The Curious Life of Juan Druskard, la huitième partie:
Juan et les autres se engagent dans un épisode de la bouteille
Juan cradled his child-self Gerlad in his arms, like an infinitely recursive Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus.
“For the love of God!” cried Juan. “Is there anyone here who I am not secretly?!”
“As we have discussed, you may perhaps not be yourself,” noted Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.
“Silence, Lamarck!” said Juan. “Keep your psychiatrics to yourself for one miserable moment!”
He angrily fell to the ground and held a handkerchief above his head, a considerable feat considering his manacled state.
“You there!” shouted a guard. “Ennui is not permitted within L’Abbaye!”
Juan gave the disgruntled sigh of a man whose sandcastles he builds in June keep collapsing.
“But how will I contain myself, when the banning of ennui will curse me to yet further ennui, which I am in turn banned from feeling?”
“That,” said the guard in a moment of unexpected clarity, “is why we drink so much.”
He handed a bottle to Juan, and marched back down L’Abbaye to another huddling group of prisoners.
“Take heart, Juan,” said Lamarck.
“I cannot take heart when my mind is shattered,” said Juan. “Like the net of Indra, every bauble reflecting, ‘til all are perfect mirrors and nothing is properly seen. I am Indra’s fish, flopping on the deck of the ship of Theseus, piece by piece disappearing as my life’s lies become revealed further and further. And all I may do is head slowly towards Xeno!”
He beat his fists upon the ground, rattling his mouse-nibbled manacles as he wailed next to his younger self.
“I bid you, be silent!” huffed Le Grenouille. “You will wake yourself up, and then you will be filled with the absurdities of waking life’s dreams. Better to sleep – a cheap replacement for a lack of existence – and not burden yourself with the senselessness of senses.”
“Dreams are, by definition, unpredictable,” added Lamarck, “which makes them predictable, in that one can always predict that a dream will be unpredictable. It is life, with its predictabilities, which is dangerous in its unpredictability.”
“But to approve of the predictable is to shut off possibility,” said Juan, “and without possibility, we may as well throw ourselves to the drudgery of thoughtless repetition, and machine-mindedness.”
Le Grenouille boomed out:
“That is all life!”
“Then surely you must agree,” said Juan, “that the more vivacious and vigorously alive of the two options is therefore dreams. Hence, yes, I agree with you in this instance: if one were to care about my younger self, one would bid him remain asleep.”
The Grenouille fumed, silently cursing that by agreeing with him, Juan had finally bested him in their argument.
Juan confidently popped the cork from his bottle of red wine, and inhaled its bouquet.
“1786,” he said. “That was a fine year. The Marriage of Figaro was held. The Montgolfier brothers created the first working cinema-camera out of potato starches. Napoleon defeated the Piedmontese at the Battle of the Boyne. And Carl Friedrich Gauss discovered the heptadecagon.”
He stared down into the bottle, thinking.
“What now?” said Le Grenouille. “Will you keep the dread of reality away by throwing yourself into a bottle?”
Juan suddenly had a twinkle in his eye, and pushed himself up from next to himself, gently propping himself up on the chair, the better to watch himself in case somebody accosted either of him.
Hours later, night had fallen, and the guards of L’Armee Rouge had long since fallen into a burbling sleep after taking their rations of cassoulet (the army’s standard procedure to ward off hangovers, shrouded in the complicated and arcane arts of natural philosophy and tarot).
Juan raised his eyes as he felt the gentle chitterlings of a family of mice, who had come to complete the chewing through of his manacles.
“Bon, souris,” he said. “Bon.”
The mice, as though they understood him, nodded their little mice-heads and returned to their homes, inside the walls of L’Abbaye de Sot Bougre.
Juan carefully lifted his manacle-chains and prised them apart, then reached for his wine bottle. Unlike the guards, it had not been drunk.
Slowly, with infinite care, Juan poured the wine out onto the ground; though instead of offering it to a deity, he poured out the wine as a libation to his own liberty and justice.
“Yes!” intoned Le Grenouille. “Waste the wine as you waste your life!”
“I do not waste the wine, but instead save the bottle,” said Juan.
“Ah!” said Lamarck. “Like the Life Pod that contains our own Bathosphere, and your own Library of Imagination, whence Le Grenouille emerged.”
“And just as with the Life Pod, this bottle shall serve as a vessel into which Le Grenouille will enter,” said Juan. “Since, of course, you and I are merely his passing fancies, he will convey us alongside him.”
“Have you swung your mind’s pendulum back to insanity once more?” asked Le Grenouille. “I can no more fit inside that bottle than you can properly understand the stark absence of cosmic reason, trapped as you are within the delusion that is you.”
“I am neither sane nor insane, Le Grenouille,” said Juan, “and in any case, we are already trapped within the bottle, just as you are trapped within your circular dance of the apathetic lethargy of your torpid psyche.”
Juan reached out with his finger-tip and tip-tapped the large green curvature of glass, which now surrounded the three of them. L’Abbaye de Sot-Bougre stood enormous above them, stretched through the bottle as if it were an inked painting upon a circus strongman’s muscle-flexings.
“No we aren’t!” snapped Le Grenouille. “We are outside the bottle, as we always have been!”
“Are you shying from reality, Le Grenouille?” asked Lamarck smugly.
“You are shying from reality by insisting upon the absurd idea that the three of us could fit in a wine bottle!”
“Ah,” said Juan, “but if I am a man, capable of making choices, and I make the choice to believe that this is indeed a truth; then it can be said that from every choice a new possibility of reality is created, only one from many of all the possible choices I may have made. When one takes into account that any possibility is merely the senseless outcome of jingle-jangling atoms, arranging themselves by no design, and therefore any possibility is possible, and merely unlikely; then it is simply obvious! The decision to enter the bottle was the cause, and the entrance to the bottle was nothing more than the natural effect that followed.”
“Ah,” added Lamarck, “then you suggest that things are always the result of both free will and determinism simultaneously?”
“Which is to say, it will be however it is supposed to be, and we have simply chosen to attune itself to how it is,” finished Juan.
“I do not choose to be how it is!” shouted Le Grenouille.
“Indeed?” said Lamarck. “As a matter of habit, nor do I, Le Grenouille.”
“SILENCE!” bellowed Le Grenouille, his howl echoing through the wine bottle.
“Wait,” said Juan, “Le Grenouille has a good point. If we are figments of his imagination, then surely we are subject to his whims. Since he wishes not to be in the bottle-”
“I do not wish anything,” Le Grenouille interjected. “I am not in the bottle, and neither are either of you.”
“-yes, yes,” placated Juan, “since he asserts that he is not in the bottle-”
“It is not an assertion, it is a fact!”
“-since we are not in the bottle…”
Juan whispered to Lamarck: “…from his frame of philosophical reference…”
He then continued:
“…we cannot be in the bottle.”
“Whim is the driver of imagination,” said Lamarck, “but imagination is the horse. And as our captors have proven, when the driver is drunk, the horse will stagger. But, while one can lead a horse to wine, it will not drink unless it wishes to. Hence, while whim rides imagination, imagination in turn has its own whim, and whim must balance this with whim’s whims.”
“That makes sense,” said Juan, “given the fact that I summoned Le Grenouille while in my Library of Imagination, despite not wishing to see him. Except, of course, it is rather that Le Grenouille showed up and his imagination created me, as someone who had entered their Library of Imagination and didn’t want to see him.”
“Yes,” said Lamarck. “Le Grenouille happens to perfectly resemble a dark and frightening monster from a child’s mind. Obviously, there are no children left in the universe, so he created you in order to have a purpose.”
“Neither I nor anything else has a purpose anyway,” said Le Grenouille.
The wine bottle gave a sudden lurching motion, for the foot of a drunken soldier had connected with it, and it began its skittering motion across the tiled floor of L’Abbaye.
“That would explain why Gerlad was brought to L’Abbaye,” said Juan, as they bounced to and fro within the deep green glass, “for he is a child-form of myself, a suitable delusion for the imaginings of Le Grenouille to correct for my adult form.”
“Yet Gerlad is not here with us,” said Lamarck, who appeared mostly unconcerned by the rolling motion that tossed them this way and that.
“Gerlad never was,” explained Juan, “but as for my younger self – Juan-Gerlad Van Der Poffertjes-Druskard – well, I don’t remember escaping L’Abbaye De Sot-Bougre, so obviously I could not take myself along with us.”
“But you don’t remember being in L’Abbaye De Sot-Bougre either,” said Lamarck. “Nor do you remember the questioning of your uncle-father, Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes.”
“Yes, but I remember seeing Petty LePetit and Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes and Gerlad after this point, when maman and I visited them later in Paris,” said Juan, “so obviously they all escaped L’Armee Rouge. Except Gerlad, who was me in the first place, and as I am obviously fine, no harm is done.”
The two men looked over to Le Grenouille for a disagreement; however the hood-clad figure was still caught in a huff over having been convinced into the bottle with them, and sat upon the rolling floor of the bottle with his arms crossed.
“Mon feuillette d’ullage!” cried a soldier. “C’est un miracle! That wine bottle is moving of its own accord!”
“Wine bottles move by themselves all the time,” said another soldier dismissively. “Now eat your cheese ration!”
The bottle rolled faster and faster towards the front door of L’Abbaye. Here, however, it stopped with a jolt.
“Your plan has hit a snag,” said Lamarck. “The doorway has a tread at its bottom. But if we leave the bottle, we shall be spotted!”
“Have faith, Lamarck,” said Juan. “After all, this is a house of God. And my patron saint is above us.”
Juan looked up at the watchful eye of Saint Glinglin’s stain-glassed visage, his cheeks coloured more than had been originally intended by its artist due to an errant splash of shaken-up champagne.
There was another, sudden jolt as the bottle was lifted up by hundreds of mice, all clamouring to rescue Juan, their little feet raising it up as though it were lifted upon the flight of very small and murine angels.
“Those mice are stealing the holy bottle!” shouted the soldier from before.
“The better to convert them from their heretic teetotal ways,” asserted the other soldier, who had a headache.
With this last surge of rodent aid, the bottle surged to freedom on a wave of mice, rolling out into the street.