The Curious Life of Juan Druskard, pars septem:
Les souris n’ont toujours pas mâché par les chaînes entièrement en dépit d’une grande variété de fromages à choisir
“What a strange twist of fate, that my Uncle Roebrt should turn out to be my father Roebrt,” said Juan.
He sat in slightly nibbled chains in L’Abbaye De Sot-Bougre, beside Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Le Grenouille, who were both silently disagreeing with each other and all those around them.
“I wonder if this means I am half-Dutch,” mused Juan.
“Well, being that you mistook Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes for your uncle, and Amuelt Druskard for your father, you may well have mistaken their ethnicities as well,” said Lamarck. “As such, your father may still be French and your uncle Dutch, only with opposite names.”
“But I mistook myself for wholly French originally when I am half-Dutch,” said Juan. “And yet I feel no different to when I believed myself entirely French. Since I am the last human, and the last Frenchman and/or Dutchman, is the nature of being Dutch perhaps entirely mine to decide?”
“Hmm!” hummed Lamarck. “Does this mean that you, in fact, are Juan Van Der Poffertjes?”
Juan watched the little mouse nibbling at his chains for a moment, considering these notions.
“Perhaps I have raced to a hasty conclusion,” replied Juan, scratching his chin. “Juan Van Der Poffertjes is a man that is unknown to me; being that as of until moments ago, I had lived an entire lifetime as Juan Druskard, and presumably am still him.”
Juan gently picked up a second mouse and put it on his cheese-covered manacles.
“Although, of course,” Juan added as the mice nibbled further through the metal links, “this would point further to my being the figment of your imagination.”
“I thought we had decided that we were both figments of Le Grenouille’s imagination?” asked Lamarck.
“We had,” said Juan, “but there is no use in coming to a decision that stands permanently when a greater decision might be reached by further consideration.”
“Indeed,” said Lamarck.
“Hence, I must conclude that my current confusion is due to your own inconsistencies of creative power,” said Juan. “In contrast, Le Grenouille has neither a past nor a future. He is exceptionally simple, and thus is very easy to conceive. In truth, I cannot believe I thought you and I were his creations to begin with!”
“None of us have a past or future,” said Le Grenouille, “only the feeble scratchings of a madman upon the prison walls of time.”
“And that response implies further that Le Grenouille is incapable of purposeful creative libido,” said Juan.
“Ah, but what if we are both creations in the mind of Le Grenouille indeed?” asked Lamarck, gazing upon L’Abbaye De Sot-Bougre’s ceiling. “And we are simply fooled by his appearence, to us, of simplicity, when in fact he is a being of such complexity that it is beyond our meagre and fictional powers of observation to make manifest to our senses?”
Le Grenouille gave a loud huffing noise.
“Would that the two of you would cease your ramblings in the light of merciless oblivion!” he said. “None of us are figments of anyone else’s imaginations, save for our own delusions, and if I am indeed your creator, you must now acknowledge this to be true, for I have declared it!”
Juan nodded to concede the point.
“We can reasonably conclude that Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes is genuinely my father,” said Juan.
“How so?” said Lamarck. “Since you have concocted the false memory of Amuelt Druskard being your father, your memories are likely at least partially suspect.”
“They are,” said Juan, “but I was not in Paris at this point, so this cannot be a memory. And since it is not a memory which may be false, the events that take place within it must be true.”
“If this is not a memory, but you presumably existed during this time elsewhere in the world, then are there two Juans in existence now?” asked Lamarck.
“There are already two Juans,” said Juan. “Juan Druskard and Juan Van Der Poffertjes. The physical nature of either is irrelevant. In any case, I have no recollection of meeting myself in this current state, nor anything of L’Abbeye De Sot-Bougres.”
“Is it possible that you have been here before, but only left in an alcohol-induced stupor, and thus have no accurate memory of it?” asked Lamarck.
“That is not likely,” said Juan. “I prefer to have wine eloquently described to me than to actually drink it. That is what I was doing during the War of the Wines; after the doctors had taken my father Amuelt Druskard to the sea-side for its qualities of air, I spent the following years nursing Maman in our little house in the country. Her health ailed terribly after my father left. We used to play a guessing-game in which she would take a sip of wine, and I would attempt to guess which vintage it was from.”
Juan let out a little sigh, of sad fondness for this memory.
“Eventually her heart became so weakened that the doctor said she was not to have any more wine, and so we asked neighbours or milkmen to drink the wine for me to guess of instead.”
Lamarck’s face remained in its never-changing expression of curious bemusement through to the conclusion of Juan’s reminiscence, though Le Grenouille barked with self-satisfied laughter, startling some of L’Abbeye’s other prisoners.
“Your true father had never been present,” said Le Grenouille, “for if Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes was so distant that you considered him an uncle, then Amuelt Druskard was your true father, and even he was a poor one.”
“My father was busy tending to cousin Gerlad,” said Juan. “Or possibly, my uncle was busy tending to his son Gerlad. Either way, both Gerlad and Maman needed care, which my uncle-father and I provided respectively.”
The trio fell silent, both deep in thought and because an Armee Rouge guard was passing close by to them. Whether these events were caused by one another, and which was caused by the other, they would have discussed had they been at liberty to continue speaking.
“Then it seems the key to understanding lies hidden in your memories of your father and your Maman,” said Lamarck, after the guard had passed. “If such a key can said to be found, as all keys to the mind are hidden by yet further locks.”
“Then these are the locks we must pry open with hair-pins and staunch resolution,” said Juan. “Since all of this is but an imagining of Le Grenouille, who has imagined that it is not, and so therefore that is how it is, I shall tell you the story of how I first came to imagine Le Grenouille. It is a story from when I was but as small as Gerlad appears to us now, about Maman and I on one of our many long walks.”
“Are you believing that I am Sigmund Freud again?” asked Lamarck.
“…now that you mention it, I believe I remember where that confusion arose!” said Juan. “My uncle – well, my father – Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes once told me of the psychiatric theories of Sigmund Freud, but showed me no picture of him. Later, when I was in cousin Gerlad’s room, I beheld a picture hanging above his trundle-bed which I assumed to be Freud. It was only years later that I discovered it was a picture of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.”
“There is no functional difference,” said Le Grenouille, “for you treat them the same, and Lamarck will indulge your preposterous whims regardless.”
“…perhaps I am Sigmund Freud,” said Lamarck. “For if you are still Juan Druskard, and not this stranger Juan Van Der Poffertjes, then to you I might just as reasonably remain Sigmund Freud than become, suddenly, the fellow stranger to your mind that is Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.”
“Shut up!” said Le Grenouille. “If one of us is to speak, then at least let it be Juan, the better to prove the value of silence.”
Juan leaned back against the wall of L’Abbeye, and closing his eyes, pretended that his chains were the flocked velvet of his chaise-longue back outside in the life pod.
“Maman and I would go for long walks beside the river on the week-end, and she would show me all of the insects and other small animals that we would encounter along the by. As a small child I was delighted at the thought of possessing my own walking-path and river! And so she fashioned for me a small net, made from an old stocking that she had worn through, fastened to the end of a worn down steeple-pointer from my father’s drawer full of clockmaking tools. She tied it on using a shoelace she had been given by her grandmother from Brittany.”
Le Grenouille gave the impatient lurching huff of someone who had gone to a post-office to pick up stamps, but was suffering the indignity of standing in line whilst the customer ahead of him dillied and dallied about with the shop clerk, asking if taxes on strings were higher in Switzerland or not at this time of year.
“I was most determined to have a frog for my walking river,” continued Juan, “and so we set out one morning, one of my hands closed tight around my treasured catching-net, the other clasped gently in Maman’s delicate buttery fingers.
“‘A frog, Maman!’ I called as we walked. ‘I am most determined to have a frog for my walking river!’
“And Maman laughed gaily, the hem of her skirts fluttering in the breeze like feathers being gently worked through the strings of a loom.
‘Well, go on and catch it, ma chérie,’ she said lightly.
I skipped forth towards the little frog, its skin glistening in the dew of the Sunday morning. Yet it leapt out of my reach, close to the water’s edge!”
“I am developing ennui,” said Le Grenouille.
“An interesting claim,” said Lamarck, “considering that ennui would imply that anything could theoretically interest you, which would further imply that you cared about something, Le Grenouille.”
“I am frustrated only by your absurd insistence on the solid reality of reveries and daydreams,” said Le Grenouille.
He shook at the manacles around his wrists to make his point.
“I ran after the frog with my butterfly net askance, caught up in the energetic follying of one’s youth! But as the frog jumped further across the river, its legs lightly skimming the surface of the water, I dashed forth to grab the little creature and tumbled into the cold depths! I could not swim, for that could ruin the cut of my trousers, and so I sank, watching the underwater world below. I was a tadpole in reverse – a man who breathed air, struggling to find his place in a world that breathed water.”
“Hmm,” said Lamarck, trying to think of a way to question this.
“But then I felt maman’s slender arms reach down into the water and take ahold of my braces,” said Juan. “Her skin was so goose-pimpled! And underwater it was as the colour of paper that had been wet, and then had heavily-watered down ink spilt upon it.
“She pulled me back into the cold air, which beat against my throat, and she clutched me tightly to her and whispered a lullaby to me, singing of bakery chefs and their cakes full of doormice. I can still remember the warmth of her dress-linens, as the roughly-sewn hems pressed against my soft cheek, like the comforting grasp of a farmer’s glove on the side of a freshly-picked peach.
“That week I developed a most dreadful chill, and the doctors told me I must remain in my bed; they fed me medicine from a small bottle, using a spoon with what seemed to me the longest handle I had ever seen! I was dreadfully afraid, for this was the same week that my poor little cousin Gerlad was confined to his trundle-bed for the worsening of his fevers. Those fevers! They shook Gerlad’s frail body for weeks. And then one day Gerlad coughed up blood, and then he died.
“But as a child, I did not know the difference between a chill and those dreadful fevers! So when the doctors came and took little Gerlad away, I assumed I was to die too. How I hated being fed the medicine from the long-handled spoon after that! For I thought that once the little brown bottle had reached its bottom, that would be when my time was up. All because I had wanted a frog for my walking-river so!”
Juan shuddered at the thought.
“I suppose my identity depends upon one’s perception of Sigmund Freud’s analytical skills,” mused Lamarck, “for I, for one, certainly find many an inference contained within! For example-”
There was a great clamour in the open doorway of the cathedral, as soldiers of L’Armee Rouge began to march inside.
“Our captors return,” said Juan.
He looked to Lamarck.
“Are the chains still present?” he whispered.
“The mice will finish freeing us soon, but we cannot break out just now,” Lamarck responded.
“The only chains that imprison you are the chains of delusion,” said Le Grenouille, “and no amount of rodents will chew your mind apart.”
The soldiers of L’Armee Rouge frog-marched their captive into the cathedral. It was a child, his head hanging too low to see his face, and his feet were dragging.
“That is Gerlad!” said Juan. “Ah, I worry for my father, Uncle Roebrt. And, of course, for Gerlad’s father, Amuelt.”
“You know this boy?” said a Rouge soldier sternly, squinting at Juan.
“Oui,” said Juan.
“Then you shall care for him until we are done questioning his uncle!” said the soldier, throwing Gerlad to Juan’s feet, face-down.
“You are questioning his father,” corrected Juan. “That is, if you are questioning Amuelt Druskard. If you are questioning Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes, you are questioning his uncle.”
The soldier looked to his captain.
“Indeed,” said the captain with the dismissiveness of one who merely follows instructions, whose moustache bristled in sozzled confusion. “Quiiick, march!”
The squad about-faced, wobbled slightly, and then stepped smartly over to an overturned pew, where a smartly-dressed lance-corporal was tending a bar well-stocked with red wine while on horseback.
“Gerlad,” whispered Juan. “Gerlad, I am your cousin. In the opposite way to which I originally perceived, but our relationship has not actually changed.”
He gently lifted his manacles and crouched down, then shook Gerlad gently by his sickly shoulders.
“He is unconscious,” said Juan, “but still alive.”
Juan carefully turned Gerlad over onto his back, then yelped in shock.
“What’s going on, prisoner?!” said the captain at the bar, reaching for his sabre as he turned to regard Juan.
“Ah…I was just struck with a great philosophical dread caused by the concept of white wine,” Juan lied most convincingly.
“It happens to the best of us,” agreed the lance-corporal, his horse whinnying in agreement.
“It cannot be,” muttered Juan.
“But it is!” said Le Grenouille, as was his wont.
He waited patiently for Juan to explain what it was.
“This is not Gerlad,” said Juan. “It is me – when I was a child! See, we even have the same scars from when I set all of father’s clocks back by one minute and he thrashed me about the ears with a fly swatter!”
He pointed to the distinctive grid-pattern on the very edge of the boy’s left ear, then to his own, which retained the very same marks.
“But if this is me,” said Juan, “and we are in a time where I remember not being in Paris, then this cannot be me. And yet it cannot be Gerlad either, for he has my own childhood visage! And since Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes is my father, I cannot be his nephew, for that would make me the son of Amuelt Druskard, which we have realised was impossible.”
A look of astonished realisation came across Juan’s face.
“I must…I must have imagined Gerlad entirely!”
“Yes,” said Lamarck. “You invented Gerlad to displace your inadequacies onto your uncle, because Roebrt Van Der Poffertjes was actually your father, and you merely created the fantasy that he was your uncle out of your desire for a strong father figure.”
“Now who believes he is Sigmund Freud?” said Juan accusatively.