In every ending there lies a beginning; spring to summer, boyhood to manhood, dreams to reality…
Currently the sun ended sentry, changing places with the moon, and night gave way to the brilliance of a new day.
Panning to the Hall home, its manicured yard was in full bloom and every flower, bug and bird was playing some part in life’s cyclical ballet. There were equally manicured tenants within the tan bricked house, most of which were blissfully ignorant of any environment apart from their own, not to mention where they stood in the circle of life. Seeming to thrive exclusively on gossip as they chirped freely in the drawing room.
Maurice however; stewed alone upstairs like a captive in a tower, painfully aware of the world closing in on him. With his bedroom curtains partially drawn and obscuring the light, he was ever-wilting under the haunting shadows cast by the ghosts of his past.
Feeling parched and awkwardly restrained, he took a sip of water, struggling to remember how the glass got there to begin with. Remaining impassive he removed his pajama top and carelessly threw it to the floor, as he stood in the half light in front of his wardrobe mirror. He needed to be sure that he was indeed awake and still breathing.
His bare chest rose and fell rhythmically and a rogue ray of light split his face in two. Even nature would have him a man divided.
From the mirror the spitting image of his father looked back at him.
His father's end should have been the beginning of his manhood, but he had been congenitally cast as a mere figurehead, free to roam the Hall household as his own but for all intents and purposes he was exiled from familial court.
Like his home built brick upon brick by men, so should the social structure be chiefly laid, or so he would believe if he let Dr. Barry's patriarchal influence do the talking.
Feelings of inadequacy twisted around Maurice’s lungs, forcing out a profound sigh. His golden locks frayed as he rubbed at his eyes. He leaned closer to the mirror, resuming a staring contest with his reflection.
He touched the glass, wondering if to anyone his mood appeared bluer than his eyes, which had glazed over from the night previous, when he nearly drowned by a wine filled cup of comfort—cups of comfort.
Perhaps by his own design as of late, Maurice allowed himself to be wrecked, would that Clive had not built their love with so decent an exterior but feeble foundation, and all he trusted come crumbling atop him. Yet Clive's soul remained consecrated and free and he was rebuked and trapped under the ruble...
Unconsciously, Maurice had been bringing his grief home with him; it followed him to every room and ate away at the seams. He feared he had gone against his father’s memory and compromised the stability—the sanctity of his home, which like his mind now seemed to him sunken and weakly bolstered by hand-me-down adhesives. No family could outlast weathering in a home improperly mortared and without a strong corner stone, and Dr. Barry had on more than one occasion implied Maurice had lost his centre and was therefore unfit to even hold himself up. At that moment Maurice— disgraced—could not counteract it.
The giggle he heard from downstairs could only come from Kitty. He wished he could laugh with her, even if it had been at his expense.
The mattress on his bed squeaked as he collapsed onto it, eyes empty and fixed to the ceiling.
Was he to be in emotional arrears for the rest of his adult life?
"Pathetic." Maurice groaned, fists hitting the mattress before he shot up. He lunged to open the curtains and the window, desperate to invite the airy scent of yesterday's rainfall into his bedroom, afraid the oxygen was being sucked from around him. Trees talked to each other and tried to remind him that storms always wash away dirty facades and also make the plants take deeper root. He didn't listen. He couldn't, he was cautiously monitoring the ever-slowing beat of his heavy heart.
Below, in the corner of the front room, Kitty crossed her arms over her ruched chest, her own heart and mouth at full throttle, "I still don't understand why only Morrie was invited."
"Now, now, Kitty. The ways of gentlemen are not always clear." Mrs. Hall had been telling herself that ever since she married Mr. Hall, rest his soul, but she was no more convinced by the latest rehashing.
"Nonsense!" Kitty spat, tapping her laced thigh. "It's the way of Anne, I tell you! Have you not noticed that Clive has made himself scarce ever since she entered the picture?"
Mrs. Hall shooed at her, and Kitty uncrossed her legs and huffed with well-honed recalcitrance, before shifting so that her Mother could sit on the couch beside her.
Ada floated into the room: a dainty wallflower, ever weary of being plucked. She watched the corners of her Mother's mouth twitch, and her hands positioned to admonish as she urged, "It is not for us to say. Now, mind your tongue when Morrie comes down."
Kitty took it less to heart than Ada, who was guilted by history, albeit Maurice recently insisting upon the belief that it was ‘’ancient history’’ and should therefore be committed to the past. Still Ada toiled, wondering if her brush with Clive had caused a rift; further proof that she had never taken Maurice quite so seriously. The irony being that like her brother, there lived in her a constant feeling of the undone.
She could do-up her words, at least: "He has been up there awfully long."
Mrs. Hall stood up, couch cushions displaced.
"Mother, no." Ada held her hand out just short of touching her Mother's arm, stopping her from going out the doorway to start another crusade: a bold move for Ada.
"Let him be,’’ She appealed. ‘’I can't help thinking this is such a strange time in his life..."
"Yes. Can you imagine?" Kitty trilled, popping a jelly in her mouth from the coffee table to her right then rising. Her question hung open until she swallowed and hovered by the book shelf, from which she could proudly recite the name of every tenant-book, having read most of them. Whether she applied half of what she absorbed to her life was another story. Paintings and childhood pictures stared back at her from the wall as she went on, "Our little Morrie pretending to be grown up and attending a wedding. Whatever is next?"
"Certainly not your wedding, head so in the clouds..."
Kitty had expected such a retort from Maurice, but from her very own Mother? Truthfully Mrs. Hall had more sympathy for her Morrie trying like hell to make his way in the world, as opposed to Kitty who cared more for the appearance of owning it. But this she never communicated.
Ada failed to hide her tittering under her gloved hand. "Why, Mother..."
"Hop on your soap box, then." Kitty stuck her tongue out, looking smarter than she was. "And to follow, at least bring it to the suffragette meetings... no loss for a good cause there."
"Really. Bad luck to quarrel on a wedding day." Said Ada, perhaps in worry for what was to become of her own wedding. She surprised herself and clearly the women that gaped at her. Her disapproval was directed mostly at her sister, who shrugged after a minute, sat back down and poked at the bowl of jellies.
With Kitty and her Mother stumped, Ada shook her head and made for the stairs, kiting the conversation with her.
Maurice had been a slave to this same narrative all his life, feeling like a guest to be dissected in his own house. And then looking at himself in the mirror again, now partially dressed, he felt a guest in his own body. How did it come to this?
A voice came with a knock at his door, "Maurice, I do believe the train leaves in 20 minutes..."
The train may very well leave and he would be on it…physically, at least.
He took a deep breath and adjusted his cufflinks, muting the memories of having helped Clive with his own.
When he fastened his grey tie he grimaced. It made his pale colouring and starchy collar stand out, but he was too exhausted to change. Anyway it was fitting: the ugly noose of the gentry suffocating him on cue.
Ignoring the bolt that shot through his head, he finally slipped into a black tuxedo jacket, pretending it was armor as he steeled himself emotionless. He looked a man dressed for social war; a balanced coalition of abstraction and figuration in an eternal battle fought for order against the world and his own inner chaos.
He would attend the wedding as expected, and because Clive had the high ground he prepared himself to dodge whatever social bullets might be shot his way. The odds were against him and he did not have much hope to come out alive, knowing full well that overleaping might just send him crashing into a land mine as well. Still, a little voice inside told him not to give up the fight, if he was wounded at least people could follow the trail of blood back to him and he would not be alone. How he hated feeling so desperate.
He made for the door. Kitty's childish rhyming swirled up the stairs. Witchcraft in it, it stole back his mind. How he heard it: Someone old. Someone new. Someone borrowed. Someone blue. And a lifetime's amount of sixpence in your shoes...
Collected on his endless march toward salvation? He should have to bribe God, for a life repossessing traditional rhymes—and even known to butcher a good proverbial here and there—was tragic poetry better left to the "heathen Greeks."
Maurice would descend. His cause: undecided. His purpose: truly unknown.
But today was the day.
The blue sky held up the sun, clouds pulled back and swallowed the past, swelling and threatening to rain down memories.
The birds were blissfully unaware, flying above, careless but not aimless in their routine, like every other animal except for humans. Alec had seen far too many people clip their own "wings," and expend exorbitant amounts of energy trying to control everything, right down to their environment and fellow man. When did everyone become so rigid, counting the seconds, minutes, hours, and days and leaving little to chance? Ridiculous! He had never even owned a watch, and did not plan on starting anytime soon.
That morning at Pendersleigh Durham prattled on to the masses—or Pendersleigh peasants as all those concerned jokingly called themselves—ego giving sermon about everything having its proper time and place ergo he would demand every servant be representative of the "sanctity of marriage itself." Whatever that meant. And Alec found himself relating more to the birds, even so far as envying their ability to fly miles away...or dive bomb at will.
‘’What a day this will be if propriety prevails,’’ Squire Durham spouted, convinced it would be a day culminating all days before it because he needed it so.
The shadow of new days to come stretched out before everyone's feet. Alec was impervious, months and months into working for the Durhams and every day seemed just like the next. At the venue now and an hour into wedding preparations, a permanent all-consuming dark cloud seemed to cast over him. When Durham disappeared at his Father in law’s beckoning, boring and bossy talk of floral arrangements was passed on by Simcox who lead the servants to the truck that transported them. By miracle Alec managed to break away, already tired from being employed to set up chairs and tables for the reception. And what better place to benefit from further refuge and grace of God than church? Well, he hadn't actually stepped inside yet, his blind escape saw him hidden among greenery and aimlessly walking the grounds. According to a certain plaguy Rev. his "sins" and fiery cigarette would be too winning a combination to chance the chapel burning down, anyway.
A murder of crows flew above Alec's capped head and settled on the steeple to chatter and seemingly mock his plight. As he rounded the corner, familiar strawberry blonde hair caught the sun just ahead of him. Now seemingly at the front of the church, he realized he must have walked the whole grounds full circle like an athlete in training. What marathon was this?
Coast clear and no peopled-pestilence in plain sight, Alec followed the amber light. The girl's halo dimmed the closer he got to her and the further away from the church in which she came, approaching the tree tunnel, its shadows overtaking.
"You'd be right dishy without the long face, Berry." Alec flicked ash his friend's way, nicotine and cedar scents blended and she did not budge, though she could have killed him for the nickname. Alec was mighty tempted to lean on a tree, if not for the lecture he was sure he’d get from Durham if any snag in his suit was spotted.
"Please," Laney drawled, tugging on a cedar branch and letting it bounce back in Alec's face. "You're out here doing the heavy liftin', but just yah try emotional liftin'. Like a bunch o’ hens wit heads chopped off back thar."
There: she meant a tight room just off the lobby of the church that she too had escaped from. It was most likely designed with stuffy and pious virgins in mind, hence it being perfect for Anne and all the maids to convene there as per Mrs. Durham’s instructions. And because Anne had taken a strange liking to Laney especially, unconsciously enviable of her unconventionality, she had unwillingly become somewhat of a sound board, which could get quite tiring.
Alec smirked, stones rolling under his restless feet as he listened.
"Neva seen such a fuss! Barmy liggers on me for fortune tellings about their proper love and the frivolous-like—does I look like a gypsy!? Then there be that gormless old bitty, carryin' on like we made the girl late, when t'were her ladyship herself who delayed us all—havin' me scramblin' fer her bloody favourite hat fer half the fecking hour!" Laney shook her head.
Alec brought the cigarette to his mouth again, saying suggestively after a drag, "Give me a'few minutes with 'em and I'll straighten their laces."
His eye brows jumped about as much as Laney did in astonishment and she uttered, "I would neva dream of subjectin' even the worst'a plonker scavengers to that..."
Smoke swirled around Alec, a sportive laugh coming up and around the cigarette between his teeth.
Laney fidgeted, picking at the laced sleeves of what should be her Sunday dress, if ever she willingly bothered with dresses. Or church. It was bad enough she even had to wear something so girly and unfairly confining, and then to be expected to run around like a serf in it before God and her employer?!
"Ain't this weddin' business every bird's dream?" Alec knew damn right it wasn't, he was aiming for effect.
Laney stomped, grabbed her flowered skirt from the knees and whipped it like she was taunting a bull. "And this be why yah can'na get one from the hotel bed to tha bridal suite," she joked. After a click of her tongue: "How little yah know. Nary a man in this land smart enough to break a real woman in."
Oh, she was any man's equal, that's for sure, and she nodded as if the entire world was in agreement. Alec not spared, he'd seen many left in her dust. He gave her a drag as peace offering.
In her adolescence Laney held the reputation for "pack leader," a title given as if the neighborhood adults feared their kids grew feral and were not simply banding together for friendship that beat the tedium of poverty. Nevertheless, she was most prone to explore and first to challenge, say, climbing of walls, throwing rocks at bottles etc. And she had even thrown a few punches at any who pestered.
Alec could see the precocious child in her as she fondled the cedars and blew ‘’Os’’ of smoke. She had always been petite and he always sensed she felt she needed to compensate with a big personality. Way back when she had been too small to reach the sill where his Ma's wild berry pies would often lay cooling, one particular day she would not stop shadowing Alec until he gave her a leg up. But didn't she slip and split her stubborn little chin open when he did?! And she didn't even cry, even as she was subsequently scolded, but did she ever wear her wounds proudly and defiantly...after stealing a slice.
The hard world expected this, it had taken her mother in childbirth and her Father—slave to the lumber industry—simply lacked the time and energy to teach her any different. He had hoped her position at Pendersleigh would now do that for her...
She was looking at Alec as she handed back his cigarette and he was almost too quick to dispose of it. Nervously shifting his weight, he brought a hand to his cap. His uncharacteristic politeness revolted Laney, but sense reimposed when she realized it was all for the "lovely" Mrs. Durham who now loomed behind. This was not the first swoop of the day for the she-buzzard and it would not be the last.
Half out of the church's maple-carved door— the indoor twittering of other frantic birds escaping—Mrs. "Buzzard" Durham's head stuck out and tossed to the side. And as if magnetized, Alec and Laney felt their feet start to close the space between them.
With her beak up and daggers for eyes she projected, "Laney! Stop your dillydallying this instant! And—you there!" Meaning Alec, who lagged a bit behind. "We do not pay you to fraternize. Ne rien savoir faire de ses dix doigts!" The dip into French did nothing to better foreign relations. Alec wanted to stand taller in defiance but his damn shoulders fell, habitually weighted. Laney gawked. They would both endure, but never grow used to it.
Lady Durham soared on, the feather in her monstrously large hat bobbing, crows gone quiet above, "Miss Anne does not have all day. Come, come, we must ready her veil..."
Not all day? No, just taking claim to this day. Bad enough. But far be it by Laney to upset the apple cart, unless the apples were rotten...
She thought on it, and nearly had to pinch herself to think better. Alec intuited as much and nearly did it for her, if not for Simcox buzzing by with fresh dahlias and mouthing an angry prompt to him. A maid whose name escaped him was in tow carrying a bouquet—the scents struck—and silk bows, which comically spilled from her overloaded hands. Mrs. Durham impatiently leading the way back into the church, the door slamming behind her.
This may have felt like the end of their patience, aching backs and feet, but it was to be the beginning of someone else's life. Laney’s belief in karma begged she not be the bitter baiter.
With a decisive clap of her hands she yelled, "Oh, piss it...!"
Alec snickered, it was all too relatable.
"The damn sky be falling, again...Laney to the rescue!" And off she went, determined to be the best veil unraveler possible. If she had a cape it would have flown behind her. For her it was the little things so sustaining, a by-product perhaps of growing up in the slums, since exceeded.
Alec turned on his heels, amused and newly aroused to groom himself in the ramble when—"Jumpin' Jesus! Knock the saints right outta the Heav...ens..." And knocked he was, by a human force lost totally to his own dark thoughts, eclipsing Alec's own.
The ellipsis swallowed them whole, both newfangled and alloyed when spit out.
Raw, undefined and throbbing in the swell, Alec succumbed to the infancy of his legs. It sure as hell was not Laney's elbows he took desperate anchor of then, unless she'd taken to wearing—head forward—a black suit and—head down—black loafers and—head up—was growing...golden stubble?
Alec chanced a look eye level.
His heart stopped—no! Started as blue eyes—a colourful beginning and end in each—possessed and recast the history in his very own. Eyes so strangely stunning, but sad, lost...angry, yet forgiving? And regretful—no, that was behind his own eyes, for when he felt the warmth of a body withdrawing with a step backward, he was fearful he had violated the delicate solemnity of its keeper. An apparent gentleman who remained reservedly cool under this pressure...but not cold, no! Alec could only liken it to the earthy dampness of something freshly uprooting...
The wind rustled the trees and sent shadows into a psychedelic dance. This was all happening within seconds, but Alec's mind processed it in slow motion. Dizzy, he closed his eyes, mouth opening but nothing coming out, futile anyway as the rhythm of his heart sang a peculiar tune—allegro—shooting high then shooting low. And fading out with a breath—sostenuto—dispelled from the equally slack, though clearly far less chapped lips parallel to his own.
And then trumpeting at his side: "Scudder! Mind yourself. We are on church grounds, not at a gym." This bolt of reformation struck between him and the gentleman and his arms were his own again, separating them further.
"Scudder" blinked, closing his mouth. The novelty was gone, but was the moment entirely finished?
A deep breath of warm floral air and Alec was restored to himself. But in a flash the gentleman turned and he watched the back of his blonde head become enveloped by a newly gathered crowd. Yet he swayed above the blend: a golden sunflower among reeds. Oh, if it was only ripe for picking...
"We must always be mindful."
Alec's sightless eyes drifted back towards the unwanted address.
"Did David go in blind when he made an example of himself to Goliath? Why, no, he—"
"Yes... well," Alec coughed deliberately. "If I see a giant I will—" he searched his brain for a "smart" word, "heed accordin'. As now, mind I'm needed to help slay a big 'nough share of tasks to keep this do a'goin'... good day, sir."
And the medal for sarcasm goes to... Alec bowed his head, walking a wide arch away and around the steadily growing ornamental socialite bouquet, also known as: squire Durham's guests.
The jagged little pill that was forced down his throat dissolved into a sweet gelatinous satisfaction the further away from Reverend Borenius he got. And yet, the intervening blunder of chance which proceeded had not helped to distance him from frustration. The ocean would certainly be enough to swamp such if he was lucky. Was he?
He was certainly no less dense to his own predicament than Borenius boasted to be of his own. He had a good thing going for him career wise, yet he did not feel obligated to be good to go. Could this attribute to why his parents hardly protested his departure? Was he inherently unimpressionable? Irredeemable? Corrupt? For a moment he felt a lamb separated from the fold. But his pride would hardly allow him to crawl up onto the altar with a surrendering "baah" to be slaughtered.
Borenius' eyes never left him, he felt them even as Simcox not so much directed him to attend to needy guests, but demanded it, confirming many a battle was ongoing simultaneously.
Alec put on his game face, and busied himself with whatever was asked of him so he did not have to ask anything of himself. He began with escorting some tired and elderly attendants to their seats early, and the rest was a blur.
The jog of events raged on through the day with Olympic pomp. That is, only as far as Alec could imagine, having only heard rumors of such things under his roof from his chatty Ma, verified or unverified by Fred and his bragging tales of culture.
Processions, celebrations, social games, image and audience presaged a world he desired no part of. When ‘’Lord’’ and ‘’Lady’’ Durham were pronounced man and wife in front of the decorated congregation, he proclaimed his own indifference. Drifting at the back of the church, near the consecrated water font, with all the other unsaved underlings, he was subject to the scope of, not God, but the self-proclaimed chief justice of the Durham family (who should have been exclusively eyeing his bride but could not help a cautionary side-eye from time to time.) Not that Alec had much of a choice of where he preferred to be, class structure decreed it that way. He could, in his heart of hearts, never really begrudge naive little Anne of happiness, who had been all peaches and cream towards him, but what did the Durham's really know of happiness or structure, which Alec understood would bring about creation not stagnation...? She was in for it, alright.
The priest rambled his rhetoric in front of the bow laden pews and the sheep occasionally echoed mechanically, at which Laney, devil's advocate that she was, would roll her eyes and make faces Alec's way. But he was preoccupied, looking for a tuft of blonde and wondering if it bowed in prayer because it truly assented or because it was a victim of forced ritual. He really had not the time to think on his own traditions, nor of his own spiritual prospects, for he sought none more than what nature gave. And there may very well be an unknown that sought him out now.
The organ fumed.
Where was his matrimonial chorus? For earlier, under the witness of world-turned clouds and now in the air-locked embrace of world-borne limestone he was married twice over to wonder.
Laney looked at him as if trying to read his mind. He turned to the wall. The church was a Gothic marvel, he had to admit, and he ran his hands along the rough cold stones, admiring the craftsmanship, both of nature and man. The thought was not lost on him that every inch was likely chiseled and erected by a labourer, not unlike himself. He let that sink in and for the first time that day was slightly comforted, feeling less alone.
Voices sang. Bells rang. His feet got happily reacquainted with gravel, and a caressing wind dropped forth from a blue sky...all too quickly polluted by upper class airs.
He'd lost track of Laney in the shuffle, exiting the church was a bit like being a fruit in gelatin: go wherever the mold bends. It wasn't as sticky a situation, but between the landscape of hats, hair, moustaches, and parlour rouge which littered his view, and being sandwiched in by sweaty tweedy shoulders, he had the illusion of being trapped. At least when they packed the pub, usually on Saturdays, the human wedges were sinewy, not stiff of spirit and upper lip. And he would have something sweet to dull his senses there, which right now were being overwhelmed by a clash of sour colognes. He weaseled his way closer to the edge of the mass and his love for open spaces and the great outdoors coalesced into an eye opening dream.
Out of the corner of one eye, a ways to his left, fair hair peaked its way through the abstraction of a wooden arch.
Suave, athletic, tall...oh, he certainly was a gentleman, and Alec hoped not the kind whom he'd grown used to perverting the title. His stomach lurched.
The way the gentleman's face did not leave the direction of the couple certainly denoted their intimacy. But then, forced smiles, handshakes too demonstrative to be anything but contrived...and not a care how obvious. And petty Simcox just ahead seemed to take pleasure in the idea that the gentleman looked somehow smaller, as if shrinking under his suit. Deflated? Perhaps at odds, but with what?
Alec bit the inside of his cheek. He must resist the desire to ponder and really look into it, or at him. He could not afford to.
Under the arched gate and passaged toward a new existential crisis, no doubt, they were just a few feet away from each other. Alec distracted himself, entertaining a dull subject with one of the Pendersleigh horse grooms, who was yammering on about oncoming cricket season. He would not be lost to the purview of something—someone that did not even have a name...at least known to him.
The sun conspired against him, a shining bright taunt to the bleakness of his outlook, which he determined would remain temporary. But like him the sun served the Durham's well, chasing away the rain which had a mind of its own to have persisted day and night for the past week.
That night the only thing raining would be tears from under a "golden awning," and out of a breaking heart—the sound of distant thunder.