Clean. White. Sheets.
An excerpt from our highly-unacclaimed novel, Night Drew Her Sable Cloak...
They are not long, the weeping and the laughter.
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.
Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam
By Ernest Dowson
[JB: Following is an excerpt from our second, highly-unacclaimed novel, Night Drew Her Sable Cloak, now available to Modern Flâneur members for download in the Books Section at the top of the page.
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Clean. White. Sheets.
By Joel Bowman
The Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, first described the symptoms of eclampsia in the 5th Century BC. He observed the rapid onset of bolt-like maternal convulsions and, indeed, the term itself, éklamps(is), derives from the Greek word for lightning, or “sudden flash of light.” Zeus only knows what frightful conditions his patient found herself in at that time, what filth and ignorance and terror filled the atmosphere as the horrified onlookers stood helplessly by their loved one’s side. Hippocrates attributed the condition to a disturbance in the “four humors” but, despite considerable advancements in medicine over the ensuing two and a half millennia, the pathophysiological causes remain largely a mystery.
All this I read about later, as I tried to piece together what had happened to my dear, my lovely, my precious Evie. In the moment, however, when the lightning first struck, there was no time for research or logic or teary retrospectives. There was panicking to be done.
It is a strange phenomenon indeed that, when your entire world is summoned into question, when your oh-so-sure footing slips from beneath you and you turn to see the loosened rocks disappearing into the fathomless cavern below, your mind does not necessarily go to the places you might expect. There comes a time for deep philosophizing, of course, for profound meditation and Kubler-Ross’ well-known stages of grief. But in the shock of the moment, all that goes to the wind. When confronted with an unthinkable future, it makes a certain amount of sense that the mind would seek to blanket itself in the familiar, oft-remembered past. What else could it do, when the senses are sending it messages it cannot, will not compute?
And so, as I watched the life drain out of my dear Evie, her eyes rolling back in her soft moon face as a pool of blood formed in the cotton valley between her legs, my mind focused itself not on the immediate, unthinkable danger, but on that which was palpable, graspable, simple:
Clean. White. Sheets.
My Evie was happy to economize on many things – to take a metro instead of a taxi, for instance, or to settle on Prosecco or even Cava, simulacrums of the costlier French original – but when it came to accommodations while on the road, a woman had a right to draw the line somewhere. And so Evie drew it there, right under clean. white. sheets.
One impromptu summer sojourn, a surprise to celebrate Evie’s twenty-somethingth birthday, I even went so far as to learn the phrase in French. A few expat friends had relayed uninspiring stories regarding Tunisia’s budget accommodations, so I wanted to make sure I had at least the basics covered. Return flights from Dubai (where we were then residing) would be straightforward enough, but who knew what the Carthaginian hoteliers had in store for unsuspecting tourists of limited linguistic alacrity? (Arabic and the local Tunisian dialect having proven out-of-the-question-difficult.) And so, along with “une chambre avec douche” and “quelque chose avec une vue,” I committed “draps blancs propres,” to memory, neatly filed under “hotel vocabulary.”
“Oui, oui,” the réceptionniste d’hôtel assured us on arrival to his (ahem...) establishment. He employed one sun-leathered hand to swat away any remaining doubts while, into the other, he received my credit card. “Draps très blancs, Monsieur, très propres.”
At a snap of the man’s fingers, a hotel flunkey appeared and promptly relieved us of our luggage. Our room, with the promised view and aforementioned linens, would be ready later that afternoon.
“Enough time to visit the baths?” Evie enthused.
“I suspected you might say that. Yes, of course, Dear.”
So we spent the golden afternoon wandering the ancient Roman thermae, the cool Mediterranean breeze washing over our perspiring brows. Evie was in her element. Happily I followed as she held forth on Antoninus Pius and the “five good emperors,” reimagining scenes under the imperial colonnades.
“Of course, the Jews tended to contrast ‘bad Hadrian’ with ‘good Antonius,’” she sallied forth, “but just to walk in their footprints is thrilling enough for me. Why, Marcus Aurelius himself might have sat right there [pointing eagerly], under that very archway, making mental notes for his Meditations.”
There was nothing quite so rewarding as taking Evie to an ancient ruin, whether for her birthday or some other anniversary or, better still, for no occasion whatsoever, other than the ongoing celebration of life itself. She became a monument to behold in and of herself, my historical adventurer, agog among her new old surroundings, overcome with playful eagerness, backstroking in the timeless past.
“Think how the citizens must have finally felt at rest, decades of peace settling into their souls, after so many years of war and rage had emptied their blood into the seas.”
I followed Evie’s gaze out over the wine-dark waters. My own soul I felt at ageless peace besides hers. After the waning daylight forced our little expedition into retreat, we wiled away an hour or two at a café du tabac nearby the hotel. The summer heat dissolved into a few sweet rosés, and the conversation turned toward our own “imperial successors.”
I began the negotiations at six. Evie, I knew, wanted one or two, but she seemed in the mood for some impish teasing nonetheless.
“Oh, I don’t know, Love. Didn’t you hear my little Nerva–Antonine oration this afternoon? History argues pretty well for adoption, don’t you think? Recall that Marcus’ son, Commodus, was the beginning of the end for the Roman Empire. What does that say for biological progeny?”
“Yes, yes. You are too clever, my Dear,” I raised an empty glass and bowed my head in mock defeat. “But perhaps Machiavelli overlooked something in his hypothesis. You said that the predecessors to the ‘five adoptive emperors’ actually had no biological sons of their own and, as such, were forced to adopt. It was not by heavenly design, in other words, but out of human necessity that the one succeeded the other in the way they did.”
“So, you’re saying if we have a choice...”
“And we do, don’t we?”
“And what of the Commodus Factor?”
“He was a megalomaniac. Maybe his daddy didn’t love him enough. I don’t know. Anyway, that won’t be a problem in our house, I promise you.”
“So, forget Commodus?”
Evie smiled her honey-sweet smile. “Well, you sure know how to talk to a woman.”
Shortly thereafter, our heads swimming in uncut wine and ideas of succession, we were back at the petit hôtel, ringing the bell for le réceptionniste. As he was apparently nowhere to be found, it was the flunkey who saw us to our room, where he had earlier deposited our cases. The little man flicked on the lights and, before they had time to illuminate the space, scampered off into the darkness of the hallway behind us.
Evie’s sigh was audible. Not only was the room sans vue, a fact she might have overlooked for a night, but the draps blancs propres were nowhere to be seen. In their place, a filthy cot was covered in stained yellow sheets, acned with cigarette burns.
So my dear, patient Evie passed her very first night in Carthage, winning hands of bezique against her slightly embarrassed partner as he swatted horseflies and stomped on the not-occasional roach.
Clean white sheets was the very least she deserved, I recall thinking to myself at the time. And now they were sullied...
When I came to, standing in my own shoes by Evie’s hospital bedside, I found myself waving frantically at the rushing nurses.
“Draps blancs propres! Draps blancs propers!”
By then Evie had lost consciousness altogether, but still the blood kept seeping into the clean white sheets...
[JB: Night Drew Her Sable Cloak weaves together three narratives spanning an entire century... from the Spanish Flu of 1918 to the Chinese Warlord Era that followed in the 1920s... to the hospital bedside of a young mother-to-be, struggling to keep her own light alive 100 years later... to the flâneuring existence of a couple of young romantics, traversing the worlds in between...
Night Drew Her Sable Cloak is an examination of love and loss, life and death, that takes the reader from the Midwest to the Far East, Americas North and South, across Worlds Old and New.
Purchase your own hardback copy on Amazon here...
Or, if you’d prefer, join our growing literary community and download Night Drew Her Sable Cloak AND our debut, pre-award winning novel, Morris, Alive, right here...