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Satine

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Last night he dreamt he went to Manderley again.

He had stood by the iron gate leading to the driveway, the padlock and chain on the gates barred him from entering, and he had stood gazing up at the imposing but rusted gate. For a moment, he thought of turning away and going back the way he’d come, but found himself unwilling to turn or to even move toward the gate.

He peered through the spokes of the gate, hoping to call for the lodge-keeper but only saw the lodge which seemed uninhabited. Then as he reached forward to place a hand on the padlock he drifted through the gate like a spirit. And it was then he realised that he was indeed a spirit visiting a memory... no, not memory, a dream. This was a dream. Because in memory this place was nothing like as it now appeared before him.

He drifted along the drive that twisted and turned as it had always done, taking in the narrow and unkempt condition, it was nothing like he had known. He looked around as he passed, wondering what had happened. It was clear the nature had taken her course and triumphed over the once clear road leading to the house.

The wilderness around him grew more rogue as the path seemed to multiply in miles. The branches hanging low enough to brush his head, the ground choked with grass and moss, and the gnarled roots slowed his progress. He was beginning to believe the path was leading him nowhere or maybe to a labyrinth of wilderness, and there was no end to this journey at all. His preoccupation with the end of journey did not prepare him for sudden end of it, making his heart kick up an erratic beating in his chest.

There it was. Manderley. Standing silent and imperious in her demeanor. The moonlight shown upon the grey stone, the green lawns and terrace reflected in the windows. The terrace sloped to the lawns, which stretched to the sea. The sea was a sheet of silver placid under the moon.

A lone cloud drifted across the moon, bathing the scene before him in dark, and when the light illuminated his surroundings again he found himself inside the house. Moonlight filtered through the windows, and he recognised the room as the Library. Hushed and still, he stood as if waiting for the house to push him back out of the door he had once walked through countless times. Nothing happened. It was like the house, too, was waiting to see what he would do next. 

He couldn’t decipher why he would feel like an intruder here when he knew with absolute certainty that in waking hours he would remember this place with nothing but fondness. The heap of books on the table, the cushions, the rose gardens just outside the window, the Happy Valley. There was no way he had ever feel bitter about them. And yet, as he stood staring at the cold ash in the fireplace, he thought ruefully how in his waking hours he wouldn’t think of returning to this place.

He knew when he wakes up, stretching and turning, opening eyes to the glittering sun coming through the windows of the bedroom, he would only think of the day that lay ahead. He would not talk of Manderley, and he certainly would not talk of his dream.

************

He thought of the dream long after waking. How as he had drifted to wakefulness, Mandeley had seemed to lose all its light and shine, and looked almost lifeless except for the breeze slowly stirring the soft curtains. As if the image of how he imagined it would look like in reality was bleeding into the dream, shifting the shapes and dulling the colours. And it was with relief he’d returned to reality.

No dark shadow could steal upon the sunny glare reflecting on the pristine white floor of the present balcony. No servant would throw open the doors unceremoniously, punctual to the second, and come marching in with the silver tray bearing the kettle to perform the never  varying ritual of laying the table for tea. No act required on his part, the feigned indifference to the assortment of feast laid before. Because no matter how much time passed he could never be over the fact that there, in Manderley, had always been enough food to keep a starving family fed for a week. Where did all the left over go, sometimes he wondered wishing he’d dared to ask but never had.

Oh, how he used to put on an act after other act to please the inhabitants of Manderley. Too nervous to show how he longed to just reach out a hand and talk about anything or everything, without worrying if he fell short of their expectations.  Maybe not all of them, now that he thought about it, maybe it had been just one. He could see in his mind’s eye a dark silhouette of a man standing at the top of the grand staircase, framed by the light pouring through the tall windows behind, looking down, watching.  That one man who had been able to make Anakin question his place and worth in Manderley.

What he must’ve seemed to them all? The impression he must’ve made with his lack of poise, and of course, grace?

He wished some things had been different, or at least, gone differently but then he wouldn’t be the confident, self-assured man that he was today. He did wonder what his life would’ve been had he not chosen to work for Watto all those years ago. He wouldn’t have met the man who had turned his life upside down in no time. He supposed, as fate would have it, he had been exactly where he was meant to be, after all. 

Looking back at the distant memory he could see himself, scrawny but youthful, dark blonde waves just starting to reach his ears, dressed in second handed suit that was too large, and following a fashionably dressed Watto like an assistant taking orders. Watto always walked first into a room to make it clear he was a man of wealth, having people to trail after him.

For all his status in society, Watto was a nosy man. Always having an eye and ear for peoples’ private lives to see if he can turn anything to his advantage. He liked making connections, somehow he would manage to introduce himself, learn names, their associations with other people of importance, the newest gossip, and then use it all to connect with more people. Claiming people of distinction as his friends, even though he had seen them once at other end of a room, was his vice.

Anakin wondered what his life would’ve been if Watto had not been such a snob. His curiosity was uncontainable, almost a mania. People who soon became aware of this would leave a room the next time they noticed Watto walk in, or disappear behind a door in the corridors, or just make fun and laugh. Anakin had been a witness to all of this, he had no choice.  He had to bear the pains that came with having to be Watto’s paid companion.

For many years, Watto had come to Monte Carlo making him one of the regulars to stay at the Hotel Cote d’Azure. He had made a habit of sitting in a certain sofa in the lounge, which gave him a clear view of the reception hall and the passage to restaurant. Like this he was able to see anyone who passed by.

The setting had been slightly different on that unforgettable sunny afternoon as Anakin had sat listening, uninterestedly, to Watto complain on the quality of food served and the lack of any person of importance in the dining room. They were seated at their usual table in the corner of the vast, ornate and ostentatious, dining room of the Hotel Cote d’Azur in Monte Carlo. But to a dissatisfied Watto, they might as well be seated in little road side restaurant.

“Not a single well-known face here! It’s been a week now, I’m thinking I shall have the management make a reduction of my bill. What do they think I bother coming here for? To watch the service?” Watto said with disgust.

Anakin watched, his own cold plate ignored, as Watto scooped a spoonful of the ravioli and smacked at the sauce on the corner of his mouth. Turning away, he looked at the table next to theirs.

It appeared that after remaining vacant for past three days, the table was going to be occupied that afternoon as the waiter walked over to remove the reservation plate on it. Anakin had turned in time to see the maitre d’hotel , with a graceful bow, usher the new arrival into the dining room and then proceed to lead the man towards the table.

The sound of a fork clattering beside him told Anakin that Watto had noticed too. Watto was staring at the newcomer unabashedly. Anakin quickly arranged his face into a more neutral look than the curious one he knew he had been sporting a moment ago. He knew Watto too well to not recognise the look of a dog having caught scent. He felt bad for the new guest.

Meanwhile, the man, unaware of the disturbance his arrival had caused, was casting a wandering eye over the menu. Anakin liked to imagine that the man knew exactly who Watto was and was purposely remaining ignorant to save himself, and this made him feel better about the whole situation. But not for long.

“Why, it’s Obi-Wan Kenobi,” Watto announced leaning across the table with excited eyes, and his voice a bit too loud for Anakin’s liking, “the man who owns Manderley. You’ve heard of it, of course? He looks miserable, don’t you think? They say he can’t get over his wife’s death....”

If this was his first time with Watto, Anakin would’ve been visibly shocked at such declaration, as he used to at first, but he had spent enough time to know that for Watto any kind of news about people was worth gossip and his time. And Anakin had suffered enough occasions of silent embarrassment and internal cringing to show any of it on his face presently. He remained neutral.

But Anakin’s lack of reaction wasn’t going to discourage Watto, never had, so he hastened to finish off the contents of his plate, all the while shooting quick glances at Kenobi to make sure the man was still having his lunch. 

Anakin saw Watto was already debating his method of attack, prayed to what force there may be to not let him be dragged into this because tact was not a quality Watto knew of, and from what he had learnt of Kenobi moments ago, Anakin doubted the man would appreciate intrusion and will most certainly think ill of them. He had lost count but once again he resented his association with Watto and the part he played in his schemes.

Watto looked up from his plate, his eyes alight, “Now, Ani, sprint upstairs and find that letter I received from my colleague Hondo when we arrived here. Bring it down to me quickly.” Anakin promptly stood up from his place, to do his part like a circus assistant.

Anakin took his time finding the letter. He found that he wanted to give that man his solitude, he didn’t know why he felt like he wanted to be on this man’s good graces. He didn’t know him, but Anakin felt the man must’ve come all the way to south of France for some peace and quiet. All though he couldn’t see how anyone would think peace and quiet can be found in a place like Monte Carlo.

He considered going by the Service staircase and thereby take a roundabout way to the restaurant, and warn the man about Watto. He found he didn’t have the courage to carry it out. He wouldn’t be able to form the sentences coherent enough to make the man understand. At the end, he simply deliberated his time arriving at the lounge.

Kenobi had left the dinner-room and, to Anakin’s dismay, was already seated on that couch in the lounge with Watto. Watto had given up waiting for Anakin and simply risked following Kenobi, and making an introduction, Anakin could gather that much by himself. He crossed the room to the sofa and silently presented the letter to Watto, who waved his hand in annoyance at the interruption. But Kenobi at once rose to his feet in greeting, making Anakin flush in embarrassment.

“Ah, Mr.Kenobi will be having coffee with us, go and ask the waiter to bring another cup,” Watto said casually from his place on the sofa, making it clear that Anakin was below him in position and there was no need to include him in the conversation. This tone of introduction always served to show that Anakin can be ignored, making it easier for people to just nod in his direction and carry on their talk, dismissing him. So it was a surprise when Kenobi remained standing and signalled the waiter.

“I’m afraid I must contradict you,” he said stepping aside gracefully, “you both are having coffee with me.”

And before Anakin could gather what was happening Kenobi took a seat on the hard back chair, which Anakin was sure was meant for him, and left him to sit beside Watto on the sofa. Anakin sat with his hands clasped in his lap. For a second, Watto looked like he was about to protest but then he quickly composed his face and leant toward Kenobi’s chair as if blocking Anakin from view, for which Anakin was glad, and waved the letter in his hand.

“Now, the moment you walked in I recognised who you are and in an instant I knew I must show you Hondo’s beautiful honeymoon snaps,” Watto said eagerly. Kenobi raised an eyebrow slightly in response. Watto took that as interest and proceeded to present the snaps. “There is Dara, isn’t she beautiful? Such big eyes and slim waist, Hondo is crazy about her. Here they are sun bathing in Palm Beach. What you think of it? He was single, of course, when he threw that party in Palm Beach where I first saw you, but you don’t remember me, do you?” Watto gave a sly grin at this.

“On the contrary I remember you very well,” Kenobi said smoothly offering Watto his cigarette case, and effectively stalling Watto’s barrage. “I don’t think I should care for Palm Beach,” he said blowing his match.

Anakin glanced at him and thought again it was unreal that this man should be in Florida. But this time it was to wonder how Kenobi didn’t belong in a flashy setting like France. In Anakin’s head, Kenobi belonged in a fifteenth century setting of regal castles, and lush gardens and sunny meadows, where misty mornings and never-ending ocean shores were the background.

His face was sensitive, attractive, and had a bearing about it which suggested a wealthy upbringing and education. Dressed smartly in a sharp suit of deep navy blue, white shirt, matching tie, and the fashionable high waist trousers, Kenobi was a picture of sophistication. He reminded Anakin of a portrait he’d seen in a gallery. Anakin imagined Kenobi as the Noble Gentleman in the portrait, dressed in all black robes, lace at throat and wrists, intricate gold embroidery running down the front and along the seams. Proud blue eyes following one from their place...

Focusing back in the present, Anakin heard Kenobi saying, “....that sort of thing has never amused me at all.”

“...well, if Hondo had a place like Manderley I’m sure he wouldn’t care for Palm Beach either, none of us would,” Watto chuckled loudly, “I’ve seen Manderley only in pictures but I hear it’s enchanting, that it has all it takes to make a place a fairyland, and I can’t imagine how you can bear to leave it.” Kenobi continued to smoke his cigarette, watching Watto with slightly furrowed brows. Anakin felt his face starting to redden at the obvious silence, and Watto’s persistent chattering. It was clear Kenobi did not like talking about his wealth.

“You Englishmen depreciate your homes to not look too proud, but someone like me can see what a masterpiece a house like Manderley is, the value it holds. Isn’t there a minstrels’ gallery at Manderley, and some very valuable portraits? They say that minstrels’ gallery is a gem. I’d wager my money that your ancestors often entertained royalty at Manderley.”

“Well, you’d make me a wealthier man,” Kenobi shot back swiftly.

His sarcastic words were lost on Watto, who simply stared. At this point Anakin was red in face like it was he who’d been slapped. He resented his association with Watto. He didn’t want Kenobi to think Anakin shared Watto’s views. He writhed in his stead wishing he’d been older and confident enough to catch Kenobi’s eyes and smile at Watto’s witlessness. They could’ve bonded over his horrendous behaviour. But all he felt was shame. And Kenobi saw his distress.

Kenobi leant forward, his expression soft and so different from just a moment ago, and asked in a gentle voice, “Would like to have more coffee?” Anakin shook his head. Kenobi gazed steadily, his eyes reflective. Then he looked between Watto and Anakin as if puzzling over the nature of their connection before returning his gaze to Anakin with interest.

“What do you think of Monte Carlo, or do you think of it at all?” Kenobi asked with a soft smile, leaning back and crossing his arms. Anakin wished again he had the confidence to hold an intelligent conversation with this man, or at least give an intelligent reply instead of the obvious blunt answer that first came to his mind.

“Oh...I-I think it’s rather artificial-” Anakin began with an awkward smile making Kenobi’s eyebrows raise in mild amusement.

“He’s spoilt, Mr.Kenobi, that’s his trouble. Most young boys would give their eyes for the chance to see Monte.” Watto rattled. Kenobi returned his gaze to Watto, his amusement still intact.

“Wouldn’t that rather defeat the purpose?” Kenobi said, glancing at Anakin and smiling. Once again it was lost on Watto, who simply shrugged and blew a cloud of smoke. Anakin twitched his lips before dropping his eyes to look between Kenobi and the table before him.

“What brings you here, Mr.Kenobi? You are not a regular here, I would know,” Watto said curiously, Anakin could already sense Watto’s hunger for making a connection with a man of Kenobi’s stature. “Don’t you miss the fogs at Manderley? It must be delightful in the spring.”

“Manderley was looking its best,” Kenobi said shortly frowning, eyes steely, his face clouded briefly as if a memory was playing before him. Anakin felt like he was looking at something personal but he couldn’t tear his eyes away. “And I’m not sure what I plan to do here, I came away in a hurry” Kenobi added as an answer to Watto’s earlier query, he seemed to be bringing himself back to the discussion from distance. He busily squashed his cigarette in the ashtray.

His detached countenance once again made Anakin think of the Noble Gentleman. Cloaked and secret, walking silently through a dark, high ceiling corridor. During the momentary pause in conversation, Kenobi seemed to finally look away from the vision in his mind’s eye and drew a breath. 

“Well, now that we’ve met, Mr.Kenobi, I must insist that you meet me for a drink in my suite,” Watto implored leaning forward and grinning, impervious to how Kenobi was looking coldly at him. “Why not join us tomorrow, I have couple of people coming by?”

“I’m sorry, I’ll probably be driving to Sospel, and I’m not sure when I’ll be back.” Kenobi said quietly. He seemed to have lost all interest and amusement in the conversation, and was holding up a standard behaviour of politeness.

 “I hope they’ve given you a good room, this place is half empty, if it doesn’t suit your standards, I suggest you make a fuss. I suppose your valet has unpacked for you?” Even for Watto, this was a bit desperate. Anakin cringed at the over familiarity of the subject. And looking at Kenobi it was apparent he felt the same.

“I don’t possess one,” he said quietly, smiling thinly, “perhaps you would like to do it for me?” There was no mistaking the put down in his tone. Watto did not miss it this time, and managed to laugh awkwardly.

“Oh, I hardly....” Watto turned to Anakin sharply, “Perhaps you could make yourself useful to Mr.Kenobi if he wants anything done, after all you are a capable boy.” Anakin could only stare in disbelief, he was used to be ordered about but being reprimanded so suddenly in front of a stranger stung him. It made him seem worthless, and conscious of his helplessness. He turned his stricken face to Kenobi, waiting for his answer.

But Kenobi was not looking at him, there was no mistaking his demeanour, even seated he managed to look down at Watto, his face mocking with a hint of smile on his lips, “That’s a charming suggestion,” he said standing up, his arms crossed, and now literally looking down at Watto, “but I came with my family motto, He travels the fastest who travels alone. Perhaps you’ve not heard of it. Good Day.” Without waiting for an answer he turned and left them staring after him.

“What did he....” Watto mumbled still looking in the direction Kenobi had left, and then turning to Anakin he asked, ”Do you think he was being funny leaving so abruptly?” Anakin simply stared back at him. Watto realising he wouldn’t find anyone else of noteworthy for the day stood up. Anakin followed. Together they walked towards the lift.

As the doors opened Watto turned to Anakin, “By the way, Ani, you were a teeny bit forward this afternoon with Kenobi,” he said stepping into the lift, Anakin following closely behind, “trying to make high statements and monopolizing the conversation, it embarrassed me, and I’m sure it did Kenobi too.” Anakin lowered his eyes.

“Men loathe that sort of thing,” Watto continued, “Come now, don’t sulk. I am responsible for your behaviour here, and you will do nicely to accept advice from a man old enough to be your father.” He laughed at that.

Back in his room, Anakin took out his sketchbook and a blunt pencil, and sat at the window-seat looking over the afternoon sun. He started sketching a profile, pale, handsome and aquiline.  Sombre blue eyes, an even-bridged nose, a beard, he liked to imagine a cleft chin under the beard, and a scornful upper lip. He drew dark lace at the throat, as he remembered from the portrait in the gallery. He paused to look at his work. It was fanciful, not exact in its realness.

He heard the door knock once, and a lift-boy walked with a note. Anakin tried telling that Watto was in the other room, but the boy shook his head and held out the note. Anakin had no choice but to take it. There was only a single like in an unfamiliar handwriting.

‘Forgive me. I was very rude this afternoon.’

No signature and no greetings. He enquired the boy if he was absolutely sure the note was meant for him and not Watto.  But the boy insisted saying the man who handed the note told him to say that he was the man at the lunch this afternoon. And continued to add that the man told him to hand the note to the young man accompanying the older man. The lift-boy asked if Anakin had a reply to the note that needed to be taken back. Anakin shook his head and sent the boy away.

Rude? Mr.Kenobi? Why would he think that? Kenobi had been most polite and gracious to Anakin. Anakin couldn’t imagine why Kenobi would even feel the need to apologise even if he felt he had been rude. He looked back at his sketch and it displeased him. The face was stiff and forbidding, and the lace gaudy. He told himself he would make a better sketch with proper study the next time he got a chance. If there was any...