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Go Gentle

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Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

- Dylan Thomas

Go Gentle

I buried my father today.

As instructed by his final will and testament, a Funeral Mass was held for the repose of the soul of Jean Michel Bonnière before his body was cremated and the ashes given to me.

I admit to a touch of sardonic humor during the Mass. Well, Papa, I got you to Church this time, didn’t I? My father was a lapsed Catholic; although he made certain the Jesuits educated me, he would rarely set foot in the Church. I could, if I tried, count each incident and still have fingers left over. My First Communion, of course. My wedding. Christian’s baptism.

“No one ever truly leaves the Church, Stéfen,” I recall him telling me once, flashing me one of his rare smiles. He was right. Even he, the most agnostic of men, in the end wished to be blessed on his way to the next life.

Did he, perhaps, return to the faith of his childhood as he aged? I have no idea. Like all children, my memories are wrapped around events in my life, with my father on the periphery. Not that I didn’t love my father; I loved him deeply. But, in the way of all children, my memories of growing up are of myself. As I became an adult, parts of my father were still remote, still unknowable. We loved each other, completely and utterly. For most of my life there had been no one else, just my father and me. But for as long as I can recall, I always had the sense there was more to my father than he permitted me to see; that part of his life and his emotions were barricaded behind an impregnable wall.

The heavy scent of incense floated around me as I stood in the vestibule of the Church, accepting the condolences of our friends and family. My father was a quiet man, not gregarious or outgoing, and certainly not easy to know or love. But he had made a few friends over the years, acquaintances that were shocked to hear of his sudden death from a heart attack; people that had traveled from many parts of the world to honor him one last time. And there were my friends, of course, and Gabriella’s family.

I don’t know how long she had been standing there before I finally focused on her. She stood apart, dressed in a simple black dress that proclaimed its designer status by the elegant beauty of its lines. There was only the briefest glimpse of pale white-blonde hair under the wide brim of her hat and a screen of netting that blurred and disguised the features of her face.

Her back was toward me as I approached. I touched her elbow and she started then spun around. Behind her I sensed rather than saw the movement of a shadowy man as he took a few steps forward. The sharp movement of her hand halted him.

“It was good of you to come,” I said, extending my hand to her.

Something flickered across her pale face, come and gone too fast for me to decipher. Her fingers were cold as she took my hand in a tight grip.

“Do you remember me?” Was it hope, desperation or fear thickening that accented voice?

I tightened my fingers in response and met those electric blue eyes. “No,” I lied, “but you must have known my father.”

Her gaze never wavered from my face. “I did. He…” Her voice broke and she paused for a moment to collect herself. Her shoulders rose and fell with her deep breath and I felt the power of her control through our joined hands. “Your father was the best man I ever knew.”

“Thank you.” I paused, considering. It might be her only opportunity. “Would you like to meet my wife?”

Another flicker of emotion, quickly suppressed. “I’d like that very much.”

I offered her my arm, which she took with only the briefest of hesitations. Muscles rippled below the surface of her ashen skin; her fingers were long and elegant, the nails bitten nearly down to the quick. An intriguing, enigmatic, fascinating woman; You sure knew how to pick them, Papa.

Gabriella’s hair was beginning to tumble out of its once-neat chignon. Long dark auburn tendrils snaked down her back and through the chubby fingers of the toddler she had perched precariously on her hip.

“Christian, petit, you know you’re not supposed to make your mother carry you. Come here bébé.” I held out my arms and took my wriggling son.

Beside me, the woman stiffened. “You have your grandfather’s eyes, Christian,” she said.

Christian blinked those eyes, a legacy from both his grandfather and his green-eyed Irish mother, and buried his head in my shoulder.

“He’s still in the two-year-old shy stage,” I said apologetically. “May I introduce my wife? Gabriella, this is…” I hesitated, uncertain what to call her.

“Nikita,” she said promptly, extending her hand to my wife.

Gabby slid an inquisitive glance in my direction as she shook the proffered hand. “Nikita is … was an old friend of my father’s,” I supplied.

I could read a hundred questions in Gabby’s eyes. So, apparently, could Nikita.

“I knew Jean a very long time ago,” she said softly. “We hadn’t seen each other in nearly thirty years. But we always kept track of each other.” A sad smile crossed her beautiful face. “I loved him very much.”

Tears filled my wife’s eyes; she stepped forward and gave the older woman a hug. “Jean was a wonderful man,” she agreed.

They clung together for a few minutes, the dark head and blonde one nearly touching. At last Nikita stood taller and wiped her eyes. “I’m very glad I had the chance to meet you and to see his grandchildren.” Her hand hovered hesitantly. “May I?”

A shy smiled graced Gabby’s face. “Of course.”

Carefully, almost reverently, Nikita laid her hand on Gabriella’s rounded belly. Within seconds, the hidden occupant rolled and kicked; the movements clear and defined, even veiled discreetly under Gabby’s flowing dress.

A look of sheer amazement crossed Nikita’s face. Gabriella laughed and caught Nikita’s hand, adjusting her position to better feel the baby’s antics.

“She’s rather amazing, isn’t she? She keeps me up half the night now with her activities. I swear she’s going to be a gymnast or a soccer player, the way she rolls around.”

Another surging motion and the swell of the baby shifted from one side to the other. Gabriella smoothed her hand over the bulge; a gentle and quintessential maternal gesture.

“When are you due?” I heard the painful note in Nikita’s voice. Her hand dropped slowly, almost reluctantly, from Gabby’s belly.

“In a few more weeks. I’m at that stage of wanting it to be over, as much as I love being pregnant.”

Nikita’s smile was wistful. “You said ‘she’. Have you decided on a name?”

“Her name will be Madeline.” There was no mistaking the shock that crossed Nikita’s face at my answer. She became rigid, her shoulders snapping back; then with a visible effort she packed her reaction away.

“How beautiful. I knew a Madeline once, a long time ago.” Her eyes became reflective for a brief moment. “I’m glad to have a happier connection with that name.”

Movements around us reminded me of my duties as host and primary mourner. “We’ll be leaving for the coast in a few hours,” I said to Nikita. “Would you like to come to our home for a little bit and then go with us to scatter his ashes?”

Her mouth tightened and she suddenly looked old. “No, thank you. I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

“You wouldn’t be intruding,” Gabby protested softly.

For a moment, I thought Nikita was going to cry and my own chest tightened with renewed grief. Then she collected herself and shook her head. “No, but thank you for the invitation. I’ll not impose on your hospitality and your kindness any longer.” She stroked Christian’s dark curly head and kissed my cheek. Her lips were cool and dry, her eyes dark with unexpressed emotion. “I’m so very sorry for your loss.”

She turned to Gabriella and kissed both her cheeks in the European fashion. “I’ll be thinking of you. I hope your Madeline is happy and healthy. God bless you all.”

Over the heads of other well-wishers, I watched her walk to a black limousine, followed by two muscular young men dressed all in black.

***

It was only a short drive to the coast. For as long as I could remember, my father had had a house near the water. We had lived in the Côte d’Ivoire for the past twenty or so years; before that, we moved around a lot. Business, my father had told me. But two things remained consistent: the water and my schools. Always private, usually Jesuit. “The world’s best teachers,” my father had insisted.

Christian, exhausted by all the morning excitement, dozed in his car seat. Gabriella looked out the window, shifting occasionally in a futile attempt to get comfortable.

I reached over and took her hand. “You didn’t have to come with me.”

“Yes, I did. I loved your father too.” We rode along in silence for several minutes before Gabby finally said what was on her mind. “So, when are you going to tell me about Nikita?”

My wife is a very perceptive woman. It has been both a joy and a trial for me, since I am a very poor liar and cannot seem to hide anything from her. But this time it was necessary. A left turn approached, enabling me to turn my head away from her too-sharp eyes as I shrugged. “There isn’t much to tell. She’s a friend from his old life, before I was born.”

“Uh-huh.” Disbelief dripped from both syllables. “How many women keep track of lovers from thirty years ago?”

“Gabby, believe it or not, I didn’t talk to my father about his love affairs.” She laughed and relief flooded through me. The last lie came easier. “I don’t know any more about her than that.” She squeezed my fingers and let go of my hand, yawning as she shifted again to her right hip and stared out the window.

***

I sat on a log, staring out at the sea. After we had scattered the ashes and said a prayer for my father, Gabriella had taken Christian over to a small café for lunch. I needed the solitude right now, and was profoundly grateful for my tactful and understanding wife.

My father loved the water, loved the ocean. For a while, when we lived in Vanuatu, he had owned a boat. I was nine at the time, and distinctly remember being surprised that Papa was actually sadder, rather than happier, while living on the water. For a man who loved the open sea living on a boat should have been an ideal arrangement; instead Papa retreated inside himself. He seemed… haunted, preoccupied. Within a few months, we had moved again, to Mont Joli, then eventually settling in the Côte d’Ivoire.

Now that I had the peace and privacy I needed, I recalled a conversation Papa and I had had at the little house he had built overlooking the ocean. Gabriella had taken Christian to Sinfra to visit her parents and Papa and I were alone in the house, with the roar of the ocean surrounding us and the cracking of the fire to beat back the darkness of the night.

Papa had stood on the balcony, staring out into the star-filled sky. He had opened his shirt a few buttons and was holding tight to something small and round worn on a long chain around his neck. A religious medal, I had thought at the time, although I could not remember ever seeing it before.

“What is that?” For once I startled him. My father was always alert, disconcertingly aware of what was going on around him. It was a rare occasion for me to catch him off-guard.

“What do you remember of your mother?” Typical of him to answer a question with a question. Papa’s eyes had been intense, his gazed fixed. He had – I thought now, in retrospect – come to a difficult decision and was determined to see it through.

My mother… I could barely remember my mother. As with children’s earliest memories, my recollections of my mother were tied to tactile or sensual stimuli: a touch on my hair, the rich earthy smell of the spring thaw, the scent of hyacinths. My mother loved hyacinths.

“Curry.”

A slow smile had crossed Papa’s face. “Your mother made the most wonderful curried rice.” We reentered the house and sat down in front of the flickering fire.

“Why do you ask?”

Papa’s gaze drifted off, his focus somewhere over my shoulder. “There are things you should know. Things I cannot completely explain, but you deserve to know the truth.”

”Tell me a story.” I lit a cigarette and sat back. For most of my childhood, my father had been my evening entertainment. He was an incredible storyteller. I loved to watch him tell stories to Christian, my son curled in Papa’s lap, just as I had done when I was small.

So he told me. We sat late into the night and he told me about his life growing up, about the abuses he had suffered, about his fatal decision to become a part of L’Heure Sanguine. The deaths that resulted and his indoctrination into a covert anti-terrorist organization, so secret it didn’t even have a name.

About Nikita.

About my mother, and the circumstances of my birth. Her death, and our escape into anonymity.

When he was done, we sat at while longer in silence.

Somehow, in some dark hidden corner of my psyche, the name “Adam” clicked, fell into place like the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

Finally, I had to know. “Why have you told me this?”

He shrugged. “A man needs to know who and where he came from. What I have told you tonight must never be repeated. Not even to Gabriella.” He raised his hand, forestalling my comment. “Michael Samuelle died thirty years ago, on a suicide mission. Adam Samuelle disappeared. Let them lie in peace.”

Rising from his chair, he crossed the room to me, ruffled my hair as he used to do when I was little and kissed my cheek. “You are Stéfen, my son. I do not regret one decision, one moment of my life, because it gave you to me. For that I will be eternally grateful.”

Leaving the door open behind him, he stepped out onto the deck again, and lifted the small medallion I had noticed earlier. “8 00 N, 5 00 W. It’s time.”

Three weeks later my father was dead.

I buried my father today.

In a small corner of my mind, I wonder if those were his ashes after all.