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The Winter Palace Luxor
She wakes into bright sunlight, so bright she has to shut her eyes again, screw them up for a moment to readjust to the light. For that moment she lays back and luxuriates on the sheets, soft white thick cotton, delicious. The bed is huge and comfortable she stretches brushing away stray strands of her hair that is sticking to her face and turning slowly onto her belly she begins to rub herself against the coolness of the linen. She feels a stirring between her legs but ignores it and reaches out towards her pillow. There as expected is a large creamy envelope, her morning letter from David. It had started out as a joke, him writing her little notes to be left by her bed in the morning, he is an early riser and she never likes to be woken much before nine if she can help it. So he leaves her messages by her pillow telling her where he is and how much he is thinking of her, and how much he loves her unconditionally.
She doesn’t really understand the concept of unconditional love; she doesn’t believe in it, that he will continue to love her whatever might happen, whatever she does to him. It isn’t in her nature and she has no experience of it from her childhood. Lust and power she knows about, maybe even empathy and sometimes pity: but her love affairs have always been found wanting and she has done the leaving. She leaves as gracefully as she can when it becomes imperative for her to escape any awkwardness, anything that impinges unduly upon her obsession of the moment. , But maybe not this time, perhaps this time something else is going on here of a more permanent nature and yet she isn’t convinced of it. She lets the question mark sit in her brain
She shuts her eyes again trying to return to her dream, not that it has any bearing on her life at the moment, dreams have a world of their own that she enters and leaves every night in sleep, soothed but none the wiser for the experiences that she encounters there. All she can remember from this particular episode of her unconscious is the vibrant image of a beautiful chestnut mare, and the impression that someone was trying to take the horse away from her. It hadn’t wanted to go, that much was clear from the way it threw its head around and tried to escape from the men with ropes loading it into a trailer. The dream slips from her and with a little shrug she sits up in bed and reaches for the coffee left on the bedside table and takes a slug of it. It’s cold now it must have been left there a few hours ago but no matter. She throws back the sheets and opens the veranda windows fully leaning over the wrought iron balustrade and taking her first look at the rolling expanse of the garden.
It is beautiful: here there is no other way to describe it, the same kind of huge palm trees from the front drive are dotted over several acres of formal gardens stretching out as far as her eyes can see. The grass lawns are very green and succulent with water sprinklers playing over them. She doesn’t know a lot about gardens, and she has no clue as to the names of plants and flowers but David does, that’s one of the things that drew her to him the fact the he knows so much about a huge range of topics while she knows a lot about a select few.
—-If he doesn’t know something he goes out of his way to find out, just for her. —-
The garden is criss – crossed with gravel walkways that are pristine white, looking as if they have just been laid out in the night all new and shining for the following day, and several fountains flare in the circles of bowers where swallows dive and lapwings flutter. A piercing cry catches her attention and she looks up into the intense blue of the cloudless sky to see the wheeling arc of a golden eagle as he stalks his prey. For a few seconds she watches his circling spiral and shivers thinking of the imminent death of something succulent far beneath him. Nature has no heart she sometimes thinks; it is all instinct and eat or be eaten. It’s enough to turn her into an immediate vegetarian. She decides to shower and throw on a bikini and try the pool, she hasn’t seen proper sunshine for such a long time her skin feels pale and dry with the lack of it.
‘Can I come in?’
She wheels around startled and David is there, his face shaded by a large straw hat, a camera slunk across his chest in true tourist fashion and she can’t help smiling at his earnest expression.
‘’Of course you can, thank you for the letter, I haven’t had time to read it yet, but I will’’
She snuggles into his embrace lifting up her mouth for a kiss, she likes his kisses and she’s feeling in such a good mood this morning anything can happen. She lingers on the edge of the bliss of the kiss and he holds her to him his hand shaking slightly as he caresses her shoulder. He moves his palm down to cup her breast and she arches towards him, she can feel the hardness of him pushing against her leg and she wants him here in the sunlight with all his ideas and dreams of her. Dreams which she would rather believe in than the blank place in her head where her past lurks to hurt her if she lets it. The coupling is soft smooth and so very sweet, he is an infinitely caring gentle lover and he wants her to have her pleasure and has become adept at giving it to her. As long as she doesn’t open her eyes and look at the longing for her in his, it will all be alright.
When it is over they lie together and she laughs at the crumpled mess of his immaculately ironed trousers. Then because he has things to see to, surprises to lay in store for them both, he leaves her to shower and make her way out to the pool. The other guests see her as a slender figure in a panama hat and a striped Polo Lauren bikini, who is sometimes accompanied by a handsome older man. They wonder about the relationship, but not much: the couple look totally at ease with each other. He sits reading next to a wicker table and she swims and lounges languidly in the sun, above her head the eagle wheels and again she shades her eyes to look up at it. For a split second the thought appears in her mind that it has come for her that it has a message for her, but she tosses the thought aside and gratefully accepts a fruit juice from the impeccably dressed waiter who is touring the pool with a tray of refreshments. Idly she wonders what it must have been like when this was the residence of the King,
David watches her from under his sunglasses and lists the things he loves about her. He loves her exuberance and zest for life, the way that she always seems to be surrounded by a group of young people. He loves her generosity and her love of Art and Literature, how she will travel through the most dangerous zones in the world to recover an Art treasure. He adores the way her mind works leaping and tumbling from one idea to another so that he could never be bored with her and how she is a master of understatement and yet a Queen of Regal gestures and self-centeredness when she is in the mood. He loves her determination and focus and also the vulnerability that he glimpsed for a moment in her this morning when she was lying there so fast asleep cocooned in the white sheath of the sheets. Of course he adores her sensuality she is for him the most seductively sensual woman in creation and he can guess how Adam must have felt when tempted in the Garden of Eden. Yes, he feels almost Biblical in his love for her and although his faith in life has been eroded away over the years she has brought back to him his youthful libido and power. He feels like a man in his prime again and it is something he never thought he would regain even if he ever had it in the first place. Yet he is always moved by the way that she seems to be slightly lost when it comes to emotions and how to decipher them and how she is totally unable to talk about her early life.
—–As if she has amnesia when it comes to her childhood. —-
And above all she has a certain kind of purity about her where her heart is still open, where she isn’t the least bit jaded with the world or cynical about the people in it. She has a way of seeing ’into the life of things’
This morning when he had walked at dawn down the corridor of lions and into the court of Ramses the Great with the blood red sun rising above the small sacred lake in the Temple of Karnak, in that moment he had imagined what it must have been like to be a God King. For that is how it is told that the Pharaohs were thought of by their subjects. They were thought to be created in the image of their God and so they were themselves worshipped by the people as completely and uniquely immortal, with all the earthly emphasis placed on the journey into immortality that is to come. Nowhere in the Pyramid or Coffin Texts as they are known as, does it ever talk of the act of dying itself. That of course is until the appearance of the heretic King Akhenaton and his mysterious Queen Nefertiti.
He watches the eagle swoop from the heights of the effortlessly cloudless sky spiralling down down down. Its eye on the impossibly small scrap of mammal that it is diving to catch and he wonders how this will all be?
—This love affair that has torn his family apart.—
Neither of his eldest sons is really speaking to him and his daughter has tried to ban him from coming to her wedding in June. Tallulah of course has become the ‘demon’ in the story, the fabulously pretty woman who has run off with the rich husband, but that isn’t how it is at all. He has practically had to go down on bended knee to get her to even consider the idea of a possible future with him. A figure blocks out the light and she is standing there in front of him breaking through his reverie. He reaches for her hand and it grazes his arm sending shivers down it. He wants her again now; he wants her perpetually and constantly. His libido has returned to how it used to be in his twenty year old self and he can’t imagine a life without making love to her.
Not that it’s anything to do with lust. Yes he desires her but it’s more the feeling of oneness he gets when he is with her in bed. For the first time ever he isn’t lonely, he isn’t ‘doing something to someone’ instead in the twining of their limbs and the catching breath of the rising pleasure he feels at last that he understands the dance of the Universe. And then when it is over he simply wants to reach that place again. Nothing has prepared him for this feeling, in his thirty years of marriage he has never been unfaithful, and in fact he has followed a kind of dog like devotion to his family. Irritated by his own thoughts he orders a drink from the waiter. He doesn’t want to think of the past, of the judgements he is being put through by his children he just wants to live in the present of this magic place with this beautiful ephemeral woman.
Some days he wonders if he has imagined her, that if he blinks hard will she simply disappear?
‘’Why are you frowning ‘’ she asks inscrutable behind the huge dark sunglasses.
‘I’m not, it’s just the sun shining in my eyes’’. He lies, turning away from her for a moment wiping the sweat from the palm of his hand onto a towel. She turns from him and looks into the gardens.
‘’I’m just going for an exploratory walk’’ She tells him wrapping her sarong tightly around her bikini top to make a shift dress.
‘’Come back soon I’ve ordered lunch’’
‘’My God David if we keep eating all these meals I’ll just get fat and you won’t love me anymore’’.
‘’I can never imagine not loving you, however fat or thin you are, I sometimes wish I could ‘’ he sighs letting her go, but she knows better.
Yes Tallulah has heard it all before so many times, the love, the desire the possession, mostly the possession and she has learnt to wear it all lightly, each lover a skin that will soon moult away leaving heartache for them and a renewed .lease of life for her. Her skin radiant from the love hormones, her mind clear and open to the next adventure. And yet this man is somewhat different, he has a gravitas about him, strength of character that the others all lacked; maybe he really does think he loves her. What does she know of the word, only the dull ache in her heart of something known and missed that no mere mortal man can capture. A vague malaise every time she thinks she might have fallen into the shaft of love, only for relief to follow when she understands that it seems to be impossible for her to truly love anyone human.
She is in love with the idea of love, with mythic heroes from Homers Iliad, with unobtainable and dead silent movie stars, Valentino being one of her favourites. She is in love with places and this certainly could be one of them. She is in love with the idea of love and maybe because of this, that she has the ability to mirror each man’s idea of love back to him; maybe this is why they love her. Kingdoms have risen and fallen for the love of a woman and she is the sort of woman that men might die for without ever being able to own. It is precisely this enigmatic ‘otherness’ about her that promulgates her allure. Tallulah has always thought it simply a bit ‘weird’ men professing undying love without knowing who she is. She doesn’t really know herself who she is, so how on earth can they?
Rounding the corner of a bower she comes across a woman sitting on the ground who beckons to her and without a word being spoken between them she is soon seated on a low stool having the backs of her hands painted with henna. She sits sleepily as the bees hum in the blossoms and watches the sun drop from its midday position. The feel of the thin tipped paintbrush is soothing and she is so tired. She leans back against a cushion and closes her eyes.
The gold disc of the sun is now a red orb behind her retina, she hears the low murmur of drums in the distance coming closer and the air thickens around her making it difficult to breath,. But breathe she does deeply and it is the oriental smell of Frankincense and Myrrh that entices her, that and some other kind of resin that she can’t put a name to. Then she is aware of the low hum of voices, and she is walking down a long corridor with something heavy on her head and all the people around her are wearing white and bowing low on the ground. She smiles, she knows where she is going and he is waiting for her, it’s been so long since they’ve been together, it seems like an eternity. The huge doors in front of her are opening and there are black horses stamping and snorting impatient to be gone, waiting for her harnessed behind a golden disc of a chariot that burns her eyes as it catches the sun.
They are her horses these two black stallions she bought from the Bedouin costing a King’s ransom, but what is gold to her she has so much of it, she has a whole kingdom of it brought up to her from the goldmines of Nubia : it is love and power she desires. But even as she gazes at the prancing creatures in front of her she understands that she can’t have both those things, she will have to choose .She steps into the orb of the chariot and picks up the reins and then she is off with the wind behind her and the roar of the crowd in her ears. Away from the clean lines of the Palace with its sculptured simplicity and off into the desert to meet with the beloved.
Abruptly a voice cuts through the reverie like a knife carving it away from her, leaving her feeling exposed raw and on edge. She opens her eyes and into the red disgruntled face of David who is shaking her shoulder. The old woman has gone and the afternoon sun is now low in the sky. She must have fallen asleep; holding out her hands she sees a swirl of delicate hennaed patterns swirling down the back of her hands to her wrists. The red face is talking to her and she focuses on the words that are hitting her like cold rain and making her shiver.
‘’Where have you been? I’ve been searching everywhere for you? I almost sent out a search party. You were supposed to come and have lunch, I ordered a delicious lobster for you, and of course it is all ruined now. How selfish can you be Tula? I despair of you ever thinking of anyone else but yourself ‘’.
She looks at him puzzled. Who is this man? It certainly isn’t the person she was going to meet in the dream or vision or whatever you wish to call it, and why is he so angry. Then it all comes flooding back and she remembers, of course, she’s in Egypt with David and he is furious. It takes her a few more moments to gather her thoughts and then she lets him have it.
‘’Hang on a moment there anyone would think that you had caught me behind a bush with the waiter. I have just got my hands hennaed look how beautiful they are?
‘She holds them up for his approval still slightly lost in the dream, her voice languid and throaty. But she is talking to the empty air, David has taken his tantrum around a corner of the garden and disappeared and with a shrug she gets unsteadily to her feet. God knows how women manage to have long relationships with men like this; the demanding nature of it is staggering. Give her a young man any day, one who is grateful when he sees her and pines for her when she is not there. She lets the anxiety slip away from her like water and tries to recapture the feeling of a few moments ago. It comes back like a warm glow in the area of her heart and she holds the palm of her hand over it to try and nurture the small flame of something that she has never felt before.
—-A ‘rightness’ a sense of belonging, yes that is it. —-
In her waking dream just now she had felt that she was who she is meant to be. Now all she has to do is find out who that is and somehow she thinks the answer may be tied up in the magic of Egypt if she gets enough space and freedom to search for it without the disgruntled David in tow.
She disinterestedly eats a sandwich in the downstairs bar, she hasn’t a clue what is in it, probably something like Tuna and mayo, and it does the job which is to stop her feeling light headed. Then dressing in her room and making sure to take a hat and scarf she leaves the great front façade of the hotel and wanders down to the river. Soldiers with sub machine guns are in evidence everywhere and she remembers the massacre of some tourists on the steps of Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple and shivers. There is something a little bit scary about the place as if the thin veneer of tourism could easily be punctured and chaos set in.
That is how the ancient Egyptians thought of their world , ready any moment to revert back into primal chaos and the work of the Pharaoh and Temple priests was to keep ‘Maat’ or order in the world and prevent the chaos of the ‘’before time’’ taking over.
—–The chaos of the demons and the desert, with its constant threat of invaders and the coming of plague and nightmares which were unnameable. —–
All this was the underlying fear of the common people that the priests played on. The chaos might return if the rituals in the temple were not carried out each according to its allotted custom, and the Pharaoh himself was the divine form of the God Osiris on earth .The great Temple with its labyrinth interior was a place of darkness and secrecy, its inner sanctum only frequented by the priests or Royals and it was believed that the Gods actually lived in the Temple itself. Amun was hidden deep in the inner sanctuary where only the High priest or Pharaoh could visit to leave offerings and give thanks; to make requests in the name of the people of the land of Egypt. After each of the ceremonies their footprints were covered in sand as they left to make sure that no one intruded. The air was scented with expensive incense and in breathing it in they believed that they were breathing in the God himself and creating an inner divinity.
The ordinary people worshipped at home on their own small altars of household Gods or outside the Temple in the courtyard when it was known that the daily rituals were taking place inside. She has a deep need to visit the Temple now and on her own, she doesn’t want to have to listen to the voice of David beside her explaining in minute detail the history that she would much rather discover for herself. Rather lucky then that he has gone off in a red faced huff leaving her free to do as she likes at least for the time being
It is sunset now, the great orb of the sun at the height of the top of the scant brown mountains of the West Bank hovering above the tombs in the valley of the Kings and again she feels the bubble of something rise inside her as if she has a job to do but she just doesn’t know what it is. Along the road by the river are carriages with tourists jolting about being driven back and forth by gesticulating locals and she sits on one of the benches strategically placed along the river bank to get a feeling of the place. In the distance she can see the great pylons of the Temple and she has a great longing to go there. Decisively she steps out into the traffic and hails a carriage, and is soon sitting up with the driver watching the scurry of the river boats and the languid elegance of the great sails on the river as they trot briskly towards the Temple. It’s about a two km journey and in that time Tallulah is soon on first name terms with the driver who calls himself Dell Boy which is lost on her as she has never watched the TV show,
They round a curve in the road and there it is, breath-taking in the rose light of the sunset the huge monument to the past glory of Egypt, the biggest Temple in the world, the great gates watched over by the two immense statues of Ramses ii. She catches her breath and leans forward, the shadows are lengthening and the place is being closed up for the night but money changes hands and she is soon wandering through the great painted columns , ghostly in the sliver of the new moon that is visible over the sacred lake. She sees shadows of the buildings that used to house the priests where now there are none and she blinks quickly to dissipate the illusory image of another larger building to her right. She’s being weird there is nothing there now except the lake and sun baked crumbling ruins to one side of it. Dell Boy has promised to wait for her at the other end of the Temple complex at the corridor of sleeping lions as he calls it which is the avenue of human headed sphinxes on lion’s bodies that link the Southern gate of Karnak to the Temple of Luxor.
As she walks through the massive columns of the Hypostyle hall she marvels at the sheer scale of the place and then she rounds a corner and suddenly she is completely alone in the immense structure. But instead of being afraid she feels lightness take over her feet and she strides purposefully through the gloom as if she knows exactly where she is going.