Chapter 1: Revelation
Sheridan Bucket (pronounced Boo-Kay) was sitting in his car a block down the road from his childhood home. The car was off and he was sitting there with his hands on the steering wheel. His knuckles were white and his veins were stiff with adrenaline. He looked out of the window at the tree in someone's garden. The tree, a small thing, was just budding in the cool, crisp air of early April. He didn't have any time to appreciate the plant, as he was severely preoccupied. His car, the same one that he re-sprayed to that lilac color, was getting a little chilly. He was going to turn the car on again and turn on the heat but he was tired of waiting. He'd been sitting there, in silence, with the radio off, since six AM and now it was almost eight.
He unfastened his seatbelt and exited the vehicle. He got out of the car, stiff for having sat cramped, for about six hours. Yes, he'd driven all the way up from Truro on the A30 and M5. It had taken about four hours; he always obeyed the speed limit. When he arrived, he sat in the car worrying. Now he was only a few steps from the house he grew up in. He looked off in the distance on the pavement and saw what looked like the postman running away from his house. He always wondered why postmen bolted from his house. He was almost at his house and looked at Mrs. Warden's house. Hyacinth had always insisted on Sheridan calling her Mrs. Warden, but when his mother wasn't present she was 'Auntie Liz'. That was their little secret. (Sheridan and Hyacinth didn't know it but Richard was in on it, too.) Sheridan walked the three more steps towards his house, the memories flooding back. He remembered playing with Gail (or Gale as they used to joke) in the front garden and playing doctor with her in the shed in the back. They used to tell all kinds of secrets in the shed. It was their hideout. It was their place.
Sheridan approached the door to his old house, having already walked past his father's blue car, and was hit with a sharp gust of wind as he extended his arm to ring the doorbell. His finger hit the button and the familiar chimes resounded throughout the house. He heard the tapping of good shoes on woodblock approach him. He saw a figure through the glazed pane of the door. It was his mother, in no doubt, a floral dress. He was right as he saw his mother in a cream dress that had little purple hyacinths and yellow daffodils in the trim and red roses about the size of a pea speckling the rest.
"Sheridan," she said in the tone she used to when on the telephone, breaking his name into three airy syllables. She immediately hugged her son, who without reason was considerably taller than she, probably about six inches. She looked into her son's face saw a facsimile of her husband except that he had brown hair like her. She was glad that his hair wasn't thinning like his father's. She spoke again, "What are you doing here?" She asked with a benignant yet surprised tone. "Is it Spring Break yet? Of course your room is just as you left it, but-"
"I figured that I'd pay my mother and father a visit." He spoke levelly and it rang flat and hollow in his ears. Hyacinth did not pick up on his tone and prattled on.
"You don't need any money, do you?" She still had a benevolent tone.
"No, mum, I'm fine," he said, now noticing that they were still in front of the house, "Can we go in now? It's rather chilly out this morning."
"Oh, of course," she said tuning around and heading in. She walked into the house and shouted excitedly, though she'd say that she stated, "Richard, looks who's back home!"
He was sitting in the kitchen, at the table reading the newspaper and contemplating consuming a big bowl of cornflakes when Hyacinth called. He got up from the table, slightly jarred, more like rattled, and walked into the corridor of his house, "Sheridan," he said as he saw his son, "What brings you home?" He sounded confused, "The term can't be over already,"
"No dad, it isn't. I just wanted to come and see you, and before you ask I don't want any money," Sheridan figured he'd stop that argument before it started.
"I don't mind giving you money, Sheridan. I just want you to be responsible with it. And you have been."
"Thanks. You know I haven't called to ask for anything in two months." He said smiling proudly more for himself.
"It's been three months," Richard said smiling. "How about we go out and get some breakfast, my treat." Mr. Bucket was feeling generous this morning.
"Ooh, yes that'll be nice," started Hyacinth. Richard could tell by the look in her eye what she was going to say next. "But what shall I wear?"
"You look fine now." Richard said smiling, looking at his wife as they all stood in the hallway.
"I can't go out in this thing," she protested.
"Yes you can mum, you look fine," Sheridan said remembering fondly those when he did this as child.
"Alright, I can't deny my Sheridan," she said conceding instantly. "I'll just grab my coat."
"We'll take my car," Richard said, walking to the closet to grab his coat.
On the ride to the restaurant the topic turned to goings on in both of the locale of Sheridan's university and back home.
"So, what's been happening since the last time I came around, mum?" He asked with genuine curiosity.
"Well, Elizabeth's husband came home for a while in the beginning of December bearing a winter tan and bearing gifts," Hyacinth started.
"He left a couple of weeks after Valentine's day, on the 28th actually." Richard added
"So, what's been going on at school?" Hyacinth asked.
"Nothing much, and dad you'll be happy to know I took up maths again. I found a way to take needlework and maths, so that should make you happy."
"It does," Richard said, grinning softly.
The car fell into a comfortable silence.
When they arrived back at the Bucket Residence it was nearly ten thirty. Hyacinth scrambled into the house to make coffee, as Elizabeth was coming over as usual in a few. Hyacinth had been inviting Elizabeth over for coffee since she and Richard moved to that house in 1961. It was now 1998 and they were still doing it. Hyacinth always laughed to herself about Elizabeth's nervous habit of rattling her teacup. Hyacinth remembered the day it started back in 1988. It was exactly ten years ago. The rattling progressed to shattering of china in early 1992. Whatever the reason, Hyacinth just accepted that as one of Elizabeth's quirks.
About two hours after Elizabeth had gone home Sheridan was found sitting on the settee. He had in his hand a picture of him and his mother in London in the shadow of Big Ben Hyacinth noticed him in the living room and joined him, sitting right beside him on the couch. They didn't speak, until Richard came in and sat. Sheridan steeled himself to speak.
"Mum, Dad, I have something to tell you."
"What is it Sheridan?" Richard said, already knowing what he was about to say.
"I've been hiding this for a long time and I never thought that I could talk to you, or say anything like this to you," he inhaled sharply, "Now I feel comfortable with myself and I think I can say it."
Richard nodded neutrally.
Hyacinth looked utterly and completely flummoxed.
"Mum. Dad. I'm gay." His voice was empty.
Hyacinth's face contorted for a few seconds and her eyes lit up as she reached her own conclusion, "Of course, you are happy Sheridan. You were a happy child," She said on genuinely convinced that that is what that sentence meant.
"No mum, I mean that I'm-" Sheridan started stammering, stuttering,
Richard intervened, "He's homosexual, Hyacinth." Richard forthwith got up and walked to the other side of the room where his son was and hugged him. Hyacinth, who was still on the settee had now cringed back to the other side of it. Sheridan's arms pulled him into the hug and he was blushing with embarrassment. He was so enthralled in the embrace that he didn't notice his mother standing up.
"Richard, let go of him," she said coldly. He did as he was told not out of any emotion toward his son, but because he thought she wanted to hug him. Her voice retained the same fierceness, "Sheridan, get out of this house."
"What?" The utterance came from Richard.
"You heard me, Richard. I will not have a homosexual Sheridan in my house," she said. Than she turned her eyes to her son, "I am disappointed in you."
"Disappointed?" Richard half screamed in a mixture of surprise and disgust.
"Yes, and I am disappointed in you too Richard."
There was no verbal response from Richard just a violent gesticulation that expressed confusion and fury.
"Yes, Richard, how could you support this lifestyle?" her eyes went back to her child, "And how could you choose to live like this, Sheridan."
"It wasn't a choice, mother, I was born this way."
"Don't blame me for your condition."
"Hyacinth," Richard started, "Stop this nonsense right now! This is your child, your only child, your only son. How can you treat him like this?"
"Richard, we'll discuss this later. As for right now, get this bender out of my house," somehow her accent morphed from prim and proper to something from the East End of London.
"No Hyacinth, I'm leaving until you can learn to show your son some respect," he spat the words with newly found vehemence before turning and looking at his son, "Let's go, Sheridan."
Sheridan obeyed without thinking. He had never seen his mother like this. Her hair was disheveled. Her facial features were contorted into a grimace and drenched in sweat. She was standing apart from the two men in her house. She scowled at her husband, 'betrayal' being the only word she heard in her head. She watched as he grabbed a suitcase from the closet and packed about two weeks worth of clothes. She looked arrogantly, a crying Sheridan in the eye. He only heard the word 'betrayal' too. Sheridan, from where he was standing in front of the front door and facing the kitchen like any visitor, watched as she, his mother, literally turned her back on him and walked down the corridor and away from him.
Richard came out of his bedroom with suitcase in hand and his wallet in his back pocket. He grabbed his now trembling and sobbing son. "Come on let's get out of here."
Sheridan didn't remember walking to his father's car, but he remembered vividly the conversation in the car.
"Dad, how could she-" What happened to the mother he loved?
"I don't know, son," he said. It's true he didn't.
"My mother, my mother, called me a bender." He shuddered violently as he said the last word.
"I know, son," the older man said as he put the key into the ignition.
"Where are you taking me?" He said through the tears.
"I know you didn't come here without renting a room in Birmingham, someplace," Richard said as a matter of fact.
"You're right." It dawned on Sheridan that his father may have known him to some extent. It made him smile just a little as his father pulled out of the driveway and onto the road.
Richard noticed the change in Sheridan's mood and pounced on it, "So, what's his name?"
"I'm sorry," Sheridan said, hoping to God that he'd misheard the question.
"I said, 'What's his name,' Sheridan," knowing that his son was bashful.
"His name is Tarquin, dad."
"Am I ever going to meet this 'Tarquin'?" he asked, as he made a left.
"I suppose so, he's at the hotel."
"I thought he would be."
"What?!" he nearly broke hid collarbone as he gesticulated in his seat belt.
"Sheridan, did you really think that I hadn't known that you were gay?" /he asked as he pulled the car over to the side of the road.
"How could you have?" Sheridan though that he had kept his secret well. To hear proof of the contrary was going to be interesting to day the least. He looked his right to look his father, the driver squarely in the eye.
"Sheridan, I figured it out when you were five. You collected pearl buttons. You wanted to drop physical education, in favour of sewing."
"Those are just stereoty-"
"I'm not done yet. One day you left your journal on the settee."
"You read my-"
"No, I did not. I would never have read it either. It was locked, but something fell out of it. It was a drawing of heart. In the drawing were the words, in your handwriting, 'Ryan and Sheridan forever'."
"Oh, I guess that was proof," he said blushing fervently.
"That's not it. I remember you were about fifteen when I found a magazine in your bedroom. You said that you needed a ruler for a 'school project'. You left it in your bedroom and I went in. I looked all over the place except under your bed."
"Oh God," Sheridan sighed, starting to blush even harder.
"So," Richard continued, ignoring, or possibly reveling his son's embarrassment, "I looked under your bed and found the ruler, and something caught my attention. One of the three panels under your bed that supported the mattress was a little out of place. It looked as if one of then was bulging downwards. Then, I noticed what looked to me like a piece paper hanging down. I thought it was the tag for the bed and I grabbed it. I saw immediately that it wasn't. That's when I figured out you had a thing for redheads."
"Why didn't you tell mum or talk to me."
"Look, I knew that you knew that you were different. It was up to you when you wanted to tell me or anyone. I knew that the only person you though you could tell was Gail. She was the only one who you thought wouldn't judge you."
"How did you know Gail knew?"
"I could read the both of you like books. I knew you talked about everything in that shed. I remember the day she came out of that shed smiling. She was happy for you. You came back in the house smiling. I remember Hyacinth crying hysterically that she thought that you had just lost your virginity. I knew it wasn't that. I calmed her down. I remember I said 'Sheridan's a gentleman, he'd probably be whistling after he was done with that.' She bought that." Richard wasn't lying. He could always read Gail and Sheridan like scripts. He could even tell their emotions by their gaits off in the distance. Hyacinth could never do that.
"Wow, so you knew I was gay?"
"I know my son."
"You knew." Sheridan repeated in the form of a statement.
"I knew, so did Liz, your Uncle Onslow, and your Aunt Daisy, and Rose, even your grandfather figured."
"It was just mum…"Sheridan trailed off.
"I'm sorry, son, but we'll put this right again."
"So, is this the hotel you're staying at," Richard asked.
"It is." Sheridan's eyes were comically wide when he looked at the five-story building where he and his boyfriend arrived earlier that morning. He didn't even remember when his father had started moving again. He knew his father pulled over and they talked, but when had they begun moving again?
There was a tentative silence in the car.
Chapter 2: Difficulties
The day Sheridan told his parents that he was gay, was a day of unprecedented events. It was on the second or third time in the forty year span of their marriage that Richard ever raised his voice to his wife. It was the first time he had ever walked out of their home. This was the first time he'd been away from his wife since 1958, when he was only eighteen years old. Now he was in a hotel, clear across town trying to console the inconsolable, a rejected and dejected son. The only word that began to express what ill-will he felt towards his wife was rage. What kind of mother calls her only child an ugly pejorative and throws him out? What kind of mother cringes at the sight of her son? An unfit one, that's who, yes, unfit.
Who is she to reject anyone? He asked himself all of these questions as he unpacked the suitcase in his empty room. It was not the frill and ubiquitous pink that he was used to but it would do temporarily. It was neutral with light colored wood, most probably ash, being the template for everything. The red sheets were thick and looked warm. There was a television, but Richard doubted that he would be watching it for any extended periods of time. There was on the bedside table a black telephone. Richard thanked God that it wasn't white he didn't want to think about anything that woman said. The device did give him an idea. He picked up the receiver looked sown at the keypad and dialed a familiar number. It rang a few times before that familiar sound came that made Mr. Bucket smile.
"Hello," a friendly female voice answered.
"Liz, I know that it's late," he said sounding a little flustered. By her response or lack thereof he supposed that he either sounded flustered most of the time, or that she didn't pick up on it. He opted for the first choice.
"Richard, it's not late. It's only," There was a pause. Richard thought that she was looking down at her watch or perhaps on the wall at the clock, "Six thirty."
"I'm sorry. I've had a long, long day, but could you meet me downtown. I need to talk to someone."
"Of course, Richard. Is everything alright?" The concern was obvious in her wavering voice.
"No, everything is not alright. That's why I want to talk to you. Does Janie's sound okay to you?"
"That sounds fine to me. I'll see you in twenty."
"Good then, I'll see you soon." He said, and she immediately hung up.
Richard walked down the hallway to Sheridan's room. The door had a 'Do Not Disturb' sign hung from the knob. Richard could hear sobbing in the room. He gently rapped on the door. A visceral noise, not words that turned out to be words reverberated in the room and into Richard's ear, now pressed firmly on the door.
"Son, I'm going out," Richard started, "would you like to come with me?"
"No," screamed the pained voice from the other side of the barrier.
"Where is Tarquin?" Richard asked through the door.
"He's gone out to get me some chocolate and ice cream." Some sniffling was heard after almost each word.
"Are you sure you don't want to accompany me?"
"I'll be back son"
Richard walked into the restaurant and found Elizabeth in one of the booths in the back. She'd shown up by herself and had what looked like a fountain drink there, keeping her quiet company. He approached her, and she smiled and waved as she noticed his presence. He smiled back an uncomfortable smile that she read as a sign of distress. Her smile turned into a more serious expression that neither Richard nor she could pinpoint with any precision. It appeared as cross between attentiveness and interest. Richard got to the table and sat down on the comfy red vinyl seat. She spoke first, breaking the brief, but tense silence.
"Richard, what's wrong?" She inquired looking into his tired eyes. He was not reciprocating the eye-contact. He was, rather, looking up and above Elizabeth's head. She, knowing that Richard was in a fragile state, was not offended only concerned.
"It's Hyacinth. She's gone too far," he said, fixating on, studying intently some indistinct point on the popcorn ceiling.
"What do you mean she's gone too far? You married her in '58 and now it's '98. She must have in all those years pulled some kinds of crazy stunts." She tried to help Richard rationalize any untoward or strange thoughts he might have been mulling.
"Today Liz, Sheridan finally, as the young people call it 'came out of the closet.'" He declared it flatly.
"I'm not sure I follow, Richard." Her face was scrunched up in confusion. It was no where near the scowl that Hyacinth had. It was only ignorance, not hate.
"He admitted that he was a homosexual," he rephrased, keeping that same monotone.
"Oh," she said louder than her usual self, but not to loud to disturb anyone. Her arms move in understanding nearly knocking over her cola. "Oh, I see, good for him. He'd been bottling that up in him for much to long."
"Yes I knew and you knew too, but-" he started the sentence, she finished it.
"But Hyacinth hadn't a clue," she said picturing her dense neighbor being thoroughly perplexed.
"Exactly, but the problem is the way she reacted."
"How was that?"
"She shouted at him. She told him to get out and she called him a mean name."
"Not Hyacinth. She may be a lot of things but she is not a bigot."
"It appears that she is. I couldn't let her talk to my son that way, so I left." He straightened his posture as he said 'left'.
It almost goes without saying that Elizabeth went home feeling exceedingly uncomfortable. Had she not had to drive, she would have had a brandy or some other liquor to calm herself. But she wasn't going to risk hurting herself or anyone else. She would not risk going to jail either. She weighed whether or not to tell her brother anything. Emmet was a modern man who didn't waste his time, breath, or energy caring about who other people loved. But his 'distaste' for Hyacinth would cloud his judgment, certainly. More importantly, more pressingly, she wondered how coffee with Hyacinth would go tomorrow morning. Would Hyacinth put on her usual airs? Would she even call?
The phone rang at Elizabeth's house at ten fifteen in the morning, as it had done for the last few decades, without fail. Elizabeth picked it up and looked at the receiver questioningly, as if it knew why Hyacinth had called.
"Hello," said Mrs. Warden.
"Hello, Elizabeth, I've called to invite you for coffee," she sounded normal, her faux-aristocracy accent coming through.
"Hyacinth, I really couldn't-" A pang of despair riveted Elizabeth's body. She did not want to talk about it.
"Thank me enough," Hyacinth said, inserting words into Elizabeth's mouth.
"I'll be over in thirty minutes."
"NO," Hyacinth Bucket shouted. "You must come more quickly than that." Something sounded desperate in her voice. Elizabeth noticed it. "I'm sure you can come right now."
"Yes, I'll come over right now if you want me to."
Elizabeth was ready, physically, that meant very little. Granted, she was dressed and made up, but she didn't know if she was ready psychologically. What the bloody hell would they talk about? Nothing? Everything?
Elizabeth rang Hyacinth's doorbell only a few, maybe five minutes later, and the latter came to the door and quickly snatched the former into the house forcefully. Elizabeth almost fell down face first on the polished herringbone woodblock from the hard tugging. Elizabeth, the poor woman who did not deserve any of this, almost screamed, but she suppressed the possible noise that she made mightily, creating only a visceral and severely unladylike grunt, which resounded awkwardly throughout the now empty, hollow house. Elizabeth was initially glad that she had not made any contact with the floor. She was in a daze as she was pulled toward the kitchen like a toddler being led to naptime. She was quickly seated, and as per tradition was not facing the window. In an instant poof a saccharine Hyacinth-ity there appeared a cup of coffee accompanied by some biscuits in front of Liz. She, Liz, didn't dare to touch any of the items before her. She looked at them as if they were artifacts not to be handled by the untrained. She looked up and saw Hyacinth sitting, facing her, with a cup of coffee in a trembling hand.
"Hyacinth," Elizabeth started softly, enunciating every syllable, a habit she had when nervous, "you should put your beaker down, before you break it."
"I'm fine, really, I am." Hyacinth responded hands still shaky.
"Then, put the cup back on the saucer, before you break it. It's Royal Doulton," Elizabeth, commanded. Commanded? Yes, commanded.
Hyacinth did as she was told unconsciously. Elizabeth decided that she would try to pry any information she could.
"Hyacinth, what's wrong?" Elizabeth's tone was more assertive as she sat up straighter and, without even realizing it, took a sip of the coffee. It was awful, the coffee that is. No wonder she never drank it. It tasted like petrol.
"I'm fine," she said pushing open hands away from her chest and knocking the beaker over. "E-liz-a," Hyacinth started to remark, with her usual tone, before noticing it was her coffee on the table. Elizabeth was already on her feet getting a dishcloth from the sink to sop the table. Hyacinth did not move. She just stared at the coffee, lightened with milk, as it journeyed across the surface of the table. Hyacinth stared at the same spot as the other woman was sopping the liquid up.
"Hyacinth, aren't you going to help me?" she asked with plain exasperation.
Elizabeth stopped cleaning the table in a sudden and jerky, if not convulsive, motion. She stood straight up and walked behind Hyacinth. She grabbed the other woman's swift shoulders. To that there was no visible reaction. Shocked and frightened, Elizabeth shook violently the joints of the other woman that she had had the displeasure of seeing catatonic. Hyacinth's hair was being flung in all directions, ruining the coif that was so delicately maintained. Elizabeth didn't care. Hyacinth was silent, and that was scarier than a candlelight supper. "Get a grip," Hyacinth, she chided, nearly shouting, "Get a grip." Elizabeth stopped shaking her and pivoted around to look her, Hyacinth, in the face. There was still no emotion on Hyacinth's face. Elizabeth, now realizing the futility of that effort, tried a different approach. "Hyacinth, she started her face and tone of voice softening almost artificially, still looking the other in the eye, "I know about what happened with Sheridan."
That evoked a surprisingly mild response. "What?" Hyacinth inquired meekly.
"I know wha-", she started.
"How?" Hyacinth's voice was still unnaturally small.
"Richard called me last night and we talked," Elizabeth half lied. He called. They talked. She didn't mention the restaurant. There was no need.
"I don't know how you could have such a conversation on your white slimline telephone with last number redial at one-touch facility."
This was met with silence. Internally Elizabeth said, "What the hell?"
"You know Elizabeth, for all my life I've been trying so hard to live the way I ought."
Elizabeth kept silent prepared herself for a long speech.
"I did everything right. I loved my husband. I loved my son. I loved my sisters. Every night before I went to sleep, I thanked The Lord for providing me with a happy life. Sure, it had some struggles and some scandals, but I always worked my way through them. I was born, by accident, mind you lower than I should have been. All my life I had to distinguish myself from the common riffraff that I grew up with,"
Elizabeth shuddered at the term 'riffraff'.
"It was hard." Hyacinth continued imperiously, "And it is still a challenge. It is a burden. Keeping up appearances is my life's work. I worked so damn hard trying to make things right and no it's been thrown away."
"How has it been thrown away?" Elizabeth really wanted to know.
"How? How?" Hyacinth screamed it as if it was the most obvious thing, "Sheridan has ruined everything. How could he choose to do this to me? How could he choose to live like this? Couldn't he have found a nice girl to go out with?"
"He doesn't want a girl."
"Who would choose to be an H-O-M-O-S-E-X-U-A-L?" she spelt the word as if it were a mortal sin to say it.
"I don't-" Liz said before being cut off.
"What did I do that was so bad that Sheridan would rebel? How much ignominy will my infamous insurrectionary and ingrate son cause me?"
"Hyacinth, I don't much about these things. I don't know what you think about any of this. Why don't you talk to the vicar?"
"I can't have people knowing about family scandal."
Elizabeth was hit by a wave of guilt. Of course, she had not done anything, but she knew that Hyacinth's family was the talk of the neighborhood. Rose's rumored relations with the postman, the milkman, the electric man, Mr. Bickerstaff, Mr. Butterfield, Mr. Glass, Mr. Butterfield, Mr. Hall, Mr. Masters and Mr. Langley, were always being told and retold throughout town. Liz never tried to stop the talk and never told Hyacinth about it. She intended to keep it that way. "Hyacinth, I know that there is no privacy like a Catholic confession, but I insist that you have the vicar come over."
"Fine," Hyacinth conceded with a tone of annoyance, "but you will be here too."
"I'll call him for you if you want me to," said Liz, glad that Hyacinth had come around.
"Yes, you do that."
Chapter 3: Yes, Further Difficulties
"Hello," the vicar answered the telephone in the main hall, as he always did, in a cheerful voice.
"Good Afternoon, Vicar. It's Elizabeth Warden." Her voice sounded slightly less strained than expected for someone in her shoes. However, it does stand to reason that being neighbors with Hyacinth gave her practice with being in embarrassing circumstances.
"Oh, how are you Mrs. Warden?" His voice brightened further; she was one of his favorite parishioners. He would never say so, but he had a soft spot for the lady who looked a lot like his favorite teacher in secondary and happened to live next to the Bucket Woman.
"Vicar, it's about Hyacinth…. I," she started, stammering a little bit.
"You know that in the Anglican Church confession is voluntary, all may, some should, none must. I'm rather sure that whatever bad thoughts you've had about Hyacinth, God forgives you."
"Vicar, that's not it," Elizabeth said, finding no humor, though normally she would have, in the vicar's attempt at absolution. She was serious, her tone said that much, but the vicar misinterpreted it. Badly.
"Don't tell me you're in love with her or something like that," the vicar thought.
"Hyacinth's having a rough time. I think she needs something, someone to talk to and I'm not enough right now." She was being vague on purpose. These were not the kinds of things you discussed on the phone.
"Mrs. Warden I don't know if I-," He was trying his best to get out of the situation that into which he was going to be, inevitably, conscripted.
"Please, vicar. I wouldn't ask for anything like this unless it was necessary. I'm afraid for her well-being." She was afraid. The words 'catatonic' and 'Hyacinth' ought never be anywhere near each other.
"Of course," he said steeling himself for the following day (or days knowing the Bucket woman), "I have a duty to my parish and parishioners."
The vicar called Liz later that day, an, in that short, terse discussion decided to meet at her house that night. They needed a battle plan for dealing with Hyacinth in the morning. They sat around her round dining room table. Emmet was out on the town celebrating some financial victory for the operatic society as if the new millennium had arrived. It hadn't. No, it hadn't. It was a clear cool evening in April 1998 and Elizabeth was sitting at her table planning with vehement effort comparable to that shown to plan D-Day, on what to do with her neighbor and friend to get her back to out of this reverie and back to reality. They both assumed stiff positions in their chairs as they tried to start conversation. They were as stiff talking about Hyacinth as they would have been in her house for a Candlelight Supper.
"Good evening, Mrs. Warden." He said almost as if he was addressing an aristocrat.
"Please, Vicar, call me Elizabeth, or Liz," She was trying to end the tension.
"Alright, Liz. So," he dragged out the last word, "What are we going to do about the Buck-. I mean Hyacinth?" He didn't know where to begin with something like this.
"Well, I suppose that I have to tell you what happened, well what's happening, more like." She exhaled, creating a pause that signaled a new and possibly lengthy continuation. "I know Hyacinth has told you about her son, Sheridan."
"Yes, several times," he said, leaning in and loosening his collar inadvertently, curiosity, or more plainly and honestly, nosiness acutely visible on the tired features of his face face.
"Well, he's gay, and she can't deal with it. I know that the person who's homosexual is supposed to tell people, not me, but Hyacinth is in a total breakdown right now. Liz was still frightened of the whole situation. She was affrighted every time she thought about Hyacinth sitting motionless as her coffee spread across the table.
"I had assumed that she knew it," Michael started, "I mean, come on, everything screamed it."
"I know, I watched the boy grow up."
"So what should I do?" For the first time, it seemed that the man of the cloth could not find anything to say.
"She just needs a shoulder to cry on and someone to talk to."
He would only stay over for a few more minutes barely noticing the taste of the biscuits that were served.
Onslow was sitting on his usual seat watching the conveniently placed television when he heard a knock at the door. He, of course, made no attempt to see who the visitor was. He wasn't in the mood to have anything sold to him or any religion forced on him. He certainly, didn't want Hyacinth to show up. So, he did not move, knowing that either the knocking would stop or that Daise would open it. The knocking persisted and intensified. That's when Onslow remembered that his wife had gone to the library and Rose was out with a gentleman. So, he begrudgingly got up and walked to the door and through the glazed window say that it was Richard and somebody else. He opened the door and say that the other person was someone he had not seen in years, Sheridan. He didn't study anyone's expression or posture. He only let them in.
"Hello Dickey, Sheridan, come in," he said opening the door wider so that they may step in.
"Thank you, Onslow," Richard said, sounding and looking tired. "We really can't stay,"
"Well come and have a seat. What brings you up, Sheridan?" Onslow spoke as he turned the television off with a swift hit to the top of the television. He then turned himself towards the settee on which Richard was seated and behind which Sheridan was pacing.
"Well, Uncle Onslow," he stood still, looking distantly out of the window, "I'm gay."
Onslow was not fazed by the new and didn't miss a beat. "What did Hyacinth say, Richard?"
"She called him some nasty names and kicked him out. I went with him."
"Damn, just like that?"
"Yes, Uncle Onslow, just like that," Sheridan said, still looking out of the window, seeing his Aunt Daisy and Aunt Rose walking up to the door, idly chatting, shopping bags in hand. All three men perked up when they heard the sound of a key in the lock and the tumblers turning. They all turned towards the door as they heard the similar, but distinct sounds of the opening and shutting of the front door.
"Yes, he's cute and muscular," Rose's muffled voice was heard through the wall.
"I really don't know how you can keep on top of it," Daisy replied as she awkwardly, due to the bags in hand, opened the door into the living area. "Sheridan!" she screamed. She always loved her only nephew. She loved his name too.
"Sheridan," Rose shouted with equal glee, as she came racing from behind her sister to actually embrace him. "Where's Hyacinth?" she asked letting go, but not moving a great deal away.
"She's at home," Richard said more pithily than he meant. After all he was not mad with Onslow's family.
She had not, much to his relief, picked up on his tone. "Oh," was all she said.
"I'm gay," Sheridan blurted it out. It seemed that the more times he said it, the more quickly the words flew from his lips.
Rose's reaction was quick, "Oh, goody, we could go man hunting together." She clung to him again and kissed on his blushing cheek, leaving the residue of lipstick that matched perfectly.
"Actually, Auntie, I'm in a relationship," he said, still clearly mortified.
"Well, Sheridan, I'm happy for you," Daisy's voice was still as sincere and friendly as he remembered from his childhood.
"I'll talk to your mum," Rose almost whispered into her nephew's ear. Everyone else heard it and no one would have dared to stop her in the morning.
"If you think that will help..." Sheridan trailed off still looking out of the window at nothing in particular in the road.
Chapter 4: Woman in Black
"So." It seemed that Michael the Vicar had a nervous habit of adding extra length to the word. "Mrs. Bucket."
Hyacinth, in a black dress complete with a sheer veil did not even flinch at the god-awful mis-mispronunciation. Indeed it was quite a scene, the vicar in black, and the flower in black. The clergyman was sat on a chair. It's softness would have, at any other time, been appreciated, but now it was being loathed as the Vicar tried his beast not to relax into the chair. Elizabeth was there too, sitting on the settee with Hyacinth. Elizabeth had chosen to wear something in a delicate pink the clashed unpleasantly with the morose mood. Liz's hand was resting on Hyacinth's hand. All three individuals were as pale as ghosts as they sat in the living area. Contrary to the long established tradition, the drapes were closed completely letting, but a sparse amount of light through.
"Mrs. Boo-kay I would like to preface this by saying-"
"You needn't say anything. My husband and son are dead. That's all."
"NO," he boomed, his usually mild temper exploding, "they are not dead."
"YES," she shouted, still as imperious as ever, "My husband and son are dead."
"How can you say such a vile, wicked thing?"
"And how can you… How can you force a woman," she pivoted her speech, "a bereft woman, a widow, and a woman whose only son has died to take a stroll about in her pain? This is not a riparian festival or a county fair that one may trifle with and revisit in robust reverie, this is grief true and palpable. It is not something I can just wash away in water, holy or otherwise. I may just spend the smoldering, disintegrating remains my life frail like this."
"Hyacinth," a now tense Elizabeth started, "I had no clue that you felt so strongly."
"I must. I must rise for the moral rectitude of the West Midlands, of the United Kingdom. Europe has allowed all manner of odious and unsavory vices to metastasize in her. I say that as for me I shall neither condone nor harbor those who tear away our values. As for this, if my husband, may God Almighty have mercy on his soul, should continue to love he who has taken all of my love and thrown it away, then I shall be husbandless and childless."
"Why do you say that your son has thrown away your love?" The Vicar had relaxed, or rather, had been sucked back into the chair, for it was plush.
"My social standing has been destroyed."
"How?" That came from Liz.
"What do you mean how?" Hyacinth was cunning. She asked as if she were prepared to answer the follow up. "My social standing has been obliterated. My son comes to me and tells me that he is some sort of homosexual. We are British, there is no homosexuality here, except on Channel Four, and most of that programming is imported."
Elizabeth and Michael both rolled their eyes at that silly comment. Elizabeth did not, however, relinquish the hold on Hyacinth's hand.
"I mean really," Hyacinth continued, "You never hear of homosexual aristocracy."
"No, Hyacinth never," the vicar said trying not to let any derision slip through into his voice. He failed.
"You mock me, Vicar."
"I bloody do not," he declared vehemently. He had the urge to put his hand over his mouth; he ignored it. Elizabeth put her free hand over her mouth while the other hand grew cold. Hyacinth had not flinched.
"You do mock me. You must be one of those continental thinkers. You chuckle heartily at blasphemers. You disregard those who commit sodomy. You, Vicar, and people like you are the reason why all of these things that used to be done in obscurity, in the night, in the dark places, are now done in the street in the light of the morning. Just the other day, I saw two men holding hands walking down the street, and only two or perhaps three yards behind I saw a mother and young son on the pavement. The little boy said, 'Why are they holding hands, mommy?' The poor child was confused. She said to him, 'Those two men love each other like mommy and daddy love each other.' What kind of thing is that to tell a child?"
"Hyacinth, I'm sure, I know, that the child will not become gay because of that." The vicar was still hot around the collar. In fact he loosened it.
"How can I be sure of that?"
"Because I am sure of it." Michael's voice was flat.
"Then, what did I do wrong when I raised him?" Hyacinth's voice was distant as turned her gaze from the cleric and to one of the pictures of her son on the wall. "I thought I did everything right. I prayed each night for a healthy, happy, normal son."
"He is happy and healthy and normal," Elizabeth almost whispered. At that moment she was remembering a heat wave in the early eighties, maybe '82 or '83. She remembered how, to get cool relief instantly, he got the garden hose, turned it on and put it down his shirt. Soon, he and Gail were having a full fledged water fight. That was normal enough.
"He is not normal, Elizabeth. Fifty short years ago he could have been imprisoned for what he now, so openly, flaunts in the streets."
"Was that right to lock them up Hyacinth?" The vicar needed to establish Hyacinth's views on the social issue, not the personal issue.
"No," Hyacinth said. There was a glimmer of hope in the tired eyes of the Vicar and Elizabeth. "There ought to be some corrective treatment for them." The tentative smile, which coincided with the hopeful eyes that had graced Liz's face, disappeared just as quickly as it came.
"Well, Hyacinth, we'll be doing some treatment," The vicar said with only he and Elizabeth knowing that it, the aforementioned treatment, would be on Hyacinth.
"Okay, dad, you finally get to meet him," Sheridan said. This was the first time Richard had seen his son smiling since the saga started. Right now they were standing right outside of the restaurant that Tarquin had invited them both too.
"You seem anxious to see him," Richard remarked. With the expression on Sheridan's face, Richard was surprised that his son wasn't doing back flips on the pavement.
"Oh, I am."
"I just want to give him a big hug is all."
"Alright let's go in then." Richard was hungry.
They walked into the American Southwestern barbeque style restaurant, with Richard following his son. He, of course, had no clue what his son's boyfriend looked like. Richard simply walked behind his son to a table in the back of the restaurant. Once Richard put together where he was sitting, he looked at the young man who was already seated. In the distance he could tell that the man was a redhead, which was no a surprise. The man also looked to be of a muscular build, but it wasn't clear if that was the truth or just an effect of the cut of the suit. As he approached he saw that Tarquin was indeed muscled and was about the same height as Sheridan, maybe an inch or two shorter. Tarquin stood up from the table when he noticed his boyfriend. Sheridan, as promised ran to his love and hugged him. The two exchanged a few words before Richard arrived on the scene.
"It's nice to meet you Mr. Bucket," Tarquin said in his deep voice, shaking Richard's hand firmly
"So you are the famous Tarquin." To that, Sheridan blushed in mortification. "I've heard about your embroidery and needlework," Richard said trying hard to change the topic of the conversation.
"Yes, it's very restful."
Richard detected something strange. IT did not put him ill at ease, but it made him think. Something was different. "You're American, aren't you?"
"Yes sir, born and raised in Dover, Delaware in Kent County. Sorry for stealing your British names." Tarquin hoped that Mr. Bucket would laugh. Mr. Bucket did laugh, heartily in fact.
Chapter 5: Surprises
"Mr. Bucket I have something to tell you," Tarquin said, scratching the back of his head nervously. His red hair was short so that his scratching did not affect it. He was glad that the Tex-Mex restaurant was somewhat empty tonight. There was no one to spy on his nervous habits.
"What is it, Tarquin?" Richard suppressed the sudden urge to laugh hysterically. He surmised that it was because, Sheridan had taken the same tone when he came out of the closet. Richard was almost ready for Tarquin to say, 'I'm gay'. Richard would have replied vulgarly, 'No shit, I can see that, you're holding hands with my son. He bottled that up and resolved to laugh later when he got back to the hotel.
"Sheridan and I," he stuttered and hesitated for a moment, making a knot form in Richard's stomach, "Well, we're going to America."
"Oh, I thought that you were going to say something drastic." Richard was relieved. His son was only going to America. He'd be safe there. They speak English, and the U.S. and U.K. were allies.
"What? You're not surprised, dad?"
"Why would I be? You two have been to Rumania and Iceland. I'm glad that going someplace where the locals won't have any trouble understanding you. I was worried because I hadn't a clue where you where or if you were safe."
"No more cash this month." Richard responded on instinct.
"No, that's not what I'm asking for, I was asking if you wanted to come with us?"
"Me? Why do you- How do you-" Richard was flattered at the offer, but was wary of any ulterior motives. He knew that there would be none, but had grown used to surprises with Hyacinth's plans.
"Well," he spoke to his father like a prosecutor speaks to a witness they don't want impeached, "I know that you've always wanted to go stateside, but certain people wouldn't let you."
"Yes." Richard's response was plain. He did remember the times where the idea of touring the United States of America was shot down as 'lower middle class' or 'common'. He had always wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, The Empire State Building, The Liberty Bell, The Grand Canyon, the lights of Las Vegas, Mount Rushmore. The list went on and on.
"Well we wanted to bring you along. I wanted mummy to come along to, but she… she reacted the way she did" Sheridan's voice sounded mad not sad. He face did not look on the verge of tears any more, but looked livid. Richard imagined that his son's piano fingers were clenched into fists under the table.
"Sheridan we're working on it. We'll bring her around yet."
"Hyacinth, this coffee is delicious," Elizabeth said, her hands not shaking at all. They had stopped shaking at Hyacinth's house since her friend fell from grace.
There was a knock at the door. Yes, a knock. It was not the prissy doorbell ringing, but firm if not too loud knocks on the door. Hyacinth almost spilled her coffee again, but Liz caught it this time. She removed the beaker from Hyacinth's possession and went to answer the door.
Elizabeth thought when seeing who the visitor was, "It's her sister, Rose. She does not have a Mercedes, sauna, and room for a pony." That was followed by, "Good Lord, you're turning into her." She said that in a discontent whisper.
Rose hadn't heard it, and still protested vehemently at the door, "Are you going to let me in, or will I have to force me way in?" She wasn't angry at Elizabeth; she was just anxious to see her sister.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Elizabeth said loud enough to be heard through the portal, snapping out of it, unhooking the latch, and letting the scantily clad woman in.
"Elizabeth," Rose said, impolitely, wasting no time, "Where is Hyacinth?"
"She is in the kitchen."
"Hyacinth, Hyacinth!" Rose boomed in such a way that the walls rattled, as she walked into where her sister was seated.
"Hyacinth," Rose said to her sister, who'd gone catatonic and distant again. "Hyacinth, snap out of it!" She shouted down at her older sibling. Rose, perceiving that the noise she made had no effect, sat down next to Hyacinth and grabbed her sister's hand. "Hyacinth, I want to talk to you about Sheridan."
"Huh," it sounded like a grunt, "Sheridan is dead. Richard is dead. Sheridan and Richard, dead."
"They are not and you know it. You have a bloody cheek rejecting anyone. Don't you remember what the kids at school used to say about you."
"Rose," Hyacinth said, coming back to life, eyes darting around the room, "I'm sure you're embarrassing Elizabeth." Elizabeth was now in the kitchen, standing rigidly by the door, blushing a furious red that outdid the rouge on Rose's cheeks.
"No, I'm sure she does. If you're in the rejecting business, then tell Liz why the children wouldn't play with you."
"No," Hyacinth felt her eyes tearing up. It didn't register that it was from the negative reminiscence. "It's too painful to talk about."
"Then why are you doing this to your son now. Out of all of the times of his life, he needs you now!"
"This is not the same. I was bullied and shunned for… for… being me."
"That's exactly what you're right now. That is who Sheridan is, and you cannot let this thing that happened to you happen again to your son. 'Cause one day he's going to stop crying and he's going to stop caring about you, and there's going to be nothing you can do about."
"I-" Hyacinth started.
"No, you just don't realize. One day you're going to get lowered into the ground. Do you want to really wan to be in a box covered in two yards of dirt with a son who doesn't know if he loves you or not. Do you really want to chance it that your son won't show up to your own funeral?"
"You what?!" Rose's voice was the epitome of annoyance
"Call the emergency services," Hyacinth cried in a strained voice, before grabbing her chest. Rose gasped and just stood there with her hands covering her mouth, as if her gasp was a vulgar word. Elizabeth ran to the telephone and dialed 999.
"Emergency. Which service?" The crisp voice of the operator said over the line.
"I need an ambulance." Elizabeth's voice was hysterical as the operator transferred her call.
Chapter 6: Hyacinth in Hospital
"What's her name," the paramedic, a man with a terrible mustache, asked, tersely with his accent that suggested he was from Essex, Southend-on-Sea or thereabouts.
"Hyacinth Boo-kay, spelt H-Y-A-C-I-N-T-H B-U-C-K-E-T," a pale and frightened Elizabeth answered quickly, as they, the paramedics, loaded the stretcher onto the ambulance.
"You'll be fine Mrs. Bucket."
"It's Bouquet," she said, muffled by the mask.
"We'll follow in my car," Elizabeth said, grabbing Rose rather fiercely by the arm. Rose was walking, more like stumbling along. She was not thinking of anything except for the look that was on Hyacinth's face when she grabbed her chest. There was nothing to say as she got into the passenger side of the white car. Elizabeth put the key into the ignition and gave it a cold start, against the advice of the owner's manual.
"I did this to her," Rose said in a low almost breathless voice, "All my fault."
"It had nothing to do with you. We don't even know what's going on right now. We'll go to hospital and see what's the matter. You confronting her had nothing to do with that." Elizabeth spoke as she drove from her slope-less driveway
"No, I don't mean that. I mean that I started all of this stress when she was a little girl."
"I'm sure that nothing you did has anything to do with her condition right now." Elizabeth was brief but not impolite. She was never impolite.
"No, you don't know."
"Of course I love you, mother," Sheridan said, with a loving look in his eye. "I know you do. It was all some silly April Fools' Day joke. I just couldn't get to you on the first of April."
"Well, how clever of you, tricking Mummy like that." Hyacinth replied feeling an overwhelming sense of relief.
"I got you good, didn't I?" Sheridan's teeth were glistening in a mischievous smirk.
Hyacinth was about to open her mouth when she noticed Richard in the room. He was standing there arms down, in a gray suit and a white shirt with a smart tie. "Hyacinth," he said.
There was something off about it. She didn't notice
"Hyacinth." His voice was strange. "Hyacinth," His voice was always soft, but it was even gentler than usual.
"Richard." Hyacinth, arms outstretched under the sleeves of her floral print dress, went over to the wall, by which he was standing, still as stiff as sentry who just finished a patrol.
She hugged him with a mighty squeeze, but he felt limp in her embrace. "Why aren't you hugging back dear?"
"Hyacinth." Now she knew that the voice wasn't Richard's. He would never ignore her like that.
"Hyacinth, wake up," the voice, a female voice was saying.
"Rich," she never called him that, or rather, she hadn't called him that for at least twenty years.
"I don't think she'll be waking up tonight," another voice said. It came out of Richard's mouth too. It was her sister Rose. "I hope she will," The other voice said.
"Ri-" Her eyes cracked opened slightly.
Hyacinth's mind was muddled. She knew she was lying down. She knew that Rose and Elizabeth were near. She knew that she had just woken up from a dream. The last thing she remembered was sitting at the table facing the window with Liz or Rose, one of them, berating her for something. She didn't know why but a tiny groan escaped her lips. She heard the rhythmic, but hurried tapping of a person's shoes towards her.
"I think our Hyacinth's waking up," Rose said.
"Where am I?" Hyacinth asked groggily. Her eyes opened up a little more to see the figure of her sister
"You're at Queen Elizabeth Hospital," Rose said to her sister.
"Yes," Elizabeth said, looking at her friend, exhausted.
"What happened why am I here," said Hyacinth.
"Don't get too excited, Hyacinth," Elizabeth said putting her hand on Hyacinth's shoulder, trying to get her neighbor to lie back down. "You had a mild heart attack."
"I-" Elizabeth interrupted.
"There's no damage to your heart, and there's nothing in your arteries. He said that this episode is from recent and acute stress."
"Yes, Hyacinth, you've hurt yourself stressing the way you are. Now, I've got something to say and then I am not going to say anything else. You've been really selfish with this whole thing. What Sheridan's had to do was hard for him. He was holding his breath for as long as he could remember. And you know what? You can only hold your breath for so long before you faint. When he swooned and told you what he had been hiding for God knows how long he felt that he could breathe again. And then you start smothering him with your attitude. I'm not going to allow it. I won't! And you don't even know how kind he's being towards you right now, this second." Rose was finished speaking, her face having turned red and her hair having become disheveled. She backed away from the bed and sat in the dimly lit corner of the hospital room with only the white lines of light created by the streetlights outside illuminating her face.
"What is she going on about?" Hyacinth was pretending to slip out of consciousness, not wanting to stand the yelling.
"Hyacinth, what she means is, why do you think that you're in a private room?" Elizabeth was actually trying to sugarcoat something for this really dense woman.
"I'm important in most social circles in the west of England." Hyacinth sounded imperious, even laid out in a hospital bed.
"No, it's not that Hyacinth. Tarquin pulled some strings and somehow got you this nice room and your own nurse. I don't know how he did it, but he did. The only reason you're so comfortable is because of Sheridan."
"No, the only reason I'm here is Sheridan."
"No, Hyacinth, you," Elizabeth's voice was trembling. Something in her head made her want to slap Hyacinth. Of course, she didn't do it, but the urge was strong, "you are the reason that you're here. And I'm here and Rose is here at," she looked down at the watch, "11:30 in the night. You are why we're keeping vigil. Sheridan is not the problem. He's in a committed relationship with a suitable person of means and with means and transatlantic correspondence. He has everything you want, a good person for your son. That person just happens to be a man."
"And what's more, that man has you in one of the best hospitals in England, in Europe, in a private suite, with a television. That same man who you have condemned has chosen to still help you."
"Where is Sheridan if he cares so much?"
Rose spoke from the shadows, sitting her chair in the corner, noticeably quieter, "He was here and so was Richard and Onslow and Daisy. They was all here they was. You were still sleeping when Sheridan walked out of here crying. He wanted to hug you, he did. He didn't because he remembered what happened the last time he saw you. Richard went after him. Onslow and Daisy left a couple of hours after that. I wanted to stay here long enough to see you wake up. I knew that I might have had to wait here all night, but you woke up before we thought you would."
"I stayed because I wanted to make sure you were okay." Elizabeth's tiredness now came across her face.
"Thank you, Elizabeth and Rose. I suppose that you made some good points. I…I…" Hyacinth's voice was starting to crack. "I… All I wanted in life was better than what I grew up in. I grew up in bad times in a bad place. My mother died when I was eleven and I had to become the woman of the house. I had to take care of little Daisy and Rose, while Violet was out. Not that I could blame her for going out, home was hell. Daddy was never there. He was out making sure the rent was paid and the lights were on. Never took any charity or relief. I had my sisters to take care of with those damn braces on me legs." Hyacinth said coolly.
She continued "When I met Richard, I knew thing would be alright. Things would not fall apart. I married him. We had a son. Now it turns out that that son is homosexual," Hyacinth whispered the word. "And I'm petrified."
"Why for goodness' sake?" It really doesn't matter who asked it. It was asked.
"People attack gays. Yes, I hear about it on the BBC all the time. People throw rock and bash them about the head and all sorts of evil things. AIDS scared me too. When it started running rampant, I felt thank goodness my Sheridan was not involved in anything like that. Now, I'm sure of anything anymore."
"Then talk to him, Hyacinth," Rose said standing up, grabbing her purse. "I really should be getting home. It's getting late."
"Yes, I'll drive you Rose," Elizabeth said perking herself up, "Hyacinth," she said turning towards her neighbor, "You can watch the telly if you like. The remote control is on the bedside table. Ready, Rose?"
Rose nodded in the affirmative. "We'll see you in the morning, Hyacinth."
"Yes, in the morning," Hyacinth said, trailing off.
The other two women left and she felt lonely. SO lonely. No Liz, no Richard, no one. She couldn't deal with the silence. She figured that if she had the television on, she could pretend that there was someone with her. The remote was, as said, on the table to her right. She grabbed it and turned on the television with trembling fingers. It was on a channel that she never watched, but she decided to watch tonight. A late film was about to start, as this channel had recently stopped signing off at night. The film of the evening was To Sir, With Love.
Chapter 7: Richard's Wisdom
"Now tell me this, doctor, and I shall know instantly if you're lying. Am I going to die?" Hyacinth was sitting up, speaking, with her voice completely recovered. It was amazing how she could command such an air of superiority in a hospital gown. And how airily she asked about her mortality!
"Yes," the doctor said nonchalantly, not even looking up from the clipboard in his hand. There was a quiet that took its place in the room was palpable. The only things that kept the room from being in complete silence was the beeping that kept Hyacinth's now-increasing heartbeat audible to doctors and nurses and the rhythmic ticking of the clock in the room.
"Doctor, tell me how long I have to live." Her voice became affrighted.
"You'll be a quick one for another thirty years, God forbid." He was muttering still didn't make any eye-contact.
"I beg your pardon. I know that you may not know who I am, but my name is Hyacinth Bouquet and I a senior socialite in the superb smart set. It would behoove you to behave in a way that befits a person of my most high rank."
"Look, Miss Bucket-" It was funny that he had not bothered to look up from the papers in front of him.
"It is Missus Bouquet." She reminded him, chided him.
"Yes, I'm sure it is."
"You must be the most impertinent man I ever met! You cannot be a doctor with that sort of rudeness."
"I am. I had my residency at Guy's Hospital, London." He still wasn't looking up from his clipboard. Even Elizabeth, who was sitting in the same chair Rose sat in last night, was shocked by how callous the doctor was. It was refreshing to Liz to see someone giving Hyacinth what she gave to those who were blessed (or damned) with her presence.
"Look at me in the eye, when I'm talking to you." Her voice descended a few octaves, which was ironically, the same tone from which she would launch her songs. It was the same tone that made Emmet flee.
"That's nice, Bucket." The doctor spoke again before the woman could speak again. "With the way this industry is in Britain, I have to see a patient every seven minutes to keep up the share."
"I will not stand to be treated like some ordinary person."
"Well, madam, you won't be standing for anything just now. Now, please don't let the fact that you're in a special room cloud your judgment and understanding of the situation. You just happen to be an ordinary person. Good day to you, Miss Bucket." He then, against all logical explanation, seemed to almost skip out of the room.
"With that kind of treatment," Hyacinth said looking over at Elizabeth, facing the window. "I don't know what is happening with. I am appalled and Sheri-"
"Sheridan's not here." Elizabeth's voice was plain. She had only spoken a fact and that was all.
"I know he's not here. He would still be appalled. No one can treat his mummy this way."
Elizabeth swore later that a vein in her forehead popped, "Hyacinth, you cannot pick when he's your son and when he's not. Now, I've held my tongue for too may years. I knew since that child was the way he was since he was ten. I knew that he was different. That doesn't make him a bad child, Hyacinth. It only means that you love him that much more."
"Alright, alright, alright! I do not need anyone lecturing me on how to come to terms with this. I am the only person in this whole situation who has had to cope with the fact…" Her voice was soft by the time she arrived at the word 'that'.
"What Hyacinth? What?" Liz's voice grew softer.
"I wanted grandchildren."
"Hyacinth, this doesn't mean that you won't have any grandchildren."
"Tarquin, I know that you've given me time to think about this, but I rather have my wife step into the twentieth century." Richard was on his end of the telephone. He was in his room while Tarquin was talking on his mobile phone.
"But, Mister Bucket," Tarquin protested as he stepped into a cab, "IS she going to come around? I mean really?"
"You know I think she is," Richard said, sitting up straighter in the bed.
"How," Tarquin asked.
"It's just how she thinks. She'll find some way to make it an opportunity for social advancement. She'll find a way to make this news another rung on her desperate climb to mingle with the aristocracy. Hyacinth is clever."
"But, what about the relationship with her son? She's basically severed it. I don't know how he's ever gonna sit in the same room with his mother again. Do you know what he said to me when he got back to the hotel after he told her? Do you?"
"I haven't the faintest clue." Richard's voice -though very shaky- portrayed only a fraction of the disquietude that was inside. That little rope that always tied itself into a knot in his stomach was now unable to be untwisted by anyone. Whatever word he was about to say, were probably going to entangle his viscera further. At least that's what he felt.
"Sheridan said that he felt like a motherless child. He felt like he had been shot and then hanged, and the executioner was the woman who claimed to love him. The same lady who took him to museums and showed him the most overt and concrete love killed him. And I tell you, he wanted to die. He wanted to die, so I intervened."
"Suicidal? Sheridan? Sheridan suicidal?"
"Yes. He was going to jump from the window. All I told him was that he couldn't do it because I would miss him way too much. I love him so much. I would feel awful if he were to…" Tarquin's voice trailed off into an evil thought of grief. "I want him to live."
"I do too." Those were the only words that Richard could manage.
"Well, if he's been feeling this desperate, where is he? Is he by himself? Who-"
"Onslow's at the hotel, in the room, keeping him company. You can go to the room and make sure he's alright. I'm sure Onslow could go for a beer and a cigarette right about now."
"You know, you're welcome in my house anytime Sheridan." Onslow said to his nephew. He, Onslow was seated in a chair away from the bed on which Sheridan sat. True to form, Onslow only wore his most comfortable trousers and the vest he loved over his t-shirt. The hat that he usually wore, even indoors was off right now and on the bedside table closer to his seat His, Sheridan's, face was relaxed except for his mouth. It was contorted into a frown, and not the 'cute' pout that Tarquin had grown used to and cherished. Sheridan was sitting straight up in the bed, pajamas still on. His back was erect against the headboard and his legs were crossed underneath him Indian style.
"I know I am. Thank you." His voice, no longer quaky and hurt, but no longer pleasant and soft, reverberated into Onslow's ears. They sounded hollow and Sheridan sounded numb. Onslow was visibly dismayed by the sound of his response. He was trying to remain as easygoing as possible, and tried to dispel any weightiness that may have reared its ugly head in the conversation.
"You're even dressed the part to live in my house. No need for smart clothes in my house. In fact we have a policy that anyone in a suit can only stand on the front step and cannot enter." Onslow forced a laugh. "With the exception of your father."
It was met with only a hint of a titter that sounded more like a pained grunt.
"I'm sure Tarquin'll be back soon. He hasn't got that much to do in town today. Not from what he told me, at least."
"Do you mind if I had a beer?" Onslow said as rose from his seat to go to the small refrigerator.
Sheridan said nothing; he knew that it was a rhetorical question.
"Why do Americans insist on drinking their beer so cold?" Onslow was muttering to himself. There was a knock at the door. Onslow, since he was already standing, walked over to the door and looked out of the peephole. "Ah, it's Dickey." He unlocked the door and opened it.
"Hello Onslow," Richard said, stepping in.
"He's not well, is he?" Richard inquired in a hushed voice.
"No, Dickey, he looks depressed. He was such a happy child notwithstanding being raised by Hyacinth." His low voice was almost a low hum.
"Yes, you're right. He's resilient and he'll bounce back from this yet." Dickey, I mean Richard, whispered.
"I can hear you talking about me!" Sheridan yelled from his bed, "At least close the door. I don't need everyone knowing about my business."
Onslow shut the door as instructed.
"Sheridan, you've got to get up and get out. Occupy yourself," Richard said.
"There's no point in going out. There's no reason to do anything. All you have to do in life is die, and I'm ready."
"Sheridan, I know you. I know that you're not the selfish and I don't think that you think that you're that selfish. You have too much to live for. You have a person who loves you for you. Onslow," Richard, who had by now grown red in the face, looked at the person he just mentioned. His brother-in-law nodded in the affirmative, knowing where Richard was going with his thoughts. "Daisy, Rose, Violet, Bruce, are all here and they love you God damn it! If you think that I'm going to allow you to take the easy way out, then don't hold your breath! I love you too much for this. I have been functioning without sleep for weeks now. I have been dealing with my wife shunning our only child. I have to now deal with a wife who sickened herself with her bigotry. Now I'm looking at my son which is like looking myself in the mirror thirty-five years ago. If you do something stupid and throw you're your life away then you might as well take me with you. Get up, Sheridan. I hear self-defenestration is how you want to do it; let's do this together!" Richard was adamant.
Onslow kept an appearance of neutrality. He had just watched a special on the Open University about suicide prevention. He remembered one of the steps that could stop the desperate act was to take away the sense of complete attention. Fundamentally, Richard was trying to subvert all of the positive things that would be said, taking away some of the motivation. Onslow just hoped to himself that the aforementioned theory was correct and that Sheridan had not slipped into the sinister clinical depression. He hoped that Sheridan was just sad, not sick.
"No dad, it's my death. It's about… me." He trailed off when he realized what his thoughts had been.
"No, Sheridan," Richard spoke, "It's not just about you. It's about Tarquin, and me, Onslow, and Daisy, and Rose, and Violet, and Bruce, and all of the lives your going to touch in the future. It's even about your mother."
"HOW-" Sheridan was ready to rip his father's head from his neck.
"She doesn't hate you. She's scared. She's ignorant, profoundly ignorant, and she's afraid of the unknown. Hate crimes and AIDS and just the general persecution that homosexuals receive scare her. Her fear and ignorance wants you to change so that, by her logic, you can be safe and happy. She doesn't know, she doesn't understand that there's nothing wrong with the way you are and the way you live. There's nothing that can be changed. I'm not excusing the words she said to you. The LORD knows that I will never forget that, but understand that she grew up in a different time, in a different Britain. Now that the world is opening up, she's scared. The thing that she thought were constant are dying, and we need to help her to come to terms that her perfect world isn't the real world"
Chapter 8: Hyacinth's Home
Hyacinth was discharged a few days later. Elizabeth, by default, had the simple task to drive her home and after having been given a monumental task by the doctor. Yes, the same doctor who had been rude to Hyacinth. The doctor had said that Hyacinth needed someone to take care of her.
The doctor said that someone needed to take care of Hyacinth in an environment where she was comfortable.
The doctor said, "What I mean is, is, that someone needs to stay in her house and take care of her. You need to stay in her house. I want someone to be able to get to her twenty-four hours a day."
The lack of words from Elizabeth didn't shock the doctor. Hyacinth was alert, and as usual was ignoring Elizabeth. That said, she took no notice of Elizabeth's silence and only thought that it was caused by Elizabeth's possible witlessness
He spoke again, "Someone needs to monitor the woman and make sure that she avoids stress."
"Well… um… her sister. Yes, her sister Rose would be perfect."
"Certainly not!" Hyacinth protested from her bed.
"Then, Daisy would take care of you." The desperation on Elizabeth's face was evident.
"I cannot have the Barker-Finches or the Cooper-Bassets see that caliber of person entering into a house, my house, in my exclusive postal code. It has to be you, Elizabeth. People don't and won't mind seeing you. It's not like you make much of an impression."
"Judging by your weight madam," the doctor said, before Elizabeth could speak, "you make sizable impressions in even the hardest surfaces."
"Hmmm, I'm not sure I know what you mean. You do mumble quite a bit dear. You should try speaking the Queen's English. Let's try rounding first. HOW NOW BROWN COW?"
"I'm sure many people have asked you that Mrs. Bucket."
"It is BOUQUET, you little leech."
"You look like a bloodsucking parasite if ever I saw one, and I'll have you know that leech is actually an archaic word for doctor, madam. I, of course, excuse you, for your ignorance."
"Look, you rude son of a-"
"No, you look, I have been holding my tongue for as long as you have been here. I have been taking care of you with the best care in the world just to have you insult me and your friend. I don't know why I flew across the damn ocean just to take care of you, but I did."
"What are you talking about?" Hyacinth asked, voice softening.
The doctor continued on his rave. "I am sick and tired of dealing with your nasty attitude about this whole situation. It is truly a wonder of God, of the universe, that your son is the nice, compassionate, loving young man he is. I-"
"How do you know my son?" Hyacinth asked, cutting the doctor off. She knew that the doctor probably spoke to him whilst she was unconscious, but those adjectives suggested more than a brief conversation.
"My son and your son are boyfriends." Hyacinth, much to the surprise of Elizabeth and herself, did not shudder at the statement. That meant that Hyacinth had accepted, or at the very least, was no longer denying to herself that her son was gay.
"Hyacinth," Elizabeth interjected, causing both Hyacinth and the doctor to gasp. They had both forgotten that Liz was present. "How do you think that you've been getting the best care in the country?"
"But he said that he had to keep up his patient share." The image Hyacinth's face at that moment could accompany the word nonplussed in the dictionary.
"I was lying. Every time I see you, I think about how you hurt your son and it makes me sick. And it makes me angry."
"But how can you be a doc—"
"Hyacinth," Elizabeth said again, "Didn't you notice the American accent? Didn't you notice that anytime you only needed a nurse, he showed up?"
"Who are you?" Hyacinth asked.
"I already told you. I am Tarquin's father."
"I'm sure you have a name."
"Vincent. My name is Vincent. Look… Hyacinth," The doctor said, Vincent said. Elizabeth's face relaxed at the possible détente that was about to start. "Until you can live with the fact that our sons are together, and I mean together forever, I don't think I want to talk to you or deal with you. Now, I had one of the doctors write you up a prescription. Just go to the pharmacy. Well you Brits call it the chemist and follow the directions on the bottle." His voice was flat and cold as he spoke to her. His voice became pleasant again as he outstretched to Hyacinth's neighbor, "Liz, it was a pleasure to meet you. I'm sorry, but I really do need you to stay in her house for a week to keep an eye on her. I made an appointment for Tuesday, the fifth."
He left the room in a huff and a nurse walked in with a wheelchair for Hyacinth.
When Hyacinth arrived home, she was surprised to see that Onslow and Daisy were there. They had arrived an hour earlier, ironically, to clean the house. They checked the food in her refrigerator. They gave the whole place a sweep and mop. They changed her sheets and did the laundry. They even made sure that the hedge was trimmed and that the few dead leaves that fell while she was gone. The cherry on top of the cake was that Onslow had a suit to welcome her home. He shaved too.
"Onslow, don't you look clean!" Hyacinth exclaimed, as she walked into her living room.
"Hyacinth." Elizabeth said her name for about the eighteenth time, "I'm going over to my house to grab some clothes and I'll send Emmet to the chemist to get your medicine." She turned around and left, closing the door gently.
"I parked the car two roads over." Onslow was trying to keep the conversation light.
"Thank you. I cannot believe that Rose isn't here. I thought that she would be here with one of her gentleman friends."
"She's boycotting your presence." Daisy said innocently and truthfully.
"I—" Hyacinth started.
"Look, Hyacinth, I am not going to preach at you. I don't feel like using that much energy. I love you no matter what," Daisy started, "You raised me. I have no recollection of mum. I don't. Every time I try to hear her voice I hear yours. I know we have picture of her, but every time I try to see her face I see yours. I know that you have the maternal instinct. It was something that was in you, but it manifested itself really early. You needed help, you did. But Violet was always out trying to escape the poverty. You were always around. Dad worked, you cashed the cheque and made sure that we had clothing and food and light and heat.
"Sometimes I knew that you went without. I knew that the mean people at the school. They made fun of your clothes and that's when I realized that our, Rose's and my clothes were always nice and yours were old, but they were never dirty. He just worked and when he wasn't, he slept. You didn't pursue higher education, because you wanted us to. I remember when I was fourteen and you were twenty-one. You waited tables just to take care of us."
"Why are you writing my memoirs?" Hyacinth asked, somewhat sardonically.
"I know that the Hyacinth from back then wouldn't care about someone being gay or straight or black or white or indifferent. What changed?" Daisy's voice was still soft.
"I really just wanted a normal life, you know. I was jealous of all of those other children who had good lives, both parents. I guess, I'm realizing now that maybe, just maybe I did alright. I taught Sheridan well, perhaps. He's climbing the social ladder just the way I taught him. Evidently, Tarquin's father is a very prominent doctor."
Daisy didn't like the way that Hyacinth was framing her relationship with Sheridan. It occurred to her that Sheridan may have just been tool for her to escape the reality that was a less than pleasant childhood.
"Big sister, please think about what you just said. Sheridan's concern shouldn't his rung on some social ladder, but his partner. He's not some sort of tool to help you feel better about where you're standing in relation to the aristocracy. Look at this house you live in. You are doing a lot better than those same arses that made jokes about you. Half of them, most of them, are dead. You have nothing to prove, and if you ever did, you proved it when you married Richard Bucket."
"I've been playing Sheridan like a pawn in my game this whole time. Hyacinth Bucket used her son." It, the truth, hit her like a freight train. She started a perfervid sobbing that echoed throughout the house and that woke Emmet from his nap next door. Elizabeth shot up from where she was in her room. She had been bent over her bed packing dresses into her suitcase.
"Hyacinth, take it easy. You just had a heart attack. You can't put this strain on yourself." Daisy had moved towards her sister and put a loving hand on her shoulder.
"But don't you see? All of his life I've been using Sheridan. It's like he was my ticket to whatever the hell it was I wanted."
"Hyacinth," Onslow's deep voice said softly, "Now that you know what you've done, you can fix it."
"If he'll even talk to me." She sighed, looking down into her damp palms.
Chapter 9: Elizabeth's Wisdom and Rose's Story
"Emmet, I didn't know you were here," Elizabeth said as she watched her brother emerge from the shadows of his room. He stood in the in the threshold of her room.
"Yes, I got home from work about an hour ago."
"Work?" What day of the week was it? She wondered.
"Yes, work. Today's Tuesday," he said, eyebrow raised.
"My word, I've lost track of my days. This whole situation has been very taxing."
"You've been a saint." His smile was authentic. "But, sis, where on earth are you going?"
"What?" It came out sounding terser than she meant. He ignored it, knowing, judging form the bags under her eyes that she was stressed and tired.
"Oh, yes. The doctor said that Hyacinth needs someone to stay and be close to her at all times."
"No, I didn't, but I'm the only one she'll let in the house." She sighed as she said the words.
"But this means that there's no buffer between you and those dreadful coffees."
"I don't tremble anymore."
"You don't?" His voice was full of hope.
"I don't. The last time we had coffee, she was the one with the shaky hands. I was the one who had to steady her. It was eerie. Now I have to pack. You could always come to eat after work."
"SHE'LL SING AT ME!" He screamed at no one in particular.
"Then that means you'll be making your own supper."
"Looks like." He said.
"Just don't burn my house down. I'm insured, but I don't feel like rebuilding." She joked through the tiredness.
"I promise I won't. I also promise that I'll try to absorb some of the impact of Hurricane Hyacinth."
"Thank you," she said zipping the suitcase. "I'd better get back over there."
"Wait, before you go…" he said as he rushed from sight and into his room. "Here," he said handing her a book.
"A bible, Emmet?"
"Father's bible of course, and I put a bookmark in the scripture I think you need the most." He walked back to his room.
She opened it to where he'd inserted the bookmark. She read the text aloud, but not so loud as to let him hear it. "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want…"
Elizabeth walked into the house, Hyacinth's house, now taking note of how spacious it truly was. Elizabeth had never, in all of these decades, gotten a chance to appreciate the place. She looked at the woodblock and how well it was polished, even after the whole saga. Hyacinth kept an exemplary house, but her fear of the spilling coffee blocked any positive perception of the house.
It smelled good, too. It smelled clean. She, Hyacinth, never used those aerosol air fresheners. Hyacinth never 'trusted' them. She was vindicated when it turned out that the CFCs thinned the ozone layer. Elizabeth was taken about by how crisp the air was in the house. The crispness probably added to austerity that used to make Elizabeth want to flee from the bungalow.
Being a bungalow, Hyacinth's house had a only a few rooms. There was Hyacinth's bedroom, which of course was the largest and had its own bathroom. There was Sheridan's room, which was left undisturbed. There was a third room that the architect of the house probably intended to be an office. It was furnished instead with a mattress and all of the other objects in a room meant for sleep. The various pieces of furniture matched, of course, though they were not purchased as a set. The wallpaper in the room was plain. It was beige and there was not special pattern on it. There was a small bookshelf, more like a single ledge that had no vertical supports that was embedded into the wall, which held a dictionary, an old and yellowing bible, an outdated atlas and a copy of Great Expectations. Elizabeth commented to herself on how the books were not standing up, but, were stacked, neatly mind you, horizontally.
She put her bag down and went to find Hyacinth and Daisy and Onslow. She had only taken about twenty minutes for her to grab enough clothes. She heard voices in the kitchen, so she went to the kitchen. She opened the door and found Daisy pouring her sister and her husband some coffee.
"Liz, you're back quickly." She wasn't angry with her, but Elizabeth wondered and still wonders how the hell she could sound so damn pleasant all of the time.
"Yes, I half expected to have to stay with her. I had a clue when the doctor… when Vincent started talking about aftercare."
"Well it's good that you're back," Onslow started, "because we just got a call form Rose. Daddy's up a tree, again."
"Oh my…" That was all Elizabeth could muster.
"Yes, we ought to get going." Daisy put down the pot of coffee. Onslow got up from his chair that was facing the window. They left out of the back door and Elizabeth locked it behind them after wishing them a good night. Onslow wished her a good week and Godspeed.
"Well , Hyacinth I set up my things in the guest room. That's alright isn't it."
"Do you think I'm manipulative, Elizabeth?" She sat in her seat and smiled
"I beg your pardon." She choked on the words as she took the seat Onslow just had, facing the window and facing Hyacinth.
"Do I use people?"
"I… I…" Elizabeth was petrified and stupefied.
Hyacinth reached over the table, careful to avoid the coffee cups. She grabbed Liz's white wrists and shook. "Well, out with it!" Her voice was harsh.
"Hyacinth, you're scaring me!"
"DO I SCARE PEOPLE THEN?!" She shook Elizabeth harder.
"Yes. Please let go of me." Hyacinth did as she was told and loosened her vice grip and put her hands at her sides.
"I scare people?" Hyacinth's voice was sad. She didn't look Liz in the eye anymore.
"Hyacinth, you've been my neighbor for years now and you've been my friend for almost as long. But do you have any other friends? True friends. I mean do you have any other people around for coffee? I don't want you to hate yourself, I don't, but you frighten folks with the way you act."
"I had no idea." Her voice wavered, and then failed altogether.
"It's my fault, in part. All of these years, I tolerated the way you were. When you would ask my opinion, I would only tell you what you wanted to hear. That's not right."
"I—" The sentence Hyacinth was thinking died.
"So, to answer your first question, I don't think you manipulate people. Sometimes I think that you set an objective for yourself and you forget about everyone around you. I don't think you use people, but I think that you shove others out of the way, metaphorically, that is."
"I did that to Sheridan. I hate to think about how many times he probably was going to tell me, us, something. Well, not something, but that he was the way he is. That he's gay. I think I've shredded two relationships. My husband will probably divorce me and my son probably won't talk to me ever again." Hyacinth wasn't sobbing. She spoke as if she was in the 'acceptance' stage of grief.
"It's not that way. If you pick up that telephone and call them, they would answer."
"I'm not so sure." Her eyes were still focused on the grain of the tabletop.
"Rose," Richard pleaded, "you always had a special relationship with him. You get him thinking about something else."
Rose, who was seated on the settee, looked at her brother-in-law and pitied him. She knew that he never asked favors. Indeed, this must have been the first time he'd ever asked him for something. It was, however, a very tall order.
"You talked him out of killing 'imself?" Her penchant for dropping the h's from her words made itself known right then.
"Yes, I believe I did, but he needs to talk to someone who's better with emotional matters."
"Fine, where is he?" She sighed as she spoke.
"He's out in the car." His voice was the definition of relief.
"Where?" She wasn't sure that she heard him correctly.
"He's in the car."
She glanced at Richard and then glared at him. She, of course, wasn't angry at him. She just wished that this damn story would come to an end. Yes, that's how she saw it. That's how she saw most things in life. They were just interrelated short stories with a common theme that wound up bound loosely together in a volume called LIFE. She wished everything would go back to being alright, or at how it was before Sheridan drove up here a couple of weeks ago. She chided herself immediately for thinking that. She knew that if it was the way it was before then there was a tired and terrified Elizabeth, a hen-pecked Richard, and most importantly and most tragically a Sheridan who had to lie about his life, his whole damn life. That may have been wordy, but that didn't stop it from being true. It was becoming clearer in the moments since the beginning of the 'story', as she put it, that new was good for things like this, but it was scary.
What was more alarming to her presently is the fact that she arrived at Richard's car. She did not remember getting up from the settee. She did not remember walking out of the front door. She recalled not shutting said door or walking past the dog, though it never parked at her. She didn't even remember walking the fifteen yards to the car. All she saw was weeping Sheridan in the back seat of the car. He sat with his legs pulled up to his chest and his feet on the cloth seat. She opened the door and sat next to him. He was vaguely aware of another human being present.
"Sheridan," her voice was gentle, gentler than Daisy's as a matter of fact. "Let's talk."
"There's (gasp) nothing (gasp) to talk (gasp) about." His voice just like his mother's across town wavered and then failed.
"Yes, there is. Your father told me that you were suici—" He interrupted his aunt.
"I'm not going to do that. It'd kill dad, and I don't want to hurt him."
"I know that. You take after your Aunty Rose and we're too smart for that."
"But, I just feel… I feel… bad." He was beating himself up inside for not being able to find a better word.
"Listen to me. I've been around longer than you have and I've been around more times than you have. Now I never had to tell anyone anything as… as sensitive as what you told Hyacinth, but I think I can relate in a way. I remember it too well. I was in sixth form and there was this boy named… I forget his name, but we was in love. I was eighteen and I could've married him, but I didn't. I didn't do it because people disapproved of him because of his background. I didn't care, we, everybody around us was poor. It didn't matter."
"What does that have to do with—" Tears were still falling from his eyes, but his voice had recovered.
"I mean that you're braver than I was. I mean that because you are so strong I admire you. I live every day with not marrying him. You have someone you love very much and I don't know if they'll ever allow you two to get married, but if they do you'll be doing something bold."
"They talk about it in the States a lot." His eye whites were white again and his face was dry.
"Looks like I might be going Stateside."
"Maybe, and Aunt Rose?"
"Why do you regret not marrying him?"
"It turns out that he's a knight now. Sir… Sir… I can't think of his name right now."
He, for the first time in some weeks, was holding his head up high and smiling… genuinely.
Chapter 10: A Fork in the Road
Vincent, rather than requiring Hyacinth to go to the hospital again, went visiting. He wanted to see where she lived to see if she lived in castle as she seemed to suggest. He also didn't feel like dealing with the nurses, either. He got to the house and scoffed at its appearance, it was kept up. He rang Hyacinth's doorbell and it chimed as usual. Vincent rolled his eyes as he did with anything needlessly posh. Tarquin stifled a chuckle, now knowing that he owed Sheridan ten pounds. Sheridan had said that his father would hate the doorbell. Elizabeth answered the door.
"Oh, doctor, you're here, and Tarq—"
Vincent spoke in a whisper, "Shhh, I don't want her to know who this is until the very end." She let him in.
"Oh," she was whispering too, "I see."
"Mrs. Bucket," Vincent called into the house.
"IT IS BOUQUET." She did a false singsong. Elizabeth physically shuddered. She could swear Emmet did too. In fact, she was right. He was sitting at the piano at his job and got a cramp in his hand.
Tarquin whispered to his dad, "Just placate her, dad."
Tarquin wasn't surprised with the answer. His father was always severe, and never tolerated nonsense. "B-U-C-K-E-T spells 'bucket', not bouquet." He said, while muttering an expletive in his head. He walked into the dining room we she sat in the chair that was facing the window. He made his voice light and happy. It sounded strange to him and to his son who entered the room behind him. "How are you Mrs. BOOOKAAYY?" His voice was almost down to a mischievous tone and his smile was rebarbative in its phoniness. Of course, Hyacinth didn't see or hear it.
"Who's this young man?" She asked.
"He's my intern. I mentor him in the ways of life," Vincent said, grabbing chair nearest to Hyacinth. Tarquin sat down across from Hyacinth and looked at her. He confirmed for himself that Sheridan looked nothing like his mother. The only thing they shared was the hair color.
Hyacinth looked at Tarquin, "Young man, the only advice I have for you is to have a better bedside manner."
"I need to listen to your heart." Vincent said, saccharine smile failing.
"Fine," she said, watching him put on the stethoscope.
He listened to her chest. "All seems fine. Have you been feeling well?"
"Yes, I feel fine."
"No discomfort?" He asked trying to make sure.
"I feel fine." She repeated a little annoyed.
"Well not anymore," he said. The next few words came in quick succession, as he marched out of the room triumphantly, "He's not my intern, he's your son's boyfriend."
The door shut with a quiet, but forceful thud. He went out into the corridor where he and Elizabeth chuckled with their hands over their mouths as to not alert the pair who were now trapped. There was a silence that could hardly be comprehended between them, Tarquin and Hyacinth. She, thankfully, had those sparkling social skills and spoke, "How about a coffee, dear?"
"Um… yeah… that'll… yeah, that's fine." He didn't remember the last time he stammered so much. It was probably while he was on his first date with Sheridan.
She stood up and went to put the put the coffee on. "At least he's not that bad looking," she muttered to herself.
"What's that?" He asked, feigning not hearing.
"How about we go into your living room and we hear some of your vocal talent," Tarquin suggested. He was trying his best to stay civil. Something was eating away at his heart.
"So, Sheridan told you of my talents." It didn't occur to her that she was in mortal danger.
"He tells me everything." Tarquin said, thinking back to all of the things they used to talk about.
The features of her face fell. "What else has he said about me?"
"He remembers very fondly that donkey ride at Dawlish. He remembers how—"
"I mean what does he say about me now?" It came out a lot terser than she meant.
"He doesn't talk so much now. He cries and sleeps and—" Something in his voice changed. He, in a sudden and ineffable wroth, chopped up the words and spat them at her, "Every time I think I about it, I get angrier and angrier. He is not himself anymore. I want my Sheridan back. Now listen and listen good. Tomorrow night, I'm going to come here with my boyfriend and we are going I am going to put you are going to talk to him. You are not just going to offer him damn cup of coffee and play nice." His face was as red as his hair.
"Be quiet! You have said enough, and now I'm about to tell you something that I still don't understand about you. You take and take and take and give nothing but crap in return. You fu—you fouled up! You messed up big time and took something huge from him. You took his mother. You took her away and replaced her with this shell of a human that can only focus on what ails it. And do you know what the sad thing is?"
"What?" Her usually booming voice was meek.
"He loves you anyway." His voice had come back to a volume suitable for indoors. "Not one fiber in his being can hate you, and I can't figure out why."
"He loves his mummy."
"Now it's time his mother to love him for what he is."
He, a quite red Tarquin, walked out of the room and out of the house. His father followed him. Elizabeth shut the door behind them and went back into the kitchen. There she found a sobbing Hyacinth.
"He's right," Hyacinth screeches, "I know he's right."
"But, you can fix this tomorrow night and have him back for Easter. Today's the seventh and Easter is the twelfth."
"I will try my best, but what if he rejects me?"
Elizabeth didn't like being so blunt, but she said this: "I don't think he'll reject anyone the way you did. He's been hurt enough by what you said. He won't do it again. He won't let himself. We're at a fork in the road, right here. You have got to know what you're going to say, because if you choose wrong. No more Sheridan, and no more Richard. Be smart. Just stop thinking about his being gay and just love your son. That should be easy enough."
Chapter 11: Epiphany
Elizabeth moved back into her house the evening after Tarquin snapped. Vincent knew that after Hyacinth's episode, she would be fine. There was no damage to that thing pounding away in her chest, but that other 'heart' was hurting and sore. Elizabeth knew it too. She knew that Richard was also hurting.
She, Liz, wasn't sure if their marriage could survive. She was in no position to judge them either. She always called herself the 'married spinster', privately that is, and the person with whom she shared her house was divorced. But she knew what a divorce could do to a man. She'd seen the look on her brother's face when he came to live with her a few years ago. But, for the life of her, she didn't understand how Richard could live with that attitude. How could he live with being ignored by the one person who was to pay him the most attention? Why did he do it?
She didn't know.
She knew this, though. He would sit down and talk to her if he had to. "If Tarquin's going to force Hyacinth to be human tomorrow evening, I'll do it tomorrow, in the morning, with Richard," is what she thought out loud. Emmet, whose presence she vaguely aware of, spoke, "I know you mean well, but is it right to put them back together? That man was miserable with her."
"I have it on good authority that he's miserable without her." She retorted, not upset with her brother, but with his true sentiments.
"I don't know. I just think that—" Something clicked, "You're right, he's a grown man and he ought to be able to make his own choices. He's walked away from that, hasn't he? That proved that she didn't hen-peck his spine completely." Emmet changed his mind rather quickly.
"What made you flip so quickly?" She asked, a knowing smile on her face.
"This is going to sound selfish. He's like the Maginot Line. He's the first defense against her singing."
"I'll go over for coffee and Richard will be with me."
"Thanks for coming Richard." Liz was grateful that he even came.
"I don't know why I'm here." He was lying and Elizabeth knew it. She also detected something new in his voice. There was some power behind it, a little strength and vigour. She found it to be refreshing and somewhat attractive, in a friendly sort of way.
"Well, you're here and that counts for something." She rang the doorbell.
Big Ben Chimes.
"Eliza— Richard, come in, come in." Richard walked into the kitchen forthwith.
Hyacinth grabbed Elizabeth and whispered in her ear, sounding like a schoolgirl around her crush. "How did you get him to come back to me?" It would have taken four Pinkerton guards to restrain this fidgety Hyacinth. That's what Elizabeth thought.
"I got him to come back here, Hyacinth. It's up to you to get him to stay." Elizabeth whispered back.
"Oh, I see, let's have coffee." Hyacinth said, with that same look in her eye, when she had a scheme. She walked airily into the kitchen. Richard was sitting in the seat that that made him face away from the entrance to the kitchen. Hyacinth could tell by the lines and folds on the back of his bald head that he was deep in contemplation. It made her shudder, but Liz, gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder.
"Would you like some coffee, Richard?"
"Yes, I think I'll have some." His answer was quick, but not disrespectful in its tone.
"I'll have a cup too." Elizabeth could feel the tension in the room and was trying her best to wade through it.
Hyacinth did all of the preparation and put the coffeemaker on and waited for the brown liquid to come appear.
She was very direct, "Richard, move back in. I can't sleep without you."
"And I'm not sure that I can sleep with you." Richard must have been thinking about what to say. At least he wasn't raising his voice. Elizabeth was petrified, in the truest sense of the definition. She could. not. move.
"Our son is going to disown both of us." Richard said.
"Why?" Elizabeth asked, not being able to comprehend why Sheridan would…
"If I stay married to you," he was talking to Hyacinth, "it'd proof that I have a problem with him. It says that I agree with the way that you think. I don't agree."
"Look, the last few days have been enlightening. I've learned that my son is just different than I would have expected. I've learned that Tarquin loves my son very much."
"He does very much. I dare say that if it were legal, they'd get married." Elizabeth thought about it and was astounded by that truth.
"I don't think I could accept that, yet."
"I'm not asking you to, but you have to accept that your son is gay. Your son is in love with someone. That's all you should see. He's in love with someone."
"I get that now." Her voice was apologetic.
"Things are going to have to change if you want me back around here—"
PING! The coffeemaker was done.
"Wait, wait, wait. Don't you go and attach your grievances to this situation, Richard," Hyacinth said, while pouring a cup.
"I am not!" He didn't shout or even raise his voice. It was the force with which he spoke that startled Elizabeth and Hyacinth. "My grievances are true."
"You never, ever listen to me. You just care about you. Hyacinth wants this, Hyacinth wants that," He spoke on, voice sounding increasingly bitter, "And I just let you. I stopped caring and you just kept giving your orders."
"Elizabeth, is that true?" Hyacinth's gaze turned to her neighbor. Richard looked at her to. They both looked angry. Liz wished she could just die right then.
"I don't think it's appropriate—." The woman who was being interrogated stammered.
"Tell me the damn truth Elizabeth. DO I order this man around?!" Hyacinth was seething.
"Don't you bring her into this. Don't you see that right now, right this instant, you're scaring her, ordering her to answer a question that you know the goddamn answer to." Now, Richard had raised his voice.
Her voice became meek again, "I'm sorry."
"That is not going to cut this time. I have found my voice and I like how it sounds. I like what it has to say. You are going to hear a lot more of it."
Quoth Hyacinth, the shrinking violet, "I like how it sounds too."
His voice came down to a gentle murmur, "I am not saying that I don't want to hear you, but let's just listen to each other."
"I can do that. And I'm sorry, Elizabeth," said Hyacinth. Elizabeth now realized that Hyacinth never stopped looking at her as she was being chided by Richard.
"I dare say changes are afoot," Richard got up from his seat and pecked his wife on the cheek.
"You know what Mister Bucket," Hyacinth said, almost making Elizabeth shudder at the correct pronunciation on their last name. Liz could tell by the way Hyacinth spoke that this would be a long speech. "I dug myself in a hole with you and Sheridan and I have to climb my way out with the both of you. Rome wasn't built in a day and I don't think relationships can be fixed that quickly either."
She moved over to her normal seat that faced the window. Richard sat where he usually sat. Elizabeth finally relaxed, having come to the realization that her neck was turned almost painfully away from her body for the length of that argument. Liz looked back at Hyacinth, who continued her reflection.
"You know, I think I turned into a monster. In a way I made this world for myself where everybody loves me and where reality on centered itself around my pursuit of maintaining that strange idea. In that time, I suppose that I… that I let bigotry slip into my heart. I allowed myself to block out what I thought was unseemly. I don't know why I had a problem with him being homosexual, I don't. I wasn't raised that way. I wasn't raised at all, I brought myself up. It didn't behoove me back then to have any ill-will or any disgusting views about different people. There was no time."
She took a sip of coffee and continued, "There was not a second that I could waste even caring about the stupid thing that people squabbled over. Let alone, actually acutely dislike them. I was made fun of much to much. My mother was a Yank and I lost friends over something that stupid."
"Why didn't you ever tell me that your mother was American?" Richard asked. Elizabeth wondered too.
"That was the reality I tried to escape. I had no true friends until I met Richard." That statement made the two listeners aware that the speaker was talking only to herself.
"I made up this world for myself to escape the prejudice. That world would come crashing down on me every night before I went to bed and every time I woke up and every time I went to the water closet and every time I looked at a clean piece of glass and into a mirror. I look just like my mother."
"Yes, you do." Richard said.
"Every time I saw my face I saw the reason why I had no friends. You know, Violet always was away escaping to another neighborhood, by the time Rose and Daisy were in school those kids didn't care about who you were or where your parents were from, but it was shoved in my face every time.
"The first time I saw Sheridan and held him in my arms, I saw Richard Bucket looking back at me. I thought it was perfect, my son was perfect. My silly little dream was furthered and I think I went over the edge after his birth. I turned into this monster that only saw what this stupid dream could make me see. I started competing against others to have a perfect life. We had to be just perfect or at the very least keep up our Appearances. I took all of that time to be perfect…" She started sobbing violently, but was managing to continue her soliloquy, if choppily.
"For his whole life, I'd been ignoring him. All last week, while Elizabeth was here I was still lost so I went on the net, I don't know what possessed me to, but I did" Yes, Hyacinth has a computer and knows how to use it. Sheridan had showed her a few years ago, "I read that a lot of parents of gay children knew deep down in their hearts that their children were different from the other children on the playground. I didn't see it. I did not see it because I ignored it. I ignored him. Now, I shudder to think of what else I missed. I just want to apologize so badly. I just want to tell him how sorry I—"
The door to the kitchen burst open dramatically and a weeping Sheridan was on the other side of that threshold. He was standing straight up and he instantly looked his mother in the eye.
"Sheridan, I'm so sorr—"
"You don't have to say it."
"How long were you standing there?" Hyacinth asked, tears running down her already wet cheeks.
"I was here long enough to hear all of what you said." He reached his long arms out and wrapped them around his mother. He rested his chin on top of her head, mussing her hair. It's not like he cared. His face was glossy with tears "Tarquin was acting strange, so (GASP) I asked him where Daddy was, and he wouldn't tell me. So I got him to tell me and he told me dad was here. I wanted to know what the hell he was doing here so I came."
"Mum, you didn't lock the front door."
"I always lock the front door."
"Well, you didn't Mrs. Bucket, not this time." Tarquin said emerging completely from behind his tall boyfriend, "It wasn't open, but it was unlocked. We walked in and the first thing I heard was you asking Mrs. Warden—"
"Call me Liz."
"…asking Liz if you order Mr. Bucket around."
"SO you listened to us?" Hyacinth inquired.
"I'm nosy, just like my Mummy."
"The word's 'inquisitive' dear." Hyacinth said, still latched on to her son. They laughed a throaty laugh, mother and son.
"So what are we going to do now?" The question came from Richard.
"We," Tarquin started, "can tell my father, that he can stop hating you." Hyacinth laughed again, though she knew how honest that statement was.
"Let's all go out and get something to eat, my treat," declared Richard.
The indistinct chatter that followed was the epitome of elation. Liz watched as the two couple embraced. They both had that loving look in their eyes that she missed having with her husband. She would amend that later, but it looked like Easter 1998 was going to be just fine.
Thanks for reading! I hoped you enjoyed reading it as much as I delighted in writing it. Thanks to all of those who've reviewed and followed.