At the nearing end they are passing each other by on the Canal, the low rumbling horn blows of the boats in the night their last fanfare, at the nearing end that is the death of John Keats.
It is strange for him, to see Keats falling in love, and stranger still to see him falling in love with the idea of a family. Does it make him mad? (Of course it does) No, of course not, there is but Keats’ poetry that makes his life complete. The fresh ink, to be tattooed with those sweet songs when he can write them for the very first time as they will be known from thereon, to make every one of them his. But still, but still. He asks:
'What muse is playing hoops and catching grasshoppers with babes?'
And Keats is smiling, hand brushing smooth the velvet of the dark green vest too big for him that Brown himself has given him.
'The muse that finally lets me write.'
Which is only true, for those fleeting moments breaking the very source of his true dependence on Brown. Unlike him, Keats declines to write for the attractions well paying like the modern theatre, declines to be left into existence as authorless words needed in the publishing. The conversations Brown holds most dear are those with Keats, of the beauty of Dionysus in their hearts when filled with poetry and wine. And thus he is the pure muse untouched in an era of malformation, that Brown is ready to pay for (and own) in an expensive friendship. So for Keats to be lured into lovers’ courtships, into games and play, it is only unfair, it merely makes Brown feel challenged with a game he is unable to win.
She starts appearing into the room more and more often that summer, like a cat in heat, her breath sickeningly sweet as Brown goes past her without a word. It is the first thing she ever was for him. Instead of the satin dresses or ever so slightly powdered hair or rosen lips, that heavy air clinging to her colourful face pigments and festering in the seams she has sewn, that the whole of her household breathe in like a drug, even with her away. It is enough to fill them, and still, she is not empty. Apple of their eye like her sister never was, strangely virile with the life her brother never had, her love just like her sorrow a familiar weight on their shoulders.
That Keats does not even see it, that he does not even secretly gravitate towards it, that she is always going to be the one and Brown will always have to have her.
She can not stop her tall tales. If she read for a week she has to say:
'Spencer, Milton and Homer'
all at once, intoxicated with the clever lie and unable to fend off her blush, her smile. A resourceful Odysseus, shining feet she puts out flirtatiously on the Persian rug. Now she needs none of it, for he
(is attracted to her as she fights, as she feels disgust, as she is forced out of comfort)
is not impressed by a promise of a family and poetry at the same time. And neither should Keats be, for a minx will always eat the rabbit no matter how it learns to appreciate its fur beforehand.
Brown is sick to death of seeing himself in her
‘Stay in tonight, you are writing so beautifully this evening’ he asks without lifting his gaze from the paper, on the eve of the summer festival put up together by children and servants, for the purpose of having a bonfire by the river, moonlight dances with the frog song and cool air.
‘There will be musings, I will write to you about flames when I return, do not worry’, Keats answers with the familiar glow growing inside him, the smallest glance towards the window, now with just his fair reflection as the dusk has settled in and his magic mirror of the day outside has vanished.
‘Keats, as your friend I would sometimes prefer you to stay a night with me, maybe drinking’, he says, trying not to sound too annoyed.
‘It must not be tonight’, Keats gently remarks and opens a window, so that butterflies flutter inside lured by the lamps.
‘Keats’, he calls him, to no avail, as the young man leaves him to his desk with a flock of tender wings beating the light of his table lamp into a violent play of light and darkness. That night he follows, with no gracious step, the shadow of Keats until the fire from the distance creates the faintest outline of gold on his silhouette and for a single moment is frozen in time and place for him, undisturbed by the song of the sirens, his love for him so clear.
He half-expects to be haunted, that his son will grow up to be something else than a mathematician who has a love for dressing neatly, to receive letters from afterlife in those that come after Keats. She expects it too, unable to curse him, for justice can not turn her blind eye at this cowardice and mistake.
But the boy is bright, and bright in a way unfamiliar to him. He is talking about numbers and laws of the earth, he does not read poetry, and Brown realizes how alone that makes him feel, how the hope, the wait for a ghost clothed in dark velvet has kept Keats so near. Letting go the second time is even harder, and it is as if suddenly the wind carries a peculiar, sweet air to him, that makes his heart heavy with a love of hoops and walks in the reeds.
Six years later he receives a valentine much too early, and all that old lust comes rushing in. He hears she is across the Canal, in Paris, at the end of her life.