A Human Soul for a Hunk of Bread | IMPOSSIBLE YEAR (January)

A Human Soul for a Hunk of Bread | IMPOSSIBLE YEAR (January)

There’s no sunshine
This impossible year
Only black days and sky grey
And clouds full of fear
And storms full of sorrow
That won’t disappear
Just typhoons and monsoons
This impossible year

-Impossible Year by Panic at the Disco


The end of 2015 left me with my first experience of being a lead in the school play. A time that which I had spent the rest of December trying to forget about. It was a bittersweet experience. It gave me a taste of what I’ve always wanted but also threw me into this strange, cruel reality that wasn’t as exciting as I had anticipated. I wasn’t excited about having a monologue and more time on stage. I dreaded coming to practice. It’s one thing to act like your character on stage and another to act like a fictitious you in the wings. I wasn’t that happy. I often came home in tears because I felt incredibly isolated, antisocial, and artistically incompetent. You could feel it throughout the room if you paid enough attention. We seemed drained of passion. Anyway, being onstage was like smelling your grandmother’s cooking. You’ll always love the taste at least a little. Once the house lights dimmed and the spotlights were on, once you hopped off the makeup chair and changed into your costume, once the cast huddled up in a circle and said a quick prayer, and once the director was finally watching from the audience and far away from you.

Once it was over I didn’t even miss it.

I was in the middle of the socratic seminars on Les Mis for French class, pissing myself every. single. time. In terms of grades, they were climbing; I felt like a mf machine. It had me walking around like I WAS UNTOUCHABLE.

During break, Victoria and I filmed some sheepish YouTube videos. And yes, they are online if you want to see us making gingerbread houses and being really dumb. Christmas this year was great. Then we spent some time in Montreal. Then it was 2016, entering without any thought or warning.



Back at school, we did one or two more socratic seminars. Being straight out of the holidays made it sad although the thought of school never left me during the break. Speaking in the seminars became only slightly easier but it still made my stomach ache every time. What helped is that nothing leveled with the pressure of French class. Nothing, I suppose, put a worse feeling in my gut.

In math, I was cutting off limbs to float towards the top. I was never satisfied with my grades. Ehem, I wasn’t satisfied with my 94% before finals. Hell, I don’t even give a shit about math. I didn’t want to become an engineer or an accountant or whatever.

In civics class, we had to make some kind of advertisement for a Canadian organization that deals with an issue of civic importance. So on a Sunday afternoon, Victoria and I filmed a short PSA about mental illness for an assignment on the Canadian Mental Health Association. It was just one of those assignments you could pop in a couple statistics here and there, add some music, and have it seem profound. When we handed it in, we were praised for it. The teacher said it looked “so professional.”

On a very different note, French Culminating was such a bitch. Not to talk shit about my french teacher because it was a pretty effective way to study a novel. Everyone in class, being the high-level extended French thinkers that we were, had made pretty intelligent interpretations which really benefited us all when it came down to exam later on. But damn it was scary. So for a whopping 15% of our final grade, had to do debates on Les Misérables, the book we were studying.  It’s worth mentioning that my relationship to this story is a pretty complicated one. I loved it. I knew it. Everyone knew that I knew it. That being said, I felt expected to succeed since I had characterized myself as a Les Mis know-it-all in the past. 


 In teams of two, we were assigned statements and whether or not we were to argue for it or against. This was a assignment as old as time; ever heard of the uniform debate? Easy peasy?  Not this time. My partner and I were assigned to argue against the statement: “Fantine’s destruction is the fault of society.” My heart fell. I was betraying my GIRL, Fantine! Society turned her into a prostitute. She sold her body because society said it wasn’t okay to have a child out of wedlock. She was sent to jail while a cough away from her death. So yeah, of course society is at fault. And I was supposed to say it wasn’t?

What we read was a super condensed version, meaning it had none of the really beautiful, rich exposition in Hugo’s original novel. Having already read it (but in English) and having 1100 extra pages to work with in my personal copy, I knew so much more about her destruction than ever talked or read about in class. Turns out, it really wasn’t an advantage. I went home and pulled out my big Les Mis book and reread  Fantine’s part. This is what I tabbed.

“What was the true story of Fantine? It is the story of society’s purchase of a slave. A slave purchased from poverty, hunger, cold, loneliness, defencelessness, destitution. A squalid bargain: a human soul for a hunk of bread. Poverty offers and society accepts.”

Not only did it not help my case but it haunted me in my sleep.  The thought of Fantine being torn apart until she was just barely a corpse rotting under a sleazy sailor chilled me to my bones. I couldn’t shake it for a while. It felt as if I had the pain of this women between my shoulders.

By the way, none of this was at all necessary.

Viola Davis as Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder

Every time I tried to think of an argument, I was back at square one. My thought process was a maze. Constant dead ends. It kept me awake at night. I couldn’t sleep. I would have nightmares. I was paranoid. I worried about it THAT much. I was Olivia Benson at home, searching through the records, then I was ADA Barba trying to fight for Fantine– actually no, I was Annalise Keating because I was trying to figure out how to get away with destruction. 

Every morning in the car I would try to bite my ideas aloud to my mom, hoping she could help me piece together my thought process into an argument, then I would have a panic attack about it. I wasn’t a defense attorney with someone’s life in my hands, I was in a 10th grade extended French class with NO way of failing the course. It was a goddamn class. I didn’t know I had anxiety at the time. I just thought I cared too much and was given an impossible argument.

Vous ne pouvez pas blâmer la société pour vos choix. Tout le monde a le pouvoir dans leurs espoirs/coeurs pour faire ce qui est juste.

It came down to the day before the actual debate. My partner and I didn’t know what the fuck we were going to do, or what kind of magic tricks were could pull out of our butts at the last minute. The thing is, I had this. I knew the story backwards, I scratched these notes with my eyeballs, and my points for this argument were pretty solid. I rehearsed my whole speech to my mom on the car ride there, and yet I was still sweating profusely and purging to vomit.


I wanted a grade. I wanted to prove that I was smart. I wanted to be proud of myself.

And when it was over, it was over and I did it…really well. 93% well. After that I didn’t have to worry about it. I could just sit back, root for my friends who went next, and realize that it really was a cool thing we could do.

Comforting help brought to you by Student Services.

By the end of January were the start of exams and by this point I was thinking, screw it. I didn’t really study. I got out of my first exam a bit upset that I didn’t finish, but realizing I was completely done with the course anyway. I went to my singing lesson that night and my teacher asked if I was stressed about exams. I shrugged my shoulders and said “I just do it, like, whatever.”

And that was, in hindsight, the best decision I could have made.



In case you’re wondering, Impossible Year is a series of essays, reflections, stories and poems that reflect my most defining year yet.



Wednesday Evening at AGO

Wednesday Evening at AGO

We walked into the Art Gallery of Ontario, welcomed by families with kids in their snowsuits, couples in clothes reminiscent with the 90s, hand in hand–or hand in camera– and a signs that said “Wednesday Nights Free!”

After cruising through left side of the gallery–passing through contemporary Inuit and First Nations art, works of Manasie Akpaliapik, and a mutual favourite by Paul Peel in a gorgeous maroon room, we stopped for a coffee. The espresso bar reminded me of the top of the CN tower except we saw a view of tall street houses homing local businesses, and which also gave the realization of the recent time change. The sun was out and it was hardly after 7pm. This architecture, man. Wood and curved glass with the grey view of the quite parts of town? I’ll take it to go. I told myself I wasn’t going to film anything but couldn’t hide from this abundant inspiration. Even the way they served my iced latte was like dropping a bucket a blue paint in Niagara Falls. I decided to do a stop motion.

A couple things to note:

  • AGO is free admission from 6-9pm every Wednesday
  • My mom’s favourite piece was After the Bath by Paul Peel while I was drawn to Augustus John’s Marchesa Casati. The art that captivates is the art that extracts feeling, both in tears or in thought.
  • And yes, I bought a postcard of the Casati painting to take home.
  • There were rooms and rooms of (of  course) The Group of Seven which had me teaching my mom everything I knew about the famous Canadian artists. From each of their different techniques to Tom Thompson’s supposed murder. I surprised myself at how much I knew about Art history. I repeated this at the gift shop which had books about Frida whom I could talk about forever.
  • My favourite member of the Group of Seven is obviously Lawren Harris. I painted (basically a replica) of one of his pieces for grade 9 art culminating.

I loved getting this reminder of Canada’s grandeur.

Something From Nothing

Something From Nothing


look how far I come

look how far I come

look how far I come


We get the job done

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Neil and Jocelyn Preclaro, a young, hardworking couple photographed with their three kids under five years old. Those colourful jackets were given to us from other immigrants that came before us…Which most likely were handed down to them by more immigrants.
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Family breakfast.Pancakes, eggs, bacon, and PLACE MATS! It should be noted that our table is a  coffee table (an upgrade from our very first dinner table–our suitcases), and we’re all sitting on the floor except Andre who is  using a car seat.
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Cardboard jungles where dreams are made of.
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Andre and our first television. With dials. And went green, flickered, and had to get warm before it stopped and actual pictures came up.
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Dad and the kids on our first bed– single mattress (from friends) and a comforter to extend it in our bachelor’s apartment.
My mom said whenever the three of us got homesick, she would take us inside the tent. It was the only thing we brought from the Philippines–the only familiar space we had from our old home.
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The Philippines has never seen snow. Canada sees too much of it. Contrary to popular belief, us Canadians are not all eskimos and we don’t live in igloos… But we come pretty close in this photo.
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Our rickety, hand-me-down, two seat stroller that we used to walk Andre to Kindergarten.
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Andre off to Kindergarten, his early 2000s attire complete with light wash jeans, colour block bubble jacket,  and Garfield backpack.
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The park on Paisley Boulevard. And yes, matching jackets.

Now, we’re living in house in the suburbs. We all have our own rooms. We have two dinner tables. We finally got a dog, a golden retriever/yellow lab mix called Caeser. Mom’s an entrepreneur. Andre is in his third year of university, studying abroad in Paris. AJ is writing for a magazines and facilitating workshops for the LGBTQ community. Daniele can speak Canada’s two official languages.

On March 7th 2001, my family and I immigrated from the Philippines to Canada. We are proud immigrants.

My parents saw this great country and took a leap of faith. They built our lives from the bottom. Because of that, I believe the five of us are developing into the best versions of ourselves. Though a lot has changed since that first step out of Pearson Airport, a couple things remain. One being we were then and still are hardworking and driven by dreams… and love.

look how far I come

look how far I come

look how far I come


we get the job done

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The Preclaro Family, December 2016

Photoshop for Dummies (Like me!) 5 Must-Knows for Beginners

When I was new to Photoshop, I was just as intimidated as anyone. I was working on a Mac for the first time, I wasn’t that sure about layers, and my only experience was Instagram. Luckily, with the help of a (great!) photography teacher, and some friends (who were also newcomers to the software) to play around with me.

But in case you need a little push, here’s some basic things about Photoshop to help you get started.

1. Layers, Layers, Layers!

Always use layers. That’s what it’s all about and it’s probably the most important thing. Especially with photo manipulation, you will want to separate adjustments. Make things easier for yourself!

Tip: “Command J” to Duplicate your layer!

2. The Lasso Tool

My Media Arts teacher set the record straight: it is pronounced “La-soo.” The lasso tool will help in cutting out images. Remember when you used to edit yourself into a picture with the Cheetah Girls? Now you can almost be one of them thanks to this awesome tool! Tip: “Command X” to cut and “Command V” to paste.

 3. Zoom In and Out

When editing photos, after a couple hours you may start to go cross eyed. Adjustments start looking the same and you start to lose proper judgment. My advice to you is

  1. Take a break or move on to another photo. The flow will come back later

  2. Zoom in and out. Sometimes you can see a photo differently depending on how close it is. For example you might have a photo that looks good up close but when you zoom out it looks completely wrong, or you might be editing the the photo for to your screen and you miss the small details.

Tip: Command+Space+Click to zoom IN

Alt+Space+Click to zoom OUT

4. The Clone Stamp Tool lol (no shade!)

Ever had someone curve you? Do you have millions of pictures with them but you look to good to delete them? No problem! With the help of the clone stamp tool, you can cover them up like a bandaid. Haha. All jokes aside this tool is one that I use all the time. For one, it helps when my backgrounds have inconsistencies. It covers things up seamlessly with a bit of practice.

Tip: Adjust opacity and brush hardness for seamless blending!

 5. Mask Tool

When you just want to give some love to a certain area of a photo but not the whole thing, use the mask tool! It masks out what you don’t want affected when you’re editing. For example, if you want to change the colour of your model’s lips to purple but you don’t want your whole photo to be purple, hit the Q and start masking! It’s quick and easy!

Hope that will help you out! My BONUS TIP is to spend time exploring the different tools and adjustments. You’d be amazed at just how much you can do!

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16 Lessons from Age 16

Age sixteen was tough. I can’t say it was great and I often say it was the worst. I had left regular school and got taught from home, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression and it hit me like a bulldozer. I learned the meaning of adversity and not only what it feels like to be faced with it, but also what it’s like to overcome it, and then REPEAT. But what trumps everything is that it has taught me a couple things. In the long run, this encounter with adversity has added substance to my being and has maybe even made me more intelligent, appreciative, self-aware, and strong.
The reason I speak so openly about my battle is because it happens and it’s happening to me…it’s happening to me too.
Scale from ‘so depressed anxious and broken and feeling hopeless that I’m basically dead’ to ‘okay, happy, normal’

Here are 16 Lessons Learned from Age 16.

1. Screaming at the top of your lungs won’t make time stop and rewind the way clenching your fists in a dark room as seen in About Time does. In that moment, you’re just scared. Scared with reason. And that’s okay. You’re okay.

2. Upon almost getting hit by a taxi in London, your 75 year old grandma thinks she will slow you down so she runs across the street without you. Leaving you STUNNED.
2a. Look to your RIGHT when crossing the street in London. RIGHT.
3. You can and will meet your heroes whether you know they’re your hero or not. And it will be engraved in your heart.
3a. At age 16 you saw 5 major productions (2 in London, 3 in New York) and you met the brilliant London cast of Miss Saigon, THE Andrea Burns said “wepa” and “no me diga” TO you, you completely lost your shit meeting Danielle Brooks aka TAYSTEE at the stage door, PLUS you met your hero and lifesaver, Alexandra Silber…twice! And got hugs! And advice! And cried a little!
3b. Plus your dad had a private meeting with LEA (YOUR IDOL) SALONGA before he saw her KILL IT in Fun Home. You also got an autograph where she spelled your name CORRECTLY!
4. Your mother is stronger than you will ever know.
5. Your dog actually takes care of you more than  you take care of him.
6. There ARE moments worth fighting for. Talking to Alexandra Silber in the cold, snowy, New York City stage door is PROOF. If it took a whole lot of hurt to get 20 Minutes of a dream come true then I’m glad there’s no such thing as time traveling.
(Listen to podcasts to save a life!)
7. While your father is often very quiet, you need that prescence in your life. He’s one of your pillars and you aren’t balanced without him. Plus, he’s your dad and you love him regardless of what he does and doesn’t do.
8. Drinking is fun.
8a. Drinking makes you feel like shit!
8b. “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” – Ray Bradbury
9. While it does get better, it equally can/does get worse.
10. You are painfully introverted. Don’t fight it. But it’s okay!
11. You have incredible friends and are so blessed to have them. And when you are out of school and you haven’t seen them in 8 months, contrary to your fears, they are still going to be there to hug you and eat lunch in the stairwell with you.
14. Your teachers probably don’t hate you. In fact, there are people at school who you can trust and cry to and they can/will help (or at least try.) They’ll even search all the bathrooms for you when you run away and hide to have a panic attack. It’s fine.
13. How to Makeup.
13c. Eyeliner but not a wing + fake lashes!
13d. High end makeup!
13e. Kylie Jenner lips af!
13f. Highlight!!
13g. When you feel confident on the outside, it helps the little scaredy cat on the inside.
15. Portrait photography is your AREA. Art is your duty and it revives you.
“I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.”
– The Color Purple
If I could add a 17th lesson, it would be

Not all life lessons are inspirational or self-empowering. The truth is, life is ugly and disturbing and gross and scary and painful.

I don’t mean to sound hopeless but even while the year and age of 16 has gone and passed, I’m still not okay. But every day, I’m working to get better whether I can see the difference or not. People say I’m strong and brave and maybe what I am is just that. But the honest truth is, there’s a lot people don’t see and some things I don’t often believe. The age of 16 was a TRYING year to say the least. That being said, I’m not going to leave it behind but I will take it with me and all its lessons. And maybe with all its weight and all the mountains I still have left to climb, it will strengthen me.

Goals for the age of 17:

  1. Be fearless
  2. Be accepting of myself

Here’s to the rest of my trek; a 17th chapter.

BEFORE THE STORM: my 16th birthday in London. 

7th Birthday

7th Birthday

Today, ten years later, I share with you a birthday memory that was honestly truly iconic. I’m not joking in the slightest. My 7th birthday had the 1st grade TALKING.

It was 2007, my mom had just gotten off the plane from the Philippines. She was pushing the luggage cart when she said, “Daniele, we made the invitations for your party! They’re reeeaaallyy nice. It’s princess-y and-”

At this point, we hadn’t really planned anything for my birthday.

I was jumping alongside her to match her adult-pace. “Does it have sparkles?!”

“No,” she said, “but we can put sparkles on them if you want!”

We got home and she showed me this:

We didn’t need to add any sparkles.

She explained that she was planning this extravagant party at the community centre gym, where everyone would have to dress up like royalty, and everyone would have to do the waltz. I invited everyone in my class, my mom’s friends, the neighbourhood kids, and my teacher. As far as I knew, it was going to be the party of the century.

My cousin did my makeup and tried to bipity bopity boo my thick hair as best she could. She even cut the straps of the tank top (devastating!!) that I was wearing underneath the dress. It took so long that I was even late to my own party. My dad drove us to the community centre. There was snow and slush on the pavement so my dad picked me up, my pink parka over that huge Cinderella dress spilling over his arms, and he ran me inside.

The people that worked at the front desk saw us and kept saying”A princess is here!”

He set me down at the gym doors. Then, of course, I made my grand entrance.


If it’s difficult for you to picture a bunch of itty bitty first graders creating a path for me to walk through (like a wedding), lucky for you, there are pictures. I don’t really remember the rest of the party but here are some bullet points:

  • Even though this whole party was a Filipino tradition, we stuck to our Canadian customs and just had pizza; it’s my favourite pizza anyway.
  • My cousin had taken me to the bathroom because my mom was afraid I wouldn’t know how to go with the dress on. And I didn’t. It took so long that by the time I got back to the party, all the pizza was gone. Keep in mind the massive headcount. My mom gave me a frozen pizza.
  • My Uncle Willie, a legendary magician, performed his famous magic tricks to a crowd of stunned kids. *He’s been doing magic for all my childhood parties, by the way. It’s great.
  • My cousin’s friend, Dave, can be seen in the brackground of every photo (almost all of which I can’t find for the life of me and trust me, I’ve spent the past few days looking all over)


Then, my mom taught everyone to waltz. Meaning, my whole first grade class and all the neighbourhood kids had their first slow dance at my 7th birthday party. My mom did her best to pair the boys and girls but, you know, cooties. I danced with not one but two boys. We laughed about it the whole time. A bunch of streamers caught onto the back of my dress and the boy held them said I was a dragon and he was holding my tail. Swooon! My kid mind thought it was oh so romantic.

Of course, my mom was the real MVP. Not only did she plan the whole party, she made the most extravagant cake any child could ever ask for, made this glorious balloon arrangement, AND she taught everyone how to to the waltz. My brothers and I didn’t have too many birthday parties growing up but when we agreed to have them, my mom did not stop at 95%. Even now, 10 years later, I’m having a “chill, PJ hangout with some friends” and she said “anak, please give me a chance to plan this party.” So now our little hangout is, what she thinks and what I’ve come to realize, a proper 17th birthday with s’mores, fondue, a naked cake, and more. I even insisted she doesn’t have to whip out her collection of china for a tea party; my friends and I don’t really like tea.img_20170131_0004-edit

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Now it’s ten years later and look just what a decade can do.



Rose of the Underworld

IV – Rose of the underworld (A chapter from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables)

A quite young girl was standing in the open doorway, facing the pallid light of the one small window in Marius’ garret, which was opposite the door. She was a lean and delicate-looking creature, her shivering nakedness clad in nothing but a chemise and skirt. Her waistband was a piece of string, and another piece tied back her hair. Bony shoulders emerged from the chemise, and the face above them was sallow and flabby. The light fell upon reddened hands, a stringy neck, a loose, depraved mouth lacking several teeth, bleared eyes both bold and wary: in short, an ill-treated girl with the eyes of a grown woman; a blend of fifty and fifteen; one of those creatures, at once weak and repellent, who cause those who set eyes on them to shudder when they do not weep.

Marius had risen to his feet and was gazing in a sort of stupefaction at what might have been one of those figures of darkness that haunt our dreams. But what was tragic about the girl was that she had not been born ugly. She might even have been pretty as a child, and the grace proper to her age was still at odds with the repulsive premature aging induced by loose living and poverty. A trace of beauty still lingered in the sixteen-year-old-face, like pale sunlight fading beneath the massed clouds of a winter’s dawn.

The face was not quite unfamiliar to Marius. He had a notion that he had seen her before.

‘What can I do for you, Mademoiselle?’

She answered in her raucous voice:

‘I’ve got a letter for you, Monsieur Marius.’

So she knew his name. But how did she come to know it?

Without awaiting any further invitation she walked in, looking about her with a pathetic boldness at the untidy room with its unmade bed. Long bare legs and bony knees were visible through the vents in her skirt, and she was shivering.

As he took the letter Marius noted that the large wafer sealing it was still damp. It could not have come very far. He read:

My warm-hearted neighbour, most estimable young man!

I have heard of the kindness you did me in paying my rent six months ago. I bless you for it. My elder daughter will tell you that for two days we have been without food, four of us, including my sick wife. If I am not deceived in my trust in humanity I venture to hope will relieve your feelings by again coming to my aid.

I am, with the expression of the high esteem we all owe to a benefactor of humanity,

Yours truly,


P.S. My daughter is at your service, dear Monsieur Marius.

This missive threw an immediate light on the problem that had been perplexing Marius. All was now clear. It came from the same source as the other letters–the same handwriting, the same spelling, the same paper, even the same smell of rank tobacco. He now had five letters, all the work of one author. The Spanish Captain, the Fabantou, all were Jondrette–if needed, that was his real name.

As we have said, during the time Marius had been living in the tenement he had paid little to no attention even to his nearest neighbours, his thoughts being elsewhere. Although he had more than once encountered members of the Jondrette family in the corridor or on the stairs, they had been to him no more than shadows of whom he had taken so little notice that he had failed to recognize the two daughters when they bumped into him on the boulevard; even now, in the shock of his pity and repugnance, he had difficulty in realizing that this must be one of them.

But now he saw it all. He realized that the business of his neighbour Jondrette, was the writing of fraudulent begging letters under a variety of names to persons of supposed wealth benevolence whose addresses he had managed to secure, and that these letters were delivered, at their own peril, by his daughters: for he had sunk so low that he treated the two young girls  as counters in his gamble with life. To judge by the episode of the previous evening, their breathless flight and the words he had overheard, the girls were engaged in other sordid pursuits. What it came to was that in the heart of our society, as at present constituted, two unhappy mortals, neither children nor grown women, had been turned by extreme poverty into monsters at once depraved and innocent, drab creatures without name or age or sex, no longer capable of good or evil, deprived of all freedom, virtue, and responsibility; souls born yesterday and shriveled today like flowers dropped in the street which lie fading in the mud until a  cartwheel comes to crush them.

Meanwhile, while Marius watched her in painful astonishment, the girl was exploring the room like an audacious ghost, untroubled by her state of near nakedness in the ragged chemise which at moments slipped down almost to her waist. She moved chairs, examined the toilet-articles on the chest of drawers, fingered Marius’ clothes and peered into corners.

‘Well, fancy! You’ve got a mirror,’ she said.

She was humming to herself as though she were alone, snatches of music-hall songs, cheerful ditties which her raucous, tuneless voice made dismal. But beneath this show of boldness there was a hint of unease and awkward constraint. Effrontery is an expression of shame. Nothing could have been more distressing than to see her fluttering about the room like a bird startled by the light or with a broken wing. It was plain that in other circumstances of background and education her natural, uninhibited gaiety might have been made of her something sweet and charming. In the animal world no creature born to be a dove turns into a scavenger. This happens only among men.

Marius sat pondering while he watched her. She drew near to his writing table.

‘Books!’ she said.

A light dawned in her clouded eyes, she announced, with the pride in attainment from which none of us is immune: ‘I know how to read.’

Picking up a book that lay open on the table she read, without much difficulty:

‘General Baudin was ordered to seize and occupy, with the five battalions of his brigade, the Chateau de Hougomont, which is in the middle of the plain of Waterloo…’

She broke off and exclaimed:

‘Waterloo! I know about that! My father was there. My father was in the army. We’re all real Bonapartists in our family. Waterloo was against the English.’ She put the book down and took up a pen. ‘No spelling mistakes. You can see for yourself. We’ve done some schooling, my sister and me. We haven’t always been what we are now. We weren’t brought up to be-‘

But here she stopped and gazing with her dulled eyes at Marius she burst out laughing. In a tone in which the extreme of anguish was buried beneath the extreme  of cynicism, she exclaimed, ‘What the hell!’

She began to hum again and then said:

‘Do you ever go to the theatre, Monsieur Marius? I do. I’ve a young brother who knows one or two actors and he gives me tickets. I don’t like the gallery, the benches are uncomfortable and it’s too crowded and there are people who smell nasty.’

She fell to examining Marius with a coy look:

‘Do you know, Monsieur Marius, that you’re a very handsome boy?’

The words prompted the same thought in both their minds causing her to smile and him to blush. Drawing nearer, she laid a hand on his shoulder.

‘You never notice me, Monsieur Marius, but I know you by sight. I see you by the stairs, I’ve seen you visiting an old man called Père Mabeuf in the Austerlitz quarter when I’ve been that way. It suits you, you know, having your hair untidy.’

She was striving to make her voice soft but could only make it sound more guttural, and some of the words got lost in their passage from her throat to her lips, as on a piano with some of the notes missing. Marius drew gently away.

‘I think, Mademoiselle,’ he said with his accustomed cold gravity, ‘that I have something belonging to you. Allow me to return it.’

He handed her the wrapping containing the four letters. She clapped her hands and cried:

‘We looked for that everywhere!’

Seizing it eagerly, she began to unfold it, talking as she did so:

‘Heavens, if you knew how we’d searched, my sister and me! And so you’re the one who found it. On the boulevard, wasn’t it? It must have been. We were running, and my sister went and dropped it, the silly kid, and when we got home we found it was gone. So because we didn’t want to be beaten, because what’s the sense in it, what earthly good does it do, it’s simply stupid, we said we’d delivered the letters to the people they were written to and they hadn’t coughed up anything. And here they are, the wretched letters. How did you know they were mine? Oh of course, the handwriting. So you’re the person we bumped into yesterday evening? It was too dark to see. I said to my sister, “Was it a gentleman?” and she said, “I think it was.”‘

By know she had fished out the letter addressed to ‘The Benevolent Gentleman outside the church of Saint-Jacques-du-Haut-Pas’.

‘Ah, this is for the old boy who goes to Mass. Well, it’s nearly time so I’d better run along and catch him. Perhaps he’ll give me enough for our dinner.’ She burst out laughing again. ‘And do you know what that will mean? It will be breakfast and dinner for yesterday and the day before – the first meal for three days. Well, who cares? If you don’t like it you’ve got to lump it.’

This reminded Marius of why she had called upon him. He felt in his waistcoat pockets, while she went on talking as though she had forgotten his existence.

‘Sometimes I go out at night and don’t come home. Last winter, before coming here, we lived under the bridges. You had to huddle together not to freeze and that made my little sister cry. Water’s dreadful, isn’t it? Sometimes I wanted to drown myself, but then I thought, No, it’s too cold. I go off on my own when I feel like it and sleep in the ditch, likely as not. You know, at night when I’m walking along the boulevards the trees look to me like pitchforks, and the houses, they’re so tall and black, like the towers of Notre-Dame, and when you come to a strip of white wall it’s like a patch of water. And the stars are like street lamps and you’d think they were smoking, and sometimes the wind blows them out and I’m always surprised as though a horse had come by and snorted in my ear; and although it’s night-time I think I can hear street-organs and the rattle of looms, all kinds of things. And sometimes I think people are throwing stones at me and I run away and everything goes spinning round me. When you’ve had nothing to eat it’s quite queer.’

She was gazing absently at him. Marius, exploring his pockets, had now succeeded in retrieving a five-franc piece and sixteen sous, all the money he possessed at the moment. Enough for today’s dinner, he reflected, and as for tomorrow, we’ll hope for the best. So he kept the sixteen sous and offered her the five francs.

‘The sun’s come out at last!’ she cried, eagerly accepting the coin; and as though the sun had power to release the torment of the popular jargon that was her every day speech she declaimed:

‘Well, if that isn’t prime! Five jimmy-o’goblins! Enough to stuff us for two days. You’re a true nobleman, mister and I tip my lid to you. Tripe and sausage and the tipple to wash it down for two whole blooming days.’ Hitching up her chemise and making Marius a profound curtsey, she turned with a wave of her hand towards the door. ‘Well, good day to you, mister, and your humble service. I’ll be getting back to the gaffer.’

On her way to the door noticed the crust of stale bread gathering dust on the chest of drawers. She snatched it up and started to devour it.

‘It’s good, it’s tough – something to get your teeth into!

And she departed.


She sees your impression of her–ugly, unfortunate, pitiful, repulsive, a creature not worth more than dirt between cobblestone, given not so much as a proper name–and raises you a girl that is oh so in love.


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I drew this of Eponine when I was 13.