They went through into the parlor. The last long tendrils of setting sun bored into the chinks of books, glinting like polished armor. The nubby hairs of the worn velveteen upholstery refracted the twilight glow, while the last hot breath of afternoon tugged the bottoms of the curtains. Ferdinand was startled to recognize the resemblance to his dreams.
He sat beside Helena on the sofa. Jordan adjusted the volume of the wireless. It was a re-broadcast of the summer highlights from the People’s Opera.
Babic lit a cigarette and offered one to the Vice Chairman. He declined.
“It’s strange,” Ferdinand said, looking around the room. “—This time of day. The world seems less solid, as if one might slip out of place or time—into an entirely different reality—without ever realizing it.”
Sometimes I am really, really proud of the Mementos inspiration blog.
In which Detective Marala Schmidt makes an important appearance in regular Mementos.
Suddenly back on the street, Ferdinand was at a loss for where to go. The Metropolitan Police had begun to disperse the crowds, so that the density of citizens was not what it had been an hour before. Up and down the avenues, he could make out the shapes of overturned cars and other debris. The dust from a hundred thousand shoes, so foreign in that manicured city, hung above them in the air. The vista of Kaiser Straße opened before him like the specter of an ancient cathedral: the motes swirling in its abandoned vault, sampling the updrafts and down-swells before settling on the backs of the masses huddled below.
Even with the revellers driven from the street, their cries reverberated through the neighborhood like an echo chamber. So loud was the rumble, Ferdinand felt he might turn a corner and be confronted by the sea, eating away the facades of Kambrücke as easily as it had the cliffs of Rügen. He pushed through the outer edge of the loitering crowd and stumbled into the white noise of that emptiness. The release of pressure on his sweat-dampened skin felt like falling into cold water. The air was thin; it bit his lungs, like stepping through the Barrier into the Wild. His stomach lurched and his head swam, as if he had just taken a dose of sunshield.
Even at his best, Kambrücke was unfamiliar to him; so detached was it from the city in which he’d been raised. To his horror, he realized he did not know the way back to Jordan’s family’s apartment. He pressed North instead, hoping to cross a rail line he could ride to Quartier des Jouettes. Once he was there, he might collect his thoughts. In the meantime, he just kept walking.
Ferdinand sat in the garden, his wireless out of arm’s reach on the table. The sound of the city filtered down through the open windows of the other apartments. Kambrücke rose around him like the walls of a blushing canyon. Every last brick had been laid by human hands, but it looked as wild as if it had been whittled by time and water.
Jordan came through the glass double doors from the living room.
“Have you heard the news?” she asked.
“No,” Ferdinand said, reaching for his wireless. “I’ve just been sitting here, admiring the view. What’s happened?”
“The State Police in Amsterdam have surrendered. The students are emptying the jails as we speak. The photographs are all over the wireless.”
Ferdinand could hardly believe it.
“Here,” Jordan said, handing him her wireless. “See for yourself.”
The scenes in the press showed jubilant survivors—indigenous Amsterdamer weeping in each other’s arms; holding flags above their heads; raising the crest of fens above the territory government building. State Police, their weapons confiscated, gazed at the crowds out the windows of trains bound back for the city. Ferdinand was overcome by emotion.
“They’ve done it!” he said. “They’ve really done it.”
“Not alone,” she said. “This is your victory, too.”
“No,” Ferdinand said, “Not yet. For me, the hard work is just starting. But this is a great day for Amsterdam.”
“Yes,” Jordan said. “It really is. Come into the kitchen,” she added, taking hold of the Vice Chairman’s hand. “We should celebrate properly.”
She poured champagne into the Vice Chairman’s glass. The cool darkness of the tiny apartment felt appropriate to the moment, like the rich velvet lining of a jewelry box. He sat at the square kitchen table and admired the china in the cabinet on the wall as the bubbles ran up the insides of the champagne flute. Jordan sat across from him. They raised their glasses in salute.
“To the Northwest Territories,” Ferdinand said.
“Prost!” Jordan said, downing her glass with enthusiasm.
The Vice Chairman smiled.
“My god,” he said. “I can’t believe they did it.”
The clock on the wall whirred and chimed to signify the passing of another hour. Jordan played with the flowers in the arrangement at the center of the table.
“Believe it,” she said.
Ferdinand shook his head. “I can’t,” he said. “I’m too happy.”
Jordan poured more champagne into his glass.
“Then just be happy,” she said. “I won’t complain if you don’t.”
“That would be a first,” he said. “But I’ll take what I can get.” He let out a long sigh, sitting back in his chair. “What do you think they’ll do, with the Republic gone?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Jordan said. “I doubt the Amsterdamer know, either.”
“Do you think Jøberg is right?” Ferdinand asked. “Do you think they’ll refuse to speak with me?”
“That was always your gamble,” she said, “Not mine. But I hope, for your sake, that they give your ideas a chance.”
“And for their sakes?”
Jordan laughed. She refilled her glass.
“Well, it’s not up to me to decide what’s best for them,” she said. “Isn’t that the point?”
The Vice Chairman took the bottle and poured the remainder of its contents into his glass.
“I guess I’ll just have to wait and see,” he said. He took a long drink, letting the bubbles go to his head. “In the meantime, by the City, I feel fabulous.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigarette. Jordan watched as he brought the lighter to his mouth.
“I’d offer you one,” he said, getting ready to inhale, “But I’ve realized by now it’s a lost cause.”
Jordan smiled and reached out her hand.
“Nothing is a lost cause,” she said, taking the pack. She brought a cigarette to her lips and waited for a light.
“I suppose that’s what I’m supposed to have taken away from all this?” he asked, shaking his head in disbelief as she blew smoke from between her lips. “That nothing is ordained?”
“Everything is ordained,” Jordan said. “If you feel the need to ‘take something away’ from our interactions, maybe it should be the humility to recognize that you just don’t know what it will be.”
“But you do,” he said.
She laughed and looked him in the eyes. She could lock them like that when she wanted to, as if everything in the world would revolve around whatever point she commanded.
“Nonsense,” she said. “But all possibilities being equal, I’m going to fight like hell for my horse to wear the roses.”
“And you really don’t think that influences the outcome?” he asked.
“Of course it does!” Jordan said, taking a drink. “You’d be crazy to think otherwise. But fate works in mysterious ways.”
Ferdinand nodded knowingly.
“Through you?” he said, “And me?”
“And everyone,” she agreed. “After all,” she concluded with a smirk, “There’s only one person you can be, and that’s who you are.”
“Ah,” Ferdinand laughed. “But what about me? Before you got your talons in me?”
“Well,” Jordan said, pouring the last of the champagne into her glass. “Maybe you’re the exception.”
That night, when he slept, Ferdinand’s dreams were of a world completely foreign to him, stretching out across a great, blank ocean of sand. He walked into the direction opposite the sun, every step in time with a music he felt in his fingertips but could not hear. It was like electricity, raising the skin at the nape of his neck. He had the distinct impression that the ocean lay behind him, over his shoulder, but he dared not turn around to look.
There was percussion in his temples, leading him with each passing step into the emptiness. Even as he lay on his cot and dreamed, he delved deeper and deeper into it. There was a gentle undulation to its rolling dunes, completely unique from the hills of the Wild, but not unlike them in their shape and stature. They sang to him—the discordant waver of the wind above the gullies; a moan so deep and yet so imperceptible it threatened to shake his atoms into sand and deposit him where he stood.
In the intense, gaping sky there were no clouds: only ghostly figures, advancing and then receding in the infinite blueness. He called out to them in his delirium, when his throat was most parched from silence and his heart near to bursting with light. But in the end, he never got more in reply than his shadow, rising up from the path ahead, leading him onward, to insanity and darkness.
After an age long enough for him to have forgotten Jordan; forgotten Rügen; forgotten the sea; he came upon the crest of a hill that overlooked a dry riverbed. It broke the white monotony of the dunes with a palette of limitless colors, bleached from the world and collecting in the low places where the water should have been. There were pale lavenders and silvery sages; cayenne umbers and sunset pinks. The yellow and blue of the rocks shading and reflecting the sunlight gave shape to the spectrum. He would have reached out to touch them; but he felt it all with his eyes alone. His head fell away beneath him and suddenly he was very dizzy. His tongue cried out for the cool of water.
He blinked and the world righted itself; the colors of the riverbed muted slightly, like bones gone pale after months out in the sun. Squinting, he made out a figure down in the gully, pacing the smooth stones; laying his hands on the faces of the boulders.
Picking his steps carefully, Ferdinand climbed slowly down into the riverbed. From its base, the surrounding dunes seemed mountainous, like ladders propping their own way up to heaven. The figure, for his part, hardly noticed them, his attention absorbed by the stones beneath his feet. Ferdinand got very close to the man before he looked up at all. And yet, when the chin came up and the sun caught the features, hardly any surprise registered in the limpid eyes, casting aside the age of their fleshy prison.
“Hello,” the old man said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you.”
“Have I been here before?” Ferdinand asked, confusion across his face.
Ferdinand frowned. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I think I would have remembered it.”
The old man smiled.
“It is very beautiful,” he declared, nodding his head as if Ferdinand had said something supremely wise. “But it’s other things, too.”
“Where are we?” Ferdinand asked.
“Somewhere a little to the west of that mountain,” the old man said, pointing to the dune to Ferdinand’s right.
“And where is that?” the Vice Chairman pressed.
The old man shrugged.
“That’s not the question you asked me, is it?”
The city was a place where the edges of Ferdinand’s lives ran together, like points on a manifold—drawn against each other by the alchemy of time, colliding in unexpected geometries.
When he was a boy, his days had run parallel to the route connecting Standard Tower with Schloß des Meers, down the thoroughfare and into the millpond arms of the lake. He had taken his breakfast with his mother in those days, on the terrace, draped in the green fronds of palms coaxed from ancient history. When he was very young and his father had been away on Company business, he would lie beneath the breakfast table and listen as the litany of directors gave its report. The voices would murmur, on and on, and his mother would nod or scold or command—each where appropriate, for, regardless of her social behavior, in business Madame Chairman was entirely beyond reproach. Ferdinand would hold tremendously still and pretend he was a pin in a great sheet of plateen, and that the droning of the courtiers was the wireless. If he was very careful, he could almost feel their voices vibrating his electrons, shaking him back and forth, passing their signal through him and into the waiting hands of the world—but then a tray of strawberries would be set on the table. His concentration would shatter, and with it, his prophecy.
As a grown man, it was a feeling that still came up on him, unexpectedly. He would be waiting at the station in the old city: the vista of a Light Park laid out below the platform, the stretching tendrils of the buildings folding him in their embrace. The accidental sound of another passenger’s wireless would send him hurtling back, and he would be a boy again, alone under the table.
The city crossed the wires of his memory in other ways, too. The well-manicured lawns and facades of the Quartier des Jouettes enchanted him with the smell of their roses, beside which he had sat on those weekend afternoons when he and his friends had been released from their adolescent prison at Standard Academy.
They had tried so hard to be Republican teenagers, whenever the stifling veil of Company tradition was lifted and their thoughts and actions were their own. They smuggled whatever they could into their dormitories: books from Republican presses; news articles from the territories; music from the Anglo colonies, so recently incorporated. Anything illicit was the object of their desire, and they devoured what they could in the shaded secrecy of the Tower. But come Saturdays, there would be the keys to someone’s parents’ townhouse, abandoned for the weekend, promising sanctuary. Anyone who could get a pass would take the trolley down to Rue d’Jouettes Station, disembarking at the base of the sloping hill, walking up the winding avenues into the neighborhood. The cool shade of the towering oaks and the privacy of those delicate drives would transport them from the harsh reality of the Academy. Inside the gates of their friends’ homes, they would strip out of their uniforms and bathe naked in whatever ponds and pools the grounds afforded them. They played their territory music loud and sang at the top of their lungs, soaking in the sun; forgetting—if only for a moment—that it would soon be their responsibility to keep it turned on.
When they had had their fill of swimming, they would raid their shared store of civilian clothes: brightly colored pants and shoes; intricately patterned fabrics; avant garde or excessively causal cuts that would have been forbidden at Standard Tower. They tried them on like a fashion show, mixing and matching among the group until everyone was satisfied with an ensemble of the moment. After their hair and faces were sufficiently arranged, the party would make its way down to the waterfront of Lac du Cygne. They strolled the boardwalk and chatted with their fellow pedestrians, taking their dinners on the patios at the fashionable cafes. Buoyed by the ferocious innocence of their youth, they liked to believe these expeditions signified their complete assimilation into the general population. In their minds, they were indistinguishable from the Republicans and socialites among whom they moved; their disguise was flawless; the transformation absolute. But looking back, Ferdinand had all he could do not to cringe. How absurd they must have looked—the Company heirs, recognized on site by all—playing dress-up in public for everyone to see. And yet, in every generation, it must have been the same. Somewhere inside every Director was a child who had wanted nothing more than to laugh by the water: to read the books they wanted to read, sing the songs that felt to them like music; and, above all, to never become the parents who had first insisted on their silence.