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AN EXPECTATION OF LIVING

                            Danse Macabre Left

I̶t̶ ̶w̶a̶s̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶b̶e̶s̶t̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶i̶m̶e̶s̶. I̶t̶ ̶w̶a̶s̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶w̶o̶r̶s̶t̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶i̶m̶e̶s̶. It was the end of times. Et in Arcadia ego, was painted over every door. There proves to be no end to our world that isn’t like its beginning: a landscape made indifferent to people, something we recall too late.

The rich are holed up in their mansions, in secret enclaves at the pole and on choice islands. They wait for the cure or for the plague to abate. The poor have to shift for themselves. Existence is rewritten as a satyr play of monstrous dimensions. Only everyone dies horribly at the end. So nothing, really, has changed.

We know that no cure will be found: this is not a malaise of the flesh but also of the spirit. The ocean of the dead has no far shore. Death has swallowed life and found it to its liking; it will not relinquish its prize. We’ve wasted our collective chances long ago if we ever had them. There’s no point in striking out across the Hellespont now.

So we choose to live, rather than hide, to enjoy wine and lovemaking and Voltaire read among the headstones. We refuse the cordon sanitaire that only substitutes purgatory for the tomb. The world has gone to Hades but we refuse to go with it. With one set of predators and oppressors gone, the dead seem a favourable exchange. We just want to get drunk and fuck a few more times before it disappears.

We live in the villages where the living is easy rather than in the towns, making occasional forays into the cities - not for medicine or weaponry - but for art, wine, and books. Or just to stretch our legs. When a location is overrun, we retreat to the next village, drawing away the horde and diminishing it as it comes. We will not sit in musty cellars counting beans and ammunition.

Shellfish and water fowl flourish along the estuaries, though meat on the hoof is hard to find. We don’t mind; the wild ceps in autumn and the endless bottles of Muscadet cooled in the stream are no less delicious. Brown trout still lurk in the rivers. No one among us has to raid dusty hypermarket shelves or eat canned “Cassoulet la Bordelaise” except by choice, and still we do not go hungry.

What we do hunger for is not what sustains the body but the mind. What elevates or creates bathos in our diminished state. Now that we have only each other the world feels small again. Magazines their pages stiff with products and celebrities we’ll never have the opportunity to consume, though our chances back then were ersatz, are devoured like forbidden fruit.

This only awakens our appetites. Amuse-bouches, when what we crave is more substantial. But this we can not simply glean from the water-damaged stacks in every Carrefour. Easy forms of entertainment and communion are lost to us. We’ve been hurled back fifty years, a hundred, if not more.

For this, we must make sacrifices. Push ourselves into those spaces where we have been outmoded. Turn our eyes to the cities and away from the countryside. It is well that we do, else our lives here would be too tranquil for all the restless dead that lap at its edges. Useful as well, for otherwise we might never have come to this earthly paradise. Our garden not in Eden.

It is only when we are surrounded by the dead that we truly live.

Holbein Dance of Death
                        Danse Macabre Right