So Many Places


eileen_icon.gif francois_icon.gif

Scene Title So Many Places
Synopsis Conversation steers from death and dying and ultimately threatens to wind back on itself again.
Date June 16, 2011

West Village: Maison d'Allegre

The book closes, and Eileen rests her hands on top of one another with pale fingers splayed in a fan across the beaten cover. She's never been completely comfortable with the sound of her own voice. The hour spent reading a few chapters from Red Badge of Courage might be the longest she's had to endure listening to it, but any anxiety it might have caused is tempered by the calming effect the written word has on her — there are few places better to get lost in than a book.

"He never had the opportunity to write much," she says to the man in the bed. "Crane. Or at least not as much as he could have. He died when he was only a few years older than I am." There is a pause in which she reaches out to touch him, a hand on his hand, in a tentative but gesture of affection. She is not sure whether to ask him if there's anything he needs, or if it is appropriate to broach the subject of Teodoro's ring finger and the circle of precious metal around it.

What she ultimately decides on is: "Don't think you can get away with the same."

There would have been times where maybe Francois was asleep during Eileen's recital of literature, except that small, muffled coughs would here and there break the patterns and indicate that he's awake enough to do that. His eyes open when he feels her dry hand nudge against his clammier one, fingers twitching without really giving back the gesture. "He did not have a say," he says, rolling a glance up to her. By now, Eileen will be used to it, the ruby greasiness edged over white, vivid and stark against the discs of human colour. In this case, forest green.

"Neither do I," he adds, unfocusing without drifting away — in fact, he's rousing a little, body shifting beneath sheets.

"You have some," says Eileen, and to emphasize her point she gives Francois' hand a gentle squeeze before releasing it again. Some people find comfort in being touched when sick, but for others it makes them feel repulsed and claustrophobic, and this is not something Eileen has any desire to risk. "The man who resigns himself to death meets it quicker than the man who decides he wants to live. We want you here with us for as long as you can, Francois.

"Teodoro wants you here with him for as long as you can."

When touch leaves his hand, Francois retracts it, curls into his chest like a withered leaf before he pushes himself to lean his shoulder up against pillow padded bedhead. "You know, Abigail rarely used her healing on herself? It was a natural thing for me.

"No one should have to convince me to to fight to live." He turns in time for another bout of coughing, the force of it making the frame of the bed shiver, stray beads of red on the pillowslip that's been stained with it more than a few times. The back of his hand blocks it, eyes sinking shut, and when it's over, palm rests flat on his chest. Breathing shorter, edged. "The hallucinations I see, they come to watch me die. Is New York the place to do it in? I have seen so many places."

Eileen sets the book aside on the nightstand and reaches into the pocket of her coat hanging off the back of her chair. Her fingers come back out with a handkerchief draped between them, the kind with an embroidered edge, which she uses to wipe the fluid from the corner of Francois' mouth, then the back of his hand. It is impossible to say whether this is harder or easier for her than it had been with Nicholas — some things you can assign qualitative value, other things you can't.

"And there are still so many that you haven't," she reminds him, folding the handkerchief. Like Francois' pillowslip, which she intends to replace the next time he sleeps rather than disturb his conscious rest, it will have to be sterilized and washed before it can be used again for anything else. "Where would you go tomorrow, if you could?"

If a will to live is measured by a desire for dignity, than Francois' is low, as he shuts his eyes as Eileen cleans his face — although it is, naturally, better to be clean. He shifts in small movements to find comfort in his side-ways sprawl on the bed, sluggishly returning to her question with all the lazy consideration of something rolling over in the sun. "A horizon," he muses, eyes sliding shut. "Teodoro likes boats more than I do. But you can share in a thing. Maybe I should not have left France before — perhaps I would go back. Retirement. Or to Germany, for peace. The memorials.

"Dachau is probably nice, this time of year."

Eileen is silent. To her ears, Francois' words are weighed down with resignation and that frightens her, though not so much that she allows it to show beyond the tightening of her fingers around the cloth and the whiteness that creeps into her knuckles as she grips it.

Dachau is probably nice this time of year — that is true. There are times when she wishes she'd never left Europe as well, but the difference between Eileen's wishing and Francois' is that she leave anytime she wants. There is nothing physically stopping her.

He can't even get out of bed under his own power.

"Yes," she says finally, her voice like a sheet of paper rustling.

"Je suis desolee." If Eileen had a more academic grasp over French, that statement might make her worry even further. Fortunately, it is a basic facet of conversation, and is simply apology. Heartfelt, maybe, but tempered with the neutral tone underpinning all of Francois' conversation today. "I don't mean to be morbid. It is a morbid illness." He opens his eyes again to study her, slowly pulling out of the selfish quagmire that is self-pity, enough to see a girl who cares for him, and the book she holds.

And he doesn't feel like sleeping and saving them both from himself, so— "I should eat. There are things downstairs. Perhaps you would like some water, before you continue reading?"

Eileen remembers a promise of tea and Teodoro's willingness to surrender the contents of his pantries. Tucks her chin into a singular nod even though she doesn't have much of an appetite and the dryness in her mouth has nothing to do with the last time she had something to drink. She rises from the chair and transforms her hands into a loose clasp at her abdomen.

It is a morbid book, too. Maybe she should have chosen something else. "Would you like me to bring it up?" she says of the things downstairs that Francois' body will be able to keep down without too much difficulty. If there is not soup on the stove she will commit herself to making some. "Or would you rather Abigail or Teodoro?"

He shakes his head, one of those triggery movements, like sitting up. Laughing. But his headache is duller, in favour of congested airways and clamminess. "Come back when you're done," Francois requests. Instructs. Gently, as usual, but he'd rather not fall into that awkward social space of apology, self-deprecation, the ambiguousness of dismissal and whether he is worthy company right now. If Eileen wasn't willing to spend some time, then she would have told Teodoro no. "I was enjoying the story."

"Me too," says Eileen, in case there is any doubt. She stands there for a moment or two longer, an eternity as she perceives time, then takes her leave of Francois' bedroom, the tips of her fingers brushing the door's wooden frame on her way out. It is an unconscious gesture — the kind that communicates reluctance without meaning to, and the kind that goes unnoticed by the person performing it.

She does not want to go but goes anyway.

Leaves the door an open sliver behind her.

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