Sunday, 1 March 2009

The Eleventh Place

Madame Boucher brought dinner to us, cotriade with crepes, a seafood stew, and gignot d'agneau, shallots in cream which were better than anything I have ever eaten before or since. My uncle Adraste and I ate in silence, until I insisted he continue my father's tale.

"We played cards in his library for several evenings. He showed me how his mysterious opponent arrayed his atouts on the table, and I tried to understand some reason or pattern behind it: six cards arranged in a hexagon, three more cards above that and one final card at the top pointing to one's opponent. Your father was convinced there was some meaning in it."

"Was there?"

"Yes. It was the Sephiroth. I recognized it as soon as he dealt it, and went to his books and showed him an illustration of the figure in Oedipus Aegypticus."

"Can you show me?"

As Madame Boucher cleared away the dishes, my uncle went to his bureau and found a sheet of paper, scratched out something with his quill, and returned to the table. He had drawn ten circles in the same arrangement he described, connected by lines.

I said, "It's marelle, hopscotch, but with circles instead of squares. Look, here is heaven and here is earth. You just drew it upside down."

My uncle looked at me with astonishment. "Yes, earth should be pointing down, that's right. That is Malchut, the entrance, the Kingdom. And up here, close to you, is Kether, the unmoving centre of all things, the Crown, the infinite light. These ten circles are the different ways man may understand God, and they are also the different means by which God created man and all the universe. In between Kether and Mulchut are Revelation and Reason, Mercy and Judgment, with Balance in the centre, Endurance and Magnificence below, and here, just above the Kingdom is the Translator who makes the word known to man. Each one is a world of its own, and together they are called the Tree of Life, or the face of God. The four that make up the trunk represent Father, Son, Holy Ghost and Man; these ones are Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon, arranged between the fixed heavens and the ever-changing elements. Now if we place your cards in this pattern, we can tell a story with them."
I ran to my room and took my father's playing cards from their hiding place, and brought them to my uncle. "Show me where to put them."

"Just play the atouts. If you deal a suit card, a wand or a cup, yes like that one, place it here on the discard pile.

I dealt out my cards onto the circles my uncle had drawn.
"There's one missing, here."

My uncle's face darkened. "Why do you say that?"

"If you hop here, then you're out." I pointed to the empty place directly beneath the Crown, where two lines crossed.

"There is an eleventh sefira, the Abyss, in which all phenomena are stored, undifferentiated, unified. It is Pluto, the underworld, the fallen angels. But it is a null place, and it is never drawn in the diagram."

"You mean there's nothing there?"

"Something's there alright, but it could be anything or anyone. It's changeable, it means something different to everyone, every time."

I studied the drawing, and in my head ran the rhyme we always sang when we leaped from square to square.

Down by the riverside the green grass grows,
Where some walk and some tiptoe.
She sings, she sings so sweet,
She calls over to someone across the street.
Give her a square, give her a level,
Give her a compass and send her to the devil.

"Is that where my father went?" I blurted, pointing to the grinning satyr dealt into the  eleventh  place.

Madame Boucher returned with our sweet rum-flavoured gâteau nantais and nearly dropped them when she saw the cards spread over our table. "Dear God, Monsieur Adraste, what are you doing! In front of the child! It's blasphemy to show her such things."

And deaf to my entreaties and cries, which only made her more determined, she swept up my father's deck and would have thrown them in the fire if my uncle had not protested. He took them from her and slipped them in his waistcoat pocket with what I imagined was a small sigh of relief.


Osprey said...

This was a particularly inspired installment. Thank you for tweeting to say it was here.

Enjah Mysterio said...

The bridge over the abyss, the razor's edge of invisible paths ... none but the pure of heart may pass there, those of delicate balance and poise.