"What were you doing in Estabrook, anyway? You don't live around here, do you?"
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"I don't," Christopher said. "I came down from the city to visit an old friend. She's in Burlington, but it was close enough make the drive here afterward. I've a lot of memories of this campus. Your father went here, back in the 70's."
"I know." Ella made a face. "He kept telling me not to go just because he did, but I think he's kind of secretly pleased."
"And what about you?"
"I like this place." Ella craned her head up at the trees. "I like the way it feels like something different from the rest of the world. Like it's got a time and place all its own. I like the way it feels like interesting things are happening somewhere on campus, all the time. Especially at night." She looked around. "It's...I don't know. It's full of..."
"Good word." Ella looked up at the splash of night sky visible above the trees. A half-moon was rising past the topmost branches, a caul of haze encircling it.
"Do you need to go back to your dormitory?" Christopher said.
Ella frowned. "I probably should...I've got class in the morning. But I don't want to." She turned to him. "I'm afraid you're going to be gone tomorrow, and I won't be able to find you again."
"I do have a home phone, if you'd like the number. I tend to let the answerphone get it, but if you leave a message, I'll probably call back. Eventually."
"Uh-huh." Ella looked around. "You're, what, forty-five minutes away from here? An hour?"
"Got any big plans for tonight?"
"Some asana work. Nothing particularly intensive. Why?"
"Take me home with you."
Christopher's eyebrows went up.
"I don't mean like-" Ella waved a hand. "I don't mean anything shady. I'm not going to take advantage of you."
Christopher smiled. "Well. That's a relief."
"Quit grinning." She kicked his shin lightly. "Seriously, though. Is that all right?"
"I suppose so..." Christopher appeared to consider. "I share the house with another person, but I don't expect he'll mind."
"Yes." He cocked his head. "Is this a problem."
"Are the two of you...?"
"Are we what?"
"Are you in a relationship?"
Christopher blinked. "A sexual relationship, you mean? No."
"Okay, sorry, had to ask." She looked away.
He peered at her. "Are you blushing?"
"We're not talking about me," Ella said. "We're talking about you, Methuselah. Which way to your car?"
"That-a-way." Christopher pointed. "As an aside, do you remember what happened to Methuselah?"
"No. He was a character in the Bible, right?"
"Yes. He lived nine hundred and sixty-nine years. Then he died."
"Then, seven days later, the Earth flooded and everyone else died." Christopher smiled, showing white teeth in the dark. "So treat me gently."
The flat, featureless miles of I-94 rolled out before them in the dark. Christopher's car smelled of patchouli oil and sage. He drove with a careful, deliberate calm, hands at Ten and Two, speedometer at three miles above the posted speed limit. Ella picked up a CD case from the floorboard and began riffling through it.
"Let's see...Bach, Bach, Brahms, Bach, Beethoven- is this a 'B' fetish, or are these alphabetical? Ennio Morricone. Who's that?"
"He did the music for every great spaghetti western you've ever seen."
"Cool, I guess." She bent to the case again. "The Move, Pink Floyd, The Kinks- hippie. Brian Eno. King Crimson. King Crimson. Ozric Tentacles. Ozric Tentacles?"
"Psychedelic progressive rock."
"Hippie. Hmm, Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin, Led- Jesus." She flipped a few more pages. "This has got to be all their albums."
"All except Houses of the Holy. That one never did it for me."
"Did you ever see them in concert?"
"Oh yes. One of the few good things about the 70's. I remember when Presence came out, they did a tour in '77, and I went out to see them. Page came on and they played 'Achilles Last Stand'. Unbelievable. All the hairs on my arms stood on end."
"Yes, I really am as old as I said. Please stop asking."
"Is it really that unbelievable?"
"No," Ella said. "That's the problem. I can just go right ahead an accept it, and I don't want to. I want to nail it down, make it not just a number or a word. Does that make any sense?"
"Possibly. Any way I can help?"
"Tell me about something. Something from further back than Led Zeppelin."
"Um. Did you have something particular in mind?"
"No." Ella leaned back in her seat. "Just something. Stuff you did, or something that happened to you. It can be boring if you want."
"You're choosing a boring story over Physical Graffiti?"
"There'll be time for you to inflict your hippie music on me. Talk, Methuselah."
"All right." Christopher's eyes do not leave the road. "This was in 1928. Or '29. I'm not entirely certain anymore. Probably '29..."
Christopher is walking along the Boulevard Montmartre alongside Manuel, who has chosen- in Christopher's opinion- a particularly ridiculous flat-crowned hat to go with his suit. They are both smoking the crooked but spectacular little cigars sold by the shop next to their restaurant, and the white smoke drifts lazily behind them in the bright morning air. Around them, frantic activity, business-business-business everywhere. Montmartre is rapidly being buried beneath a carpet of businesses.
"Look," Manuel says. "I know you have little faith in the restaurant-"
"No," Christopher says. "I have no faith in the restaurant. If Henri wanted to get the damned thing going he could have done it six months ago. What is he doing in there all day long? Moaning over his finances? The electricity doesn't work. The stove doesn't work. The kitchen is a shambles."
"Yes, I know-"
"Sometimes I think he likes being cold and miserable, I really do. It makes him feel like a martyr, like a noble sufferer instead of a fat restaurateur who can't keep a bloody sous-chef for more than a day. Anyway, I think we ought to get out of the business entirely. I smell thunder in the air."
"Yes, that is what I am trying to say, Christopher."
Christopher blinks. "Sorry. You were?"
"Yes. I think we should sell everything. If Henri will not buy back from us, we should cut strings entirely. I thought you wanted to stay in the restaurant business?"
"I do want to stay in the restaurant business." Christopher scowls. “But not with Henri wheezing about, yelling at the grocery boy while his lights don’t work. And not at all, to be honest. Everything’s moving too fast.”
They cross the street, moving amidst a flow of pedestrians, and pass a heavyset woman selling peanuts and cigarettes from a tray. A man in a bowler hat presses through the opposite way, excusing himself as he shoulders past Manuel.
“I agree,” Manuel says. “History moves in patterns-”
“As you tell me every chance you get. You...”
“Yes. Yes, it does. As you say, things are moving, and...Christopher?” Manuel trails off, realizing his listener has stopped walking. He turns around. “Christopher? Is something-?”
“Oh my God.” Christopher is staring at the woman on the corner. His expression wavers somewhere between awe and horror. “That’s...no...no, it can’t be.” He pauses for a moment. “No, it is, I’m sure of it. Oh my God...”
“Christopher, what is it?”
Christopher nods at the woman on the corner. “That’s...that’s La Goulue. I’m sure of it. I’m bloody sure of it. Oh God, she looks terrible...”
“Who is...?” Manuel’s brow is creased with confusion. “La Goulue? ‘The Glutton’?”
“She was a dancer at the Moulin Rouge. She was- Manuel, she was unbelievable. There was no one ever did the can-can like her. She could knock a man’s hat off with a high-kick. She was their headliner.” Christopher stares at the haggard, heavyset old woman on the corner, horror slowly winning out on his face. “I thought she had gone off to start her own show. I...she was beautiful, Manuel. Henri used to paint her.”
“Not our Henri. Toulouse-Lautrec. He was obsessed with her. I have to talk to her-” Christopher pushes through the flow of human traffic to where the woman stands with her tray.
Manuel, left in the middle of the sidewalk, steps to the edge to let traffic pass. He hooks his thumbs into the pockets of his suit-coat and stares up into the morning sky.
A minute later, Christopher reappears through the crowd, face pale.
“Well?” Manuel raises his eyebrows. “What did you say?”
“Nothing, I...I couldn’t think what to say. I bought a packet of cigarettes from her.”
“I thought you do not like cigarettes?”
“I don’t.” Christopher runs a hand through his hair, tanging it. “I couldn’t think what else to do. She was...coughing...” He trails off again, looking at the pavement. “She was a wonderful dancer.”
“I am sorry, Christopher.”
“So am I.” Christopher shakes his head, as if to clear it. “Sod it. Sod it all. Let’s go and get drunk.”
“Yes. And then let’s get the fucking hell out of Paris.”
“Okay, okay,” Ella held up her hands. “We can just listen to music if you want.”
“I’m sorry. It was the first thing to come to mind.”
“Uh-huh. That definitely wasn’t ‘let’s teach that McKay girl a lesson by bringing up the most depressing memory in the history of ever’. Yeah.” Ella rested her chin on her palm and stared out the window at the unspooling landscape. “Sorry. I’m in a weird mood tonight.”
“It’s all right.”
“What happened to her? The dancer?”
“She died. About a year later. I visited her grave when I came back to Paris.”
They rode in silence for a long minute.
“I think there’s a Tool album somewhere in that case,” Christopher said.
Ella turned to look at him. “You like Tool?”
“Very soothing music. Very tribal.”
“And now, my day is complete. Thank you.” Ella reached for the CD holder.
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.