WHISTLING SHADE

'Lancelot and Guinevere' by Herbert Draper

The Suppression of Savage Customs

by Steve De France
  
I came back to London, as you know, 
full of emptiness to finish Mr. Kurtz's affairs. 
I filed my final report with the Trading Company.
Later that morning, with considerable trepidation, 
a few letters, and an odd picture stuffed in my overcoat,
I knocked on the door of Kurtz's fiance. I heard her step, 
then her dress gliding above Persian carpet.

Upon hearing who I was--she ushered me into a small 
parlour where we sat on a walnut settee. The room 
was dark, claustrophobic with heavy drapes.

Without preamble she said, "Well? 
What did he say? Did he speak of me? 
Did he call out my name?" Her voice
was low and intense. Her cold hands clasped mine.
I mumbled, "Everything that could be done. . . "
Not wanting to disappoint her--truth was here hijacked. 
I wallowed in my own dark soul of absolute blackness.

"Yes" I heard a strained voice say,
the voice was mine, "as he died, he called out your name!"
I cleared my throat.

Silence.

Triumphantly she softly exhaled, 
"Yes, I knew it.
In his final moments, I knew it.
He needed me!"

Cupping my grizzled face in her hands,                        
She stared into my eyes--I tried to look away
but she held me there with her piercing gaze,
there in growing horror she saw reflected the Congo.
My eyes glowed with cannibal fires, naked black women 
in golden hoops and bells, bodies glistening with oil 
and the musky smell of the forest.
She began softly weeping. Tears traced her cheeks 
leaving fragile lines trailing down her powdered face.

Her whole body trembled and for a moment 
we were both captured in the gathering blackness,
at the edge of the primal forests,
as the river flowed into the heart of an immense
darkness--onto the uttermost ends of the earth.