Pure Northernness

“Like a voice from far more distant regions, there came a moment when I idly turned the pages of the book and found the unrhymed translation of Tegner’s Drapa and read

I heard a voice that cried,

Balder the beautiful

Is dead, is dead–

I knew nothing about Balder; but instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of the northern sky…cold, spacious, severe, pale, and remote…”

–C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

 

Take the day and walk your lot.

The hours aren’t enough,

Foot by foot,

To stake a claim on vacant creation

Whose master they’ve rejected.

 

Devil’s dust and cloud’s whitest white.

Restlessly simmering, hot waters are trapped;

To drain into cold seas would mean relief.

But the ground cracks,

Rivers of fire forge new ways.

Continental causeways and glacier bridges

Test time,

Looking on with grimaced surmise.

 

Who then,

When even Odin,

Abandoning his horse,

Chose to ride with raven’s wings

To prey on what was dead,

But

The men applaud

Let the chieftains sing.

***

I wrote this poem years ago when I was reading Song of the Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown, researching for a project I was working on. It was around Christmastime years before that when I began another project that I thought of immediately when I recently reread this poem.

I may be sharing that story this holiday season as part of a Story Series. However, unlike Letters to Elliot Hawthorne and Wayward, this story does not have an ending.

Yet.

I have written only so much. It would be shared in only two parts in December/ January, and although it is set on Christmas Eve, it’s not a very light-hearted story, kind of like this poem. I jump genres in it, so be warned; it is not like my other stories. However, I like it and I feel like sharing it. So, come back, it’s coming soon.

“What I had read was the words Siegfried and the Twlight of the Gods…Pure ‘Northernness’ engulfed me: a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of Northern summer…I knew that I had met this before, long, long ago in Tegner’s Drapa…”

–C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy
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Wayward Ep. 5 (end of Volume I)

V.

MRS. WAHLTON

Church was the next day and church always meant seeing my mother. Lewis always told me that Mum was a loveable enough person but her love was not easily given. This, of course, made me feel as if attaining my mother’s love and approval to be some weighty feat that even he had trouble with. As I grew older, I figured that her selectiveness was a good thing, proving her discernment and that’s where Lewis got his from.

I wore my new jacket from Donahue’s and Lewis even made a comment about it. It was almost a compliment but not quite. My parents, who were always in love, the one love I knew was certain in the world, sat at one end of the fourth pew from the back row and us children lined up, descending according to our birthdates. Alice was there too, sandwiched between Kimberly and Lewis.

I could never concentrate in church. I always got distracted too often to let the words of ministers linger and have meaning. I was stuck on how loudly and awfully the man in front of us was singing. I was caught up on examining what everyone else was wearing; counting the pieces of glass in the stained windows, how many hymnals were upside down and tucked inside the backs of wooden pews; the various sizes of choirs we have one Sunday and not the next. So, I sat not really listening at all, wondering what Mum was going to cook for lunch.

Lunch on Sundays was always at my parents’ house. It was in the countryside like Lewis and Alice’s house and it was a place that always brought up deep-rooted, unanswered questions.

Mum welcomed Lewis and Alice inside when they arrived as if it was the first time she had seen them all day, even though they had only been separated for the twelve-minute ride from the church.

I was watching it all quite bitterly from my chair in the kitchen. Dad was beside me. Dad only dressed up for church and holidays, something Mum detested thoroughly, and he always scoffed when his sons did otherwise. Kimberly could prance around in high heels and fancy hairdos with new sweet-smelling perfumes and no one would think any more of it.

Mum made soup and bread and salad and served us all at the dinner table, set with an autumny bunch of flowers in the center. Mum always dressed like she was more artistic than she really was; with layers of chunky jewelry and long, flowing sweaters. Dad, on the other hand, never dressed to his full potential; always in ill-fitting slacks with sweaters from his past. Lewis blamed it on retirement and country-living.

For the entirety of the meal, I sat with my head down, finishing as quickly as possible to keep the conversation short. I just kept praying, wishing, hoping that no one would bring up Lewis’ matchmaking attempts.

Then Kimberly looked at me and it was a look which didn’t quite have a name; it wasn’t sly or sheepish or cheeky, it was just Kimberly and the fact that she was going to start talking about you. It was almost a moment she was giving, politely, for you to start talking about something else before she began. But I didn’t catch on as swiftly as I ought.

“Mum,” she said, sitting a little straighter and interrupting Lewis and Dad’s conversation about some boat one of them was thinking about purchasing in the summertime. Mum looked up, delighted like everyone does when Kimberly addresses them. “You remember Rosie from Potter’s, don’t you?” Kimberly asked, and as the name slipped from her mouth, I dropped my fork with a loud clang. Mum wasn’t impressed.

“She’s got a hyphenated name, doesn’t she?” Mum asked, after slightly glaring at me because of the fork. “What was it?”

“King-Fontaine.”

“Are her parents divorced?” asked Mum.

“No, no,” continued Kimberly. “I ran into her the other day and we got to talking.”

Mum looked at Kimberly for more information as if the rarity of her daughter talking about someone for so short a length of time too abnormal.

Kimberly inhaled one large gulp of air and then: “Lewis thought that she and Marty would make a good match.” Then she sucked in her lips; whether she was trying not to laugh was something I didn’t know.

“Really!” Mum screeched, looking at me and smiling. “Marty, that’s wonderful–what’s she like?”

“She’s adorable,” Kimberly said. “She’s sweet and good-looking. I think she’d fit in nicely with us, don’t you, Alice?”

“Of course,” said Alice, grinning in my direction.

My expression dropped as I stared into space. Alice and Kimberly were as much a couple as Lewis and Alice and I never imagined them initiating any other girl into their clique.

“What do you think of her, Marty?” Dad asked, poking his white head of hair out from behind Kimberly, who I was sitting beside.

I stuttered a little and tried to get something out, anything really, but Mum came back with, while pointing her fork at me, “Why haven’t you asked her out yet?”

“I don’t know her, Mum,” I argued gently. “I’ve never even spoken to her.”

“Your father didn’t know me when he came up to me. Lewis didn’t know Alice, either, did you, Lewis?”

Lewis tried to agree but Dad interrupted.

“Do you like her or not?” he asked, leaning over to see me. He looked at Mum and they both pointed their forks at one another from opposite heads of the table. “I don’t think he likes her.”

Mum nodded, agreeing. “Is she pretty?”

“She’s very pretty,” shouted Kimberly, obviously offended that I hadn’t said so in the first place.

“Why are you so upset?” I asked her.

“I just can’t believe you don’t think she’s pretty.”

“I didn’t say I didn’t think she was pretty. When did I say that?”

“You don’t think she’s pretty?” Lewis chimed in too, equally offended as our sister.

“Lewis thinks she’s pretty.”

I picked her out,” Lewis said.

Alice hid her laugh behind her napkin and I shook my head, shocked.

“We’re going to the rugby game tomorrow, meeting her there in fact,” Kimberly stated matter-of-factly.

“Oh,” Mum said, rather pleased and getting back to her meal. “That settles it then.”

“What settles what?” I asked.

“You can see for yourself. Now,” she said, sighing and finishing off the subject. “Marty, how’s our cousin doing?”

My mother always had a way of stirring up trouble and then taming it down with simple statements and lingering looks. After that, I was fine with the rest of the conversation. There was laughter and jokes and stories told, mainly by Lewis and his charm.

After the meal, I stood near the bay window overlooking the tree-covered lawn, and wondered about what we had become. I could see the three of us children running around the trees, dashing through fall leaves and splashing through rain puddles.

Kimberly was inside her room, folding and hanging her clothes in her closet when I knocked on the open door. I walked in and landed on her bed, apparently doing something I shouldn’t have because she told me to get up instantly. Sitting up, I surveyed her things. The room claimed she was still a little girl with the same patchwork quilts on the bed, knit pillowcases at the head and old blanket at the foot; the same pop music records stacked on her bookshelves in between the hard-covered children’s books. But there were the hints of her adulthood scattered throughout the sentimental childhood memories like souvenirs from her travels; the glassy perfumes set atop the vanity and her old textbooks from Potter’s lined up with her well-worn travel guides.

She finally stopped from organizing and turned to stare at me. “Marty?” she said because I was daydreaming.

I looked over and said, “What do you wear to a rugby game?”

This is the end of Volume I, but Wayward will return

A new story series will begin soon

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Wayward Ep. 4

IV.     ROSIE

I didn’t want to sound too interested in her because I was afraid of my sister thinking I was desperate and of my brother thinking I was seriously considering his choice and otherwise allowing him to pat himself on the back one more time. So I organized my questions about her, distanced them through the dinner’s conversations to quench any suspicions.

I asked for her full name right off, to which Kimberly replied while setting down her drink, “I think her real name is Scarlett Rosamund.”

I winced as I turned to Lewis who sat across from me in the dimming light of the restaurant. “That’s rather harsh, don’t you think?” I asked.

“Or is it Rosamund Scarlett…” Kimberly continued, picking up her drink again and looking at the ceiling as if the answer was up there. She shook her head finally and said, “Either way, she’s a King-Fontaine.”

“Should I know that name?” I asked.

“Wouldn’t think so, they’re not from here.”

I could have asked where she did come from or about the size of her family, but I didn’t. I resigned to examining my sister’s outfit while Alice inquired of her latest adventure.

Kimberly was wearing slender black pants that were too short with small flat shoes and on top she had a white sweater with ruffles all down the front. “This is how the women in Paris dress,” she said while spinning 360 degrees before we sat down at our table. I admired the way she kept her hair free of frizz and tamed her natural waves. I wished that were the way Rosie King-Fontaine, if that was her real name, would have kept her hair and clothes.

It was getting dark outside and the yellow lights on the walls by the mantle sent everything in the room aglow. Kimberly was talking about Potter’s School for Girls when I tried to fit in my next question about Rosie. My sister sent the table into laughter when finishing her anecdote with, “That’s why all the boys in Mallory thought it was a finishing school.”

“Isn’t it?” I asked.

“Hardly. This is the twenty-first century, Marty.”

“They teach girls how to cook and sew and clean.”

Kimberly nodded, obviously offended by the comparison and said, “And Latin and French and German and how to decode Milton while solving quadratics and building from the periodic table.”

I began to wonder if I had judged Potter Girls, for that was what we all called them here, entirely wrong. Kimberly went to Potter’s School and she turned out fine, not cold and unapproachable like I had labeled the gaggle of girls that filed from the dorm every night.

“And you met Rosie there?” I asked, coughing after, hoping that if they didn’t hear me they’d just skip to another topic.

Kimberly nodded. “Yes, she was two years younger than me.”

“You were friends then?”

“We said hi and bye. She was quiet and I was quiet; never one for socializing until I was done with that school.”

Kimberly may have outgrown her shyness and severity but Rosie, for what I could tell, hadn’t yet.

“I don’t know where she was before she came to Windsor but I know why she did,” Kimberly added. “Her father had a stroke and the consequences on his health were grave. They had to buy a house to accommodate his needs and the big house on Coach Street is hers. That’s all the girls ever told me about her.”

“So she does go to Windsor?”

Lewis, Alice and Kimberly looked at me as if I should have been asking about something else that Kimberly had said and I looked, puzzled at each of them, until Kimberly said, “I don’t know. I don’t go to Windsor.”

Lewis cleared his throat on purpose and said, “Now that you’re back in town you should invite her out, Kim.”

“And let her know about your scheme,” I interjected immediately, disgusted by the idea. “Not a chance!”

“Kim wouldn’t say anything, would you, Kim?”

“Of course not! It’d be far too embarrassing anyway.”

“See what she’s like,” Lewis said. “You’d be a very positive influence. Alice should go too.”

I frowned as I surveyed them all making plans and although I despised the idea more than thoroughly, I couldn’t help being intrigued to find out more about Rosie’s life and Kimberly, if anybody, would be the best influence on her.

It seemed, after my sister told me her name, I saw Rosie King-Fontaine everywhere; I passed her on campus sidewalks, coming through doors and even waiting in hallways. I stared at her each and every time waiting to see if she would stare back. She never did. She never seemed to look up once. This wasn’t working; this waiting, in which I didn’t know what for, or the inaction I wasn’t taking, though I didn’t know how to act if I had the guts.

I had to wait to find out if Kimberly had spoken with her because Kimberly didn’t show up to lunch at the Den. Alice didn’t either and when I asked of her whereabouts, Lewis told me she was with our sister.

“Kimberly did want to see you though. Something of some grave importance I’m sure,” Lewis mentioned, forgetting to veil his sarcasm as we sat at a small table outside on the terrace where men were smoking expensive cigars in expensive suits.

I began to worry that Kimberly was with Rosie that very minute and I couldn’t concentrate on anything else Lewis said. I was imagining the worst; Kimberly in close proximity with Rosie and discussing Lewis’ plan and roaring in laughter over how stupid it was.

“If I call Alice at the house—they could still be at the house—where should I tell Kim to meet you?” Lewis asked.

I was staring into Lewis’ chest and studying his upper half as the bistro set concealed his lower half. He was wearing a suit, though it wasn’t as heathery as most of his others were; it was charcoal, and underneath was a black shirt—the whole ensemble was from his favorite store on Queen Street. “Marty,” he said, trying to get my attention.

I looked down at my wool cardigan and white Henley, saying, “Donahue’s.”

Donahue’s sounded like some Irish pub but the only good pub around that Windsor kids went to was the Iron Duke. Donahue’s was a men’s boutique with dark furnishings and a vast selection of tailor-made options. It was all Italy-imported goods, from their leather to their cashmere and everyone who worked there was white-haired and eighty. My father took Lewis there for the first time for his elementary school graduation suit. Kent waited on us and Kent had ever since, of course favoring us more whenever Kimberly was present like everyone does. “Such expensive taste,” Kent always said of her.

I met Kimberly there and she greeted me like any sister would and neglected to mention where she was or who she was with, so I figured anything she was about to tell me during our shopping excursion wasn’t going to be so gravely important as Lewis had figured.

“Buongiorno,” she happily saluted Salvatore who always manned the cash counter. He nodded toward her, smiling graciously and welcoming us in.

Kent walked in next, good and wholesome Scottish Kent who was always impeccably dressed. “Miss Wahlton,” he said. “Welcome, welcome. Ah, Mr. Wahlton, looking for something new?” I nodded casually as I scanned the shelved and hug garments on mannequins and in display windows. “Something new for church perhaps?”

“Yes,” Kimberly answered for me. “Maybe,” she corrected. “We’ll look first and ask for you when he’s decided.” Kent bowed his head slightly and smiled politely, leaving us alone as we were the only ones inside the store.

Kimberly examined folds of English tartans, fondled merino wools and clung to Italian leathers as we circled about the wall displays and table tops. “So. Guess who Alice and I ran into during lunch?” she began.

I stopped in my turning, suddenly terrified of her sentence’s end. “Please say Mum,” I begged.

She smiled. “Rosie from Potter’s; the girl Lewis is so set on me befriending.”

She didn’t need to be so specific. I knew exactly who she was talking about. Rosamund Scarlett King-Fontaine was the only name I had been fixated on for the last week when I should have been studying names like Locke, Hume or Descrates.

“Oh?” I said, concealing my eagerness to unlock every detail down to the way she wore her hair.

“Yes, it was completely on accident too, because I had planned to come up with some sort of way to meet with her.”

“How did you see her?”

“Alice and I were eating at the Tea Shoppe and she was purchasing something to go. I just shouted out her name and we got to talking. She remembered me rather well too and all that good stuff. I told her of my going to Europe and I asked about her naturally. Oh, Marty, you have to get this tie,” she exclaimed, pointing to a navy and maroon striped one inside the table’s glass top.

“What does she do?” I asked swiftly, not distracted by Kimberly’s subject change or impressed with her finding.

“She studies history at Windsor.

“History? What’s one to do with that?”

Kimberly turned and gave me a look. “Well, what is one to do with a philosophy major?” I blinked and stared into space, thinking on her question, but I decided to overlook it for now, seeing as the topic was Rosie King-Fontaine and not me. “I told her that I had to see her again and it wasn’t one of those invitations that I usually to say to other girls I haven’t seen in months because I don’t really intend to see them at all—it was real.”

“What did she say? Did she like you enough?”

“I think so since she agreed to watch the rugby game tomorrow.”

“Rugby? On campus?”

“Mm hmm, Alice is coming too.”

“Did she like Alice?”

Kimberly frowned at my anxious tone. “They barely spoke.”

“But everyone likes Alice.”

My sister laughed. “I’m sure she did like Alice just fine.” Kimberly moved to a rack of jackets and pulled one out. “Now, try this.” She handed me something of grey herringbone and shoved me toward the fitting room. When I came out, Kent was there holding the tie Kimberly had spotted earlier.

I looked down at the jacket on my body and tugged at it a bit, stretching and flexing my arms, feeling the fit of it. “You look great!” Kimberly said.

I spun to face the mirror. “It’s part of the fall collection, just imported,” Kent informed me, standing behind me with a measuring tape draped around his neck.

I looked down at the three-digit price on the tag and then at my reflection again. “Also, the new messenger bag you saw in the catalogue is in,” Kent continued. “It comes in the burnt brown like Kimberly suggested.”

I nodded and turned to face them both. “I’ll take it.”

“And the satchel as well?” Kent asked.

I looked at the mirror again and nodded slowly. “And the tie.”

Returns next Tuesday 

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Wayward Ep. 3

III.         KIMBERLY

Lewis and I walked the university roads, passing lecture halls and collected clubs, with the setting sun behind us, making everyone silhouettes. “You want me to stalk her?” I asked him.

“I want you to get to know her,” he corrected.

“Without talking to her?”

“Learn about her, is what I’m saying.”

I frowned; I didn’t know this girl’s name, how old she was. I didn’t know what classes she took, if she was even a student.

“Find out what her schedule’s like,” Lewis suggested as we walked back to the Den’s terrace.

“How am I supposed to do that?”

Lewis stopped at his parked car, turned and grinned. I shook my head as he drove away, leaving me with no further advice.

I tried to imagine her, the one, again. I couldn’t remember how tall she was, how slender, the exact color of her hair—nothing. Then I remembered what Lewis told me; it all depends on how you look at it.

But I was late for work.

It was near suppertime and just when students and families were sitting down at long dining tables or around countertops, relieved to meet the end of another day, I was headed for five hours behind a desk; reading Husserl and answering telephones.

Doyle and Doyle Barristers and Solicitors was downtown on the waterfront. Leaving the Windsor campus was like leaving another town in which all things picturesque were born and sustained, the perfect Edith Wharton American living was left behind and real life began.

The city was smoggy near the lakefront with sailboat masts breaking the horizon and ferries bridging the gap between the harbour and the island across the way. The lawyers’ office where I worked was newly refinished, but the only square footage I ever really saw of it was the space between the door and the front desk.

It was a large, dark wooden writing desk with a green lamp that was always on; it was the only light on in there after hours because the ceiling lights were on timers, which I, apparently, wasn’t considered in. The telephone rang about seven times an hour and I answered, saying, “Doyle and Doyle Barristers and Solicitors, can I connect you?” In which the other end usual replied, “Yes, please, Mr. Doyle.”

In between rings I ate poorly homemade sandwiches, nothing like the ones Mum used to pack in my school lunch, opened my textbooks, wrote papers, jotted notes and read passages. The night cleaners came and went, mopping the tile floors and emptying garbage cans. I always smiled, extra friendly, because it seemed—these lawyers—the more you paid them the messier they were.

It was near eleven when I got home to my housing. I made zero progress in my studies that night. I was thinking about the magazine girl—the one or whatever I was supposed to call her. Lewis lived a life I envied. I wanted it. I’ll admit it. So, I was going to follow through with his plan.

I spent the following week trying to locate the magazine girl, without much luck. I tried to see if she was in any of my classes—none. A dozen circumstances ran through my head; what if she was ill that day? What if she slept in? What if there was some life-altering scenario which kept her?

I went back to the café. I thought the monthly delivery of the new magazine issues would have enticed her—nothing. What if she got her subscription delivered now? What if she went to some other book shop on campus?

I stayed late after classes to see if she would come in for the next seminar; I hung around the dormitories in case she lived in residence—nothing—not one trace of her existence. I figured she transferred or she never attended Windsor to begin with.

I didn’t know if it was the introduction of the magazine girl in my life that was causing my grades to drop or my lack of knowledge on the subjects. I walked around with my heavy books and decided I should pick up more recommended reading at the library.

The library was a squatty thing, long and never-ending with shelves after shelves, aisle after aisle. I went directly to the librarian for help. I liked her because she was a retired English professor with a very charming disposition; she wore fashionable eyeglasses and her gray hair styled and never disheveled. But when I arrived at the front desk, after passing whispering students hidden behind books and booths, the old lady wasn’t there.

There was no one there.

I waited, growing annoyed by the second, and searched for someone to help. When I turned back around, I froze.

There was someone behind the counter now, appearing like a flash and I blinked, thinking it was my imagination. The look on my face must have been priceless.

It was the magazine girl.

She just stood there, staring back at me like any real person would.

“Can I help you?”

Ah, her voice! She was real. She was alive and…speaking to me.

She appeared unimpressed, so I tilted my head, trying to as nonchalant as my nerves would let me be, and dropped my books onto the counter, clearing my throat.

“Returning these?” she asked.

I did have the ability to speak and she was interrupting me—I wanted to prove to her, if this was really going to be our first interaction, that I was capable of at least that.

“Yes,” I squeaked.

I cleared my throat again.

“I need to take out An Introduction to Husserlian Phenomenology,” I said, trying to sound smart about it.

The magazine girl stared at me like I was speaking a different language and to someone who’s never studied what I have studied, it might. She blinked, removed the books from the counter and carried them to the opposite counter behind her.

She did some typing on a computer and waited, tapping her finger on the space button for something to do. I looked away so I wouldn’t ogle her. Then:

“We don’t have that one available, it’s wait-listed.”

I swallowed. “For how long?”

“Next year.”

My expression dropped and now I wasn’t thinking about how to impress her, I was thinking about my grades.

“I have Introduction to Phenomenology,” she said, reading the screen in front of her. “And The Phenomenological Mind. It’s recommended for students who have a special interest in cognitive science.”

I stared at her until she looked my way.

“Do you like cognitive science?” was her question.

“I’ll take the first one,” I said, touching my shirt collar as if it was choking me.

She wrote down the author and the duodecimal number on a scrap piece of paper for me. “Is that all?” she asked, handing it over.

Was this it? Was this all she was going to ask me?

“I need…”

I thought for a little while.

TheStructure of Scientific Revolutions…”

She turned back to her computer and typed more. I thought that for sure would impress her, but, apparently, it did not.

When she found the book online, she wrote its details on the same piece of paper and then finally smiled at me. But I couldn’t smile back, all I said was, “The Nature of Mind.”

“I’m sorry?”

“It’s by David Armstrong.”

“Oh.”

She turned, typed, found and then scribbled the new information on the paper. She slid it across the counter one last time. Her smile had shrunk.

“Thank you,” I said before turning toward the first aisle of books.

As I walked away, I wondered if she was watching me, if my reaction to her and her reaction to me was…normal. I was let down, for starters. She didn’t have a name tag; she didn’t ask me how I was—she didn’t do any of the things I expected her to do. Smile, laugh, send me on my way with well wishes. And yet her inattention intrigued me more.

I walked swiftly down the library aisles, ready to find my books. I tried to keep an eye on her to make sure she didn’t leave. I finally found her; I couldn’t lose her now. The duodecimal numbers grew larger and longer and I couldn’t spot the front desk from where I was. I thumbed the spines of the books quickly, reading the numbers out loud. I snatched the three books as fast as I could and raced back to the front desk.

I wanted to curse when the stylish old lady was back and the magazine girl was gone. I waited with the pile of books in my arms, searching for her.

“Can I sign those out for you?” the usual librarian asked me.

It was no use; the magazine girl was gone.

I sighed and gave over the books, leaving with only my grade’s improvement to look forward to.

The bell on St. Mary’s cathedral rang twelve times, the gongs echoing around me as I walked from the library to the Den. It was time was for lunch with Alice and Lewis. But this time it was different; Kimberly had been invited, too.

I raced across campus and found myself at a loss without a tie or jacket, just my sweater and shirt collar showing. I knew they were all going to show up in their best but I didn’t have time to change.

Kimberly was my older sister. She was the middle child and that didn’t even begin to sum her up. She was favored by everyone, including me, because she was beautiful and knew what to say at exactly the right time. She spent a lot of her time and money in Europe, sending us capital souvenirs upon request. She dressed us brothers when we were young and our style as men was a result of her taste and our grandfather’s closet.

The Den was relatively full when I arrived, with my new library books tucked under my arms. I instantly spotted Alice and Lewis alone at a table. A waiter walked me over to them sitting under tall French windows and I sat down, defeated, before either of them could greet me properly.

“Martin,” boomed Lewis cheerily. “How’s it going?”

I sulked, slouching lower in my seat as he leaned over the tabletop to read the title page of one of my books.

“Are you so behind that you have to bring your reading to dinner?” he said, laughing.

“I was at the library,” I said, glaring as I remembered his remark about my studies. “I didn’t want to be late. Where’s our sister?”

“She’ll be here.”

Kimberly was always late and, like I said before, everyone loved her, even despite that unruly fact.

Lewis was wearing a black jacket this time with a white shirt, making me look severely underdressed. Alice, to match him in elegance, was in a dress, a pretty frilly thing and lots of jewelry which she wore, I’m sure, to impress our extra guest.

They talked a while and I wasn’t listening, even while declining to order until Kimberly showed up. I scanned the faces of the room, the waiters, the alumni, the professors and investors. Then I looked out the window overlooking the green lawns and stony paths where students walked, bundled in scarves in the chilling autumn weather.

“Marty,” Lewis said, obviously annoyed by my lack of concentration. “Marty!”

I frowned, my focus out the window still. I squinted to better my view of…

The magazine girl.

Standing without thinking, I smiled at Lewis and said, “I found her.”

I dashed outdoors and Lewis and Alice followed. I stood on the terrace, calming down when I saw her sitting stationary on a bench in the distance. The three of us stood watching her for some time and then my sudden satisfaction thinned.

“That’s her then?” Alice asked. “What’s her name?”

“We don’t know,” Lewis said.

“Don’t you think she’s plain?” I asked, tilting my and leaning back, trying to get a new perspective.

“No, she’s adorable!” Alice said.

The magazine girl was reading a book and her hair was down now, different from when I saw her only minutes ago. It was longer than I imagined. I didn’t know what it was about her that didn’t excite me; she wore jeans and an unflattering coat…and boots which looked more or less like slippers.

I scrunched up my nose like there was a bad smell and Lewis said, “Don’t you like her?”

“I think she’s a Potter girl, don’t you?” I thought out loud. Then:

“What are you all doing out here?”

We all turned simultaneously to see who had addressed us. It was Kimberly, of course. Alice embraced her excitedly and they shared equally enthused greetings. Lewis and I waited our turns to give hugs and kisses and ask how she was doing.

Looking at the magazine girl, Kimberly frowned. “What are you doing?”

“I’ve found a girl for Marty,” Lewis announced.

“A girl!” my sister screeched, clapping her hands excitedly.

“Shh,” I snapped. “She’ll hear you.”

“Who?” she asked, looking in the direction we all were looking.

“There,” Lewis said. “On the bench.”

Kimberly squinted to see better and then smiled. “Oh,” she said, “that’s Rosie.”

Rosie!?

I whipped my head toward her, my hands still in my pockets. “Rosie? Is that a real name?”

“You know her?” Lewis asked.

“From when I was at Potter’s.”

I looked at Lewis with a told-you-so expression. “I knew it.”

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Wayward Ep. 2

II.         THE ONE

I took five courses in my first semester of my third year at Windsor and I had brought my attention, my focus and my best to every class. But not that week. I blamed it on Lewis, of course, and his silly unmentioned provisions for happiness. I sat in the hollow halls in the middle row or whatever seat was empty and within hearing distance to the professor, scanning the faces of the girls, eligible or not. I came to the conclusion after History of Great Thinkers on Wednesday that philosophy majors were as unattractive as the professors. I had two other classes to attend that week so I kept my eyes ready.

Lewis invited me to lunch alone on Thursday and we met at the mantle in the Den and I asked how his classes were going, to which he replied: “Painstakingly boring. I want to fall asleep more than the students do. I feel bad for you.”

“Why? I’m not becoming a lawyer.”

He was wearing his usual gray suit, but this time with a blue and white checked shirt and no tie. I looked at his watch for the majority of our meeting, its pearl face glowing amidst the sparkle of the band.

Lewis managed a laugh in spite of my comment and asked me how my “progress” was going. “Why do I have to confine myself to the campus?” I asked.

Lewis winced while thinking on it. “You don’t,” he said finally. “It’s just the easiest.”

Easy things were more appealing, I thought, agreeing with him enough to listen to his theory.

“Let’s take a tour,” he said, setting down his drink on the nearest table and then waving his arm toward the restaurant door.

Windsor College was ancient. It produced more working lawyers, doctors and teachers than any other school in the county. Its performing arts academy, something the “real” students despised being associated with, was even revered. Its campus wound and stopped and began again throughout the public conservation area and had its own community in which if you did not attend you did not enter. Potter’s School for girls was established before the legacy of Windsor began and hence, Lewis took me there first.

We looked up at the dormitory, a colonial house with a large porch, and it stared back at us. “They only accept the best in the province,” Lewis said.

“The best?” I asked. “What does that mean exactly?”

Lewis frowned. “I don’t know.”

The best looking? The best dressed? I didn’t know but as girls rushed out of the white front door, I knew it meant both. They filed out like a military brigade, proper and refined, looking too fierce to approach and passing us both without a second glance. I looked at my own clothes, wondering if they were the cause for the shunning response. I was wearing jeans, dark-washed and just the right length. I had a button front shirt; white with two breast pockets, rolled up on the sleeves because they were too short anyway.

“Too cold?” I said about the girls.

“I was going to say too young,” Lewis said. “But that sounds about right too.”

He took me to the theatre next, saying, “Actresses, they have to be nice to look at.”

We sat in the back row of the dark auditorium watching auditions for The Importance of Being Earnest. We slumped in the cushioned seats, unimpressed, watching one girl after the other. They recited their lines from the center of the wooden stage, shouting at us; their voices cracking with every enthusiastic note. I frowned and concluded: “Too loud.”

Lewis and I took to the grass outside to watch field hockey practice. We stood, arms folded, squinting under the sun, as we watched the girls team; a bunch of brawny-looking girls running the length of the field in red plaid skirts, forcefully pushing one another out of the way. Before I could react, Lewis shook his head and pushed me aside, saying, “No. No, no.”

Defeated, we walked outside the main dormitories, new complexes built to blend in with the old Victorian cityscape. “We have to go where you’re not used to going,” Lewis said as he looked around us. Then: “Library,” he concluded as he snapped his fingers with his moment of epiphany.

“Are you making a jab at me?” I asked.

“At you?”

“At me not being a scholar.”

“If you were one you’d be studying law or medicine.”

“My major isn’t a result of my ability but more about my interests,” I defended. Lewis continued to stare at me blankly. “I go to the library a lot,” I confirmed.

He inhaled, frustrated. “Where to then?”

I didn’t want to go anywhere with him after that so I waited until he came up with another suggestion or until I had to say, “I have to go to work.”

“Café,” he said, suddenly smiling. He was already half way down the street where a small coffee and paper shop sat. I reluctantly picked up my feet to join him, hoping he’d see that the venture was a waste of time and I, for once, would be the right one.

The location was, yes, a place I rarely entered. It was full of loud, bubbly girls high with caffeine dressed in the latest fashions, and smart-looking boys, too smart for their own good, alone in solitude and dressed in black and tight scarves with dark-framed glasses.

“I don’t think so,” I said after we stepped inside.

Lewis smiled and patted me on the back. “Let’s get a drink.”

“I don’t like coffee.”

He looked disapprovingly at me and glided into the line-up in front of the cash counter. We stood by the newsstand and there was a girl there, scoping out fashion magazines, who I nearly bumped into. Unbalanced as I was, with my hands in my pant pockets, she scooted behind me in the crowded space to get a better look at the autumn/ winter issues. She excused herself so I did too, which really didn’t sound like actual English words at all.

Lewis watched her and I didn’t want to because I knew from the look on his face, he was ready to pick her. The quizzical frown he had when examining her was so obvious, I hit him in the arm. He relaxed his brow and asked, quietly: “Do you know her?”

“No.”

He shook his head casually and shrugged. “Seemed like you knew one another.”

My eyebrows sunk down into a frown. “How?”

The queue was shrinking in front of us; the magazine girl took a spot behind us with her choice from the paper shop, staring absently into space. I turned to see her quickly, to get some kind of impression of her, before darting my eyes away.

“What do you want to drink?” Lewis asked me.

“I don’t want to drink anything,” I told him, annoyed he didn’t understand me the first time.

“Hurry up, I need to meet Alice.”

“Then what are we doing here for? Let’s go.”

Lewis smiled at the magazine girl, gently moved me aside and said, “You can go ahead.”

She smiled politely. It was all of her expression I saw because I looked away again with only the tiny curve of my lips.

Lewis stood with me. “We’re leaving?” I asked, hopeful.

He held up his finger, telling me to wait, as he watched the girl pay for her magazines. I finally looked at her; she had a smart jacket on which floated around her middle, showing no sign of her shape. Her jeans were the only thing tight and maybe her flat shoes, revealing the top of her foot, looking too white against the black leather. She had dark hair, I wasn’t sure how long it was because it was pulled back. She had a brown leather tote and I couldn’t see inside it. She walked past us, bringing a breeze so fast I couldn’t see her face.

Lewis’s eyes followed her, watching through the large storefront window pane, eager to follow her so much so he suggested it.

“What?” I exclaimed. He was already half way out the door. “You can’t be serious.”

He smiled and went outside. Rolling my eyes, I followed him. He scanned the faces and the backs of students’ heads before catching a glimpse of the magazine girl at the intersection. “There,” he said, walking too swiftly to be inconspicuous.

“This is stupid,” I declared when he stopped to pick her out from the crowd again.

He huffed. “I lost her.”

“What does Alice think of you chasing girls?”

“I’m not chasing her for me. I’m chasing her for you.”

“How do you know I’m even interested?”

“Marty,” he said firmly. “I know.”

I never quite understood what he meant when he said that and he said that often. I frowned on the sidewalk. I could see the magazine girl quite clearly, but I wasn’t about to point her out. She looked both ways before crossing the avenue in front of the dorms, the setting sun catching the plains of her face.

I sighed loudly.

If my brother said she was the one, then…she was the one.

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New Story Series Begins Today

WAYWARD

or

ALL HE ATE BEFORE GRACE

“Vanities of vanities,” says the preacher, “all is Vanity.”

I.     Lewis and Alice

My brother always told me that it all depends on how you look at it. His advice, he told me later, applied to everything; an over-priced leather jacket, an expensive meal, a back-up television, life—girls. It all depends on how you look at it. Or her in this instance. This instance being this story.

My brother, whose name is Lewis and who is a minor four years my senior, prided himself not in his work or wisdom—his work being law and his wisdom being the fear of the Lord—but in his possessions, undoubtedly thinking too highly of his taste and opinion.

That being said, his house and all his earthly assets were fine. His house was a country dwelling built some hundred years before he bought it and its furnishings just the way I would have them if I were to have a home and a family to occupy it; large wooden things, dark and traditional with fancy linens and fine china. He owned a car that was black, sleek and shiny which he drove to the office wearing one of his various suits; usually of grey twill that he paired with a shirt sometimes of small plaid, and a skinny coloured tie with matching gingham pocket square.

Even his appearance, to match his clothing, was fine. He was a tall man built like my father with a good jaw and a healthy hairline; a crown of light brown hair kept short and parted to one side. But it was not his hair or suit or house he ranked the highest, but a wife named Alice.

Alice was a farmer’s daughter who seemed to mysteriously have everything of an aristocratic upbringing. To me, she was ideal; a honey-haired, brown-eyed woman; a pretty thing so much so her height and weight were of no consequence in the matter. She was agreeable and caring; never weak, never over-bearing. She was coated in grace and she liked me a lot. She often made Lewis look better than he really did and when asked on the subject my brother always replied that her attraction to him was a result of exactly that reason.

Lewis was a bachelor through most of his years at Windsor College where our father and our father’s father studied architecture. He was in his last year of studying law, mind you in the middle of his class (something he manages to leave out when telling the story) when an English major crossed his path and she, innocently thinking nothing of their eyes meeting, never engaged in a pursuit, not realizing he already was. He followed her around campus in the fall, waited outside her classes in the spring, learning a great many things about her. Upon graduating and starting low in the ranks at Doyle and Doyle, Lewis never forgot about his college girl and that’s when he finally employed her in his life. They weren’t inseparable as almost are romantic couples are; they dated only three years, engaged for one and wed the next. My brother, nearing thirty and his wife, four years younger, had been married two and a half years when he entered the gates of Windsor again.

It was determined before either one of us were born that we’d attend Windsor, Mum’s hopes for us becoming just like our father, and we agreed that our time behind desks and in the lecture seats were going to be ours alone. And my years were—until my brother Lewis became guest lecturer Lewis Wahlton in the law department.

Luckily enough for me I wasn’t in law. I was enlisted at Windsor to study Philosophy and had been for three years, passing my twenty-first birthday six months before my sophomore year. I got along quietly, rooming in a red brick Victorian townhouse with my cousin, and managing to pay tuition with the money earned working as a nightly secretary for Loney and Wills, undoubtedly because of word sent by my brother in the law world. It was October when my satisfyingly dry life at Windsor ended.

I had just barely past my mid-term examination in Topics in Contemporary European Philosophy and I was sitting in that very class, listening to Professor Mayseck discuss phenomenology and its approach to classical philosophy problems (Today: the distinction between “knowledge by acquaintance” and “knowledge by description”) when I realized I should have read the recommended texts.

I chewed the end of my pen as I stared at the clock on the wall, high above the teacher’s bald head. I was torn between counting down the minutes and wanting them to drag on and on and on. I knew at precisely 12:46 pm Prof. Mayseck, who was never late and never early, was going to dismiss us, some one hundred students, and I was going to have to run across campus to my housing, drop off my books and run all the way back without working up a sweat.

Alice had invited me to lunch.

The clock struck the time mentioned and I was off. My shoes skidded along sidewalks and I stopped cars at crosswalks, a few of my unconfined papers blowing away in the wind. I climbed steps to the townhouse, fumbled with my keys, my pen still between my lips, and I stomped up the winding staircase inside to my apartment. I tossed my textbooks and my book bag, ignoring my cousin on the sofa, and grabbed my tie from the back of one of the kitchen chairs. I was back on the sidewalk, crossing avenues and slow students on the way, all while pulling the black tie over my neck, watching my fingers fiddle with the silky fabric.

The Den was a dining hall at the college, one I liked because of a sentimental photograph of my father as a student standing by the mantle with his mates and raising a glass.

I raced over the terrace and stopped.

I took in a deep breath, clearing my head and straightening my tie.

Through the French doors, I could see them, sitting at a table on the other side of the hall. I cracked my neck and the doors opened for me as if by magic.

I sat, staring at the mantle in the Den; six feet wide with a mirror overhead, reaching the excessive height of the ceiling. The fire in the hearth was flickering. My brother and my sister-in-law sat across from me in the wide room barely busy with the autumn sunlight catching the crystal on the empty tables. Lewis was reciting a story about when we were boys, one he forgot to tell at Thanksgiving the week before, as he finished his meal when I realized that this reoccurring lunch was going to happen daily for whatever time Lewis was given as lecturer.

“Are you working often?” Lewis picked up his drink and showed off the cuff of his shirt sleeve; navy and red check which he paired with Dad’s skinny black tie and navy pocket square.

I inhaled deeply as I looked from the mantle to his face and let out my breath slowly. “Not enough.”

“Spending your time getting to know any new friends?” Alice asked, hoping; her delicate hand sweeping away her blond hair which had fallen into her eyes. The rest of her hair was pulled back, revealing her earrings, the ones with the grey stones she had imported from Barcelona.

“No,” I admitted. “Studying too much.”

“And how is Dan?” Lewis asked next, leaning back in his seat. “You should invite him to eat with us next time.”

Next time, I knew it. Dan was our cousin and my roommate. He was a good-looking lad with dark hair and a giant smile all the girls swooned over. He wasn’t involved in any extracurricular activities like me so our time together was frequent.

“Is he setting you up on any dates with any of the girls from Mallory?” Lewis teased.

I laughed out loud. “Of course not. All those girls are too young, taken or if they aren’t, there has to be a reason why.”

“Marty,” Alice said, disappointed.

Marty. It only sounded sophisticated when she said it. Martin Theodore Wahlton was the only way my name could sound important.

“There are tons of pretty girls here,” Alice said. “You can’t tell me that you’re not fond of one of them.”

Pretty girls. Sure, there were pretty girls here. There were plenty of pretty girls everywhere. Pretty wasn’t what I was aiming for. I smiled at her politely, avoiding an answer.

“We’ll just have to find you one,” Lewis chimed in, looking around the room as if to pick one right there and then.

“There may have been a lot of beautiful girls here when you were in college and you picked the best of them,” I said, watching Alice grin bashfully at the compliment I paid her, and smiling too. “But it’s like all the girls here are too disinterested in me and I don’t really mind.”

“Well, have you shown any of them encouragement?”

By this time my brother and I were both sitting exactly the same way, something our mother always laughed over. We leaned with one elbow bent on the back of our chairs and the other arm resting on the edge of the tabletop, looking far too unimpressed with one another.

“No, why would I?” I asked. “I don’t know any of them.”

“That’s not the point, Marty. Listen,” Lewis got excited about it, leaning over the table with both arms, destroying the symmetrical image. “Girls like it when boys show up first.”

I truly had no idea what he meant and I sat out of sorts for the rest of the meal until the conversation unfortunately continued outside on the terrace.

It was warmer outside than it should have been, nevertheless leaves on the trees lining the paved walks and gravel footpaths amidst the parks and tennis court were changing and giving the dull limestone buildings a perk.

Alice was back in her cardigan, her heels clicking in between my brother’s long strides. I walked along with them, my hands in my pant pockets like they usually were—something my mother told me was a terrible, terrible habit. I was wearing a pair of chinos, rolled up a bit to reveal the high top of my sneakers, and a blue chambray shirt with my tie looking too much like Lewis’s.

“You can’t tell me you’ve spent three years here and not one of these girls has caught your eye,” Lewis said.

I frowned, watching my feet as I thought about it a while before answering. “Not really,” and I shrugged.

I didn’t know if it was my looks or my personality that didn’t cause a frenzy of girls to giggle or surround me when I was in the presence of any. I didn’t feel that it could be either. I wasn’t as good looking as Lewis or as smart but I was…good enough. I didn’t look like my father, Lewis did. I looked like Mum who had tanned skin and blue eyes. Her hair was darker than mine but it framed our faces similarly, and to my regret I still looked too boyish. Mum said I would always look like a boy and never a man. Sadly, Lewis agreed, probably basking in his manliness entirely.

“I’m going to find you one,” Lewis said as we walked closer to his parked car, that beautiful smart-looking car that I envisioned speeding down the highway in my shiny aviators and loving life finally.

I sighed longingly as Alice laughed at her husband’s declaration. I opened her door for her and she patted me on my shoulder, thanking me for coming. After shutting her up inside the car, her flowing skirt sliding on the leather, I looked to Lewis on the other side of the car. He leaned over the top with his key in his hand.

“Trust me,” he said. “I’ll have you head over heels for some lucky girl by the end of the week.”

“Why are you so intent on it?” I asked, smiling at his ridiculous bet.

He shrugged and opened his door: “I want you to be happy.”

His words struck me kind of funny and I frowned, watching him hop into the driver’s seat, saying, “Tell Danny I said hello,” before shutting the door.

If anyone could find me a girlfriend it would be Lewis, and because I respected him with a little too much esteem, I had no problem letting him.

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Letters to Elliot Hawthorne Ep. 8 (end of Volume I)

[3]

Elliot Hawthorne’s letters outnumbered his birthdays. They outnumbered Grandpa Samuel’s too. Elliot had written ninety-two letters to his father and ninety-two letters to his mother, each set with the same words exactly. He kept those letters (having no address to send them) under his bed until the day he ventured out onto the parkway with only his guitar and a week’s worth of clothes.

The first letter he had ever written was on his sixth birthday. In his letter, he explained what he and Grandpa Samuel did to celebrate that year, in fact it was what they did every time the two had a birthday to celebrate.

It went like this:

Dear Mom and Dad. I turned six today. Grandpa took me on the ferry to see the windmills up close. It was raining and cold. P.S. I think I would like to meet you someday. Love, E. H. Hawthorne.”

Elliot sat on the bench on the edge of the highway. In view, across the lake, were those windmills, staggered along the horizon of his treasure island. In his hand was that letter. He leaned over his knees, his guitar case leaning against the old wooden bench, and he watched the ferry part from the dock and drift to the middle of the lake.

After that first letter, Elliot decided to write one every birthday, every month or just when he felt like it. One went like this:

Dear Mom and Dad. Do you believe in God? Do you believe in him like Grandpa and I do? I suppose you do. I imagine if we don’t find each other here on earth maybe we could find each other in heaven. What do you think? Love, E. H. Hawthorne.”

As he got older, his letters grew in words and wisdom, one went like this:

Dear Mom and Dad. Today is my eleventh birthday. Grandpa took me out on the ferry again so we could see the windmills up close. I’ve seen a lot of that island across the lake, it seems better over there. I like to call it my Treasure Island. It’s silly I guess. Have you given any thought to our plan to meet yet? I hope I see you soon. Love, E. H. Hawthorne.”

Another went like this:

Dear Mom and Dad. How are you? Although it has been a while since I last wrote there is nothing new to tell you really. It’s summer now. Dad—Grandpa has been telling me stories about Mom when she was a kid. I find it interesting to hear things about her because I am forever wondering if I am more like you or more like Mom (most people tell me I’m a mirror image of Grandpa Sam at my age). But Grandpa can’t tell me much about you. I don’t say it’s because he doesn’t want to, but I like to imagine you would give me much advice about girls and other things that are on my mind. Grandpa tells me you used to play the piano. I tried the other day and well, I guess it wasn’t in me like it was you. So I bought a guitar and guess what? I’m pretty good. I took music class this year in school. Mr. Horner told me to try out for the band. They put me on percussion. I can play the violin too, just like Grandpa people tell me. Anyways, I will be fourteen in a few months, maybe then you and Mom can come to the house for an hour or two. Love, E. H. Hawthorne.”

And another:

Dear Mom and Dad. I wonder if you two like music as much as I do. I hadn’t really noticed how much I did until Grandpa’s Hi-Fi broke last week. So I’ve decided to take up reading. Grandpa tells me it’s a rather valuable hobby to have. Do you have a favorite book? I’d sure read it if you did. I’ve read through all Grandpa’s books (I do like that Frankenstein and I can’t say that Dickens and I get along very well, but Keats and MacDonald are my favorite.) and most of Grandma’s (Except for those Jane Austen’s. I tried, I really did but I just couldn’t justify it.) I haven’t taken too much interest in contemporary authors (“Not too much imagination”, Grandpa says of New York Times Bestsellers). I’m beginning to think that this growing up thing is going to be a lot harder than I had imagined. I sure would have liked it if you two were here for it. I hope I am making you proud. Love, E. H. Hawthorne.”

A more recent one went this way:

Dear Mom and Dad. They’re making us apply to colleges this month at school. I don’t know what I want. I don’t have any real goals. I don’t think I want to make jam for the rest of my life but I don’t know what else I could do (maybe play my guitar). What do you think I should do? Grandpa’s friend Art took us out on his sailboat last weekend. Art told me I sailed better than his own son. He said I could have his sailboat if I ever needed it. I thought that nice of him, wouldn’t you say? Maybe when you come to visit, I’ll take you out on the lake. Love, E. H. Hawthorne.

The letters seemed to go on forever, but the last letter he wrote went like this:

To Mom and Dad. Today I am eighteen. I am sorry to say that I have given up trying to meet you. I know that hurts me a lot more than it will hurt you. I can guarantee that. Grandpa is getting sicker and I know that I will be on my own soon. But I know this won’t upset you because that was your original intention, wasn’t it? I might stop writing you soon; I haven’t quite made up my mind. But I don’t think you will mind either way. Good luck. E. H. Hawthorne.”

Elliot folded up the wrinkled letter and put it in his jacket pocket before standing up. He tore his eyes away from his Treasure Island, mounted his garage-sale yellow bicycle again and steered it back onto the road. And to his much needed delight, around the crook of the road, his new beginning awaited.

This concludes Volume I of LETTERS TO ELLIOT HAWTHORNE.

But never fear, he will return. He always does.

New Story Series begins next week

WAYWARD (1)

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Letters to Elliot Hawthorne Ep. 7

[2]

The road started in Karlsford and followed the Lake all through Dearborne, Claradon, Marlsborough, Grenville, Sterling and Bower until it ended in St. David’s, a complete drop-off into the Lake where a ferry must take you to the other side; a whole new road and series of small towns beginning there with their own citizens with their own stories (and that is another novel entirely). But all you need to do is follow the Lake through and through, it following you or you following it; with the horizon divided by an island, giving the illusion of it being a canal or a loch, but it is the same water hugging all the islands, the entire border banks and even the edge of the United States.

The scenery was like this: farmland on either side for a good ten miles; then only trees to your right and the lake to your left; after that there was farmland on your right and a park to your left (the Lake still following, you remember); and you hit a town or two with B&Bs, gas stations, one-stops and roads to developmental housing; Union Jacks flying on telephone wires all through. And then it starts again. Farmland, trees, Lake; farmland, Park, Lake, Town until you reach Bower. The hills that want to be mountains and the valley and wind and the sheep and the Lake are there still and The Worthing and then more land but it’s not farmland; it is grass melted over hills and hills. There are some flat spots but it goes on until St. David and its university town and city-like landscape.

St. David’s College and its campus spanned five blocks of the downtown area and it gave the misconception of it being much larger than it really was. The dormitories are the most expansive building and the library had the most sprawling lawn. Everything was within walking distance, but there was a bus that ran from the Worthing to the main street in St. David and to then the campus chapel and the admission office and then finally to the ferry (the utter drop-off from all things ST. DAVID) three times a day. The conservatory was a hollow building adjacent to the library and one block from the church. Buildings One, Two and Three, mainly lecture halls and auditoriums, were dedicated to Science, Art, and Literature. Then there were classrooms and offices located in old Victorian houses spread about and in between local businesses and shops. Navigation was crucial to maintaining punctuality and time management. A map of the campus was posted on every block corner to help the freshmen during their first year.

Tom Doyle drove his red AMC Gremlin onto campus every morning because he did not live in the dorms or student housing. He lived in the loft above the outbuilding on his parents’ property, hearing soaring War Birds fly overhead daily. Tom left early that morning, eating a sandwich Lillie Doyle had made, with new material (music material because he was always composing, always writing; even if he was speaking with you, having a real conversation, a part of his brain was always working out a melody) to present to his band mates and peers (Matt Sleeth, Joe Finn and Jasper Lauzon; it still isn’t the time to talk about them) at the New Town Public House, or the Campus Pub as the students call it. He left early because he was always late, but besides that he had to be at the college conservatory for choir and band practice at noon. And it wasn’t without a basket of laundry to take to the laundromat; Lillie insisted, if he was going to continue to live at home, Tom must learn some responsibility and use his money for something other pencils and guitars.

Gemma Lumley did not ride the bus or have a red AMC Gremlin to drive around St. David’s; she lived with Bridget Welles in the girls’ dorm. Their twin room was busy with girlish details of drying undergarments, athletic wear and magazine cut-outs of formal dresses in the common area; vanities cluttered with perfume bottles and make-up brushes and unmade beds with homemade quilts and eyeleted sheets and pleated pillows in their bedrooms; and stacks of books and music on every wooden surface.

Gemma had been drinking tea since she woke up because Gemma could not attend choir practice without warming up her voice. Stained tea cups and saucers piled by her bedside. Connie Francis played on her stereo and she sang along to “Frankie” as she curled her hair. Bridget never sang; she only hummed and she hummed from the corner of the room, tuning her violin because tuning her violin, even when it was already tuned, made Bridget less nervous Bridget was always nervous for choir and band practice.

Gemma, Bridget and Tom came together only twice a week, four times this week because the band was scheduled to perform for this year’s commencement next week. They were selected after receiving a standing ovation during the Christmas Pageant and Professor Hurtz’s production of Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols Op. 28”. Gemma was a soprano and she stood, when facing you, to your far left-hand side; the basses behind her and the tenors behind the altos in a SBTA formation (girls in front and boys in the back).

The chamber orchestra was, of course, front and center; Professor Hurtz or plainly Conductor as he requested, waving and moving and feeling before the audience as the head of the hierarchy. The string and brass sections each had a concertmaster; one of which was Tom Doyle who played the trumpet and whose trumpet all others had to accommodate to. Bridget Welles on the other hand played her violin in correspondence to Felicity Carmichael, the principal violinist who thought herself very superior, something Bridget could despise with a unique animosity if dwelled on thoroughly. However the case, the concert orchestra and its harmonious chorus behind made for a carefully planned show, decorated with boisterous highs and smoothing lows; an endearing warmth of perfection as well as passion.

Twelve o’clock ticked on the clock tower of the admission office, sounding through St. David twelve long and loud gongs. There, as you already know, Gemma, Bridget and Tom were found inside the conservatory, singing and playing something about the love of an orchestra (go ahead; listen to it again. It’s really good) and Elliot Hawthorne and his garage-sale yellow bicycle grew nearer and nearer.

As Elliot rode, he thought the windmills were helping but as soon as the fields, beyond the road’s ditches, turned into the shore and the lake stretched on for miles, those windmills turned his stomach upside down.

He skidded to a stop on the sandy shoulder of the road and dust kicked up behind his tire. Down the bank was the rocky shore, beyond the shore was the lapping water and across the water was an island causing him more grief than sentiment.

Elliot wheeled his bike to the guard rails of the road where a single bench sat vacant. He watched the ferry push across the body of water. The view was nice and beautiful; the lapis blue sky, the mainland teeming with lush summer foliage and that island sprouting those tall, sleek windmills with their blades slicing through humid August air.

He couldn’t pack up the windmills, hide them in a crate or cart them out the back door like the jam jars. His tower of happiness, created by the short stint of anticipation for his new beginning, toppled over at the sight of them.

Easing down onto the bench, he set down his guitar and his duffle which weighed more than he could carry because of the contents inside. He had to bring them. He couldn’t have left them to fade away, to decay and yellow. Underneath his red plaid shirt, his brown corduroy pants and his faded blue button-front were Elliot’s letters.

Returns next Tuesday for the final episode of Volume I

New Story Series begins on October 16th

“Wayward”

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Letters to Elliot Hawthorne Ep. 6

Chapter 2

THE POSITIONS

(in regards to the plot)

[1]

Elliot Hawthorne was thinking about windmills. He was thinking about jam jars too, but the jam jars just made him mad. At least the windmills were helping somewhat. Of course, the jars were still in plain sight, all recently washed and dried, sitting in a crate on the kitchen counter in Grandpa Samuel’s one-man cabin. When Elliot finally had enough of their prying nostalgia, he got up from the breakfast table, picked up the wooden crate and carried it out the back door. Then he was alone with comforting memories of tall, sleek wind turbines and their blades slicing through humid August air. But still, he was leaving anyway. No memory, no matter how comforting, could make him stay.

Out on one side of the backyard, knee-high grass looked yellow in the sunlight and on the other side blackberry bushes made short walls of leafy knots and dirt pathways. Birds seemed louder than normal, and Elliot considered scaring away a robin who was stealing newborn berries not ripe enough to pick. He stared and squinted—it was very sunny—and clapped once. The bird stopped, twitched, and carried on.

Inside the cabin, Elliot’s luggage guarded the front door. He packed light. A week’s worth of clothes. Jeans, T-shirts, button-fronts, khakis. When it came to which instrument he was going to take he would have preferred the banjo, but he chose his guitar because he figured people were less likely to judge a guitar like they would a banjo. He stared at the gray flannel duffle bag made by his grandmother and Elliot frowned, even though it was not sunny inside, and he felt for a moment he might not be able to breathe ever again.

It was the birds, I think, that inspired him because a few more tweets from outside forced Elliot to blink and pick up his bag. He wore the strap over his shoulder so the body rested on his back. Then with the neck of his guitar firmly gripped, he opened the screen door and it bounced shut behind him. He made it to the end of the dirt driveway, looked up and down the lineless asphalt road, and then walked back to the porch. The guitar was useless, he thought, and he was afraid people might expect more from him than he was really able to offer. He truly wasn’t outgoing. He locked the instrument inside the cabin and the screen door bounced again when he walked outside. And yet:

He jogged back, grabbed the guitar and never looked back, believing in his heart he was never coming back.

The country road was dead. Only birds playing in the treetops and bugs buzzing in the bush could be seen or heard. Neighbours, alone for miles in both directions, didn’t appear until the sun was high in the midday sky. And as Elliot’s sweat mounted and his feet burned inside his sneakers, his regrets piled high in his mind, somewhere in front of Grandpa Samuel’s lingering words of wisdom. Until he saw a looming mirage on the foreground.

A couple sat listlessly on lawn chairs, guarding vintage, sentimental garage sale gifts. There were tacky velvet paintings, cross-stitch in a frame and a few lamp shades made entirely of stained-glass. A sign, taped to an old typewriter, declared it all for sale, and the only thing Elliot stared at was a yellow bicycle leaning against a cardboard box.

He approached the couple as they protected their precious giveaways; he said Hello and they said Hello, questioning him with their glaring eyes, thinking he was some sort of drifter or gypsy, and in all likelihood wanted to snatch their shotgun from inside the garage before it was too late.

Elliot knelt down beside the bike and thumbed the metal spokes. “How much for the bike?” he asked.

With the husband ready to make a beeline to the garage, the wife said, “A tenner would do it.”

Elliot straightened, smiling with one corner of his mouth as he strapped his guitar strap over his chest. He bounced the bike on its skinny tires and sampled the cushioned seat. His smile grew wide as he finally straddled the yellow frame. Elliot handed the man a ten dollar bill and said Thank you and the couple said nothing.

Elliot pedalled a ways away, wiggling and worming, trying to get the hang of riding a bicycle again. And once he did get the hang of riding a bicycle again, Elliot Hawthorne was pretty pleased with himself. He and his garage-sale yellow bicycle were fast friends, venturing down stretches of highway, zooming across bridge-covered brooks and winding around bended lanes. He was smiling still, pedalling fast and hard, forgetting about the jam jars entirely and narrowing in on those wonderful memories of windmills.

Now, it was known that Elliot Hawthorne was naturally an outcast. Soon it was by choice, though he did everything in his power to conform. He spent his days keeping his mouth closed unless spoken to; something he wasn’t taught to do but became accustomed to at a very young age. He avoided crowds and public places as best he could without being a hermit (something Grandpa Samuel told him wasn’t very becoming). So, of course, Elliot would have avoided the Town he was now currently disrupting with his bicycle-riding if it weren’t for the fact that the parkway, which was leading him out of this place, was the only way out.

Leaving the stares and gasps of mothers and their children, the teenagers and young adults he had known so little about, standing on the sidewalks of the village, near the convenient stores and the coffee shops, Elliot pedalled out, down the bridge, over the brook and onto the next long, paved stretch of highway. It was about this time, that three university students, Gemma Lumley, Tom Doyle and Bridget Welles were found inside St. David’s conservatory, singing and playing in the college choir something about the love of an orchestra.

Returns next Tuesday

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Letters to Elliot Hawthorne Ep. 5

[5]

Gemma Arnold, the original Gemma Arnold of the Worthing, who married Thomas Lumley of Lumley Farms, had two sisters and they were like this: Rosy and Elaine. Elaine Arnold was the oldest Arnold. She went about her life as if she was the best because she was the oldest, that she deserved the best because she was the oldest and this didn’t surface until it was time for her to select a spouse. And it was selecting to Elaine Arnold, who was pretty and delicate and high-strung, because she believed her ability to select something very superior. When this day came, a certain young man travelling through Bower stayed at the Worthing and doted on the Arnold’s oldest daughter. This wasn’t the factor which caused Elaine to make up her mind and give herself a ring on his behalf, no, it was the information from the front desk that his name was Joseph Finkle and that name was the only name she needed to hear.

The Finkles were wealthy landowners and very old. Their oldest son, Joe, was in the position to inherit. He fell for Elaine’s manners and looks and they dated and were wed and just in time too. Joe’s mother had died and left her house in Devonsfield to the newlywed couple. But it wasn’t the house Elaine was after; it was the contents. For inside she found numerous treasures including a Herrington Man portrait of Dowager Countess Amelia Throthing, a signed Thomas Hart Benson lithograph, and a hundred-year-old Cartier brooch made of rubies and diamonds. She needn’t keep these finds, plus others of more or less value, but auction them off at a high price, so high in fact to make the new Finkles the richest couple in the county.

Elaine began to have children and her second oldest daughter, Lillie, was something very different. She wasn’t impressed by her mother’s expensive taste or lust for style, she wanted to get out; to be adventurous, but when men were shipped off to exotic countries during the war, her heart wasn’t it in anymore. She tamed her wildness to become a nurse and serve her country. After the war, at the nice age of twenty-three, she came home to celebrate with her friends at the New Town Public House in St. David’s. She chatted and laughed and sang and danced and when the night had almost burned out, she met the love of her life. Lillie Finkle sat down on the same stool Ethan Doyle had intended to claim and she nearly landed in his lap. They both laughed, excusing themselves, never minding the fluttering of nerves and heartbeats.

Ethan Doyle was a pilot. He flew for the army and then came home. His rank gave him a steady job at the School of Aviation teaching other young flyers how to pursue the sky. That winter night in St. David’s lakefront restaurant, a young woman fell into his life just as she had fallen into his lap. He never let her out of his sight and before the night was over, he had kissed her and vowed to be her man for all of her days. They travelled, getting the longing for voyaging out of their minds before having a son, and his name was Tom.

Tom Doyle was a red-headed boy and no one knew why. It must have been the Scotch in his family’s heritage, Mr. Doyle always said. He was hyper and the doctor told Lillie there was nothing to be done about it. She didn’t mind because she and her husband were happy sorts of people, sometimes pokey and sometimes quibblers, but her son was a happy toddler with very little to vex or annoy him. They raised him in a city away from the countryside of St. David’s and the town of Bower while Lillie worked as a nurse and Ethan rose in the position at the School of Aviation and Flight Training. Tom didn’t seem to mind being a city child but it was because he had never known the freedom of living in wide open space.

His parents moved many times from house to house, causing him to attend five separate schools before they thankfully moved back to Bower. Mr. Doyle bought a large piece of property with good incentive from his father-in-law, a Finkle, and started his own school of aviation; repairing old War Bird planes to use instead of text books.

Tom went to St. David’s Public instead of Bower Public; their green-sided farm house was just ten feet past the school board’s dividing line where one half of the county went to Bower and the other half to St. David’s. He developed a stutter, nothing too severe, but Lillie, being the perfectionist that she was, taking after her mother, forced Tom to outgrow it faster than necessary; taking him to speech therapy and ordering him to spend long hours reading out loud. The Doyles, being dependant on God, suggested the Bible, and Tom became well-acquainted with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as well as the Apostles, the Psalms and the Proverbs. Tom never minded because he thought the Bible to be something very true and very poetic. It was then at the young age of seven or eight that he became accustomed to loving songs and, in turn, music.

It didn’t happen overnight, it came surely and smoothly, a mounting inkling to hear music, to sing and to write lyrics every day. It wasn’t until he sat down at his Grandmother Elaine’s house on the Thanksgiving he turned twelve that he realized there was much more to life than he figured.

His index finger fell onto the Middle C and then D, E, F and so forth until he became aware of how the notes could sound together and back and forth and over and under and simultaneously, and the music resounded in the empty living room, alone in the quietness of himself yet in the boisterous noise of the keys. After that it was hard for him to apply his energy to anything else. School became a burden except for music class and spare period when he would jam with his buddies (Matt Sleeth, Joe Finn and Jasper Lauzon, who I will tell you about when the time is right) who also loved music the way only Tom Doyle loved music. He thought he was pretty set in life because all the girls at his school thought he was cute and because he played with a band called Tom Doyle and the Parade at the Campus Pub every Tuesday and Thursday.

And that’s how Tom became Tom Doyle as you might know him, attending St. David’s College playing trumpet in the school’s orchestra presently behind Bridget Welles who was playing the violin near Gemma Lumley who sang like birds in the springtime in the choir in Conservatory Hall. The Tom Doyle who wore a lot of plaid; his dad’s old capped Oxfords and played the piano like Billy Joel; the Tom Doyle who lived in the apartment above his parent’s garage only because it was within walking distance to the college campus. The Tom Doyle who had no idea he would befriend someone like Elliot Hawthorne.

 Returns next Tuesday

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