In 1999 I began work on my very first novel. It took me four years to complete; a 93,000 word epic about 6 friends coming of age in a small French town I’d fallen in love with many years before. I edited the book now and again, but overall it seemed far too intimate to do anything with. I printed a copy and put it on a shelf. “A Perfect Place,” takes place years from now, the world at war with America. a virulent nationalist fervor, led by a particular demagogue and championed by a criminal sweeps through town, observed by a dying university professor who believes all human history can be described and predicted using the template of the French Revolution. Dusting off the novel late last night I was stunned at how closely I described what is happening to our nation, and what may lay ahead. In this excerpt two of the characters are faced with going off to war:
He was waiting for Antonio and David. Rather he was waiting for Antonio and having doubts whether David would actually show after the other day. The note they left at his door went unanswered, but David had always been a little flighty in Bastien’s opinion, so anything was likely to happen. Bastien, however, was not placing too many hopes on David showing.
Antonio arrived first, climbing up through the skylight, waving when he saw Bastien. He scooted onto the ledge beside Bastien, and asked where David was. Bastien only shrugged, watching the curious characters in the alley below. Antonio looked as well, the bottoms of his feet tingling as they dangled so high above the ground.
“What’s the show today?”
“Oo-la-la. Even I would tune out for her.”
“Why, like to borrow one her dresses?” Bastien grinned. Antonio was suddenly flustered, searching for something to say. Bastien patted his leg before Antonio could get the words out. “Good comeback. I’m only just kidding.”
“Are you always going to torture me with that?”
“You kissed me, Goddamnit.”
“And you said you loved me!”
“I, uh…” Antonio stammered.
Bastien could see that his friend was hurt and embarrassed. He threw an arm around Antonio’s shoulders. “I love you too, man.”
“Sure, for all the years we’ve been friends. You’re my best friend in the whole world, man. Even if you are a queer bird.”
“I didn’t say I was queer.”
“Well, someone who kisses other boys might want to start asking some questions, don’t you think?”
“Well, you’ll figure it out, right. Not important though, right now we have bigger things to worry about.”
Of course he was talking about the war. They were quiet for a moment, that new worry creeping into their thoughts. Antonio sighed, looked out across the hazy jumble of rooftops and power lines, catching only a glimpse of the greenish-brown river beyond.
“Ever wonder about dying?” he asked.
“Only about dying here.”
“Here or anywhere?”
“Anywhere but here.”
“Don’t think about it. It will just make you sick.”
“How is that possible? Maybe we will be killed or crippled, come back as hopeless as these others.” Antonio motioned to a table of veterans throwing catcalls at Bastien’s blushing Sister.
“Maybe you’ll get cancer tomorrow.”
“You could get hit by lightening, or drown in the river. Do you worry about those things too?”
“I worry about things you cannot even imagine, my friend.”
“Do you worry that I will throw you from this roof, if you don’t shut up?”
“I am now,” he grinned.
“Look there’s a rat,” Bastien pointed out the furry creature scurrying through the tables. An elderly man and wife saw it and smiled at one another. Both boys could see the holo-tech modules in their ears.
“I bet the holo-tech program will make that old couple there think that it’s an adorable poodle.”
“Disgusting. I’d rather have a rat.”
“They know how to fight, how to survive. With a rat you know he is out for himself. Nobody will mess with him unless he wants a real fight. That’s who you get behind, protect his ass. In the war, I intend to be a rat.”
“I’ll be behind you, Little rat,” Antonio nudged with his shoulder.
Bastien looked at him for a long moment, judging him in a way that almost made him want to retreat for it. Instead, he rose to meet it, felt himself becoming a man.
“I know you will. And yes, I do think about dying.”
Antonio thought to say something, to ask him, but the effort just seemed too small. It was enough that Bastien was thinking about death that made Antonio not feel so alone any longer.
“And David?” Antonio asked.
Bastien could only shake his head.
“I went by his flat earlier,” he said. “The note was gone.”
“Maybe he saw it?”
“I spoke with his crazy mother. Well, spoke at her while she stared at me like I was speaking English or something.”
“Will we be the three Musketeers?”
“He will not come with us,” Bastien said recalling their last time at the chateau.
“I had that impression, too.”
“David is on another road, perhaps more deadly than ours, and certainly more dangerous for the soul.”
Antonio nodded in reluctant agreement, looked admiringly at his friend. Bastien pretended not to notice, looked off across the town. He tried to imagine the two of them at war, wondered what it would be like for each of them, but could not quite form proper thoughts. The war was too real now to ponder, to imagine themselves in the news images from the frontlines, or to think that they could soon end up like those wretched souls in the Hotel des Invalides, or upon that hill at St-Cirq Lapopie. It came to them as this undefined monolithic thing, something which could neither be understood or reckoned with, only faced as confidently as their untested hearts could manage.