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Project Miserables.

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Enjolras mocks my commitment to the cause, after that Enjolras's pushing a pistol into my mouth and saying, the first step to overthrowing the social order is you have to sacrifice. For a long time, though, Enjolras and I were part of the same revolutionary society. People are always asking, did I know about Alexander Enjolras.

Enjolras's words a noose around my neck, he says, "We won't really die."

With my fingers I can feel the cravat he tied around my wrists. All the time I've known Enjolras, it's always been loose around his neck. A tiny sonic boom of mocking of the social order. Tie it wrong, he says, and it's a noose. Tie it right and you're an aristocrat. Most of the danger in cravats is in gags. You shove it down somebody's throat wrong, they choke to death.

"This isn't really death," Enjolras says. "We'll be legends. We won't grow old."

I can't speak well around the pistol, but it doesn't matter. "Enjolras," I say, "you're thinking of statues." It's a natural confusion. He was a statue the first time I saw him; then he moved.

The barricade we're standing on won't be here in ten minutes. You take chairs, tables, beds, the assorted furniture and detritus of unvalued lives, stack them on top of each other, and it's a precarious situation already. Now do this with barrels of gunpowder at the base. Add flaming torches. You have a volatile situation.

Enjolras knows this because I know this.

Mix the barricade with a political situation already about to burst, with an armed angry populace, with agitators in the street and filth running amok, and you nearly have a revolution. Revolutions have never, ever worked for me. We tried this before, him and me, people were always saying, the time is here. The time wasn't here.

So Enjolras and I are at the top of the barricade with his pistol stuck in my mouth and we hear the National Guard coming. Look over the edge, it's a firing squad waiting to happen. It's an eerie kind of quiet on the precipice, waiting for men to do the job they're trained to do.

Load your rifle.

Pull a trigger.

You don't understand any of it, and then you kill.

A full day of fighting now and you look over the barricade and all you see is death. Everyone's equal when they're dead. Everyone's on the same side when they're dead. The street is a carpet of bodies, some still bleeding. The barricade teeters beneath you. Across Paris and around you, revolutionaries are running wild, fighting to their deaths and then achieving it.

The old saying, how you always kill for the one you love, well, look, it works both ways. With a pistol stuck in your mouth and Enjolras's intensity burning out your gaze, you can talk only of disappointment.

We're down to our last ten minutes.

Another table collapses and the barricade won't be here in nine minutes. Where we're standing now will only be a point in the air. You wrap enough explosives around ready-made shrapnel, you can do any damage in the world.

Nine minutes.

We just totally forgot about Enjolras's whole murder-suicide thing as we watch reinforcements arrive.

The five-part sequence that is this barricade. Here, the barricade standing. Then, beginning to collapse. There's an angle now to cover the final escape of any revolutionaries too stupid to not have already run. The barricade will go over, all two teetering stories of it, like a tree struck by lightning. It will collapse into the gunpowder and explode, taking out the army's reinforcements, which is Enjolras's real target in this whole suicide pact thing. Me, I'm just collateral damage on the way to causing enough damage to bolster the second wave of this revolution. It all comes down to applied physics.

With enough rhetoric, you can topple anything.

Timber.

Eight minutes.

"This is our world, now, our world," Enjolras says, "and the Ancien Régime is dead."

If I knew how this all would turn out, I'd be more than happy to be dead and drinking my way through Hell with them right now.

If I hadn't started making noise, maybe Enjolras would have let me sit this one out, passed out drunk inside. Too late now.

Seven minutes.

Up atop the barricade with Enjolras's pistol in my mouth, with everything we've worked towards for the last two years falling apart around me like plucked feathers, I know that all this: the pistol, the barricade, the explosion is really about Michel Combeferre.

Six minutes.

We have a sort of triangle thing going here. I want Enjolras. Enjolras wants Combeferre. Combeferre wants me.

I don't want Combeferre and Enjolras doesn't want me around, not anymore. This isn't about love as in friendship. This is about liberty as in abolishing private ownership. We're two sides of a coin, me and Enjolras, but those two sides, well, they're still the same coin. We both agree that's become intolerable.

Five minutes.

Maybe we would become a legend, maybe not. No, I say, but wait.

Where would Achilles be if no one had written the Iliad?

Four minutes.

I tongue the pistol barrel into my cheek and say, you want to be a legend, Enjolras, I'll make you a legend. I've been here from the beginning.

I remember everything.

Three minutes.

 

---

 

[Interlude: 200 pages of back story in which the narrator seeks help for his drinking problem, meets Combeferre, meets Enjolras, forms Les Amis, gets jealous when Enjolras sleeps with Combeferre, assists in plotting a revolution, and belatedly discovers that he and Enjolras are the same person]

 

---

 

I think this is where I came in.

Enjolras and I are atop the barricade with the pistol stuck into my mouth. Enjolras's standing there, perfectly handsome and an angel in his everything-blond way. My will to live shames me.

We're down to our last five minutes.

In five minutes, the barricade won't be here anymore, and neither will we. I know this because Enjolras knows this.

The barrel of the gun pressed against the back of my throat and we're down to the final hurrah here. The pistol is just in case the reinforcements get here sooner. To them, this looks like one man alone, holding a pistol in his own mouth, but it's Enjolras holding the gun and it's my life.

You take a volatile situation, arm the angry masses, you have kindling. Four minutes. Mix it with blond angels speaking righteous fury, a web of conspirators going out across Paris, and you have a revolution. Revolutions have never, ever worked for me.

Three minutes.

Enjolras and me at the top of the barricade and this pistol isn't clean, Enjolras, it's a weapon of systematized oppression of the masses, I say.

Enjolras says, "We'll see if you're capable of dying."

Then somebody yells.

"Wait," it's Combeferre coming towards us across the creaking structure, dodging the attempts to shoot him down.

Combeferre's coming toward me, just me because Enjolras's gone. Poof. Enjolras's my hallucination, not his. Fast as a magic trick, Enjolras's disappeared. And now I'm just one man holding a gun in my mouth.

Combeferre's bringing his armaments and his storied competency. They've fought off an incursion, he says. "You don't have to do this," he says. "Put the gun down."

Behind Combeferre, all of the amis still alive are walking, crawling, limping toward me.

They're saying, "Wait."

Their voices come to me on the June wind, saying "Stop."

I yell, go, get out of here. This barricade is about to explode.

Combeferre yells, "we know."

This is like a total epiphany for me.

I'm not killing myself, I yell. I'm killing Enjolras.

I remember everything.

"It's not fraternité," Combeferre says, "but I think I like you, too."

One minute.

Combeferre likes Enjolras.

"No, I like you," Combeferre says. "I know the difference."

And nothing.

Nothing explodes.

The barrel of the rifle tucked against my cheek, I say, Enjolras, you misjudged the people, didn't you.

Revolutions never work.

I have to do this.

The army reinforcements.

And I pull the trigger.

 

---

 

In my father's house are many bars.

Of course, when I pulled the trigger, I died.

Liar.

And Enjolras died.

With the soldiers thundering towards us, and Combeferre and all the revolutionaries who couldn't leave and save themselves, with all of them trying to save me, I had to pull the trigger.

Your one perfect moment won't last forever. Enjolras was sitting in a hand of God he created when I met him; his perfect moment perfectly crafted. Mine was less so, but I wasn't about to miss my cue.

Everything in heaven is exactly like a prison cell. I can be sober in heaven. People write to me in heaven and tell me I'm remembered. That I'm their hero.

I see God in my jailers. God asks me what I remember.

I remember everything. I tell them nothing.

Homer is writing the Iliad, and mine is on canvas, the fire, the revolution, liberty leading the people to their deaths. Liberty bathes in their blood. Red.

Combeferre's still on Earth and he writes to me. Someday, he says, they'll get me pardoned. But I don't want to go back. Not yet.

Just because.

Because every once in a while, somebody brings me my dinner and he has an echo of marble around his countenance, and he says:

"We miss you, Monsieur Enjolras."

Or somebody with an old password and the ghost of a cockade whispers:

"Everything's going according to the plan."

Whispers:

"We're going to tear down the monarchy so we can make something better out of the world."

Whispers:

"We look forward to getting you back."