Last Words(from The Pain and Gain Chronicle)
My mother said my first words were ‘It’s not fair’. I doubt if it was a comment on the world in general or the colour of her hair. First words signify nothing other than the burping of wind. I wonder if she turned me upside down.
Last words, on the other hand, ought to mean something, a final statement to the left behind. I question Karl Marx’s (to his house-keeper), ‘Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough’. Surely, face to face with extinction or immortality, there is something to be said. It’s never too soon to consider what that might be for me.
It is Mayday thirty years from now, and I, a notorious French speaker, aged a hundred, am passing away from usage normal, surrounded by the Acadėmie Française in its final session, all forty laureates installed in their armchairs, with their feathers on the ready to jot down my last word in their bloc-notes. ‘May Day’, I plan to say (pronouncing it ‘Ma’ad’y) in honour of the spring in labour that’s giving birth to my death. Three times, for this venerable body is no doubt hard of hearing.
However, I would only know that my last word was understood, if at the last moment, I was looking into the eyes of someone like Arletty, alias Garance (Les Enfants du Paradis, 1946), and saw the sympathy and amusement that takes away the pain. Garance, the name of a flower, madder in English, whose red dye is an antidote to bee-stings. Alas, meeting up with Arletty is unlikely, even in the Collėge des Quatre Nations, Paris where the Immortels meet. Maybe it will be reflected in the collective nod. Though the odd wink will contain a doubt. Are they just being professionally nice? Still, official recognition is something. I’m dying at peace with my amour-propre.
And so, it’s May Day, the first day of summer, and my last. But the planned last word does not ‘obey my call’. and it comes out M’aidez. M’aidez, M’aidez. Help, Help, Help. Sure, I’m beyond help with my French approximations, my besetting sin. But I don’t care anymore. I only want to mark the occasion pėle-mėle, in order to get the procession underway. The Champs Elysées has opened up its boulevards for my cortege. The Fanfare band, Les Rondons, who umpha-ed me forty years ago at the Arles Riz festival, strike up ‘Les Flots Bleus’ (the unofficial national anthem of France which has the same tune as ‘When you are in love’). On reaching the Arc de Triomphe the Rondons, mellow into ‘Ce n’est qu’un au revoir, mes fréres’ (a transcription of 'Auld Lang Syne'), and steady themselves to belt out the finale:
‘Debout les damnė de la terre.
Debout les forcats de la faim.
La raison tonne en son craté.
C’est l’ėruption de la fin.’
Stand up, the damned of the earth.
Stand up, the prisoners of hunger.
Reason thunders its volcano.
This is the eruption of the end.
As the ‘Internationale’ echoes across Paris, a sweet old man with a modest smile takes the salute. Cue to drop dead. Tout le monde crie, ‘Hourra’.
The laurel leaf design on the laureates’ gowns blossoms red.