Friday afternoon was pleasant enough, particularly with a weekend to look forward to, but the week as a whole had been blustery and Eran’s flu was dying hard. Having issued a round of Cs to his students for their latest short paper, Eran wanted nothing more than to go home and sleep. But Mildred the go-getter had nudged him into a weekly dissertation session, Friday afternoons, and Eran hadn’t excused himself in time. So Bordertown it was.
“Have you outlined yet?” Eran asked this question as a pre-emptive strike. His own outline still consisted of the Haig = butthead scribbles that he was intending to throw out.
“I did before I got here.” Mildred had gotten a latte with caramel, her nod to the seasonal menu oddities of a Starbucks. Eran was sticking to tea until his sinuses cleared.
“Is it any good?”
“It’s just what I know now. I want to do something tying European urbanization in the twentieth century to the rise of far-right political parties. Right now I’m pretending the two are connected, but if I discover otherwise while I’m investigating, I’ll throw it out and redo my thesis. It’s just like a road map.”
“That sounds much better than my lie-around-like-an-idiot-until-inspiration-strikes strategy.” Eran was too drained to feel inferior.
“Well, maybe. I write a lot of crap papers, but at least they get done. What about you?”
“I thought I’d link the domestic political strategies and social forces behind Haig’s hagiographic wartime reputation to the rise of postwar British pacifism. I did a paper on the latter. It just seemed that there ought to be a connection. But lately I’ve been thinking of something different. The Piketty book is out. I’m wondering if it’s possible to put some actual academic heft behind this idea of cycles of history, and create a Grand Unified Theory of world war.”
“Go big or go home, right?”
“Do you think Stefan will buy it?”
He couldn’t see anything. Had he passed out? No, he was hosted, and his host’s eyes were closed. Eran thought he had caught the man (as it seemed to be) mid-blink, but the blink lasted and lasted and eventually it became clear that the eyes weren’t going to reopen. Ever.
He was dying.
Eran’s own heart stopped. He clung to that thought as a lifeline. His heart was young and healthy and would go on (cue woodwinds). The host‘s heart was faltering.
It seemed to be an old man. The natural end of a lifespan, at home in bed.
Eran could only catch scraps of thoughts: a marriage, a coronation, the loss of a child, unhappiness, negotiations. A beard mixed in – damn that nineteenth century. There were confused half-decisions about the war: this was apparently a man of some responsibility? He seemed to be torn between sides. Something else about a nephew with ears a mile wide.
The scraps ceased. Eran was still there. What the hell?
“Sorry,” Eran said reflexively. “Tired.”
“Need more tea?”
“Nah.” Eran was glad it had happened while he was with Mildred. Better anyone than alone.
“I think,” Eran said carefully, “that I don’t care if Stefan buys it. I care if I buy it. So I guess I’ll just ask him for enough rope to hang myself, and see what happens.”
“That could get you in a lot of trouble.”
“It could. I dunno. If I can’t be brave about a writing project, then what’s the point?”
October 10, 1914: Carol I, the king of Romania, dies. He is succeeded by his nephew, Ferdinand I, who in contrast to Carol I’s preferences would eventually oversee Romania’s entry into the war on the side of Russia, France, and the United Kingdom.