Tuesday refined Monday. Interviewers and interviewees had eased the brittleness that always marked that first meeting; had also, hopefully, broken through or sidestepped whatever pretenses the guests needed to put up. And by Tuesday, after a night to think, most guests had an idea or two of what they wanted. Their memory, their one memory: precious to them, or comforting, representative, symbolic, intense, fun, solemn, serene. Sometimes it was clear that a person simply struggled to find the least painful moment of a life they were eager to shed.
So, a second take:
Courfeyrac and the Profound Thinker: actually Laurent Peltier, age 24.
"Gooood morning, good morning. Were you comfortable in your room? Everything in good condition? The light was all right? I know there was a work order in for that room to change the bulb…it was fine? Good-good. I really am sorry about the internet. Trust me, I know it’s an adjustment.”
"No, it’s fine. Whatever. I can live without it. Or, heh, not." He pushed back his hair and Courfeyrac quelled the impulse to imagine improvements. (Different haircut, shave properly, lose the tee-shirt for something with a little fit to it, try a bolder set of glasses frames…it didn’t matter. He was fine. He did not require her interventions.) "It’s just. Without knowing what I’m going to do with this memory thing. I don’t know what to focus on.”
Courfeyrac rested her chin on her folded hands and frowned. “Do you find that it matters so much? Knowing what comes next?”
"Well, yeah. Obviously. It’s kind of bullshit not knowing. Do I just live in that memory forever? Or is it a reincarnation kind of thing where suddenly I’ll be in a place and it’s like hey, I know this. Like—imagine if your one special memory was sitting and reading Wikipedia, would you, like…wake up one morning and know everything in Wikipedia in your next life? Like, imagine that, starting life knowing all of Wikipedia. What a crazy head start.”
"I…you know, I have never considered that. Do you want to be reading Wikipedia?”
"No, it’s just…"
"Some people start with a family memory."
"My family is stupid."
"Ah. Yes. I hear you on that. —Anyway. I don’t think reincarnation is on the table. I appealed to authority: I double-checked with my boss. She was quite clear. You spend eternity with this memory. So is there anything…?"
"I was thinking maybe…it’s dumb but…" If she had a euro for every time she’d heard that phrase, Courfeyrac thought, she could—well, make a very expensive scale model of the Eiffel Tower or something. "I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything here that I thought was dumb. Tell me."
Enjolras looks over his shoulder at the clock. It chimes. Ding dong bing bong, bong dong ding bing. It’s a tinny recording, not real bells. Trivial. It should be sending him scurrying to an interview with Jean-with-an-H and his supervisor, but he pushes open the door to the courtyard anyway.
Ah, damn. He’s not alone, someone is sprawled on a bench with a book over his chest. A thick book. Curiosity pulls Enjolras three steps closer, and then fear brings him stumbling to the side of the bench: red splatters on the man’s shirt, under the book, spreading out from—
—from a bottle of wine, hidden by a now-sodden volume. Carlyle’s French Revolution. So at least nothing valuable has been lost. The man grunts and shifts without waking, and Enjolras turns away. But—damn again—that’s not fair of him, is it. Judgment. Arrogance. Disdain. Based on one bottle of wine and an overrated book. Based, yes, all right, it’s true, based on the embarrassment of mistaking wine for blood. Which is, considered even more scrupulously, the embarrassment of having worried for the wrong reason. And that is shameful in and of itself, to resent an impulse to care, even if mistaken.
By way of self-mortification Enjolras forces himself to study the sleeper. To sympathize. The man looks a few years older than himself, say twenty-five. Sleek black hair, a little greasy, tangled in the dark jacket wedged carelessly under his head for a pillow. What can one surmise besides “passed out drunk in public?” Literate? Anglophone? Unconcerned with polishing shoes? Asian? Half-Asian? Chinese? Vietnamese? God, it was stupid and intrusive and condescending to speculate. Everything about the last minute was stupid and intrusive and condescending. This couldn’t be what people meant when they told him to pay more attention to individuals.
"Enjolras!" And now he’d been caught. Jean-with-an-H came loping over, half-laughing, until he spotted the sleeper and went pink. "Oh. Um. That’s…he works here."
"Yes, I saw the logo on his jacket."
"Yes." Jehan appeared to be studying his colleague more productively than Enjolras had: he sighed. "I’m sorry. You don’t need to worry, he’s…he’ll be fine."
"I’ll, I’ll let someone know he’s here." Enjolras didn’t shy away from the touch at his elbow this time; he let Jehan lead him back to the door. "We could talk in the library if you’d rather not go to the office?"
The Tuesday night meeting was for early troubleshooting. The interview team, the heads of the production department. Usually at least one case needed serious wrangling. This week, four. Combeferre started the powerpoint and frowned at the face on the screen. “Well—this is merely a supply difficulty. We need guns. And a sizable ammunition cache. Something on a mountainside.”
"…Combeferre, what. You only have two cases. One of them is a nun!"
"She was considering being a nun." Combeferre pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose, still frowning. "I don’t see this as a problem. I’ll put in a call to the central supply office. But if I may complain for a moment: I find it very frustrating that we can’t keep this kind of thing on our premises. I’m sending in requests for firearms at least three or four times a year and—unfortunately—I don’t see that stopping any time soon. If firearms are required, we can be trusted with them as much as anyone else. They wouldn’t even be loaded. —Garand, you and your team can find us a mountainside, yes? Wonderful. Thank you. Joly, you said you had a supply situation as well?"
"Um." He coughed. "Ducks."
"It shouldn’t be difficult to film at one of the usual parks. Aren’t there ducks at that pond—"
"Special ducks." Joly flicked the powerpoint to the next slide, the face of Musichetta’s That Guy. "M. Raymond. When he was done educating me in politics he revealed his hobby as a breeder of…Indian Runner ducks. See, I wrote it down. Indian Runners. Bahorel, stop.” Joly carried on in the face of oppression. “He and his son took them to shows. They had prize-winning Indian Runners. It was a bonding experience. Very important to him. He told me all the shows where they had taken ribbons. He drew me a picture. Bahorel, ow! You’ll fracture my clavicle. Combeferre, tell Bahorel—”
"Yes, all right. Friends, can we have a little order? A little order, please."
When it had been settled that ducks were highly amusing but that everyone was in fact an adult capable of maintaining a professional demeanor, they moved to Bahorel and Jehan. Bahorel had left off pummeling Joly; now she drummed her hands on the tabletop with a far-away expression. “Yeah. Yes. So. I have two. And no amusing ducks. The first one…hey, Jehan, you’ve talked to him more than I have. You two were communing with nature.”
"We weren’t talking about nature. I don’t think Enjolras is interested in nature."
"We were talking about the future. And history. He’s really…he’s a brilliant person, he has brilliant ideas. —Anyway, he was explaining the riots in November. You haven’t forgotten about those already. I know we don’t get the news here but really.”
Bahorel got up from her chair, paced over to the window, paced back, didn’t settle. With a sideways look between Bahorel and Combeferre, Courfeyrac took over questioning: so, what’s the trouble? Can’t he come up with a good memory? He’s a good-looking guy, was there a girlfriend? Boyfriend? …Friend friend? Happy afternoon playing in the park with the family dog?”
"He feels that he isn’t finished yet." A growl from Bahorel. "No, he understands that he’s dead. He’s not stupid. He just….feels that he still has something left to accomplish.”
What could anyone say to that? Bahorel’s other problem case wasn’t any better: an intelligent and scrupulous and unforgiving man, a suicide who found it dishonest in his case to cherish a moment of contentment. And what could anyone say to that? The meeting ended on a subdued note.
It became apparent by the way they lingered that both Joly and Bahorel wanted a word with Combeferre; after an awkward shuffle Joly spoke first and Bahorel sauntered out into the hall. Grantaire was very sorry about last week, didn’t mean anything he’d said about transferring, et cetera. Combeferre looked at him. He looked at her. Joly coughed.
"I didn’t really need to say that, did I. But he was worried."
"I understand. I should…I will have a word with him. Joly, you know him fairly well. This is, what, the eighth or ninth station he’s worked at? In some capacity?"
"I think so. He really is a very good camera man when he’s—and he has an eye for locations and set design—his work is—"
"Joly. Jolllly. Don’t worry. I’m not trying to send him away. I would like to see him happier in his talents. Go on, good night. I’ll put in a few calls about ducks for you.”
And with Joly disposed of, that left Bahorel. Combeferre found her in the hall, perched on the radiator and kicking her heels. All in all, she thought wearily, Courfeyrac was correct. This outfit, the same as yesterday, did suggest a Christmas tree. What would you call the color of that shirt. Not forest green. A dark sage? The vest was undeniably red. Probably it should be discouraged. So, probably, should Courfeyrac’s flights of costume fancy. And then you got to Jehan, who didn’t even mean to; and of all the trivial things to try to keep in order…. There were reasons this particular waystation forgot the usual unspoken dress code. Only the reasons never formed anything coherent from day to day. One might go a little mad, if one were so inclined.
They walked together very quietly to the library.
"I am too old for this shit."
"Do you want to leave?"
"You could work in another area. Or would you like to take a spell to get the archives in order? That’s long overdue. Jehan’s almost ready to handle interviews himself…well, soon. Maybe Bossuet would be interested? We need Musichetta where she is in the costume department, or I’d ask her—"
“For fuck’s sake, Combeferre. Have you ever tried not making everything work out?”
Wednesday morning at five o’clock: the day should be ending for Bossuet, night watchman, and barely beginning for Combeferre, waystation director. Bossuet was entirely unsurprised, walking his rounds, to see the light on in Combeferre’s office. He opened the door to offer to make a cup of tea—and then backed out again silently. The book on her desk had become a pillow and she was snoring.
Very gently, very gently.