'Where is God in this plan?' he had said, pointing with his finger. 'I see the planets and their influence and this character, here, whatever his name is. But in the Bible, it says that'
'God is here, in your head.And here.' Olivier pointed to the chart. 'But it's a secret.'
'I don't understand,' said Jacques. 'If this is Earth here, this is Saturn, and here are the rings of Jupiter and this is the body you've discovered, the one that regulates the movements of people, then what are these lines here? Are these the souls of the dead going up to Heaven?'
'Those are the rays of influence. They emanate from space, far beyond anything we can see. These are what control you.'
'Of course. Like rays of light, or invisible waves of sound. The universe is bombarded with them.You can't hear them.You can't see them.'
'Does everyone know about them? All grown-ups?'
'How do you know about them? Who told you?'
'I have been told.'
Jacques looked away. Over the weeks, he discovered that Olivier's system of cosmic laws and influences was invulnerably cogent; there was in fact something of the weary sage in his manner when he answered yet another of Jacques's immature questions about it, while its ability to adapt made it impermeable to doubt. Olivier was always right, and his rightness was in the detail. Jacques was not sure that this next phase of his education, these rays and planets into which Olivier was inducting him, was one he welcomed. He believed in what he learned at church and in what the Curé told him later in their walks through the woods and down to the sea. At least, he thought he did; he believed that he believed.
'Would you like some of the rabbit? Grand-mère cooked it.'
Jacques wanted the company of his brother but shrank from sitting in the fouled straw.
'Don't you want a bath, Olivier? Would you like to wash?'
'I take my bath in the sea.'
'You haven't been to the sea for-'
'The water runs clear . . . Always clear.'
'What do you do all day, Olivier? When I go out to work for Papa?'
He felt Olivier's breath on his cheek. 'That's the trouble with the army. No time to yourself.You're up at six, and it's stand-to at six fifteen. They've sent all my clothes back to Rennes . . . But you shouldn't stand there, that's not your place.'
Jacques said nothing. He had the feeling that, although there was no one else in the stable, it was not to him that Olivier was addressing his remarks. He became impatient when Jacques tried to break in; he seemed frightened of displeasing the absent person by failing to pay full attention to their shared conversation.
Olivier grew agitated. 'Don't stand there. That's his place.You're always in the way.Why don't you learn to do what you're told?' He stood up and grabbed a metal bucket from the ground next to the horse's stall. Jacques thought he was going to throw it, but the strength seemed to leave him again, and he dropped the bucket as he slumped back into his original position, with his back to the wall. He was silent, though his limbs were still agitated as he moved his head from side to side.
Jacques had not lost his brother; he had not woken up one day to find him gone. Rather, Olivier had stolen away, little by little, like smoke beneath the door; and it had happened so slowly that there seemed no moment at which Jacques could have said, 'He's gone.' It was still occasionally possible to talk to him and feel that something was transmitted and received, though more often Olivier's ear seemed tuned to other tones, the commandments of ancestral voices.
Jacques did not understand what had happened. He wanted to believe in the universe his brother described; he wanted to see the logic or the plan - to share and understand them so that he could have his confidant again: he was lonely without Olivier and he no longer had a guide to what lay ahead of him. Other people of his own age did not interest him; compared to the intimacy he had shared with Olivier, their offered friendship was useless.
Excerpted from Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks Copyright © 2005 by Sebastian Faulks. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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