Y’know when you’ve felt something all your life, but never known how to explain it? So much that you just sort of assumed it was the type of feeling that couldn’t be explained, until one day you’re reading a book and it’s basically perfect, and is exactly how you’ve felt for as long as you can remember? Yeah..
From then on, when I was not hunting, my life was with Nicolas and “our conversation.”
Spring was approaching, the mountains were dappled with green, the apple orchard starting back to life. And Nicolas and I were always together.
We took long walks up the rocky slopes, had our bread and wine in the sun on the grass, roamed south through the ruins of an old monastery. We hung about in my rooms or sometimes climbed to the battlements. And we went back to our room at the inn when we were too drunk and too loud to be tolerated by others.
And as the weeks passed we revealed more and more of ourselves to each other. Nicolas told me about his childhood at school, the little disappointments of his early years, those whom he had known and loved.
And I started to tell him the painful things — and finally the old disgrace of running off with the Italian players.
It came to that one night when we were in the inn again, and we were drunk as usual. In fact we were at that moment of drunkenness that the two of us had come to call the Golden Moment, when everything made sense. We always tried to stretch out that moment, and then inevitably one of us would confess, “I can’t follow anymore, I think the Golden Moment’s passed.”
On this night, looking out the window at the moon over the mountains, I said that at the Golden Moment it was not so terrible that we weren’t in Paris, that we weren’t at the Opera or the Comedie, waiting for the curtain to rise.
“You and the theaters of Paris,” he said to me. “No matter what we’re talking about you bring it back to the theaters and the actors — ‘
His brown eyes were very big and trusting. And even drunk as he was, he looked spruce in his red velvet Paris frock coat.
“Actors and actresses make magic,” I said. “They make things happen on the stage; they invent; they create.”
“Wait until you see the sweat streaming down their painted faces in the glare of the footlights,” he answered.
“Ah, there you go again,” I said. “And you, the one who gave up everything to play the violin.”
He got terribly serious suddenly, looking off as if he were weary of his own struggles.
“That I did,” he confessed.
Even now the whole village knew it was war between him and his father. Nicki wouldn’t go back to school in Paris.
“You make life when you play,” I said. “You create something from nothing. You make something good happen. And that is blessed to me.”
“I make music and it makes me happy,” he said. “What is blessed or good about that?”
I waved it away as I always did his cynicism now.
“I’ve lived all these years among those who create nothing and change nothing,” I said. “Actors and musicians — they’re saints to me.”
“Saints?” he asked. “Blessedness? Goodness? Lestat, your language baffles me.”
I smiled and shook my head.
“You don’t understand. I’m speaking of the character of human beings, not what they believe in. I’m speaking of those who won’t accept a useless lie, just because they were born to it. I mean those who would be something better. They work, they sacrifice, they do things…”
He was moved by this, and I was a little surprised that I’d said it. Yet I felt I had hurt him somehow.
“There is blessedness in that,” I said. “There’s sanctity. And God or no God, there is goodness in it. I know this the way I know the mountains are out there, that the stars shine.”
He looked sad for me. And he looked hurt still. But for the moment I didn’t think of him.
I was thinking of the conversation I had had with my mother and my perception that I couldn’t be good and defy my family. But if I believed what I was saying …
As if he could read my mind, he asked:
“But do you really believe those things?”
“Maybe yes. Maybe no,” I said. I couldn’t bear to see him look so sad.
And I think more on account of that than anything else I told him the whole story of how I’d run off with the players. I told him what I’d never told anyone, not even my mother, about those few days and the happiness they’d given me.
“Now, how could it not have been good,” I asked, “to give and receive such happiness? We brought to life that town when we put on our play. Magic, I tell you. It could heal the sick, it could.”
He shook his head. And I knew there were things he wanted to say which out of respect for me he was leaving to silence.
“You don’t understand, do you?” I asked.
“Lestat, sin always feels good,” he said gravely. “Don’t you see that? Why do you think the Church has always condemned the players? It was from Dionysus, the wine god, that the theater came. You can read that in Aristotle. And Dionysus was a god that drove men to debauchery. It felt good to you to be on that stage because it was abandoned and lewd — the age-old service of the god of the grape — and you were having a high time of it defying your father — ‘
“No, Nicki. No, a thousand times no.”
“Lestat, we’re partners in sin,” he said, smiling finally.
“We’ve always been. We’ve both behaved badly, both been utterly disreputable. It’s what binds us together.”
Now it was my turn to look sad and hurt. And the Golden Moment was gone beyond reprieve — unless something new was to happen.
“Come on,” I said suddenly. “Get your violin, and we’ll go off somewhere in the woods where the music won’t wake up anybody. We’ll see if there isn’t some goodness in it.”
“You’re a madman!” he said. But he grabbed the unopened bottle by the neck and headed for the door immediately.
I was right behind him.
When he came out of his house with the violin, he said:
“Let’s go to the witches’ place! Look, it’s a half moon. Plenty of light. We’ll do the devil’s dance and play for the spirits of the witches.”
I laughed. I had to be drunk to go along with that. “We’ll reconsecrate the spot,” I insisted, “with good and pure music.”
It had been years and years since I’d walked in the witches’ place.
The moon was bright enough, as he’d said, to see the charred stakes in their grim circle and the ground in which nothing ever grew even one hundred years after the burnings. The new saplings of the forest kept their distance. And so the wind struck the clearing, and above, clinging to the rocky slope, the village hovered in darkness.
A faint chill passed over me, but it was the mere shadow of the anguish I’d felt as a child when I’d heard those awful words “roasted alive,” when I had imagined the suffering.
Nicki’s white lace shoes shone in the pale light, and he struck up a gypsy song at once and danced round in a circle as he played it.
I sat on a broad burned stump of tree and drank from the bottle. And the heartbreaking feeling came as it always did with the music. What sin was there, I thought, except to live out my life in this awful place? And pretty soon I was silently and unobtrusively crying.
Though it seemed the music had never stopped, Nicki was comforting me. We sat side by side and he told me that the world was full of inequities and that we were prisoners, he and I, of this awful corner of France, and someday we would break out of it. And I thought of my mother in the castle high up the mountain, and the sadness numbed me until I couldn’t bear it, and Nicki started playing again, telling me to dance and to forget everything.
Yes, that’s what it could make you do, I wanted to say. Is that sin? How can it be evil? I went after him as he danced in a circle. The notes seemed to be flying up and out of the violin as if they were made of gold. I could almost see them flashing. I danced round and round him now and he sawed away into a deeper and more frenzied music. I spread the wings of the fur lined cape and threw back my head to look at the moon. The music rose all around me like smoke, and the witches’ place was no more. There was only the sky above arching down to the mountains.
We were closer for all this in the days that followed.
But a few nights later, something altogether extra-ordinary happened.
It was late. We were at the inn again and Nicolas, who was walking about the room and gesturing dramatically, declared what had been on our minds all along.
That we should run away to Paris, even if we were penniless, that it was better than remaining here. Even if we lived as beggars in Paris! It had to be better.
Of course we had both been building up to this.
“Well, beggars in the streets it might be, Nicki,” I said. “Because I’ll be damned in hell before I’ll play the penniless country cousin begging at the big houses.”
“Do you think I want you to do that?” he demanded. “I mean run away, Lestat,” he said. “Spite them, every one of them.”
Did I want to go on like this? So our fathers would curse us. After all, our life was meaningless here.
Of course, we both knew this running off together would be a thousand times more serious than what I had done before. We weren’t boys anymore, we were men. Our fathers would curse us, and this was something neither of us could laugh off.
Also we were old enough to know what poverty meant.
“What am I going to do in Paris when we get hungry?” I asked. “Shoot rats for supper?”
“I’ll play my violin for coins on the boulevard du Temple if I have to, and you can go to the theaters!” Now he was really challenging me. He was saying, Is it all words with you, Lestat?
“With your looks, you know, you’d be on the stage in the boulevard du Temple in no time.”
I loved this change in “our conversation”! I loved seeing him believe we could do it. All his cynicism had vanished, even though he did throw in the word “spite” every ten words or so. It seemed possible suddenly to do all this.
And this notion of the meaninglessness of our lives here began to enflame us.
I took up the theme again that music and acting were good because they drove back chaos. Chaos was the meaninglessness of day-to-day life, and if we were to die now, our lives would have been nothing but meaninglessness. In fact, it came to me that my mother dying soon was meaningless and I confided in Nicolas what she had said. “I’m perfectly horrified. I’m afraid.”
Well, if there had been a Golden Moment in the room it was gone now. And something different started to happen.
I should call it the Dark Moment, but it was still high-pitched and full of eerie light. We were talking rapidly, cursing this meaninglessness, and when Nicolas at last sat down and put his head in his hands, I took some glamourous and hearty swigs of wine and went to pacing and gesturing as he had done before.
I realized aloud in the midst of saying it that even when we die we probably don’t find out the answer as to why we were ever alive. Even the avowed atheist probably thinks that in death he’ll get some answer. I mean God will be there, or there won’t be anything at all.
“But that’s just it,” I said, “we don’t make any discovery at that moment! We merely stop! We pass into nonexistence without ever knowing a thing.” I saw the universe, a vision of the sun, the planets, the stars, black night going on forever. And I began to laugh.
“Do you realize that! We’ll never know why the hell any of it happened, not even when it’s over!” I shouted at Nicolas, who was sitting back on the bed, nodding and drinking his wine out of a flagon. “We’re going to die and not even know. We’ll never know, and all this meaninglessness will just go on and on and on. And we won’t any longer be witnesses to it. We won’t have even that little bit of power to give meaning to it in our minds. We’ll just be gone, dead, dead, dead, without ever knowing!”
But I had stopped laughing. I stood still and I understood perfectly what I was saying!
There was no judgment day, no final explanation, no luminous moment in which all terrible wrongs would be made right, all horrors redeemed.
The witches burnt at the stake would never be avenged.
No one was ever going to tell us anything!
No, I didn’t understand it at this moment. I saw it! And I began to make the single sound: “Oh!” I said it again “Oh!” and then I said it louder and louder and louder, and I dropped the wine bottle on the floor. I put my hands to my head and I kept saying it, and I could see my mouth opened in that perfect circle that I had described to my mother and I kept saying, “Oh, oh, oh!”
I said it like a great hiccupping that I couldn’t stop. And Nicolas took hold of me and started shaking me, saying:
I couldn’t stop. I ran to the window, unlatched it and swung out the heavy little glass, and stared at the stars. I couldn’t stand seeing them. I couldn’t stand seeing the pure emptiness, the silence, the absolute absence of any answer, and I started roaring as Nicolas pulled me back from the windowsill and pulled shut the glass.
“You’ll be all right,” he said over and over. Someone was beating on the door. It was the innkeeper, demanding why we had to carry on like this.
“You’ll feel all right in the morning,” Nicolas kept insisting. “You just have to sleep.”
We had awakened everyone. I couldn’t be quiet. I kept making the same sound over again. And I ran out of the inn with Nicolas behind me, and down the street of the village and up towards the castle with Nicolas trying to catch up with me, and through the gates and up into my room.
“Sleep, that’s what you need,” he kept saying to me desperately. I was lying against the wall with my hands over my ears, and that sound kept coming. “Oh, oh, oh.”
“In the morning,” he said, “it will be better.”
Well, it was not better in the morning.
And it was no better by nightfall, and in fact it got worse with the coming of the darkness.
I walked and talked and gestured like a contented human being, but I was flayed. I was shuddering. My teeth were chattering. I couldn’t stop it. I was staring at everything around me in horror. The darkness terrified me. The sight of the old suits of armor in the hall terrified me. I stared at the mace and the flail I’d taken out after the wolves. I stared at the faces of my brothers. I stared at everything, seeing behind every configuration of color and light and shadow the same thing: death. Only it wasn’t just death as I’d thought of it before, it was death the way I saw it now. Real death, total death, inevitable, irreversible, and resolving nothing!
And in this unbearable state of agitation I commenced to do something I’d never done before. I turned to those around me and questioned them relentlessly.
“But do you believe in God?” I asked my brother Augustin. “How can you live if you don’t!”
“But do you really believe in anything!” I demanded of my blind father. “If you knew you were dying at this very minute, would you expect to see God or darkness! Tell me.”
“You’re mad, you’ve always been mad!” he shouted. “Get out of this house! You’ll drive us all crazy.”
He stood up, which was hard for him, being crippled and blind, and he tried to throw his goblet at me and naturally he missed.
I couldn’t look at my mother. I couldn’t be near her. I didn’t want to make her suffer with my questions. I went down to the inn. I couldn’t bear to think of the witches’ place. I would not have walked to that end of the village for anything! I put my hands over my ears and shut my eyes. “Go away!” I said at the thought of those who’d died like that without ever, ever understanding anything.
The second day it was no better.
And it wasn’t any better by the end of the week either.
I ate, drank, slept, but every waking moment was pure panic and pure pain. I went to the village priest and demanded did he really believe the Body of Christ was present on the altar at the Consecration. And after hearing his stammered answers, and seeing the fear in his eyes, I went away more desperate than before.
“But how do you live, how do you go on breathing and moving and doing things when you know there is no explanation?” I was raving finally. And then Nicolas said maybe the music would make me feel better. He would play the violin.
I was afraid of the intensity of it. But we went to the orchard and in the sunshine Nicolas played every song he knew. I sat there with my arms folded and my knees drawn up, my teeth chattering though we were right in the hot sun, and the sun was glaring off the little polished violin, and I watched Nicolas swaying into the music as he stood before me, the raw pure sounds swelling magically to fill the orchard and tile valley, though it wasn’t magic, and Nicolas put his arms around me finally and we just sat there silent, and then he said very softly, “Lestat, believe me, this will pass.”
“Play again,” I said. “The music is innocent.”
Nicolas smiled and nodded. Pamper the madman.
And I knew it wasn’t going to pass, and nothing for the moment could make me forget, but what I felt was inexpressible gratitude for the music, that in this horror there could be something as beautiful as that.
You couldn’t understand anything; and you couldn’t change anything. But you could make music like that. And I felt the same gratitude when I saw the village children dancing, when I saw their arms raised and their knees bent, and their bodies turning to the rhythm of the songs they sang. I started to cry watching them.
I wandered into the church and on my knees I leaned against the wall and I looked at the ancient statues and I felt the same gratitude looking at the finely carved fingers and the noses and the ears and the expressions on their faces and the deep folds in their garments, and I couldn’t stop myself from crying.
At least we had these beautiful things, I said. Such goodness.
But nothing natural seemed beautiful to me now! The very sight of a great tree standing alone in a field could make me tremble and cry out. Fill the orchard with music.
And let me tell you a little secret. It never did pass, really.
From The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice.