The Ballad of Marie-Augustine

Submitted into Contest #106 in response to: Write a story about a character who takes nothing for granted.... view prompt


Historical Fiction Sad Speculative

Marie took nothing for granted, especially the love she felt for her family.

The grey clouds of mist and steam slowly parted to reveal the clearest blue sky Marie-Augustine had ever seen, or would ever see again. And slowly, then suddenly, sound, consciousness and reality hit her as equally as hard as the masonry, in fact the train, that so violently had, just moments before.   

Her eyes began to scour the intricate detail of each brick that the masons had so delicately, and skillfully, carved onto each and every square inch of the architectural marvel before her… The Garre de l’Oueste rail station. Each elegant letter of the flowing font began slowly, than sharply, to come into focus. The building had always been the crown jewel of the 14th District of Paris, ever since it had been erected over fifty years earlier. In fact, it was here, where Marie and her husband made their livelihood selling papers. So in retrospect, this massive edifice and its daily inhabitants, that now seemed so irrelevant in the severity of the situation, had in fact provided them a steady income. This eventually allowed them the prosperity afforded to a fruitful family, including two sweet children, Eleanor and Jacques. But Marie’s mind once again began drifting… gliding… sailing along…

Then she began to hear, vividly this time, scrambled voices, and high-pitched chatter among the fervor of the frantic. Being an extremely proper woman, she was a bit ashamed at the humor she found in hearing God’s name called out, more times than ever, on Easter in the Paris Basilica, and often times in vain. It was odd how this rule against its flippant use, given current circumstances, seemed irrelevant. Then as her cognizant mind started to piece the events together, she slowly, and in reverse, relived the horrific events leading up to her current predicament. 

But then, something odd struck her. Laugh, if you may, at the pun, but no it wasn’t as odd as the slickly-crafted, and adored, steam locomotive, Engine No. 120-721 that had struck her just moments before. In fact, the engine was the very next thing to come to rest on her tiny frame, near seconds after the falling masonry. But no, as odd as that was, it was not as odd as what she noticed next. As she slowly turned her head to the left, she saw her very own shoes in a V-shaped formation exactly forty-five degrees, and they were just a few feet away from her very own face. Now normally that wouldn’t be that odd at all, except for the mere fact that they were still dutifully attached to the feet, which were indeed resting snuggly in the comfortable shoes ,which in turn, were still attached to the legs, all of which belonged to our very own Marie-Augustine. Marie didn’t feel any pain. In fact, at that very moment, she didn’t feel anything at all. She reasoned that they were absolutely her shoes as she recognized the square buckle, peg heel and the dandelions she had so carefully picked from the garden that very morning. She had quickly fastened the flowers to her stockings before she again began her morning chores. The whole thing was very odd indeed. Oh, where is Enre?, she thought.  She was sure he would have the ability to sort this all out for her. Enre?…, the mind again began to drift to more pressing matters. Enre, the very thought of his name, gave her a sense of dread in the pit of her stomach. Why was that?, she wondered. Oh yes; There it was. The memories suddenly came flooding back. Yes that was it. Enre.

Nearly clear across the country, in the tiny hamlet of Granville, the Engineer, Guillarme Marie Pellerini, meticulously prepared the stylish locomotive, just like he had done every morning for the last nineteen years before. It was exactly seven hours and seventeen minutes before he would even meet Marie-Augustine, for the first, and last, time, but that was exactly seven minutes more than he cared for it to be. Guillarme had been so punctually reliable, in fact, that his trusty crew often joked that it was the Swiss clockmakers that set their gears to him, not the other way around. 

Conductor, Albert Mariette, checked all the cars one last time; This included the locomotive itself, three luggage cars, a postal van and eight passenger carriages. That alone, easily added an additional seven minutes. That is thirty seconds for each car, and a full minute for the locomotive, according to Guillarme’s calculations. He was furious, as he had never acquiesced to being so late in his entire career. Guillarme was sure he could make up some of that time on the track, but now they were really pressing their luck, even baring any additional delays, on the track itself. 

“Check the Westinghouse break!”, Guillarme screamed in an East Parisian accent to Yves Le Goff, the Co-Conductor, spitting crumbs of baguette, as he frantically gestured with raised voice.  

“She’s crackly, but good enough” the thirty-nine year old co-conductor retorted to his ornery superior. He dared not push Guillarme’s limits, as everyone knew how seriously he took leaving on time. But, in fact, both knew the Westinghouse break didn’t matter much as the Railway Company had previously banned its use for the stoppage of trains; They were always trying to pinch a few francs by not having to replace warn break shoes caused by the laziness of the conductors. 

Yves finally called the “All aboard!” to the last straggling passengers, including the ambling Mr. Baudin who always seemed to wait until the very last possible moment to board the train. The pudgy sausage of a man, had once got stuck in a confined space, and had since developed a fear of them. 

Guillarme quickly jotted the date in the Engineer’s log, 22 October 1895, right next to the well-past scheduled departure time 9:01 a.m.. He underlined the time three times, and on the last he did it so hard the lead of his pencil snapped from the wood itself. With an ear-splitting blow of the whistle, and a great bellow of steam from the bowels of the great belly of the beast, the Granville-Paris Express was finally on its way. This was, however, a whopping sixteen minutes later than its’ scheduled departure. Guillarme-Marie knew he would have to do everything in his power to make it as close to the 3:55 p.m. scheduled arrival time as possible.

Enre! Marie-Agustine couldn’t stop thinking about him. Where had the marriage gone wrong? He may not think she had noticed, but whether subconsciously or not, he had left a rose-scented handkerchief in his double-breasted suit pocket. Perhaps it was raising their children, that didn’t give her time to give him the affection he so longed for. Perhaps it was the unintentional, yet somewhat condescending, way she referred to him as her third child. It was, at the very least, a bit emasculating in his eyes. Perhaps it was all the time she gave to washing clothes, feeding the family, and cleaning the home that drained her of any and all energy, much less the desire to be intimate with him. Whatever it was, it had a caused a separation that had grown significantly wider, particularly in the last six months since she had found the feminine article in his clothes. She never liked rose perfume, and certainly, could not herself, afford such a lavish silk piece from the coast of Siam. So although she really wanted to believe it was hers, she, regrettably, was quite certain it was not. Nonetheless, like many wives before and after her, she chose to turn a blind eye to the indiscretion. Most likely she did this to protect the children from any anguish it may cause them, but also because she simply did not have the gumption —not even once in her 39 years— to be the aggressor in a potentially confrontational situation. But now the silence boiled inside her, much like the steam had in old #721, before it decided to entangle its own existence so closely with Marie-Augustine’s. From this day forth, the world would view the two as inseparable. Which is ironically the only way Marie had ever wanted her marriage to Enre to seem. 

Enre, for his part, was never really fit to be a father in the first place. Something he readily denied. He was nomadic by nature, and had only settled down with Marie-Augustine because he couldn’t resist the very purity, innocence, dedication and loyalty that would eventually cause them to grow apart. But ever since they met, she had given these things to him, unconditionally. But once the intercourse between man and wife had stopped, the couple could no longer nurtured the bond between them needed in order to progress and mature the relationship, as it had done up until that point. Instead like a wayward puppy, Enre’s attentions soon veered to the newest and next toy, which just so happened to be wrapped in lace and frills, and the scent of chemically altered Parisian roses.

That fateful morning, Marie-Augustine did what she did every morning for nearly the past decade. She rose before the sun itself, washed, cleaned and pressed the clothes for her children and husband, and then diligently bathed them and sent them to school. She had only stopped for a brief moment to put three dandelions above her square buckles. This was the precise moment when a groggy, late-sleeping Enre, had barked for his breakfast. The timing couldn’t have been worse, and the selfless Marie-Augustine, even felt guilty, for allowing herself the extra thirty-seconds of flower picking time. After Enre was properly fed, and only then, was she really able to start her long day of chores and housekeeping. Something the children took for granted and Enre, never once even in jest, thanked her for. As Enre grabbed one of the copies of Le Journal Illustre, from the stack he would sell at the train station that very day, he tersely kissed the cheek of the hard-working Marie-Augustine, barely noticing her. 

“You mind watching the kiosk for a few minutes this afternoon? Le Libertaire can’t deliver the evening edition today, so I have to go pick them up. You don’t mind do you, dear?”, he implored.

Of course, she had already meticulously planned every minute of her daily routine, just like she always did. What’s more, she knew it was a blatant lie, but ever the dutiful wife, she didn’t dare question Enre on it. 

“Yes, dear.”, came the sullen reply.

“Merci”, he said out of the side of his mouth, as he gleefully bounded out the door like a schoolboy on Christmas Eve. His plan had worked perfectly, without so much as the slightest hitch.

Earlier that morning fifty-nine year old Bernard Terrangle obsessed about making the 4pm tram to the Place del’Etoile, which embarked just below the train station on the cobblestoned Place de Rennes. Now, most men of his age were busy chasing trams to horse tracks, or illegal gambling dens. Some merely chased women more than half their age into relationships that didn’t ever even have a chance of getting off the ground. Bernard was chasing a woman too, but unlike his counterpart, Enre, this woman was nearly 1/10 his age and was, in fact, his granddaughter, Ely. You see, like most men, Bernard realized that age had a sobering way of reminding one that life, itself, was fleeting. However, Bernard found a way to side-step this intrinsic fact; A loophole if you will. You see, previously, he had a blind-siding revelation that, in fact, the only way one could stay young, is to pass on your wisdom, your very spirit, to the next generation. In this way, your vitality would live on through them forever. And what better way to capture youth than to indulge in its innocent frivolities. It is for this very reason that Bernard had chosen to enroll in mime classes and for this exact reason, indeed, that he must be on that 4pm tram to Place del’Etoile. That was the very place where an art troupe practiced the works of Jean-Gaspard Deburau himself, or “The People’s Pierrot” as he was famously called.

But Bernard would not make that tram today. No, instead he would get a sobering kick in the face, reminding him what little time he had left to pass on his experiences to little Ely. A quit literal kick in the face, from the train’s Fireman, Victor Garnier, who had leaped to his sure demise before the train hit the brick wall, at a startling sixty-six kilometers per hour, before it careened twelve meters to the tram track below, and now comfortably rested on Marie Augustine’s fused-together organs. Bernard lie there entwined with Victor quit visibly shaken, but not due to his injuries, nor to the fact that a grown man was now wrapped around him like a python mating a pretzel, but to the mere disconcerting fact that he missed his tram ride to future clown glory. Unlike, Marie, his miming career could wait. But right now, he would be infamously known for the picture the Levy Brothers were taking of his entangled body, not his budding juggling skills.

But unlike the train was ever able to do, let’s back our tale up a bit. To that very moment when Engineer Guillarme Marie Pellerini realized that not only would he not meet his 3:55pm arrival time, nor would he be able to stop in time to kiss the buffer stop on track No. 6. No, it would be quite the contrary. Conductor Mariette, as well, was too busy filling out his paperwork, last minute, to realize the error in the train’s speed. Like every time before, he assumed the Engineer had “everything on track” and that he could spend his time during the seven-plus-hour trip chatting up attractive, and newly wealthy, specimens of the opposite gender. So when he went to pull the Westinghouse brake, it quite nearly came off in his hand. For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction, and this time in came in the form of a fully-loaded locomotive careening over a hundred feet, through a two foot wall, across a terrace, and down onto the Place de Rennes twelve meters below. Eventually they would pay a combined, mere 75 francs for their incompetence, and avoid any imprisonment. Incompetent? Definitely. Malicious? Probably not. Enter Enre. Blissfully unaware of his duties as father and husband, he scurried off to his mistress’ chambers for an afternoon romp. He blatantly lied to his wife, the former woman of his dreams, mother of his children, confidant and friend, in order that he might spend time with a woman, who other than her love of rose perfume, he knew absolutely nothing about. But was he to blame, or was he just fulfilling his duty as procreator of the species?; Perhaps another story, for another time. But on this day what would await him on his return to the station is a crowd of on-lookers, and injured personnel. Including, over a hundred passengers, press, police and emergency technicians. And now, as if to pay her back for all the years that he had ignored her, they all, each and every one, were focused solely on Marie Augustine. 

Marie looked up, wondering why everything seemed so pink. Enre didn’t have the heart to tell her it was the blood that now flowed freely through the orbits of her eyes. Marie could barely think outside of abstract thoughts, as her mind came in and out of consciousness. She freely associated the pink, in her sight, with the rose scent of her competitor’s perfume. But how could she ever hate this woman, whom she had never even known? In the purity of her parting thoughts, she imagined that under other circumstances, they might had even become great friends, and exchanged recipes of baked crumpets and the ever-complicated science of tea steeping. But alas, her mind suddenly jolted her back into reality, with the weight and ferocity of a fully-loaded passenger train. 

Enre edged closer to hear the words that Marie was so anxiously trying to get out of her pursed lips. He knelt beside her, feeling every bit as much of a man, in size, as the earth when compared with Jupiter.

“Le…. Le…”, she began.

“Yes dear. What is it, my love?” He beckoned, acting out the role of dutiful husband with as much enthusiasm as he had done on their wedding night.

“Li…. Liber… Liber”, she belched an unsightly bubble of blood.

Enre clasped his hands so tight, until his knuckles had turned ashen grey, then blue. His body heaved in large sobs, as the tears came down in torrential droves upon her face.

“Yes my sweet. Freedom. You have it now. Be free… be free…”

The look in her eyes could not have been more defiant, as Marie pointed her bloodied finger, now more corpse-like than ever to the newsstand; Her newsstand, behind him. There, Enre’s eyes, darted to the front page of the evening edition of “Le Libertaire”, which had in fact been delivered, in person, quit some time ago within the four hours that her body had laid in twain. 

At once, a wave of remorse, no on contrary, of unadulterated GUILT, poured over Enre’s broken spirit. But when he turned to ask forgiveness from his wife with his tearful eyes, instead, he was met with the stone-cold grimace that would be forever plastered on her mortal countenance, and in his nightmares, forever.

August 14, 2021 03:43

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Jon Casper
11:26 Aug 14, 2021

The characters are vibrant and complex, and I love the chaotic way you wove these people together into a tight, engaging story. The ending was superb.


Jude S. Walko
14:10 Aug 14, 2021

Jon what a compliment. Thank you so much for taking the time. Really appreciate that!


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