A Thousand Words, Part II



Scene Title A Thousand Words, Part II
Synopsis Time passes. Or doesn't.
Date 1954


Spring, 1954

Operating on the assumption that he is supposed to build a life here— with nothing to chase, no demon across Europe and America to pursue, no remote possibility of a rescue— then Francois might have found himself in a kind of paralysis, the same kind of lockdown he'd experienced in the aftershocks of the Apollo missions. No money. Clothes that only barely scraped by as acceptable in the era, the turning centre-point of the 20th century. No plan, no desire to formulate one. For a second, a split moment after Hiro had delivered him to a busier corner of Paris, that same chilly panic had set in.

Moved on from it. It was only appropriate if he accepted that this was where he existed, now. Like navigating the edge of a precipice, it would be an easy thing to fall for.

The old man— well. Not that old. Weaker than Francois, which was the idea, and a shock of fine, silver hair, but he could not be very far into his fifties. Cowardly to pursue easy prey, but then, he doesn't wish to kill anyone. Someone who could match his strength might win or worse, need to be hurt, killed. It would have made this a harder task; clasping his hands over the old Parisian's mouth and nose, kicking feet out from under him, struggling down onto damp cobbled brick in the night time alleyway. Weak hands clasping at Francois' thicker, stronger wrists, and hot, wet breath that wheeze out words that could be in any language.

At least, Francois doesn't have to worry about street security cameras, in 1954. This era feels alien to him, despite living through it. Some knife edge balance between the older sensibilities of a changing century, in medicine and fashion and social politics, and the already matured decay of the modern era with its leather jackets and colour television.

He robs the old man of his coat, his hat and his money. Leaves him face down and breathing.

Francois at least thinks he's still breathing.

The page is not blank, in front of him. The blankness isn't the problem. It's the attempted words, aborted sentences, scrawl of deleting pencil lines and idle etchings in the margins, that has Francois despondant. It's difficult to start the letters that you are not sure will ever be read. That, worded wrong, might mean they are never read. He'd started with something obvious. Something easy.

1954, February 21, is where Hiro Nakamura has chosen to strand me. I am taking a train from Paris to Perpignan. I expect to be found south of Ille-sur-TĂȘt, if I am to be found at all.

And then what? Hide the letter somewhere, a time capsule of glass and loose earth? Find a law firm that would still exist through to 2010 to keep it? Wait some fifty years and change for it to be found? Francois knows it doesn't have to work that way— which is why he is trying at all. But it doesn't feel real. Too impossible and too easy at the same time. Simple sentences are scribbled out. The beginnings of diary entries on his loose leaf pages are pursued until they, too, are crossed out into obscurity.

He watches the French countryside roll by at high speed, the train feeling too still around him for such movement. Occurs to him that technically he has all the time in the world to figure this out, and yet urgency strings through his torso, physical tension.

Happening again, that cool, fatalistic acceptance, rolling in like a fog.

Flips the page. Francois does not fancy himself an artist, not even a little bit. Sort of a soldier, kind of a doctor. Still, with a tentative, near shy caution, he draws lines in a configuration that is taken from memory that he would not like to get hazy with apathy. The critical eye would say that that looks nothing like Teodoro! But see, it is roughly the same shape, the eyes, and this line shows white boy European heritage in the swoop of his nose. And the wicked scar, gone now in reality, erased or never existing, but marking the face of negative space and amateur feathery sketched lines with a kind of definitive precision, of someone who has traced it with fingertips a thousand times.

Lacking temporal correspondence, maybe Francois could try and invent the Internet. That might incur Hiro's wrath.

With his bitten ear and scarred throat, Corrine Dupont, summer house receptionist and host, probably thinks that Francois has been driven mad by the war. What else would inspire someone to get up as the rooster crows and run in aimless circles around the farm land, for something like an hour at a time until he's slick with sweat and flushed with exertion. She hears him afterward, wearily trudging back up the wooden staircase to his guest room, and doesn't say anything.

It's still a decade or so before jogging would be properly popularised.

Or maybe she's right.

Something comes in the mail for him later that morning, which is a surprise to Corrine, but it is a simple equation — a letter arrives, marked with one of her guest's names, and so she hands it over. He opens it in the hallway, and she catches a glance of the same lined paper he continually seems to pour over, his handwriting, and someone else's written in blue ink, only a few sentences in comparison to his own cramped words.

That night, she leaves a tall bottle of red wine by his door. She does not understand why the letter had upset him so, but she can recognise a man's needs when she sees it.

And it's early in the morning — early that it's dark — that he shares with her a glass. Neither of them touch the other, the idea of romance something like an idle footnote in a script, an idea, never executed. Francois attempts to tell her everything, but only comes up with half truths, trying to blur over the parts she can't understand, isn't supposed to and shouldn't have to. He finds it difficult to do in French, anyway, but he does say his last name. His real one.

That, she understands. That before the war, this building her family had bought in the wake of the north's liberation, used to be his home.

Returning to the kitchen table, she lays down the journal that had been tucked beneath floorboards, smiling at the surprise reflected back at her. It was nice, to be able to surprise him, in some way. "«I read, a little,»" she admits, turning over the leather cover and laying her fingertips on the first page, one that does not look as marked by age as it does in New York City, circa 2010. "«Which is why I did not throw it away with everything else. Also people do not hide things under the floor that should be discarded.»"

"«Of course,»" he agrees, thumbing through the pages. Too drunk, right now, to completely understand. He will in the morning.

And then it's a matter of knowing what to write.

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