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Oscar d’Artois is an American writer from Paris, France. He is the author of the poetry book Teen Surf Goth (Metatron, 2015), and a prose book called Ramen, which nobody wants to publish because it’s too explicit. 

1 story by Oscar d'Artois

Surprise View


We drive to some abbey/estate ruins nearby, for something to do, because it is the countryside and we are bored and for once we have a car, and your parents gave us these passes that let us get in for free. When we get there I think, wow. Very old. I say, I feel like every time I come to a place like this, I just wind up wondering what it is that, as a kid, got me so exhilarated by ruins like this in the first place. Or wishing I could get back to that place.


You say, That’s why people have children. So they can experience someone more clueless than them getting excited about clambering about on some old pieces of rock. You say, You get very little independence, as a child. We laugh. I say, It’s kind of sad.


We walk more. We keep seeing pheasants walking around. Can you shoot them? I ask, even though neither of us eats meat. Pheasants don’t seem very smart. We walk by a café and think about going in for a hot chocolate, maybe spiked, then decide against it. You have to drive and anyway it is the middle of the day and we are trying not to spend money. A descriptive sign requests that you note the vibrant colors of the trees: gorgeous golds, radiant reds, fiery oranges. I tell you I am disappointed that they didn’t keep the alliteration going, but can’t think of an appropriate adjective that starts with ‘o'. Ostentatious, ominous, obnoxious?


Later we walk through a statue garden. We see a family in the distance, pointing & giggling at one of the statues. The little boy in the family is jumping up, trying to touch a bit of the statue, then cackling. The statue is of a bearded man carrying a smaller figure, seemingly against their will, over his shoulder. We realize that the boy is trying to touch the bearded figure’s balls (his penis having fallen off). At the same time, we realize that, through the back of its legs, the smaller figure being whisked away also has a pair of balls, which are near the older one’s mouth. The space between the two is filled with grass. I tell you that I think it might be ‘the rape of ganymede,’ although really I have no idea. You say, Ganymede was raped?? I say, Well, some people say kidnapped…


We keep walking. You are ready to go but there is another part of the gardens that I had wanted to explore. We climb up a hill into the forest. I say, It’ll be good for us. We haven’t been getting much exercise since it started getting colder. Near the top of the hill there is a tunnel made of old stones, and inside of it, it’s very dark. I wonder out loud if any abbots were murdered here, although what I am really wondering is if monks came here to have sex, in spite of the fact that it isn’t clear whether we are on estate or abbey grounds.


(Later, we will disagree about who was picturing the monks having sex, and you will insist you brought it up out loud. I will assume – wrongly, it turns out – that you would have meant with girls from the estate, whereas I was picturing it as between the monks themselves.)


We find a little temple-like cupola to sit in & look out from & feel bored, mostly. We are about to go back down when we see an arrow-shaped sign that reads Anne Boleyn, Temple, Surprise View. We decide to follow it. It is worth it. The view covers the river, the radiant trees, the crumbling abbey in the distance. It looks like a romantic painting. The viewing point itself involves a sort of enclosed space behind a wall that is surrounded by trees, so it is only when you walk through an opening in the wall that you can actually see the view. A nearby sign explains that it has undergone different incarnations, and that sometimes there was a door you could open, so that the ‘surprise’ wouldn’t be revealed to your guest until you wanted it to be.


We sit and you take my phone and scroll through the pictures I took a few minutes ago while I look out at the view. I say, maybe we can just enjoy this & look at pictures later, then feel stupid, like I’ve preemptively ruined whatever moment I was thinking we or I might have. I can’t stop thinking of what I think is a Henry David Thoreau quote, a man looks out over a landscape in order to look into himself, while visualizing a painting a former roommate always had hanging above his desk, of a man with coat tails and a cane and top hat standing at the edge of a cliff, looking out towards the horizon in a gathering storm at dusk, as huge waves break against the rocks around him.


I keep staring at the abbey, the surrounding trees, the birds circling it, the river snaking through the grounds, the rays of late afternoon sunshine streaming through the arches where its stained-glass windows must’ve been. What is it that people are supposed to get out of this? I want to have an epiphany. I want this to do more or mean more than just be a view of earth, water, sky. I want to be up to feeling the feelings that the surprise view is supposed to inspire. You hand me my phone back and for a minute we both sit there staring at the view, in stilted silence. Then you say, I guess people have been sitting here looking at this view for over 300 years. You look at me & smile & say, do you think anyone has had sex here? You place a joking hand on my knee & slowly drag it up my thigh.


An older man walks through the door into the ‘viewing area.’ He says, ‘Ello there. I say, time to go, and get up quickly. You look at me funny, then say, ok. Afterwards, you tell me you think the surprise view was just there so people could seduce their guests. I say, I guess.


You run down the hill shouting, Aaaaaaaaaahhhhh I can’t stop!!! and wait for me at the bottom. I half-smile when you look up. Why did the lovely view make you cross? you say, overemphasizing the o in lovely like we do when we are poking fun at something, or to signify that we are still in normal, kidding mode. I say, It didn’t, I don’t know, I’m sorry — even though it obviously has.


We pass more pheasants. They look like idiots when they are scurrying away. We go back into the ruins and I decide to clamber up a pile of rocks, even though I’m an adult. I climb to a point that is high & precarious, atop an archway that seems like it’s on the verge of collapse. I sit there, perching. We take pictures of each other from the different angles with our phones, me up here, you down there. I say, You look small. You say, It’s getting dark.


I jump down and we head back towards the car. On the way there I suddenly feel better, lighter. When I hit the ground, I mess up my hand, although I won’t realize this for hours. For now, I just use it to take yours, and swing our arms back & forth a little.


Who cares about what kind of sex the monks had.

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