©2017 Q* Anthology of Queer Culture

An independent student publication in the Charlottesville and U.Va. community

The Plunge

June 23, 2017

 

Red, black, white, blue

Red, black, white, blue

Émilien paced

 

Somewhere in Russia, 1812

          Émilien had to keep reminding himself why he decided to do this. “Because I’m strong,” he whispered, “and because I’m going to make my mother proud.” A snicker behind him reminded Émilien of the other reason, the most important reason: “Because I’m all he has left.”

          “Are you talking to yourself again, Émilien?”

          Émilien sighed and ignored his brother’s comment. It was difficult not to blame him for the situation they were currently in. After their father’s death during one of Napoleon’s earlier battles Grégoire chose to carry on the family name in the army. And why shouldn’t he? After all, Grégoire had always been father’s favorite. When the time came for his brother to leave, Émilien realized he could not bear being told someone else so close to him had died. He told his mother he was going with Grégoire to ensure he didn’t get hurt. His mother cried, realizing she’d be all alone for quite a while, but he knew it was easier to watch her cry over this than to watch her struggle to make ends meet while worrying about Grégoire. Still, he wished Grégoire could have made some other choice. Even the thought of his gawky brother learning to cobble seemed to make more sense than dim-witted and fragile Grégoire with a weapon. Apparently, months of marching left Émilien bitter.
          “So you’re not going to answer me?”
          “Grégoire, let’s make a deal. You stop talking until we reach Moscow,

and then you can say all you want.”
          “Moscow is over 120 kilometers away still, and you heard the rumors.

Battle might be upon us soon.”
          His brother’s voice sounded pleading. Émilien realized that Grégoire

must be getting scared. Although he was younger, Émilien was stronger and brighter than his brother, and he knew his brother looked up to him. Even so he decided to let him su er in silence. Émilien resolved to not say a word to Grégoire until the next morning, just to teach him a lesson.

          It wouldn’t be until the following evening that he realized this was the worst mistake of his life.

 

Paris, 2012

          Émilien shuddered in his chair. It was 4:32 a.m. He moaned in torment. He hadn’t slept in around two hundred years, but instead spent his nights in some sort stupor as unwanted images of his past filled his mind.

          Day after day, Émilien sat in this same worn chair that faced a window overlooking the streets of Paris. From a little after three in the morning until seven he waited for the rest of the city to sleep. At seven he would grudgingly get up, shower, eat the same breakfast he’d eaten for the past thirty years (scrambled eggs and toast), and leave his apartment for whatever menial job he had found for the decade.

          Émilien looked about thirty. He was built, but he hadn’t worked out a day in his life. He was very tall, especially by Parisian standards, at roughly six feet four inches tall. His dark, curly hair obscured his eyes. Women would have found him incredibly attractive if not for an off-putting aura around him. It was just as well since Émilien didn’t like people trying to get close to him.

          He sighed, constantly aware that this was the worst decade of his existence so far. The past hundred years had all been dull, but usually there was something to keep him going. He spent the first decade of the twentieth century in Australia sharing in the joys of it becoming a commonwealth. The following decade he went back to his roots as a soldier at the front during WWI and then made his first trip to the United States to enjoy the Roaring Twenties. Émilien watched in England as King Edward VIII abdicated for love in the 1930s. When the Nazis came to power in Germany Émilien decided to take action and spent the 1940s attempting to kill the Führer and save as many condemned as possible. By the decade’s end he managed to save about ten Jews and two Gypsies. Émilien spent the 1950s helping Europe rebuild, partially because he felt guilty for not being successful in his attempts to stop the horrors of the previous decade. From 1961 to 1970 he realized that marijuana was no match for his body’s chemistry, so he gave up on an attempt to be a hippy and fought in the Vietnam War on the side of the Vietcong. By the 1970s he was done with heroics. It was this last part of the century that seemed to put the nail in his metaphoric co n. Émilien had already seen most of the world and knew many of its languages and people, but he never managed to help just as he hadn’t helped his brother. Émilien moved every decade to a different location where he was either a bartender or a blackjack dealer or both. These were, ironically, his favorite decades to date. It was the first time he let his grief and self-loathing envelop him, and he realized it felt good to stop trying to help. He just was. Every day was another day, was another day.

          For reasons he couldn’t quite explain to himself, he chose to move back to his home country this decade. It was his first time in France since he left for Russia two hundred years prior with the exception of one terrible week in the 1820s. He could still feel his mother’s presence, an aura which only intensified his self hatred for letting her down and imagining how she felt when she was told both her sons had died — a falsehood he never contradicted.

          His morning routine complete, Émilien walked out the door and set out for the new decade’s job. He wished he’d known that people who order coffee during the day were so much less pleasant than people who order liquor at night.

 

Right, left, right, left

Right, left, right, left

The anticipation heightened

 

Somewhere in Russia, 1812

          Many people have tried to describe war, but the screams and cries that ll the air never seem to be accurately retold. Émilien was fighting for his life, and he was scared. Bodies and blood stained the ground; the air had a foul stench. It was no longer about France and Russia — it was about how he could survive.

          The fighting came out of nowhere. Napoleon had wanted a battle, and the Russians finally decided to give him one. Moscow was so close and yet so far away. Émilien searched for his brother in the chaos.

          An unarmed Russian attacked Émilien, and he fought back, fighting fist to fist. Several heavy blows to the head later, and the man stopped moving. The humanity in him wanted to scream, but the soldier in him felt only triumph.

          Suddenly, Émilien heard a familiar cry. He turned around just in time to watch a bullet tear through his brother’s abdomen. Rage filled him, clouding his thoughts. He ran at the perpetrator and suddenly felt himself falling, gasping, reaching. It was as if everything was in slow motion. People carried on around him as his eyes blurred. His hand finally ran across the wound. He did all he could to crawl the half meter to his brother, his chest feeling heavier and heavier. He breathed a breath that tasted like re, placing his arm over his brother in a quasi hug. He wanted to say something to break the silence from the day before but could not find the strength. Émilien took one last glance at Grégoire’s vacant face before closing his own eyes.

 

Paris, 2012

          “Monsieur, my coffee,” the customer said impatiently.

          Émilien woke himself from his fog, “Sorry.”

          “Alright, but remember that some of us have important things to get to.”

          Émilien bent over pretending to reach for more cream and slyly spit in the man’s coffee. He straightened himself, put the lid on the coffee, handed it to the man with a smile, and took o his apron to leave for the day.

          Émilien walked into the rainy, crowded street and sighed, starting towards his usual spot for dinner. Another day and another ham sandwich because after a couple hundred years even food loses its fun. Émilien wasted time walking around the city until it seemed an appropriate time to head to the bar.

          He spent hours at the same bar every night. With his body’s chemistry, the alcohol he drank metabolized before he could get drunk. Apparently immortality came with some sort of healing power. He imagined this was also the reason he stayed in such good shape, never got sick, and could slit his wrists without dying. The last was something he only bothered to try once. He wasn’t suicidal anymore, but couldn’t tell if it was because he no longer wanted to die or had succumbed to the fact that he really couldn’t.

          The bar filled with patrons, but the night felt different. Four beers and two hours later he noticed a commotion by the door. At least five women were standing around a man whom Émilien had never seen before, and he understood why the women were so interested when he saw the man’s clear blue eyes, wavy blonde hair, and expensive suit.

          “Really? A suit?” Émilien asked.

          “I wish I were him,” the bartender said in response to Émilien’s comment.

          “Not me,” Émilien remarked. “A bunch of shallow women fawning? I’d rather have peace and quiet.”

          “I can’t quite figure you out,” the bartender said. “All these nights at my bar and you never leave with anyone, even when it’s obvious that you can.”

          Émilien shrugged, all the while never taking his eyes o the mysterious blonde. His skin was as white as Émilien’s, but Émilien was almost certain his own complexion was due to his body’s unique chemistry.

          Émilien noticed how white, straight, and perfect the man’s teeth were, too, and wondered how he had not noticed them earlier. And then he realized, through the crowd of women, the man was looking straight at him and smiling.

 

Red, black, black, white, blue, green

Red, black, black, white, blue, green

A smile from the black

 

Émilien smiled in response.

 

Somewhere in Russia, 1812

          Everything was so still. Émilien gasped for air and rolled onto his back. He could not remember what was going on. Then he saw his brother’s body next to him, and it all came back.

          He rolled over and vomited, tears streamed down his cheeks. Why was he not dead too? His hand instinctively went to his chest. There was a slowly fading mark, but no blood and no fatal wound. He closed his brother’s eyes and stood up.

          The smell was nauseating and the cold of Russia hit him hard. Someone had taken his jacket and his weapon. There were so many bodies, so many sons, husbands, brothers, and friends. All were dead, every last one of them. Émilien could not comprehend what was happening as he stood in painful solitude.

          Everything was so still that he noticed the faint movement of a
body meters away from him. It was a Russian. Émilien walked over and kneeled next to the man who was struggling for air. The humanity in him took over. He pulled open the man’s jacket and saw the wound in his lower abdomen, a good location as far as wounds go. The man opened his eyes and looked right at Émilien. He looked confused and scared. As if suddenly noticing Émilien’s uniform, he started to struggle.

          “No, do not waste your energy on that. I will not hurt you.” 

          The man immediately calmed, too weak to protest.

 

Paris, 2012

          Émilien held his breath as he watched the man push through the crowd of women, walking toward him. He walked like a high ranking soldier, not like the soldiers of contemporary wars who did not see war as an art form.

          “Xavier,” the man said as he stuck out his hand.

          “Émilien,” he reciprocated, nally breathing again. He shook Xavier’s hand and saw the women across the room exchanged ba ed glances.

          “Let’s go,” Xavier said with a smile as he nodded towards the door. Émilien had only talked to customers and restaurant workers for years now. He had no other friends and always shrugged o interactions like these. Émilien sat still while formulating a response.

          “Now,” Xavier said, a sparkle in his eyes and a con dence about him. It was as if he knew Émilien would accept.

          The man’s angelic aura was the opposite of Émilien’s. He saw the bartender look at them curiously before following Xavier into the cold.

          “You have no idea who I am, do you?” Xavier said with a laugh.

          “No, not at all,” Émilien replied.

          “Do you want the abbreviated version or the long version?”

          “Where are we going exactly?” Émilien asked, ignoring the question.

          “Good, the long version it is then. Here is my car, and where we are going is a surprise. Please get in,” Xavier said, opening the door for Émilien before getting in. Xavier whispered directions to the driver as he got in the back next to Émilien.

          “You have a driver?” Émilien asked. For the first time in over a hundred years, Émilien felt excitement and desire. He looked at Xavier and felt himself grinning back at the white teeth he saw.

          “My story starts in 1972,” Xavier said.

 

The colors are now a sea

That seems to open its mouth

He doesn’t know how to swim

But he takes the plunge

 

Somewhere in Russia, 1812

          Émilien watched as the Russian slowly opened his eyes. After he had dressed the man’s wound, he carried him a little ways into the woods so as to get away from the bodies. He had laid the Russian at on the ground next to the small re he started, but it had been well over a day and Émilien started to lose hope.

          “My name is Émilien. What is your name?”

          The Russian looked confused and pained. Émilien realized that this man spoke no French and tried a different tactic. He pointed at himself, “Émilien.”

          “Fredek,” the wounded man said.

          “I have some food. I searched the packs of the men in the eld. Are you hungry?” Émilien put his hand to his mouth so as to mimic eating.

          “Oui.”

          “Ah, a French word. I am guessing that is the only one you know.” Émilien gave Fredek some food and watched as he slowly ate. It seemed so strange that this was a man he was supposed to kill in battle. He looked no older than Émilien and seemed just as sad.

          Fredek said something in Russian before pointing to Émilien, wagging his finger and then motioning to sleep.

          “No, I cannot sleep. It’s my fault, you know. I could have saved him. I should have at least tried to do something.” Émilien started to cry and Fredek put his hand on Émilien’s before saying something else in Russian. They sat there together in a silence punctuated only by occasional sobs.

 

Paris, 2012

          It turns out their destination was this secluded spot in the wilderness outside the city. Xavier described it as his favorite spot because of the clear stars and relative quietness despite its proximity to the city.

          On the ride over, Émilien heard most of Xavier’s life story: he was forty years old and had grown up in the South of France. When he was twenty he moved to Paris to pursue an acting career. Apparently Xavier was quite the celebrity but Émilien rarely paid attention to the social culture around him, so it makes sense he did not know Xavier was currently starring in two movies. Xavier had described all the movies and auditions, but Émilien was more shocked by other aspects of his life such as Xavier’s family.

          “Tell me about your mother,” Émilien said.

          “Ah, my mother,” Xavier said. “She was beautiful, really beautiful. She loved to sing; I think that is where I got my voice from. Each night she would sing me to sleep. When she died I promised myself I would sing every day so that her voice could live on.”

          “Oh, I am sorry for your loss. Was it recent?” Émilien asked.

          “No, not at all. She died when I was fifteen. It was the worst day of my life. She had just sung to me, but I lay in bed awake. I normally went right to sleep when she sang to me, but something felt wrong that day. I heard the front door open and heard my father’s voice. My father had abandoned us when I was very young and I only saw him once a year at Christmas. But this was July. I went to my door to listen, and I heard yelling. I slowly crept down the stairs and peered into the living room. I saw them arguing, my mother still trying to use a hushed tone so as not to wake me. Something was wrong and I felt like I should run into the room, but I didn’t. My father stuck out his hand and struck my mother and then again and again. She cried out for someone to help her, but I didn’t. I just could not move. Finally she stopped screaming and moving, and my father fled.”

          Émilien was taken aback.
          “It’s alright Émilien. I am a famous actor; you could have found that on my Wikipedia page. One day, I just finally realized that I could not blame myself for what happened. I did not kill my mother and intervening might have led to my death as well. My father killed himself the next day.”

          Émilien did not understand how Xavier was so at ease but still felt a similarity between them. “Both my parents are dead too.”

          “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” Xavier said.

          “My father died in battle, and I believe my mother died of a broken heart.”

          “Ah yes, a broken heart will try to kill most of us at some point. Your father was a soldier, which war?”

           Émilien was caught off guard. The day had been so strange, and he had never been so honest or had someone be so honest with him. Without much hesitation he replied, “One of Napoleon’s battles.”

          Xavier just sat in silence as Émilien realized the absurdity of his answer. It felt strangely good to harbor one less secret though. He added, “My mother’s heart broke when she heard that both me and my brother were killed. I promised I would keep him safe, but I didn’t.”

          Xavier did not question this impossible answer when he finally spoke, “My home is not far from here, would you mind if we went there?”

          “Alright,” Émilien said.

          After a silent car ride they arrived at a magnificent house. Xavier sat on a chair in the living room and Émilien sat on the couch. When Xavier finally opened his mouth again, it was to sing.

 

One hundred, ninety-nine, ninety-eight, ninety-seven

They passed too quick to count
The colors now with faces

 

Somewhere in Russia, 1812

          A few weeks had passed. Émilien had made a small shelter for the two men, but it was still very cold, and food was becoming scarce. Fredek had seemed to gain strength and his spirits had risen. Émilien could
not say the same about himself. He knew they could not stay here much longer, but he did not know where to go. He should be dead. He wished he were dead.

          “Maybe a game?” Fredek said. The men had a lot of time to teach each other their respective languages. Both were now capable of short conversations and expressing basic feelings.

          “No, we must develop a plan,” Émilien said. Fredek looked confused and Émilien realized that he needed to simplify the sentence, “To where from here?”

          Fredek was quick to respond, “My mother.”

          Émilien nodded. He knew that this would be the first place he’d go too, if he could. Things were too complicated now though. What was he going to say about his brother — that he broke his promise and didn’t protect him? How was he going to get back to France on his own? It was far, and he did not know the way. What if they told his mother he was presumed dead before he could say otherwise? There were too many questions, and Émilien did not have any answers.

          “To your mother,” he said as he deconstructed the camp. Fredek seemed confused by Émilien’s suddenness, but he helped pack up anyway. After what Émilien had done for him he would follow him anywhere.

 

Paris, 2012

          Émilien looked at the clock. It was one in the afternoon. “My god, I actually slept.”

          “Yes you did,” Xavier said from the other side of the room where he was reading the paper. “Quite a while I might add.”

          “You don’t understand. I don’t sleep. I haven’t slept since my brother died.”

          “And when was that exactly?”

          Émilien paused before deciding to be entirely truthful to Xavier. He might as well be to at least one person in his life. “1812,” he said.

          “I want to say I think you’re crazy, but I don’t — I don’t know why I was in the bar last night. I just felt an urge to go someplace different and to get away from all the cameras and fans. As you could tell by the group of women around me, I did not entirely manage that, but there you were in the corner. You reminded me so much of myself after my mother died. Your grief was visible from all angles, and I thought I could help you. I had been there before. I suppose that the fact you are telling me you are over two hundred years old is a bit shocking, but everyone has a past.” Xavier laughed at this last part.

          “You are taking this so lightly,” Émilien said in bewilderment. “What I am telling you is impossible. What I am telling you I have never told anyone. ” Émilien said, infuriated now by Xavier’s casual tone.

          “Even if I wanted to back away I can’t now. I’m already too attached to you Émilien. You are something special,” Xavier said as he smiled.

          Émilien paused for a moment and then continued his story — how he felt when he watched the bullet tear through his brother, what it was like to wake up in a eld of dead bodies, how he walked away from Fredek after they kissed. He told Xavier all the major events of his more than two hundred years of life — how he finally made it back to France and saw his mother from a distance, how the grief had changed her appearance, and how he watched every day for a week building the courage to speak to her. When he finally woke her, all he found was a stiff corpse. He told him what it was like to wander for decades and see the world, yet not feel a thing.

          Émilien talked all day, and Xavier just sat and listened. The story finally came to an end, but the moment transpired into much more.

          The night climaxed in Xavier’s romantic embrace with Émilien. The two shared a mystical kiss — one that, when they woke up the next day lying close to each other, neither said a word about. Nor did they speak of Émilien’s peculiar past.

 

Four, three, two, one

He hit and stood up.

Then offered his hand

 

Somewhere in Russia, 1812

          The two men traveled for weeks. Émilien had changed into the uniform of a Russian soldier that he had found on a discarded body so as not to attract attention. They had to travel slowly because of Fredek’s injury and the onset of the Russian winter. Fredek had to stop often, but Émilien never tired. He argured that if his body wouldn’t let him rest when he should have died, then he probably wasn’t going to be able to truly rest for a very long time. Émilien also barely seemed to feel the cold anymore.

          A warmness towards Fredek thawed Émilien’s hardened insides. In reality, he did not want Fredek to go home and wished the journey were longer because he would not know what to do without Fredek. Fredek had said something in a mix of Russian and French about Émilien staying with his family, but Émilien knew it was not possible — there would be too many questions, and he would be a walking burden who barely spoke the language.

          Fredek suddenly let out a burst of Russian, smiling ear to ear. “Here,” he said.

          “Your house?” Émilien asked.

          “Oui,” Fredek responded. “I did not know we were so close. Wait here and I will explain to my mother,” Fredek said happily. He grabbed Émilien and kissed him. Émilien gasped and then kissed Fredek again and again. It felt natural, but he knew it was wrong. Émilien allowed himself to think for one minute that everything could work out, that he was not supposed to be dead, and that he could be with Fredek forever.

          “One moment,” Fredek said, pulling himself away.

          As soon as Fredek was inside the house Émilien hastily walked away.

 

Paris, 2012

          A month passed with no one mentioning their past. Émilien quit his job at the café and spent his time with Xavier. He accompanied him to premieres and traveled with him. It was strange to be voluntarily in the spotlight after hiding in obscurity for so long. The tabloids were buzzing about the silent man by Xavier’s side. Émilien had also started to write his autobiography. It was painful to relive everything, but he wanted to come to terms with his past.

          “There is the beautiful man all the world is gossiping about,” Xavier said as he came into the room and saw Émilien.

          “Ah, hello. How was your day?”
          “It’s not your fault.”
          “What?”
          “Your brother, it’s not your fault. I started reading your book the other day, and I know you still blame yourself, at least a little. It’s more than that too. I can see it in your eyes and your demeanor. You have come so far, but you won’t just let it go. What do I need to do so you can let go?”

          Émilien sat in silence. He was a bit shocked by Xavier’s outburst. He thought this was something they would never discuss again. His face flushed thinking about how he trusted and cared for Xavier, but how Xavier would not leave the subject alone. “I am trying to come to terms with what has happened in my life, but I will never be able to forget,” Émilien said, his voice crescendoing. Then he was screaming, “I can never forget, but you needn’t remind me!” He grabbed a knife o the kitchen counter and cut his arm deep, then showed Xavier as the skin and muscle tissues quickly, peculiarly regenerated.

          Xavier sat silently, already fully aware of his lover’s capabilities. Finally he said, “I don’t believe I asked you to forget. I’ll never forget what happened to my mother. I asked you to let it go and stop blaming yourself.”

          Émilien wept. “This is just like with Fredek. You think things can be normal, but they will never be normal. What do you expect to happen as you continue to age but I don’t? You’ll eventually die. I never can.”

          “I don’t believe that. Every life comes to an end — is that not what has affected us both so much? Let the world know. They are capable of empathy and may help you see it’s not your fault.”

 

Xavier smiles and takes the hand

Screams of ‘What is happening?’
Relief for the first time
Out of obscurity, Émilien has never felt lighter

 

Paris, 2014

          Émilien and Xavier laughed as they mulled over the plan. He was going to let the world know who he was. It took him a while to understand what Xavier had meant that one day, but now he knew.

          From the roof of the tallest building Émilien peered across the ocean of onlookers, pacing the edge, preparing himself to jump.

 

‘It was not my fault’
And with that Xavier takes a small knife out his pocket and cuts Émilien’s arm

The pain is excruciating
And it doesn’t start to heal

 

Red, black, white, blue

Red, black, white, blue

Émilien paced

 

Right, left, right, left

Right, left, right, left

The anticipation heightened

 

Red, black, black, white, blue green

Red, black, black, white, blue green

A smile from the black

Émilien smiles in response

 

The colors are now a sea

That seems to open its mouth

He doesn’t know how to swim

But he takes the plunge and lets go

 

One hundred, ninety-nine, ninety-eight, ninety-seven

They passed too quick to count
The colors now with faces

 

Four, three, two, one

He hit and stood up

Then offered his hand

 

Xavier smiles and takes the hand

Screams of ‘What is happening?’
Relief for the first time
Out of obscurity, Émilien has never felt lighter

 

‘It was not my fault.’
And with that Xavier takes a small knife out his pocket and cuts Émilien’s arm

The pain is excruciating
And it doesn’t start to heal.

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