Marcel’s Last Day in Marseille

Of the options available
late, early or punctual
I am usually late

Toward the port
I stride through
Old Marseille

I see him there
in familiar dark grey
suit made from linen

Sat outside his favourite café
Le Coq Bleu
a small coffee cup and saucer
sits on the table
newspaper is open
leg crossed over other

Top half of his face I see
recognisable instantly

a lift of his head
eyes narrowed

Joyeux anniversaire!‘ I call out
Newspaper droops into his lap
an expelled sigh, as I approach

Un cadeau, pour toi.’
a brown gift box
tied with a red ribbon bow
placed onto the table top
I stand back half a step

Impassive, Marcel’s voice says
‘I suppose you must join me.’
I sit without speaking
observe the closing and folding
of his Le Monde

Below the table top
away from sight
my damp palms rub together
to anticipate

‘What is it?’ He asks
‘Find out.’ I nod my head
‘Please, not another ready-made.
You don’t think I have enough?’

‘Most things are ready-made, Marcel.’
‘Unless you make them yourself.’ He retorts

Ribbon is pulled
bow unties
spirals to the ground

The four-part interlocking lid
Marcel opens outwards

Marseille’s friendliest waitress
arrives to the table
transfers serviette
coffee and a croissant
from tray

‘As your usual!’
Merci, Alice.‘ I say

‘It is Monsieur Duchamp’s special day?’
Oui, c’est vrai.’
C’est magnifique, je reviendrai bientôt.’

Marcel lifts crêpe paper out
from inside the box
and now his eyes widen
head pulls back in shock

Oh mon Dieu!’
‘Do you like it?’ I ask

Marcel stares at me
Marcel stares into the box
This feat
he repeats

‘It’s un ‘and grenade.’
Marcel whispers hoarsely
‘I know.’ I whisper back
‘To be precise,
a Swiss-made
HG-85 fragmentation grenade.’

Un aitch, gee, quatre-vingt-cinq?
‘I thought you would appreciate it.’
‘You thought I would appreciate it?’

Marcel twice swivels his head
through one-hundred and eighty degrees
scanning assembled cafe clientele

The setting is intimate
close enough
for conversation to spill
but to us
no one is looking
no one listening

People are talking
and laughing
some are reading
Someone over there
is napping through
the afternoon

‘What if it goes off?
‘On detonation,’ I say
‘that steel body,
packed with one hundred
and fifty-five grammes of TNT,
will release two thousand fragments….

‘Thereabouts?’ Marcel presses a serviette
at different points about his forehead
clears his throat, coughs
his eyes are filled with dread

‘Presenting dangers,
within a range of two hundred metres.
Lethal against unprotected personnel
at up to ten metres away.
Protected, armoured personnel
at up to five metres.’

‘Lethal?’ Marcel leans back into his chair
Mortel.’ I say
S’il vous plaît, take it back,’ he says with urgency
‘Just, take-it-back!
I don’t. want, your gift.
It might go off!
Why do you give this to me?’

‘Do not fret.’ I say
‘This device
has a supplementary
spring steel clip.
Thus preventing
the safety lever
from moving.
Only a freakish accident
could result in detonation
without intention.’

Oh mon Dieu, mon Dieu,
I am accident prone!
You know me, mon ami.
You know this to be true.’

‘Marcel, Marcel, relax.’ I say
waving his protestations away
‘Look here comes Alice
the waitress,
she has something delicious
a patisserie or two upon a plate for you.’

Monsieur Du-champ! I have something for vo-oo.’

‘Have you noticed her eyes, Marcel?’ I whisper
re-positioning myself to re-view
in admiration

In front of Marcel
goes down the plate
‘I move your gift box a little to over here.’
Alice says

Across the table-top it glides
along to the furthest edge
making space for fresh coffee
tray balancing precariously

Non! Non!‘ Marcel outbursts

In the confusion
box tumbles over
grenade rolls out

A loud gasp
Marcel attempts a catch
fingers reach and stretch
and one hooks
pulling free
the supplementary
spring steel clip

Alice apologises
amongst all this fuss
knees bend to retrieve
what’s dropped to the floor

Picks up grenade
by the safety lever handle
and, out it pops free

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.