Monday, November 3, 2014

Episode 13 | Taboo

I had never felt so connected to nature, not like on the Île du Blanchomme, and at least not since my teenage years helping my grandfather in the fields on the Apennines. 

I had never felt so connected to nature, not like on the Île du Blanchomme, and at least not since my teenage years helping my grandfather in the fields on the Apennines. 

And my meditation sessions seemed to increase that connection to all forms of life, its rhythms of birth and death, no birth and no death. The stars that could have died eons ago and were still blinking at me seemed to confirm eternity, made of a sequence of present moments.

I finished each session by praying.

May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes, 

May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes, 

May all sentient beings never be separated from bliss without suffering,

May all sentient beings live in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.

"So you've taken up meditation, Carlo?"

I did not startle as Armand was suddenly by my side. Over the years I had grown accustomed to his inaudible footsteps, as if he floated around in a cloud instead of walking. I had learned to sense his warm proximity and presence, more than hear him approaching, as we normally do with most people, who are usually so noisy.

"Haven't you?" I replied, serenely. If Armand hadn't spoken, I don't think I would have found the courage to interrupt the immense silence of the nights on the Île du Blanchomme, that I was starting to revere.

I think I have already mentioned it to you, Laurent -- my interest about these practices were aroused by that wonderful book on India I'd read. But having begun as an artistic curiosity, I guess it evolved more into an intellectual interest, very theoretical. I only and actually learned meditation when Armand returned from his first trip to India. In three months of vacations, he had been to several ashrams, done different retreats under the orientation of various gurus, and happily, enthusiastically shared with me some techniques he had learned. Most important, he communicated me his motivation and inspiration to meditate and free himself from all forms of suffering.

Armand slowly and silently lowered himself to sit by my side on the soft sand. "I have, Carlo. Oh yes, I have." His sweet smile shone in the darkness. "Meditating has brought me the fruits of a deeper calm, and greater awareness. It has broadened my understanding and aroused compassion in me. I no longer feel the need to change the world, when I can see it changing inside myself, the way I see and experience it. And I no longer need to try change my parents... I am learning to respect and love them the way they are, no matter how far from the ideal parents -- and family -- I wish I had had... And I'm beginning to feel acceptance towards myself, too. I am even starting to detach myself from that image of the ideal son I had to live up to..."

"That's another reason why I need to be present for my mother's death..." Armand took a deep breath, and after he had exhaled, he resumed his sharing with renewed sincerity. "I'll confront my father, peacefully confront him, and inform him about his ideal son's death..." As I heard Armand say those words, I shivered. "This will be another victory for my mother. My father might be happy over her death, but he'll suffer from his ideal son's death." Armand smiled to himself, and I must have been staring at him so terrified with the prospect that his words contained, that he amended "I am not going to die, Carlo, don't misunderstand me! Just my ideal image is. I have no intention of building palaces any longer, nor going into restoration anymore, my friend. I never had. It wasn't my heart's wish, but my father's will that I've taken as an obligation. In India, I've found what I want to do -- I want to build houses for the poor!" His smile shone again.

I was merrily shocked at his decision, and I thought -- bad news, terrible news awaited Monsieur de Montbelle! His wife's funeral wouldn't be a party, after all.

And I was so happy for Armand!

"The only reason I have actually concluded the École was... you, Carlo... to stay with you!" My friend's voice trembled with emotion, but I realized we were also both shivering from the chilly wind, that had started blowing from the sea. And I invited him into the house.

That night, I had my first hot bath in a long, very long time, 'sponsored' by Armand.

"And by Herr Weissmann!" I was reminded by my friend, who laughed. "It's awkward... He might not have been the only person to die on The Birth Island. Like I have suggested before, there might have eventually been a baby or a mother to die here... But for sure, he was the only man, and I mean male, that did die here." 

"And most certainly..." Armand had continued with his logic, "most weird of all, he was the only one to ever live on this taboo island, too..." His voice broke with emotion. "Until us, now. Does that makes us taboo, Carlo? Haha!"

Armand had been standing in the bathroom while I was bathing. It was kind of a taboo, I thought, that Armand would see me naked -- for the first time in all our years together. My best friend and I had intimacy, but nothing like that. It was mostly intellectual intimacy, I guess, since even his tears were new to me. 

I must have been prudish like my grandfather, whom of course I had never seen naked, and since Tarso had never seen me naked either, that made Armand the first person to ever see me without any clothes on. It had never happened before, not in our Parisian apartment, anyway.

And that comes as another confession -- since not only Armand, but no one else had ever seen me naked... Though being twenty four years old, I was still a virgin.

"I can feel his presence everywhere..." Armand went on talking, following me through the house after I had dried myself, and as we moved into my room. "Herr Weissmann." Armand clarified. "No, I'm not talking about ghosts. I mean, he built this house from scratch... see, he chose to leave all rooms open, with just curtains instead of doors. Very original and appropriate to the tropics, and for a loner like I guess he was. But there is not much privacy, is there? I suppose we will have to change that, if we want to run a guesthouse here...'

"Armand," Were I entitled to pose my opinion?, "do you really want to run a guesthouse here? Have this place full of backpackers? Just think..."

"Oh no!" Armand laughed, and raised his hand to interrupt me. "I was thinking of something a bit more exclusive... Barefoot elegance, like you proposed at the port. I really like that expression! I'd rather keep this paradise to myself... for us. But I guess I'll have to make my own money after I tell my father about my decisions." 

 "I think that, even before he lets you talk, he'll be saying 'Please have a decent haircut, Armand' Haha!" I couldn't avoid the joke.

"Do you think it is that bad, Carlo?" Armand ran his hand along his ponytail, and lowered his eyes. "You don't like it, then..." And he was obviously sad with my remark.

"No, of course I do! It looks really cool! You look more..." Boyish? Girlish? Sexy? Carefree? Defiant? I couldn't quite name my impressions on my best friend's new looks, and what it stirred in me. "But it won't suit your former clothes and your previous way of life, I mean..."

"Haha! You're right, Carlo." Armand still glanced at me with doubt. "He might even say... 'For your mother's funeral, at least.' Is that what you mean?" And blinking to his own morbid humour, Armand changed his tone. "I hope I get home before my mother dies. I think she'll be delighted to see my suntan and my hair grown long. She'll understand them like signs of a deep change, if only she's still conscious..." Armand continued, pensively. "She used to be a bit of a rebel herself. Before she married, at least, when she finally and definitely had to submit to her father's will and an arranged marriage to my father. She has since then submitted to Gaston, submitted to his rules and marching orders, to be rewarded with a 'luxurious lie', like she has so elegantly described her deceitful marriage in retrospect." Armand snorted. "You know, some people say she has flipped in this process of growing ill, that she's gone crazy because of the things she now says... But as weird as it might sound, I think she found liberation, to some extent, in her terminal illness."

"Refusing treatment was the first decision not imposed on her and that she has taken all on her own in a long, long while... Do you understand?" Armand had a delicate, subtle smile on his face, and I could identify the love he felt for his mother. "I wish she had chosen otherwise, like to be a rich divorcée spending all her ex-husband's money with trips and parties... I could picture my mother having younger lovers, as a revenge. She has always been so beautiful and classy. But she has chosen to die." Armand shrugged. "And on my part, I don't know how my relationship with my father shall evolve, without her intermediation. I really fear for us. She has always been like a shield between Gaston and me... I don't know, Carlo..." Armand took another deep breath. "These are Armand's last days you are witnessing, do you realize it? And these are Armand's first days you are seeing!" he smiled.

Author's note: having been imported from a former version of the story, some of the comments below are dated previous to this post. Once the plot has not been altered, just the pagination, I am keeping them since they are very dear and precious to me.


  1. Wow Armand's mother has had a really rough time and it's sad to hear that his father couldn't care less about her suffering! That is very tragic but they both (her and Armand) seem to have an optimistic outlook about how things are. At least they are not dwelling on the bad.

    Carlo...he seriously is being so oblivious haha Armand needs to tie him down and explain he's the reason for his heavy heart. He even said he wished they could "really be together" and the man was still "not convinced". Lol poor guy. If he did leave as he kept saying he would I'm sure Armand's heart would shatter to pieces.

    I think it's interesting Laurent didn't know about his father's sexuality even with listening to his story.

    Armand should be called Renato in this respect. He is giving up his old life to be born again. I hope everything goes as he plans it too. I really do hope he sees his mother one last time as well. I'm sure this is one other thing that Armand's dad may blame on Carlo too.

    1. dear Daijahv, thank you for reading and commenting!

      You are Armand's greates supporter -- and I always have you in mind when writing about him... Sometimes, bad things happen so that we move on to the better... Armand loves Carlo so deeply, but maybe Carlo is not able to return Armand's love with the same intensity and quality. They are the best friends ever, and that seems whole and enough for Carlo, that's why, unlike Armand, he doesn't see that "something is missing".

      But I do enjoy your suggestion that Armand should "tie him down and explain he's the reason for his heavy heart"... that would be so sexy, and since Carlo is tied down, Armand could take advantage and explain him other things too :)

  2. Armand's life seems so stale and pitiful before his enlightenment. His mother is/was a sad soul. Carlo just cannot take a hint, or was he aware of Armand's feelings but wanted to ignore them? I feel bad for Armand. And Carlo was implying that Laurent's life was similar to Armand's; he had a mother who didn't take care of him because she was lost in her own little world. There also is a parallel that Laurent didn't know his Joanna had died, and never got to go back to see her again, despite thinking he should. Sad.

    1. thank you for reading and commenting, Zhippidy, and I'm sorry if it has taken so long to reply...

      Parallel is a very important word for 'the last canvas', you have it just right! it's like the story is being told every time by a different mirror -- what Laurent is yet to find is that cleaning the mirror doesn't clean his face at the same time, nor can he comb his hair in the image that he sees reflected there.

      Saying goodbye is a very hard part -- yet so fundamental -- of our lives, and 'the last canvas' is about a sequence of goodbyes... Laurent, and the other characters too, will have to often deal with parting, and they all will have different ways, and hopefully we shall learn something from them...

  3. Carlo can't seem to see what's right in front of him. Having been friends with Armand for so long, you'd think Carlo would know him well enough to acknowledge Armand's not-so-subtle hints. Interesting that it's the first time Carlo's been naked in front of Armand after all their history together. I wonder what Armand's reaction was and if Carlo picked up on it.

    1. Carlo and Armand have lived together but have never shared such intimacies.

      Despite his good physique, Carlo is a shy guy, at ease only when on his own.
      And Armand, despite not being shy, has always been always so discreet. He's changed now, after his Asian tour, and the tropical climate really seems to put him at ease... and maybe he's trying to be sexy and suggestive... but I think he has taken the wrong path, thinking his naked body could arouse Carlo's desire... though the opposite, Carlo's naked body arousing Armand's lust, is so very true!

  4. Armand's parents are an interesting couple. It is sad that his father decided to have a double life and choose that one over Armand and his mom. His mother is so brave, wow, and her views on death or "elegant retirement" are profound. I hope that Armand makes it to see her while she is still conscious. I love his plan to stand up to his father, even though it will mean his father will stop sending him money. LOL Armand continuing the conversation while Carlo was taking a bath. Carlo's a little oblivious right now, perhaps? Even though he did notice that Armand is the first person to see him naked.

    1. I wish we could go deeper into Armand's life and the de Montbelle and Purlux Drurien families, but that opens another path in the story we cannot follow due to time and space in this novel... Yet, Gaston and Marie Hélene, Armand's parents, shall appear a few more times in their son's words, and we'll learn more about them.

      I'm glad you've enjoyed Marie Heléne, and that you think she is brave. She can be criticized for giving up on life and abandoning her son, who is still young, and that's a bit selfish from her -- on the other hand, Armand was the first one to abandon their home, and to leave her...

      It's not easy on Armand, having always led a very privileged life, to see it colapse upon realizing it was based on deceit. He is not as fragile and perplexed as he was at the moment the truth surfaced, and since he finds it hard now to respect his own father, he found the courage to confront him and to leave behind the expectations Gaston has for him.

      Such intimacy between Armand and Carlo would have been uninimaginable when they were living in Paris -- and somehow, it still is to Carlo, who seems embarassed with his friend new carefree ways. Armand has liberated himself from a lot of conceptions, perceptions, fears and worries with his many retreats and disciplined daily meditation, and his newly acquired freedom might have an impact on Carlo, too.

      Thank you for following 'the last canvas' and for commenting, LKSimmer!


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