Jim Morrison's Leg by Adam Maxwell
published in Volume 12, Issue 1 on November 12th, 2006 "I stole Oscar Wilde's cock you know?" said Jamie.
"No you didn't," I said. "You just told me you'd never done this before."
"I haven't. But you know that massive statue of an angel?"
My shoulders ached as the spade pushed into the ground once more. It only took a month of working in the Pere Lachaise to get this far. Paris' most famous cemetery, the resting place of such luminaries as Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde had eagerly taken me on. In fact such an impression had been made I felt confident my employers would forgive the minor indiscretion currently being perpetrated. I put down the spade as I reached softer soil, took off my cap, wiped the sweat from my brow and tossed the useless garment onto the tombstone of the grave I was digging up.
"Please tell me that you didn't reduce one of history's finest literary minds to the level of a nob gag." I trailed off, knowing only too well where this conversation was going.
"That's right! I got in here, chiseled it off and two days later I sold it on eBay." Jamie took another swig from the bottle of wine that seemed to permanently reside in his overall pocket.
The Pere Lachaise stretched out around us like an orchestra, the arrondissement's cutting through the pit with great sweeps separating the violinist from the cellist and the famous from the infamous.
"Shut up and keep digging," I launched the shovel into the earth and with a crack that echoed in the purple night I struck a rock. The handle sheared, leaving it half in my hand and half wedged into the ground, jutting out like some sort of warning to passing vampires.
Jamie started laughing.
"For God's sake shut up. I'm going to have to go and get another one now."
"At this time of night?"
"Yes. At this time of night. Listen, I'll go to the gatehouse and grab one from the gardener's supplies. I'm sure I've got the keys in my bag."
Hauling myself out of the pit we had created, the loose soil around the edges crumbling back down and making more work for us, I stared for a moment at Jamie down there as he continued digging before scrabbling in my holdall. "Keep at it, I'll be back as soon as I can."
Walking away, the sound of Jamie whistling some tuneless dirge he had picked up in the café down the street when we met earlier grated. The notes hung in the air like my breath. Staring too long at middle-C, I stumbled forward, tripping on something hard underfoot. The world rushed towards me but I reached out and stopped myself at the last moment. With a clatter the contents of my top pocket spilled onto the ground.
I got up, reached forward and scooped the decrepit old harmonica into my cold hand. I remembered it had been silver once but the corroded turd that squatted in my palm was nothing more than a tarnished reminder of my father's wasted life. My father; the dreamer, the failed musician, the man who had tried out for The Doors but had been told in no uncertain terms by Jim Morrison himself that he was next to useless. I had taken it from my father's house the day of his funeral.
The door to the gatehouse was typical of everything about the Pere Lachaise, it was grandiose whilst managing somehow to look ramshackle. I turned the key and the familiar grinding of the gears I had heard every morning since starting work here rang out. I tried to slip inside, hiding behind my shadow but the door had other ideas, crying out into the night, it's ancient wood creaking with resentment.
It was surprisingly cold inside, my feet crunched across the flagstones as I moved swiftly through the building. It didn't take me long to locate a new spade but as I was about to make my way back downstairs a noise stopped me in my tracks.
The door downstairs, the one I had carefully locked behind me was screeching again, the rusted hinges echoing throughout the gatehouse. I stood, panting like a winded saxophonist, staring at the light that had blinked into life from downstairs. It couldn't be Jamie, he didn't have a key.
My ears burned hot as the blood rushed to them and turned the footsteps that echoed from downstairs into a pounding drum in my head. I had to hide. They couldn't find me. Not now. It wasn't supposed to happen this way.
I moved quickly and silently as the footsteps downstairs were joined by a man's voice. It was definitely getting louder, moving upstairs towards me. A second later and I was in the tool cupboard, hastily pulling the door closed behind me and trying not to knock over the spades and hoes inside.
My breath had quickened its tempo, moving to staccato, the vapour more obvious in the moonlit room. I pushed myself further back into the cupboard, clutching the harmonica hard in my hand. The door to the room swung open and the light flicked on as the velvet walls of my hiding place began to close in.
"Of course I'll help you," Jamie had said at the top of his voice.
"Please shhhhh," I gestured to all the other people in the café.
"They're all fucking French - no-one understands a word we're saying. Do you?" he stood up and addressed the café as a whole, squinting at the sun dancing in through the bay windows. "Does anyone here speak English?"
One or two hands went up, some words were muttered and then a more were tentatively pushed into the air. After a few seconds the café wasn.t visible for raised hands.
"Ah. Okay then let's go. So what was it that you wanted to tell me that was so secret anyway?"
Jamie may have been lacking a lot of traits but dependability certainly wasn't one of them and it was this something I was relying on for the task I was about to sign him up for.
"You see Jamie," I said as the door of the café shut behind us.
"They've always been the same if you ask me," he interrupted.
"There's this thing I've been thinking about doing."
"All eating their fucking croissants and being so bloody aloof."
"I think it's the only way I can start to move forward as a musician."
"Music? Don't talk to me about music - all they bloody listen to is that sodding Edith Piaf."
"Well not just as a musician as a person as well."
"I tell you what Dan if I ever get the chance I'm gonna take a piss on that woman's grave."
"I'm sure that will help," I snapped. "Now listen I need your help."
And so I told him. I mean I glossed over some of it. Made it sound like the sort of student prank we used to play but for the most part I told him the truth. How I wanted to go to the Pere Lachaise and pay the late Jim Morrison a visit. How I wanted to take his femur and have it made into a trumpet.
"You are a good trumpet player," Jamie nodded in agreement.
"It's a Tibetan thing. Apparently their sound is so deep it has a resonance you just can't imagine."
"I can imagine."
"No, it.s not just that."
There was a pause and we looked at each other for a moment.
"It.s your Dad isn't it?"
"Anything to get one over on these Frenchies mate," he said.
"Jamie, you've lived here for eight years and your fiancée is French. Please shut up."
Back in the incendiary void of the cupboard things weren't going quite so well. We didn't have a contingency plan for getting caught.
"Yeah, I told you," said Gerry, one of my co-workers. "I've just got to find my house keys and then I'll pick you up."
Footsteps clattered by, circling the room, with Gerry occasionally pausing to rummage in a bag or box. I tried to crane my neck, to see if the light that was breaking in illuminated any keys around me.
"No sweetie, I really mean it. Of course I'm not with another woman, that's ridiculous."
It was only a matter of seconds before he would be discovered. If only I hadn't hidden in the cupboard. At least then I could have got away with pretending I had fallen asleep.
"I'll be right over as soon as I - aha!"
I waited, not daring to breath, to move or even blink. I stared at the crack in the door.
"Yes. Oui. Oui. C'est ça ma petite lapin."
The light went out, the door shut and I exhaled.
"Where the hell have you been?"
I waved the new spade at him and he waved his wine at me in return.
"I decided to stop."
"What?" I shouted. "We haven't got time for you to stop!"
"Calm down. I had to stop for two reasons. Firstly because I needed a piss."
"Oh you didn't," I asked, scared of the response but knowing it all the same. "Please tell me you didn't."
"I did," he grinned. "I pissed on Edith Piaf's grave!"
"Jamie! Do you have any idea how disrespectful that is?"
"And secondly, cos I think we're nearly there."
"Shit! Are you serious?"
I scrambled into the grave, shovel in hand and started digging. Within a matter of minutes my spade met with wooden resistance.
"This is it," I whispered to Jamie who was hovering over the grave-mouth.
Soon we had cleared the top of the casket and the plaque, although tarnished, bore the Lizard King's name.
The crowbar slid easily into my hands as I braced myself against the grave's sides and began levering at the head of the coffin. My hands felt clammy as the wood cracked and splintered, giving way easily to the pressure.
"This is it! This really is it!"
"Open the bloody coffin already and let's get out of here," said Jamie. "Someone's bound to come along eventually you know."
The lid crackled open, gasses hissing out as the seal that had been made decades earlier was broken.
"Well? Have you got it?"
I hoisted the lid to one side.
"Jamie," I said. "I think we have a problem."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, it seems he's escaped."
"Shit, you mean someone has beaten us to it?" Jamie passed me a torch and I shone it into the vacant coffin.
"No, I mean that I don't think he was ever."
I trailed off as the torch glanced upon a small white piece of paper lying halfway down the length of the coffin. Reaching out, I picked it up. It was a business card. On it was printed an address in Paris and three words.
James Douglas Morrison.
It was over and I knew it. The flashlight performed a brief diminuendo over the empty casket as I gathered together what little evidence was left. I put the business card in my pocket and as the pair of us walked away I took out the harmonica, staring at its rust-encrusted reeds in the pre-dawn light.
I wiped it on my sleeve and then, after a moment put it to my lips and exhaled, inhaled, exhaled. It sounded awful but it reminded me of a Bob Dylan song I couldn't remember the name of.
"Sounds like Chas and Dave that," said Jamie. "I miss Chas and Dave."