It's November 1st, and the beginning of National Novel Writing Month. In keeping with the day, I'd like to introduce the newest DarwinCatholic novel: The Great War
It was the summer of 1914, and Philomene sensed that family peace was threatened by her husband’s mustache.
Henri stood, hunched slightly forward, before his shaving table. He had finished with his razor, splashed his face with the aftershave whose scent she liked so much, and now he was plying a small bristle brush in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other, shaping the mustache which he was growing back before joining his reserve regiment for summer maneuvers. His suspenders hung empty at his sides, and she could see the outline of his shoulder blades through his summer undershirt. She tried to judge if those shoulders were tense, if he was still angry. She wanted to go to him, to run a hand over those shoulders, to pull him close and say, “I love you, Henri. I do want you. I do, but--”
It was that but which hung between them, making the two paces between his shaving table and her dressing table seem a gulf.
That morning, as the sun of a summer morning had streamed in through the lace summer curtains of the bedroom, Philomene had lain awake, looking at her husband’s sleeping face, and thinking of the past. She was intensely glad that she was no longer an officer’s wife. No more long, lonely days in small lodgings in some depot town far from home. No more slights toward her accent or her religion from other officer’s wives. And yet, seeing the mustache again, Philomene felt herself drawn back twelve years: Mademoiselle Philomene Mertens on an easter-season visit to Paris, and the army officer with his mustache and crisp blue and red uniform who had approached her as she sipped coffee in a cafe and bowed to her with a smile she never after that moment forgot.
With those memories stirring in her that morning, she had pulled him close and woken him with a kiss, a kiss which he had returned and responded to. For some blissful moments she had felt at one with him, both remembering, both close, both feeling -- until, with his increasing pressure against her, she realized that he thought she had changed her mind. For an instant she’d felt betrayal in that gentle thrusting pressure, a betrayal that made her want to cry in frustration. Surely he could understand that she wanted to be close without wanting that? As quickly she pushed away her irritation with him, feeling angry with herself instead. She knew this path so well, and its inevitable end. Why did she insist each time on setting out upon it, believing that it could be enjoyed without leading to its unwanted destination?
She’d pushed him gently away, rolled over to turn her back, and then drawn his arm around her.
“I’m sorry, Henri.”
She could feel him pressed against her back, but he was still now. He did not reply.
She put his hand to her lips and kissed it. “I’m so sorry. I can’t have it happen again this year.”
Still no words. Then a gentle kiss on the back of her neck, and she felt him throw off the bedclothes and get out of bed. She knew he must be angry with her, must think her a teasing woman to have pulled him close and yet not wanted it -- not wanted what he wanted. Tears were misting her vision and she blinked them away. She did want him, and she wished there was some way to express that feeling to him in a way that would not cause him more frustration. And yet more than anything she wanted to avoid what had happened last year. Last year, in the month before his reserve duty she had given herself entirely over to her feelings. And what had followed? The loneliness of fatigue and nausea during four seemingly endless weeks of Henri’s absence. And two months later, the long night of cramps and blood and sobbing on Henri’s shoulder as that child, whose arrival she had half-resented until it was torn from her, was lost.
She had three precious children, the sounds of whose breakfast were just audible from downstairs. Three children God had given her to raise and all the cares and duties that went with them. Surely at thirty-seven He didn’t ask her to risk fear and pain and heartbreak again. She was too old. And so the image of Captain Fournier and his uniform and his mustache and the way he looked at Mademoiselle Philomene Mertens must be put from her mind.
Read the rest of the section on the novel's website.
The cruelest month, a few days early
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