You got the Prologue yesterday. Hereʼs a chunk of the first chapter (and itʼs a short chapter, actually). Funny. I can remember where and how I wrote a lot of this (but then, even the first words are only about four years old).
I used to always write when opportunity arose. Once I realized that opportunity did not always leave me near a computer, and once I had a good pocket notebook in which to write (I have always carried a little notebook, but the older ones were three-ring binders, and the pages werenʼt well adjusted to writing more than notes of all kinds, addresses and and ideas, and poetry. Buying the Harrodʼs notebooks while Janet and I were in London in 2002 actually got me to do real writing when I was stranded in a mall waiting for her to have more fun shopping than she would have done if I had wandered into the clothing store(s) with her (and I vividly remember composing a large chunk of “Underground” in the big multifloor downtown mall in Portland, Oregon, several summers ago — with beautiful sun pouring in all around me).
Anyway. A key section of this little reverie in a tavern came out of a community theatre party at which I wasnʼt having the best of times (that was the same night I evenutally walked home from the far edge of Maquoketa and stepped into not-quite-refrozen four-inch-deep puddles on Summit Street), and my own muddled perception at the party helped imagine Françoisʼs own thoughts.
Another untitled work in progress, I just call it The Villon Novel …
The illumination in the Pomme de Pin was never very trustworthy — a few flambeaux (two by the door, one by the barrels), a couple of candles on the “good” tables, sometimes a twist of oil-soaked grass stuck high in the back corner. The one big fireplace.
Essentially it was pretty dark, and by late evening fairly thick with smoke as well. Ventilation being a poor idea in the winter, holding warmth, even smoke, was a pleasant necessity.
François as a youth had found this dive a racy exhilaration. He failed to perceive that it was a morass from which he would not escape.
A tangled route had brought François to this scummy table in this notorious tavern on this ill-fated winter night. No candle here, far from the dancing brightness of the roaring hearth. No rushlight near either.
All the better. Darkness suited his purpose on this dark night early in a dark year. He heard the rattle of bones in the cup at another table near the farther wall. François shuddered, drawing his narrow frame closer into the corner his table crowded, ignoring, mostly, the chill of the outdoor air permeating both walls. Coins clinked: bets placed.
“Ha.” One shout of pleasure amidst indrawn breaths and hisses of dismay. François sniffed in sympathy, willing the gambling sounds away and studiously not looking up at the other table.
The bones had brought him here tonight. The price of the last dark year, his tavern year — long, dark nights huddled around the table. Wine and more wine. The dice — yellow and flashing in the red light. And his coins swiped away, lost. Again and again. Wine and more wine. Losing and losing and losing…
The times he won were bright flashes in his memory. They were bright moments at the time, too. Treasured and warm in his heart and belly. The look of envy on Colin’s face. Others licking their lips, hiding their dismay with tankards, gulping wine. Flares of anger from Guy Tabarie, who lost oftener than François. Jehan looking sour and raking the dice back angrily. Faces to be savored.
Faces to be met tonight.
Winnings never lasted. Winning just meant François bought more wine. Wine and dice: money sliding through his fingers onto the wet planks of tavern tables and so seldom ringing any coins back. Requiring more money…
At first that need meant work, tedious time in addition to his tedious studies, copying text for other students, even making illegal copies on Rue de Saint-Jacques sometimes. The work instead of his studies, scraping daylong with his always dull pens, work requiring him to spend money — ink, parchment, pens. Worked extending into the evenings he yearned to be here, drinking wine and gambling. Work that was worse than studying. Work that rewarded his efforts too little and generally too late.
Work which seemed so light when he thought of peasants wrenching rocks from fields or his nakedpate, rackhack-coughing masters shivering in their overworn threadbare patched-on-patches gowns to lecture inattentive allasleep idiots who only arouse to debate insignificant issues of irrelevant side points just to piss the master off, or bone ugly befouled and dirty, pocky, gouty, blear-eyed whores — shivering in worse garments than any master had to suffer — struggling to flaunt their eons-vanished charms to those same self-absorbed, self-importantly witty undergraduates in dark streets, puke-scented, thoroughly and throughly designed to defeat lust and sin (coughing even more than the futile wasting masters).
Still each joint between the elbow and the fingertips snarled and nagged with achepain and in the morning could scarcely twist or bend to grasp a pen. Weary aches that made taking the dicecup or goblet pleasureless effort until more wine and wine made the bones forget…
But those other bones — so carefully enumerated — never remembered and left François stumbling home alone night after night, whoreless in his innocent poverty, striding through black ways unhindered by footpads only too aware of a loser’s stagger. Still he dreaded them, those cutthroats, those alleyway bandits — dreaming of beatings in skullthrobbing notslumber night after night.
All from the dice and the wine. In the taverns. And low women and lower men, cockleshells and cuckoldry, murder and memory. All bringing him here. Tonight.
Thatʼs about half the chapter. Weʼll reserve the rest for Saturday. —Had you noticed I have been using weekends for older (this is actually quite new) writing? It rests the mind and leaves me what time I can muster for writing (now that I am at least temporarily working around having a real job again).
I get to train Census enumerators tomorrow. Wish me luck. Iʼm nervous.