Collective Martyrdom

Marie-Eugénie, who was named after Marie-Eugénie de Jésus, and simply went by Marie so as to not overly play up her already overt Catholic background, could not endure another All Saints Day. Having lived her entire life in Lourdes, she was well-versed in the credence all “good” Catholics ascribed to the holiday. She was even forced by her mother, Anne-Sophie, to be an altar server until Marie was at last old enough to come to her senses, therefore refuse. It was at this point she was made to light a candle and take communion instead… at the very least on the Sunday closest to whenever All Saints would fall. When it fell on an actual Sunday, Anne-Sophie took her edict even more seriously, dragging Marie to the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception for this special occasion no matter how hard she had partied the night before. 

Parties, of course, were hard-won in Lourdes, and tended to happen in underground locations orchestrated by the youths who had grown wary of being told their entire lives that they lived in a holy place, only to quickly find out that there was no such thing as a miracle. It was all pomp and circumstance. The boy Marie had fallen in love with, Étienne, was usually the person to organize these gatherings, providing the drugs and the music equipment necessary for a life spent in the hell of “divine” Lourdes. All Saints Day was just one more reason to despise living there, and as soon as Marie could, she was planning to get out of France, likely to England, where nothing was viewed as sacred except royalty. That she could live with. It was a notch up from worshipping ordinary crazies who claimed to have had some celestial encounter with God.

What a crock of shit, Marie thought to herself as she took a serene drag from her cigarette and exhaled with the explosivity of a volcano, huffing and puffing in the hope of blowing this whole town down. But engaging in hope was just as much hooey as believing in miracles, she reminded herself. It was roughly T-minus three hours until the party on that Saturday before All Saints (in its purest “falling on Sunday” form), and she was standing on the sidewalk of the only Carrefour in town–which looked like a massive warehouse from the outside–waiting for Lucien to emerge with the alcoholic bounty they would bring as a sacrifice to the “gods” that evening. 

Marie had already told her mother she was simply sleeping over at Marthe’s, and that she would come home tomorrow before the church service started. She had to swear several times on the Bible to assure Anne-Sophie she would not sleep in, she would not disappoint God, which was the ultimate disappointment to her mother. And her mother was not one to suffer disappointment–for, as she liked to iterate repeatedly, Marie’s father had caused her enough to last more than a lifetime. Wherever Jean-Philippe had disappeared to, Marie wished she was there with him. It had to be better than being stuck in Lourdes. In this abyssal spiral of a religious haze. A cult of crackpots convinced that “healing” lie in something external rather than internal. It was enough to make Marie feel sick herself. 

As Lucien walked out with two paper bags clasped in one hand and an armload of beverages in the other, she hurried to stub out her cigarette and help him. They walked to his car, a red Fiat, and shoved the contents in the back. He sighed heavily, turned to her and asked, “Wanna get a drink?”

It wasn’t hard to find one of the only bars near the Carrefour, La Pergola, often filled with clientele of “ill repute” crammed in the small “balcony”-type outdoor area. Knocking back whatever drinks the establishment had to offer just for the sake of 1) having something to do and 2) not being presented with the only other options of either going home or to church or to some spa claiming to offer “reparative” waters in their treatments. Sitting at a table with Lucien, the two sipped on Kronenbourg 1664s and talked about Étienne. Étienne was their common ground and, if Marie was being honest with herself, she had a hunch that Lucien was secretly in love with him, and that she was a vicarious conduit through which he could fuck Étienne. Thus, Marie was unflinching in the sexual details she would provide, which Lucien was all too eager to gobble as he offered his own advice on what other “tricks” Étienne might like her to try. Lucien was also fond of discussing the dichotomy of Marie’s namesake, himself an avid studier of the saints despite being an atheist. He looked upon them as a collection of fantastical fairy tales to be studied for the purpose of one day being faced with a Slumdog Millionaire kind of moment. 

So it was that he proceeded to speak on Marie-Eugénie de Jésus’ bifurcated class background, with her father’s being one of wealth (before his riches were ripped from him by the whimsies of fortune) and her mother’s being one of poverty. Perhaps her mother, in the end, only tried to marry for money, for she left Marie-Eugénie’s father after he lost it. Separated from him and her brother, Marie-Eugénie was moved to Paris where her preoccupation with tending to the poor would light the way for her path going forward. Though Lucien maintained no such interest would have developed if her father had remained rich. 

Marie’s response to this was, “There’s nothing worse than broke ass parents in this life.” 

Lucien drove her home to change. Her mother was still working her shift at the Belfry Spa by l’Occitane, where she was a maid. Anne-Sophie’s absence would buy her time to put together a more trollop-inspired look, which, naturally, she complemented with as many crucifixes as possible. Madonna wasn’t the only one capable of wielding the effect for the sake of “Madonna/whore” irony. 

At the party, Stromae’s “Alors On Danse” played in cliche fashion, but she didn’t mind. In fact, it was the only detail she could remember before the smoke machine seemed to bring in with it a sort of invisible poison, gassing them all into oblivion in their own form of collective martyrdom for being the youths of Lourdes–expiring all together as the clock struck midnight to mark the advent of Sunday. Clutching to Étienne as she gasped for air, Marie vaguely felt it was the spirit of her own saint that was behind this. Or maybe even her mother, finally seeing fit to show Marie that miracles (in the form of exacting punishment for pleasure) were real, after all. For all these sinners would eventually be canonized and celebrated as one mass of martyrly saints in subsequent decades on All Saints Day. The perfect way to pay homage to the nameless, as well as those the Catholic Church would prefer their parishioners to forget the specifics about.

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