The lilacs on Pepin's white dress held up well even if Pepin had not. The purple petals stood out against the white silk dress. Pepin stood out in the forest of oaks and shrubs growing along the sunlit path. The lilacs were still fresh, picked in the early morning, and three short twigs stuck to Pepin's breast with a pin she got from her grandmother's purse.
Pepin meant to use the lilacs and the dress and herself, but never had the chance. Her lover had already gone to the front the night before-saying he'd wait for her in the morning. Telling her so many things she believed. She didn't believe anything he said anymore, least of all that he would come back from the war alive.
Pepin looked behind her, craning her neck to watch her body swing from the branch of the tree. The rope she hung from swung back and forth, rubbing up against the bough causing the unnatural grinding noise in the air. She was in an absolutely delightful mood now as the day crept on. It was strange watching herself like this-her once beautiful face turning a strange pallor of blue and green. Her feet pointed straight down and so did her nose as the bones in her neck began to crack and break. She was settling.
Pepin liked this much more than the lies her lover told her before going off to war. She even had the lilacs on her breast, the pin still intact-not the Pepin dangling from the oak holding her off the ground. You would have to be looking up in the air to see her floating. She was really flying now-twenty six feet from toe to dead leaf. Pepin remembered how her mother had always scolded her.
You'll fall and break your neck if you keep climbing those trees!
She had fallen and broken her neck and the irony flooded Mary with more exuberance. What could she do? Where could she go? She was absolutely free now!
Think of the possibilities, Pepin!
"Pepin, Pepin, where are you hiding?"
Pepin spun on her heels towards the voice. It was a subtle voice. One she had known well; and she had known the man behind the voice, too-in every sense of the word. Pepin watched, standing in the open underneath her hanging corpse, waiting for the voice and the man to walk onto the path.
"Pepin!" He called out again. "It's Gilbert. Your Gram told me you'd be out here. She said you were waiting for me-that you were absolutely heart broken when you heard I left early."
Pepin wanted so desperately to call out. Her voice wouldn't budge an inch. Her lips wouldn't open a single centimeter. Her tongue was heavy in the back of her mouth.
"It's ok, Pepin. I had only gone to town to get the last of what I needed for my trip. I had every intention of coming back to see you before I left...I just hadn't expected you to wake so early."
Gilbert finally stepped onto the path and scanned the forest floor for any sign of his lover. Butterflies swarmed in his stomach, trying to flutter right out of his throat. He had to get back. He couldn't let anything hold him up and by now he'd have to run the entire two miles back to Pepin's grandmother's just to get his horse. He had never intended to walk this far. He expected to find Pepin not far from home, waiting for him as always. He was drawn deep into the oak forest by Pepin's absence.
He caught the sent of lilacs in the wind. And then something else, something underneath the flowers that were Pepin's trademark. The scent of the lilacs got his heart beating faster-his genitals coming to life as they always did when the scent neared his nose. But the smell underneath the flowers was raw-wasteful.
He put his hand to his nose, protecting himself from the faint smell and said, "Pepin come out, I have to go home and finish getting ready."
Sun glinted through the canopy atop dead oak leaves scattered across the ground. He looked up to find the source of the scent of lilacs and also of the waste. It was not the beautiful elegant Pepin he knew but a horrid scene dangling from a bough as high as the top of Pepin's grandmother's home. A thin line of brown led down the back of Pepin's leg and the eyes bulged from Pepin's head. He took the view in, standing tall. Gilbert had been to the front before and had seen many things, but the sight of the girl he was set to marry on his return from his second tour of duty unsettled him completely.
My daughter will not be widowed so young, Pepin's father told the anxious Gilbert six months before. Pepin will marry you upon your return.
It was a short and direct statement that made no difference. Pepin was the one to die. Gilbertwas the one left alone in the world.
Pepin stood erect, wailing under a near tree. She called out for Gilbert several times but to no avail. She looked up at herself hanging in the tree and cursed the body dangling with so much disrespect to the living.
"Gilbert, oh my Gilbert. Please, Gilbert!" The drama came easily from her loose mouth. The realization was coming to life. Her father was so certain the Germany's cause was lost-that her lover would not return to them...not even in a casket.
Pepin wouldn't have it. She was determined to gather her strength and receive his attention. Nothing would separate them. Not even death-not his death in the battle field or her death from the end of the rope. She screamed out again-begged God and Gilbert both. Her yells were nothing short of orgasmic tirades. She was a banshee-she failed. She slapped her soft hands together and cried out again, and then just cried.
Gilbert sat down for a second underneath his lover's corpse. He was fighting off waives of nausea, striking one after another. The butterflies had turned to blizzards in his tried belly. This would cause him to miss his train-he could not possibly go to the front yet. He had to tell Pepin's Gram and her parents. Rage brewed inside of Gilbert now. He would have to be there for the funeral. He had to show that he really truly loved her-it was the only way. If the silly Doughboys won it wouldn't be because little Gilbert had not shown up. And he would show up, but only late. Gilbert got to his feet and began to run.
"Gilbert you fool!" Pepin screamed. She chased him now-fleet footed like the deer she watched each evening. "Come back, you fool! I'm here. See me!"
Pepin nearly tripped over her own feet in her rush to escape the clearing where her body hung. She saw Gilbert in front of her, was almost to his side, could almost reach out and grasp him-and if she did, she'd be his forever and ever. Her fingers were there. She only had to dive.
Pepin did dive but not by her own feet. It was like being shoved in the back by a great force. As if God himself had come to earth to push her into the dried oak leaves. She scrambled to her feet quickly but as she pushed up from her knees, the sounds of Gilbert's hurried steps died into the other sounds of the forest.
She was alone. Her lover fled. Pepin made a mistake and begged endlessly for it to be revoked from reality-for her to wake up and all of this be just a bad dream. Pepin pushed forward, to follow Gilbert to her home. She wanted to see her Gram again and her father and mother.
Pepin couldn't move another step forward. She looked back, seeing that her swinging body-moving back and forth in the late autumn breeze-was still in sight. She wanted to get away from it now. It was a curse. No longer something to mock and act as though it had been shed for better fields. She no longer smelled the lilacs, and as she moved her hand to her breast, no longer felt them. The purple flowers were gone from her white dress. Pepin made the slow, teary eyed walk back to her corpse, to find that it was leering at her. She looked up to find the lilacs stuck to her dangling body.
She no longer smelled the beautiful scent, but smelled the refuse from her body. Pepin was alone without even the flowers she loved. Even after Gilbert brought her father back with him and took her body down, leaving without so much of a word to the forest that claimed Pepin's soul. Time passed and Pepin was not able to venture away from the oak tree. She stayed long after the tree itself had been torn down by winds and young saplings replaced it. Her only retrieve from the torments of eternity were the lilac seeds dropped from her dress when her lover and father took her body away. They grew in the fallen ashes of the old oak-they grew for her and they were beautiful.
She was beautiful within the purple and she shared them with the world and her lover-buried in the French country side with lilacs scenting his corpse.
© Copyright 2017 Justin Schwan. All rights reserved.
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