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1st Soliloquy


IT WAS A TIME I SLEPT IN MANY ROOMS, called myself by many names. I wandered through the quarters of the city like alluvium wanders the river banks. I knew every kind of joy, ascents of every hue. Mine was the twilight and the morning. Mine was a world of rooftops and love songs.


_________

For four nights we drank and feasted at the banquets in the holy square of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Many friends of old assembled—tried companions, those long-traveled, with stories yet untold. There, we gathered beneath the broad moon that hung like a pendant on a string. We danced beneath festivity lanterns, dropping blushing light on the lawns and stones. On prosperous tables, gentle bread was laid. Brimming were the bowls. Much wine was drunk—good wine, well-seasoned, long ago pulled from ancient grapes. Golden-lipped girls with sleek hair, voluptuous breasts, and eyes slender as pearls strolled in and out in their clouds of perfume; summer sacks dangled on fresh arms burnished by the copper sun after days spent in private ways on provincial strips of shore. We toasted the city and the passage of time, and we laughed with gladness in our hearts, always merry in our ways, until nights overturned to dawns.

It was then on the evening of the fifth night that I resigned myself to stay in the rooms I kept overlooking the square and not to go out, as I desired to finish up some of the projects I had weighing on my mind. These were heroic times and I had much work to undertake.

From a solitary evening walk along the river, I came alone up the rue Bonaparte. Entering the room to which I held key, I approached the summer basin freshly spilling of water; and from it, I splashed my face to tame the heat. The mail had been slipped beneath the front door and I took the envelopes to the table to examine them. One was from Nadja, with rose-colored paper and a hand-painted pomegranate. Her letter was brief but excited. She was high in spirits. Everything was settled. She would be coming in the fall to study at the Beaux Arts.

“ Sweet Nadja,” I smiled and flung the window open with thoughts of that eastern beauty on her far-flung shore, her sun-cooked archipelago. Was there anything like Nadja? …with her magnificent sloping waist and long saltwater back. Hopeful Nadja, with those subtle, upturned breasts and that firm tummy… No!, this was no time to dust my thoughts with the powdery prints women’s footsteps leave behind. There was much work to be done! “All of this and a summer’s eve,” I muttered as I paced the floor, “The temperature throbs and, one by one, evening birds peck at the humid hours leaving spicy dusk with sweet tempered beaks.” It was clear thoughts were coming fine. I knew great work would be done this night.

Filing the letters in a forgotten cabinet, I took to the desk to where I lay pen to sacred work. I wrote one line, then a second, humming my hero’s exaltation.

Feel the tremendous heat! Any stopping this swelter? “Watery pitcher, water clean…” I drank cool water and approached the window to feel the draft. My feet stamped noisily on the wooden floor as I crossed the room. Bright is the Parisian sky—and crisp! Down in the square below, I observed the nightly banter beginning to form. “Holy banquets!” I shouted with displeasure in my heart, “Sacred, profane feasts! . . . Shut up!”

Down in the square of Saint Germain, I could see the growing assembly of the evening’s fresh young girls, ces parisiennes parfumées, donning newly-cinched cotton tops. Streamers ran softly over ancient stones. The colorful paper lanterns, infused with light in the dusk, stretched across the lawns and were bowing and bobbing with the currents of summer winds. I left the window open and returned to the desk to continue my work.

One hour over-passed the next. A little work was set to stone, chiseled and arranged. Dark grew the sky and the strumming of newborn songs came from the square up into the airy room. Then there were songs, now there was laughter. Now a girl was shouting to her friends. Did they want to drink champagne? She did! Happy, one could tell, were those tender vocal cords, never once torn by rugged years. Sweet like a klaxon’s song in private bows. Sweet was her chime. Would I have to shut the window? Must I deprive myself of the summer evening wind? Cannot the nightly air belong to me as well? I, after all, have a battle-worn hero who needs a lofty breeze in order to sail home.
In defeat, I abandoned the chair and returned to the window…

Now the banquet was in full bloom. Sweet smiles, I saw, laughter from sweet eager girls, dressed in tissues light, their frosted lips and braided hair, bound breasts and fragrant hips, holy tender wrists and palms, arms that raised to sing their psalms . . . “Let us end these happy feasts!” I implored madly, “Just one night! . . . For one night, I wish for peace! Silence all! . . . Do you not realize I am planning a hero’s homecoming up here?” Alas, the revelers heard me not. I brushed my brow of sweat, and upset sighs I put forth as I closed the window and walked over to the piano to tick out a tune.

No avail.

With the still air—now that the window was shut—the heat, the muted sounds of the reveling outside, my hero’s tale was waning. I couldn’t get the poor wanderer home.

Again at the window. I sought the latch to open it anew and let in a draft. A clear view I had of all the happy gardens. From where I stood, one easily saw the crystal champagne flutes emptying themselves into delighted mouths. One could count the specks of glitter on the smooth shoulders of the ladies. Officers in uniforms, white-jacketed servants carried corpulent bottles beneath their arms. “Cursed night!” I cried, while the moon was swelling majestically to add to my frustration.

“And if I should die this very eve? If I should perish on some accidental chemist’s drug, hazardly taken before your rosy dawn? You, gay-tongued ladies and men—speak up! Would you be happy sacrificing your hero’s tale for the dregs of this night’s wine?”

My words availed me aught. The revelers were not listening. Ceasing to speak, I kept my eyes fastened to the noisy square, all the while trying to think of how to return to my work. Now the band had stopped to allow one fiddle player the party’s attention. This fiddler was a gangly type, with long bandy legs, and a smoking. Everyone seemed to take a great interest in what he was about to play—the women especially. All gathered around.
His fiddle began slow. Eyes darted around his uneasy movements with the first caresses of the bow. Then, as he sped up, his arms began waving rapidly like the wings of a gnat. It wasn’t such a feat! I knew the very concerto, a most predictable piece! Still, his equine mallet got the proper attention and the fragrant ladies, all dewy-eyed, perched around him with mouths gaping in emotion.

It was during this show, I saw among the maids below, one young girl who struck my curiosity. She was in the group, among the others, though somehow apart from everyone. A young girl, shorter and more fair than her fellow ladies. Her shoulders sat upright like fruit on a tree, and her breasts swooped down like two birdlings learning flight. Those shoulders were bare and smooth and bronzed like amber resin forever preserving youth. Around her small neck of rosy skin she wore a pretty band of peach silk. And from that silk, hung a golden locket or bell, which appeared to ring each time her soft neck pulsed. And every descent that violin took, from major key to minor, her chest heaved and her neck it trembled and that golden bell it rang.

“Senseless to think I own the night!” I sighed in defeat, shutting the window anew, wiping the summer dew from my humid crown. I realized now that staying in this coop would truly avail me naught. It was time to find my own girl… I had clever Adélaïde I could visit. That fair doe with her collarbone of pearl. A famous dancer at the Palais Garnier. Her famous body smooth as fresh split ivory—and long too. She would be waiting for me now, this very night, this very hour, in her sweltering loft overlooking the grandeur of the lawns of Luxembourg. I imagined her well: her low cut dancer’s top, thin and pressed with summer wetness against beautiful alabaster breasts.

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