Wednesday, 2 November 2016


Pablo Picasso, Weeping Woman.
1937, Etching, aquatint, and drypoint

(Written for Halloween 2016)

There is a moment. In a bar. Across a crowded room. In an office or a factory. In a street. More than once at the school gates. In the middle of a riot. In a busy market. Once in deep snow. At a railway station, late at night as the rain blusters and billows across the platform.

She is not beautiful. Well, not so beautiful as to attract attention. But she is incomplete; she needs and, in that regard, like any human, is perfect for her purpose.   

She does not dress to attract. Indeed for many years her dress has been poor, threadbare, worn. But at times she has been dressed in satin, plush, lace with jewels to sparkle. At all times she has been perfectly at one with her surroundings.

She can, however, when required, hold herself with confidence; head up, back straight, hands flat on the bar or table or in her lap, eyes steady. Or she can be vulnerable, fragile; a slight turn, eyes glancing down, a shy smile.

So there is always that moment. The moment when she sees them and when their eyes meet.

And then she holds their gaze. She holds their gaze for a little longer than they expect.

And she falls in love.

Their fate is sealed.

They are all different, of course. Each one, unique. Though she can hardly remember them all now. She remembers the places first – and, curiously, the smell – and then the person and then their story. Sometimes.

The man with a scar. The married man – many of those – who is afraid of his wife. The man who doesn’t care about his wife. The man who has never fallen in love...until now. The soldier just about to go to war who suddenly has so much to lose.

The lost man, wandering the countryside in search of his life. The widower who feels no right to happiness and weeps.  The woman - oh yes there are women too -  the woman who is surprised that she feels this way but is inspired, first.

The man who has several mistresses and treats each with contempt. The young man, ridding himself of his dominant mother. The poor man for whom she is the most precious gift. The rich man who feels he could risk everything for her.

How many? She can’t remember. But it happens only once, sometimes twice a year. But each has their own time. Each story plays out to its inevitable conclusion. And now it has been what, three hundred years? So, four hundred stories? Perhaps.

It started in a time before cars or telephones. On dirty streets and in desperate lives. Still, love sprang up like brambles, thorny and obscene, frail flowers to give hope of redemption. She falls in love and they always fall in love with her. Some for ever, it seems, some only for a few days, moments really. Some joyfully, many wretchedly. But always.

During wars and riots, great masses taking to the streets in anger or celebration, falling in love was easy. In the tired trudge of life towards the grave, love was more unexpected but more compelling.

To begin with she had wondered about her purpose. She had no name for her existence. Not an angel, though many had used that exact word to describe her as they made love. She did not know how she had come into being, she felt only the drive to find them, these chosen people, to allow their eyes to meet and to fall.

She wondered for many years if she was sent. Perhaps each one was selected? But she knew no creator, no God. Now she knows that she is alone and she herself chooses. She simply looks. She has a sense. It only takes a moment. She holds their gaze. She makes them fall.

And then each story unfolds. Unfurls. Unwinds. Uncurls. Uncoils. Untwists and turns and writhes and slithers to its bitter end.

In all these long, long years she has been loved too deeply. She has been neglected. She has been ignored, abused, cast aside. She has had entire lives built around her. She has been one amongst many – all ill-used. But each step deeper in love takes her nearer the end.

Sooner or later she is standing on a street, looking up at a window watching as he kisses his wife. She appears at the party of a distant friend, or the office, knowing he will be there. She follows him home to discover his other lover. She bumps into her husband and befriends him.

She writes. She writes. She writes. She phones. She phones at two a.m. She stands in the market place and denounces him. She reports him absent without leave. She whispers in the ear of an indiscrete friend. She has carried bastard babies into homes and factories; she has torn the ragged clothes from her body in despair; she has sent the wrong text at the wrong time; torn extravagant pearls from her throat and scattered them across the ballroom floor. She posted that photograph online.

There are so many ways. But it ends. As end it must.

There is another moment. A look, an fogged emotion across their faces. Eyes still or flickering, widening or narrowing. Sometimes shock, sometimes fear or anger.  Sorrow. Sometimes they are simply puzzled.

A knife, often. Slips between ribs so easily. A sickle. An axe. A blunt instrument; hard first time is better than repeated clubbing. Sometimes a gun, but rarely. A car. A cliff edge. Hands closing around the throat or head held under water until the last bubbles disappear.

And at that moment, she is complete. Satisfied.

And there she lies, blood spreading like a cape on the ground or with her head crushed or with water filling her lungs, and she is at rest.

And her lovers meet their own fate. Their guilt, their agony, the desperate attempt to cover up her body and to leave no trace, but with fear and mistrust following like a mangy dog.

Sometimes confession; grief, sobbing regret and the trembling surrender to the police, the gallows or suicide. None of them escapes.

And then.

She rises up, in another body, unbroken and therefore whole and therefore beautiful, but in need again and therefore incomplete.   

She finds herself in a bar, or on a factory floor, lamp-lit in a midnight railway station. On a crowded avenue. She is holding a glass, a cup of tea, a baby, nothing at all.

She catches their glance, holds it for just a little longer than they expect. She smiles.

And she falls.

© Philip R Holden 2016

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