The Curious Life of Juan Druskard, PART SECHS:
Juan attire habilement une souris
“Four months since I have been imprisoned!” wailed Juan.
Juan could not have meant his time spent inside L’Abbaye De Sot-Bougre, because he, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Le Grenouille had only been there for forty-eight minutes. His comment, therefore, must have been more in the nature of the metaphysical; although as he was knowingly and willfully unaware of how much time had passed since he had entered his Life-Pod, he may as well have said it was four years, or four lifetimes, or possibly even four planck-seconds, were he of a scientific disposition. Of course, he was not; that job fell to John-Baptiste Lamarck, who had his own problems, being that he was possibly a figment of his own imagination.
“You are not imprisoned,” said Le Grenouille scornfully. “You yourself are a prison, encompassing the world within your idiotic frames of morality.”
Lamarck looked over at Le Grenouille, separated as they were by Juan; all three chained to a pew in the corner of L’Abbaye De Sot-Bougre.
“Ah,” said Lamarck, his eyebrows raised, “but, do not those frames of morality suffer determination by the whims and winds of the world?”
Le Grenouille shook his head, always and forever covered by his blue executioner’s hood, except for his piercing red eyes.
“What is the world but a collection of mankind’s moralities? For how else could society be established. And this is all your society is; but a flimsy shim-sham of strings held together by claims of invisible morals, invisible because they cannot be defined and therefore have no definition!”
“And yet,” interjected Juan, “when the soldiers of L’Armee Rouge entered the square, I felt fear for the life of little Gerlad. Does not this unconscious desire to protect the innocent establish a bedrock upon which society can claim to be founded?”
“No,” growled Le Grenouille.
“Of course,” said Juan in disgrace. “How presumptuous of me.”
He would have hung his head in shame, but for the interruption of one of the soldiers of L’Armee Rouge.
“No talking in the stocks!” shouted the soldier, from where he was standing at the pulpit.
He cracked his whip at Juan, Jean-Baptiste and Le Grenouille, who all winced, despite it wildly missing them.
“Monsieur,” said Juan, “please, a little water.”
“Water?!” cried the soldier. “Ahah! Look at Monsieur Cake And Biscuits, here, his shirt frilly, his eyes daubed with the finest of eye tinctures, his hair coiffed and crisped by the greatest tailors of the bourgeousie! Ptheh!”
The soldier spat.
“You will take your daily rations of red wine like the rest of us, filth!” he cried, striking Juan in the face.
“No more!” cried Juan. “At least give me bread, or perhaps gruel!”
“Shut up and eat your rich cheeses!” shouted the soldier, angrily thrusting wheels of Boursault into Juan’s manacled hands.
Juan wept, his salty tears utterly ruining the delicate creamy aroma as they fell.
The guard stomped off to yell at some other prisoners, who were quietly singing a round on-time and in the right key, and Juan wiped his tears away, a merry twinkle suddenly appearing in his eyes.
“What is it?” whispered Lamarck. “Have you reconciled our current situation with that of existence within the Life-Pod, and thus realised the inherent meaninglessness of what we should otherwise be inclined to describe as freedom?”
“Not at all! I have purposely not been eating my cheese,” murmured Juan, “for with the surplus, I plan to attract thousands of friendly mice, who will nibble our chains away. If this plan proves shortcoming, then the mice shall give the guards bubonic plague, allowing us to escape in any case.”
He cheerily slid some more of the cheese into his trouser-pockets.
“How strange, that L’Abbaye De Sot-Bougre is a cathedral,” he mused.
“Technically, it is no longer a cathedral,” said the soldier, returning to the side of their pew, “for it has had its crucifixes removed.”
“Curious,” said Juan. “A city is only considered a city if it possesses a cathedral. Does this mean that Paris is no longer a city?”
“No,” said the soldier, “it has other cathedrals.”
“But if it has more than one cathedral, is Paris multiple cities?” asked Juan.
“It is both, and yet it is neither,” Lamarck replied, “for, as this Paris is created from the landscape of the reality of dreams and the simultaneous dreams of reality, then the existence of any cathedral is dependent entirely upon the individual’s conscious recognition of any building being as such. Not unlike any other Paris!”
“Perhaps there are other men like us, considering the same thing in the other cathedrals,” wondered Juan. “Is the universe divided by the presence of enormous churches? A Juan in each, and a Lamarck, and a Le Grenouille?”
“Alas,” lamented Lamarck, “there is, by definition, no way of knowing anything of it for certain; thus making this considered reality ever more like the one we exist within.”
“What senselessness!” growled Le Grenouille. “When the world piles upon the crushing pressure of reality, ever further do the two of you retreat into what-could-bes! And why has God been replaced with a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, and the crucifix of his son reduced to naught but the twisted opener of yet further bottles? This cathedral made prison is an homage to wasteful stupidity, when its stones could have been turned to gravel, and its glass paintings could have been left as sand.”
He tsked contemptuously at the stain-glass painting of Saint Glinglin preaching to the Garandians, who were falling at his feet and praying in repentance for their prior sins. These sins were extensively documented in the previous stain-glass painting, which L’Armee Rouge had censored for ideological decency.
“You and the boy may turn up your nose at red wine,” said the soldier, “but you, sir, look like a man of science and quality.”
Lamarck, who the soldier had been addressing, gave a self-effacing shrug.
“Would you care for a cigarette?” asked the soldier.
“I am not sure I would,” said Lamarck, “for cigarettes are smoked and then thrown away wherever the smoker wishes, their task in life complete.”
“A foolish burning of paper that causes fire hazards and lung damage,” muttered Le Grenouille.
“Very well,” said the soldier, looking around shiftily. “We are not supposed to, you see, for it might damage our tastebuds.”
“You are quite regimented, for an army composed wholly of drunks,” said Lamarck, genuinely.
“We are not drunks,” said the soldier testily, his fingers reaching for the handle of his whip, “we are simply fond of wine.”
“I suspect you are fond enough to count as drunks regardless,” said Juan.
Though Lamarck chortled with whimsy, the soldier recoiled.
“Is this all L’Armee Rouge appears to you?” he asked, horrified. “And I, along with it, naught but a drunk?”
“But do you not all consume to the point of stupefaction?” inquired Juan. “From the behaviour of your generals as they ferried us to L’Abbaye, this certainly appears to constitute the deportment of their men.”
The soldier considered this, grasping at his whip in anguish.
“Do not besmirch the generals!” he cried. “Though some of the army drink perhaps closer to excess than others due to their passion of the pursuit of the destruction of our hateful enemy, L’Armee Blanc-”
He uttered a curse to the ground upon speaking their name.
“-I do not wish to be associated so, as I only drink in the correct amount, as dictated by the pronouncement of Captain Beurré, the lead pronouncement-writer of L’Armee Rouge!”
“But,” said Juan, shifting slightly to redirect the growing rivulets of melting cheese on his lap into account, “as a member of L’Armee, you indulged in the study of history, correct?”
“Of course!” replied the soldier, “as one must, if one is to learn from the mistakes of the past, and the moral laziness that lead to the proliferation of the vile liquid.”
Juan inferred that this was L’Armee Rouge’s correct nomenclature for a reference to the dreaded white wine consumed by their foes.
“Then you will recognise,” continued Juan, “that when a history-book discusses the changing fashions of the youth in a certain period, it discusses their tastes and opinions collectively.”
The soldier nodded uncertainly, as though he was loathe to continue this conversation, but could also not bring himself to tear himself away from it.
“Then, what does it matter to those of us in the present that some of the youth may have detested these fashions, despite keeping quiet for fear of ostracisation from their peers? How can you, the reader of the history-book, know that one youth in particular did not appreciate said fashions, when all the book records is that the youths as a collective identity did?”
The soldier recoiled even further in an even larger amount of horror.
“But…” he stammered out, “but… you mean to say that, once the victory of L’Armee Rouge is secured, and the books on our history written for our future generations, that as a soldier my identity shall be reduced to nothing but a generalised anonymity, consistent with the behavior of my greatly-numbered peers, to whose will I shall merely be an extension?”
“I am afraid that is so,” said Juan.
Proud of his well-enunciated thoughts, Juan looked to Lamarck, expecting the man to nod in appreciation. But instead, Lamarck, who wore a look of knowing confidence, spoke.
“Yet Juan,” he said, “you yourself are the sole container of your generation’s zeitgeist.”
“How so?” asked the soldier.
“I am the last human alive,” said Juan.
“Oh, how dreadful,” said the soldier. “That would mean that you must stand as the lone representative of all that your kind were, and all that they could ever be.”
“It is a liberating cage,” said Juan, glancing down at his cheese-covered manacles.
“Are you yourself a historian?” asked the soldier.
“No,” replied Juan. “I am but a survivor in a Life-Pod, whose Bathosphere has lowered me to the depths of this place we call Paris.”
“Now, do you see the puzzle?” Lamarck asked of Juan. “For if there are no historians at the end of history, how shall the spirit of the times be known?”
“It is the end of history,” said Juan, “because there are no more historians, and even if there were, there would be none after them to peruse their histories. Quod edit demonstratum.”
The guard shook his head at these frightful notions, and marched back to the bottle of Pinot Noir at the pulpit, deciding he was now thoroughly in need of a stiff drink.
A small mouse, its whiskers bent with crippling mouse-arthritis, scurried hoarily forth from a pile of hastily-erected door barricade that was made predominantly from Bibles, and cautiously began sniffing at Juan’s manacles.
“Yes, my little friend,” murmured Juan. “Spread the word of cheese-facilitated freedom to your mouse companions.”