A/N- Well, I've actually got more going on now that it's summer than I did during the school year, but I decided to start this anyway. I do hope I'll be able to finish it, or at least continue with more regularity than I've been exhibiting this past year. This is a twofer: basically, I received a certain challenge from pottersweetie (I think) a long, long time ago...I shan't yet say what the challenge was in case I'm unable to meet it (it was a very, very difficult one, especially for me!) but this is my effort so far. I do hope I can do it, though I'm not convinced it can be done at all. My second reason for this was someone mentioned in a review on another fic recently that they've seen many, many stories with this same basic plot. I have no idea why that inspired me to write one of my own, but I've written nearly sixty LM fanfics and every once in a while I feel the need to take a big risk. Here's my big risk! I wanted to see if I could put a different spin on a very, very familiar idea. Dun dun dun.
Oh, and the title is taken from "Totale Finsternis." I haven't yet decided exactly how relevant it is.
I never understood why Cosette didn't tend to her garden, even when we were young–"when we were young," I say, though it has only been a few years. On that night I felt like an old man already. I had only been reunited with my sainted father when he was a corpse, I had seen my closest friend and all of my acquaintances die, I had watched Cosette's father slip out of his body, and now my grandfather was unable to rise from his bed. My aunt was going to go the moment he did, I just knew it, for she had nothing else. I had nothing else but Cosette. No one I worked with knew anything more about me than I had to tell them. I was a professional Marius, Cosette's Marius, and a broken Marius, three people encased in the same skin.
My wife shall be forever the darling little girl from the park, even as her stomach grew round and the doctor advised her to lay aside her corsets. She had an eternal fount of energy bubbling up from her soul somehow, giving her that glowing smile and the ability to prance through her old garden now the way she must have done in the days before our marriage. Her hair was falling from beneath her hat and long strands slipped into her eyes; she blew them carelessly out of the way and continued to move through the overgrown underbrush behind the gate in the Rue Plumet. I suppose she would have been skipping if the bushes and weeds weren't so tangled. I heard her cry out and she broke through a spiderweb, but within a moment she was laughing and humming again.
As for me, I was content to sit on our old stone bench. My old address was still visible scratched into the wall beneath the layers of moss if you knew what to look for. When I sat that night, I moved slowly as though my knees were sore. I wondered why. I was in perfect health; the doctor had told me this after he had looked over Cosette. He said I was like my grandfather, that given the will I shall live until I am a hundred. But have I the will? That was the question I had let float in my mind for days.
We never came here during the day. It wasn't a decision either of us spoke aloud. Somehow we both knew that the evening was our time, that the garden would never be the same in the harsh glare of the sunlight. Instead we sneaked out of the house, Cosette stifling giggles at our wonderful absurdity, and together we hurried to see our old garden beneath the stars again, to watch the glow worms appear in the grass and listen to the crickets, enjoying the feeling that someone might catch as at any moment. On these nights I could easily imagine that I might look up to see a candle flicker to life upstairs, that Toussaint, long moved out after her constant fighting with Nicolette, might throw open a window and I would have to duck into a shadow just in case.
We didn't make the journey often enough. Most nights I was fully ready to sleep before the sun's light had gone from the sky. I tired easily in those days and I saw little reason to stay awake. Cosette told me to get all the sleep that I could then, for when the baby came she thought everything would be different. She promised that everything would change, but that wasn't what I wanted. I hadn't any problem with everything: my problem was with myself. Everything else was perfect.
Unless Cosette thought holding his great-grandchild could somehow cure my grandfather. The doctor saw him too. It's a matter of will, he had said. The old man was as healthy as ever he was, albeit weaker, of course. It was no coincidence that the illness began within days of the death of his last good friend from those old salons we once visited. The salons were long closed up, the hosts dead. Grandfather was the living end of a dead era, an extinct generation, and somewhere inside him, perhaps a part of him so buried that he was not aware of it, he had decided to join his old friends.
Without Cosette, I wonder if I would have joined mine.
There were several bats in the sky overhead, grey splotches barely visible beneath the dim glow of the stars. The way they were wheeling through the air reminded me of a pack of vultures.
I thought at first that she had encountered another spiderweb and I smiled. She wasn't in my sight anymore, her soft blue gown lost in the thick foliage.
Then she cried out again, and that time it sounded like my name. I pushed myself to my feet almost reluctantly, promising myself that I would find it in me to be angry with her if she was expecting me to crush a roach beneath my shoe or something equally trivial. I could see fireflies hovering just above the bushes and several moths veering away from me as I pushed through the weeds.
But then I started to wonder if something was really wrong with her, for I heard her call my name again. I wondered if she had fallen, if she had hurt the baby, if she had twisted her ankle galloping through tangled foliage like a child. By the time I saw the top of her head behind something that had been covered by a thorny vine I was certain that she was bleeding to death in the grass. My heartbeat was pulsing through my ears as I charged straight towards her.
Once I had trampled the patch of briars I could immediately see what made Cosette call for me.
Some sort of beggar was in our garden. The stench of human filth made me choke for a moment; I wondered how my wife could bear to be so close. Cosette was kneeling at the side of a pile of rags which might have been an old woman or a very small child. Whatever it was, it had a matted mess of dark hair more tangled than the underbrush. One brownish arm was extended, tough knotty skin stretched over bone, and Cosette was grasping its clawed hand in her own pretty gloves. The thing lifted its head so that its hair fell to one side and its glassy eyes, whitened like a pair of marbles, seemed to focus on me. Its face was as ravaged as the arm, almost like a decaying corpse, and as it looked at me its cheeks bunched up and its lips stretched into what could have been a smile. I was amazed to see its teeth, that none of them seemed very yellow. Perhaps the bright colouration was a trick of the thing's dark skin.
I started to address it. I have no idea what I said. I do know I intended to ask it to get out of our garden, to demand it not trespass on our property; I also know that whatever I said, it was not a full sentence. The creature seemed horribly spellbinding and I found myself unable to order my thoughts until I broke eye contact with it and focused instead on my odd little wife. She was still holding the thing's hand. Now she, too, looked up at me.
"We have to help her, Marius," she said, and at the sound of my name the thing made a noise like a cough.
I meant to say that the only way to help it at this point would be to shoot it at close range, to put it down and shorten its suffering. I wanted to say that it was useless, that this was one more old woman dying under the Parisian sky, but this one happened to be in our garden. I wanted to pull Cosette away and tell her that she mustn't be so childish, she mustn't look at the world as though everything was good, because that was the way the world got to you, the way it took advantage of you and tore at you until there was nothing left but a miserable, lonely core. Instead, I said, "How?"
Before I realised what I was doing my wife had me lifting the disgusting thing and carrying it back to our carriage, opening the gate properly instead of slipping through the eternally-loose bar as I had done on the way in. The creature's smell was overpowering. Lifting it was a surprisingly simple matter, though. I suspected that the rags it had been wrapped in weighed far more than it did. I felt that I carried a load of exceedingly dirty laundry in my arms: I hardly even felt the creature's frame inside. It let its head hang limp past my elbow on one side and its knees bend on the other as though it was already dead. I was certain that I was taking this thing out of the garden only so it could die in our house. That would be a lot of trouble, though I imagined I could convince the police that it had sneaked in during the night and we had never seen it before.
In the carriage on the way home Cosette sat at my side and let the thing's head rest in her lap, stroking one hand over its filthy hair and cupping its hollow cheek with the other. I thought the carriage was rattling in a strange way during most of the ride home. It was not until Cosette leaned up and whispered, "Do you hear her?" that I realised the creature lying across our laps was attempting to hum. I even recognised the tune as an old song I had heard before, something that had been sung by one of the people I had known when I felt like a young man.
Cosette knew the words.
Combien je regrette
Mon bras si dodu
Ma jambe bien faite
Et le temps perdu…