Andy Brookes

Gold Star - 22,916 Points (11 May 1954 / Macclesfield)

Journeys End - Poem by Andy Brookes

Journeys End
The tables outside the bars and brassiere were empty. The warm Autumn day had changed and the evening was settling in, cold and windy with blustery showers which sent leaves scuttling across the square and people to shelter of their homes. Through the windows of the cafes some old men seemed to prop up the bar drinking brandy and coffee or the black bitter treacle that passes for such in France. I was reluctant to enter the cafe but equally not wishing to return to the pension. The Madam who owned it was a small finely boned woman who could be anywhere between sixty and eighty dressed in widows black her white hair in a chignon. A small sparrow of a woman with bright dark eyes which looked into your soul but cheerful and welcoming. We sheltered RAF pilots during the war she said in stilted English but she was fluent enough. I like the English she said as if to reassure me when I arrived hot off the train and tired. I had attempted to communicate in bad French, why we English are so bad a languages I'll never know perhaps because now English is the lingua franca. I think really because of Empire and our laziness. Oh yes we English are a lazy lot but I hear already the indignant cries from my fellow countrymen and women. The truth I had watched her wince and my brave attempts at French but I had mangled the language so badly that maybe Madam thought it better we speak in English and the story of RAF pilots a white lie to so as not to offend.

Reluctantly I head for the cafe to Gallic stares a small village always aware of new comer they probably already knew who I was the grape vine as efficient as the internet and maybe more accurate. The old men stared not unkindly but in that French way which is hard to explain unless you're familiar with it. Smoke hung in the air from the rolled cigarettes clamped between the lips of these grizzled ancients. France has a smoking ban but no one pay attention. Sometimes playing lip service to the law one side it labeled non smoking but in truth there is no separation apart from this. The French hate rules and go there own sweet way if they can. They nod at me and then return to their conversation I make out English but their speech it too quick for me to grasp. I take my coffee and brandy to the window and sit at one of the old tables which could have sat painters sipping Absinthe from a Toulouse Lautrec painting. I take a sip of the tarry substance then shudder and take a gulp of brandy. Maybe, the thought crosses my mind, that's why they always drink it with the accompaniment of spirits, to take always its taste.

I looked across the square which was now lit by weak street lights which would not be out of place in a Impressionist painting. The church which took up almost the other side of the square with the house of the Abbe attached. I remember we looked at it in brighter days when we had hope. Then we spoke of it in terms of fantasy both knowing we would never see it together. It kept the reality of our situation at bay. Maybe if we thought of the future, you would have one. We were however only deceiving ourselves with a pretty fiction which sustained us in darker moments. You'd seen this old Ville in a holiday brochure and fallen in love with it. Your French was impeccable you would have fitted right in with your Gallic looks and savoir faire against my rather up tight, tongue tied middle class Englishness. We were planning such adventures when we retired, alas it was not to be. Maybe we would have got married as the law now permitted for us to become Mr and Mr. Who knows? Still I kept my promise and came here and to all the other places as you wanted me to.

I walked into the church this morning, it was very Catholic, smelling of incense and candles but it was beautiful non the less. Clean lines with small side chapels and a beautiful rood screen. The tall clear glass lancet window let the light flood in. A few medieval tombs, that had not survived the years well, the effigies missing a nose or a few fingers and still bearing small vestiges of paint. There was a beautiful statue of the Virgin in stone, which looked as old as the church with faint traces of blue and red still adhering to the hem of her robe. Her right foot which jutted out, her leg slightly bent as if she was ready to descend into the aisle, was worn with a centuries of pious fingers asking for her intersession with the deity. Below it was a frame with devotional candles burning in devotion or remembrance. I lit one for you. Saying a little prayer and the feeling a hypocrite. How you're atheistic heart would have rebelled at that act of devotion. Still it made me feel better and a calm came over me. Was it a religious experience? I could not say but being agnostic at best I'm not sure.

Somehow in this the last destination in my pilgrimage of places we had planned to go before you left for the next destination, where ever that maybe, for rarely do the dead return, if ever, to tell us. So it seems that after all the grief and pain I have found an accommodation. While your memory fades into soft washed water colours and I only remember the good in you, though like us all, you had your faults as I have mine. So now though the pain will always remain as a dull accustomed ache, I have at last found peace in a small Ville in northern France a blip on the map but where at last I found salvation on a cold blustery Autumn day..

Topic(s) of this poem: redemption


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Poem Submitted: Saturday, November 28, 2015



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