July 17th, 1943 - Sanibel Island, Florida.
Bird cries carried on the gentle breeze, bringing with them the gentle tang of salty air. Even this far from the shore, he could still taste the sea. His eyes remained shut as he listened to the world around him. The massive pines surrounding the yard roared dully in the wind.
Ezra sucked in a quick breath through his teeth. The tang of pine resin was so strong that it nearly choked him. The freshly felled tree down by the curb had yet to be hauled off, evidently. He frowned at the waste of money. It was growing harder to find a good day-man.
Maybe if he had been looking less for a hard, good man by night...
Chuckling to himself, he eased the rocking chair back. It groaned under the stress of his weight. Barely over a decade old, it sounded almost a century. The weather in Florida really was terrible for the furniture.
Just as he was settling into to a good musing, the damned screech of an unoiled hinge snapped him out of it. Irritation flared like heat under his skin and he slitted his eyes to peer at who dared bother him. The sun was down past the trees and it was finally getting comfortable out. There should have been no one in the house.
"There you are, dear boy."
He should have guessed she'd haved returned early. Ezra winced as if pained. Really, it was more an automatic reaction. Still, he sighed and turned his head slightly to glance at her. "What can I do for you, Mother?"
Her own expression was one of disgust. "Ezra, honey, I really wish you wouldn't call me that. People would get ideas." Picking at the hem of her skirt, she raised it over the threshold.
"Yes, mustn't remind them of your true age, should we?" Rolling his eyes at the absurdity of her wearing a ball gown in this heat, he went back to his rocking. There was more force to it this time as he tried to relax. "Your reputation, should it be known I exist, could be tarnished forever."
Maude's heels clicked on the wooden slats as she crossed the porch. Spinning around, she dropped into the rocker next to him. "Oh, come off it. You know it's nothing of the sort. They know I have a son and your real age."
Surprised, he looked at her with a raised eyebrow.
"Well, they had to know. What, with you coming home for a...vacation." She said the last word as if it were poisoned.
He harrumphed. Of course she would it put it that way. "Mother, I was put on a disabled leave of absence. There is nothing disgraceful about it. And the entire affair is only temporary, I assure you." Closing his eyes, he tried to settle back in his chair. It was hopeless, though. "I am fighting it."
"Of course, dear." She tittered over her skirt, adjusting the hemline. "You know that has nothing to do with my reticence. It's just, I hated having to lie about my age." At his raised eyebrows, she frowned. "In that direction. It's bad enough I had to be old enough to be your mother without causing scandle. Being referred to so formally only compounds the lie."
Feeling his jaw hang slack, Ezra ignored the drops of sweat running down his temple. She had actually admitted their relationship in public. Swallowing, his teeth clicked when he closed his mouth. He had to take two quick breaths to compose himself. "Forgive me...mom."
She slanted him another glare. "Maude is perfectly acceptable in present company."
July 18th, 1943.
The air was cool against his bare skin. He tried to shiver. There came no movement, though. Eyes open, he stared up into the dark, waiting.
Whispers. So many voices.
He could hear them back and forth. Like tiny fingers in his ears, their voices tickled them. Unable to move, he was unable to scratch the they caused. He was unable to move...
Jerking, Ezra gasped. He choked several times, throwing off the blankets that smothered him. He grasped his throat, he tried to remove...
Taking a shuddering breath, he glanced around the room. Eyes wide, he had just enough light from the open windows to see the foot of his bed. There was nothing out of place. He was sitting on the mattress in the guest room of his mother's summer home. Everything was okay here. He was safe here.
Without even meaning to, he asked himself, 'safe from what?'
Sliding a hand over his face, Ezra felt his features contort. He sucked in another chest heaving breath. This time it hurt. Chest aching, he put the sensations from his mind. Whatever he had been dreaming about was definitely not worth dwelling on.
With a swallow to compose himself, he slipped his feet over the side. There would be no more sleeping tonight. A quick glance at the bedside clock told him it was just after four.
"Oh, come on, Ezra, darlin'." Maude's teasing voice softly filled the breakfast table's calm air. The sounds of dining had long since passed. Only the occasional clink of china cups against plates were to be heard now.
Eyes shielded by dark green glasses, Ezra watched the birds flit about the morning garden. This side of the house was for the exclusive use in the pre-noon hours. It had been many a year, but he still recalled the long hours of explanation on why anyone would need more than one dining room. Still, it seemed like such a waste to him.
Sipping the last of his coffee, he underhandedly set the glass down on the table. His lips twitched at the narrowing of Maude's gaze. He enjoyed the ability to work her nerves, even if the means were petty and small.
"Ezra, dear, god made saucers for a reason." Grasping her fan, she snapped it shut. "You are going and that is final." Rising from her chair at the head of the table, she brushed the front of her blouse clear of imaginary crumbs. There would never be a crumb on her, ever.
She was perfect in every way.
It bored him. Reaching into his shirt pocket, he smirked openly at her and pulled out the paper pack of cigarettes. When he shook one out, she looked close to livid. That was as far as he went, though. "I won't dress for it, Mother."
"Very well, dear." She dropped the fan on the table and stalked out. The hem of her skirt fluttered in the breeze as she went.
Good riddance. He didn't need the judgement from some superior busybody. Besides, he wasn't all that bad.
Ezra looked down at his clothes for the first time that morning. His tan slacks and shoes were pure army, right down to the spit-polish shine on their tops. His white tee almost glowed in the morning light and it made him a little sad. He knew that dressing down would irritate his mother, but he did miss the comfortable fit of a finely taylored suit.
Staring at the butt of his cigarette, he grimaced. He really had taken it out of a pack like a common loute. That was when he remembered why. Dear lord, he hadn't even brought a cigarette case. Staring alarmed off into space, he felt his jaw drop slightly.
Where the hell was his mind this morning? This was not him!
Swallowing, he tossed the pack on the table along with the unlit stick. Standing up, he made quick time for the stairs and his bedroom.
Walking stick in hand, Ezra tapped the marble tip against the cobbles out of thought. The wide brim of his Panama hat blocked out most of the sun as he glanced up at the sky, but he still had to squint. Everything was cast in a verdant green from his glasses, giving it an Irish quality. He snickered.
Those red headed bastards had known how to empty a bottle or ten.
"What are you finding so amusing?" Hand coming to rest on Ezra's elbow, Maude sidled up next to him. The subtle hint of her jasmine perfume teased at the air.
Shaking his head, Ezra dismissed her question. Lowering his gaze, he studied the streets and shops around them. The downtown area of Naples hadn't much to boast about, but the few shops available catered to their tastes. People in clothes nearly fifty years out of fashion drifted about them like ghosts in Chanel, Dior, and mink. This would change on sunday. Next week would probably be something from the twenties. It was always the way in these reclusive hideaways.
Miami had once held all the charm, until New York below Tenth Street had discovered it. Now, there were places like this that drew his mother and her ilk. In five years, it would probably be some other costal city no one had heard of.
Feeling irritation at the whole thing, he started down the street. If his pace was a little faster than what she found comfortable, that was her problem.
Maude tugged at his arm to subtly get his attention. Leaning in close, she easily matchd his speed. "Where's the fire?"
He had no clue. Feeling all the eyes on him, he needed to just get out of there. "The butcher shop." That sounded plausible, it was also the first thing that came to mind. Once he said it, though, his stomach rumbled and he had an idea. Smiling at an elderly couple that nodded in their direction, Ezra reached up to tip his hat. "I want to pick up a brisket and some ribs. I'm craving barbeque."
Her smile turned pained. "Colored food, Ezra?" Heaving a put upon sigh, she allowed him to lead the way.
Fiding the town's only butcher shop was surprisingly easy. It was next to the barber shop, and didn't that just sound appropriate. Smirking, he wondered how his mother would react to a suggestion that they might share tools. Probably make him take in a shave just to find out, it was the usual way, after all. Putting it from his mind, he pushed on the door.
The bells hanging from the handle rang in the mid-morning air. Their clatter increased as they bounced off the glass in the door. The heady smell of blood and fresh meat came wafting out on a cool breeze. It's refrigerated, coppery scent could almost be tasted.
Pushing inside, he pulled his arm free and strolled up to the counter. The glass case held a variety of cuts on display. Frost on the glass in places indicated how cold they were kept. He studied the meat, noting their freshness at a glance from long practice. The amount on display was almost criminal in this day and time, but he didn't care.
This was the one time when he was glad of the privilages his mother enjoyed.
He glanced up when he heard movement from behind the counter.
Slapping a towel over his shoulder, a rotund man in a pink-stained, white smock stepped out from behind a swinging door. His pinched face held a smile despite the frown lines. "Good day, sir, madam. How might I help you on this fine morning?"
Stepping up beside Ezra, Maude caught his arm again. Her grip was tight, almost as if she was afraid he might get away. "How charming." Smiling at the butcher, she battered her eyes once or twice.
Ezra couldn't keep count as he was rolling his own. The urge to toss her aside was strong. "I would like six slabs of your best pork ribs, and a brisket. Lean cuts only."
The man stared at him like he had asked him to serve up a puppy along side the meat. "You wish me to remove the fat?"
"Exactly." Smiling, Ezra held the man's gaze. What his objection was eluded him at the moment.
Losing some of his charm, the man leaned against the counter with one hand. "Look, buddy, you sure you want that? The fat's the only thing keepin..." he finished with a sigh at Ezra's neutral expression. Smile back in place, he saluted. "Have it your way."
A thrill of victory settled in Ezra. Why? He wasn't sure.
He knew what removing the fat would do to the meat. It wasn't like the better cuts. Half the flavor and juices came from it. The butcher had just been trying to tell him straight.
Still, a victory was a victory and he was feeling little enough pleasure as it was. Ignoring the flumoxed expression coming from his mother, he leaned forward to rest against the meat case. Smiling, he rest his palm against the cool steel and glass.
The world blurred for a moment. All the strength left his legs and Ezra staggered.
Alarmed, he reached out to the case to catch his balance. His hands made contact with the steel and instantly recoiled. Fear shot up his spine and he froze in place. No! Eyes wide, he shook his head in denial.
He shoved off, away from the case as hard as he could. Panic clenched in his chest and he shot backwards across the shop. Hitting the back wall, he slid down it, still trying to get further away.
There were whispers and cold. He had to get out of there! Bright lights obscured his vision as black shadows moved towards him. Screaming, he threw up his arms to protect himself.
"Get away! Get away from me!"
Shrieking, Ezra curled up tight as he could.
July 20th, 1943.
He was in his own bed. Ezra recognized the smell of the laundry soap used to clean them. Sighing, he trembled slightly among the sheets.
A gentle hand stroked over his matted hair. He didn't care that he was probably filthy. Whatever they had given him made everything seem less important that way.
After pressing her lips to his forehead, the woman exhaled softly against his cheek. She kissed the warmed skin there too. "My poor baby. What did they do to you?"
He wanted to laugh. The urge to cry was strong too. Neither of them seemed to matter, though, so he didn't do either. Laying there, he softly moaned and closed his eyes.
He hadn't even realized they were open until he opened them again.
Purple. Lavendar to be exact. It was the shade of the quilting on his blankets and pillows. He was home. He was back in Savannah. That meant...
Rolling, he looked up at the woman smiling down at him. Her steel gray hair flared out from her head, then was pulled back in style that had long since gone out of fashion. Her silk dress clung to her ancient form and her wrinkled hands cupped his cheek.
Clutching at her waist, he burried his face in her gowns. It didn't matter how he had gotten here from over two hundred miles away. He was home now and he was safe. That's all he cared about.
She patted his back like he was two again, not two and twenty years. "I warned that heifer mother of yours not to push you too far, too fast, but she didn't listen to me." Her voice cracked from suppressed emotions. Sighing, she snorted. "She listened about as well as when she was my granddaughter-by-law. You'll have to forgive her, son, she's got the mother instinct of a June Bug."
Snorting himself, he nuzzled softly at her silks. Eyes closed, he exhaled slowly and tried to relax.
The fact Mother Standish had died when he was eight didn't even occur to him.