Chapter 1

She’d never seen one, not even a picture. No doubt though, her “imaginer” put together an even better rendition of what one would have looked like, than reality could have.

 Of course, that’s not to suggest that she spent much time—hardly any time at all really—rendering such an image in her mind’s eye. That’s why was so bizarre when the image began appearing in her dreams.

It was fourth grade history when “Spitfire” Henderson—because she was old, because she was incredibly strict and because of the way her lips did or didn’t close over her teeth, and because with all the gaps between her teeth she sprayed buckets of saliva around the room whenever she lectured, whenever she spoke—had lectured about Mesopotamia and then about French history and some time later about this guy Joseph Ignace Guillotin, a French intellectual who’d developed a diabolical new device for disposing of criminals, political enemies, and other undesirables that came to be called a Guillotine.

In the very next spray, as an example, Old Spitfire talked about Marie Antoinette.


That was about all she remembered  from a whole year of Spitfire’s history class: Mesopotamia (Just imagine that from a mouth with loose lips and wide gaps between the teeth!), the Guillotine, and Marie.

And that the latter two were the same class.

She remembered Mesopotamia because of how the word swirled around in Spitfire’s mouth until it emerged soaking wet all over the floor. And the Guillotine—because Spitfire had talked about Marie Antoinette, who’d never really said “let them eat cake,” but who was guillotined.

She’d spent the rest of that fourth grade history class lost in that, the guillotining of Marie Antoinette, lost in pondering, what would it have been like to have been queen one day—perhaps not beloved, but still queen anyway—and then, laid out for execution under that new-fangled Guillotine-thing, the next?

Would there have been a royal Guillotine assembled just for Marie? something a bit finer, and perhaps cleaner, than the one they’d been using for the common criminals?

A woman with as much pride and common disregard as Marie Antoinette would have had her hair specially coiffured, and her makeup done—the foundation, rouge, eye shadow, mascara, and red, rich red lipstick, wouldn’t she?  She’d have chosen a special gown for her execution, something daring—perhaps a low-cut bodice, something lacy with flounce, something rich, and with a full skirt.

She imagined there’d have been a full audience for the execution of the queen. Everyone would be in the palace courtyard, crowding in on some sort of a raised stage, a platform for the Guillotine.

Marie's husband, King Louis XVI was already dead by then, and the new government, already in place.  All the important people would have been seated on a stage around the Guillotine, watching to verify that the queen was truly executed.

She would have stepped out from a side door, proceeding unmanicled but closely followed by armed guards, onto the platform in front of the observers, walking toward the Guillotine table.

As soon as she stepped out, there’d have been a rush of jeers and angry shouts.  With her head held high, her back straight, and her eyes focused ahead, she’d have acknowledged nothing, completely cloaked in her own dignity.

Watching her walk, so firmly, so delicately, and so regally, a hush would have fallen over the crowd. All silent, they would have been awed by their queen this one last time.

She’d have walked to the Guillotine, and paused just a moment, standing beside it. Then, before the guards beside her could even reach out to guide her, she’d have lowered herself onto the table under the Guillotine, raising her legs onto it and laying back, facing the blade overhead, her shoulders, head, and neck perfectly positioned below the blade.

She’d have lain on the table, motionless, her profile to the crowd, and gazing up at the newly whetted blade. It would have glinted in the sun, like the jewels in her ears. She’d have remained there, lying still, her lips lightly formed, not slack, still open enough for breath, with the hint of a smile.

She'd wondered, what had Marie thought about? Did she notice splinters in the wooden scaffolding  supporting the blade,  burrs in the metal, and scratches from the recent whetting, marring the finish? Wisps of clouds in the blue? Shuffling feet in the crowds around her, the buzzing of a fly, the song of a bird, the cry of a child, the tickle of a hair teased loose from her tight coif by the warm breeze  against her forehead?

Did she replay old conversations, running them through her mind? Did she feel again remembering the tug of her son suckling at her breast? Did she hear her own voice, as it sounded to her, singing the lyrics of a favorite song? Songs she sang to her son?

She’d have lain quiet—even as someone, a man most likely, and wearing ceremonial dress squared himself to the lanyard, but she wouldn’t have seen him—in her passive dignity she’d never have shifted her gaze from the Guillotine blade, up overhead. She’d have known he was there, feeling his presence, and she’d hear him there. She’d have heard that other blade, this  scraping against metal as he unsheathed  sword.  And she'd have heard that blade cut through the air as he swung back his arm, and then sliced  forward until the sword slashed the rope lashed to the Guillotine blade. She’d have heard each thread of the rope sever, separating, even through the deafening united gasp from the crowd. And she would have heard the suddenly liberated rope end slapping against the scaffolding. She’d have watched the Guillotine blade careening down its track along the inside planes of the scaffolding, falling ever down, toward her neck.

It would have seemed to take forever, for the blade to fall the few dozen feet to slice through her neck. A lifetime. Long enough to remember her childhood, and Austria. To remember calling into the Alps, so they could echo back her own child voice, the fields of edelweiss, the “noble white” flowers, like royalty themselves. And the last she would see of them, riding away forever in the flor d leis decorated carriage, to marry the King, now dead.


And in unison, the old wooden chair-desks scraped against the gray linoleum floor, the same desks, many of them her mom had sat in, as her classmates stood to run to their next class. She'd shaken her head, clearing it, and wondering briefly what else old Spitfire had said, after she mentioned the Guillotine, and Marie. But she didn’t have time for that. She’d read the book tonight. Had to get to science class  on the other side of the building.

Okay, so for one part of one history class, a long, long time ago, she had an involved mental encounter with a Guillotine. But good Lord, Old Spitfire was hard to follow. You could hardly understand what she said through those slack lips, crooked teeth, and mouth full of spit. You had to do something. Even so, it was just one part of one morning class, more than twenty-five years ago.

So why the dreams?