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Paris, 1917

Here is John, beside me again. Sometimes when we meet he is courtly and charming. Other times he’s tired and he can only muster up a smile as the words “Bonjour, ma belle,” fall out of his mouth. Sometimes his eyes burn feverishly, sometimes they’re dull, sometimes he’s drunk. It depends on where he’s been that day. There are only two things constant about my John: he always manages to smile, and I can always see the fear deep in every line on his face.

Paris is grim; the front is moving closer to the city, and we’re losing more battles than we’re winning. John spends his time here waiting, and afraid. He lost in these brown streets among these brown buildings, as are all the uniformed boys playing soldier.

Only they are not playing, really. Not anymore. Time is short for him, and the front lines rise up and loom in the darkness. He will meet them again soon. He is like a starving man, needing a good meal and a kind word before he is to go meet any number of ends out there between the trenches and the wires and the guns. It is not a hunger of the flesh, it is a hunger of the heart. He holds my hand tight enough that it hurts me, but I let him do it. If it’s love he needs, this simple, easy thing, then who am I to deny him?

I am wearing my peridot earrings and the matching pendant that he got me, because he says they match my eyes, and I know he likes them.

“They are beautiful,” he tells me.

I finger the earrings, “You think so?”

“I meant your eyes.”

It always makes me smile when he says that. It’s wonderful not to talk of the war.

We go dancing, and I let him buy me drinks until we’re both very drunk. He laughs very loudly, like a bark, punctuated with sudden stops. The music is hot and fun and lively, and we are too, with so much drink in us.

He dances, and it's ungainly; he’s wild tonight. It’s all so funny, everyone’s laughing. The whole world is funny. Three days in Paris on leave is hilarious. John laughs and struts, and the fear of what is waiting for him stays stretched over him like a net he is fighting to get out of. It scares me so much to see him with death all over him, but who am I to talk about problems with someone like him? I dance with him, and I let him spin me and hold me and step on my toes. Tonight we have piano, I try to remind him, not the rat-tat-tat of guns.

“You know,” John says, “I had a buddy in my company what could play piano well.”

“Oh, yes?”

“Yeah, his name was Joe and he was from Saint Louie. Lord, he could play.”

I do not ask where Joe is, because I know better.

John has stopped smiling now, and he orders another glass of brandy.

I take his big hand in mine. I smooth his hair and do my best to make him smile. “Come on John, dance with me a bit more.”

The old world we once knew was a slow, sunny place. John would bow to me in those days, not awkwardly at all, and kiss my hand. We would talk for ages, months maybe, and one night beneath the moon, by the lake we might kiss. But there is no time for that now. I feel his hand pressing on the small of my back. The piano is still hot and the crowd alive, but he has gone quiet, and now there is a sense of urgency. His breathing is the quickest thing about him, not his laugh. Soon, flushed with drinking, he takes me upstairs.

It’s not really what I can call lovemaking. It’s too desperate for that. But, it’s what he needs, and I can’t tell him no. There’s a sad little daisy in the vase on my dresser watching over us as we tumble around in bed. It hurts a little and he comes too quickly, and afterwards I lie against him, trembling, afraid to take myself away. Eventually, I sleep.

But late at night he sits upright, and he’s crying; that tight mask across his face has cracked and now the fear floods out in gasps and sobs. Now, more than sex, he just wants another presence, so I wrap my arms around his waist and listen as he tells me what happened to Joe. He tells me what it’s like to see an explosion hit a man and leave nothing but his leg sticking up from one boot. He tells me he lives in an earthen bowel, full of shit and blood. He tries to tell me about fear, about Germans, about anything he can find words for. I listen as patiently as I can.

He gropes in the dark but I know what he’s looking for; from the floor I take the brandy bottle, and I hand it back to him.

After three long drinks his chest trembles less; the shaking in his hands stops even if mine does not. He lapses back into uneasy sleep, stinking violently of liquor, with one arm wrapped around me, holding my breast. I do not sleep again for hours.

#

In the morning he is gone before I wake, back to Cantigny, or a town along the Marne, I don’t know. It’s always a new place. It is late in the morning, so I am sure he is on a troop train, packed tightly into a small car, with the smell of bodies and exhaust and straw overpowering him. He is hot, I am sure, as I was hot with him pressed against me, unable to stop sweating, and I feel so awful that I cannot stop crying for some minutes. The war is always there in the morning. I am no longer afraid of the dark. I am always afraid of the morning.

I take a long time to get up and take breakfast in my room. I only eat a little of the croissant because I am not truly hungry, and I go back to bed for a while longer. By the time I get up, set my hair and finally dress, it is well past lunch and almost dinner. I feel empty inside, consumed maybe, and I want to rest.  That is the problem with John; he is always leaving, leaving, leaving, but he never comes back, never gives back. I don’t think he can, anymore. I go downstairs to the little bar and order a drink; cognac, please, bartender. No, nothing else. Just the cognac. I am tired, I want to tell him. I want to tell anyone. But I try not to talk about myself these days.

I spill a little cognac and a reach for a napkin to clean it up; a hand brushes lightly on top of mine. I look up and here is a young man with surprised eyes, who didn’t realize my hand had been there. He smiles, and I can see the fear behind it, deep in every line on his face.

“Hello, Miss. Par-ley vous Anglais?”

“Oui,” I answer with a smile. “A little.”

“I’m Sam,” he says. “And you are very beautiful.”

I blush. “My name is Emilie.”

“Do you dance, Emilie?”

I stand and he gives me a small, awkward bow, but his eyes are very kind and they never leave me, not for a second.

Here is Sam, beside me again. He is stretched too thin with hunger and waiting, and he holds my hand so hard that it hurts me, but I let him. He’s a little drunk and he’s moving too fast. He holds me too tightly against him, as if he’s afraid to lose me. So I hold him in my arms and soothe him. I’m so tired, but it is nothing compared to the heart- hunger and the waiting that my Sam must endure. Love is a simple gift, how can I not give it?

We go out dancing. He loves my peridot earrings, the ones he gave me, and tells me they look lovely with my eyes. He always does.
ok, a little short i pumped out for the :iconwriters-workshop: 'Unreliable Narrator' workshop. I think I was supposed to do a character sketch, but oops, all this spilled out. Pretty much came from listening to Emmy Lou Harris. If you haven't heard '1917', it is worth youtubing.

I have a very clear idea of Emilie and what's happening with her, but I'm interested to see what you think is happening with her.

Crit for tWR: fav.me/d577vic

So, Crit Questions:
:bulletpink: What do you think is the deal with Emilie?
:bulletpink: What did you feel happened at the end there?
:bulletpink: does this fit your description of an unreliable narrator, why or why not?
:bulletpink: grammar shiz: Anything off, clunky, or grammatically incorrect?

Big ups to :iconoboe-wan: for helping me slug through this one.

EDIT: June 2012, made some edits, retooled the beginning, or rather, rearranged things. Hopefully cleaned up the punctuation but I probably need a little more help with that.
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Daily Deviation

Given 2014-07-28
And Here Is John by doughboycafe is, in the suggester's words, "a useful reminder that wars aren't just all about men and trenches" on the 100th anniversary of the First World War. ( Suggested by VFreie and Featured by neurotype )
:iconannecat:
Striking piece! I especially love how the opening paragraph takes on extra significance after reading through it once -- knowing more about those "sometimes"es and "always"es. Very sad, but a very good read...but very sad...but very good. Yeah.

As for your questions, hm...

*I think the deal with Emilie is that she's depressed and not coping with the war, and she feels that she doesn't even deserve to feel bad compared to what the men at the front are going through, so she shuts herself down and focuses her all on comforting the men who pass through on leave, instead. Maybe she's trying to comfort herself a bit *through* them, when it comes to that; if she can make them feel a little better, then maybe she'll feel a little better, too. But it's too hard to accept the reality of what's going on, that every man she meets, every man who she goes on a date with and sleeps with, returns to the front and dies. So, her mind has built a protective construct for her, where she can half-pretend that she's been with each guy for a long time, as a steady beau, and they all meld together, so long as she doesn't think about them too hard or look at them straight on.

*At the end, she meets yet another sad young man on leave and hooks up with him in hopes of comforting him. After just one night, she's revising her thinking so that they have been and will be together; a lie she can hold on to until he leaves like the others before.

*Definitely see her as an unreliable narrator. She's not telling us the whole story, and some parts of it she's telling untruthfully, consciously or not. She's also definitely hiding herSELF from us; not talking about herself, not thinking about herself. Of course, that makes me wonder right away about her personal history, her family, her former romances.

*Grammar shiz? Let me look again; nothing jumped out at me the first time around.

--The way the "There are only two things constant" sentence reads, it seems a bit like there's only one thing listed because it's an "even though" instead of an "and." I did find myself waiting for the second point before I re-read it and realized "managing to smile despite fear" was the two points, "managing to smile" *and* "fear."
--' I finger the earrings, "You think so?" ' (period, not comma)
--I'm a little unsure of the "uniformed boys playing soldier" bit; it sounds kind of flippant, given how deeply she feels for these men; as if she thinks there's no reason for the war, or that they're enjoying it somehow. It might just be the word "playing" instead of "dressed up as" or "imitating" or something.

--I also love "It always makes me smile when he says that," on a second reading. How likely that they DO always make the same conversation, grasping at normalcy, pretending a deeper romance than what they can only have for a brief few days.
--Also <3s for "It's all so funny....The whole world is funny." The miserable manic grief of that paragraph.... Ouch. Well-written.

--Slightly confused by "The old war we once knew..." Did you mean "The old world?"
--Not sure how you'd fix it, but right now I'm reading two sentences that start with "There's a sad little daisy" and "It hurts a little," and it seems like the daisy is hurting?

--I. Love. "I am no longer afraid of the dark. I am always afraid of the morning." Beautiful.
-- And "...he is always leaving, leaving, leaving, but he never comes back."

I have a hunch you might have been listening to Emmylou Harris' "1917" while writing this. Specific phrases from the song really jumped out at me; I think the piece might be stronger without them in there word for word. This is a really good "tale of the song," though; it feels like a fuller character study of the song's narrator.

Your writing just gets tighter and tighter! I very much enjoyed reading a first-person, female narrator from you; it's a change from several of the other wartime shorts you've written. Nothing wrong with the others, but I liked hearing from Emilie!
What do you think?
The Artist thought this was FAIR
20 out of 20 deviants thought this was fair.

:iconpolaris134:
Wow, this is short but packs a punch! I like it :) As for your questions...

* What do you think is the deal with Emilie?

By the end, I guessed she was a prostitute in a Paris brothel.

* What did you feel happened at the end there?

It seems like John, her latest customer, got shipped off as usual and here is another customer, and she is just going through the cycle again.

* does this fit your description of an unreliable narrator, why or why not?

Well, I think "unreliable narrator" is actually a pretty broad spectrum. But I think what makes Emilie unreliable isn't so much that she fails to come right out and tell us that she's a prostitute or that John is actually multiple people, but the fact that she seems to be putting a pleasant, loving face over her stress and unhappiness. She is bearing the weight of her customers' sorrow but she can't let that show, and she tries to hide it even from us readers but it slips through anyway, in the little cracks in her mask.

* grammar shiz: Anything off, clunky, or grammatically incorrect?

--The biggest thing that threw me was that, in the first paragraph, it does imply that multiple people are "John," so for me that became shorthand for all her customers. But then at the end, her next man is Sam, and Sam is now the name for all her customers. I understand the reason behind this -- she can't just call Sam John, and it would be odd if all her customers were always named John. Still, it threw me a little. Of course, maybe that's the point? ;)

--"The old war we once knew was a slow, sunny place". Not sure if she is talking about the beginnings of the war? Because I don't think that would have been much different, in terms of the behavior of the shell-shocked soldiers.

--"There are only two things constant about my John". The way the following description is phrased, it feels more like one thing: the fact that he smiles despite his fear. If you want to make this two distinct things, you could phrase it slightly differently: "I can always see the fear deep in every line on his face; and he always manages to smile anyway." Something like that.

Anyway, this is a very lovely, heart-breaking piece. Great job!
What do you think?
The Artist thought this was FAIR
10 out of 10 deviants thought this was fair.

The Artist has requested Critique on this Artwork

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:icond-e-l-e-t-e-d:
d-e-l-e-t-e-d Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Fuck, that was lovely.
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Sep 28, 2014  Professional Writer
Thank you, and also for the feature. I appreciate it a lot.
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:icond-e-l-e-t-e-d:
d-e-l-e-t-e-d Featured By Owner Sep 30, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
You're welcome! :glomp:
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:iconguineveretogwen:
GuinevereToGwen Featured By Owner Aug 18, 2014  Student Writer
Wonderful! I enjoyed this quite a bit. The character development is great. You did a fantastic job of telling us about the characters without making it seem obvious. It was all very subtle and simple. Also, I love your writing style. You have a way of incorporating beautiful imagery in such a natural way.
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:iconmeggie272:
Meggie272 Featured By Owner Aug 2, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
oh, this is so lovely. I am always so happy to read a female perspective on war. I love Emilie, she is bright and sad and tired and you wrote her so well. The ending, the way it turns our concept of her and John as an established couple on its head, and the way it subtly unfolds the idea that she is compelled to love all these broken boys and listen to their horror stories, and that to her they are almost all the same man, so brilliantly accomplished. Augh. I'm glad I read this. 
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Aug 3, 2014  Professional Writer
Wow, you really nailed the whole thing on the head. I love it when people see right to the heart of this story, and also people that attach to Emilie. Thanks for the great feedback.
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:iconmeggie272:
Meggie272 Featured By Owner Aug 3, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Any time!
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:iconvertfey:
VertFey Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014
This so deserved a daily deviation Congratulations.
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Professional Writer
Thanks :D
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:iconsimplysilent:
SimplySilent Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014
I rarely read literature on DA, but I'm glad I gave this one a try! Wonderful story that gets right to the feels. 
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Professional Writer
Glad you gave this one a try as well!
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:iconsaltwaterlungs:
saltwaterlungs Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
My heart is aching. Thank you so much for this piece. It reminds us that war is not just about guns and deaths and valiance and right versus wrong, it reminds us it is about people.
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Professional Writer
Thank you for reading it and for getting it.
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:iconsaltwaterlungs:
saltwaterlungs Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
My pleasure!
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:iconcristinewakesuphappy:
cristinewakesuphappy Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
:iconcongratsdd1plz::iconcongratsdd2plz::iconcongratsdd3plz:
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Professional Writer
:la:
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:icondreameroftheblue:
dreameroftheblue Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I had nooo idea what I was getting into once I started reading but now my heart aches and there are tears in my eyes thank you :iconlazycryplz:
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Professional Writer
This might make me sound like an asshole, but good, that is the reaction I wanted. Some things are worth crying over.
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:icondreameroftheblue:
dreameroftheblue Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
oh jiss that's a very good thing YOU DEFINITELY ACHIEVED YOUR GOAL mAN :crying:
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:iconjade-pandora:
jade-pandora Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014
:clap: Congratulations for receiving a DD feature for your wonderful piece.
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Professional Writer
Thanks!
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:iconmeiyue:
meiyue Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Student General Artist
Congratulations on the DD! :love: 

Have a nice day :iconlainloveplz:
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Professional Writer
thanks!
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:iconmeiyue:
meiyue Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Student General Artist
Welcome! :love:
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:icongreeneyedleopard:
Greeneyedleopard Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
Wow! This is a wonderful short story! I thoroughly enjoyed it and the ending was thought-provoking. :)
As for the grammar, I thought that is was perfectly fine- for the English. The French is a little off. This phrase 'Par-ley vous Anglais?' is not completely correct. It should be 'Parlez vous anglais?'. There is no hyphen and 'anglais' is not capitalized. This is just if you'd like to change it :3
All in all, this is a well-written story. Congrats on the Daily Deviation! : D
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Professional Writer
woops. I was kinda trying to write it as a very pronounced american accent of a guy trying to speak french that really doesn't actually speak french. not sure if that comes across, though, now.
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:icongreeneyedleopard:
Greeneyedleopard Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
Oh...I feel very stupid now. I understand what you mean! :) Sorry about that ^^;
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:iconclassically-depunk:
Classically-DePunk Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Congrats to you, DBC!
Your certainly deserves recognition, and this is absolutely great!
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Professional Writer
:D
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:iconclassically-depunk:
Classically-DePunk Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
When I can gather some time, would you allow me to post a commentary of this work for you?
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Professional Writer
it's a free country man, you never have to ask my permission :) Whenever you like.
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:iconclassically-depunk:
Classically-DePunk Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks, DBC! When I can get my hands on some decent time, I'll post the commentary. Is it all right to post as a critique?
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Professional Writer
Sure as you like. If you use the critique function tho it will probably get shunted to the endand no one will see it but me :/
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:iconclassically-depunk:
Classically-DePunk Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
That's perfect! I would like to review and comment on it, so thanks, DBC!
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:iconundauntedifly:
undauntedifly Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Student Writer
This made me tear up. Perfect. Its perfect.
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Professional Writer
I'm glad it did. Thanks for the comment!
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:iconagonizingswordfish:
AgonizingSwordfish Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer

Congratulations on the DD! :hug:

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:iconlady-yume:
Lady-Yume Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014   Writer
Sincerely, my warmest of compliments for writing such a striking piece of literature! A DD very well deserved :clap:

:heart:
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Professional Writer
thank you very much!
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:iconoomizo:
Oomizo Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014
Wow really catching piece. Didn't see anything off with your grammar, quite the opposite! "Love is such a simple gift, how can I not give it?" such a beautiful sentence! Congrats on the DD!
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Professional Writer
Thanks very much!
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:iconhopeburnsblue:
hopeburnsblue Featured By Owner Edited Jul 28, 2014  Professional Writer
Wow, this is incredible. I love that it's all about cycles: of love, of hurt, of humanity. I just adore it.

Congrats on the DD, as well!
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Professional Writer
Thank you very much. I like playing with the idea of cycles and I think this was one of my better attempts to write one.
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:iconasjjohnson:
AsjJohnson Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
wow... For the longest time, I thought it was about a girl with a soldier boyfriend. And then I find out that she imagines that each time she meets someone. Though, I did kind'a feel John's and her comments about her earrings/eyes was a little odd, in that he would've seen the earrings often (or at least that she should know that he thought they were pretty, since he bought them), and that she seemed a little too new to him saying he meant her eyes if he says that all the time. I kind'a wonder if she sees a different boy every night or if it's more sparse than that. Because she really should eat more, and it's not good to worry so much. If this cycle is always that quick to start over, then she's probably killing herself. So... when she first met Sam, I wondered if she was going to cheat on John or mention she has a boyfriend or what, but then when things started repeating, I felt she's... for hire, and does that for a living. She tells herself that each guy is her boyfriend to help herself play the part, and she also knows what these men go through and feels they need someone to make them feel loved. Hmm... I suppose it's possible that she did have a boyfriend, who had died during the war, and she kind'a grives about him during the times that she's quite emotional about these guys. But it's not a thought I'd had while reading it. Just being around these guys so often, and them telling her stories about what they see, might be enough for her to behave the way she does.
Hmm... I guess she's an unreliable narrator. She decieved me while decieving herself. Though, I'm not really sure, since I thought a lot of unreliable narrators give themselves away as unreliable from the start and nothing really tipped me off not to believe her.
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
AAH
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Professional Writer
AAH.
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
WAH.
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:iconthegalleryofeve:
TheGalleryOfEve Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Congratulations on your well-deserved DD!!! :iconflyingheartsplz::iconlainloveplz::iconflyingheartsplz: :clap::clap::clap:
I’m very happy for you!!! :iconloveloveplz: :tighthug:
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