A tiny taste, for anyone who may have wondered, of what I’ve been working on this year – instead of, you know, the morbidly introspective or shouty political blog posts.
Creating worlds is harder than fretting or bitching about the one you’re in, but infinitely more rewarding.
The priest I could have written myself. His appearance, that is. Had I written his character I’d have made him less virtuous – or at least more corruptible. But no, this was a man who earnestly sought to do good.
Thought at first this made him an idiot. Who knew such a heart could co-exist with such a mind? and in such a body – built so strong, so handsome almost, so seeming normal sitting behind his desk. Then he hoists himself and ambles on little crooked legs and you notice the outsize head, the shoulders all skewiff as he proffers that muscular handshake, smiling warm from somewhere near your navel.
So here he is, God’s little joke, welcoming me to my new home. And he’s gushing about clean air, expansive grounds and freshly renovated buildings, about exercise and contemplation, freedom and light. He speaks about freedom to heal. Not only a priest but a doctor as well, my gaoler; a scientist – possibly even a Christian – and he’s proud of his experiment.
Now he’s rehearsing his philosophy of healing.
“I’ve seen such cruelty,” he says. “Cruelty you can’t imagine.”
A hazardous occupation, I think, to guess at the limits of another’s imagination.
Doctor priest’s office opens on a terrace where we sit drinking tea, which he pours. Don’t know what part food plays in his theories but, today at least, there are pastries and cake. I sip tea and feed on cake and taste his clean air whilst he talks, and listen to the rustling leaves that hedge his expansive grounds.
“Here, we don’t believe in locking the unfortunate away and forgetting about them.” I wonder if all new inmates get this speech, or if it’s just because I’m special. “What good does it do for the insane to be treated like prisoners, to be shut up in the dark with only their illness for company?”
I am not insane, believe that. I always know exactly what I’m doing – even if I don’t know why.
“After all, insanity isn’t a crime is it, Donatien?” He uses my first name, not my title or “citizen”.
I mouth something agreeable and continue to think about his cassock. Did he have it made to order, or simply shorten an ordinary one? It’s a fetish of the soldier who rules us now that all government and church officials should be identifiable by their uniforms. Gone is the fashion of revolution. Suppose it’s easier for a deformed priest to find a cassock than a suit. Gaiters would still be a problem, though . . . .
Hoped it would be the priest showed me to my lodgings. Don’t walk so easily these days and he’d have set a less arduous pace. The big orderly he sends me off with is kind enough, takes it slow and keeps pausing  as we traverse the hall, ascend the staircase and turn left at the first floor corridor, but I feel I should go faster nonetheless. My cell is at the end of the corridor, looking out from the château’s rear corner.
            I say cell, but it’s really a suite of rooms. Kind of thing I might have rented in the city if I didn’t require privacy. The servants have brought up my luggage while the priest and I talked. Could only bring the minimum but I’ll ask my son to send along my books and some tapestries, and maybe a nicer chair and a couch for the sitting room. I'll need my writing desk. My mistress has my engravings and some other little comforts. I can do all this. It’s not important to my persecutors that I suffer, only that I stay.
            Beneath my window the estate runs down to the river’s edge, trees and walks – I spy some of my new neighbours taking the afternoon air and sun under supervision. Equidistant in the opposite direction the road passes by, meandering to the city.
“The brain is like any other organ,” the dwarf priest had said. “All is connected. If the mind is hurt, the body cries out; if the body is suffering, the mind rebels. Don’t you agree, Donatien?”
            “Yes, abbé,” I told him. “That makes sense.”
            “Here, we believe in treating both. We believe with the right balance of activity and rest, kindness and discipline, community and quiet reflexion, we assist nature in simply taking its course. Do you see? Above all, we don’t believe there are any incurables. All our charges, with the proper treatment, can achieve some measure of felicity and usefulness to society – whether it’s inside these walls or out.”
            Walls . . . and so endeth the presentation.
            “I can see already you’re a reasonable man, Donatien. I knew not to believe everything that’s been said about you. I think you’ll be comfortable with us.”
            At least he didn’t say, happy.
            I’m tired. Thankfully the bed looks serviceable. We started out before dawn this morning and I need my exercise, then sleep. Nature takes its course.
            Have some thinking to do. I am not made for chains, or even silken bonds. Mustn’t become complacent.
            They will not keep me here.