He has been playing upon my mind if that's not some self-conscious pun under the circumstances.
My mind is in knots and refuses to unravel. The past is the past is the past- let it be! And yet.
I have been writing again, something akin to insomnia has pressed my fingers to the keyboard and drifted my mind from the present.
Here, find the tale to date, written some time ago as you know. I don't give a damn if you don't read it...ah, but you know I do, of course I do!
No, this is for me not you and perhaps, just perhaps for him.
Dear reader, I’ve another tale to tell.
You’re already acquainted with the cast and we have already shared intimate steps across the stage. Some of my narrative will be familiar, but most will be new to you. It certainly hasn’t been told by me before, and, in fact, it’s not a subject I’ve particularly cared to dwell on and for many reasons, some of which you might guess, some which, well, you’ll just have to wait for. Oh and it’s worth waiting for. You’ll see.
I’m talking about Nicolas de Lenfent. Now there’s a blast from the past.
When last I spoke of him, I merely fluttered over the surface, drawing a few threads together to make sense of what was to come. This time you’re going to get the heart, the blood and bones. Call this then the real story that has remained untold, the inside gossip, the real McCoy. You see, I’ve been dreaming about Paris. I can’t say why, except that perhaps he’s so very near, and that matters, it matters terribly but then again it matters not at all. My meaning will follow eventually, I promise, or at least as much of it as one of us can stomach.
Now I’m not talking about the clean, modern Paris he’s currently prowling, he and his elegantly bitter companion with whom you’re also familiar. So close they are and that gives me a sense of comfort I don’t entirely understand, and yet they’re not far enough. We are jealous of our particular space and a congruousness that comes with distance.
Be there, yes, I need you. But don’t come any closer.
I’m talking about a different place entirely, somewhere fractured from the present by time, and the annihilation of tender desires and the ruin of mortal godhood in a crimson tide. So reach back to that Paris now with me. Put aside the Lestat you know, the saint and the sinner and gangster in velvet and meet the stage struck eyes of a young man in snazzy fur-lined leather boots and a gorgeous red cloak, stuffed full of grand dreams and the pure ecstasy of tasting mortal pleasures.
Nothing really changes, after all.
A flash of memory, nothing in the way of an earth shattering incident, mind you, just a memory. Perhaps it’s remarkable for the way it encapsulates so many other moments between us, he and I, or maybe it’s just a memory, and random for all that. Move a little closer, now. Slip through my mind’s eye and see what I see.
Nicolas is a blur of cobalt behind me, his cheeks flushed, those dark eyes liquid with excitement as he shouts my name. I'm running ahead. My feet are pounding on uneven ground, the jolting noise hammering though my head and blurring my vision. My breath is coming in great gasps as I try not to laugh with the soaring sense of absolute freedom that comes with just running for no good reason except it's good to be alive. And back then I was. Well, obviously I am now, but you know what I mean.
You know, of course, that he and I were the firmest of friends, although perhaps it's fairer to say we were passionate allies, bonded as we were by mutual contempt of our oppressors- namely his father and mine- and of the narrow confines of our rural existence where every aspiration was choked before it drew breath. Well, that’s been told. I'm not about to repeat the same story here.
Still with me? He’s yelling after me in this little snap shot that’s playing through my mind, and yours, and I remember half turning to shoot him a smile, barely sidestepping a pool of fresh piss as my attention wavered from the street ahead, and so knocking into the burly perpetrator who was still fastening his breeches in the narrow street. Absolutely without charm yes, but his was perfectly normal behavior back then, more or less.
Naturally, I found the whole farce supremely amusing. Imagine me almost doubled up with breathless laughter as a meaty hand flailed toward my head, and Nicki used this distraction to catch me away from my would-be assailant and fling me bodily against a wall with far more force than was strictly necessary.
Laughing as I was, that impact knocked all remaining breath from my body, and for a moment, I simply couldn't stop wheezing as I tried to laugh without oxygen. Nicki hauled me back into the muddy road, and shoved at me again in purest frustration. I can still see it, even now, that look in his eyes, caught as he was between absolute annoyance bordering on fury and a gleam of real amusement which, predictably, he tried to hide, though not very well. I am the actor out of the two of us. Stick to fiddling, my love.
And back then, he could jostle me and I’d actually totter off balance.
"No more!" Nicki panted with yet another push increasing the girth of the tear in my unbuttoned and much mended coat. That was the cause of this and so many boyish spats. Really, you'd have thought we were having a domestic in the street.
"We’ve been into every flea pit theater in Paris already. Besides, there's precious little money left," he continued, ever pragmatic. What did I care for the money? I was ever his antithesis in matters of daily practicality. I just didn’t give a damn about the money. I never did.
So, no, I wasn’t listening. Instead, the whole gorgeous feeling of liberation suddenly welled up inside me and I raised my arms beneath the steely grey of the sky and tipped back my head as if I could drink in the whole damn world. ‘We’re in Paris!!’ I was yelling like a lunatic to anyone who might listen, and loud as I can be, it might have been heard by any passer-by within a square mile or more.
You see, it hadn't sunk in, not even with the Parisian dirt caked on my boots. It was probably what any young man just out of his teens might feel, having duly escaped the meaningless drudgery he had been born into, and who had followed his own star past the known horizon. Still, part of me felt as if I must immerse myself in absolutely everything with a giddy sense of urgency before it was ripped away. That had happened before, of course, and enough times that I was still uncertain of my tenuous grasp on fate. What’s more I was young. I was going to gorge myself on this feast before I found myself starving and bitter again. Woe betide anyone who tried to stop me, even and especially Nicki, and I knew him well enough to know how he might try.
"You’re quite mad," Nicki affirmed with shake of his head, or words to that effect. Allow your author a little poetic licence, here and there. I can vouch that he did call me insane, however it was phrased. He did so on a daily basis, and ah, I can feel the irony at a remove of two hundred years.
"If you had your way we would live and sleep and dine at the theater, when we weren’t assailing the good people of Paris with declarations of the obvious.”
He pointed to the rotting filth of the street, the lace about his wrist lifting in a sudden gust of wind. I remember a tiny dot of color staining the white, roseate testimony to a night in the arms of Bacchus. How strange that so often it’s the little insignificant details that echo down the years. I remember that wine stain looking much like dried blood.
“That is where we shall be in a month,” he said of the damp ground in a bored tone that completely failed to hide the fact he was in fact enjoying every moment of the drama.
“Then the Lieutenants Generaux will drag us naked and in chains to the Asylum to laugh at the moon for the rest of our days…’ He let out a short malicious laugh as my thick set assailant from moments before mirrored something of the fate Nicki had reserved for exclusively for us, and slipped on fresh horse shit to suddenly find himself sitting in the stinking ordure of the Paris gutter- or what passed for one back then. He had a beautiful laugh, my mortal Nicolas, even edged as it so often was with spite.
Incidentally, don’t you go thinking that I really understood his plans for us then. This snapshot memory is viewed with the benefit of hindsight, but I’ll come to all that.
I suddenly took him by the shoulders, my eyes, no doubt shining with excitement, and yes, perhaps a little spite of my own. I wouldn't put it past me.
"Madame Le Vasseur!" I declared the name, returning us to the subject of our earlier disagreement, which was pretty much the only kind of disagreement he and I ever had in those long ago days.
"We simply must find a few measly coins to see her play Celeste! "
Nicki groaned right on cue and pulled away. I don’t blame him really, the play in question was ghastly, and likely to be much the same as a dozen similar performances I’d already dragged him to. It didn’t matter to me. I was in the first vivid bloom of my love with the stage and anything and everything that purported to be entertainment upon it was compulsory viewing, regardless of merit opportunity or solvency.
"We've seen her a dozen times already,” said Nicki. “I've never seen such a travesty masquerading as drama. You can't have forgotten the last performance. The audience weren't content to merely heckle and drown out the dialogue. I heard they actually chased Monsieur de Mallet from the stage and all the way to La Force."
"I wish they’d put him in it!" I grumbled at Nicki's characteristic attempts to dampen my spirits; La Force being the appropriate name for a Parisian prison.
I looped an arm about my companion as we stumbled in the path of a cart heaped with rotting vegetables and pulled by an emaciated pony. Something yellow-green and vaguely edible was dislodged by a rattling pot hole and tumbled with a soft thud to Nicolas’ boot. He kicked it away through a murky puddle.
"You only want him out of the way so you may pursue Madame Le V," he replied with an acrimonious smile, his own arm warm and comfortable upon my back, and at odds with his tone, although back then I didn’t take his goading seriously. "You wish to investigate the extent of her talents in private."
“It's her talent I wish to adore,” I protested. It was true and despite everything he must have known it. He did so love to drag my dreams through the dirt. Oh, that’s not to say Lelio didn’t play the lover on and off the stage, but it was more than that. It always was. I’m not sure to this day if he genuinely didn’t understand or if he deliberately courted any opportunity to pluck at my strings. I still don’t know if he genuinely thought me such a thoughtless rake or if he merely loved to grate me to anger. I think it was probably a little of both, don’t you?
“I should have his part,” I was muttering though I didn’t want any such thing, “I can play it. He couldn’t play the lead in the story of his own life."
‘‘You merely wish to thrust -your- part inside her," Nicki answered me with characteristic charm and a dry laugh. "That is the extent of this obsession of yours! The play is worthless and I grant you the girl is sweet-faced, but I've seen more dramatic expression in a mounting block.”
This as we passed a short corpulent man on such a lump of wood attempting to flatten a nervous looking chestnut mare.
"But then an actress is nothing but a mounting block," he chuckled. Imagine him belligerently sarcastic, yet with a compulsive undertone of genial humor that never failed to make me smile. That was mon Nicki, full of contradictions.
"If you wish to mount her then do so,” he continued, “but for the love of God spare me from your florid idealistic descriptions!"
Get the picture? Well back then I didn’t.
Oh by the way, didn't I mention the subtext...?