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The Act You've Known For All These Years

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Sunday night.

The records and record-player were Joly's, the now-abandoned water-pipe Jehan's, and the room Bossuet's--if one wanted to be particular about these things.  At any rate, the pipe would go back with Jehan when he left.  The lingering smoke was common property at this point.

Bossuet had stuck to a sober bottle or two of beer.  Sometimes Joly got panicky and Jehan would never think to look out for him...but still, Bossuet smiled looking at the two of them.  They were in proper form, lying on their backs and staring up at the ceiling, where Jehan had insisted on tacking up a cotton Indian cloth, elephant prints and peacocks and paisleys.  If everyone was playing a part, just a little bit, that was forgivable.  Jehan had the knack--the blessing?--of trying poses without being a poseur.  (The music wasn't quite right, imperfect, not exactly up to Jehan's standards for Experiencing Things, but it was Joly's favorite and--Bossuet had put his foot down.) So there they were, Joly and Jehan beaming seraphically at the ceiling, and Bossuet nursing his beer cross-legged on the floor beside them.

What do you see when you turn out the light? I can't tell you but I know it's mine.The record was on its second go-round because no one had felt like finding the White Album among the debris of paper plates and napkins.  Bossuet wasn't really listening anymore.  They had a translation of the lyrics somewhere, he was fond enough of the songs, but not quite at Joly's level of enthusiasm.

"Hey, Joly."

"Mmmmm."

"Are you two...you know..."

"What."

"Are you guys fucking?"

"Well, that would be very unprofessional, wouldn't it," said Bossuet, pinching the bridge of his nose; "Like rabbits," drawled Joly at the same moment and rather more distinctly.  Wonderful.

"And Musichetta?"

"Naturally." 

"Far out."

Bossuet rubbed his face with his hands.  "Jehan, it's 2006.  No one, even in English, has said far out in...in a very long time."

"How do you know it's 2006?  I mean, really 2006?"

"I..."

"Can I watch sometime?" 

Joly rolled over onto his stomach and stared at Jehan's hair.  "Jehan," he said, after an indeterminate period of time, "That would just be weird."

 

-----

 

Monday morning.

"Bahorel, you're late."

"Good morning and so's everyone else."

"Joly isn't." 

Joly, not late, snickered.  Bahorel aimed a loose punch in the direction of his arm.  Jehan arrived, saw Joly, and turned bright red, something Bahorel made a mental note to investigate later.  They settled in to review their files.  A brief task: the files at this point consisted only of a list of names and several blank notebooks.  Bahorel swore at her list after reading it, as she did every week.  The room was otherwise quiet until a minor commotion at the door made everyone look up.  "--Courfeyrac, thank you for joining us, finally."

"I was dressing," said Courfeyrac, "But now I am here.  And I'll make everyone coffee as penance for my...five minutes' tardiness.  Five minutes.  Combeferre, tell the truth, do you set that clock thirty seconds earlier every week?"  Bahorel was setting up her notebooks when coffee appeared at her elbow.  She smiled up at the other woman and took a moment to dutifully appreciate the morning's sartorial efforts.  "Channeling George Sand now?" "I only do it to annoy." "You look like my grandfather." "Thanks.  You look like a Christmas tree, is that vest new?"  Courfeyrac took a seat with a skillful flourish of her coattails; you had to appreciate her devotion to detail. 

And--then the meeting began and ended.  Combeferre thanked everyone for last week's hard work, expressed confidence in their capacity for this week's hard work, gave them a few more minutes to finish their coffee, and let the week proceed.

-

After Jehan saw their first guest out of the office he took a moment to widen his eyes meaningfully at Bahorel, who shook her head.  No.  Not the time for that, Jehan.  Later to decompress.  Someone new would be coming through the door in...about ten seconds, yes.

By which point Jehan was seated at Bahorel's elbow again, smiling professionally.  They got up, nodded to the new arrival, suggested he hang his coat on the rack, shook hands, settled again into seats.  A pause.  Good morning; a cup of coffee offered and declined.  Tea?  Chocolate?  No?  Then let's just quickly confirm your name and birthdate for their records--René Enjolras, 3 October 1985?  Yes.

Another pause.  This was all as usual, and Bahorel started into the usual speech.  "I think you already understand the situation, but I need to inform you officially.  M. Enjolras, you died yesterday.  --I'm very sorry for your loss." 

I'm very sorry for your loss, echoed Jehan beside her, and the young man on the other side of the desk nodded politely, as they usually did at this point.  No.  Actually.  He nodded impatiently.  Moving along, then.  "You'll be staying with us for one week.  Everyone gets a private room, there's a map of the facilities on the nightstand.  Just relax and enjoy yourself.   Everyone on the staff is here to make you welcome.  But while you are here, you have one job. From the entire twenty years of your life, we need you to select one memory.  One memory that was meaningful or precious to you.  You'll have three days to decide.  When you've chosen your memory, our staff will do their best to recreate the scene and capture it on camera.  On Saturday we'll screen the video for you. As soon as you've relived your memory, you will move on, taking only that memory with...you...um.  Do you want to..."

They didn't usually stand up at this point and walk to the door.  Jehan caught up to him first and reached for his elbow: the young man intercepted his hand and shook it firmly and dismissively.  "Thanks.  I think I understand.  If you'll excuse me...?"  Polite of him to make it sound like a question.

-


(And work continued.

Bahorel and the Policeman: "If I select one memory, I forget everything else?  I only...have the thoughts that I had at that moment?  The certainties?"  "Right."  "It seems dishonest. --On the part of the person choosing, I mean.  Not you.  But you're letting me judge and sentence myself."

Combeferre and the Nun:  "One memory?  Hmm, hmm.  Something with my family, of course.  I'm a great-grandmother now, I have a picture somewhere in my purse...well...yes, there.  Pretty, aren't they?  A great-grandmother.  And I wanted to be a nun once.  But the war...yes, I wanted to be a nun. I had a calling.  But I was cleaning a floor, I was scrubbing it and the words were in my head, Et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris...I was very proud of my Latin, it was a confession I often made about that, vanity, and I was learning Greek too.  I was scrubbing the floor and the words were in my head and I thought, very clearly, If a German came into this room right now I would take up that knife and kill him.  It was the kitchen, you understand, there were many knives.  --What year was that?  Oh, it was 1940.  So I spoke to my friend.  She was older than me, she was...I would call her a spiritual advisor, not formally, but she was, she was a very thoughtful woman, very careful in her thoughts.  But not closed off.  We kept in touch until she died.  That was sad, I was very sad about that.  Cancer, she wasn't old, fifty-six or fifty-seven.  And here I am, eighty-seven.  So, a family memory, of course, that's what you would want to take with you, of course.  Of course."

Joly and the Broad-Minded Gentleman:  "So Heaven is diverse too.  Multi-faith.  That's good, that's good.  I don't have a problem with that.  Shouldn't be segregated.  Christians, Muslims...are you a Muslim?  No?  No, you look like you're from a different part of Africa.  I had a girlfriend once from Senegal, are you from there?  It didn't work out.  Her family didn't want to talk to me.  See, I think that's narrow-minded." 

Courfeyrac and the Profound Thinker: "So...one memory.  To take with us.  Where?  You don't know?  Ha.  Ha, of course, no one knows.  Do you believe in reincarnation?  You'd want something really useful to take with you in that case, wouldn't you.  It's like one of those mind problems where you pick survival items for a desert island shipwreck.  --Is there an internet connection here?  No?")

-

So Jehan scuttled along after their runaway guest, pausing only to stuff a packet of tissues into his pocket in case of crying.  It happened less often than you'd think, but this seemed to be an unusual case

Of course, pausing for tissues meant that he lost track of his quarry and had to lose more time popping his head into rooms along the way.  Where would you go if you were a very young man who had just died and wanted to consider it?  Jehan was partial to the rooftop, himself, but that required a key... In the library, Musichetta was skimming through a coffee-table book of 1950s fashion and making sketches.  "Did you see...?" "Blond in a red coat?  He went thataway, sheriff."  The last phrase was in English, and she had to gesture: through the library, out to the courtyard.

At least the blond-in-a-red-coat had stayed put in the courtyard, not passed through.  He was walking in tight circles with his arms crossed, his hair fluttering a bit in the wind, nearly in time with the waystation flag on top of the roof: a scene that Jehan paused momentarily to admire.  Sometimes things like that really did happen, life and art holding hands.  He walked carefully and quietly up to the man and waited to be noticed.

"You didn't need to follow me.  I told you, I understand.  I just need--to think."

"Yes."  Jehan moistened his lips.  "Yes, this is a good place for it.  But listen, if I take, oh, ten minutes, to make a thermos of tea and let Bahorel know I found you, will you stay and wait?"

"...Coffee."

 

-----

 

Monday night.

"Christ, I think I dated that guy."

"Wait, you were in France in the seventies?"

"...Not literally that That Guy.  His Canadian cousin from the eighties, or something.  That Guy, Capital T, Capital G. --Hey, Feuilly."

"Hallo, Musichetta.  Which guy is this?"

"One of Joly's."

"Hm.  Anything interesting today?"

"Maybe.  Courfeyrac has an art teacher in the mix, she seems pretty sure she wants something from her work.  Before the kids arrive in the morning, putting out supplies for the first class."

"Hmmmm.  Children's art..."

"It could be fun."

They didn't have an official meeting Monday nights.  Everyone talked about work anyway.  Bossuet had no objections.  Joly always needed to debrief, and the production team was generally eager for any kind of head start they could get.  Musichetta was already asking what year this scene would be, she's been pulling together several outfits from the seventies; Feuilly was asking how old the children were, upper level art classes would be pretty sophisticated but is this more like kiddie arts and crafts.... Joly was waving his hands: wait, wait, guys, she hasn't settled on this memory yet for sure, it's just something she's thinking about and anyway it's Courfeyrac's case, I didn't talk to the lady myself.... Bossuet slid down in the ratty old armchair and closed his eyes, smiling.  Probably no one would mind if he stole a quick nap. 

The chair lurched.  "Bossuet!  Bossuet, you old tomcat, you look like you ate the canary, the brie, and a plate of sushi all at once.  Musichetta must be keeping you well fed."

"Oh.  Grantaire.  I agree, it is a lovely evening and I'm very well, thank you for asking.  And how are you?"

"Miserable.  Conscious."  Bossuet opened an eye and closed it again immediately: Grantaire was indeed draped over the back of his chair, breathing into his face.  "I come here to escape my ennui, thinking 'oh, the recreation room, surely someone there will be engaged in leisure, escape, their noses well away from the grindstone.'  What do I hear when I arrive? 'Photo references for nineteen-seventies schoolrooms' and 'maybe some collages or pastels.'  Is this recreational or merely the tedious work of re-creation?  I would go back to my bed but I've exhausted every form of solitary recreation there already." 

"Have you tried the library?  I hear they have books there.  The whole world of the human imagination before you."

"Firstly, fuck the human imagination and the symbolo-metaphorico-Jungian-archetypal-Freudian horse it rode in on.  Secondly, I did try the library, Jehan is looking into the mirror there.  Which is to say he's found another beautiful young corpse." 

Bossuet could hear Musichetta and Feuilly moving away.   Well--they didn't have his investment.  He opened his eyes and found a smile for Grantaire.  No point in anything else.  "And what does that make me?"

"Not beautiful or young.  Joly, I haven't offended you lately, have I?"

"Never in your life."

"Then...listen, would you say a word or two to Combeferre for me?  I think my silver tongue might be a little tarnished these days, no doubt from lack of proper use, and it struck me...that is...last week, you know, I..."

"You're very sorry, you didn't mean what you said, you don't quit and you don't want to work anywhere but here for forever and a day?"

"Something like that.  You would put in a word?"

"Naturally."