I spent the next several days lying in wait in the old warehouse, in what appeared to be a long-abandoned basement.
Despite the familiar comfort of a cellar, I could not tolerate the gray. The room in which I was obliged to sojourn was gray---impersonal, industrial, mechanistic, hideous gray, from the endless maze of pipes that wove across the low ceiling to the crumbling stones set into the wall to the stained concrete floor. Geometrics, stark, uninspired geometrics; not a flourish of art, not a hint beauty. All was gray—the loose hospital garments, the low, rumbling sky, the shadows of the mask—gray, gray, gray, and I could not escape from it.
One would assume that an individual in my precarious condition would concern himself with matters of greater importance than the heinous architecture and drab color scheme, yet I was fixated upon it. And by God, I could not abide by it. It was sickening.
For I thirsted for beauty, and yet beauty seemed determined to elude me. I was starved of it in all forms, desperate for a gilded archway, or an intricately engraved relief. The sigh of a violin, the smartly gleaming sheen of its varnish; the ebb and flow of a sonata, the noble, sharp contrast of black and white keys; the sprawl of a green landscape, any landscape, any gentility, any touch of the artistic, anything but this endless stretch of entombing gray.
I had thrived from within the tomb before—why, then, such a disconnect now? Why such discomfort, such unease?
My physical state, perhaps. I had quite forgotten myself those last two decades; had quite existed beyond myself. Death will do such things, I suppose. One hardly pays notice to one's body posthumously. My temporal existence had long since escaped my mind, yet now, forced to confront it after such neglect, I found myself utterly at a loss as to how to proceed. Hideous though I was, I had always been able to rely on my physical prowess and a rather unnatural enduring strength to navigate through potentially troublesome situations. Now, however, displaced in a city that revolted against my presence and wasted of body and of mind, I simply sat, dumbfounded, tearing at my hair in frustration and biding my time until my strength returned.
It was maddening. Beyond maddening. For something nestled deep within my core screamed for the release of progress, of moving ahead, away from the stifling gray and onto beauty at last—to her.
Yet I could do nothing. Initially, I could scarcely support my own weight. The journey from the hospital had evidently drained what little strength reserves I'd possessed. Never since my days in captivity in the gypsy fair had I been so completely feeble and decrepit. I had not relished it then, and I positively raged against it now. I loathe vulnerability. I do not do vulnerability. Not when I am in my right mind, at least.
And I was, to all intents and purposes, in my right mind, or at least as right of a mind as I could hope to possess. I was coherent. Living. Alive? Not quite. Yet I was indisputably there, a fact that finally afforded me the opportunity to seek her. And seek her I would, regardless of whether or not my body deemed it appropriate to cooperate.
Such cooperation, unfortunately, did not seem likely in those first several days. It is immensely difficult to convince one's legs to operate properly after prolonged immobility. I whiled away the hours taking endless, grindingly slow turns about the room, reasoning that such movement would restore my vitality, refusing to be foiled by something as infinitesimal as temporary paralysis and spewing horrid curses and insults at no one in particular when I was met with less-than-satisfactory progress. Again and again I collapsed, and again and again I wished to torch the entire building whenever I limply hit the pavement. As it was, I did not have any means of sparking a fire on my person, and so the building was spared by a particularly gracious stroke of luck. Momentarily spared, of course. For the façade was so disgusting, I made a mental note to return at a later date to burn it down. It was the most pitiful excuse for a structure I had ever laid eyes upon; nothing more than an overlarge, grimy gray box. Really, such hideousness should not have been permitted to exist.
Which begged the question: What the devil was I doing there?
My quest for her, however dominant, could not erase such nagging questions. What was this? All of it? And why? Yes, I knew why to some extent—--her, naturally—--but beyond that, I was utterly at a loss to explain my continued existence. Why did I linger when the very universe itself seemed to bristle at my presence? When death clearly had claimed me for its own long ago? When my very body threatened to collapse beneath decay?
Was this, perhaps, some sort of afterlife? I'd never put much store in such things, yet I could not deny that it undoubtedly a sort of hell to be suspended in sluggish animation. To be consumed, utterly consumed, with a feverish, burning need for her presence only to be repeatedly denied that presence was hellish, indeed. It was a nightmare. All of it. I was grasping for a dream from within a nightmare.
Raging against mankind by banging noisily on the walls of the basement did little to assuage my frustration. After three hours of smashing my fists against the walls in fury, I was left not with her pleasant company, but with a pronounced headache and rather conspicuously bruised and bloodied knuckles. Also, I believe I may have permanently psychologically damaged a rogue vagrant who was unfortunate enough to have stumbled past the building during a particularly spirited fit of rage. The man tore from the scene shrieking in a piercing falsetto. Ah, well. Occupational hazard, I suppose.
Still, those initial weeks did afford ample time to ponder my next course of action. The "brilliant plan" never seemed to venture beyond "Acquire Christine." That and "acquire suitable trousers and shoes." After all, one cannot stroll up to the object of one's obsession barefoot and dressed for the asylum. That does not do, not at all.
But there was that, as well---the matter of no small importance involving strolling up to the object of one's obsession. Barefoot or no, it was a tricky subject. For I could plan the journey in painstaking detail up until that long-awaited first encounter, yet once said encounter occurred, all bets, as they say, would surely be off.
After all, what does one say in such a situation? Were I to have my way, I would simply forego conversation entirely. I prefer simple, quick-cut solutions, you see. In my carefully constructed little universe, an unspoken understanding would swell between us and she would willingly depart with me in a private hansom to live happily ever after, the end.
"Happily ever after, the end," however, was nothing more than particularly large fart of a delusion. And so I would be obliged to say something. But what the devil does one say in such a situation?
"Good morning, Christine. I am now going to commence kidnapping you. Tread lightly upon the rug so as to avoid tripping."
"Good afternoon, Christine. Your existence embodies my every waking thought and I will not rest until you are my own. Might you take care to scream a little less loudly? I wish to avoid a struggle."
"Good evening, Christine. I have just emerged from a semi-comatose state and I love you. Please deposit your hand in mine and we shall return from whence we came, whereupon we shall take tea in the drawing room in eternal married bliss."
No, no, it would not do, not at all. Something subtler would be required. Damned social niceties. I would sooner be drawn and quartered before I so much as uttered a "long time, no see."
What, then? I ran the risk of her fleeing, surely, the second she heard my voice. She had escaped once, and therefore would do everything in her power to remain free. She could sense my approach, somehow, of that I was certain. Perhaps she did not know what the unsettling feeling signified, but the second she grew the wiser, she would know me in an instant and run as fast as her feet would carry her. Back to him. The boy.
For surely he was there, as well. He was always there in all his despicable grinning, golden-haired glory, ready to spirit her away, ready to swashbuckle his way to victory.
Fortunately for me, he was a dunderheaded idiot. No, he would pose no threat in this round. It is difficult to pose a threat when one is dead. Alive, he could warn her. Dead, he did not stand a chance.
Death vanquishes problems so nicely.
And so the boy would die. As would Nadir. After all, there would be little point in dispatching one alarm bell when another was still on the loose. So dead, both of them, leaving me free to pursue her in peace.
A thought struck me. Perhaps she did not even associate with the boy here. Perhaps their relations began and ended then. Perhaps here, now—-whatever now was—-she had never met, or was yet to meet, her dear, strapping Vicomte. It was quite possible. A delicious thought, and if it proved to be reality, it would render the entire affair considerably cleaner. With de Chagny out of the picture, I would reach her unimpeded.
Of course, I would reach her unimpeded either way, but I would have preferred the latter option. I do not relish murder.
Blood is devilishly difficult to scrub out of shirtsleeves, you see.
It was the pleasant prospect of the boy's demise that instilled me with a sudden energy not unlike that which had afforded my escape from the sealed hospital room. As if buoyed by the thought of destruction, I felt my strength returning, still by slow degrees, but with renewed vigor. I have never been a patient man, and I was quite aware that I was perhaps pushing for progress rather too viciously, but rabid persistence is nothing if not eventually effective. After several more days of stumbling about the cellar like a drunken corpse, I found myself gradually able to stand for prolonged periods, then to walk short distances, and at last, at long last, discovered sufficient coordination to make my way out of that infernal building and back into the alleyways.
Not without a stagger or two.
But I am attempting to maintain an air of infallibility here, and so any further mention of indecorous tripping shall be suspended forthwith.
Yet I hardly paid notice to the occasional stumble once I had set out. For my sights were doggedly set on one thing and one thing alone.
I repeated her name over and over as I walked through more alleyways strewn with debris, past crumbling street corners and shop windows. I repeated it as the cityscape thickened and old warehouses gave way to smartly-attired apartment buildings. Repeated it even through the rain which seemed to pound on endlessly, once more drenching me to the bone, seeping into my mouth, coating her name in crisp coolness. Over and over again I whispered it like a mantra, a prayer reverberating in the darkness with each soundless step I took. Christine. Christine. Christine. It was in my very pulse, filtering out from my lungs until I grew convinced that I had breathed her to life before me, and in a fit of desperation, I would extend my hand to grasp hers only to be met with emptiness.
It was an emptiness of the most unimaginably painful sort. I had not ventured into whatever hell this was on a whim or out of boredom, no; it was an act of desperation meant to relieve a rabid, burning necessity. I needed to find her. It was a feral longing born out of an overwhelming sense of foreboding, a sort of cosmic threat that would undo the very fabric of my existence if I did not bow to its whim. I needed to find her. She and she alone could correct the almost palpable sickness and aching that dominated my every aspect.
An aching that only worsened the further I ventured into the city.
Paris' core had not changed. It remained indomitable, immortal, its streets and monuments stretching out in an iron web that remained, in many ways, exactly as it had when I had known it best. I could, I knew, use that knowledge to traverse the city quite like I had before—but only to an extent. For something was off, altered, changed. Something was wrong. Profoundly wrong. Again, that sense of displacement. Again, it was as if the city itself was revolting against my presence. I was simultaneously pulled toward her and pushed away by Time itself, urged to continue yet urged to turn back; back and away from a city that bristled at such a brazen intruder. And all the while, amidst the shrieking chaos that was wrenching me in opposite directions, I could only stare, dumbfounded, at Paris.
It was not the Paris I had known.
What struck me immediately was the incomparable noise. The city had always been bustling, had always quivered in a state of perpetual motion, but this was not the customary hum of activity. It was a deafening roar.
Though I would not been seen if I did not wish it, instinct compelled me to take even greater care to remain unnoticed, for here, now, I was no longer the streets' sole occupant. Gone was the hush of midnight that I had relied so tirelessly upon in years past. In its place was cacophony.
The most egregious offenders were machines of such a singularly curious nature that had I been of a more agreeable disposition, I would have found great pleasure in studying them intensely. As it was, I merely wished to silence them by blowing them all to smithereens.
I alighted upon the first such apparatus at night, shortly after my departure from the warehouse. It appeared, at a glance, to be a small, rather oddly constructed stagecoach forged from highly polished steel. It perched several inches above the ground atop bizarrely small, stout wheels which appeared to have been made of a thick, firm, inflated rubber. There were four doors with glass windows, through which were visible four plush seats upholstered in gray leather. Suspended upon a swath of smoothly-angled black and hovering above the front left seat was a small wheel haloed by several levers and gauges. Clearly, the coachman's place of operation, and yet where, I wondered, did one place the reins? There did not appear to be any external seat upon which the coachman would sit to propel the apparatus forward by means of horses, so it necessarily followed that the machine was self-powered.
By way of steam engine, perhaps? But neither Cugnot's nor Trevithick's steam-powered vehicles had proved particularly effective. Then what of a device akin to Niépce's Pyréolophore? It was more conducive to travel by barge, yet not entirely implausible. There was a large, protruding stretch of metal in the front of the machine that appeared perfectly crafted to store such a device's internal combustion engine. Or perhaps an electrical apparatus. I vaguely recalled mention of something of the sort exhibited at the Palais de l'Industrie in late '81, though I was prevented from investigating the matter further, as I was largely insensible at the time and rapidly approaching corpse-dom.
Death, however convenient, does unduly complicate potential inquiries into technological advancements.
Just as I was leaning in to examine the machine more closely—-for an extraordinary thing it seemed—-something loud enough to rouse the gods from their slumbers tore through the street and sent me retreating back into the shadows, heart pounding so furiously against my ribcage that I expected it to burst through and fall out at any second. I had only briefly regained my composure when a second something whizzed past, clearly in pursuit of the first, yet howling—-howling—-while a set of red and blue lights atop its roof flashed in time with its mad shrieking. As it made to turn the corner that had, only seconds before, been rounded by its prey, I was afforded a closer glimpse of it. It was remarkably similar to the stationary machine sitting calmly before me. I balked rather inelegantly as it sped away.
Noisily. Loudly. Good God, never in my life had I heard such racket. It was personally affronting.
Surely the great mind behind the invention of these contraptions had lent his intellect to a means of stifling the noise the engines would emit? Surely he had not neglected that particular detail?
He had. He had, and whoever he was, I resolved to find him and decapitate him, for his loud-mouthed machines were everywhere the further I advanced into the city: parked at street corners, packed together in black-paved lots like animals lined up for slaughter, snaking down the boulevards at a snail's pace and then bursting loudly—-loudly!—-through the bottleneck the second they were free of the throng. They whizzed through the streets at all hours, their wheels squealing as they rounded street corners, their engines spitting furiously in one long, drumming, ear-splitting wail. God forbid they should reach a standstill at an intersection, for there, they would merely sit and honk at each other like a mass of overlarge metal ducks. I do not jest. The inventor, evidently laboring under the delusion that his creations were not offensively loud enough, had, I realized, equipped them with horns meant to produce a chorus of nasal honking that the drivers seemed to savor with a sort of perverse pleasure. Several of them abandoned civility entirely and took to slamming into others as a means to vent the frustration that honking, alas, could not alleviate.
Towering irritation rapidly replaced my initial curiosity, and I wanted nothing more than to hurl a boulder at each and every one of them. Such noise—such damnable, overpowering noise!
It was magnified tenfold by the crowds. The crowds! The inescapable, swelling mass of humanity! I had supposed that my path to Christine would be largely unobstructed were I to I travel only at night, as had long been my custom. I had supposed that however unfamiliar the city had become, the shadows would afford me familiar shelter long enough to navigate the largely deserted, dimly-lit streets.
I was grossly mistaken.
The gently-glowing street lamps were dulled to the point of nonexistence by an onslaught of electric light pouring out from every window and every door, emblazoned upon garishly glowing scripts that hung over this shop or that restaurant, festooned in little hanging beads across building facades and bridges. Spurting out of lamps installed in the front of those infernal honking carriages and piercing through the laughably diminished darkness. And the endless stream of people seemed to thrive in it, rather than recoil from it. They came en masse, swelling beyond my comprehension. Paris had always been teeming with life, and I had long since grown grudgingly accustomed the constant stream of tourists and merchants and passersby, having largely isolated myself in the opera and emerging only at night when I was certain I would not encounter the crowds. I had seen crowds before, after all—-Persian marketplaces become standstills at the height of their activity, swollen to the bursting point with humanity. Yet never, never had I seen a population surge such as this.
I briefly wondered if the entirety of the world's population had installed itself in Paris since my departure. For that is certainly what it seemed; every imaginable race, every possible ethnicity was evident, despite the late hour, and every manner of human being scurried across the sidewalks, spilled out of public houses and into the streets, wriggled into brightly-lit tunnels marked "Métro," dangled pointing and shouting excitedly over bridges, paced in front of storefronts or waved frantically at their companions from a distance, their arms gesturing wildly above the writhing hordes of people.
They had apparently long since abandoned any notion of restraint. They were as loud as their damned honking metal carriages. Shouting at each other in sidewalk cafes, shouting at each other across intersections, shouting into bizarre, palm-sized devices held up to their ears of which I could make neither heads nor tails; shouting at their children, at their husbands and wives and mothers and fathers, and fie it all, what I wouldn't have given for a bomb to silence the entire bloody thing. They loved noise, did they? Perhaps a detonation would be suitable.
I had a sneaking suspicion, however, that such an act would hardly phase them. For they were odd, one and all. Odd beyond comparison. I was well aware that I was not one in a prime position to criticize appearances, but their accoutrements were...most unusual.
Many of the men were clad in naught but shirtsleeves, their hair carelessly disheveled with nary a bowler or top hat in sight. Several wore suits, but sans waistcoats or Ascot ties, and many more still wore blue, ill-fitted trousers fashioned from some sort of faded corduroy. It was not the men, however, who proved startling.
Women wore trousers. Trousers. As easily and as naturally as if they had been doing so for decades. Some were so tightly-fitted as to violate the very foundations of decency. Others resembled breeches, baring legs and ankles and incredibly enough, eliciting no response whatsoever from passersby. Many of the women seemed to have deemed it perfectly appropriate to don some sort of severely bifurcated version of their sons' knee breeches. There were no floor-length gowns to speak of, and the skirts that remained never seemed to descend past the knees, but rather crept steadily upward until they were reduced to little swatches of fabric hardily meriting the status of "washcloth." And by God, not a word was said on the matter. No arrests were made. There was no clamor in the streets. There was nothing. Quite literally. They all may as well have been traipsing about in the nude.
Many very nearly were. Arms were bared and bodices were fearlessly slashed down and open, leaving little to the imagination. Heavily made-up faces were no longer confined to the opera and the dancing halls; makeup was smeared, slathered, and plastered on faces with alarming gutso. Gone were petticoats. Gone were the fussily arranged mountains of curls that remained pristine even under fussily arranged hats and bonnets. Gone were delicate, mincing little steps in delicate, mincing little boots. There were only swaggering strides and swinging hips and trousers and ankles and knees and unchaperoned, unchecked bosoms. It was all baffling. Utterly baffling. Absurd. This. All of it.
And I was utterly unprepared for it. Unaccustomed to it. Not to this new Paris, wherein the deafening din of millions of chattering men sans frock coats and women in trousers dealt silence a swift death. It was staggeringly overwhelming. Particularly after twenty years spent cloaked in oblivion, biding my time until the moment of escape arrived. Yet the moment had come and gone, briefly exhilarating and nothing more. Logic, my estranged friend, hit me like a blow to the abdomen.
How? It demanded. How?
My feet ground to a halt. I stopped beneath the shadowed eaves of a building that otherwise glowed ghostly white beneath the street lights. Massive. Looming. Taunting.
How? It sneered.
The enormity of it all hit me all at once. How the devil was I to accomplish anything at all? Seek Christine, yes, but how? I was still weakened. Vulnerable, perhaps, by sheer virtue of the fact that I did not belong . The very fabric of all I had known had been unraveled and reassembled without my knowledge. Paris was Paris, yes, but changed. Had I actually expected everything to remain vaguely the same, mine for the taking?
What was I doing? What the hell was I doing?
Charging forward like a crazed bull, that was what. One does not simply march into battle on a whim. Without a plan. Yes, I'd devised a plan—-but loosely. Roughly. Foolishly. Find Christine. Was that all?
That was all. That was everything. But I knew--knew with the same force that drew me to her, promised her continued existence, promised alleviation of my pain should we two be reunited--I knew that there was more to it. There would have to be.
For nothing is ever easy. Nothing ever was. In that life, or in...this life.
This life. This...Paris.
Time had changed. Marched on, I suspected, impossible as it seemed. I was fit for that time, not for this one. And therefore, I was an abomination. Perverse. Wrong. Paris-—everything—-would continue to revolt against me, would continue to press me back, back, back until I returned from whence I came.
I could not return. I would not return.
Not without her.
Yet I could not advance so long as a literal force, a literal pain, pressed unrelenting against me. I needed refuge. Every piece of me demanded it. Demanded a place to sit, to plan, truly plan, a place where I could familiarize myself, unseen, with this web of chaos into which I'd been thrown. If I continued as I had, blindly stumbling through the streets until I reached her, I would doubtless be bested either by particularly observant, law-abiding citizens seeking to bring a madman to justice or by Time itself. I had eluded its grasp once, it seemed, yet I could only do so again if I had somewhere to hide, somewhere to think--
--I slammed my fist against the façade of the building—
It was one of Haussmann's. One of Haussmann's built during the renovation.
I pressed my palm against it.
A faint ebb of relief coursing up through my palm, into my blood, lessening that persistent ache that had been rattling my very bones ever since I'd left the hospital. Lessening that palpable pain orchestrated by Time; disapproving, affronted time, who had been doing everything in its power to hurl me back to where I rightly belonged. Not here, not this Paris.
Your Paris is dead. You no longer exist here. You do not exist here. You are dead. Dead! Away! Out, back, away! Away--!
Chest heaving, I pressed my other palm against the wall. Listened.
Correct, something said.
Paused. Listened again.
Time's furious tirade remained, but was muted, somehow. Diminished.
I caught sight of a small plaque near the building's entrance, bearing the year the structure was completed.
Relief. Stronger, this time, siphoning away some of the pressure atop my chest. I inhaled. Inhaled... painlessly.
And I wondered. 1858. Hausmann's Paris. It was the canvas beneath this new, garish brightness, these honking carriages. Hadn't I felt Paris, at its core, was unchanged?
Hadn't that been the one element that had allowed me to advance, despite Time's oppression?
If this building remained, a link in the iron-welded web of Paris' enduring structure, then surely others did, as well. Surely others that I had known then remained now. Those reliquaries of the past that had simply escaped my notice, bogged down as I was beneath the glaring din of the present.
It was as if my field of vision had suddenly widened. Yes-—there, across the boulevard, another of Haussman's. And another. Another. Familiar. Particularly familiar.
And I knew. I remembered. I staggered beneath the weight of that remembrance, but remembered.
Rue de Rivoli.
This was the Rue de Rivoli. Behind, several meters, was Rue de Sévigné and—I scarcely dared to hope—
Yes. There. Unmistakable. Solid. The spire of L'église Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis. And straight ahead, past Rue de Renard, past Boulevard de Sébastopol, past Saint Honoré...The opera.
It was there. I felt it. I felt as strongly as I felt her. It was there.
Somewhere to think. To plan.
It had crossed my mind early on. Briefly, very briefly, yet it had crossed my mind. The house on the lake. Would it remain, as well?
All I had owned was entombed within those cellars. If it all remained...I could return. I could return, rebuild the traps, for surely they had withered some since...I could return, reclaim my place, reclaim it all, reclaim her--
Damn it all, Nadir. It was predictable. It was too predictable. Laughably predictable. My God, I had actually considered it! The opera! Surely, surely the first place he would look. Surely he was simply waiting there, crouched beneath a staircase, ready to throw a burlap sack over my head and drag me to a holding cell. The opera! It was childishly, hysterically obvious.
...Could that prove an advantage? It was, indeed, too obvious. So obvious, perhaps...so obvious that he would not even think to search the building. So obvious that he would assume I would never dare make such a glaringly foolish mistake as returning to my old haunt—
I grit my teeth. No, such a maneuver would mean certain defeat. Nadir would be wise to my reasoning. He would ensure a thorough search of the entire city, if need be. Meddlesome though he was, he was, regrettably, a rather astute detective. I would not risk it. I had not come all this way to be foiled by my petty urge to return to the opera. It was very likely that I would not be able to return at all, however strongly I wished to glimpse it once more, if only for a moment—-its gilded firmaments, its ornate archways and baroque inlays swirling imperiously over the grand escalier, the smooth gleam of the marble columns that lined the richly-lit corridors—
Somewhere to think. To plan.
I had grown intimately acquainted and fascinated with the vast network of catacombs that spread beneath the city, so much so that I had constructed hidden pathways of my own throughout the opera, many of which snaked out of the building itself and into the city so as to permit my unseen departure from the cellars. Many of those pathways had doubtless been eroded with time, and Nadir had discovered quite a few of the others, rendering them useless. But others would have remained. Surely. Others would have escaped his notice and the corrosive hand of time. It was only a matter of locating where the entrances had once been. Only a matter of locating one entrance that had eluded discovery. One entrance into which I could venture, one passageway in which I could seek shelter, however temporary, in order to think. To plan.
I racked my brain, furiously sifting through the cobwebs that had settled there as if my very life depended upon my recollection of the appropriate passageway.
Which of course, it did.
And so when I at last remembered, the realization was like a glorious bolt of lightning.
Rue Auberge. The closest was near the Rue Auberge. I would find the entrance, or one of its kind, enter, lay in wait to plan, and then...
Yes. This was it.
Spurred on suddenly as if by an electric shock, I set off once more in a near run, heedless of the pain ricocheting through my joints and brimming once again with that life-giving resolution, that steadfast determination that fixed my mind's eye upon one thing, and one thing only.
And once again, her name echoed each of my footsteps, pulsed in my blood. It blinded me to all else—-blinded me to my surroundings, to the stifling pressure of the present that rushed past me in senseless blurs of color, smeared swaths of paint upon a canvas. The city was nothing. The pain was nothing. The madness of my pursuit, nothing. Nothing else mattered but the name that rose up through my very breath in spasms, drawing me closer, closer. At last.