Viva la Vida

"Do I not matter?" I screamed, dust settling in my furious lungs. "You could have fought for me too, Enjolras! There is more to life than this damn revolution."
"People cannot love without the revolution!" He argued. "No, you're mistaken. Only you cannot love without revolution." I took a sharp breath. "Vive la France, my sweet angel. Viva la vida." My back became the attention of his stare, and I wished he wouldn't have to become the inevitable martyr he would become for Patria, and only Patria. It was his intention all along.

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1. Lilac: the colour of nostalgia.

The day my parents died I wore a lilac dress. The day they were buried I wore a black dress. The day I was sent away I wore a white dress. It’s amazing the little things a girl can remember, no matter how young or insignificant, were everyone around you is so sad you just know it’s important. Even if you don’t fully understand what is happening.

The lilac dress was my favorite of the three. They happened to be my only three dresses; I had brown sacks that were durable but being an unremarkable girl in a remarkable city I refused to wear them to give the French any more reason to look past me. I was only ten at the time, skipping through pubescence with Nathalie as though it would never end. It's funny to think of times where poverty was just a seven-lettered word and had no meaning, or where the future was blurred for the better. Mama always fussed about the lack of bread at the table, but we too busy skimming the castles in the sky to notice. Papa was a well-paid carpenter, or at least that’s what I remember of him, but having five hungry mouths to feed beside his own to a full stomach was a lot more than wooden chairs and tables could provide, no matter the adornments. He could carve lions into the stool’s feet, and flowers onto the corners. The wood became alive in his skilled hands that never seemed to take the pressure of wood day after day.

“Thérèse,” Nathalie said quietly, as though trying to listen to drops of raining falling down the carriage window. “Have you nothing to say at all?” The bitter end to my name suggested she was growing tired of my silence. Maybe she was simply growing tired of me.

“Must you speak like the lady of the house? We’re only twelve.” I finally managed to retort, staring out to the grey countryside. France was weeping for us, I was sure of it. Its grey clouds were remorse and the pouring rain its tears. Sorry, I believed it was saying, for taking your parents. Sorry, for taking you here.

“You are the lady of our house now, Tee. In case you forgot, mama isn’t-”

“How can I be the lady of a house if we have no house?” I didn't mean to be so mean, but does anyone? “Why do you insist on being smart!” Nathalie flustered back, her cheeks burning red already irritated with the tears that refused to stop. “Why can’t you just be kind to me? We used to play and dance and laugh, and now you hardly say a word and when you do, it’s never kind.” The sister bit into her lip beside her sister on the carriage rocking slightly by the force they were bundling down the rough path. Her eyes so like mine were downcast and streaming with yet more liquid distress.

“Please, Nathalie.” I awkwardly patted her head of matted brown locks that only days ago had been luxurious curls she’d spent the best part of her morning making it just exactly right. Now, she didn’t care; and looked more like me every day. The same sleep-deprived eyes purple at the delicate tinges of young skin and the round edges of their faces  some of the starving circumstances endured watery meal over stale bread over the year from a bad week at sales. What I’d soon discovered was that having a softer face was never taken kindly by the people of Paris. They needed proof of jagged bones before they’d spare crumbs a loaf regardless of  how convincing you could sell your story and even then they were tough to the worst of them. Her dress was the copy of mine, a off-white plain thing with only a frill around their long sleeves for decoration. It clashed against our pale skin, that browned in the summer along with freckles that traveled down our arms and crowded in little brown groups on our shoulders and below our eyes. Since the last summer; I'd acquired one on my lip that refused to leave and forever resembled a smudge of chocolate. Nathalie was silent, her breaths slowly calming from their sobbing sharp gasps for desperate air. It was just us in the carriage - our guardians decided we'd get there with only our own comforts.

I'd made myself believe that my own lilac dress was lucky. It drew in at the waist and had a violet ribbon that held me together at the end that made me believe I could be the duchess's daughter, or maybe an old Princess of France. How lucky they seemed, ages that could be mine yet without parents that frowned about money, and only enjoyed the splendor they were born into. Of course, I didn't know what I know now, and that the royals would be as cursed as that Lilac dress. We'd been playing by the river, and I'd cried as water splashed it's frills and ends. Little did I know they were the smallest, vainest tears I'd cry that day.

It was an accident, the man said. They'd been travelling to deliver a man's new set, three chairs to surround a circular table. The cost of their dear lives. A collision of horses and carriages, the hustle of a impatient street, and finally the blood shed of the Potriens. The Lilac dress seemed to burn my skin and us children were alone. Nathalie, Thérèse , little Louis and Vincenzo. The boys would not stop crying for their mother, and we didn't have the heart to tell them otherwise.

The black dress was scratchy, with a neat little white collar that nearly suffocated my neck though I hardly cared. Nathalie stood by my side, symmetrical as we held cold sweaty hands and stood in the same trembling pose. The washerwomen had helped us get ready, and "Ooh"ed and "Aaah"ed at us for pity's sake I presume, though it helped to distract us more than any condolences of the weeping village. We did not see the bodies, but there was a distinct smell of strong polish everywhere which I'd like to think was our father, standing beside us to show us the way to act at this own funeral  A strict man to us he wasn't, but fair. I remember the expression of pain each adult would have upon their faces hidden beneath the black as Vinnie would say; "Please, Monsieur; will you tell me where my father is?" His face was like the painted angels in our holy church, which lead people to have an awful habit of giving him exactly what he wanted. But even the most beautiful of looks couldn't bring a dying man home out of want. Us four children stood without a penny to our names, and with help and care as temporary and uncomfortable as my thin black dress.

"Chers enfants!" A new face appeared dressed finer than any attending the graves, I didn't dare meet the eyes of a man with a voice so powerful. Vincenzo gave into him immediately and hugged his leg - all he needed was the conformation of affection -  but the rest of us held our suspicions a moment longer. "Such brave hearts, you children. But I have good news! Your grandparents have agreed to take you in."

"We have no grandparents." Nathalie spoke up as I nodded with her, all of our eyes pinned towards the man upwards with such an intensity he might have taken us as adults. Louis' high voice would have blown it if he'd not been so smart

"Well what a surprise you have in store!" He wheezed, pulling out a beige long letter reading snippets from their home. "They are beyond riches of this town, maybe even it's neighbour!"

"Why should we trust you?" Louis chirped in with weary eyes. The man laughed.

"Why wouldn't you? Forgive me. My name is Hanzel; I've been trying to contact your late father's family since his passing for your carers. There aren't many cases that end up as fortunate as I know yours will be. They live a few miles west of Paris. Their relationship with your father was halted by your mother... nevermind. But in circumstances they have agreed to take you."

"All of us?" I asked, feeling no other choice but to trust him and his pot belly that reversed danger signals. 

"You and your sister will be taken the best care of! There is a convent nearby where they have requested you both attend. Do not pout-" He caught our aghast faces. "They shall teach you to read, to write! You may pray for your parents souls until they will dine with God himself." Hanzel smiled, spreading to our own faces unobligingly. "Thérèse, is it not?" He pointed to me. "You will have the time of your life growing up in the arms of nuns." He crouched down to whisper in my ear, softer than smooth pebbles smelling of warm garlic as he pulled away a curl of my hair. "They sing like the choirs of angels themselves. You like angels, non?"

"Oui." I giggled. Kindness, the true kind not from those who for one reason or another had their doubts against the Potriens, was hard to come by and I fell into its embrace as newborn babies are cradled by their mothers.

There were no papers to sign, or bags to pack. Just one night sharing a bed between the four of us and a change of clothes before Hanzel was to whisk us out. We stayed in the Inn, where the scurrying of rats under the floorboards kept the foundation quaking and we were served a strong lager and bread for our farewell banquet, alongside the grandest jam we'd ever tasted; raspberry juice was a glimpse of heaven between the insomnia.

And that was how we were separated from our brothers - their direction to the future of our alleged wealthy grandparents was polar to the holy life - and ended up alone, yet all together dressed in white with tears on our cheeks and nothing on our backs. We found ourselves hours later, when we'd fought and laughed and cried along the way until at last we merged together as one sole, united bond of sisterhood the nuns themselves would envy should they be capable of such a thing.

Knocking on heaven's door was a hard task, but they each welcomed us with opened arms and a lifetime without children to be made up from. They took our soggy clothes, and replaced with clothes like untouched snow and led us to our own room, with an entire bed to share all to ourselves. The sheets were much too fresh and clean, and much could be said the same for the nightgowns, but we quickly made a tent in our sheets, whispering words of comfort we were too young to ever have to use.

"We'll be safe here, Thérèse." Nathalie whispered, I nodded silently. She soon fell asleep with me following soon after. That night I dreamt of godawful lilac dresses and carriages and blood and tears and most important of all; of a blurred man standing tall dressed in red and black - a saint I presumed - though little did I know fates of a thousand other martyrs would be a blessing in comparison to those of a man I'd yet to meet.

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