La Grande Guerre

Kathleen Rooney


A parasol and a stone seawall and a polished lady clad all in white: ostrich feather hat, fringed purse, silk gloves. Her posture lovely, her coiffure tight. But Mag has planted a flower in front: a blue hydrangea pom-pomming preposterously. Star-shaped blossoms facade what Georgette would most like to see: is the lady’s face as pretty as her dress? But Georgette confesses to Loulou the Pomeranian that she likes that her husband has denied them that.

The three of them are on a walk to get groceries in the morning after a gray spring rain. The air is hung with a purple smell: lilacs. Some petals on the ground, some still attached. Hydrangeas, though gorgeous, have no scent.

Some people, some climates, can be too nice, oppressive in their mildness, a mildness unto death. Her husband has a wildness. A perversity without which the conditions of their marriage could become adverse. He can be terse and steady, but he is not without temptation.

In line at the butcher’s, they hear a woman ask for “Two nice kidneys, please,” and Magritte whispers to Loulou and Georgette, “I’m tempted to ask for two horrible ones.”

Georgette’s father was a butcher. As a butcher’s daughter, she grew used to the slaughter of animals for food. “Would you ever eat me?” Loulou had asked when he was a puppy. “Of course not!” Georgette had said. “Forget about that.” But she understood why he’d wonder.

When they walk by the American consulate on the way home, Mag is tempted again: “Maybe I’ll go in and ask them to do the necessary paperwork to make me the King of America tomorrow.”

The image is called The Great War, and the glory of the woman’s attire conflicts with the violence of her not-so-long-ago era. If Magritte were king, then Georgette would be queen, and Loulou would be both heir and court jester. They have, in their family, a defiance of common sense.

Mag seems staid, Georgette knows, to people outside their isosceles triangle, but he’s got his darkness and he’s got his edges. He suffers from what he calls “the bizarre affliction” – the source of his ills and his melancholic progress: ennui. As their friend Suzi has said, he lives it as a metaphysical condition, and about his pursuit of painting he at times manifests “an almost constitutional dislike, feigning something between boredom, fatigue, and disgust.”

Georgette imagines that if you took the hydrangea away, you’d find the woman to be blind. She looks like the kind to say Pro Patria, and to shut her eyes, stop her ears, and sing a popular song. “Right?” says Loulou. “Like, La la la, everything’s sunny and nothing’s wrong.” Ugh.


Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, and a founding member of Poems While You Wait. Co-editor of René Magritte: Selected Writings, she is also the author of seven books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, including, most recently, the novel O, Democracy! and the novel in poems Robinson Alone. Her second novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in 2017.