Monday, June 20, 2011

EIGHT: Where the Heart Is

The afternoon he argued with Diana about getting married—a week before Moira’s memorial service--Les went looking for an apartment. There were few apartment buildings in Falkes Hollow and the ones that were livable were occupied long-term with little hope of vacancy. The ones that were available were student apartments being vacated by graduating seniors and already spoken for by next year's seniors. And even those were few: It had been just a decade since students were permitted to live off campus and that privilege was still reserved solely for seniors. He thought he might take a senior apartment for the summer and find something permanent in the fall, but they were already rented to summer school students. By dinnertime he was discouraged and hungry.
             In town he ate a ham sandwich at Ent’s Diner and went to his office. There was nothing to do in the office. He didn’t want to risk having one of the students come to talk about Moira, so he walked the mile to the athletic field and then walked the track for nearly an hour. And then he sat in the stands as the evening deepened. In high school he had been a promising javelin thrower and guaranteed he would have been starting quarterback of the football team senior year had it not been for fuckwad coach Findlay and his asshole requirement about wearing a woolen hat every day after practice. Les had refused to do it. None of his buddies wore hats no matter how cold it got and he wasn’t going to either. Coach Findlay gave him an ultimatum: wear the hat or quit the team. He quit the team. By the time he got out of the service and went to college, he was too old to care about playing either football or track and now he couldn’t even remember who it was who got to be starting quarterback.
And what the hell was he going to do about tonight?
He had never spent the night at Diana’s and the night after an argument about marriage was not the time to start. He could sleep on the floor of his office but he imagined Olivia Troute in the morning using her master key to open the door for some innocuous reason and discovering him lying on the floor between the desk and the filing cabinet. He’d rather sleep in the park.
There was always the Super 8 out on the highway.
In the end he told himself it was his goddamn house and he was going to sleep in his own goddamn house. He did, however, wait until all the lights were out before going to the goddamn house. Then like an intruder he opened the front door as quietly as possible and carefully went up the stairs. The door to the bedroom was closed. Well, he wasn't going to sleep in the bed anyway. He went downstairs to the study and slept on the sofa.
In the morning he awoke early and ate a bowl of corn flakes. He decided against getting a change of clothes from the bedroom. He hoped Lydia would stay upstairs long enough for him to wash in the downstairs powder room before leaving. She did, though he was certain it was not out of compassion for him. 
            He left before anyone else was up.
It was still Reading Week for two more days and then three days of written exams. He had no appointments or meetings scheduled and no formal written exams for his acting and directing students, so he could spend the rest of the week looking for an apartment. 
            All day he searched, futilely, until he had even considered taking a room in a private home. By late afternoon, strung out and exhausted, he decided to go to his house and stay there, damnit, for however many days it took to find another place to live and he would not let anyone there treat him like an intruder.
            When he got there, Lydia was in the kitchen putting sandwiches on a tray. He went into the kitchen as casually as he could and not overly energetically he said, “Where’re the kids?”
Lydia concentrated on the sandwiches. “Derek has Little League and Patti is in her room with the Balfour twins.”
“Doing homework?”
“Studying the principles of Jedi combat, I think.” She said it with neither humor nor engagement.
It occurred to him that having Patti in the house might help to buffer things.
“I’ve been looking for an apartment,” he said.
For the briefest of moments he sensed a tightening of the muscles in her jaw.
“Ah,” she said.
“Not that it’s a surprise.”
She folded napkins on the tray.
“It’s harder than I thought,” he said.
            “This is a small town.”
“Yeah, I gave up on the twentieth-floor corner condo with an ocean view.”
She didn’t take the bait.
“I mean you are not anonymous,” she said. She opened the refrigerator and took out a carton of orange juice. "It will be noticed."
He knew he should step back from confrontation, but he felt himself digging in. “That is not my concern.”
“Make up a bed in the study,” she said, taking two glasses from the cupboard.
"I can't do that."
"It would be best to do that."
“My mother and father spent more than a year not speaking to each other while occupying different floors of our house,” he said. “I won’t do that.”
“If I recall your family history accurately, your mother was the one having the affair, yes?” she said as she poured juice into the glasses. "With the chief of police, wasn't it? Or was it the manager of Tortman's Department Store?"
In his pockets his hands made fists, but he said nothing.
“Actually, your adultery disappoints me,” she said. “To be perfectly candid, I was insulted.” She put the carton back in the refrigerator. “A bank teller.” She brought out a bowl of green grapes. “I would have thought a branch manager. Or at least a loan officer, for Jesus Christ’s sake.”
For a minute he stood watching while she washed the grapes.
“Things haven't been right between us for a long time,” he said.
She patted the grapes with a paper towel. “And so you take refuge in the baby sitter.”
“I’ve been unhappy.”
 She put a tiny bunch of grapes on each plate.
“You,” she said without inflection.
“I didn’t want it to happen.”
Now she was cutting the sandwiches into triangular halves. “It is not something that happened, Les. It is something you did.”
“Not deliberately.”
“Something you continue to do.”
And before she could say anything more, he was reaching for her and saying, “I’m sorry,” and she growled and the knife stabbed into the back of his hand.
She looked at him, tears in her eyes. They did not overflow. “The chilldrenne will be relieved to hear when you are gone from this house that it all happened against your wishes,” she said, “and that you are sorry.” 
             She picked up the tray and left the kitchen and went into the hall and up the stairs.
“Lydia, you will not walk out of this room!” he shouted and ran after her, blood dripping from his fingers. "Stop, goddamn you!"
             Patti was standing at the head of the stairs looking down at him. Her mouth was open and her eyes were wide.
Lydia went up the last three stairs and past Patti into the hallway. “I brought you and Amber and Whitney a snack,” she said. “Come and eat it.”
Patti stared a moment longer at him and then followed Lydia back to her bedroom.

A few minutes later when Diana opened her door to him, Les said, “Can I stay tonight?”

Sunday, June 12, 2011

SEVEN: The Priest

            On Monday Moira's mother arrived from Hawaii with Moira's fourteen-year old sister. Her father came Tuesday “to make the arrangements”, as he said. He met with the president of the college and with Olivia Troute. He left early the same evening. As far as anyone could tell, he and Moira's mother had avoided each other for the six hours he was in town. No one knew exactly when her mother left and none of the students or faculty had seen either parent firsthand. Her father had asked that Douglas Wrythe organize the chapel service which neither parent planned to attend. When Caleb asked Olivia Troute, she said, yes, she had met separately with each and, yes, they had asked Douglas to organize the chapel service, and then she changed the subject.           
The chapel sat in the oldest part of campus tucked away at the top of a rhododendron-banked ravine. It was separated from the old observatory by the Shakespeare Garden, which was planned, planted and maintained by the Falkes Hollow Garden Club since 1874, twenty-two years after the founding of the college. The chapel could be reached by several paths--one along the wooden bridge over the ravine, one that wound through a stand of dogwood and honey locust known as “The Wood”, one that circled the observatory, one that led directly through The Shakespeare Garden—all to illustrate that every part of the campus had a direct path to the chapel, notwithstanding the path might twist and turn and dip and even disorient.
            Caleb arrived early and stood on the stone patio in front of the chapel. The day before, Douglas had asked him to deliver the eulogy. He had spent much of the night working out what he would say. He moved off the patio to look at the rhododendrons and to smoke.
As people arrived, some went directly into the chapel, some stood in small groups on the patio. Caleb saw Les go in and several minutes later he saw Diana with Alexia Farrell. He didn't see Temple. George was having her car serviced for their drive to Granny's house. She would be waiting for Caleb at his apartment at 1:15. They would go to Temple's house and be on the road by 1:30. Besides, she had said, she never cared much for Moira and she couldn't take all that undergraduate mourning in one sitting.
            Olivia Troute arrived with the dean of students. She greeted several people and then walked to Caleb. She was wearing a black suit. She didn't smile as she asked how he was feeling.
            "Fine," he said. "Nervous, actually. This is a first for me." He noticed she was wearing gloves.
"Douglas told me he asked you to speak."
            "I was surprised, but certainly willing."
            "That was good of you," she said, "but as it turns out, unnecessary."
            "Oh? Why?" His cigarette suddenly felt alien, as if he were holding someone's severed finger. 
            "Moira's father was explicit about his wishes. He allowed Douglas to select students to say a few words, but he had already decided who would deliver the eulogy. I'm sorry. I know what this means to you."
            “Is it someone from the college?”
            “It’s a Roman Catholic priest. From town. Someone apparently Moira was close to. It’s time to go in."
            Caleb had stopped breathing for a moment. He nearly fled, but he went in and sat in the back. The morning sun came in through the towering window of stained glass behind the altar. Chaplain Devore entered from a side door and went to the lectern. He offered a brief invocation and then introduced Douglas, who played the cello. Douglas also played as Tammy DeBardeau recited a poem Caleb had never heard. Didn’t anyone else find it absurd that Douglas was playing the cello? Several students spoke, two of whom Caleb didn’t know. He tried to keep his attention on the students as another poem was read, but he couldn’t stop thinking about what Olivia had said. How could he not know that Moira was involved with the Catholic Church in Falkes Hollow? Was this a mistake? Could she have been seeing this priest for all four of her years at Falkes Hollow? My God, the priest might have been her confessor all this time. Caleb gasped for air.
Chaplain Devore was saying, "Father John Nepomucine of Saint Cecilia's Roman Catholic Church of Falkes Hollow will speak to us this morning."
            There was a rustling behind Caleb and Father John Nepomucine strode up the aisle. He was tall. And big. He ascended slowly the four marble stairs to the altar and he stood behind the lectern with the intricate maze of stained glass behind him. His black hair looked like curled waves in a woodcut of a storm at sea. His eyes gleamed in shadows cast by the lights in lamps suspended from the ceiling and his cheekbones and his nose cast shadows on the rest of his face. He stood tall and hulking in his black suit, like a giant raven carved in ebony and left in an alcove of some pagan cave. 
           For moments he stood looking, staring, some people later said even glaring, out at the gathering. At last he spoke.
           "I come here today with compassion in my heart, with sorrow in my bones, and with fear in my soul.” His voice was dark, resonant. He talked quietly, but with the lowest rumblings of storms promised on mountaintops. And was there the faintest trace of an accent? Rumblings on foreign mountaintops?
“When a member of a community dies, the rest of the community must gather not so much to grieve a life lost as to celebrate a life lived. Today we come together to celebrate Moira O’Hare's life. There was music: Douglas played Moira's favorite Bach cello suite.”
How does he know it was her favorite? Caleb thought.
“There was poetry: Tammy DeBardeau recited a poem written by Moira's older brother Ryan junior."
Caleb heard himself gasp. Older brother! Moira had never--
“We tell ourselves that Moira will live as long as we remember her; as long as Jim Bolton remembers that mad October walk along the river bank–“
Caleb nearly called out from his seat, “How do you know these things!”
“--and Amber continues to hear her singing Eleanor Rigby as she bathed—“
“--and so long as those of us who have been touched by her life and have thus felt our lives profoundly enriched--so long as we keep Moira living in our deepmost hearts."
Caleb’s own heart was beating in panic and perhaps hatred.
“But there is fear in my soul. For when the life that is lost is young and the death is death by will and choice, we are shaken, shocked perhaps more elementally than by any other act. During this past week surely we have all asked and have all been asked, Why? Moira's death strikes at our truths, makes us ask again the deepest questions: What does it mean to be human? Why do we live? Why do we live the way we live? Is our life ours to end?”
Caleb wasn’t even sure that the man was actually saying what he, Caleb, thought he was hearing. This man, this priest, this John Nepomucine, had appeared from nowhere. Moira denied the existence of God, didn't she? He tried to remember if Moira had ever defended concepts about God or Christ or redemption or sin. He was breathing shallowly and rapidly. Moira was independent, she was intelligent and sophisticated; she looked at the world objectively even as she was drawn into some of its tangles. She needed no outside help, certainly no traditional religious guidance. And not this bullshit! And anyway, those few times when she found herself in situations that led her to seek another's counsel, guidance--yes intimacy--wasn't it Caleb she came to? She trusted him, she believed in him. He even let himself imagine that a major reason for her staying at Falkes Hollow was because she needed him, relied on him. She never mentioned the parish church, she never told him of Saint Cecilia's or of this Father John Nepomucine. How significant a presence in her life could he and it have been?
           “Moira O'Hare lived with such exhilaration and with such great pain that she touched us all. We shared her with one another in life as we have shared her today in mourning. But each of us mourns as well a private Moira—a Moira known only to each alone. Some of us will be able to share our private Moira with others; but some of us will have to keep our private Moira forever secret. All of us, however, will wonder which Moira it was who decided to take life from the others. With her death, Moira asks us to face the chaos that lies beyond our senses and beneath surface sanity. She compels us to come together and to huddle against the darkness and to protect the fire that holds back the madness lurking just beyond the light."
            Father Nepomucine rapidly descended the stairs and strode down the center aisle and out the door. There were people crying, some openly sobbing. Was it grief? Disbelief? Shock? Olivia Troute sat perfectly still, but Caleb thought her lips had opened a bit.
In his seat Caleb moaned. Who was this man? Why had he been asked to address Falkes Hollow College concerning the death of one of its own, one who was especially important to him, Caleb, and for whom he was essential? Who was this stranger in priest's clothes, suggesting an intimacy with Moira O'Hare that Caleb would not allow? Presuming to help her true friends bridge the gap from Moira alive to Moira dead? And saying confusing, contradictory things. 
There was shame in what had just happened. Something deep within Caleb had been assaulted. Still moaning, he bolted from his seat and ran down the aisle after the priest.
            Temple was standing at the back.
“You came!” Caleb said. “Did you see where the priest went?” and before Temple could say “no”, Caleb flung the door open to sunlight flashing his eyes. He thought he saw a black form turn behind a rhododendron bush on the path that wound around the observatory.
            He ran down the path to where it forked with another that he thought led directly into the ravine. The south wall of the observatory was visible from here. He ran toward it. He heard a crow scrawking above him. When he got to the observatory, he was alone.
            Maybe the priest had gone through the Shakespeare Garden. Caleb turned back to take that path when he saw Temple coming toward him.
            “Miss Troute fainted or had an attack or something,” Temple said. “They’ve called for an ambulance.”
            “Where did that priest go?”
            “I have to get home,” Temple said. “We have to be ready for George. See you in a bit.”
            He left Caleb standing alone on the path.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

SIX: Monday Punches

“What the fuck!” Diana said.
Temple made a sound but he didn’t move. He lay on his back breathing rapidly and his right hand covered his face. He tried to sit up, but he fell back onto the lawn with a groan. Blood trickled under his hand.
“You have to go to the emergency room.”
“Nah! Nah!” and his left hand waved the idea away.
“But it could be broken, your nose might be broken.”
“Yeah,” he said, “I think it is.” This time he was able to sit up.
“I’m taking you to the emergency room.”
“I’m not going to the emergency room. I’m going home.”
“It’s all right,” he said. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine.” She looked toward the theater building for help.
“Not a big deal,” he said. “Happens all the time.” He stood up, his hand still covering his nose. The blood ran over his hand and onto his shirt.
“Goddamit, at least sit on the bench,” she said and he allowed her to take his arm and lead him. “Now put your head back.” He did. “I’ll get some paper towels” and she turned toward the theater.
“No, no, don’t go in there.” He took his shirt off and held it against his nose and leaned back. “I want to get out of here before any of them come out.”
“At least let me drive you home,” she said.
He nodded and stood. She didn’t offer her arm as they walked. When they were in the car, she said, “What the hell was that about?”
“No idea,” he said.
“It’s fucked.”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s done.”
“He fucking broke your nose.”
“It’s fine. I’m fine,” he said. “I’ve had my nose broken before.”
“Was it about Moira?”
“I don’t know, why would it be?”
“I mean that was an asshole thing to—“
“Leave it! Please.”
They were quiet.
“Fucking men,” she said finally. “At least come to my place for a while to make sure you’re all right.”
“I’m all right. I’m fine. I just need to be alone.” A beat. “Thanks for the thought though. Really.”
She said nothing more. She dropped him off and watched him go into his house still holding the bloody shirt to his nose.
In front of her house, she saw Les sitting on the stairs.
“You didn't come into the theater,” he said.
“I got waylaid--”
“They asked for you.”
“--or deflected, something.”
“They seem okay considering,” he said. “No major trauma. Just theatre major drama.” His cleverness made him smile.
“Douglas Wrythe broke Temple’s nose.” She told him what happened and he said they should make Temple go to the hospital to find out for sure if it was broken since the school could be liable if there were complications.
“He’s all right,” she said. “I think he’s actually proud of the damn thing. Or glad or something.”
“Fucking men. Let’s go upstairs. I want to talk about Lydia.”
He followed her.
“I’m leaving her,” he said. “I’m going to get an apartment and then we’ll see about separating.”
She went into the kitchen to make coffee. He went to the easel in the turret and looked at the painting of the squirrel skeleton and then followed her into the kitchen.
“I finally saw it all this morning,” he said, sitting at the little breakfast table. “You were right—she was awake last night and this morning she made it pretty clear she’s not going to talk about it but she’s going to make me pay for it big time.”
“She’s going to have to talk about it eventually.”
“She’s going to make me crawl.”
“You get to decide whether or not you crawl.”
“You’re not married to her.” He looked at his hands folded before him on the table. "But if I move out...."
“If you move out, she’s got all the ammo. What about Derek and Patti?”
“We’ll work that out. It’ll be okay.”
But the chilldrenne no longer want to see you, Les. When I suggest it, Patti cries and Derek scowls. You have betrayed them and they cannot forgive you. And I will not compound their pain by taking the side of the man who no longer cares that he is their father. Now if you will excuse us, we are late for Patti’s dance lesson.
“I hate her,” he said.
“She’s being hateful.”
“I love you. I want to be with you.”
She sat in his lap, circled her arms around his neck. “You are with me. That’s what this is.” He groaned under her weight and she licked his ear.
“I mean…publicly," he said. "You’re breaking my legs.”
“I could suck your dick in Falkes Square Fountain. And I promise you won’t have to carry me either in or out.”
“I’m serious. I want to be with you. Permanently.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“I mean married.”
She sat still in his lap. The kettle whistled. She got up slowly and went to the stove. Finally she said, “I don’t usually use graphic language, but, Whoa.”
“You said you wanted to talk. So talk.”
She concentrated on pouring the water into the French press. Then she turned to him and said, “Cream? Sugar?”
He waited.
“If you move into an apartment, that’s between you and Lydia,” she said. “That’s about your marriage. That’s not about me.”
“That’s bullshit. And cowardly. And not like you.”
“Whatever has happened or is happening between you and Lydia is not happening because of me. I will not be made the scapegoat for your failed marriage or the cause of your leaving your home.”
“Nobody said you are. This has been coming on for a long time. But I’m leaving for something, going to something. You.”
“And I like being the glory and the salvation you escape to. I like her being the horror you’re running from.”
“She is. You are. I love you,” he said.
“And I love you. And I’ll support you if you leave her.”
“But I won't marry you.”
She may as well have punched him.
“I want to be the woman you run to. If we get married, sooner or later I’ll end up being the one you run away from.”
“That’s bullshit.”
“I’ll end up being hateful and hated.”
“That’s not going to happen, that’s crazy.”
“What happened with Julie Stuckey?”
“What happened with Julie Stuckey?”
“Julie Stuckey was high school. We broke up. Kids break up in high school.”
“Why did you break up?”
“She dumped me. What the hell does that have to do with--?”
“Why did she dump you?”
“What the fuck--?”
“She dumped you because you fucked her friend Ginny, right?”
“I fucked her friend Ginny because Julie Stuckey turned out to be a fucking bitch.”
“And Andrea Swindle? What happened with her?"
“Why are you doing this? Julie Stuckey and Andrea Swindle have nothing to do with you and me.”
“I love you, Les. But I’m not going to become the next woman you commit to and then run away from.”
“This is bullshit.” He got up from the table and went into the living room, to the easel. “Bullshit.”
She came into the living room. “I’d love to have a girl-to-girl talk with your mother,” she said.
 “And I'd love to ask your father a question or two. Look, we shouldn't talk now. I need to go." He went to the front door. "And you need a new painter to imitate. Maybe Munch. I'm going to look for an apartment.”
He left and she stood where she was for a moment. Then she went to the easel and looked at the painting. There were tears in her eyes. 
“Fucking men.”