It had been a thing of beauty moments before: half-finished, it had already looked fit to grace a lady's hand. It lay now like a broken bird, silk torn and wood splintered, a victim of its maker's tension. He stared down at it uncomprehendingly.
Monsieur Lefevre paused beside him and swore. "Damn you, Feuilly, wake up. Look at that. What in hell did you do to the thing?"
The artisan seemed not to hear; he sat motionless, silent, his hand still tensed in a futile gesture: the instinct to catch what has just fallen, or protect what has just been shattered. He did not look up to face the tirade.
"...gotten into you, for God's sake, I can't afford your carelessness--"
Feuilly did look up then, slowly, and in his face was nothing human. His dark eyes fixed on Lefevre's, expressionless and cold as a reptile's. "Of course," he said softly, courteously. "I understand."
Lefevre backed up a step. "Why don't you go on home," he said, too loudly, "er, Feuilly. Take the day off. I thought this morning you didn't look well..." attempting a paternal tone, and failing. Men turned to look. The room fell quiet. "Had me worried," he added, and trailed off.
"You are too kind," Feuilly said into the quiet. He did not move, or blink, and his tone, silken and emotionless, seemed to turn the air to ice.
"Well... What with-- I really think..."
"Yes," and with that one flat word Feuilly stood, swept the ruined fan to the floor without a glance, and went out swiftly, leaving the room frozen behind him.
I will die, he thought, pushing through the late-morning crowds like a blind man, stumbling slightly on the uneven pavement. I will find a way to die, I can't stand it, I cannot live like this, with this snake of hate coiling in me, eating at my heart, I can't-- He missed his footing, fell heavily to his knees at the edge of the street. God, what have I become?
A sudden choking horror welled in him. Clutching at the stone wall, he retched his meager breakfast into the gutter.
"Someone's had a bit too much," observed a voice somewhere nearby, in amused disgust.
Damned right. A bit too much of scorn, a bit too much indifference, a bit too much of cold and futility and weariness, a bit too much injustice, a bit too much of life. Damned right I have. I can't live like this. O God-- God--
"What's the matter, dearie?" A hand on his shoulder, a woman's voice; a too-heavy scent that threatened another wave of nausea. "Are you all right?"
"No," Feuilly muttered, and tried to catch his breath. "No. I will be."
"What's the matter?"
He shook his head. The noise of the street, the sunlight and the passing feet, were suddenly too much for him; he shut his eyes, shaking. After a moment he felt the woman's arm slip around him, heavy and soft; felt her pull him against her shoulder as though he were a child. "There. There, mon petit, you'll be all right."
"God--" Mon petit, that no one had dared say to him since Maman Marie died, twenty years ago and more. He had to laugh; it came out as half a sob. "God..."
"Shhhh. You'll be all right, dearie. It's all right..."
"I don't know how," thinking of Alain, of Courfeyrac, of Jeanne. "I don't see how it can."
"It'll be all right, dearie. It'll come right. It will."
He leaned against her, this frowsy nameless woman, breathing her scent of sweat and cheap perfume, and thought for a long time, incongruously, of Maman Marie; and then, for a longer time, of nothing at all.
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