Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Sad (07/26/07)
TITLE: A Letter from Azema
By Dee Yoder
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As my husband’s eyes scan the seal on the back, they grow large and wide in fear. He snatches the letter from me and strides immediately to the fire. He holds it close as I watch his lips murmur the words on the first line. When he reaches the bottom of the page, he drops his arm to his side. His face falls.
“What is it, Jean? Is the King…dead?”
“Not dead. They are being held in the stenographer’s box at the National Assembly.”
“They? Louis…Antoinette…the children?”
“Oui, and a few hangers-on.”
“But, I thought they were safe at the Tuileries. What can have happened?”
“This letter is from Deputy Michele Azema. He tells that they fled the Tuileries in the night.”
I cover my exclamation with my hand. I see the implications for us, for Paris, for all of France. Though the Revolution is for the people, the bloodshed and fear, the unknown future of us all, frighten me. It sends me shivering to the fire for warmth. The King, Louis XVI. His beautiful Marie Antoinette. His children. What will happen to them? I know that the people are demanding the guillotine.
“May I, Jean? I want to know it all.”
Jean hands me the letter but he doesn’t stay to watch me read it. I read slowly, fearing I’ll miss some hint of our own fate that the deputy may convey.
“The King has been suspended from all his functions and powers; we have driven out his counterrevolutionary ministers and have named others worthy of public confidence.” *
When I read the lines that describe the location and condition of the ousted King and his family, my heart sinks. Though he ruled unfairly, my sympathies are roused by the pitiful narration of their present circumstances.
“…their fare as this has consisted, deliberately, of scarcely more than bread, wine, and water. Good God, what a sight!”*
The deputy’s delight in their misery sickens me. I try to imagine what the children are thinking. One day, living in the grandest palace in France, the next, running for their lives in the night, sneaking into the National Assembly, longing for safe sanctuary. And Louis, begging for aid from the very men who caused his downfall! I think of the proud Antoinette: how this must rankle with her.
As I continue to read, Jean comes back, and he is dressed for the outdoors. I stop reading.
“Where?” I demand.
He says nothing; he won’t meet my eyes. I know what he’s thinking. I don’t have to be told where he’s going, but I want him to say the words.
I go to him and grab his arms. I try to make him look at me, but he refuses. I place his hands on my belly; I try to make him know where his loyalties lie. Still, he refuses to answer, to see me, to see his future with our babe. He pushes me aside.
“Jean…” I plead. My eyes fill, and the hopelessness of knowing what he is planning to do turns my insides to stone. I drop to the hearth. The ugly letter, the hateful letter, flutters to the floor.
His eyes suddenly burn with anger and he grabs the letter. He holds it close to my face. His mouth is mean for a moment as he quotes, “…these gods on earth, stripped and deprived of their masks…are now not even men…”
He crumples the letter with both hands, his fists shaking. As he turns to go to the door, I see his resolve waver, his shoulders slump. A sigh escapes his mouth, and I know the inner turmoil with which he’s wrestling. Just before he leaves, he turns to me.
“I’ve followed the destiny of the wrong King, Lynette. I’ve bent my knee to an earthly throne, and kissed a hand not worthy to be kissed. Now, I pay for my folly.”
“But our son…our babe!” I cry.
For a second, Jean taps the open door with the wrinkled paper. His bowed head, his defeated stance, his sad face, stabs me.
“Tell him he had a fool for a father.”
Suddenly, he bolts through the door and disappears. The letter is caught by the wind and
floats like a shroud, gray and ghostly to the threshold. A visible sentence foretells our future: “…in the end they have the same fate that false divinities have always had when the blindfolds of error fall away…”*
“…for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for generations.” Proverbs 27:24 NIV
*From a letter written on August 10, 1792, by Deputy Michele Azema, before the start of the French Revolution, which brought Napoleon Bonaparte to power.
Word Count: 749
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