Like I said in an earlier post, much of this has been driven by the alter-/ultra-/supra-ego that I have created, or rather came fully formed, of Joanna. She has been the one on Google+ practically every night making new friends and sharing the highs and lows of the writing process. And you know what, it has been an absolute blast. I have also rediscovered that Joanna is, well, me. She and I are very much the same person. That is, Joanna is who I would be if only I could let myself go in all areas of my life. Joanna is who you read when you look at my blog. My RL self, the one that goes to work, is a lie and a front. Of course it is.
Joanna is who I want Tilly to know better. She knows most of Joanna, but seems to prefer the RL version that works and mopes and generally struggles to cope. That she doesn't want to know about the compulsions and what have you that Joanna comes with means that she doesn't know all of me, all of Joanna. I should stress, as much as I like the name Joanna, I don't mean that I would want to be called Joanna by Tilly, that would be silly. Nor do I mean that I would want to live full time as a woman, that would be equally silly for me. I mean that the truthful part of me, the me on here that is honest and flawed, is known as Joanna.
Anyway, I wanted to share a scene from the NaNo project on here and see what people thought. It's after the break below, because it is rather long and not everyone wants to be beaten about the head and body by a wall of text!
It's the hardest scene I've ever had to write, ever, but for all the right reasons. It has been reviewed already by some very helpful and lovely people and I've done some editing of it. I would love to hear anything you have to say about it! But don't feel under pressure, just reading it is fine too!
Also, help with the French would be welcome too.
“So.” Batemann had been the first to leave the table, ably supported by Claudette, and it had been very obvious what they were going to do. There had been giggling and squeaking from the room ever since they left. Then Pablo had simply nodded to the elder woman and they had left together in silence, descending the stairs. Whatever they were up to made little noise that could be heard in the upstairs kitchen but the embarrassed smile of Eponine told William that it would be little different to the activities on-going in the nearby bedroom. “I don’t speak any Aixlenean.”
“Avez-vous également mangé assez?”
William stared for a moment at the girl’s hopeful face. “I don’t know what Pablo was saying either.” He reached over to his jacket and dislodged the letter that Pablo had given him. Both of them watched it fall, it landed close to Eponine’s foot.
“Votre letter, monsieur, je…” Picking it up from the floor, with William’s steadfast gaze fixed on her, she paused and then, with a quick look at his face, she made to open it. “Je peux lire Maueryn un peu, monsieur. Avec votre permission?”
Failing, half-heartedly, to snatch it back and catching her hopeful tone; William shrugged and sat back heavily. “It’s not like you can understand a word of it. I’d sooner you were doing something like that rather than… well, whatever else we’re supposed to get up to.” As she carefully opened the envelope and removed the letter, William shifted uncomfortably and looked anywhere but at her, as if by not seeing her do the deed he could ignore the breaking of Pablo’s trust.
Something about delivering food for a night of sex seemed rather tawdry and not a little unfair. Unbidden, he remembered his mother and sisters, and shuddered at the thought of any of them being so hungry and alone that they would agree to such an exchange. Whatever romance there had been vanished from the room and he just felt cold and wet and tired, huddled in a towel with illicit food roiling in his stomach. Battles had been fought with less concern and worry.
She was still studying the letter, who knew what she was scrying, and he watched her expression grow shocked, a hand over her mouth, and then enormously sad. Most likely she had read into the unfamiliar language whatever she wanted to find, whatever would make the situation most palatable.
Presently she looked at him again with concern in her eyes and the look of something else that William couldn’t quite place. She put the folded letter carefully back on the table and, without meeting her eyes, William snatched it back. Too late, he knew, but simply leaving it there seemed worse than doing nothing.
Throughout the night he had caught her looking at him, as a young girl would look at passing soldiers, with a mix of wonder and awe; so that, he felt, if he so much as bared his teeth she would either laugh at the gaiety or else take fright and fall dead on the spot. Now that look of awe had changed but he would be hard-pressed to offer any guesses as to what it had become.
“Tu conaissez beaucoup de perte et tristesse.” She spoke very slowly, enunciating clearly, trying desperately to make him understand something, “Je pense que tu êtes différent de tuos amis. Je pense que, s'il n'y avait aucune guerre, et si nous ne nous étions pas réunis je voudrais tu connaître davantage. De maintenant, monsieur, je ne sais pas quoi faire après. Pour nous ne nous réunirons pas encore.”
Her hand grasped his and held it, softly and warmly, while she fixed him with her eyes. William did not know how to respond, nor could he understand what was being said, but it sounded important enough to keep listening.
“Je… Devrais je déshabillier? Comment est-ce que je peux le commodier pour tu, Willy?”
The way she said his name alerted him to something else going on, he still couldn’t place it, but he found himself responding physically. This was like nothing he had ever felt, even with Jerry, and his heart began to race with the prospect of the unknown and the dangerous. It reminded him of the moments before being called to attack in the trenches but without the certainty of leaving things to fate and trusting in his own place in things; this was worse. “Call me William.”
“Will-yam,” repeated Eponine with a giggle, “C’est meiller que ‘Willy,’ Will-yam,” standing, but not letting go of his hand, she pointed to a doorway at the opposite end of the room, “Nous dansons?”
Wordlessly, he stood and followed after her, something had changed in him and he wasn’t sure what it was but the beating of his heart propelled him forward. As she stepped across the threshold she turned to face him and took both of his hands. Awkwardly he took hers back, letting the towel fall from his shoulders. His mouth was dry and he could feel the cold sweat beginning, everything in him was screaming to flee but, at the same time, he was simply transfixed. “How… How old are you?” he tried, “Age? Years?” Anything to delay what seemed to be happening.
A frown before realisation dawned on a face now lit only by the dim moon through the window. He had to admit that it was a lovely face. “Vingt-cinq,” she answered, then, seeing that he had no idea what she had just said, held up both hands with fingers outstretched twice, then just one finger. She smiled. “Et tu?”
Jerkily, and keenly aware that he was only wearing his underwear, William signalled that he was Twenty-seven. “Twenty-three,” he added, as if by adding it he could shrug off the obvious lie. It was not her face or body that had him drawing breath though, but whatever it was remained tantalisingly out of reach, like the one thing left unchecked before going over the top.
Slowly, she backed away, her face flushing and her movements more spasmodic than seductive. She was trying too hard to impress him, part of him supplied; she was trying to move like he had seen far more practiced women doing in the dingier parts of Alnwix on the way to the show. Whereas they had been slinky and even quite adept she was uncomfortable and very much out of her depth. All at once she caught sight of his expression, “Ceci ne fait pas tu stimuler?” There was no mistaking the twin themes of disappointment and relief in her voice.
“Just…” Breathe, you idiot, breathe, “Just stop. Eponine. I… Eponine.”
Moonlight filled the space between them, there was a bed in the corner, everything seemed black and white now that the door was closed. In the distance there was the rumble of the war as far away from them as was the moon herself. If anything, space seemed nearer, blazing with starlight and pregnant with promise. And he found it difficult to breathe.
Moving to the bed, but keeping his distance, he sat down heavily. “Eponine.”
“Tu semblez… délicat,” she chose her words carefully, but kept undressing: functionally rather than trying to make anything of it at all. “Une fleur, non?” She smiled sympathetically at him. Stood in her underwear by the window she did look beautiful. Forbidden. Out of reach. “Je crois…”
She was delicate, but strong, like a rose growing on a garden wall turned to the sun. The white rose that grew in the father’s flowerbeds, tough and wiry, flowers delicate like spider web but with thorns that would cut and tear flesh. There would be no rough treatment of this woman and no arguing with her if she got an idea in her head. He needed to say something. “Thank you,” and he meant it. “I have known few who would do for me what you have done. But it is not needed,” shaking his head, “It is not needed.”
“C’est la guerre?” As she sat down next to him he fought the urge to jump away, it would not have been polite, she caught his expression. “C’est la guerre.”
A wan smile met her remark. William had heard similar sentiments in Aixlenean before, enough to know what they meant. A nod. “It is hard.” There was nothing else to be said.
Her arm fell clumsily across his shoulders and he did not mind, merely closed his eyes and let her do it as her free hand took his chin and rubbed along its smooth surface. For once he was glad that he shaved every day. “Tu seriez joli dans ma robe, ma cherie, tu non soutenu pour la guerre.”
Grunted assent. He would have agreed with anything at that moment.
Looking at him, she seemed to grow in confidence, and he returned her look as best he could, lost in the feelings that ambushed him and beat him down with the flat of their spades. No shots were fired, no artillery barrage was required: he surrendered freely to a superior foe without ever knowing quite why he was doing so. Fate decreed that he do so and he had yet to argue with fate.
Pecking him on the cheek tenderly, she placed a finger over his lips and drew back, a smile greeting his confusion. She stood, placing the same finger on her own lips to cover the playfulness there, and walked back to where she had undressed, looking at him all the while as an artist would at a subject to be painted. There was a confidence in her that she had previously lacked, it oozed from her, and he could feel his own response to that awareness, to that aura of assuredness.
“Ma petite fleur,” her whisper was so low he had to strain his ears to hear her properly, “Ma belle, sensible, petite fleur.” She picked up her dress deliberately, let it fall from her hands whilst holding the shoulders and fussed with it until it was straight and clean. “Est-ce que tu portez ce pour moi?”
Unable to understand her words, but following that something had been asked of him, something her soft tone indicated could not be denied, William nodded dumbly. He was rewarded with a broad shining of the sun from her face, bringing colour back to her body that was robbed by the silvery light from the window in his mind’s eye if not in reality.
She walked back to him deliberately this time: one foot in front of the other placed with precision and care on the wooden floorboards, not a sound seemed to be made. She bade him stand with her eyes, and he did so, then rolled the dress and indicated that he should raise his arms. Now William was simply unable to speak, unable to discern how it was he knew her instructions, unable to register anything beyond the room or Eponine. It didn’t exist.
Material at his fingertips. Passing. A breeze across all of him and the skirts fell about the floor. It shouldn’t have fit, but Eponine was already working at ties and buttons so that it seemed to expand to take him in, falling easily to the floor. Unbidden, his arms returned to his side as she walked behind him and pulled at various laces and clasps. He felt the bodice tighten around his chest and waist, hugging him tightly in a way that made him feel more relaxed and safe than he could remember feeling before.
But this was wrong. Men did not wear dresses and soldiers were supposed to be the very epitome of what it was to be a man, to be a male.
He was home.
This was right.
Darkness was ending in light. Movement below.
Stillness behind, Eponine had finished her work. He only felt her move back to inspect her handiwork. She said something, he did not catch what, but twirled to face her, causing the skirts and petticoats of the dress to flare up and brush against his legs. An electric feeling.
Instinctively he looked down as he faced her, hands catching the flare of the dress and holding it from the floor. His mouth opened but no words came out.
“Bon. La fleur est ouvert. Tu êtes tres beau.” Her hands were clasped in front of her and her smile was as a mother to a child. “Ma petite fleur.” A short, but only semi-mirthful, laugh. “Tres bien, Fleur.”
It did not matter, he found, because he did not feel that she was laughing at him, merely laughing along with the world. A sound that seemed all the more beautiful for it being shared in the dark and quiet and dimness that surrounded them. It was liberation and it was freedom; it was sin and it was wrong; it was everything and it was nothing: everything meant something and something had most definitely occurred. Throat constricted, limbs shaking with the pressure, he found himself leaning in to kiss her and saw her doing the same, the natural extension of the shared episode.
And that was when the screaming started.
“She’s going to kill us all, the crummy whore-bitch,” Batemann was waving a knife and stark naked, “It’s bitches like her what killed Monty and blew up Freddie. You know where she was when we were in the mud, don’t you? She was watching, laughing, making sure the fucking Aixleneans knew exactly where and when to get us!”
In the corner the Aixlenean girl was huddled, bleeding and screaming for dear life, and there was the smell of sex on the air, musty and old. Images of the streets of Alnwix near the station and the docks swam in William’s mind and the rifle that he had instinctively picked up from the pile of uniforms felt comfortable in his hands. “Sergeant!”
“Don’t you fucking ‘sergeant’ me you bastard son of a fifth-rate lousy whore! I see you, you fucker, I see you!”
In a blur, Batemann bared his teeth, snarled, and rushed at William with the knife moving for the kill. Adrenaline pumped through his veins, he could feel the world slowing down to fit, and William turned the rifle around, wielding the butt like a club. With agonising slowness, he brought it down on the outstretched wrist of Batemann, connecting with it and forcing his fist open, the knife dropping and sticking blade first in the floorboards. This would have been followed with a kick, but his legs were tangled in the skirts, so instead he took a step back to let Batemann finish his charge against the door-post.
A crack. Blood spurted from the man’s nose over the wooden frame, splattering on the floor dark and black in the moonlight. Unintelligible noises of anger still came from the man’s mouth, his eyes struggling to stay open with the combination of the pain and the simple fact of the broken nose. “… have ‘em all … fucking Aixlenean … bitches … you fucker!”
“Sarge, stop it!” Please stop it, “We’re guests. Guests, you idiot!”
“No!” Standing again, using the wall for support, blood spreading across the plaster walls, “No! No, you don’t get to… No!”
“Eponine, for fuck’s sake, get your friend out of here!” William gestured as best he could, but Eponine seemed to have read the situation, taking her friend in both arms and pulling her naked body to the relative safety of the other side of the room. “Sarge, I will fight you. Stop this.”
“Oho! True colours, eh, Willy boy? You little fraternising shit! I’ll fucking eat you. Scum! Vasquez bastard!”
The butt of William’s rifle silenced the rant with another sickening crack, followed by the dull thump of it winding the sergeant, bringing him to the floor, and then pile-driving into the spine to end the matter once and for all. Only half-conscious, Batemann spat out a tooth and then settled for rasping breathing with occasional blood specks leaking with his breath and firing beyond the expanding pool near his face. The rest of his body did not move.
“Bloody Hell!” Pablo had arrived at the door.
“Tell your one to get the others out of here, we need to get away before the red tops are on us,” breathing was hard and heavy, breath hot on his body, sweat warmed and adrenaline flowing. All was well: all was down to fate now. “You get our things. We’re leaving.”
“Just fucking do it, soldier!” barked William, “You speak their bloody language, get talking to them. Tell them anything you bloody well like. Then get our things. I’ll carry the Sarge.”
Training took over: both of them had been in too many battles for anything else. “Sir.” Pablo fell into Aixlenean and began to usher the women from the room, calming noises being made by Eponine and the elder one.
One last look at the body and the mess was followed by a cleansing intake of air, then a clumsy stripping to remove the dress. “Stupid oaf.” A well-aimed kick to the stomach was rewarded with a low, animal-like groan. Then he stooped and pulled the dead-weight of the sergeant onto his back before staggering from the room, rifle still in hand to use as a walking stick.
The room was a hive of activity and there was a kettle on a lit stove. Pablo was sorting through the different articles of their still wet uniforms, “If we had ‘til morning-”
“We don’t. Get dressed. Where’s mine?”
“Goes home naked. Hand me the jacket.” The body was dropped by the table, heavily, another groan and some more flecks of blood. “Your letter.” Torn from the pocket and handed back. “Thank you, it was a fair whack, I haven’t read it.” William dressed quickly, quicker than Pablo managed who was still wearing the shocked expression and eying the bleeding sergeant.
“Drunk. Raving. He had the wind up.” The buttons were stiff after the softness of the dress, the whole uniform itchy and staid. “Tell them anything. They need to report it. Blame anyone, I don’t care.”
He was aware of Eponine’s eyes upon him too, watching and staring with a mixture of respect and fear. The elder woman was watching the kettle as conspicuously as possible while the sergeant’s choice was quietly rocking and whimpering in one of the chairs, the towel that he had been in now being put to use to warm her.
“They haven’t said anything at all. Not t’me at any rate. Your one seems in charge.”
“Always was. First rule of battle isn’t it? Non-coms are who you go to for actual command. We’re leaving.”
“We. Are. Leaving. Now, get your things, soldier!”
Pablo almost saluted, caught himself, and then started down the stairs. Taking up the limp sergeant on his back again, William made to follow.
He paused, but did not look back.
“Merci. Adieu et bon chance.”
Hefting the body higher, William took the stairs as quickly as he dared, rifle clutched in his spare hand, and then took the lead to the river. He did not look back, he never looked back, and Pablo asked no further questions.