Posted by Swellengram

Cosette - the story of a Moss Maiden

  • Posted 5 months ago
  • Local Stories

Ode for Cosette

She stands out remarkably above everything and everyone. Half-naked and broken, she reminds me of a burst grenade. The ordinary street in the ordinary town stirs me unusually since she made her appearance. All thanks or blame to the new shop that opened doors with display goods and merchandise from all over the world. Images from the East, silverware from England, French furniture with fine thin legs, carpets from the Middle East, paintings with gilded frames that leave me speechless, and also, she, the mannequin …

Every day the hustle on the shop porch. Every day the heart attack when someone stands right in front of her and looks at her, admires her. From ordinary people to respected people, to less ordinary people and even more respected people, everyone loyal to the curiosity so typical, and for me so small-world-beautiful, of the countryside.

 Every day the bookkeeping in my head about a price for her.

 I look for a name for her deep inside me, for the mannequin doll of Kennett & Lindsell, Made in England, because when I go to fetch her I want to greet her by her name. At night when everything is quiet, I wonder about her. She has been walking the world for years, since the 1800s. says the shop’s saleswoman – her name is Byerina – we are on first name terms, because I am on the porch every day weighing and measuring. I lie awake and wonder if she will still be there tomorrow, if she will wait for me? Yesterday afternoon I heard there are a few more “odd ones” who think she is a “beauty”. I tempt fate not to just go and get her, I want to know she waited just for me.

And she waited for me. She now lives with us in the French guest room with the name French Bouquet.

What is it that makes her so bitter-sweet-beautiful for me I wonder? Is she perhaps a mirror image, an echo, or the primal scream, of my own-self? The Victorian bath in the French room is my end of the day ritual favourite place. Tonight, when I doze off in the languid water and the blissful night silence of a countryside town, a soft hoarse voice wakes me. Do I imagine, can it be, I prick up my ears and listen.

It was Madam Mantel who had her brought by a large ship from England. She was wrapped in soft tissue paper that smelled of neroli, and then tied up in a linen bag. On the bag were two beautiful, embroidered letters, she remembers, K&L, in golden silk threads. Then only she was nailed in a wooden crate, and she rocked over the Atlantic Ocean to her first home, an apartment near the Champs-Elysées. She tells me, if it were not for the comforting neroli scent of blossom and spice, she would have suffocated!

Madam Mantel was single and alone, and in the evening, she sat on her chaise lounge with two cups of tea, one for her and one for her beloved mannequin. In the background on the turntable played the most beautiful baroque music, her favorite composer was Jacques Champion de Chambonnières.

As I listen to her story, I no longer see the cracking of the grenade, but only the crimson of the seeds, the sweetness of it tasted in my mouth …

 “Madam always nibbled on a macaron when she drank tea. Every day freshly bought at a patisserie further down the cobblestone street. The window in this room was always slightly pushed open, and the breeze that blew from the Seine side through it, gently brushed the lace curtain, “la dentelle francaise”, against my shoulders. It was the most beautiful moment of the day, when we two came to rest. The overcrowded room that smelled of tea, and the sun that folded us in an amber hue. She kicked off her shoes and curled up on the couch, and stared at nowhere, and then I was always glad she had me, because together we were never lonely.”

Last night I fiddled unnecessarily in the French room where Cosette now lives, hopeful for another story, but she does not speak. I then run a bath and light candles. While I watch the candles’ flickering shadows on the wall, I hear something, a captivating sound like wind in a blue gum forest, a gripping melody.

 “The bridal gowns’ fit was exciting” sighs the blue gum forest sounds from Cosette’s broken doll body. “But actually, it was Mademoiselle Rosette’s nightgowns that I wanted to try on. She refused to sleep in cotton or linen dresses, she preferred velvet. The softest fabric, the most beautiful colours, emerald, green, purple, silver, white.” (Cosette’s voice becomes excited, rises higher just like wind that blows stronger in the blue gum forest across our house.) “She secretly smoked in Madam Mantel’s apartment, to Madam’s feigned dismay. She had to push the window high up and blow the smoke outside. Then she hung half-body outside over the window and her pretty fine petticoat and showed her most beautiful thin ankles and perky boots! It was always my most beautiful beauty, more beautiful than the amber blanket of the late afternoon sun.”

I wake up in an ice-cold bath, the night is quiet, the stars blink bright-eyed in the pitch-black night sky. I shiver past Cosette where she, despite her torn and broken doll body dignified, perhaps slightly arrogant, stands in the corner. In this “presence” of her I stumble, and let my towel gently fall. I show her she is not alone broken and bruised. I expose my secret to her, I want to comfort her with this. “Cosette”, I say to her, “our deepest beauty comes from this sacred place of naked brokenness. I’m going to make us tea then I’ll tell you something you might not have known.” 

I make tea in my finest Sevrés porcelain cups, put on my turquoise velvet dress, and try to make my voice sing like the wind in the blue gum forest, just like when Cosette tells me stories. I sing “Kintsukuroi” – dramatically – in a few octaves higher than my own mezzo-soprano voice, just to get her attention, because it is after midnight, and she is probably sleepy. When I feel she is awake, I tell her about the wonderful art called Kintsukuroi. At the end of the story, I stay silent for a sacred moment and then continue …

“Cosette, my beautiful Cosette, I wanted to bring you home, like Saartjie Baardman from the other day’s sadness. I want to mend your feathers with tender hands, repair your rags with gold. The day I saw you I knew it was my noble work for this year’s spring. To restore you, like the ancient Japanese restoration work on broken goods, so that you can be again, and even more valuable than the day you were gently wrapped in snow paper that smelled of neroli, on your maiden voyage to the studio of Madam Mantel.

Here you will be safe as long as you live here, here you will always be reminded that rejection, humiliation, infidelity, weighed and found wanting, all the bumps and bruises of life here on earth, do not necessarily entail soul death, but rather a special beauty. I want to display and honor you Cosette. You will not feel pins prick against your doll body here. You will never get wet again. As long as I live, you will never have to stand among business goods on a second-hand shop sidewalk or almost suffocate in the dark rocking belly of a ship. You are my ode to the Divine beauty that is born from brokenness. Thank you for singing wordlessly to me every day, the most lovely song of Leonard Cohen. “Ring the bells that can still ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that is how the light gets in.”

 Peaceful night beautiful Cosette Kintsukuroi …

 Moira-Ann Seal Odendaal

Swellendam Tourism

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