The Curious Life of Juan Druskard, part cinq:
Juan découvre un secret terrifiant et a une discussion à propos de croissant aussi
The spectres of a man who had decided that he probably was effectively Juan Druskard, a contemplative assembly of possibilities named Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, and the grim spirit of the eventuality of an uncaring cosmos Le Grenouille floated through what might have been Paris.
For all intents and purposes.
“Here!” said Juan Druskard, extending everybody’s attention by extending his finger. “Le Place De Saint Glinglin.”
Le Place was bustling with people in great petticoats and little boys in straw hats and sailor costumes, riding red bicycles. There was an accordion, but out of politeness, nobody was playing it.
“Such scurrying is the pointless distraction of ant-men,” said Le Grenouille, “whom I and death shall swallow.”
“Ah, but ants are mostly not men,” said Lamarke, wagging his finger. “For they are chiefly female.”
“But what is a majority if it is silent?” boomed Le Grenouille, his hood flitter-fluttering in the breeze. “It becomes yet another minority, lost to the winds of decay. Those who count among the ant-men are those, like myself and death, who ultimately rule them.”
“And yet,” said Lamarck, a wry smile playing about his lips like schoolchildren with a ball, “ants are ruled by a queen. She is their mother, which they must constantly feed.”
“Then you have proved my point exactly!” said Le Grenouille. “They scurry about, insular and ignorant, believing one of their own controls them when in reality I could step upon their ant’s nest with my foot and destroy it! And yet you distract yourself with thoughts of the implications of mothers, never pausing to realise the destructive power that may lie at your very feet also! Is man, truly, so different to this?”
Lamarck shook his head.
“Le Grenouille, you speak as though you know I have not contemplated upon this! Yet how little I allow you to know of my own mind and thoughts, to allow yourself to form such a presumption! The most brash of hubrises is the one you do not realise yourself to be undertaking.”
He raised an eyebrow most knowingly.
“And is this quality not one you share with man?” he asked.
“Do not compare me to man!” rumbled Le Grenouille. “For if you do, you compare me to an ant. Though it is only I, Le Grenouille, that can cut through the man-made nonsenses of laws and taxes, as though to step upon the ant-hill! You rashly display your own hubris: that you believe you may identify that of others. In this sense, you are beneath me, and belong down there with the ant-men you so love to ponder upon.”
“But,” said Lamarck, “in saying that you would step upon the hill, you imply that the ants are worthy of destruction. Driven by your own desire to point out how pointless caring about anything is, you have unwittingly proven that you yourself have a goal – an end!”
“…the senseless desire for further existence is present in both ant and man regardless,” said Le Grenouille, folding his great arms.
“Look!” said Juan. “There is Gerlad, with his uncle – I mean, with my uncle, Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes!”
Gerlad was frolicking in a fountain, while Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes chuckled, his long corn-cob pipe bouncing on his knee, smoke rising from it in the glow of the afternoon sun.
“Will you speak to them?” asked Lamarck.
“I am not certain,” said Juan. “For this is my memory of Paris when I wasn’t there, so I won’t know what they said.”
“Yes, but if this memory was from when you were in Paris, then you would remember precisely the conversations they had. Thus your knowledge of what Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes and Gerlad said would lead you to make assumptions of who they are,” said Lamarck, “and that would conflict with their true natures. It is thus safest for you to talk to them now, when you know for sure that you don’t know anything.”
“Thankyou, Lamarck,” said Juan. “Le Grenouille, why do you stare so intently at that croissant?”
“It is engineered from its first creation to be destroyed,” said Le Grenouille, chuckling at the boulangerie window. “And yet it sits, accepting. Would that you could realise you are the croissant of this world!”
“Au contraire,” said Juan. “Given that I am the last human and that only the Life-Pod is reality, if anything, the world is the croissant.”
“Non,” said Le Grenouille, his cape rustling darkly, “you are merely the croissant’s crumbs.”
“But the crumbs were not designed to survive,” said Juan. “They are an accident within the destruction, bold remnants of what the croissant was. Faded, perhaps, but a noble memorium of the baking and rising.”
“To be scoured by the dusters, held by the maids of death,” said Le Grenouille.
“A duster does not destroy the crumbs,” observed Juan, “in the most straightforward of senses, it merely moves them about.”
“All the world is merely objects moving about,” said Lamarck.
“And they will one day move evenly, and we shall all end,” said Le Grenouille.
“Hark!” remarked Lamarck markedly, “It appears it is our turn now to move about! For cousin Gerlad and Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes are preparing to depart the fountain!”
“Halt!” shouted Juan.
“For whom?” asked Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes, who was lifting little Gerlad from the fountain and patting his clothes dry.
“For… for…” began Juan.
He turned his back, and whispered to his companions Le Grenouille and Lamarck.
“Should I admit that I am Juan Druskard, and thus possibly change my uncle’s memory of what I imagine happened, or should I lie and say I am somebody else?”
“That depends on whose Paris we are witnessing,” said Lamarck, “and whether or not the impression of Paris is formed from one man’s thoughts alone, or an entirely separated concoction of assumptions that, though created by many of them, exist independent of any man – and which men merely allow their minds to drift through.”
“Regardless, at least part of the Paris we are in right now is either influencing or influenced by my uncle’s thoughts,” said Juan.
“In that case, I advise caution,” said Lamarck. “Perhaps, if you give your name in conversation, it shall be your own memory of what your uncle imagined happening that will be changed by your uncle!”
“It would be immoral to force my uncle to change my lack of memory of what may have happened to him,” said Juan. “I will thus give a false name.”
He turned around to speak to Roebert Van Der Poffertjes.
“My name,” Juan said, “is Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes.”
“Ah! What a strange coincidence!” said his uncle, “for my name is also Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes!”
“Damn!” swore Juan, who had not realised his error until it was too late.
For he had meant to say that his name was Gerlad.
“This is my nephew Gerlad,” said Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes.
“Bonjour, monseigneur,” piped Gerlad in his thin and sickly voice, bowing to Juan.
“Your nephew?” asked Juan. “Surely, if this is the cousin of the boy Juan Druskard – ahem!…whose…mother I sell strawberries to on occasion – then this is your son Gerlad?”
“You cannot have sold many strawberries to Juan’s mother,” chortled Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes, “for of course, I am Juan’s father!”
“What?” spluttered Juan.
He coughed, and retained his composure.
“I mean…that is to say…surely it is Amuelt Druskard who is Juan’s father?”
“Oh no, no,” said Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes, “Amuelt is the boy’s uncle! Poor fellow, he is so absorbed in his clockmaking that he scarcely sees his son here!”
“His son…who, rather than being Juan, is instead Gerlad?” said Juan.
“Naturally,” said Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes, adjusting Gerlad’s hat upon his small head.
“But you-” Juan began, but suddenly there was a great peal of thunder in the streets, and a cannonball flew through the air, landing square in the square’s centre.
The sound was as that of a mighty lion’s roar, and it frightened the fragile Gerlad most terribly.
“Good God!” exclaimed Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes, tearing off his own hat and stepping on it. “They have come.”
“Who?” asked Juan. “Who?”
“L’Armee Rouge,” said Roebrt.
Scooping up Gerlad, he fled the scene, along with most of the scattering crowd.
“This is impossible,” said Juan, rubbing at his own head.
“How can you say what can and cannot be, when your own thoughts are uncertain?” asked Lamarck.
“Finally!” said Le Grenouille, who appeared to find the cannon-shot sound most invigourating, “you speak of something with which I can agree, Lamarck!”
“But I know this didn’t happen, because I don’t remember it from when I wasn’t in Paris!” wailed Juan, as the cannons grew louder, and distant, dissonant war-drums were played.
He looked to Le Grenouille.
“Le Grenouille,” cried Juan. “If the Wine-men kill me, then you shall have nobody to torment! Please, use your prodigious strength to save us, and we will leave the Bathosphere!”
“You are caught in a trap of your own devising,” said Le Grenouille, chuckling in his deep voice. “For this is the inevitable result of the futile life-scrabblings of all people, be they men or ants alike.”
“Bah!” said Juan, mopping furiously at his face with a handkerchief. “If you cannot save us, then I shall! I will parley with the leaders of this army, for our freedom! Or, at least, for a comfortable prison.”
He leaned inside the boulangerie, and fashioned a white flag of truce from an apron. Then, climbing atop the shop, he waved it with as much strength as he could muster, as men in bright red uniforms wobbled into the square in perfect formation. They assembled a battery of cannons around the fountain, with many of the soldiers standing with their brightly polished boots in the water. The sight was such a contrast with the idyllic halcyon of Arcadia in the time of Gerlad’s playing, that Juan’s psyche nearly wept in heartbreaking melancholy.
A man on a horse with three feathers in his cap looped his way to Juan, then stood on his horse’s back to address him.
“Do you face the question?” he asked, his moustache bristling.
“Do I?” Juan asked Lamarck and Le Grenouille.
“Yes,” said Lamarck. “But consider it carefully.”
“Your answer will be irrelevant,” said Le Grenouille.
“I do,” said Juan to the officer.
“White wine?” spat the officer.
His men let forth a volley of jeers.
The soldier triumphantly raised his fist loftily skywards as he spoke, drawing forth the subsequent cheers of his men.
“It depends upon whether one is eating fish or not,” said Juan.
“A-ha! One of these apathetic pacifists, hm?” asked the officer. “Well, we know where those go, don’t we lads!”
“If he has decided that I am apathetic, the result at least shall not bother me, wherever I end up,” said Juan to his companions.
“To L’Abbaye de Sot-Bougre with them!” shouted the officer, wavering as he waved his sword.