Walking With Cyclop

by Erika Byrne-Ludwig

I was looking for a house in the French countryside. A small farm, to be precise, one I could buy and rent out. With separate accommodation for me to live in during summer. A place in which I could continue with my studies under a different sky, in the warm weather, the warm July winds that bring in wheat and poppy fragrances. A warmth that envelops you and makes you roll down the slopes with a complete sense of abandon.

There was the need in me for renewal. Some tickles to my brain. To fill it with new fertile soil, add some peat, some dressing, discard the decay. Rust had also infiltrated my bones. This needed some vigorous treatment. Long walks perhaps. Overall I was not in good shape. A clear repair program would help. Find adequate remedies, let their balms linger a while, wait for a burst of health buds.

In some hazy way I might have had a retreat in mind. That's when my eyes caught this particular property. It certainly evoked tranquility. It was a farm on a hill in the middle of nowhere. Several kilometres from the nearest village. A photograph possibly taken on an overcast day showed a bleak house. An old-style stone building with small window panes and timber shutters, two chimneys on the tiled roof. The front and right side of the house casually screened by a stole of evergreen trees. The land at the back sloping down to the edge of a river. At first look, a shell of a house, quite sinister actually, a skeleton of a house even, with its windows staring. Eyes no longer there. Empty black cavities.

On the other hand there were the surroundings with fields lying fallow. Many trees, stately and robust, old or very old, left alone, breathing in the clean country air. Plenty of walks, walks you could invent or tracks you could follow. A forest you could visit, just to contemplate it or startle it with monologues. Vacant for over a year, this old stone-house had so far not attracted any buyer. A sunnier picture might have arrested more glances.

Added to the farm some basic structures and features were only waiting to be used. Two pumps, stacks of firewood. Some farm machinery calling for workers. Where had everyone gone? Why had they moved out? Had they left memories in the walls of the house, the barn, the stables? Were their hands imprinted on the door handles, the powerpoints, the taps?

The agent entrusted me with the key. I let you get acquainted with the house on your own, he said. I liked the idea of being in charge of my spirit. Of having the whole property wrapped around me only. Straightaway a sense of ownership took hold of me as I imagined myself moving from room to room, opening windows and doors, trying to understand its overall country character.

I opened the timber door straight into a large kitchen. A long table in the middle with a bench on each side and a timber chair at each end. Sink, stove, coal heater, all had a yesteryear's look. Having been used and reused. I moved to the first bedroom, then to the second, lastly to the third, still partly furnished with two beds and a wardrobe. A quaint wood heater in the middle. The heart of the room. I peeked inside it. Ashes and a log skeleton. I looked out the window, down to the field, could see the bridge behind a row of poplars. The air had a late afternoon warmth, mellowing the birds' songs and the flies' humming. Inside it was cool, silent, airless. The walls were thick, the rooms spacious, the ceilings high, all perhaps connecting with each other in a long understanding acquired the moment the first stones were laid.

Out of curiosity, I opened the ricketty wardrobe door with idle hands. Before I had time to react an object fell on my chest and wound itself around me. Like a very cold gale, it gave me a shivering embrace. My heart switched from normal beating to drumming, or was it someone else's heart.

It was a skeleton. A timber one. A work of art. Tied to it a system of springs which when released captured its prey. When I looked up I could vaguely see the lower part of its forehead with an engraved word: CYCLOP.

I gradually disentangled myself from my captor. Starting with moving his skull away from my face to allow full breathing. Then his limbs, one by one, all unyielding. My hand was clumsy, Cyclop showed resistance. It was as if he wished to claim ownership of me, to be an appendage of me.

Carrying him under my arm, I walked towards one of the twin beds and laid him down, took his springs off, leaving him bare. A handsome skeleton. Someone's idea of fantasy. It had even been varnished. I looked at this strange object, lying there harmless and motionless, sat at his bedside and stared. Both of us had just come out of an adventure.

One day I'll look like Cyclop. When my body retires from life. I'll be bones. Not now though. Too many wishes to fulfill yet. A long research to complete: my study on the afterlife was only in its sketch form. Lots of planning. A bit of country life to taste. Decisions to make. Should I buy this farm? I stared at Cyclop. Could he answer for me? Has he made a decision on my behalf? The realm of fantasy ... what a place to be ... subtle influences ... His eye carved in the middle of his forehead was staring at me.

I have now moved into my new country residence. It's summer in France. And I'm looking forward to a break. Animals have added liveliness, sounds and scents to the farm which has come out of hibernation and settled with a young farmer. Surrounded by tractor noises I'm off to my leisure walks, in search of discoveries. A giant oak tree. A path lined with pine trees, fresh mushrooms, wild blackberries. No feeling of isolation. The farm's shutters have been painted and a new photograph taken. It hangs on the wall of my summer place. So does the bleak house, the one I saw from a long distance, the one I visited, gradually uncovering its soul.

Cyclop is with me next to my desk in a corner of the loungeroom. He is sitting on an old raffia chair. His thorax held back straight. His hands tied to a lamp base, placed on his lap. In the evening I turn the lamp on. It lights us both with the same glow. He sits there silent, I sit here rummaging through my papers, thinking aloud, sighing, reading, wondering about the descent, going down the slope to the river, to the end of life and beyond. My research is moving on. Cyclop's head is turned towards me. The lamp is lit.