Saturday, August 27, 2011

THIRTEEN: Et in Paradiso

Caleb stood by a table in the small sitting room of the upper floor of Bridge House, the Town of St. George, Bermuda. He was reading a note he had found on the table. The handwriting was Temple’s.
My dearest Moira,
Here in Paradise my love for you grows....
My hands, holding only the inert pen,
Long to hold yours and clasp soul to soul....
But this can never be…
Unless it come in Eternity…
The sitting room was just off the parlour. There was a studio bed for Caleb and an air mattress on the floor for Temple. George had taken the tiny maid’s room off the kitchen. The rooms were few and small, the ceilings low.
“Bridge House was built in the 1690s,” George said.
“When everyone was short,” Caleb said.
“It is the oldest continually inhabited house in the Western Hemisphere and Saint George’s was the first permanent settlement on the islands of Bermuda.”
“Of course, it was not named for our George,” Mummy had said, “for she is not a saint,” and her sudden laughter had come like a bird screech.
When they had arrived at Bridge House, Caleb and Temple had been shown to the balcony outside the parlour and overlooking the town square. They had been given a gin and bitters and an Irish Whiskey and the Ekdahls had spent time inside visiting.
Daddy was short and square like George, and Mummy was slight and electric like Granny. Daddy called George “Jewel”. Mummy had Granny’s constitution but not her concentration.
“George,” she said, “this past Wednesday I saw a pair of sturdy walking shoes at Arc’s. You must investigate. Surely you won’t be spending all your time riding around on a moped. There was another moped fatality just last week; not a tourist; a native. We must remember to go to the grocery store as I have run out of flour and I want to bake Caleb’s birthday cake myself. So perhaps after you go for the shoes—no, let’s get the flour first thing in the morning and then get the shoes. It would please me if while you were here you mostly did walking. I want to introduce Caleb to Captain Marcelli at the base. He directs their theatricals and I think he would love insight into lighting design. He is at present off the base, but he returns next week. Oh, will you and Caleb and Temple still be here? I hope they thought to bring proper clothes for the Queen’s birthday celebration. And, Caleb--” she poked her head out to the balcony—“as a lighting designer you will want to note how light plays through the rooms of Bridge House. I have always said it is light and flowers that make a successful room.”  She vanished into the parlour to resume talking with Daddy and George, and then she hurried into the kitchen to make tea, and then she was cleaning the refrigerator.
Daddy poured himself a drink and joined Caleb and Temple on the balcony. George answered Mummy patiently and succeeded in encouraging her to postpone cleaning the refrigerator until perhaps tomorrow. Daddy was quiet. He looked out over the square through the thick lenses of his glasses and he watched tourists take photos of one another locked in the stocks next to two colonial-era cannon. In minutes George came for Daddy and they went downstairs to walk to Achilles Bay. Caleb and Temple watched them go across the square—“Like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum,” Caleb said.
He and Temple drank and settled as the sun, nearly gone from the sky, burnished everything in the square. Temple showed Caleb how to whistle. Caleb managed to produce only puffs of wind. “Keep at it, you’ll get it,” Temple said. 
            Inside, Mummy bustled, talking declaratively to herself.
They all went to bed early. During the night Temple sat up in a panic each time Caleb moved and he looked at Caleb with open but unseeing eyes.
Is he afraid, even in his sleep, that I will pounce? 
The first two nights for Caleb were difficult. There was no air-conditioning. The sofa bed was unfit for sleeping. Tree frogs created a loud and constant counterpoint to the—finally—stillness of the Ekdahl household. But he knew that it was Temple--moving, breathing, occasionally whimpering--that made sleeping nearly impossible. Perhaps it had to do with being here in Paradise, where my love for you grows.
 He was reading Temple’s note to Moira a third time.
“Freud would say I wanted you to find it.” Temple stood in the doorway wearing his blue nylon running shorts and an unbuttoned long-sleeved white shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbows. He no longer bandaged his nose. The slight bruised coloring actually enhanced its symmetrical beauty. And had his hair gone a little shaggier since they got here?
“Freud’s pretty much discredited,” Caleb said. He put the paper down and tightened the ties of the grey sweat pants he was wearing. “Ready?”
They went to Achilles Bay to swim before dinner as they had done the past two afternoons. And as with those afternoons, when they returned they could expect George to bring them drinks on the balcony and after Daddy asked how their swim was, Temple would say it was awesome and Caleb would say that he will miss it indeed when he goes back to Pennsylvania.

            This late afternoon, there were only a few others on the beach and most of them sat quietly and watched the long lazy powerful rolling surf. 
"We’ll go wave running this week," Temple said, “I’ll teach you.”
“And today you will help me whistle.”
“Let's race to that rock."
And off he went down the beach, splashing the shallow waves that sloshed along the sand.
He walks like Apollo; he runs like Mercury.
Caleb jogged half the distance to the rock, then slowed to a walk. He was panting when he reached Temple.
"You've smoked three packs a day for how long?" Temple said.
"And I'm forty-two years old."
"Yeah, but not til tomorrow. Let’s swim out to those rocks.” He stripped to his speedo and then loped toward the water. Caleb watched him bounding and bouncing and splashing up to his thighs before finally plunging beneath the waves.
Caleb waded in waist-high and then swam slowly toward Temple, who was now halfway to the rocks and treading water, waiting for Caleb to catch up. Caleb’s lungs heaved to fill with air and his legs and arms strained, but he was determined to make it. 
            He gasped with relief when at last they were sitting on the rocks. 
            Temple, golden in the late-day sun, said, "If I save your life, you will be eternally grateful to me."
"I am already eternally grateful to you." Caleb bowed his head and let his arms hang. He was panting.
“Let’s stay here a while,” Temple said.
For some minutes they were silent. When he had his breath, Caleb pursed his lips and blew. Not a sound.
“Put the tip of your tongue behind your bottom teeth like this.”
Again Caleb blew. Nothing. Again. A bit of a whistly whee.
Temple beamed. "Now who’s the teacher and who's the student?"
“Yeah, and who’s Fanny Skeffington?”
Temple looked blank. He frowned.
“Not important,” Caleb said.
“I always feel inadequate.”
“It’s nothing. A forties movie. An aging woman tries way too hard to keep up with her young beau.”
“You’re not a woman--”
“But I am aging.“
“--and I’m not your beau.”
Waves sloshed against the rock and gulls floated overhead.    
Caleb said, “Were you Moira’s beau?”
“I’m sorry you read that nonsense.”
“Were you lovers?”
Temple looked out to the shore a moment. His fingers followed a smooth indentation in the rock.
Caleb said, “Did you know about Father Nepomucine?”
“It feels wrong to talk about her. Like she can’t defend herself and we’re taking her clothes off or something.”
“Didn't he piss you off? I can’t stop thinking about him.”
“I hate him.”
“Do you know him?”
“I know enough.”
“What? Tell me.”
“What the hell was he doing at the memorial?”
“I don’t know.”
“What the fuck’s between him and Moira?”
“Nothing. She’s dead. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.”
“Dammit, tell me.”
“Leave me alone!” 
            Silence. He watched his finger still tracing the indentation in the rock.
            “I don’t know anything," he said. "I hardly even knew her.” 
            “It’s all…just…crap.” 
            Finally he stood. “Are you rested enough?”
He dived off the rocks and swam effortlessly, barely disturbing the water. Caleb jumped in and followed him. The shore was a long way off. He hadn’t got far before he knew he was in trouble. He had lost sight of Temple. His lungs couldn't take in enough air. The waves lifted him and then dropped and swelled and jostled. His arms ached and then went too weak to function. Water hit him full in the face. He gasped, flailed. He tried to call out and water sloshed into his mouth. And then more and his head went under. He wrenched his head above water but before he could get a breath, he was pulled under again.
He felt a hand lifting under his armpit from behind and his head broke the surface. Temple was swimming beside him, buoying him up. He sucked in breaths of air.
"All right?” Temple said.
He struggled to calm the frenzy pounding within him. He nodded.
“Do you want to try the tired swimmer's carry?"
He nodded again.
“Float on your back.”
He did and Temple moved over on top of him, arms straight, hands flat against his shoulders.
“Hold onto my arms. Open your legs so I can kick between them.”
Caleb’s legs, buoyed by the water, touched Temple’s and then he spread them and Temple began a gentle rhythmic frog-kick. Temple was looking directly into Caleb's eyes and Caleb relaxed and let him. His breathing was shallow. His heart was thundering. But not just, he thought, because he had nearly drowned.
Temple continued the regular, pulsing frog kick and with each kick, Caleb’s legs opened and then closed a little and touched Temple's legs, then opened again.
“Not my preferred position,” Caleb said.
Temple continued to look down at him.
“Though not entirely unfamiliar." He tried a half-smile. “I could get used to it.”
A barely perceptible shadow passed over Temple’s face but he didn’t avert his eyes. He kept his hands on Caleb’s shoulders and his arms straight. He continued pulling his knees out and kicking back, knees out, kick back. And he continued to look down into Caleb’s eyes.
After some minutes Caleb said, "It feels like we've been going around in circles."
"We have," Temple said. "Can you make it on your own now?" 
“Must I?”
"Can you?"
“I can. I must. I will.”

When later Daddy asked about their swim, Temple said it was awesome and Caleb said he would miss it acutely.

Friday, August 12, 2011

TWELVE: Fifteen Love

Les stayed at Diana’s over night and drove to his office in the morning. During her lunch hour, Diana came to campus to register for his class. “Learn to act,” she said, “ease your lover’s despair.” 
Afterwards they walked to the bridge over the ravine at the observatory.
“Okay, Joe,” she said, one foot pushing tiny pebbles off the bridge and into the ravine, “I’ll meet you at 5:20 in front of the bank so we can motor to the mansion and find out what young Father Nepomucine is up to.”
She went off singing Gold doubloons and pieces of eight.
            He stayed on the bridge and looked into the ravine a few minutes and then walked up to the playing fields. For a while he watched a pick-up game of—what? Soccer? Lacrosse? Whatever. He was trying not to think specifically. It wasn’t easy. He was feeling old and more lost than yesterday. After an hour or so, he went back to his office.
Olivia came to the door.
“Doctor Breznick wants you to call him as soon as you can.” When she saw puzzlement on his face, she added, “He’s the principal of Falkes Hollow elementary.”
“Oh.” He felt a sudden pinch of concern in his stomach. “Oh, all right.” He told himself there was nothing to feel a sudden pinch of concern about.
            Doctor Breznick’s voice sounded like a banker’s. “Professor Overchord, thank you for returning my call.”
Unconsciously, Les switched to casual mode. “Not a problem. What’s up?”
“I wanted to ask if you and Mrs. Overchord took Patti out of school this afternoon?” It was the formal but familiar, even condescending, tone of the minor bureaucrat temporarily in charge of something significant.
The pinch of concern in Les’s stomach intensified. “I don’t know,” he said.
            “I didn’t take Patti out of school this afternoon, but—“
            “I called your home and when no one answered, I assumed that someone must have picked Patti up after lunch.”
            “What’s going on?”
            “It would of course be irregular to take a child out of school without notifying the front office, but--”
            “What happened?”
            “No need to panic, Professor Overchord.”
“I’m trying not to.”
“Patti seems not to have come back into the school building after playground lunch break. Do you know if perhaps Mrs. Overchord--”
            “No, I don’t know if perhaps Mrs.—I’ll be right there.”
            In minutes he was sitting in the principal’s office. “Did you talk to Derek?” he said.
            “Derek says he hasn’t seen Patti since early morning.”
“Where is he?”
“He’s at Little League. Just as well, considering, yes?”
            “Did you call the police?”
            “Professor Overchord, since we haven’t had an opportunity to talk with Mrs. Overchord—"
            “Patti is a good, careful child. She would not leave the schoolyard without cause.”
            “Exactly. Can you suggest where we might locate Mrs. Overchord?”
            “I don’t know.” He was indeed panicking and the minor annoyance with Doctor Breznick was developing into focused anger. “She—uh—she sometimes goes shopping with friends on Wednesday afternoons—but this is Thursday, isn’t it? Uh, I don’t know, she plays tennis a couple of times a week, takes lessons, but I think that’s in the morning.”
            “Where does she play? Perhaps we might call.”
            “The country club.”
            “Oh?” with some surprise. Then: “Old Falkes Hollow?”
            Had derision slipped in behind Doctor Breznick’s placid exterior? Jesus, faculty can belong to the goddam country club, right?, without--
Breznick was staring at him.
“What.” With some aggression.
            “Would you rather I made the call?” Breznick said.
            “No. No, I’ll do it. Do you have a phonebook?”
            He had to get the number from directory assistance. The front desk at the club connected him with the clubhouse.
            “Clubhouse. Cheeks speaking.”
            Les felt sudden embarrassment not only for not knowing Cheeks but also for never even having spoken with him. Maybe he should apologize or something. “Uh, Cheeks, this is Les Overchord. Lydia Overchord’s husband.”
            “Oh, yeah, Perfessor, how are you? How’s Patti and Derek?”
            “Um, well, they’re fine, Cheeks, thank you.” Maybe he did know Cheeks. “I’m, uh, actually trying to locate Mrs. Overchord. Has she been to the clubhouse today?”
            “I don’t think so, Perfessor. Hold on, I’ll ask Jimmy, he’s the kid who’s manning the counter this summer.”
            Les had only a slim grip on the fear and anger twisting in his stomach.
            “This is Jimmy Kroegher.”
“Yes, Jimmy, hi, thank you, uh, have you seen Lyd—Mrs. Overchord today?”
“No sir, Mrs. Overchord hasn’t come in today.”
            “Ah. Oh.” A moment of helpless loss. The panic was now choking his voice. “Well, thanks for—“
            “I think she told one of the ball boys she’d be taking lessons at the college this summer.”
“Oh, did she?”
“Yeah, starting this week.”
            “That I don’t know, sir.”
            He got Breznick’s home phone number and he went to campus.
There were four outdoor tennis courts next to the old gym. All of them had people on them. Lydia wasn’t among them.
Maybe she was in the dressing room. Maybe she had been here with Patti and had decided to have a girls’ day out. Could he just walk into the women’s dressing room? Could she have had a lesson on the indoor court up at the field house? Where would she take Patti for a girls’ day out after a tennis lesson anyway?
            “Les!” a voice called in bright delighted surprise.
            He turned and saw Jean Balfour coming toward him. She carried a racquet and was wearing a white tennis skirt with a pink top. Her lipstick color matched the top and her impossibly black hair was pulled into a high tight ponytail.
A tall young man in tennis shorts and shirt came behind her holding three tennis balls in the fingers of his left hand. Slung over his right shoulder was a nylon athletic bag from which a tennis racquet poked out. He turned his head to watch the action on the courts.
            Les asked and Jean said, yes, both she and Lydia had decided to give the instructors at the college a try this summer and in fact Lydia had scheduled a lesson for today, but Jean had been side-tracked all morning and hadn’t seen her. She wasn’t sure exactly what time Lydia’s lesson had been scheduled for, but surely there was a master schedule at the main desk, wasn’t there?
            “Do you know if she had Patti with her?”
            For a moment Jean looked at him directly and simply. “She didn’t say anything about bringing Patti, no.” And then the look disappeared and her tone again brightened. “Why? Is something wrong, Les?”
            Les could see the sparkling delight in Jean’s eyes as she looked at him with what she surely assumed resembled open earnest concern. He had an instant’s vision of Amber and Whitney Balfour going home last week after their visit to Patti’s house and telling their mother how they had seen Mr. Overchord run out of the kitchen swearing at Mrs. Overchord, blood running down the back of one of his hands. And in an unguarded moment maybe Lydia had spilled her guts at their last goddamn partnered tennis lesson.
            “No, nothing’s wrong,” he said. “Just mixed signals. Or cross purposes. Or something.”
            Jean laughed and introduced Leon, her summer undergrad tennis instructor, who brushed back a curl of streaked blond hair with his free hand and smiled. Then he and Jean went on to the courts.
            Les stood paralyzed by anger and panic. He decided to call the police.
            Diana waited at the bank for Les until 5:35. She called his office. Nothing. She called his house, ready to hang up if Lydia answered. Nothing. It looked like Frank Hardy was going to have to pursue the mystery of the sexy priest without the help of brother Joe. And Frank was proud of herself for putting aside her understandable disappointment and deciding that Joe must have had good reason for ditching her without so much as a word of warning, the selfish prick son of a bitch.
            She drove to the Pedersen Mansion gate, parked, and stole up the drive. Yes, she thought, I am not walking up the drive, I am stealing up the drive. I am on the lookout for Leatherface the Slasher Gardener.
At the last moment, she decided not to ring the bell. Instead she would look in windows, perhaps even try for an unlocked door. She slinked along the side of the house and went to the back. The sun was low but still bright and shadows stretched across the back lawn. The lawn sloped gradually to a sweep of stone stairs and the entrance to what looked like a great formal garden. With its walls of high hedges, she thought it might even be an Elizabethan maze. Like the one in The Shining.
            She heard a male voice and laughter coming from the garden. She walked along the back of the house toward fruit trees of some kind at the side where she thought she could maneuver without being seen from the windows. She hurried to get ahead of the voice, which was moving into the garden and which she was certain was his. Where the hedges weren’t so dense she found a way in and immediately ducked behind a cluster of yellow rose bushes. For just a moment she watched the turn in the sun-dappled path beyond which the voice--or voices--grew clearer and louder.
Then around the turn came Father John Nepomucine. She knew it was him by the swirls of black-brown hair tossing about on his head as he moved animatedly through the patterned sunlight and shadow. Walking beside him was a young girl perhaps nine or ten years old. She was carrying a long-stemmed pink rose and her black hair fell freely over and down her shoulders.
Both of them were naked.
            He said something and she laughed and threw the rose into the air and twirled, her hair fanning out in the fading sunlight.