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.

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