A Serial Novel

A literary experiment in judicial philosophy and historical fiction, inter alia.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Chapter 13: Men


Celimene had thought Juliette would be happier when she heard about Jean-Pierre; she didn’t understand why she wasn’t. that’s how little sisters are supposed to be I should know she said. But tears ran down Juliette’s face. didn’t you listen to a word I said?


This is what Juliette had told Celimene to convince her to let her accompany her to Amsterdam.

I can always remember being with the one who everyone calls Father. when I was very young I thought it was because he was my father. but when I was old enough to ask him about my mother he just said she died when you were born and so you ae an orphan and when I asked him what about my father he said your only father is in heaven. then why do they call you father? to remind you of your father in heaven. and what should I call you. you should call me Father.

I always remembered being with Father even if he wasn’t really my father. my earliest memories are of him, or rather of him coming to me in the dark. sometimes I would wake up in the night and when it was dark my face would feel wet then I’d feel tremors and I’d just start to think they are coming from me, these tremors if I cause them I must be terrible. and when I terrified myself and the tremors grew more terrible he would come. I’d see light and then he’d be holding me against his chest. his chest would vibrate strange low and rhythmic vibrations and after awhile the terrible tremors would pass.

but I don’t know if I ever really loved him. it was all too much, I think. until I met the sisters, he was the only person I knew how to talk to. why do other people talk with their mouths? I asked. because they are fallen. but you talk with your mouth too. I am fallen also. and what about me? you have been chosen to speak only with your father. but you can speak with me. God has chosen me to be like your father, to speak with you for him I do not know why because I am also fallen I suppose that it is my penance for being fallen to speak the language of men but to know the language of God. then am I chosen? that is what we are going to see you must look and listen carefully many are called but few are chosen. he looked at me so long and so still I thought maybe he’d forgotten how to speak then he said it would make so much more sense if you were a boy.

and that’s why we went to the sisters who had taken the vows of silence and I loved speaking to them. but sometimes they wanted so much to mother me it got too noisy and I got tired of them calling me the daughter of their silence.

the first person I loved was Heloise. don’t laugh at me! I knew her at a different time than you. she and Genevieve were my first and only friends. I think Gen got tired of me but Heloise would let me tag along. one time Father let them take me to the ballet. it was the first time I ever saw music. until then I thought only I saw the rhythm of the world. but it was there, not just with the dancers but in the air around the strings in the arms of the brass and percussion and streaming out of the conductor’s baton. are you bored Heloise asked me we can leave. please let me stay and don’t interrupt I begged. she didn’t. that’s when I loved her. the only two people I’ve ever known who know how to be quiet with me are her and you. (Is this what makes Celimene the true poet, that she knows how to be quiet?)

but how can I let you be my little sister if you love the one who took our family from us? Celimene had asked. because she left me for some man she told me she didn’t even love and I don’t know if I can forgive her, said Juliette. then we understand one another very well said Celimene. but you must forgive Justice because what he did he did under her spell. it will be very difficult but I will try.

It was quite a coincidence that they had run away at the same time. Juliette had wanted to go where Father Fulbert couldn’t find her so she had been making her way towards the lands of the Marquis of Orleans as quickly as a gutter-snipe could without arousing the wrong kind of attention. Celimene had been just one day’s ride from their estate when she thought she saw the charming little girl who had taught her how to speak with her hands, the only joyful thing that had come out of Jacques’s marriage to Heloise. there’s no point of going toward the kingdom of death come with me if you really can’t go home she had said after Juliette had told her everything. That night she had adopted Juliette, because the only thing she had hated about being the youngest was not having a little sister of her own.

But now she did, right at the start of her journey to reclaim her brother and her family. Surely that was a good omen.


So why couldn’t Juliette be more happy for her? “So this was how Just must have felt,” she thought but had the presence not to say to Juliette. have you even seen him, Juliette asked. no but I’ve read him. but I’ve seen him said Juliette. And she told Celimene what she had seen out the window. When she shared what she had seen she became party to Celimene’s infatuation and this restored their relationship. So she could be happy for her now. This also meant that she could feel a sharp pang, bitter and loaded with guilt when Celimene said so he’s a friend of Just’s! that’s the best news I’ve heard since we got here. It was in that painful guilt that she finally felt the call from her father. And she understood what Father meant by “fallen.”

It was the condition she was in when she decided not to tell Celimene that she had seen Jean-Pierre a second time, when she had followed Floris on her errands.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Chapter 12: Muse

When her footman brought Jean-Pierre’s poem to her, Celimene was crying into Floris’s much-lauded tits. “And none of the rest of them even cared that he died,” she cried. “They didn’t even lift their heads.”

This phrase came from a waking childhood nightmare—the train of her family bringing Jacques and Heloise home transformed into a herd of cattle, but intent, shuffling, like no earth-cattle did. The horror wasn’t that they were cows—those bulky beasts comforting as warm stone—but that whatever it was they were stepping on wasn’t dirt and dust and rock. Celimene could feel it, whatever it was, crunch beneath her foot-hooves. Her cattle family stared at it. Huffing their breath, they slid, and one fell, and not one lifted its head.

Floris was lifting Celimene’s perfect head and wiping her oft-sung eyes. (They were like almonds. Men wanted to eat them. “Dark angels wear halos in their eyes” wrote Jean-Pierre. It was even more beautiful in French.)

“Why do love your father so much?” Floris asked. She was always curious about this. It wasn’t that Floris couldn’t understand loving a father—she was fond her own, a sensible man who admired her and let her alone—but that she couldn’t understand loving anyone when it hurt to do so. She would stop. She admired people who didn’t stop and failed to comprehend them. Hence her delicate scorn and careful attention to Jean-Pierre and his endless, tortuous, poetic love for her—(her?) If he could write it all done, someday someone would understand. Not her, but someone. And what else was worth writing?

Celimene said, “Everyone who ever loved me disappeared. But at least he died first.” Her eyes were tragic. Floris, wanting to taste them, wiped them.

That was the moment the footman brought Jean-Pierre’s poem.

Floris, with her statuesque eyes, read over Celimene’s eternal shoulders. “Some of his better work,” she remarked.

Celimene blushed. No one had written her a poem to her before. At least not a poem they sent her. “Do I write one back? A poem?”

Floris with ravished with the idea. “Yes,” said Floris. “And I will deliver it.”


Jean-Pierre had imagined Floris coming to him so many times that in later years the difficulty wasn’t simply remembering what was real and what imagined, but what was imagined first and what after. He swore he remembered this: Floris rising out of her clothes like corn out of a husk, a piece of paper in her hand.

Later Jean-Pierre wanted to apologize for the « blond moon is a bitch » remark, but didn’t know how to bring it up. “Your hands—“ said Jean-Pierre.

“That’s the much anticipated alexandrine?” asked Floris.

“Your hands, your hands, your hands, your beautiful-on-your-tits hands.” Jean-Pierre laughed. Embarrassed, he quickly said, “You think you were right. But you’re not. Requiting my love hasn’t stolen the poems I would have written you. Another—more worthy—has claimed her own.”

“Of course,” said Floris, “you have fallen in love with my immensely lovable friend, Celimene.” She had thought Jean-Pierre understood why they could have good fun with each other now.

“Of course,” Jean-Pierre said—He hadn’t meant... he trailed off. “Her name is Celimene?”

“It is, and I have brought her reply, and you have thrown it on the floor.”

“Why are you laughing?”

“Not at you,” she said.

“I will read her answer in the morning.” He felt himself unexpectedly at sea. “She made me love her very quickly.” Silence again, “She is beautiful, isn’t she?” he asked.

“Yes, very,” said Floris.

Jean-Pierre sighed. He sleepily sketched words on Floris’s belly. Floris blinked and, unexpectedly, wanted to cry.

Originally, she had decided to sleep with Jean-Pierre because he’d found a new muse, and Floris was as good a women as she had been a muse and not ungenerous. And then realization that by seducing Jean-Pierre she could continue to play the protective muse to unrequited love had delighted her. Unlike Jean-Pierre, she had read Celimene’s poem, and she knew that Celimene was a far better poet than Jean-Pierre would ever be.

Celimene didn’t write poetry about how everyone who ever loved her had disappeared; she didn’t have to. Floris could respect that. Celimene’s eyes rolled you along like wheels, but where they took you, they didn’t follow. Floris could respect that too. Celimene was touchy and intense and utterly defenseless. Floris didn't know how to deal with that.

Floris pulled Jean-Pierre’s hand lower down her belly. Between us we will break defenseless Celimene’s heart, she thought. She thought, So many poets and philosophes I know and that is the best phrase that I give this situation. She let the tears trickle into her mouth. Stop, she told herself. This is where you always stop. But this time, she wouldn’t.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Chapter 11: Desperate Love

It was no secret that Jean-Pierre Perrin loved Floris van Graff desperately. It was almost equally well-known that she loved him quite a bit, but decidedly not desperately. In fact (as nearly everyone know) she openly linked her many (widely-publicized) affairs to her love for him, even though (as nearly everyone in Amsterdam had already heard) she flatly refused to go to bed with him.
Why? Because he was a poet. “A true poet, the truest of our generation,” she said. “And you have many more songs to sing.” A happy, uxorious poet is, of course, a contradiction in terms.
And sing he did, frequently and desperately, most often when somebody stood him a drink, which was more often than not. He was impoverished, but was an intimate of many of the wealthiest of his fellow countrymen who had temporarily decamped in the Low Countries. He was: 1) funny, 2) good at cards, (but not so good you didn’t have a chance of winning some of your money back), and, most importantly 3) contagiously lucky with the ladies. He was a hit with the women of Amsterdam because he was: 1) gorgeous, 2) a poet, and 3) openly, and desperately, in love with someone else.
Andre and Just and all the rest had each separately spent more money on Jean-Pierre’s food, lodging, drinks, clothing, and gaming debts than Jean-Pierre’s humble parents had probably ever seen in their lives. But this didn’t stop him from complaining bitterly at them for their perfidy. How could each of them (separately) have been such a shameless, faithless friend as to let themselves succumb to the wiles of that cunt Floris, when they knew Jean-Pierre loved her bitterly.
For their part, they were happy to stoke his flames, loudly admiring her to each other.
“What an artist she is with her hands, when she --”
“How could you have noticed what her hands were doing when those tits –“
“An excellent point. But she has a way of making every moment last.”
“Why, I remember, it must have taken her an hour just to remove her petticoats.”
“You think that you’re about to see her bottom.”
“Her luscious, delicious bottom.”
“As round and as big as the moon –“
“Hey, J.P. you could use that line in one of your poems.”
“But back to her hands.”
“Her hands alone deserve an alexandrine.”
“Oh what and alexandrine you could write, J.P. if only you knew the pleasure of her hands.”
“Her tits.”
“Her luscious lips.”
“Her playful lips.”
“With you, did she …?”
“Did she ever …?”
“Ah, J.P, if only you knew.”
It’s obvious then, why J.P. could be found, on the same night that Just and Andre were trying their little ruse, staggering under the weight of an intoxication deeper than the beer and the gin, with a manuscript that (if it weren’t so muddy) you could see began, “What an alexandrine I would write you if only I knew the pleasure of your hands.”
This was his latest ruse. He was writing hypothetical poems, as he called them, detailing how much greater his poetry would be if only she would sleep with him. But Floris de Graff had taste, and knew better. This last poem, he’d left on her doorstep, and it wasn’t half an hour later before her courier had brought it back to his quarters. “But what pleasure could I take,” her note rhetorically asked, “in that which is not to my liking?”
“Reject me if you like, madam, but not my poetry!”
When he ended his narrative-cum-diatribe, quatrains of bitterness and self-deprecation delivered in gasps between bouts of drinking, with this theatrical flourish, his friends egged him on further.
“No, not your poetry.”
“She doesn’t deserve a noble soul like you.”
“That’s what I’ve told you about her before, refined in appearance, but all coarseness beneath.”
“Coarseness is right.”
“But enough praise of her indisputable ferocity, gentlemen. Back to our dear Jean-Pierre.”
A few of his friends recognized that his desperate love was somewhat more desperate than usual, and somewhat less loving, and they tried to rein him in. It was Andre, though, who generally tried to keep Jean-Pierre in check, and it was Just who more often than not succeeded. Just didn’t often say much to either provoke or restrain Jean-Pierre. In this he was different than his other friends, but his quiet self-regard was like “truth’s cold check on beauty,” as Jean-Pierre had once put it in a poem dedicated to Justice. Justice had shrugged.
“It’s not truth that motivates me,” he said. “I simply reason that my words can have little effect on your passions, which move your soul so greatly. And so I wait to see which of your passions will move you.”
“That’s just what I mean Justice. Truth is one silent, cold bitch. And that’s just what I need.”
This little aside is, however, beside the point because neither Andre nor Justice was present that night. They were conspiring together, one on his way to a bed that the other is already beneath, in a room just a short carriage-ride from the residence of Floris de Graf.
It wasn’t long before Jean-Pierre was stumbling his way to that desperate vicinity. If Floris would not be convinced by the nobility of his soul, the only remaining ruse was to bear his abjection to her, to show her how desperate he really was, and how little beauty remained in that desperation. So he crept, surprisingly quietly for a man who had had such much to drink, up to her house and began (with an amazing adroitness) to climb up to the window where he knew her boudoir to be, considering as he climbed whether he ought to hope or fear that he would find her with another man at the moment when she would be forced to see the straits through which she had driven his soul.
That was when he saw three veiled and robed, but obviously feminine, shapes leave the house and get into a carriage. One of the women had the tall, full body of Floris de Graff, the other was equally tall, but willowy. The last was short, and quite a bit slimmer. If it weren’t so late, Jean-Pierre would assume it was a child. They were talking, it seemed to him. He could tell by the way their hands moved that it was an animated conversation. They were no doubt talking about how excited they were to be going to some masquerade. Jean-Pierre could almost see Floris’ smile behind the veil, her excitement at being with a man not as far beneath her as Jean-Pierre.
“That whore!” He swore, and jump back to the ground. Shaking the city grime from him clothes, he ran after the carriage as quickly as he could.
Fortunately, they didn’t go far. The three got out once again and walked into a modest building, nowhere near the grand residence he’d been anticipating. He watched and waited. Not five minutes later, he saw his perfidious friend, Justice knock at the door, and put a mask up to his face right before the door opened.
“That fine ass!” He yelled, a bit too loudly. Justice turned around and would have seen him if he hadn’t still had enough presence of mine to shrink back around the corner.
So, there he was climbing to yet another window. On the first story, he peered in the window and saw nothing but a sleeping figure. It took him a much longer while to get up to the second story window, because by then he was sober enough to realize what an idiot he was being and so his movement became slower and more self-conscious.
He felt the buzz of the night. It was warm but late enough that the only sounds on the street were the low groans of his exertion. These groans escaped his mouth involuntarily, but the words of song hummed back from them. It was a harsh, unconsoling song: it told him there would never be anything more than this singing. It was in this state that he finally reached the second story window.
The room exuded exotic sexuality, the sort of decadence that Jean-Pierre’s parents had warned him to avoid and that had been one of his primary motives for ingratiating himself with low-lives that society had had the gall to call his betters. There was a screen that divided the room. Floris must have been on the other side of that screen, because Jean-Pierre didn’t see her in the room, but the other two women were there. Just was just sitting up from bed. What was much more unusual was how he wasn’t even looking at the woman who was in that part of the room with him, the willowy one. Jean-Pierre could see that her hair was black, and combed back straight and simple, not at all what you’d think for a party, or rendezvous or tryst or whatever he’d stumbled upon (old assumptions die hard; he still hadn’t connected this with the adventures his friends had all been abuzz about).
They (Justice and the woman both) were looking at the floor, where another man (this would have to be Andre, which explains both his and Justice’s absence) was pulling himself out from under the bed. The third woman, and she wasn’t wearing her veil anymore so Jean-Pierre could now see that he was right, she couldn’t be more than thirteen or fourteen years old, stood in the corner. She had piles of unkempt, thick black hair. She was pressed flat up against the wall, and Jean-Pierre realized that the other people in the room probably couldn’t see her. His eyes briefly met hers. But she didn’t say a word. Jean-Pierre turned himself back to the other figures. Justice was helping Andre out from under the bed.
“What in the hell are you doing, you bastard?” Andre demanded (this struck Jean-Pierre as a little odd --- who, exactly, was it who was under the bed?) “I’d just about worked it out.”
“The point is moot,” said Justice. “I think our game is over. And so is yours, Celimene.”
He rose from the bed and snatched the veil from the woman’s face.
She was beautiful. The white veil had concealed her darkness. Her large, dark almond eyes. Her sun-browned cheeks. Her exquisite neck, a thin thread in the small light of the room. Andre was right. Why was Just being such an ass?
A large man came rushing into the room and grabbed both Justice and Andre, but the woman ordered him off. All three went behind the screen. He stood there for a few minutes more, until he realized that the girl, who he had quite forgotten was still staring at him. When their eyes met again, she put her fingers to her lips and herself walked quietly, stealthily behind the screen.
Jean-Pierre hurried down as fast as he could. He ran home, hoping the girl hadn’t called the large man or any other guards on him.
As tired as he was he stayed up even later that night, writing two more poems. The first, an invective in the style of Catullus, he titled “The Blond Moon is a Worthless Bitch.” The second which he judged to be his most beautiful lyric to date, he titled simply “My Dark Angel.”

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Chapter 10: Do You Dream About Me?

Amsterdam and Justice is over twenty:

For a day and a half, Justice was in love with a girl he caught a glimpse of stepping into her carriage. For one sleepless night, he plotted how to find her, how to meet her, how to win her with his words. He was distracted with his current mistress and she just-the-right-charming amount piqued.

The morning after the sleepless night, Just came upon the girl again, descending now from the carriage, and this time he recognized her as the conquest two or three before his current mistress. He remembered that when they slept together she had clutched his arm very tight and also when they fought. The wave of nostalgia that surged in him was not for the girl, for their too-quick-sparked-too-soon-ended affair; it was for sleepless last night when he didn’t yet know her. It was a feeling that he recognized (of course, it was nostalgia), and it fit neatly inside the contours of his chest. He saw the girl herself with her tight grip, floating outside the feeling, and he felt nothing at all about that.


Cards and wine and the talk of both and of women and of duels. Just was sitting out the hand and distracted in thought, maybe he slept. In any case, the story was well in progress when he started listening. He listened idly at first because of the way everyone was laughing as if they already this story well.

“She sat behind the screen and told me to lie down,” said Arnolphe, a genial, pockmarked young man who did not mind a story or a round of drinks at his expense, “Lie down I did. ‘The horizontal position is strictly necessary for the experiment,’ she said. I did not argue, you can be sure. ‘I’m getting undressed now,’ she called. Well, if she must… ‘And now you’re going to sleep.’ Like hell I am, I thought. And then—I did.”

Everyone laughed. Arnolphe looked surprised, then joined them, loudest of all. “I woke up slowly, with a pounding in my head,” he continued, “‘Ah, I thought, those are my footsteps. I’m walking back into my head. Before I’d quite arrived, the woman behind the screen said, “What did you dream about?” Here it is, I thought, and I was determined that I at least wouldn’t fail.
About you, I was about to say, but I then I thought to be more subtle. ‘About a beautiful woman,’ I said. ‘Whose face I could not see.’ And then—well, what next?—‘She was unbuttoning…’

‘You were dreaming about me?’ said the woman, ‘Is that what you are saying?’ Well, yes then, I was. ‘But what else did you dream?’ she said, a touch impatiently, it seemed to me. My subtlety was all spent, so I told the truth, ‘Oh something about trumpets, flowers growing on buttons and making a noise like trumpets. The buttons on a dress of a beautiful woman,’ I added.”

And did you pass the test? asked the listeners. Did the Experiment triumph?

Arnolphe, his face red, transparent, said, “She had another question. First she said, ‘You must love a woman to dream about her.’ Well, yes, I did. ‘And you know that I undressed behind this screen while you dreamed?’ Yes. Here we were—I sat up. ‘And you saw what she was still wearing.’ ‘Yes…?’ ‘In the dream, you saw that she was naked except for…? .’ I took my chances, ‘A veil,’ I said. ‘If you couldn’t see that, you can’t have seen me. And I can’t be the one you love.’ Her servitor reappeared at once and silently me escorted me out, and there I was saying, ‘Shoe?’ ‘Bracelet?’ ‘Garter’ all the way out the door and down the stairs.”

The listeners laughed and said, “Those Isis girls, they’re tres libre, tres”—they’re crazy. Some argued that the Experimenters were not Isis girls at all, but new girls playing at a different mystery cult entirely. They swapped stories. It seemed that Arnolphe wasn’t the only hopeful gallant who had found his dream rejected, his love doubted, his hopes disappointed, his person escorted away by the silent servitor. Some bragged that they had enjoyed the girls’ favors, but no one believed them, or they pretended not to.

Just listened and was jealous of his own attention—who was it he was so in love with, he accused himself, that he had missed this adventure. He didn’t know, he was sure.

Andre, a half-officer, half-philosophe, entire-card player, said, “I bet that I could bring Isis’ garter—or whatever we may conjure it to be—back to you.”

Tomorrow before midnight? Agreed.

The next afternoon, Andre called upon Justice. He was setting about this scientifically, and he couldn’t get around it—he needed a confederate, and Just was his man. Just could feel free to be flattered. Just wasn’t, but he was curious.

Andre had the assignation entirely arranged. He had met—masked—with the girl—veiled, and she had explained the Experiment just as Arnolphe had described. (Or so Just assumed; he had not attended to that part of the story). Andre would meet her between nine and ten in the evening; they would drink and talk like friends, and then (like friends) she would retire behind the screen to get undressed and he retire to the bed. “And then you will dream,” she said, “You can dream for me, can’t you?” Andre and Just noted that, that she said, “for me” and not “about me.”

“But what is my part in this?” Just said. “Since there is only room for one person inside a dream.” (He said that lightly enough, for Andre to admire his wit, but he felt the echo that told him he meant something by it. All prophets prophesy like adolescents whose voices are cracking—nervous or proud that someone else’s voice is in their throat. These days Just tended to be more weary than wary—again, angel voice?)

“And no room at all for me,” said Andre. “I’ll be under the bed holding a mirror.” Andre had long been watching the house (And why long? He is silent in the matter, and Just does not deign to ask) and had a good enough understanding with the landlady to have entrance to the stairs. In short, Andre will secret himself in the room while Just plays at being Andre. Andre pulled out a paper scribbled with measures and curiously delicate angles. “I have not been into the room in question, but I have the one below it, which should be of similar dimensions. The screen, I understand, stands here, and here the bed, and here a mirror on the wall.” Andre’s finger described the angles, curiously, delicately. “And so you will lie in the bed and I beneath and you will dream and I will see what I will see.”

Just took the mask and apartment’s directions, and now, the appointed hour—there the house and there Just. All went as the story said that it must go, although Just hadn’t heard the story: the silent servitor before him on the steps, the lamps covered in rose brocade, the chairs and walls upholstered a la egyptienne, the girl in the straight white robe, straight white veil, the wine (that Andre did not warn him not to drink) that Just did not drink, but poured out secretly, and the retiring (like friends) behind the screen and to the bed.

“And now I am undressing,” said the girl, “and now you are going to sleep.” But Just did not sleep. He lay down and closed his eyes and waited. Beneath him he thought that he perhaps heard a knocking—Andre beneath the bed signaling him, but for what? The knocking passed. Just waited; Andre waited; the girl waited. She was clearly waiting for the effects of the wine to wear off. Now Just regretted being so clever as to not drink the wine because—quite simply—he was bored. He stirred.

”Awake?” said the girl. “What did you dream about?”

“A very sexy angel,” said Just.

“Oh,” said the girl, and he—if not Arnolphe before him—could hear how bored she was. “And was she naked, this angel?”

“She had a silver tongue, very narrow, like sword or a needle.”

“I asked what she was wearing.”

“I was naked and there was a cloth over my eyes. Maybe she had one too. But she came later. First my father—”

“I don’t believe you dreamt this. I want proof.”

Now Just was quite sure that he heard Andre knock lightly. Just said, “She took me to the fountain of youth.”

“Where was it?” asked the girl.

“Far away across the sea.”

On the underside of the bed, Knock, Knock, Knock.

“And you truly dreamt this?” said the girl. “You mentioned your father…”

And if Andre does not burst out from underneath the bed, then—I believe—the next thing Just will say is “Celimene?” And he will mean, What are you doing hunting for my dream?

As for Celimene (poor, lost Celimene who makes me think of being a father, who makes me want play with women’s dreams), it’s easy enough to guess what she will say—“Just?” painfully easy to guess what she will mean—How else can I find the water of youth? The Marquis does not seem care to find it for the Marquis. I guessed it was left to me (when you left me).

The girl’s hand grips the edge of the screen. Bare of rings (too naked pale to show even the trace ones once there), it is all knuckle and vein.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Chapter Nine: Heloise and Jacques

When one of the innkeeper’s servants knocked on Jacques’ door and told him that Father Fulbert wanted a word with the Marquis, Jacques almost told him that his father was dead, before he realized what those words meant.
It was the first time anyone had called him by his new title, and Jacques felt a strange feeling. It wasn’t power, as you might expect. It was freedom, a freedom so light it felt almost like vertigo. Jacques wondered what it would be like not to feel the weight of fate.

But some decisions have a weight of their own. “God, I would like to fuck that baby.” “The girl’s aunt said you were making inquiries. Do you think I don’t want your happiness?” “The signs are all propitious, Jacques.” “Of course, Papa, I am happy to marry Heloise.” “I can’t have been the one who wanted this.”

Where was this decided? When? What moment in the circuit between Jacques and Heloise, Abelard, Madame Gorriot and the dead Marquis had led to the final misunderstanding? But there it was, three doors down: a nascently beautiful (fuckable) young woman who was just intriguing enough that Jacques didn’t wholly regret the mistake.

It was this decision that Father Fulbert had come to discuss. He wanted to make sure that “His Grace” did not lose track of his new charge in the confusion of this changing of the guard.

“I have received a letter from Madame Gorriot, a devout woman who is sadly a little too suspicious by nature. She fears that, the rush of the funeral and your consecration will be such that you might be inclined to forget the sanctity of your intentions.”

“You can assure Madame Gorriot that her fear is misplaced.”

“Believe me, Your Grace, I have, but she remains suspicious. If I may be so bold, it seems to me that some assurances on your part might help matters.”

“I’ll not pay a dowry, like some woman, if that’s what she’s looking for.”

“Your Grace misunderstands both Madame Gorriot and me. Madame Gorriot is an honest woman, reconciled to her humble circumstances. And, as for me, my concerns have to do with a higher order. Everyone knows your generosity and the generosity of your family. I have no doubt that Heloise will be well taken care of in your household. There are, however, those who put too much credence in other rumors about your family, particularly about the former Marquis. They fear that perhaps in this confusion, your family might remember the marriage but forget the requisite rites and sacraments.”

“I’m surprised,” said Jacques, “at your willingness to cast such strong accusations against the dead. And anyway, you surely know that I am not my father.”

“My order will not soon forget the generous offer of yourself to our services. Forgive my bluntness. I am merely trying to represent your interests, as well as those of Heloise, to those who do not know you as well as I.”

“I’m still not clear how you propose doing that. Apart from my assurances and our formal engagement, both of which are matters of public record, what more is there to do?”

“It is, as I have indicated, a matter of the rites and sacraments. As a priest, authorized by God and the Holy Father to perform such sacraments, I am perhaps in a position to help you provide such assurances.”

“I’m beginning to understand you.”

“It is simply a matter of performing the sacraments now, and letting the celebrations wait for such a time as when celebrations will be more fitting.”

With all the verities, certainties and rhythms of ordinary life that had been cast aside in that country inn where a branch of the house of Orleans had been obliged to decamp, you’d think that the modest stone building must have some fantastic physical properties.But this isn’t true at all. Look at the room where Jacques received the cure. Clean, white plaster walls and heavy wood furniture, too simple to ever be out of sync with the times. It was late afternoon, the last day the family would stay there before making their way home for the funeral. The sun shone right through the rooms one window, and cast long, substantial shadows.

Outside the window, the landscape was shifting. The ragged clouds in the sky made quick shadows that moved with the wind. But it wasn’t just that. Jacques was sure that if he looked just around the corner from the vista that the window offered him, he'd see: trees uprooting themselves to find warmer resting spots, rivers leaving their accustomed banks because the rocks that made up those banks and rolled far away. Jacques had read somewhere that, if a stone could perceive itself as it rolled down a mountain, it would think that it was free, and not merely subject to the immutable laws by which God made the universe. If there were true freedom somewhere, it was just around the window’s corner.So Jacques wasn’t sure why he felt the vertigo even more strongly when he told the cure to get everything ready for the next morning, at first light. They didn’t have many daylight hours to spare if they wanted to make it home before nightfall.


From everything the authors have written, you probably are anticipating disaster from the start. But you’re wrong. Things went beautifully for a while. This all happened at the height of French classicism, so there were no wags ready to quip that “the wedding baked meats did coldly furnish forth the funeral tables.” And Heloise enjoyed the happiest six months she’d ever had. Cynical reader. Maybe you’ve forgotten Jacques’ happier, more angelic nature. Just because the authors haven’t been writing about it doesn’t mean it wasn’t still there. And it returned. The Jacques Heloise came to know is the one that the authors have taken for granted but haven’t had the guts to write about (it’s so hard to be genuine): the solicitous gentleman, the ardent lover.

What about Madame Ledoux? We’ll keep her in the wings for now.

What about Just? Robbed of his father, in his grief, and confused by the return of his sympathies for Jacques (caused, no doubt, by his newfound understanding – if not agreement – that one could abandon the obvious charms of Ledoux for the mysterious allure of Heloise), he went back to being a thirteen year old boy. Only he couldn’t understand why, when Heloise had first been introduced to him (not ten minutes after he’d been told of the death of his father) that she discreetly, but unmistakably puckered her lips, first at her cousin, and then at him. Then the two of them had smiled strange, incongruous smiles (they were more used to the idea of death than Just was, and anyway Heloise was giddy at having just gotten hitched). This enigmatic gesture would keep his absurd hopes alive for a number of years.

I assure you. That’s how things were.


But I want to pass over the details of this uxorious bliss and merely speculate that perhaps this is why Heloise waited for four years after the disappearance of Jacques before she started taking lovers. The enigmatic circumstances of his disappearance made it impossible for her to get married again, even if that were what she wanted, which I very much doubt.

What happened was this:

One morning, Jacques kissed his lovely wife goodbye. He was going to the capital to see to some matters of business that had been left unresolved with his father’s death. She didn’t want him to go. It was the first time they’d been apart since they’d been married, and she still couldn’t believe her happiness, so she had a strange foreboding that it would vanish. Also, the cure, who had been sticking to a more traditional form of education, had hinted that there were things to be done in his absence.

This latter fear proved unfounded. There was no time for that. It was the barely one day after Jacques had left when Abelard came back to report that Jacques had vanished during the night. Everyone put great stock in the fact that he seemed genuinely shocked. You probably think Jacques had flown the coop again. That idea obviously crossed everyone’s mind (even Heloise’s who’d learned a good deal about the family in the meantime and who didn’t really think she deserved happiness anyway). But I’m inclined not to believe that he did, for the same reason as the family. We all know how much Jacques liked to talk, and this time no one, not even Abelard, had heard a peep. Or, if anyone had, they weren’t talking.

Besides, it wasn’t two days after that when the riders came with a warrant for Jacques’ arrest. Since the order was signed by the King himself, many people assumed that Jacques had secretly been taken into custody, as sometimes happened. But if that’s true, why did the King summon Just and Heloise to Versailles – by the way, I should mention, that on that long carriage-ride, Just and Heloise were alone for the first time, and you can imagine the torture that that caused on Just, being there in that stuffy box, hot from shame and desire and the fear of not knowing if he would be held responsible for his brother’s misdeeds – why (as I was saying), did the King summon them to his presence to insist personally that no such thing had happened. “Your brother was simply wanted to resolve some questions for some of my advisors. No, dear boy, I hate to inform you that your brother is surely dead, no doubt killed for one of his many youthful indiscretions.” At which point the King himself had Just consecrated as the newest Marquis de Orleans.

Nevertheless, in a rare break of solidarity between the Church and State, the Church refused to consider Heloise a widow without more substantial evidence. “I cannot bear to see her hope killed so easily,” Father Fulbert told his mentor.

So, for whatever reasons, Heloise waited a number of years before she began taking lovers. And even then, she was very circumspect in her affairs. She only chose men whom she knew could keep secrets. Her first lovers were drawn from the circles of local tradesmen and the more important servants, but eventually Heloise grew weary of the charms of even the most genteel among them and longed for an intellectual peer. During the last four years, she’d more than made up for her neglected education, availing herself of all the resources compiled by generations of educated gentlemen. Aside from a few rumors (perhaps not all those gentlemen were quite as discreet as Heloise had believed) and scattered references in her letters to Genevieve (who was caught in a quietly unhappy marriage and lived vicariously through the details that Heloise supplied her with) we know little about these affairs.

Still, one might wonder:

During these years did she ever have sex with Just? I doubt it, because Just was hardly ever around. After being made a marquis, Just issued only two orders before leaving to continue his education elsewhere, first in Prussia and then in Holland.

The First Order: Naming Abelard as his steward, giving unprecedented power to a servant of such humble beginnings. “Treat his wishes as though they were my own.” (“You have to help me Abelard, I can’t bear to be around her, around either of them.”) These years marked the height of prosperity for the house of Orleans, whose men had never been particularly competent landowners or businessmen.

The Second Order (at Heloise’s private, confidential request): That Father Fulbert be declared persona non gratis, not only in the house of the Marquis of Orleans, but indeed in all the domains under his control.

Well, then what about Abelard?

I won’t deny that the opportunity was there. Circumstances forced them together more often than not. Although Abelard ran the estates and affairs of the house of Orleans, it was Heloise who became its public face at all official ceremonies and social gatherings. The old Marquise had gone into a decline that couldn’t be checked. As for Louise and Madeline, soon after Jacques disappeared each finally consented to the suitor that she had been leading on for years. This left Heloise and Celi, who were seen together at everything. They let it be known how fond they were of each other, but everyone also knew that Celimene hated Heloise and blamed her for losing first her father, then Jacques, and finally, most unforgivably, Just. But I can’t say if there was anything beyond this professional association of Heloise and Abelard, especially since Abelard, like Heloise, is the soul of discretion.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Chapter 8: Heaven's Experiments

Just pulled out a packet of letters, which was strange because he remembered only the one. Each letter was sealed with the seal he remembered but did not recognize, but the seals were broken. Jacques’s name was not written on the letters, but on a slip of paper that bound the letters together. He was spared from the moral quandary of satisfying his curiosity and respecting Mme Ledoux’s privacy. Except for Jacques’s name, the handwriting was his own.

“I did not write these myself,” he said. “But something may have written them through me in the night.” (He did not doubt that in this case what was written was for him to read even if it bore Jacques’s name.)

He unfolded the top letter—“I have much to tell you that I cannot write. Why this silence? Are these letters reaching you? (And if they are not, would the one who has stolen them send them to you? The one, or the many? I see a whole line of them, slobbering over these lines. Why don’t they write their own letters? My mind is wandering.”)

Just remembered how far away he had been the night before, how far away and how long away. He remembered the line of people whispering in the guardian angels’ ears. Were there things he had to tell that he could not write? There were. But still he had hoped these letters would tell him what they were.

He unfolded another letter— “I will keep it, you know, I will treasure it.” “I cannot go so far away that you aren’t still living behind my eyelids”

Just had expected much that he would not understand. He had not expected these passionate vaguaries. He thought of the angel of the lord. He could remember every word in her trumpet voice, but he saw the words written, mixed somehow into the letters in his own hand, mixed into those so-felt banalities. Why did the one make him think of the other? “These letters are a curtain,” he thought. “That I must read through.”

He went to find Abelard.

(You haven’t heard much about Abelard. The attentive among you might have wondered why everyone has been so elusive about him—a quick aside that indicates that he’s such a fixture that nothing more be said. But if such a fixture, then where has he been? The family may have agreed not to speak too much about him, but when did the authors decide to go along?)

Abelard was born between twenty and thirty years ago, and he resembled a cabinet. He was tall with a teenager’s look of unfinished bones, and his eyebrows stuck out in all directions because he ran his fingers through them while he thought. It was his mind that most resembled a cabinet—everything he heard, he stashed inside the correct drawer. Sometimes he shook the drawers about to see if something should hop to another, or if the drawer should be not a container, but a tunnel to another drawer or another place.

Abelard was the family’s servant, but if anyone had ever told him what to do, he had not noticed. He kept himself busy on his own; no one worked harder or more constantly. He himself had never given a command in his life though everyone from the Marquis to the youngest housemaid came to him for advice no one else could offer. If you wanted to know why mangoes grew in the east and nowhere else, Abelard had considered it and could catalogue for you the mango’s preferences, what it took from the soil and what it left, its affinity to the sun, how its sap followed that star’s unseen tides.

If you wanted to know how to stop a baby growing inside you, Abelard knew the best way to go about it depending on the fetus’s age and circumstances of conception. He could also warn you of what would be left inside you afterwards and how that would grow depending on when you stopped the child growing one way—out of you and into the light—and started it growing this other.

For example, if you stopped the baby at midnight, it would go leaving a word in your ear that you might not want to hear. And if you stopped it at matins, your stomach would bloat, eventually preceding you by three steps out the door, and you would never see your feet again. If you stopped the child at dawn, it would burrow its way into your future tense; you would too become so light that you float away like a dried-out leaf and your loved ones left wailing, why don’t you love us anymore, why can’t you love us. The best time to stop a child was about 3:00 in the afternoon, when it dissolved into the peculiar type of salt water in which unborn babies swim. Sometimes then you would wake up from dreams that left your checks wet, but who didn’t? Sometimes.

Abelard knew many things like this and was generous in sharing them.

So Just carried the letters to Abelard and told him how Mme Ledoux had left them and how they had fucked (though he did not use that word) and how she had told him to deliver the letters to Jacques. He told of the angel of the Lord and the long, long distance they had traveled. (You wouldn’t lie to a doctor; Just similarly did his best to tell the complete truth despite his promise of secrecy to Mme Ledoux. He felt that he owed her a man’s decision and not a child’s obedience.)

The first thing Abelard said was, “You were a man full-grown, then you were a child again, almost a man, as you are now. Now think carefully. When the angel of the Lord came to you, were you a man, a child, or a man having a vision of being once again a child?”
“The last, I think,” said Just. “Does it matter?” It meant the basic truth of him was something that carried forever a child. It meant the vision had no end, that is was he thought.

Abelard said, “Maybe, maybe not.” He was collecting symptoms. “I think it matters for the angel. It might explain what heaven was hoping to gain from the experiment—I would call it that: from your perspective, a vision, from the angel’s, an experiment. If we begin to think of it as an experiment, as well, I think we will learn much. ”

Just nodded; he was glad that someone had studied these things and that it was Abelard.

Just had described the angel, that she was a sexy woman. Abelard now asked him to describe her tongue.

“It was made of silver,” said Just, “and pointed like a sword. I could not see it well; it flickered.”

“Did you notice how it was fixed to her mouth?”

No, Just hasn’t.

“I believe that if you had, you would have found it fixed to the roof of her mouth instead of the root, spinning like a dervish.”

Abelard went to his cabinet and found the file for “Angel,” flicked to “of the Lord.” He returned with a small instrument, like two shallow bowls clasped together, or a clam. At the front, crossing the seam, was a thin pair of lips puckered like a trumpet. The instrument was a model of a mouth. Separated from the head, the mouth resembled that of a frog.

“The angel’s mouth,” said Abelard, “a simplified model, of course, based on my researches.”

Abelard wound a key at the top of the instrument, where a true mouth would hook into the septa behind the nose and then to the brain.

Just recognized the liquid whir and what he had thought was the sound of the angel’s rarified breathing. Abelard carefully lifted the top bowl so the lips half parted. Just recognized the fixed mask of the Angel of the Lord about to speak.

“I bring glad tidings of things to come. I bring news of the regime to come.” The angel’s own liquid and metal voice.

“Look inside,” said Abelard, and Just pressed his eyes to the crack. His eyelids brushed the bowl, and he saw in the darkened cavity a needle flashing and spinning and spinning, scrapping the inner surface of the lower mouth. Silver and pointed like a sword, the needle resembled the angel’s tongue remarkably.

The key unwound and Just remembered the mechanic fixity with which the angel had walked into the ocean.

“Yes,” he said, “this is my angel.”

Abelard said, “A recorder angel, then, as I expected when you reported it saying what recorder angels always say. Wound up in heaven and sent to earth. The important thing—the thing no one remembers,” Abelard was impatient, “but I expect it is hard to remember in the midst of a vision, which you must understand I have never had—is not what the angel said, but what you said to her.”

“Nothing,” said Just. He did not remember saying anything.

“Maybe you were wise,” said Abelard. The key stopped spinning, and Abelard wound it the other direction.

“Nothing,” echoed the angel’s mouth. “Maybe you were wise.” Without the bellows of their lungs behind, both Just and Abelard’s voices sounded thin, pure, and childlike and resembled each other.

“The tongue,” said Abelard, “spins one way on earth and the other in heaven and what it says in heaven, it recorded on earth. So, as I said, maybe you were wise not to speak. We do not know what experiment heaven was performing on you.”

And maybe, thought Just, the angel would be back. “Thank you,” said Just formally. “I will consult you again if necessary.” He was going to read through the curtain of the letters.

Abelard looked out the window and said, “And here is your family coming up the valley. Did you want me to give Jacques his letters back? It’s difficult to say what affect this will have on him, although I’m sure Mme Ledoux has a reason for returning them based on guess about the affect that is almost certainly wrong.” Abelard grinned at him confidentially, and Just unconsciously mirrored the smile back.

“Jacques his letters?” Just said.
“His letters to Mme Ledoux. That she wishes you to return to him. I told Jacques—when he asked—that she has, of course, heard the rumors about what happened between her husband and him.”

“Oh yes,” said Just. But he said that he would deliver the letters himself. He remembered the single letter that Mme Ledoux had given him so clearly. He resolved to search the packet for that letter, the one in neither his nor his brother’s handwriting, which evidently matched so closely.

Abelard said, “I told your brother—when he asked, of course, months ago—that he was not good for a woman like that, the type that lives in fear, but is not imaginative. For example, when she was pregnant, she had a simple plan and a simple contract she wanted him to sign, but could she tell him? No. Somehow the way he conducted conversation never gave her the words she needed. She always takes the words she needs from the person nearest her. You noticed? It’s disarming and leads to problems.” Abelard sighed, “The two of them weren’t suited to each other. I warned your brother.”

Just had thought all of these things were secrets.

Abelard said, “You have noticed that your sisters have been worried sick and the Marquis feverish with activity and that Jacques walks up and down the floor, ordering everyone to just let him die?”

Just nodded because he couldn't imagine how he could not have noticed.

The cure was washing the Marquis’s body, preparing him for the funeral. He cleaned the crust of spittle around his lips and wound his body in linen. He had trouble maneuvering thebody and Heloise helped.

She had wanted to watch and the family hadn’t (they were all people who lived too much in their eyes; there were many things they couldn’t bear to see). She had thought that the cure might turn her away. She did not know why she should feel guilty before the cure.

“I did not know,” Heloise said, “that I remembered this, I was so young, but I saw my father wrapped like this.”

The cure said, “I didn’t want—I’m glad you’ll witness—“ He started again more composed, lecturing, quizzing. “If the law sentences and puts a man to death and God brings him back to life, what happens to the man? Does the law’s will win out or God’s?”

This should have seemed to Heloise a dangerous question, but she said, “The law’s because God will eventually come around to killing the man again.”
The cure shot her what was rapidly becoming her favorite look, “Hey you, little girl, you said something I didn’t exactly expect to hear.”

“But still,” the cure said, “God’s reasons for putting the man to death might be different from the law’s, or they might be the same. God might kill the man so that he will not die again—it has been said before—He might kill him to hear what he has to say when He brings him back to life—it would be interesting to hear. Tell me what you think?”

“I’m not learning from you anymore” said Heloise.

The cure went back to washing the body. “But you’re still here?” he asked after a while.

“I’m still watching.”

The cure nodded—that was to be expected from her, good girl.

He unwrapped the Marquis’s head. The man’s eyes were closed.

( “Who closed the Marquis’ eyes?” the cure asked Jacques. “I did,” said Madeline.

Jacques was angry in turn at being reproached for refusing to close his father’s eyes. He had sat next to his body for hours and carefully failed to touch it. He had expected he would come to terms some day about how his father had and had not managed his life, how he had refused to be a bad father and failed to be a good one, But, obvious though it would seem, Jacques didn’t expect this to happen at his father’s death. He was so angry that the old man had gotten away from him, so angry that he had at last slipped out of the old man’s fingers.)

The cure dripped water into Marquis’s eyes, which rivuleted into the sparse eyelashes and the seam of the eyes, ran out the corners. The cure took a vial out of his sleeve. The liquid inside was clear like water, but began to evaporate rapidly when the stopper was pulled.

The cure tipped the Marquis’s head back and poured the liquid down his nostrils. The Marquis’s eyelids stretched—the damn fools had shut his eyes, the cure snorted— but they had stiffened fast shut.

The cure released the Marquis’s head; a small amount of liquid dribbled back out his nostrils. Underneath his eyelids now, the Marquis’ eyes were open. His tongue moved inside the cage of his teeth.

Heloise jumped back, then put her hand on the Marquis’ forehead where it touched his hair. His skin was cold and soft.

“Are you there?” asked Heloise.

“Shit,” said the cure.. “They call the drug the water of the fountain of youth,” he told her.

“Is it supposed to work like that?”

“What do you think?”

Heloise shook off a sudden conviction that this was nothing new, a sudden vision of an army of priests stooping over deathbeds, pouring something more volatile than water down the dyings’ notrils. She had heard it said that the dead went somewhere else, she had never considered that perhaps it was that they became something else.

The cure slapped the Marquis sharply on the cheeks, he pounded assiduously at his chest. In the end, he stopped and wound his head again in linen. “I never wanted to be an executioner,” said the cure. “I told you that last night.”

That was not what Heloise remembered, but she supposed everyone had their own things they thought they had made clear.

The family continued home, one member now making the journey feet first and horizontal. Jacques sat in the wagon next to him. He talked to Heloise because he was a stranger. “Mlle Beaujeu, you see everything.”


“You do. I had you sighted out as a girl that saw everything from the first. Do you hear everything too? He won’t talk to me, but he’ll talk to my brother. He says, ‘Because I love him more than you,’ but that’s not true, or if it is, I’ve always loved Just better. I’ll go far away for him.”

Heloise said nothing.

“Pretend I didn’t say that,” said Jacques, and she said nothing.

“I think you can hear him too.” he said.

“I don’t think I’m crazy,” he said, “but it’s a idea.”

“You don’t have to come,” he said.

The Marquis’s tongue clicked and clicked against the bars of his teeth.

“We will lock him inside a mausoleum,” said Jacques. “Because he is dead.”

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Chapter 7: The Taste of the Fountain

The last thing that Just remembered coherently before his vision was thinking how ironic it was that he had actually fallen so deeply ill. The consolation for being a sickly child is that you learn how to wiggle your way out of all sorts of requirements. No one who had ever seen one of them would question Just’s inability to travel during one of his headaches. It was a measure (and even Just realized this) of just how bad this particular attack was that Just was able to detach himself from the usual self-pity that gripped him and that was almost worse than the headache just long enough to realize that this time he might have deserved it, brought it on himself even. At first, he was desperate to figure out how to modify his plans now that he knew that Celi was onto him. Actually, it was imperative that he speak with Ledoux. Oh, he knew she’d never love him, would always only see him as a boy. But he could, if he could just get her to listen long enough, convince her that they could find common cause in their desire to get revenge on Jacques. He had never been as mad at Celi as when she saw through him without realizing how serious it was this time (she was still just a kid).

Only it didn’t matter, because just two days after the family had left, while Just was still laying his plans while playing at being ill, this attack hit him and he couldn’t worry about revenge anymore. At first it was mild and as long as he lay in bed with the curtains carefully drawn he could still eat and talk with the servants. It’s hard to say how many days passed in this state, but there was plenty of time for Just to imagine hundreds of different versions of his plan, and also to imagine all the fun his family was having without him and to hate them all for leaving him again.

After what must have been at least a week, his sickness intensified. That’s when Just had the moment of lucidity that I just mentioned. And then the attack hit him so badly that he was robbed of both self-pity and detached irony. Reason and emotion gave way to raw, bare suffering, and he could hardly see.

This was the state that he was in when one of the servants poked in to announce that a lady had come in to look in on him, as his parents had asked her to do. Just was about to say that he couldn’t remember them telling him about this (they’d mentioned Abelard, but that was all) when he heard the lady’s voice and realized it was Madame Ledoux.

I don’t need to tell you how happy this made him, but also how nervous that she should see him like this, that he should get his chance so fortuitously, but only while in this state. He thought maybe he should pray, but he didn’t think there was a patron saint for revenge, or for lust, or for any of the things that motivated him.

And then the illness passed.

“You’ve come to see me?” He knew he could not pull off the solicitous gallantry of Jacques, so he aimed for his father’s peremptory casualness.

“Poor boy,” she said, “I had heard that your family had left you here alone and thought someone should look to your health. Even if they are too busy elsewhere.”

“Didn’t my parents send you to look in on me?” Just asked.

Ledoux laughed, and Just realized how absurd that would have been and how silly he was to believe it. They would have thought, “Abelard and the servants, that is enough,” if they had thought to think at all. And anyway, things had always only been polite between the Marquis and the Ledouxs, on account of who Monsieur Ledoux was (had been). “Well, some of us are motivated by Christian compassion to look after those who have been left behind.”

She walked up to his bedside and put her hand on his forehead. Her knuckles felt cold and heavy, like marble. “You’re feverish,” she said. “Hasn’t your blood been let?”

“My father thinks it is illiberal.” (His father talked at length of the empirical school of medicine and said blood letting was for priests and peasants.)

“But I’ll have my physician come look after you. A boy like you needs taking care of,” she said.

Although the presence of her hand and the sting of the word “boy” were both inflaming him, Just struggled to lift himself. “No, no;” he reassured her. “My illness comes and goes.” To prove his point he would have lifted himself out of bed, until he remembered that he was wearing his bedclothes. How could the woman he loved see him like this without it being more meaningful? She was so presumptuous and, Just though briefly, cruel. “No, it’s only that she thinks you’re still a child.”

“Anyway,” he said, “it’s not my illness that kept me here. I couldn’t be with people like that. That would have made me ill.”

“And you didn’t want to meet your brother’s little bride? You’re not excited for a new sister?”

“I have enough sisters of my own.”

“But she must be quite a beauty to win someone as dashing as Jacques. You know, all the ladies around here are crazy for him. And he chose her instead of any of them. Didn’t that interest you? And she’s much closer to your age than his.”

“Not all of us are as weak as my brother. Some of us can see through empty charm.” Just said, and did his best to stare meaningfully at Ledoux.

“Oh, I didn’t realize you had such refined taste.”

This wasn’t how it was supposed to work, Just thought. He had been prepared for her to reject him. He wasn’t going to try to win her over, anyway. He was ready to have to work indirectly. But this gentle, mocking irony was unbearable. (Like many clever children, Just couldn’t bring himself to believe that any adults were as clever as he). It made his head hurt, and he found himself growing confused.

He didn’t realize that he was soon stammering out his love for her until he had already told her everything, mumbled his way through her encounter in the cabin and through Jacques’s cold words to him on his return.

He hadn’t intended that. He had wanted to be more clever, more subtle, poetry dripping with significance (that was the plan, as futile as he knew it was). He was prepared for all the subtle stratagems of unrequited love. But he wasn’t ready to watch the woman he loved weeping for the man she loved (whom he hated, still hated, couldn’t forgive, not yet.)

“You don’t understand, do you?” she asked him.

“I understand how callous and cruel my brother is.”

“You don’t understand a thing. But if we’re going to be honest (and I’m happy to be able to be honest) then I’ll be blunt. This infatuation must stop, and you know it. Don’t think I’m being cruel, dear boy.”

“I’m almost a man.”

“Well, then, good. Because I need an almost-a-man, but I need an almost-a-man who, like a man, can see clearly and who knows what’s what. Because I don’t need a love-sick boy. I need an ally. Are you strong enough for that?” she asked.

“I’m strong.”

“I don’t doubt that you are.” Ledoux leaned close to him and whispered, so close to him he could feel the air moved by her lips: “I know I can trust you,” and he felt her press a hand against his chest. When she moved it away, he realized that she had given him a letter. He looked down, and saw that it bore Jacques’s name, and was sealed with wax from a seal he didn’t recognize (not Ledoux’s family seal).

“Then tell me what you’ll do.” She said.

“I’ll give this to Jacques.”

“And will you tell anyone?”


“Good, then. Be well.” She put her hand to his forehead one more time and moved it through his hair. It was the maternal gesture of a woman who had lost her son. It was the manipulative gesture of a beautiful woman. Only a feverish boy with an overactive imagination could have imagined it was anything more.

He felt the fever returning then (miracles are short) so he didn’t know what he said to her as he watched her turn and walk away.

He had the presence of mind to throw the letter beneath his bed before the headache returned, so badly that he couldn’t think anything else.


Then it was night. Just woke up and the fever was gone. Only the night was so hot that it almost felt like he was still feverish. But he couldn’t be, because he felt strong. He lifted himself out of bed and he looked at himself. He realized that he was a man now. He felt the width of his shoulders, looked down and saw muscles on his slender chest. It was so hot that night. He took off his night shirt and stepped to the open window. He touched his big hands and said, “this is me.”

That was when he realized that he was not alone in the room. Madame Ledoux was still in the room with him.

“I thought you’d left,” he said.

“I didn’t realize how much time had passed,” she said. “You are strong.” Just realized that Madame Ledoux was looking at his body.

“I am strong,” he said.

Just realized that he was back in bed and that Ledoux was in bed with him. He felt her hands in his hair, and all over his body, the man’s body he didn’t know he had. He wanted to touch her.

Just felt a sequence of sensations that he couldn’t identify, patches of touches, of hardness and softness, of heat and piercing, bright light that, if it weren’t so delicious, would have felt almost identical to one of his headaches.

He hardly knew what to say. And then he felt his body shaking and he realized that he was yelling, “My god! Jesus Christ! My god!”

Then he felt the fever return and his body shrink away.


It was still night when he returned to himself, and his fever was gone. The window was still open, and a cold wind was blowing in. It moved over his body, and he realized that he was naked and that there was a cold cloth across his eyes. He removed it.

That was when he realized that he was not alone in the room. His father was in the room with him.

“I thought you’d left,” he said.

“You didn’t realize how much time had passed,” the Marquis said. He walked over to Just and placed his hand on Just’s forehead. His father’s hands were so cold that Just thought for a second that maybe his fever had returned.

“Look after your brother.” The Marquis said.

“Why should I look after him? He is weak and I am strong. He betrayed you and he betrayed me. He is older, and he should have to look after me.”

“But I always loved him more than I loved you.”

“I know.” And Just realized he was crying.


Then it was day, or rather it was sunrise. It was the precise moment of dawn, something you can’t know if you’ve only lived in cities or valleys. But if you’ve been in the mountains or if you happen to have a window in a high room that looks eastward over a broad, flat expanse (as Just did), you may have seen the precise moment of dawn: Just knew it as a bright light, but gentle unless his headaches were going. This dawn did not come gently. Just opened his eyes, and the morning light overwhelmed him.

That was when he realized that he was not alone in the room. Or rather he was, but he wouldn’t be for much longer. A strange, bright creature was riding in on the light beams. As it got closer, Just realized that it was a woman. At first he thought it must be Madame Ledoux again, but then Just realized she was gigantic. Like Ledoux, she had the soft, full body of a young mother, but her eyes were small and round, and her mouth was thin (his father, enamored of the classics, would have noticed that her eyes were flashing).

This gigantic woman rode in on the beams of dawn’s light, and Just thought she was so sexy that he was shocked when he realized that she was an angel of the Lord. He figured she must be, because she wasn’t dressed like a modern Frenchwomen, but in idealizing white robes.

“I am an angel of the Lord,” she said.

“Why are you here?” Just asked.

“I bring glad tidings of things to come! I bring news of the regime to come! I am France, her seed scattered across the Earth. Look on me and see that I am beautiful. Blessed art though, Just. Blessed indeed. Many are called, but few are chosen. Behold my beauty.”

And then Just felt her lift his body in her arms. She was strong and carried him easily out the window. They stepped out his window, and the angel carried him on the air. She grew taller, and with large steps she walked over the houses in the village that surrounded the Marquis’s estate. And Just saw the peasants waking up. For the first time in his life, he realized how beautiful they were beneath their dirt and grime. They didn’t see him; they were looking over from where he’d come, at his family’s chateau. For the first time in his life, he saw how balefully they looked at it.

She led him across the valley to Ledoux’s estate. Soon (joy of joys) they were in Ledoux’s chambers. She was already mostly dressed and was combing her hair. She was looking in a mirror, but her eyes weren’t looking back at her. Just noticed her in a way that he hadn’t last night or even before (when he had just been a lovelorn boy). He saw the wrinkles of her eyes, the first hints of grey in her hair. You might think that this was a sign of his waning crush on Ledoux, but actually it made him love her much more.

This was a short visit. Soon, they were walking to Paris. The angel took whole bends of the road in a single stride, and they overtook merchants whose eyes were still sleepy and then soldiers whose long, even steps left the grass trampled on either side. They passed parties of gentlemen who were riding in the crisp morning air and who didn’t notice the peasants standing deferentially on the roadside. She would occasionally say something, some praise to the Lord, to his wisdom or to her own beauty (the beauty of France). But mostly they walked in silence. They passed many inns, and outside of one inn, when they had almost reached Paris, Just saw his family. The angel stopped several paces in front of them and it was almost as though he were regarding a painting.

This is the tableau he saw from on high. To one side, his mother and sisters were weeping, and, right in front of him, Jacques was holding their father in his arms. His family was clustered around Jacques. On the other side of Jacques, another cluster: a man of God, dressed severely and holding a young girl (three or four maybe) by the hand. He, bent over, gesturing at her: She, staring at the family, her eyes hidden by gnarled curls of thick, brown hair. She was starting to point, but the priest was gently grabbing her hand. Standing close to the girl, two young women, one dark haired and one blond. The blond, who had a look of terror, was starting to say something to the dark haired women, but she had turned away from her companions. She stood at the peripheries of this tableau. She wasn’t looking at anyone else but, nonetheless, her eyes suffused the scene with a strange calm. “Here’s someone who already knows loss,” Just thought.

The dark haired woman turned her head, and the tableau fell apart. For a moment, Just though she was looking right at him, but this was just an effect of her movement, and soon she walked over to join Jacques. Just couldn’t see what happened then or ask the angel what was happening, because she was already moving, leaving the scene far behind.

They were almost immediately in Paris. They were not in the parts of the city that Just knew. The angel slowed her pace, and she moved them slowly over the face of this great metropolis so that Just saw: carpenters and blacksmithers, grocers and printers, casinos and brothels and taverns, the whole face of the city in minute detail. They stopped and ate potato cakes from a street vendor. They followed one young man, who was probably close to Just’s age for what seemed like hours. He had a hard loaf of his bread in his pocket, and he’d occasionally take a bite from it. He darted in and out of this seedy world, before making his way to the river. There, they left him and followed a pair of ladies walking through Paris’s most elegant shops before they announced themselves at the gates of a handsome townhouse, which Just thought he could almost recognize.

When it was getting dark, Just thought to ask what they were doing. At this point, the angel had returned them through her aimless wander through the darker alleys of Paris. She stopped outside a tavern and sat Just down. She told Just to walk inside.

It was so full of dirty men and the occasional whore that it took Just a moment to notice the incongruity, as obvious as it was. Right in the middle of the room, two gentlemen shouting at one another while the dredges of Paris looked on and laughed. It took his eyes a moment to adjust enough to realize that they were Jacques and Monsieur Ledoux.

Before he could say anything to Jacques, he realized that the angel had him in her arms again. They had left Paris and were walking southwestward, following the sun that had first announced the angel’s arrival.

It was night when they reached Bordeaux. This time, the angel didn’t bother taking him to the homes of the wealthy ship-owners (Just remembered them from when his family had gone to visit his uncle’s family there). Nor did she take him through the squalor of the men who filled those ship’s hulls. She simply marched into the water.

The monotony of the blueness filled his eyes and he fell asleep.

He didn’t wake up until the next morning and he realized, except for the warmth of the angel and of his body (his fever had returned) that he ought to be freezing. They passed over small, primitive towns. He recognized the walls of Montreal from his family’s picture book of the Americas. But soon those vanished as they continued down its big river, passing furriers and Indians rowing along its banks, then silence. They passed over rivers and lakes, and the air grew warmer. Soon it was quite hot. It was near noon when they reached what Just knew was New Orleans (He thought often about New Orleans; his father’s younger brother had died there, and Jacques had often speculated he might be happier seeking his fortune there. Just had lately been imagining Monsieur Ledoux there, wondering whether word of his wife’s pregnancy had ever reached him there) He would have liked to see New Orleans (much more than he enjoyed seeing the forbidden parts of Paris), but the angel hardly stopped.

Instead she made her way back up the Mississippi River, whose wide banks Just could hardly believe. They left it where it seemed almost more a swamp than a river and the angel began following a small tributary instead. That tributary led them through bogs and hills, over forest and across long, barren plains. In a red desert, it almost disappeared. When it was hardly more than a trickle it began to climb a mountain, and Just realized that they were almost to its source.

When they arrived there (it was almost evening again --- the sun had disappeared behind mountains further to the west, although it was still light), Just was surprised to find a number of people.

They were dressed in robes not that different from those of the angels.

“They have come for the Fountain of Youth.” The angel told him.

Indeed, Just saw that they stood in a line to drink from a tiny rivulet of pure water, streaming from a rock, the origin of the tiniest trace of the mighty waters they’d seen that day. Two angels stood by the headwaters and each person would whisper something into one of their ears. Sometimes, she would nod, and take his hand. She would draw his face to the water and he would take a long draught. The other angel would lead him away, down a path that went to the right, and then bent behind a fork in the road. Sometimes, she would shake her head, and the angel would point them to a path that went to the left. Just could see that this path went as close to straight as it reasonably could down the mountain’s steep slope before it disappeared into the horizon. People were walking slowly down its long itinerary.

The Angel led Just to the front of the line. She whispered to the other angels. They nodded and Just’s angel lead Just to the headwaters.

"Drink.” She told him.

“But I don’t want to be young.” He said. “Why would anyone want to be young?” he said.

The angel’s eyes flashed. She took his head in her hands and forced it beneath the water. At first, all Just could feel was its heat, entering his nose and his lips. Then, he realized how sweet it was, sweeter even then the pure sugar he and Celi had managed to lift from the pantry once or twice. He drank until he thought his lungs would burst.

The angel led him around the corner. There were a group of children sitting in a large semi-circle hollowed into the side of the hill. They were laughing and playing a game and hardly seemed to notice when an angel came and carried one of them away.

“But I don’t understand,” Just said. “In legends, the Fountain gives you youth, but it doesn’t make you a child again. Who would want that?”

“Shh!” the angel said. “It’s not for children to understand.”


When Just came to again, he could feel the last traces of the fever making their way out of his body, the headache just the memory of a headache now. He started to run his small, weak hands over his pathetic, puny chest when he realized that he was not alone in the room.

The family physician and the family priest were both standing by Just’s bed. They were speaking with one another, so they didn’t notice at first that Just had come to. Once they did, the physician insisted on examining him thoroughly one more time and the priest insisted on giving him confession. In the family of the Marquis de Orleans, the physician came first. So it was only after he had been administered various poultices to speed his healing that he was asked to confess his sins. This gave Just time to fabricate some sins to replace the many he’d actually committed since his last confession. It was only after confession that he learned that the priest had been summoned when the physician had thought Just was going to die.

“But we knew you were saved when, in the middle of the last rites you called out the name of our Savior and of our heavenly Father. The miracle of your healing followed after this.”

The physician had ordered constant watch, so Just was not allowed to be alone for several days. When he was finally strong enough to get up from bed he asked for a few moments to himself.

He bent down on his floor to retrieve the letter Ledoux had left him.