys and whites and dark hues took the day in heaving gasps and infinite weeping.

I watched him. He perched at the same spot as yesterday-- only this time rocking slightly back and forth in his dilemma. He gingerly sat, shifting as though the he was in danger of sinking into the fence, dying bifurcated by wire and metal. Then came the first sounds of the day from the man.

“Not yet. Not yet. Not yet,” He chanted under his breath.

“Tu t’en sors? Are you alright?” I could barely hear in the rain, now pounding its grey scales of an airborne Leviathan. His voice was hoarse.

“Not yet. Not yet. Not yet. Not yet.” He said, rocking.

“She won’t be coming. We should leave,” I said.

“Not yet. Not yet,” He replied shaking his head, a mass of wet red hair, the rain pouring down the length of his nose. His cold hands fisted the black rails, shaking ever so slightly. White whipped across the skyline. Everything was submerged in the wet and crystalline. Pale grey waves made murmurations from shore to shore across the Seine. I tasted a tinge of bitterness but otherwise this water was stale.

And Éloi continued to rock, the rain bouncing off of this wobbling figure. There was so much of it that the weight choked us and grasped at our throats, grieving. The waters below beckoned to Éloi. Chaos was a fickle woman and in the storm she seemed ever more alluring. He leaned forward seeing the faces of two children gazing back on a golden afternoon, arms around the other. And one of them was his angel. C'est la vie, he sighed.

Her face. Yes. Her face. He saw it in the eye of the storm and how it a faint rose dusted the apples of her cheeks. Strands of her inky hair would spill about her face and then he would remember neatly sweeping it behind her soft ears, catching some kind of floral scent. Heaven drew all the closer on the next pages of his story. And this seemed to him like forever. And he was ready for her, but she hadn’t come. Not yet, anyhow.

Around us, sounds of the air continued despondent to Éloi’s chanting, sans the skip of a heartbeat. I thought he would fall but somehow he was rooted to the rail.

“Stop that,” I shouted through the roar of the rain.

“NOT YET,” he wailed.

A large white scar tore the thick skin of grey above us, revealing an onslaught of cri de cœurs and sad monstrosity. The whiteness locked him, slapping him across both cheeks as his soulful eyes grew wider. Our Lady’s Cathedral threw a wounded shadow on the water below. Everything cried, even if his tears manifested as the rain like some Roman deity, and I was sick of it.

I tried to fist him by the collar. “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHE’S DEAD. CAN YOU HEAR ME? She’s not here,” I thundered, “She hasn’t been here for a long time!”

“NOOOOOOT YET.”

“It’s due past time! We ought to leave!”

He shut his eyes tightly, still clenching to the fence. “NOT YET. NOT YET.”

“That’s not bringing back anyone. She’s not going to come.”

“Not yet.”

He didn’t see me. And he never saw me. Not yet anyhow, though I still keep hoping. I blinked the despair back. I was desperate that he saw me.

He saw everything else. He was a blind man on Earth with eagle eyes only for his own world. He carried every potential to be an imaginary Atlas hoisting the weight of his wonderings, whatever they were. He saw all the “what ifs” and passion in the indecision. He was submerged with his love affair in the storm, some kind of screwed love—unwilling to leave that metal rail, despite his incessant rocking, and intoxicated in the terrible and the magnificent power of the rain.

“Éloi, go home.”

“Not yet.”

I looked at him earnestly as I could in the rain, as I had done hundreds of times before regardless of the weather, steadfastly coaxing him from his perch. “You’re clearly not well. I want you to go take care of yourself and pour yourself a nice bowl of chicken broth while you’re at it. You must be ill.”

“Not. Yet.”

I must have flushed a vivid shade of outrage. You know what the sick bastard did? He leaned his head back and rocked and laughed. There was something all too merry and gracious in his laughter that angered me. Disgust raged and boiled in me as I moved to grab a hold of his shoulders.

The deluge threatened to drown him in the waters and Éloi met those waters full on the lips. Éloi imagined warmth and passion in a rain that rivaled Genesis’ forty days. And he met the roaring symphony with a wild laugh. Kissing and drinking oncoming silvers and blues as they glistened like precious stones. And he kissed the rain as a lover would another, with palms seeping scarlet, vowing his phrase like a Gregorian chant married to a mystery. A kind of tingling sensation. A kind of selfish pain.

Éloi sucked in the air and gasped in laughter, wheezing. Chained.

 

---

Turn back to look again upon your own shores;
Tempt not the deep, lest unawares,
In losing me, you yourselves might be lost.*

---

 

“So—”

“He’s still sittin there.”

“Weird guy. The fuck is he doing?”

“Beats me.”

The third day arrived with a soreness. His lips chapped and peeled back like petals. Éloi took a sip of the February morning and exhaled as if he puffed a cigarette. His nose and the apples of his cheeks were tinted a faint rose, as if he were drunk.

His clothes were soaked from the rain, but the most significant change to it all was the placement of his hands—no longer seared on the railing, but clasped tightly with the other as if he could pray. The man in question sat shivering in his perch, his hair still plastered to his skull from the wet night, newly cleansed, newly baptized. His heart thudded like train tracks, growing at an increasingly faster pace. His breathing followed the pace of his heartbeat. His chest rose and fell rapidly.

—because she was coming. She would be here. Just not yet—

“The hell’s wrong with him? Looks like he’s gonna be sick!”

“He looks like he is sick.”

“Shh, he’ll hear ya.”

“N’importe quoi! Doesn’t make a difference in hell, he’s not comin’ off. He’s just kind of glued there.”

Perhaps he was conscious of the growing crowd surrounding him, the same blurry faces with different shades. Though if he knew, I thought, he showed no sign. He was above them all. I glared at the mob, moving towards Éloi. They couldn’t really see him either. The murmurs grew louder, but their sounds were all perhaps like a faint buzz to him save for the unadulterated ticking of his leather watch still locked on his wrist. The hour and minute hands on the face froze in position, hostage to the malfunctioning as a result of the storm. The second hand, however, kept fighting, wagging back and forth pressing for movement.

“Suicidal or crazy?”

“I’d pick the latter. Did you hear about the plane?”

“The one that crashed into the Seine?”

“It was just demolished. You saw it on the news right?”

“A tragedy. What’s he doing up here? He’s not going to jump is he?”

“No sir, no sir. He just sits there, all by himself, allez savoir pourquoi. He’s sat there for three days now.”

“Who is he?”

Éloi’s tightly bound hands rattled.

People who recognized the same man sitting on the ledge whispered and pointed at the man—staring wild-eyed into the Seine. Some hugged their shoulders watching the still spectacle. Others quickly bustled past the clearly lunatic monolith. They feared approaching him. They feared if they startled him, he would fall and would most certainly die. Or if they were to startle him he would transform into a raging beast. Staying away from the crazy was, perhaps, the best course of action.

“Can’t someone call the cops to get him out of here?”

“Get off the rail.”

“If he wanted to jump, he would’ve a long time ago. J’en mettrais ma main au feu— I bet my life on it.”

Éloi tilted his head upwards. He had stopped shivering, but he was still numb with the cold. His heartbeat and his breathing relaxed. And he was consumed with drowsiness. The world seemed slower as he glanced from the corner of his eye at the slow blur of outrage as if he were watching a war from a window. This was preposterous, he chuckled.

“Get him out of here. I just want to have a good time.”

“He’s disturbing the peace. He ruins the whole view!”

“If you want to jump, jump already! Someone get him to a mad house.”

It was a wonder to all: why someone didn’t stand up and do something about it. Why didn’t someone just smack the fellow across the head and give him a stern talking to? Did they fear the contagiousness of possession? Some swore they saw froth about his mouth. Others shrugged their shoulders waiting for someone to touch it.

I leaned in close to Éloi, frozen like a marble bust and yet like like an eggshell covered in cracks threatening to burst, or so I thought. As stupid as he was stubborn, the mob graced him with no ounce of pity and watched him as they would watch something from a zoo. Perhaps this was the true nature of a human and it’s plea for equality, demoting the weary and unable to something lesser than them in a continuous reshuffling of a perceived hierarchy. Blessed are the meek, until they become a nuisance. Then I held his hand in mine, as warmly as I could muster, as sheepish as I was, and I swore that was the first time in a long time he met my eyes, mirroring souls. “Let us go. Come with me. It’s time. Let us move on.”

And at last it sobbed: “Not yet.”

And at last it tumbled.

And it fell from the ledge, erupting into the Seine. Droplets took to every direction. Chaos. Bystanders screamed. Éloi sprouted wings.

The waves of liquid took the form of flames, licking Éloi before completing his baptism into the waters with a glorifying sploosh. There was light. The sun suddenly took to the morning sky and there was a rapture in the thick darkness. It was as if he fell into Empyrean Heaven, high heaven. There was a swift smoothness to every movement below the bridge. The light bounced and giggled off the epidermis and soul of the waters, making a trail after Éloi’s fall.

When Éloi Carrine fell, he was thirty-five. When he died, bystanders heaved a sigh in flooding relief—not wanting anything to do with it.

Maybe they thought it was still possessed, sitting on the ledge of the Pont de l'Archevêché with a dazed look on it’s face. A possessed patience. Some leaned over the bridge after the satisfying sploosh, watching the Seine ripple and it disappear into the depths. I felt a wave of questions murmur across the gathering. Was it suicide? They looked at themselves confusedly. Unsure.

And at last it disappeared. A few men stuffed their hands in their trouser pockets, taking a last look at where the man sat, lit a few cigarettes, knocked a few pebbles into the waters. They shivered. Some of them making the sign of the cross across their chests. Comforted that that world contained one less defunct, the people retreated back into Merlot-scented parlors. Slowly, the faintest tastes of jazz yawned from somewhere along the waterfront. Couples began tiptoeing the Seine once more.

I watched the crowd as they left, the spectacle now missing. There was a certain disappointment of the absence of an upset, and at the same time, a relief and continuance of time. One after the other. I watched the doors as they slammed shut and at last there was a quietude to the waters.

C'est la mort. Monsieur Carrine could not stop for death. And death, in turn, stopped for him. It was as if time forgot to move her arms, knowing no kind of haste. He stiffened rather abruptly and crumpled from his seat as if something cut him loose from a myriad of devil’s marionette strings, sighing.

I recall the face of Monsieur Carrine as it softened under the reflection of Our Lady’s Cathedral upon the Seine. This kind of sleep seemed kinder to him as it graced a smile on his lips. The stars flickered like candlelight and the coolness of a current sighed in a kind of relieved blessing. His body drifted dreamlike to the depths and the rays of moonlight remained ever constant.

Then I left.

 

---

—from there we came forth and saw the stars*

---

*all quotes used are derived from Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy in this order: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso, Inferno


About the Author | Margaret Siu is studying Plan II Honors at the University of Texas in Austin. She is a recipient of the Brown University Book Award, multiple Gold and Silver Keys from the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards for her art and poetry, and an University Interscholastic League Journalism 1st Place Award for her Features Story. Siu has also been published in the Critical Pass Review for her work and recognized by the Dallas Morning News for Feature Writing. She is impassioned about the political climates of both the Sinosphere and the United States. Siu is an avid fan of Naomi Shihab Nye, Mong-Lan, and Lin Manuel Miranda--those who endeavor to narrate their cultures through verse.