The Lenentine Cards

The Archivist | November 12, 2007

It has been the work of several successive archivists to determine the nature and structure of the Lenentine cards, the collection of which was complete by 2004 with little more idea how they were intended to be used than when their existence first surfaced in 1967, after the death of Godelieve Lenentine.

What can be positively asserted is this:

On November 12th, 1931 in Marseilles, Godelieve presented her husband with a birthday gift consisting of 165 illustrated cards, something like a complex Tarot, but without divinatory intent. They were a young couple, pregnant with their first child, and Mrs. Lenentine, a gifted artist, had spent the bulk of their engagement in the creation of these cards, which are painted in sepia colors, with a style both elegant and grotesque. Their names were domestic, inventive, archetypal: The Starveling, the Leaning Cabinet, the Stove-Door.

By all accounts, Godelieve was an anti-social and aggressively introverted woman, warm only to her husband Bastien and her daughter, whom she was carrying when she set the cards on their kitchen table, wrapped in a woolen cloth. Besides the cards was a small box full of chess queens from a variety of different sets. Through the next four decades, Godelieve and Bastien played a constantly evolving game with the cards and the variegated queens, the rules of which are all the more perplexing for their shifting, mutable nature.

Cyrille Lenentine, insensate spectator of this first shuffling, halting game, was truculent until her death on the subject of the actual rules. It is the current theory that each player chose a pair of queens and attempted, through the laying of card upon card in a massive spiral, to construct a story by which one might become the other. Cards could be played by opponents, it is assumed, against one another, halting or skewing the spiral-path. Thus if Godelieve began with a simple ebony queen and an ornate silver-crowned monarch, she might lay the Gargantua upon the Accountant’s Heartsease upon the Poor Lecheress and so on, to create a plausible path of no less than 66 cards, though some schools speculate that the number was greater even than that. It took hours to play, even days, and the tales that resulted were written in a large leather book and set aside with the family Bible.

For her birthday in 1932, Bastien presented his wife with a box of sea-pebbles in vivid shades of blue and green, and a new rule: a pebble placed upon a card inverted its meaning exactly, so that the Starveling became the Satiated, and so forth. Thus it became a tradition between the two to present each other with new rules and cards upon each holiday, and the complexity of their play exploded into a private language, as dizzying and vast as any arcane dialect.

When Cyrille reached the age of eight, she reports, her mother very solemnly took what was by then a large and heavy carved box out of the closet and opened it with all the ritual of Mass, removing the cards, the queens, the pebbles, the book–and by this time, also the rings, the dice, the pens, and the kings. They had had to purchase a new and enormous table to incorporate the ever-widening spirals of cards, and Cyrille learned wide-eyed the private past-time of her parents, and saw that there was a card for Godelieve, and one for Bastien, and a very new one with Cyrille written along the bottom edge. When she was twelve, the youngest Lenentine was allowed to create her first rule, which was, she reluctantly recorded, that the winner of the Christmas game could change any of the other rules they wished. The world of the Lenentine house was circumscribed entirely by the secret game, each birthday, each New Year punctuated by its forced evolution, every passing year, every passing snow and summer running parallel to baroque queens with mysterious intent traveling up and down their roads of cards.

It is here that Cyrille ceased her Virgilian guidance, and would lead no one further into the world of her mother’s game. “I cannot do it,” she wrote, “it would be like telling you what she looked like naked. It is ours, our own, and does not belong to you.”

Yet she willed to a local museum the carved box which by her own advanced age was over flowing, for she played solitary games long past her mother’s death and her father’s, the tables of her house growing steadily larger until they took up entire rooms. The ledgers which contained the complete record of their decades of intimate, secret play, however, were cremated with her, clutched in her dead and folded arms.

She had no children of her own. She taught no one else the game. Like the tables, the museums which acquired the Lenentine cards in batches and lots grew greater and greater, until they reached their current home, reassembled and whole.

Archivists by the dozen have played with the cards, with the queens, with the pebbles. They have constructed elaborate systems full of rules and sub-rules, structures of card and object and tale, but they cannot be sure that anything they play approaches the Lenentine practices. Still they play on, for the beauty of the objects contained in that old carved box, and because, they say, they cannot know if they stumble upon the real game, or have already done so, and so every game they play is plausibly the original, and, in the end and forever, they have faith.

[[Archive Group: Pantry. Lockwords: Memory Storage, Autobiographical Interface, User Corruption, Tether Systems, Lost Methodologies, Alternate Distribution Streams, Ludic Language Systems. Last Accessed, UIN# (47)663.5-9]]

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