The Fall of the Bastilles
John and Juniper Bastille lived above “Giles’ Fish and Chip Bonanza” in the quaint village of Avon Murray. The night was always cold as glass. Every evening they would shatter it together with their music. John’s accordion accompanied Juniper’s violin along the silent pathways of empty sky, the notes sneaking through the windows of nearby houses to warm themselves by the fires. It was a tough existence for the Bastilles but at least their music could find its place within the village.
John lost a toe in the merchant navy, since then vowing never to work again. His shrunken body could exist on very little; the accordion playing being the only time he allowed himself to move. He’d worn a beard so long he had forgotten his own face. Everything in life had slowly turned away from John. Everything but Juniper.
Juniper was tall and elegant with a mane of flame-red hair. Her flesh so beautifully adorned her skeleton that many people stopped to openly admire it as if they were appreciating a quality racehorse. Everybody knew Juniper as the town prostitute. It was a strangely respectable position in somewhere as small as Avon Murray. As her slim fingers massaged mournful melodies from her violin, the townsfolk all smiled contentedly to themselves and listened with the appreciation of fathers to a daughter.
Now such an odd couple as the Bastilles came with their share of gossip amongst the humble Avon Murraians. Some said John had a suitcase of diamonds under his bed. Some said Juniper’s violin was carved from human bone. Most agreed they were some kind of foreign. Either way, what concerns us was the only real news that made a difference to their lives.
It was a cold June night, music drifting between chimneypots, when Juniper stopped playing.
“I’m pregnant, John.”
John’s voice wheezed through a year’s swallowed dust, “How… do you know?”
“That last refrain, it wasn’t me playing, John. It was our son who played it through me. I never knew until now, but now I understand.”
Her flame-red hair scattered the dim moonlight across her face. Her features were wavering on the brink of everything. For the first time in a week, John opened his eyes to look deep into hers, “His…name is Lawrence…and he will be beautiful.”
No-one questioned the Bastilles from then on, somehow they were accepted into society. The pearl of life slowly forming inside Juniper was eagerly awaited by every man in the village; all believing to have played their part in this gift of love. John even began returning from his deep hibernation.
Often he was seen, huddled in a great shaggy coat, walking the countryside pathways on Juniper’s firm arm. He would talk to her and remember the luxury of conversation, thinking aloud between their one symbiotic mind.
“You know…that I love you.”
“Yes John, and I love you. The world maybe nothing but glass and sand, yet we’ll always be together.”
John’s heavily lidded eyes caressed Juniper’s face, running their gaze over her high, alabaster cheekbones, Roman nose, blood-red lips one after another, “I just wish sometimes… that Lawrence was mine.”
“Of course he’s yours, John. Who else’s would he be?”
Still John smiled with humble delight, now enveloping each of her deep, auburn eyebrows within his awed gaze, “Even… though we’ve never…”
As her face turned to his, John dissolved into elated worship of her innocent, happy grin.
“You’re my husband, John. There’s nothing else but glass and sand, and you, and me. And I love you.”
“And I… love you.”
That was the way with the Bastilles, always having enough because they knew they were nothing. Months would roll by like tears, not spent in pain but purest joy. The music echoed now throughout the valley, every home cracking a window to admit the lilting, haunting harmonies. But now the notes would occasionally shift to a happier tune as Lawrence took his turn with his mother’s hands. Downstairs Giles was saving leftovers to feed John now his wasted body needed fuel. They’d even taken to buying candles on Friday nights to briefly scare away the all-consuming darkness.
It was just one of these Fridays when Juniper walked in from her usual rounds and John, hunched in his habitual corner, turned to her with his cracked-lip smile, “What’s… happened?”
Juniper, stripping away gloves, raised an eyebrow in his direction, “What do you mean, John?”
“You don’t… smell of them. They… are not on you.”
A low gust of air blew from Juniper’s nostrils as she straightened herself, released the smile she wore only for him, and went to sit herself down beside him, “It’s over John. They decided I don’t need to do it anymore. They’ll pay me just the same but I don’t need to do it anymore.”
“They want it to help Lawrence. They’re setting me free, John. I don’t need to do it anymore.”
A silent tear slipped down John’s cheek only to be lost in his beard. As Juniper lit a candle he stared into the flame. His lips quivered with the light. His head filled with the delicate flame, the glass and the sand. That night the music moaned a solemn elegy that was softly locked out of every house in Avon Murray.
The next day John took his first ever walk alone. His hunched form staggered out of the town, slipping quietly into the autumn world of nature. Spider webs caught his fur coat as he walked on through bush and bramble with his eyes firmly closed. They formed whisping trails around him, dancing in the breeze and twinkling ethereal between shafts of sunlight.
Feeling a rock beside him, John sat himself down to lay his palms on its cold surface. He could hear the gossiping tongues of a river by his side. John had never understood rivers. By what logic did water choose to gather itself into their precise shapes? John coughed an ashy cough and opened his eyes.
The world was all before him. Painted birds calling from patient trees, flowers bursting with solar radiance, the spiders touching and tasting his skin. The sand breathed with life beneath the tumbling liquid glass of the river. The universe was around him and within him, and he couldn’t feel a flame. Juniper. Beneath the infinite sun, John broke down and wept. From the town there could be heard an echo like a dying animal, or a worn-out accordion.
John’s growing independence brought with it increasing distance, physically and mentally. Juniper was used to having John at home whilst she went out, sat in the corner like a strange totem of her love. Now that totem had begun walking and talking it was like the Gods had all turned from her. They’d got tired of the universe and wandered off.
As the pregnancy began to weigh on her she took more and more to sitting all day in John’s corner. She’d close her eyes and listen for him, straining her ears out to the woods where he now seemed to reside. Her aristocratic nobility slipped from her whilst she sat spread-eagled. She took on the broken peacefulness that John had always worn, the silent desperation of an expectant mother. She was asleep when he returned.
“Are you… asleep?”
She awoke to find herself before a mountain of fur. John’s eyes stared immovably at her collapsed form as he stripped off his coat. What were once deep ocean blue irises now faded almost to white.
“Yes John, I’m afraid I am.” Her voice still held its authority but there was now something pleading within it, “Did you enjoy your walk today, John?”
As Juniper failed to move from his corner, John stood awkwardly a while before going to sit on her bed, “Yes…I did.”
Juniper smiled, hesitated, twisted, “Lawrence is getting big, John. I hope he has your blue eyes. I’ve always admired your blue eyes.”
John had closed his eyes. It was an old habit but now it seemed to symbolise something to Juniper.
“Come and feel him, John.”
As John’s eyes opened to look at her, she choked slightly. Their dead, insect presence was ringed by every emotion they had failed to experience throughout the length of their long marriage. He placed himself next to her, slowly lifting her shirt to place a hand against her swelling belly, “Strange…”
“It’s not strange, John. It’s life and it’s beautiful, you said so yourself. Lawrence loves you, John, and so do I.”
“Your skin…is so soft. I never imagined it…could be this soft.”
John backed slowly away from her. He had never seen her shocked or confused before, it were as if she were human. He went to sleep in her bed as she sat on the floor. There was no music that night.
After that the Bastilles never spoke to each other again. It was easier that way, more settled. The music continued but now Lawrence’s notes were lost within the almost robotic tones that hummed without regard from the violin and accordion. The final months were the same as the first, even though the roles had changed. They knew each other so well it hardly seemed a difference but for the angle of their view on the situation.
Lawrence came exactly as predicted. Juniper died soon after due to some complications at birth, it was a quiet way to go. She never saw Lawrence. On hearing the news John quietly pulled on his fur coat, walked over to the river, and drowned himself. Lawrence grew up to be a mirror image of his father but for his mother’s more classical musculature. The people of Avon Murray paid for his upbringing and by the age of seventeen he’d slept with all their daughters. Funny how things come round…
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