Robert Wallace Paolinelli
705 Vallejo St. No.6
San Francisco, Ca 94133
Robert Wallace Paolinelli
From the grey California sky, fell rain.
Outside the windows of Redwood College dripped the ancient redwood trees standing elegantly aloof from the world and the affairs of men.
The rain filled all the hollows and low spots of the earth; it filled every crack; by simply following its nature the water found its own level, then spilled over and flowed quickly filling up other places and overflowing again, going into the usually placid forest streams and making of them rushing torrents, washing away everything in their swift, meandering course.
The rain washed clean the air befouled by the exhaust of machines; from the paved streets of the campus the rain washed away the dirt and mark of many feet and shoes; it obliterated every sidewalk inscription made by enthusiastic students who had chalked fragments of long philosophic concepts which still caused great debate in the halls of academia. They, too, were washed away and lost in the great cleansing winter rain.
Behind the windows of the president's office, at his large oaken desk, so well ordered, sat Jason Stoddard looking at the rain. He'd strayed, this rainy day, from his self–imposed regimen of tenacious devotion to business. Jason didn't often allow himself to stray from his administrative duties, but the tapping of the rain, however, and the strain of a hectic work week, forced him to submit, after all, to the charm, of the rain–hazed day in Santa Cruz.
Jason swiveled his chair and faced the out of doors and watched the rain glide off the boughs of the redwood trees. Jason was so relaxed in his chair that the letter in his hands almost slipped away from him. He regained his clutch of it and made to turn around and put it on his desk, when his eyes glanced up to the salutation of the letter and he read again its greeting: "Dear President Stoddard."
He stayed his hand and the half spin of the chair and returned to his original relaxed position. He closed his eyes and gloried in the special feeling he got whenever he heard or read his academic titles.
Slowly his mind drifted and began to daydream to the tap, tap, tap of the rain drops falling from the redwoods.
His closed eyes hid everything of nature before him. But even had his eyes been open, Jason would not have truly seen, for he saw no beauty nor drew creative inspiration from nature or the trees or the meadow lands that surrounded the campus. To him the land and trees were just so much land and trees to exploit, to build upon, expand and control. Like a proud centurion calling to form ranks, Jason's life had been dedicated to control and to command.
But he'd not always been so self–assured. Throughout his youth he'd found it difficult to control his wild thoughts, his flights of fancy, his daring impetuosities and his sinister, secret appetites. All that inner world pulling him every which way frightened him and, for refuge, he sought order, clearness in purpose, method and goal. Everything had to be exact, calculated and his way. Yes, he saw too clearly his path, for he knew that with the exercise of extreme self–control he would know power and how to use it, and, at the same time, it would give him a way to control the demons that lived just behind his eyes. With supreme effort he held on to the image of his own creation, all the while chanting the phoney credo of 'may the strongest and cunningest win.' He thought he was a good centurion to himself and to others. However, in realizing the forces of his inner, distorted strength, he came to control his life in the strictest of ways.
He was a good administrator and he'd written a unique dissertation on 19th Century economics in his doctoral candidacy days; he spoke well before groups and the Board of Regents often commended him, and the faculties of the school respected him––even if it was with an aspect of subtle fear on the part of the professors of Redwood College.
Jason could boast of many honors and rewards; he was a model of academic success; but their lived beneath his facade a dark ape with strange appetites.
There had followed him all his life a morbid and perverted lust for women. This beast could lay dormant for years at a time; its habits were mercurial, but demanding; and Jason obeyed its cravings like the willing slave he was of it, and in the past he had raped the woman singled out by his brutish need for violent sexual conquest. Along with his worldly honors, then, he carried also the secret of his past crimes in his heart like a forbidden trophy.
A wind blew and the redwood boughs swayed and sprayed the gathered droplets every which way making, for just a moment, an odd necklace of raindrop pearls, midair.
Jason,lost in his own reverie, blinked his eyes at the very moment of the rainpearl necklace; his blink broke the link of his thoughts which scattered like fleeing, evil gnomes in a dark forest. Almost instantly, however, his images came together, now re–assembled in an almost holographic copy of the woman his recrudescent, sick lust had chosen: there she was, that teacher of French, Janet Alten, after whom he hungered in a hundred vile ways. "Where is she?" Jason mused, as a lascivious grin played on his lips. In his dreams he had captured her; but his reality was by far another matter. He was a man of some importance, how could he allow his aberration to stranglehold him? Nevertheless, his reason had already been by–passed, in spite of outward appearances, and the channel to madness well–opened to any way which would satisfy that hunger for the woman whose body and background he had studied all too well.
Sitting thusly, eyes closed before the rain, meditating on his vanities the image of his wife (somehow) crept into his labyrinth of midnight thoughts.
With Cecile (early on in their marriage) there had not been any need to be a centurion, with her. Cecile had always been so accommodating. How they had met and that they had married a year later had felt good for a long time; he considered having married Cecile a major success, for he had liked the way she made things pleasant and how she went out of her way to be gracious and to reconcile differences so accommodatingly, and how she was always the urbane hostess at the many social gatherings important to his office.
But it was a shock to him one day to discover there was a side to his wife which challenged his dominance, his quiescent beast. Initially, her gentle manner and submissiveness had attracted him to her; nothing spoiled this. Then came a breach, their relationship changed––changed after the death of Cecile's younger sister, who had left a son whom Cecile took in and raised. That guardianship never sat well with Jason. He had opposed it. Cecile stood firm, however; he never expected any opposition; he'd never seen a hint of opposition in her. Then, suddenly, that child made everything different.
Their subsequent battles became notorious to Jason's close friends, Cecile was virtually friendless, most of their friends (with a few exceptions) were members of the academic community, which with time, she came to dislike for the dullness that she felt they generated. But in this aloneness she had to cultivate her courage and stood up to Jason; and he hated her most when she stood her ground. In doing so she would not be moved, especially not by his bullying. At those times he wanted to strike her! but he could not. The strength of her stance caused in him a primordial fear, a fear he did not understand, for he knew fear, but not the kind of fear engendered by Cecile, which called up from his archetypal, primitive consciousness, an ancient mother–goddess for which he had no defense against. What puzzled him, was that this irrational fear he felt happend only with Cecile. It was to this subconscious image of her that he would acquiesce. Surrendering to her frustrated him, weakened him,made him feel boy–like, but there was nothing he could do about it.
Because it was her nature to always like things to be harmonious she would often give into his demands, though as they became more estranged in their marriage it was more out of resignation than anything else on her part and he knew this; and because he knew this, his victories over her became fewer and tasteless.
The birth of their daughter, Patricia, had brought them back together for a while; but even the closeness her birth caused was not lasting. They lived, therefore, a conventional, constrained life, just window dressing. Year after year they drifted farther and farther apart.
There came a knock on his office door. He snapped his head and spun around in his chair in one swift maneuver, lest he be caught daydreaming.
"Come in," he said, however, in a low, lazy voice.
"Doctor Stoddard," said Alyson Cantrell, his secretary, "your mechanic called to say the brakes have been adjusted and he'll be here with your car in fifteen minutes."
"Very good; thank you. Please take this," he said, handing her the letter in his hand, "and bring it to my attention Monday morning."
"Yes, sir," she replied demurely.
Turning smartly, her pleated skirt twirled to reveal her shapely legs. She closed the door.
Jason had once given thought to having a light affair with Mrs. Cantrell––without, of course,–– every having considered what she would think about such a matter; nevertheless, he had reconsidered, deciding against it, as he needed a neutral relationship (so he reasoned) to help keep the administration of his office running smoothly. He didn't want any womanish sentimentality to interfere with business. Mrs. Cantrell was already a fine worker and he wanted to keep her that way. Jason truly appreciated her secretarial skills and that appreciation was, perhaps, one of the sincerest he held about her.
Donning his raincoat and putting on his hat, he took an umbrella from a closet and made his way to the outer office where Alyson dutifully sat at her typewriter, her eyes fixed on what she was copying.
"Commendable," thought Jason.
"Mrs. Cantrell, it's Friday, very wet and we've both worked hard all week; I can't tell you how much I appreciated your help in keeping our foreign visitors entertained this past week; I couldn't have done it without you; so, when you finish typing what's in your machine, feel free to leave and have a good weekend. I'm going to walk and meet my car."
"Thank you; that's very kind of you."
He liked her reply, and he liked dispensing favors to his subordinates; doing this made him feel good and confirmed for him the fine view he had of himself.
The rain beating down on the umbrella made the dome of protection give off a hollow sound, as a moaning wind blew a low hanging cloud downward, making of it a spiral close to the ground, then this moaning wind pushed the whirling cloud skyward again. In a trice, Jason was lost in the cloud and he could not see his path; momentarily he felt very much alone, as if suddenly cast into a surreal dream world of foggy nothingness.
Freed from the intimidating cloud, Jason observed that
the campus was almost deserted of students as it usually was on Friday afternoons. However, a movement caught Jason's eyes; he turned his attention to the figure of a woman running from the faculty parking lot from her car towards the humanities building. The hurried form of broken raindrops was Janet Alten, rushing to her last afternoon class. His beast quivered and immediately he bulged under his raincoat, then relaxed.
The mechanic saw the tall, familiar figure of Jason Stoddard, and drove up to it.
Jason sat in the driver's seat and drove the mechanic back to his garage. Although the roads were wet and dangerous, Jason drove his car fast, almost recklessly, just the same, because he was agitated.
The mechanic, a bit afraid, was relieved to be let off at his place of work. Jason sped posthaste to the freeway as fast as he could. He wanted Janet Alten so badly.
He cursed as a truck passed him.
By the time he arrived home he was somewhat calmer. As he drove into the garage, he noticed Cecile's car was not in the garage.
Patricia Stoddard heard a car pull up. She put down her ancient history text and looked out her bedroom window; she saw her father's car disappear into the garage. Patricia was glad he was home early, for she wanted to speak to him about something very precious and secret to her: enthused by her readings in ancient history, she wanted to study abroad, in Turkey. She'd nurtured that hidden desire for a long time and she felt now was the time to broach the subject to her father––before her mother came home.
"Hi, Daddy," she said, coming downstairs to greet him.
"Hello, Patty; have you, too, abandoned your studies because it's a dreary Friday?"
He was joking,of course, and she knew it; she was still her father's joy; and she knew that too. she used this special favor with him whenever she wanted to.
With her Jason was never a centurion. He was fatherly firm, but gave into her so easily and always had, very often clashing with Cecile over his satisfying Patricia's whims, when really he should not have. Cecile disliked that. Towards her he had become hard and demanding, transferring to Patricia what he withheld from Cecile, thereby spoiling his daughter turning her affection from her mother to the point of undermining Cecile's own code of discipline and methods of child rearing for their daughter.
"Not abandoned altogether," she answered, "I was in my room tracking down Alexander the Great through Bactria as you drove in; it's so exciting! Daddy, can we talk about something important?" she asked in that voice which told her father his daughter wanted his approval about something special.
But he was tired. "Can it wait, dear?" he asked in a soft voice. "I'd really like to sit in the tub for a while, then rest a bit before dinner. I've had one hell of a week."
"I guess it can wait," she replied, nonetheless disappointed, "we can talk later." She would have preferred to speak to her father alone, before Cecile came home. Patricia had counted on having (at least) her father's tentative approval before her mother could begin (what Patricia knew would be) a well–meaning reluctance to her going abroad her junior year to Turkey. How well she knew her mother and resented her, most of all for the motherliness of her. Going to Turkey had come to Patty the day she decided to pursue history as her major course of study; she wanted to see antiquities: temples, ancient theaters, arenas and visit archaeological digs and, perhaps, even find a lover while strolling on the shores of the Bosphorous while seeing and touching the very stones that had witnessed Alexander the Great, her history hero. But she wanted no opposition from her mother to spoil the realization of her fantasy.
"By the way, Patty, your mother's car isn't in the garage. Do you know where she is?"
"She went to the post office to mail Jack a letter and to invite Paul Farraday to dinner this evening––she said she thought you needed some company."
"Paul coming? Splendid. I've been meaning to call him myself, but I've been so busy...now excuse me, princess, a hot bath calls."
He gave her a cavalierish bow which made Patty smile and the disappointment at being put off by her father faded. She waved and ran in her girlish way up the stairs to lose herself (in her book) to Alexander in ancient, central Asia.
Jason stepped into his tiled bath; he had designed its geometric patterns himself; he had some talent and dabbled in design and had put his hand half in the drawing of his house; he liked to be rewarded by seeing his concepts come to life. For a time he had even thrown pottery so he could feel like some minor creator–god molding the clay into a form of his choosing, and then squashing! the clay with his palm back down to nothingness if it did not please him; his hands in the amorphous clay made him know he was his own master and now, in his hot bath, feeling restored from the stress of the past week, he squeezed a saturated sponge onto the back of his neck; as the soothing warm liquid rolled down his back, he recalled his favorite Biblical passage, where the centurion says to Christ: "To one I say 'Go!' and he goes; to another 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it" How Jason respected that kind of authority and tried to model himself thereon. But there was no part of Jason's authority which would say to Janet Alten, "Lie with me!" and she would lie. No command could bring that flesh of hers to his poisoned hands and lips.
The water in the tub cooled. He hooked his big toe around the bronze chain attached to the drain plug and yanked it out. He stayed and sat very still waiting for the last of the water to drain and spiral rapidly, vanishing with a gurgle down the pipe. This watching of the draining water was a pleasure he had carried over from his childhood, the fascination of which had never left him.
Back in his room he picked up the receiver of the house intercom and pushed the buzzer.
"Yes? Gaby here," came the voice of the housekeeper from the kitchen.
"Gaby, will you buzz me in an hour or so? I want to take a nap."
"Yes sir," came her cheery reply.
In not too long a time Jason was asleep. By and by, he entered a dark erotic dream world, and it was in his dream that he satisfied himself with the woman selected by his morbidity. There, dreaming, he had her, his beast unleashed and on fire, his weight heavy upon her. As he dreamed, his body heaved, his robe opened, spilling his semen.
Cecile had returned and was told Jason was sleeping; she went upstairs to fetch her slippers. She quietly opened the door to their bedroom so as not to disturb him; upon entering, she witnessed the seminal emission of her sleeping husband.
She withdrew as quickly and as quietly as possible away from the scene. Her revulsion at witnessing Jason's wet dream made her feel contaminated; she went to the hall bathroom and washed her hands and face as if in ritual purification. Cecile looked into the mirror at her face dripping with water and pressed her lips tightly together. "Umff,"she half growled, letting out a throaty breath in disgust. Bending at the waist, she put her face in the basin and spat several times as if trying to dislodge something from her throat; with cold water she washed out her mouth, dried herself and went downstairs to the living room from which came the dulcet tones of Patricia playing the harpsichord. Patty stopped playing when her mother walked in.
"Oh, please do continue, dear; I've come to listen," said Cecile, calmly, pleasantly.
Patricia's face once more grew intent and she returned to playing the interrupted Rameau sonata.
Cecile reached down and slid off her shoes and placed them under a table on top of which stood a decanter of wine and some glasses. She poured herself a glass of wine and sat in a chair near the harpsichord. She took a large sip of wine; with her tongue she wiped the inside of her mouth, then swallowed. At last she felt completely recomposed and she let the music soothe her and bring her back to the happy state she had been in when she had returned from the post office. She would not let the spectacle she had witnessed upstairs keep her upset. Jack was coming home from the Marines, and that's what should matter.
The letter she had mailed him earlier in the day was in reply to his last, usual, brief note, giving the day of his discharge and arrival from overseas, and asking her if he could bring a service buddy to stay at the house for a week or so. She replied, yes! he could bring anyone; what was important to her was his safe homecoming, for throughout his military service she'd worried over him as if he were her blood son and not a ward, by death's proxy.
As she sat listening to the sonata, she saw Jack in her mind's eye as the babe of three years, who came to her confused and grieved at the loss of his mother, Cecile's beloved sister, Elena. Cecile had not been prepared for this sudden motherhood; but she could not whisk him off to an orphanage or foster home as Jason had suggested in very strong terms. And it was this callousness on his part that she resisted. It was her determination to keep the boy and fulfill her obligation to the dead that gave her the strength to confront Jason, who was simply jealous of the boy, nothing more. Cecile, nevertheless, had made her choice and would have it no other way. Jason became vehement in his wanting little Jack out; but she stood fast and won.
"He's my own sister's flesh. Why shouldn't we care for him? So long as he has a living aunt, he will not go to an orphanage or foster home."
And that scene was to be only the first of their many battles.
Jason had not been able to pierce her adamantine stance. Their duel of wills opened her eyes to a side of Jason she had never wanted to admit to, and their relationship was never the same thereinafter. Through the years she became more and more estranged from him, and of late, she started questioning her reasons for staying with Jason.
But the music was too soothing and her cares scattered with the thought that Jack was coming home at last, so she closed her eyes and relaxed.
Upon being awakened by the rapid buzzes Gaby tapped out on the intercom, Jason stirred and opened his eyes. He stretched and yawned and felt the sticky discharge on his body and remembered his dream; he touched himself in recollection of the dream.
Having showered, he dressed casually and went below; he heard the harpsichord. Patty looked up when he entered; she smiled and returned her attention to the music before her on the Ruckers two–manual harpsichord. Jason nodded perfunctorily to Cecile as he sat; she returned his silent, empty greeting with a half smile.
The music ended.
"Bravo!" called out Jason.
Patricia stepped away from the instrument and mocked a curtsy.
"Wonderful, dear," said Cecile, "I've never heard you play the Rameau so well."
Patricia blushed; her mother had taught her to play the piano and the harpsichord and she had been a most tasking teacher. Patricia respected her mother for that, but she did not like the person of her mother: Cecile's reserve, her poise, her manners and social grace, her speech and her wanting things to be pleasant, all of these grated against the impetuous, unsophisticated, eighteen year old spirit of Patricia Stoddard.
"Let me pour you both some wine," said Cecile, who also refilled her own glass.
The three sat, drank and talked of this and that and Jack's return which was all Cecile seemed to talk about since Jack's last letter. But Jason, tiring of all the talk about Jack turned to Patty and asked:––
"What was it you wanted to speak to me about, earlier, Pat?"
Patricia took a sip of her wine, gave a quick, unsure glance towards her mother and spoke very quickly to her father as if afraid she would be interrupted before she'd finished.
"It's concerning my junior year. Almost everyone in my class is going abroad, mainly to Europe. But I want to go to Turkey," she said, dropping her voice in an affectatiously timid way.
"To Turkey?" exclaimed the astonished Cecile, who until now had never heard her daughter mention wanting to study overseas. "But you've always said you wanted to go up to Berkeley for your junior year."
"Oh, you don't understand, Mother," retorted Patricia in a slightly irritated voice, "that was when I was a freshman; but Berkeley is still California and I want something exciting: Asia Minor, Greeks, Romans, Turks and Alexander the Great. I'll get to see real antiquities––really old stuff," she said, almost out of breath, "and I'll get to work at a real archaeological site. I can even learn Turkish."
"But what about your French? You're doing so well. Surely you'll not give it up for Turkish?"
"It's only for a year, Mother. Anyway, I can study French at Istanbul University. After all, they do teach French there," she added in a sarcastic tone.
Cecile was hurt by her daughter's attitude, her too brusque voice and manner, her immature defiance, her try at youthful independence at the expense of the feelings of someone who genuinely cared for her.
"But we're just getting Jack back from four years away from home...now this decision of yours––it's so sudden. I need a little time to reflect."
"What does Jack's coming home have to do with my traveling?" asked Patricia, pouting and pushing herself back into her chair.
"She does have a point, Cecile. What does his return have to do with Patty studying abroad? At least she's trying to better herself; and that's more than I can say for Jack."
Cecile looked at Jason with pained eyes and ignored the insult to her nephew. She knew well how Jason worked; he would bully his way through, opposing her out of sheer contrariness; she was weary of this struggle with him, especially today of all days.
"Let me think about it, dear," said Cecile, conciliatorily.
"What's there to think about?" responded Patricia, in a petulant voice.
Cecile's eyebrows raised at the tone of her daughter's voice and heard something of Jason in it.
"Why are you being so rude to me, Patty? Have I, somehow, offended you?" asked Cecile, her voice sincerely questioning her impolite daughter.
"No," replied Patty in a clipped, almost embarrassed way because she knew she was purposely being rude to her mother to win her father's favor.
"Then there is no reason to be hostile."
"I am not being hostile," defended Patty; but, at bottom, she was.
Jason saw his chance; puffing out his chest he sat closer to the edge of his chair.
"Wait a minute, you two. There's no need for a squabble. As I see it, Cecile, Patty may have been a bit hasty in her decision and her presentation, nonetheless, her reasons for wanting to go abroad are legitimate ones. A year in Turkey will do her a lot of good. Surely you can't deny her a little maturity? And, since I'm the one who's going to have to pay for this venture, I'm the one who has the final say. If I say she goes, she goes; and that's that." He turned from Cecile and faced Patty: "You, young lady, if you keep your nose in your books for the rest of the year, you will go to Turkey; and that's the end of it," said Jason, firmly, feeling he'd taken something from Cecile.
"If you have so decided, Jason. Very well; go, Patty, I think you need to go; it might give you the maturity your father invokes––or at least I hope it will," said Cecile, her voice fading in futility; for she knew her words fell on deaf ears.
"Thank you, Mother," answered Patricia; but it was distasteful that thank you.
"Shall we have more wine?" said Cecile, as a way of seeking to ease the unpleasant atmosphere. She refilled the glasses.
"To your safe journey, Patricia,.and to Jack's return," said Cecile, lifting her glass in salute.
"And here's to his friend," interjected Patricia, not at all fooled by her mother's maneuver, and, not missing an opportunity to be contrary, Patty deliberately proposed her own toast to the service buddy Jack had invited to the house. Cecile understood the countertoast Patty had proposed, but she only shook her head in resignation and drank the wine, confident the good wishes she felt for Jack's return would be transmitted to him on his journey home.
"Who's he bringing with him, Cecile?" asked Jason, not really interested, but willing to go along with the truce among them and engage in small talk until dinner. He could be very cordial when he wanted to.
"A fellow Marine, by the name of Edward Fox; you know how Jack is about long letters; apparently they've become good friends."
Just then the door chimes sounded.
"That must be Paul," said Cecile "I meant to tell you earlier, but you were asleep."
"Patty already told me he was coming. Well, we mustn't keep him waiting. I'll go greet him myself," said Jason, who went to greet his oldest friend, one of the few Cecile truly liked and whose company she enjoyed. She'd seen he was a bit of a fussy widower, but she also saw what a good soul he was underneath his lawyer's demeanor. Cecile, however, cherished him more so for the jolly wit he was, especially at those social gatherings she could barely tolerate. Paul, however, always managed to rescue her from her cocktail party doldrums and get a laugh out of her, or invite her to dance a samba which they danced with all the exotic movements of their bodies that they could without causing too many tongues to wag their social peers.
"Come in, sit down, a glass of wine for Paul," said Jason, as he ushered his old friend in and led him to a chair.
Paul greeted Cecile and Patty with affectionate hugs and cheek pressings, then sat himself down, pulled out his pipe, loosened his collar and accepted the glass of wine from Cecile and drank it with gusto.
"Ah, these California wines of ours are superb. Who needs the best of Europe? We've got the best!" and he smacked his lips in genuine delight and put out his glass and asked for more.
Jason, well knowing Paul's weakness for wine, was quick to pour his friend another glass.
"You speak like a man from the industry, Paul. Have you ever given thought to closing your law practice and getting into the promotional end of the wine trade in California?"
"Sounds good, Jason; I think I'd make a good image: the contended and well–heeled wino––har, har, har!" burst out Paul
Jason and the others smiled. "Yes, that's an image you'd fit very well," said Jason, playfully, "and you wouldn't need any coaching, and think of all the wine you'd have to drink, gratis."
"Ah, you tempt an old man with visions of youthful folly. But on the more serious side, Jason," he said, composing himself and becoming the lawyer with his intentions and problems and pausing just long enough to light his pipe, he continued: "I'm so damnably entrenched in my law practice that I couldn't find the time to get out of it. It's just one case after another. Ever since Charlotte died it's been nothing but work, work, work."
"All the more reason, then, to start taking fewer cases. In the meanwhile, you can think about taking a vacation; all work and no play––you know the rest." Jason couldn't bring himself to finish the old saying because the name "Jack" was in it.
"You've said it: dull. And the longer I practice law, the more boring practicing law becomes; and the duller I become. Only the spirit of good wine keeps the light shining in me eyes," he said with a wink towards Jason, then drank from his refilled glass.
"How about the both of us going off, Paul? Patty is going to Turkey next year to study. Maybe we two old birds should take a hint and strike out to some foreign parts ourselves before we're too old to do anything," said Jason, breaking into a stifled guffaw.
Paul joined in an almost forced laugh at Jason's flat attempt at being bawdy; It was like Paul to yield more out of wanting to please his more powerful friend, than out of any appreciation of the low humor from the usually humorless Jason.
Gaby announced dinner and all withdrew to the dinning
room, except Cecile; she found a small excuse to linger in her chair. She didn't like herself just then and liked Jason even less. In the quiet of that room she came to know how truly awful her marriage had become, and that she had to do something to change her life.
Later that night, as Cecile and Jason lay in bed, Jason placed his hand on her thigh and rubbed her through her chemise. Cecile froze; she did not like that touch, especially now; it did nothing to her. Jason moved his fingers and made to lift her chemise. Cecile was repulsed.
"Didn't you have enough today?" she said in an unemotive voice.
Jason stopped his hand. "What the hell do you mean? Enough of what?"
"Your wet dream, Jason," she replied, letting a bit of anger creep into her voice. "I was going for my slippers when I interrupted your grunts and writhings. Who was your dream idol, one of those pretty young honor students at the college?"
"Don't be absurd, you silly woman. A man is entitled to a little dream fantasy. Do you feel betrayed? Ha!" he said, letting go a low, sardonic laugh in the darkened bedroom.
"It doesn't matter," responded Cecile, "why don't you and Paul go somewhere––maybe Turkey––you'd find lots of exotic women and you wouldn't have to dream about them." She pulled the bed covers off her body and swung out of bed. "I think I'll sleep in Jack's room––if you don't mind."
"Of course I mind," said Jason, not really understanding her politeness turned into sarcasm, "now come back to bed and we can have a little fun."
"Fun? You are absurd, Jason. I don't care to have sex with you anymore, and, besides, you wouldn't be fucking me, but your dream whore."
The room was dark; but she knew Jason's face was full of shock, for she never used vulgar language; but she did now, used it as a weapon.
There was a sound and the bed lamp went on; Cecile blinked her eyes.
"Hmm, now I understand: you're upset because I overrode you about Patty's year abroad."
"Not so much the year abroad; I think I would have agreed eventually; it was the authoritarian and insensitive way you went about it. Have you forgotten? she is also my daughter. however, you must always have your way; so be it; have your way, but you'll not have me."
"I made the right decision."
"The right decision? How would you know what's right? You only see what you want to see. What do you know about how others feel? You are so base, Jason."
"What a thing to tell me," he retorted with indignation.
"Not another word!" she said in an intense, thoroughly commanding way; and she looked at him with terrible eyes, and Jason to her was voided as a partner.
As she left their bedroom she closed the door very softly as she was wont to do, and almost as softly, walked down the hall and climbed the stairs.
She opened the door to Jack's room. She knew it well and felt comfortable therein. There was no need for a light; in the dark she found his desk and chair and sat. A bitter taste was in her mouth. "There, it's done, and I've been my own worst enemy for not having done this before."
She wanted terribly to smoke; but she had stopped smoking to please Patty's incessant anti–smoking campaigns; with this sudden urge to smoke, Cecile begrudged that quitting smoking. She let out a big sigh, and shook her head in self–doubt and sadness.
The rain had stopped. The heavens were clear. Cecile got up from the chair and standing by the window, with her cheek pressed against the cold glass, she looked up to the stars; her breath clouded the glass; she slowed her breathing so as not to mist the window and spoil her view of the stars, whose clear gleam penetrated her stilled receptiveness. Her diminished breathing slowed her heart and her concentration was centered on the stellar lights; inside her mind she was quiet and she could see her life spread out from its beginning to the present like a giant gossamer rosette of sparkling silver; in the midst of this silver gift of clarity stood out Elena, her late sister, in her various periods of growth; but most of all Cecile saw the composite, ever smiling, carefree Elena who had always stood out in contrast to the more reserved Cecile.
Another sigh from Cecile broke her spell of the silver light within.
"Oh, we made so many wishes, didn't we, Elena...and none of them came true for me," uttered Cecile in a soft, frank voice to herself.
Drifting clouds obscured the stars, so she left the window and turning on the lamp, went to the bath to wash her face and to drink a little water.
She returned to the desk. Her thoughts were filled with the coming home of Jack and the divorce she must face. but she did not want Jack's homecoming marred by a disrupted house. There was no question in her mind that she would divorce Jason; but for Jack's sake she would wait; a few weeks more would not matter. She felt better for this decision.
Cecile looked around the room and smiled. Throughout Jack's four years of service she had come to his room many times for solace and solitude and to dust; her eyes returned to the shelf of books in front of her which she had dusted many times, but had never paid much attention to. But now she let her eyes examine their titles with the chance of finding something to read, for she felt not at all like sleeping, and cared not to do much more thinking.
Between a geology text and a fat dictionary, she spied, Seven Plays of Aeschylus. She took down the book and, thumbing the pages, stopped at Agamemnon, which she began to read standing, unsure if she wanted to tackle the ancient Aeschylus. Soon, however, her interest grew; half consciously, she lowered herself into the chair; slowly she read, but quickly her heart went out to the vengeance– seeking Clytemnestra, angered at the sacrifice of her virgin daughter, Iphigenia, by the greedy Agamemnon. Out of ancient empathy with Clytemnestra,Cecile put the book down and returned to the window and leaned her forehead against the chilly pane.
"Poor Iphigenia," she said sadly, "murdered, and for what? so an army of aggrandizing fools could go rescue that bitch, Helen."
Her voice against the glass sounded hollow; she stepped back, and, picking up the book again, lay on the bed and continued reading.
As the first hints of dawn appeared, she had finished reading the play and she felt righteous that Clytemnestra had destroyed her wicked warrior husband.
After Cecile had left, Jason's first impulse was to raise his voice and go after her and order her back to the conjugal bed and chastise her body with his warped passions. But he did not budge from the bed. Instead, he lay there, his hands under his head, staring up to the ceiling and being angry at himself for not having been firmer with her; but she had had that look in her eyes, the look which terrified him, the look which he was unable to understand why it defeated him so. He rationalized, however, that it did not matter that she wouldn't tolerate his ways or that her sex services were terminated? He was tiring of her body; and still, what did it matter to him that the woman he had once likened to a flower had now turned into a weed? There were other flowers yet to be picked.
He pushed out his lower lip boldly and rolled over onto his side and opened the drawer of his night stand, and, reaching in, pulled out a short stone piped filled with hashhish. He didn't smoke it often, but this night he would take a couple of puffs. He struck a match and lit the hashhish and drew the smoke in and held it in his lungs. He did this several times. He put the pipe down, then lay back on his pillows.
The effects of the strong drug were not long in coming. Jason could feel the mild euphoria he always experienced come over him; he wanted that, for he had felt strained with Cecile.
His vision became just a little sharper and his hearing too, He felt strong.
"Cecile is getting old and cold," said he out loud, and, liking his rhythm, he uttered his derision again, adding a sneer to make himself feel better.
"So she wants to play the poor innocent with me; let her. Let her go her own way. I can get a woman anytime. There's plenty of meat to be had,"
Jason smiled at his voice; he liked the sound of it, the deep, even quality of it. But what words, what tone could he use to lure the person of Janet Alten, who had set
into motion his twisted desires and who had disturbed him so often this past week?
He became hard between his legs; he reached into his pyjamas and took hold of his tumescent sex, and satisfied by himself the fulfillment Cecile had denied him. He could feel his body tingle all over; he squeezed himself tightly, and in his fantasy it was Janet Alten's hand which held him, her lips and mouth awaiting his sweet ejacula. With a suck of impassioned breath, Jason spilled himself onto his stomach and chest.
He wiped his fingers on his pyjamas and blotted his belly and chest with the bed sheet; and, with no particular thought in mind, he snapped off the lamp, closed his eyes and soon was sleeping.
Saturday morning was difficult for Cecile. She had fallen asleep soon after reading Agamemnon, only to awaken an hour or so later and, try as she could, she was unable to get back to sleep. She, therefore, showered and went below to the kitchen where she found Gaby sitting, having her morning tea and toast.
"Good morning, Mrs. Stoddard; you're up early. Will you have some tea?"
"And a good morning to you, Gaby, and, yes, a cup of tea sounds fine; I need something to perk me up. I only got an hour's sleep last night."
"Were you ill during the night, ma'am?" she asked solicitously, as she poured the tea.
"No; would you believe I stayed up all night reading a play by Aeschylus?"
"I wouldn't know who that is, ma'am," she said shyly.
"A playwright; an ancient Greek; no one really important," replied Cecile, by way of making Gaby feel comfortable.
"Did the play you read have a happy ending, ma'am?"
Cecile was about to form "yes" with her mouth, but she caught herself and, for a second or two, her lips were spread apart and her mouth agape; she was positive Gaby must think her a fool.
"No; the ending is rather tragic, really," and Cecile drank her tea.
"I've seen some plays, but I've never read any, but I'd like to."
"I'll lend you Jack's book of plays, if you'd like?"
"Thank you; I'd like that; and, speaking of your nephew, ma'am, what day are you expecting him and his friend? I'll need to know so I can prepare the guest room."
Cecile answered excitedly, "Next Thursday. Oh, Gaby, I'm so thrilled he's coming home. I was always afraid of another war starting and Jack being sent in...yes, air out the large guest room and put flowers in both their rooms. I imagine two men being surrounded by the barracks for so long would appreciate something dainty. don't you think so?"
"Flowers sound real grand. Will you be inviting people over to dinner the first night he's back?"
"No; it will be just the four of us––I mean the five of us; I mustn't forget to include Jack's sergeant friend. I'll get together with you and decide on a menu. We'll make Jack's favorite dish for one course."
"I wouldn't know what that would be, ma'am; I didn't come to you until after he was gone."
"That's right; well, nothing to worry about; Jack's favorite dish has forever been breaded veal cutlets...but maybe he's changed, Gaby," she added, a little unsure He'd been gone for so long; he seldom wrote about himself. Did she still know his likes and dislikes as she once had?
A flood of uncertainty hit her. How she hoped she and Jack would still be close now that she knew her marriage with Jason had hit its nadir; and with Patty exerting her youthful arrogance of fresh independence, she felt isolated from the two people who had once been so dominant a part of her life. This feeling of isolation crept up on her as she sipped her tea, all the while thankful Gaby was not speaking as Cecile silently prayed her spirits would be uplifted by
Janet Alten opened her eyes and the first thing her vision met was her lover's gunbelt hanging from the back of the bedroom chair. Janet didn't like guns, but her lover was a private security guard and a gun, handcuffs and truncheon were a part of the uniform.
Janet looked away from the gun and let her eyes gaze momentarily upon the strong golden sun just shining through the east window. When the glare was too much for her sensitive eyes, she darted her eyes back and forth studying the irregular shadows it cast about the room. Janet liked the odd shapes of shadows; as a child, making shadow animals with her hands had always been a happy childhood game. Even now, as a grown woman of thirty two, she liked shadows, especially the shadows of people. It had been her lover's shadow which first attracted Janet to Maureen. Maureen's shadow had mingled with Janet's in the dimly lit lesbian bar where they had met not too many months before.
Janet watched the shadows in her bedroom change shape as the angle of the striking sun changed. Gradually, the sun shined on the bed. Maureen groaned, waked, opened her eyes; and Janet, turning and bending down, kissed Maureen fully on the lips.
"Good morning, sweetheart; the rain has stopped; it's going to be a beautiful day; just feel that sun."
Maureen blinked her eyes, then changed her position to avoid the strong sunlight. "This is more like it. I don't like rain. I'm getting sick of winter," she said, throwing the covers back and, getting out of bed, she walked to the other side of the bedroom to let the sun shine on her naked body.
Maureen was tall; her jet black hair, with a natural streak of gray almost in the center, was cut short in a stiff, military manner. While Maureen had been sleeping, her relaxed face hinted at its rejected femininity; but, awake, Maureen's face was stern, unsmiling, always fixed, determined, her eyes narrowed as if in search of plots. When she walked, she copied the cadence of a Grenadier Guard; but her large breasts betrayed her; and, after all, she was still a woman, albeit she had done everything to trample out any vestige of woman in herself.
Janet, on the other hand, maintained all the natural feminine graces; however, she was repulsed and frightened by all men when it came to sex, though she herself had never known a man. No male had ever entered that grotto she had long ago dedicated to her chosen sisterhood. Janet prided herself in her long held virginity; she gloated over this over–ripened hymen, had coveted it jealousy out of spite towards men who thought she was like any other pretty, heterosexual woman.
It had been her experience that men always tried to lure her to their bed or the back of classrooms. she was amused by men and laughed at their guiles and wiles; she knew well the enticing game of the sexes because there ever lingered in her a modicum of curiosity about men––in spite of herself; however, she could never bring herself, to that intimacy. She played the coquette and matched her wits intellectually with her male suitors. She already knew what they wanted: her body; but she only teased and smiled and pretended and put off the consummation with so many excuses.
Since Maureen had come into her life, however, Janet was forced to quit her dangerous pastime.
Maureen was a person of strong passions; her jealousy could be brutal as Janet, to her shock and delight, found out not long after their partnership was established. Ever since that last, forbidden flirtation with a male, followed by a beating and an almost cruel session in their bed, Janet became cool in her relationships with men. The too sudden reserve she adopted to suit her lover seemed, to her male colleagues, and other men with whom she had professional contact, to border on aloofness, and some pegged her as a newly affected snob. Nevertheless, Janet was respected in her field; she was professionally conscientious in her dealings not only with her colleagues on the French faculty, but, also, with her students; she had a reputation for fairness in the classroom, which, among the French students of Redwood college, was her greatest asset.
Maureen's stance in front of the sun filled window made her seem like a tall gnomon of flesh as her long shadow cast itself across the room covering the bed and Janet, who relished being in her lover's shadow as she lay against her
pillows admiring Maureen's backside.
Monday morning, as usual, Jason awakened at five thirty; he was dedicated to an early rising. By six thirty he was in his car driving on the not yet crowded freeway. He preferred the wide, concrete road to the old country road which lead from the campus almost to the edge of Jason's property. The old road was narrow and one had to drive slowly as the road wound its way through a sprawling redwood forest.
The founders of Redwood College had decreed in the original charter to keep the redwood forests virgin and that only a designated area was to be used for the college's expansion. Jason had never liked that clause. For him it was land being wasted, occupied only by trees which produced nothing tangible. He, on the other hand, dreamed of enlarging the school way beyond the original, limited vision (as he saw it) of the nature–loving founders. But Redwood College was old, prestigious, and the alumni association was rich, and very sentimental, and slow to change. Yet Jason held in his mind a dynamic concept of a great scientific research center. It was in his vision to expand the college, building research facilities for physics and chemistry, located in the area now kept as a nature reserve. And in his vision was included a linear accelerator in the future. Within these expanded structures would stand the greatest scientific minds money could buy,attacking and conquering the mysteries of nature.
Jason had already approached the right men to see this vision come true. And soon, with a word, the bulldozers would come to knock down redwood trees, and earth movers would drag the slopes flat, and in not too long a time aluminum, glass and poured concrete buildings would rise up, arrogantly proclaiming above the simple forest the victory of man's scientific achievement over nature. The clause that stopped progress––as Jason conceived of it––was slowly being undermined through subtle conspiracy and manipulation by the regents, who in their private lives would also benefit financially from the transition. That was a principal motivation for the regents to go forward with the science center ever expanding in Jason's mind.
At the entrance to the college he did not yield to the modest road sign which read, "15 MPH AT ALL TIMES."
The old classroom buildings blended in with the redwood forest, the meadows, the gentle slopes of the surrounding land; but Jason saw none of this; he simply parked his car in the space reserved for him and made his way to his office.
He brewed his own coffee in a small electric pot; when it was ready, he poured a cupful of it and took it to his desk.
The chair gave a slight creak as he sat in it. The coffee was black and very sweet the way he liked it. In four or five swallows it was gone. He licked his lips and closed his eyes and let pass in review all the important matters he would have to attend to.
For ten or so minutes he sat. Slowly Jason opened his eyes and breathed deeply through his nose, feeling his vigor flush in him, and set to work.
Later, as he drank his second cup of coffee, he heard the arrival of Alyson Cantrell, singing an aria by Puccini. In a few minutes there was a knock on his door.
"Good morning, Doctor. Did you have a pleasant weekend?" she said in a jolly voice.
"Fair. I sat around and read, not much else."
"I imagine with your nephew home soon, there'll be a lot of activity around the house."
"That's the truth. Mrs. Stoddard hasn't talked about anything else since Jack's last letter."
"You must be thrilled."
Jason cleared his throat. "Well, I am pleased; maybe now that he's been kicked around a bit he'll come to his sense and go back to his studies and make something of himself. I can be frank with you, Mrs. Cantrell, that boy has been a great disappointment to me; we've had him since he was a baby; every opportunity was his; he could have been doing graduate work by now; he would have had the choice of the best universities in the country; but what does he do? he quits his studies, just like that," and Jason snapped his fingers, "and suddenly announces to us he has joined the Marines. Why it nearly broke his aunt's heart. And for what? He said he wanted some adventure, to get away from stodgy profs and dull books." Jason felt free to speak his mind to Alyson; she was a good listener.
"Maybe he's changed and will be enthusiastic about taking up his studies again. Has he ever mentioned anything in his letters about continuing his studies?"
No; he didn't write much––not very considerate of his aunt," he said, trying to impose a hint of hurt in his voice. "Was there any business after I left Friday which should be attended to?" he asked, already annoyed that the subject of Jack should also invade his office.
"No new business; but I'll bring in the letter you handed me Friday and open today's mail."
"Very good; yes, do that."
She mad to leave. When she turned, he saw she was wearing denim slacks, the latest fashion. Jason didn't like the informality of dress at the college; neither that of the students and clerks, nor, especially that of the faculty; casual dress, he had too long observed, was an almost sacred duty of the faculty and students. He did not like that or approve of it; but there was not much he could do to change dress traditions established long before he became president; moreover, things were hard to change at Redwood College; but that, too, would change.
The two ex–Marines walked through the covered passenger gangway from their plane to the reception area of the San Francisco International Airport.
Jack saw his aunt first; he shouted and waved and when she heard and saw him waving she waved back with her scarf which she alternately used to dry her tears. Next to him, as tall and as tanned as Jack, walked his friend. Cecile saw the red sergeant's stripes stand out boldly on the stranger's green uniform and knew the man must be Edward Fox, and she thought him most handsome,––much to her surprise.
The two men walked in a quickened pace side by side, each unconsciously in step with the other.
Jack clasped his aunt to him almost lifting her off her feet. Joy filled her as she felt his hardened body and strong arms; no more was he the gangling youth of four years ago. She felt the roughness of his face against hers, but remembered it when smooth, unbearded. Now he was different, and she felt differently, too, but couldn't then tell just why.
When they released from their long embrace, she looked fully into his face and saw the unquestionable sketches of his mother, Elena; and this mature resemblance, for a moment, brought a pang of sadness to her long, anticipated joy of his homecoming.
Patty hugged her lance corporal cousin and kissed him on both cheeks and wrinkled her nose and eyes as if to cry; but she didn't. In her own way she had missed him and was glad he was safe, but she didn't feel much else.
"Auntie, I'd like to introduce my best friend, Edward Fox."
All during the hugging and the welcoming, Edward Fox had stood at ease watching, not taking his eyes off Cecile Stoddard; however, he averted his eyes quickly when their eyes chanced to meet. "This is my aunt, Cecile Stoddard and my cousin, Pat."
"I'm very pleased to meet you, Mrs. Stoddard. Jack has made me feel as if I already knew you," said Edward, politely, extending his hand, "and thank you for having me as a house guest."
She took his hand; he gave hers a gentle squeeze, then allowed her to remove her hand which she did slowly. There had been something in the way he had touched her hand She noticed that her heart was beating quickly, but whether these palpitations were caused by the excitement of Jack's arrival or the touch of Edward Fox she did not know.
Cecile found herself unable to respond with anything other than a cordial, "You're welcome," and she was relieved this disturbing stranger turned to Patty.
"A pleasure to meet you, Pat," and he offered her his hand.
They stood together in a huddle and talked for some minutes. Cecile clung to Jack's arm and he had his arm around her waist. In every way Cecile and Edward were cordially attentive of the other, and they smiled friendly smiles and spoke in polite tones.
"Your uncle couldn't be here, Jack, he had to attend some meeting at the school," said Cecile, excited, but composing herself and thinking it was a good time to claim the baggage and said so.
"That's ok, I'll see him at the house," said Jack, as they made their way to the baggage claim area.
Waiting at the luggage carousel, they all stood in shy silence until Patricia, not liking their silence, burst out:––
"Jack, you're home and now it's my turn to ship out––I'm going to Turkey next year!"
"Turkey? What for?"
"For my junior year abroad, to Istanbul University; and Daddy said it's ok. Isn't that great? I'm so excited I can hardly wait." And in a flurry of disconnected sentences, she tried to give, in summary, her enthusiasm for historic Asia Minor, her high grade point average at school, and her naive dream of the student's life abroad.
Jack felt bombarded but listened patiently and saw that his cousin was still the affected papa's darling she had always been. Nevertheless, he was happy to see her again, but he knew he and his cousin could be friendly, but never friends.
The duffle bags and suitcases were collected and Cecile insisted on having a skycap cart the heavy bags to the car. She wanted them both to relax and enjoy their newly gained civilian status.
"Will you be going home after your visit with us?' asked Cecile of Edward as they walked to the car.
"I really have no home to go to, ma'am; that's one of the reasons I accepted Jack's invitation. I'm not sure, but I might make up my mind to stay. I liked what Jack said about Santa Cruz––he was quite persuasive."
"Have you no family?"
"No ma'am; during my second hitch, my folks were killed in a car accident, and I've no other living relatives."
Cecile knew what it meant to be parentless and she was touched by his words. "I'm sorry," she said, warmly sympathetic to the six foot Marine at her side. You mentioned a second enlistment. How long were you a Marine?'
"I enlisted when I was seventeen, ma'am, and shipped over three times; I've got sixteen years of service," he said, pointing to the four long red hash marks on his left sleeve.
"That's a long time. But wouldn't you have retired in a few years?"
"Yes ma'am. I was going to do twenty years; but frankly, I've had enough of this kind of life," he said, plucking at the top button of his tunic. " I guess I grew up in the Marine Corps, and I'd just like to see what it's like to be on one's own and to stay in one spot as long as I want to. I've been to lots of places, but always on someone else's time table."
"It's kind of quiet in Santa Cruz, a little stuffy in some circles, but I think it will suit you, and Jack, too. I'm sure the past few years have been rigid for the both of you, so just you relax and enjoy yourself at the house."
"Thank you," answered Edward. He was liking Cecile very much.
"I'm all for relaxation," exclaimed jack.
The baggage was loaded into the car.
"Let me drive, Auntie."
Cecile handed Jack the ignition key.
Jack was glad to be back home and especially glad to see his aunt who was more mother to him than aunt. He'd always called her Aunt, but in his heart, and to his best friend, Edward Fox, he called her Mother. As he drove the familiar route of the Coast Highway, he was thinking of all the times he had leaned on his aunt for love and understanding, and how willingly she had given of herself. She had always been kind to him, sometimes kinder to him (in some ways) than to Patty. Aunt Cecile accepted him with all his faults, and often she had forgiven him even at the expense of Patricia's feelings.
The car reached the top of a hill and to the right of the road Jack saw the familiar sign: "SANTA CRUZ COUNTY LINE."
"Yippee! We mad it, Eddie," cried out Jack, pointing out the road sign to his friend
Gaby was at the door to greet them. In her simplicity she had hung out a flag on the front door; and in each hand she held a home made bouquet of flowers from the garden, which she gave to each one as Cecile introduced her housekeeper to the men.
"Your aunt has been waiting on pins and needles for you. Welcome home, and pleased to meet you, Mr. Martin."
"Thank you, Gaby," said Jack, hugging her as he would an old acquaintance.
"And I've got the guest room all fixed up for you, Mister Fox, and welcome home to you, too," said Gaby, warmly.
"Thank you for the flowers...I wasn't expecting..." his voice shook just a little. He took her hand warmly, but Gaby, less reserved, pulled him to her and gave him a sisterly welcome home hug. Edward was deeply touched; he had not expected such a warm welcome as this which almost moved him to tears and only long years of strict discipline kept the tears welling up in his eyes in check; he knew that that welcoming bouquet from a stranger in a strange house had come from Cecile and he was endeared to her if only for the presentation of the flowers.
The ex–Marines hefted their duffle bags up the stairs to their respective rooms. Patricia insisted on carrying Jack's suitcase to his room. Cecile felt slighted by her daughter's usurpation, for Cecile had wanted to participate to the fullest in Jack's homecoming; so, instead, she carried Edward's suitcase, thereby recovering, at least, some of her deep need for direct participation in this most happy event.
But the suitcase Cecile carried voluntarily proved to be very heavy; by the time she reached the guest room, she dropped the suitcase, which made a loud thud and tottered back and forth, almost to the point of toppling over and she was a bit embarrassed when Edward, still cargoed with his own bag, reached down and steadied the suitcase with ease. Edward knew she was not used to carrying heavy burdens. He recalled a woman he had seen once when he was stationed in Korea: that woman had been pulling a small cart with a sewing machine on it and on her back she carried a child. He looked at Cecile in contrast and saw her as some airy naiad or delicate statue; and he found himself confused by thinking of her in such poetic terms.
"My goodness, how do you ever manage the both of them?" she said, pointing to his duffle bag as she caught her breath.
"I guess I'm just used to them; anyway, we were always told Marines had to be half dray mule, ha, ha, ha!" he burst out in a jolly way, feeling as comfortable in saying what he did in front of her as he would have with Jack. "But I expect my suitcase will be lighter when I leave; I've got some gifts in there and they're probably most of the weight you carried. If you'd like, I'll give you yours now," he said, unpretentiously.
Taking the suitcase off the floor with ease and putting it on the bed, he took a little key out of his pocket, unlocked the suitcase, opened the lid, and, lifting off some shirts, revealed the gifts wrapped in red rice paper tied with rough, brown twine.
"This is for you, ma'am," he said, and made his presentation to her with two hands.
Cecile was surprised and touched, for she had not expected gifts for the family; nonetheless, she was pleased as she felt the soft rice paper in her hands.
"That's very kind of you, thank you, but you really shouldn't have; I hope it's not out of obligation for staying here." She spoke candidly to him not really knowing why. Suddenly she felt foolish and awkward for not having been more gracious by simply accepting the gift instead of commenting as she had which was not like her at all. "I must be more aware of myself," thought Cecile to herself.
"No obligation at all, ma'am. I just thought I'd like to bring Jack's people something because he's my good buddy––that's all," he said quite ingenuously.
His frankness made her feel stupid for not having seen the innocence of his original intention, and she felt positively wretched for her ungraciousness. "May I open mine now?" she asked shyly, as if now needing his approval to look beyond the inviting red rice paper.
"Go right ahead,." he said with a broad grin on his happy face.
Placing the heavy gift on the bed, she slowly untied the rough string. Wrapped in the rice paper was a large, thick, black book with "BACH" printed in gold letters on the cover and the spine. Cecile let out a little "Oh!" of glee at the sight of the name. She opened the music manuscript and read the Gothic script announcing the major keyboard works of the great composer.
"What a wonderful gift; he is forever my favorite. Thank you, Edward; you've made me very happy. But how did you know I liked Bach?"
"Jack told me you used to be a piano and harpsichord teacher and performer, and that Bach was your favorite; he's kind of mine, too––and it's my pleasure to give you his...his works, ma'am," he said groping for his words, feeling unsure of himself in the presence of this lovely woman, who was making him genuinely nervous because he was being drawn to her; yet he felt good because the gift he'd selected had been just the thing for her.
"And thank you for the homecoming flowers," he continued, more sure of himself again. "These other two gifts are for Patricia and Mr. Stoddard; I'm sorry I have nothing for Gaby." He stood stiffly, almost formally, as if in a military review. "Jack didn't mention her; but I do have a silk scarf; it's never been used and if you think she'd like it, I'll give it to her."
"How very sweet of you; oh..." she caught herself saying how sweet, and she felt shy for an instant. "Yes, a silk scarf––she'd love one; why don't we wrap it in this beautiful rice paper my gift came in." Cecile felt positively ebullient. Both she and Edward shared an atom of togetherness in the preparation of the gift.
Edward reached again into the suitcase and under his clothes, pulling out a sky–blue silk scarf wrapped in white tissue paper. He removed the tissue paper and opened the scarf fully for Cecile's inspection, and the scarf rippled like a miniature sea in midair.
"Lovely, just lovely. You have good taste. May I feel it?"
He acknowledged her compliment with a nod of his head and handed her the scarf. She felt its coolness and touched it to her cheek sensuously wondering why she had never bought herself such a scarf. Spreading it on the bed and following the creases, she carefully refolded it, then, doubling the big piece of rice paper, she wrapped the scarf and tied the string around it.
"Excuse me for taking over," she said over her shoulder.
"Not at all," answered Edward, enjoying her company.
"There, it's done; when you come down for lunch, you can give it to her. Now I'm sure you'd like to rest; and I'd better get back to Jack. If you need anything, just speak into the intercom and Gaby or myself will get it. Until lunch, then."
"Until lunch," he answered, feeling he was talking in some kind of code.
Cecile started towards the open door, the music manuscript in her hands; but she stopped and faced him again.
"Is there any one of these Bach compositions you like best? I'd like to play it for you."
"The Goldberg Variations. I'd like hearing that."
"I haven't played them for a long time, so allow me some time to practice and I'll give them my best." She turned again and quietly walked out of the room closing the door behind her, her hand trembling.
Patricia and Gaby received their gifts at lunch. Gaby's eyes widened at the sight of the scarf and her thank yous were many and she was endeared to Edward for his thoughtfulness.
Patricia unwrapped a bronze cast statue about a foot high.
"How neat! Thanks, Ed. But who's this statue of?" Patty didn't know how to react; but she thought she must say something about the strange gift.
"It's a miniature reproduction of a thirty–six foot high statue of Kwannon, as the Japanese call her; you might know her as Kwan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy," answered Edward. "The original statue is made out of wood and is in the Hase temple near Nara," he said matter of factly.
"Now I recognize her––I've seen her in art books," said patty, seeming now satisfied that she had found a reference and a way of appreciating the odd statue, not really knowing now what to do with it, so she leaned over to Edward and gave him a quick peck of kiss on his cheek, and that, in her unsophisticated way, ended the exchange between herself and the giver of the gift of the Goddess of Mercy.
Cecile was impressed by the finely cast Kwan Yin and by his generosity and sensitivity; but she kept her sentiments secret.
"Now I know why that suitcase was so heavy," said Cecile. "I wonder if what you brought Jason is just as heavy as our two?"
"Not as heavy. Jack mentioned his uncle had an interest in old coins, so I got him a framed collection of Chinese brass money in the shape of small swords."
"How considerate of you," said Cecile, most sincerely.
Jack was proud of his friend; he had not known about the gifts; but, then, Jack knew Ed was usually quiet about the things he did and the way he lived his life. Ed, Jack had found, was a quiet spoken person land reticent to speak of himself. Jack, on the other hand was the opposite of his friend: outspoken, gregarious and his anger easily aroused. But Jack admired the opposite qualities in his friend, and that is what made them steady friends and comrades–in–arms.
On his way home Jason stopped at a liquor store and bought a bottle of hazelnut liqueur. Upon reaching the freeway, he found it heavy with slowly moving traffic because of an accident up ahead. For a while Jason's usual spree of speed was held in check by the crawling lines of cars ahead of him, and he cursed under his breath at the inconvenience he was experiencing. "Here I am stuck in this mess all on account of Jack!" he uttered, raising his voice. He didn't like Jack at all and still resented him and viewed him as an intrusion in his life. Jason had wanted Cecile alone; but Elena's death changed all that, and there, slowed by the traffic, Jason cursed the long dead sister–in–law, whose death had brought him so much inconvenience.
Jack had always challenged the centurion in Jason and to Jason that was unforgivable in a one so young; yet, in spite of his dislike of Jack, he liked one quality Jack had: his ability to thumb his nose at the world and laugh. It was a wild, primitive act and Jason liked its spirit––but not its mean rewards.
The traffic sped up and Jason reached his exit and headed home.
"You're looking good, Jack," said Jason, taking the young man's hand and pumping it vigorously.
Jack knew the handshake was not a friendly one, but done merely pro forma because Edward was standing close by.
"You haven't changed much, Uncle," said Jack; and had Jason known what Jack really meant, Jason would not have responded:––
"I try to keep in shape at the gym," he said, pushing out his chest boastfully and tapping it twice with his fist. Jack smiled broadly at the private comedy he had created for himself out of Jason's vain boast.
Jason was introduced to Edward and greeted him cordially; but, like Jack, Edward did not feel welcomed by Jason, the profuse thank yous he received for the gift of sword coins, notwithstanding.
Jason bided with them for a while and sipped a drink and had a short chat, then excused himself and went to bathe and change his clothes. Cecile followed him to the bedroom, which for appearance's sake she'd returned––at least while Jack was home.
"It was thoughtful of you to come home early and to have bought the liqueur, Jason."
"Now you didn't come up here just to tell me that, have you?"
"It was one of the reasons––but never mind. There is something else I'd like to say to you: I know you don't care for Jack..." Jason made to speak, but she cut him short, "Now, now, Jason, let us not have false protestations; you know perfectly well you don't care for him; but listen, I'm not here to argue with you," she said in a low voice, "I'll just ask you to be civil towards him while he's here and keep the peace."
"Don't worry, my dear," he said, sarcastically, "I'll not interfere with your darling, lame–brained nephew. I said all I had to say four years ago when he enlisted. I didn't ask him to come back here; but if he wants to stay––let him. Right? And that's the end to it––if you don't mind." He raised his voice a little, just a little. "If you will excuse me, Cecile, I'd like to bathe."
She hadn't liked Jason's remarks about Jack and she almost hated Jason at that moment; she reasoned, however, she should be used to his insensitivity by now––but she wasn't. "Dinner will be ready shortly. We'll be having cocktails around the harpsichord." She left him and returned to the threesome around the silent harpsichord.
"Ah, Auntie, we were about to send a search party after you."
"Just some domestic business with your uncle; he should be down shortly. Are you all ready for another drink?"
"Here, here," said Jack, the first to put out his glass, "and give us a tune, Auntie; it's been a long time since I've heard you play."
"Ok, Jack, a tune it will be. But first the drinks." She poured, then sipped her own and brought it with her and sat at the harpsichord.
"Mrs. Stoddard," asked Edward, "do you by chance know, Dandini's Sonata Breve?"
"Orlando Dandini?" He nodded his head. "Well I'll be...I thought only hoary–haired archivists and curiosity seekers like myself knew him," she answered in surprise at his knowledge of the obscure Orlando Dandini, whose only claim to fame was a very short, single sonata in C. "How is it that you know him?"
"Through my father, who was choirmaster and organist in his church. It's a piece he always played to warm up."
"Then here's to your father," said Cecile, taking her glass and lifting it to Edward. She drank. "I'll play it," she said, with a nod of her head and she handed her empty glass to Jack.
"Thank you," said Edward, settling into a chair.
Her fingers found the opening chord. She placed the sonata with an enthusiasm she had not felt for a long time; and she knew it was Edward Fox who had infused her with that enthusiasm.
Jason joined them for a drink and soon afterwards Gaby announced dinner and they all withdrew to the dinning room, where a sumptuous meal awaited them. On a platter were golden brown breaded veal cutlets and on another, a baked sea bass and white asparagus, and there were several bottles of wine.
They all drank and ate with gusto and seemed to be having a good time, and for a few hours Cecile and Jason were on better terms then they had been, but more by reason of the wine than by any genuine affection.
A bright moon shone through the clouds lighting up the outside of the house which was closed for the night; but Edward, still dressed, sat in his darkened room chain smoking. He felt no need for sleep and was somewhat intimidated by his surroundings; he was not used to such luxuries, for he had known only the barracks for most of his life, a life he finally had courage enough to put aside. He had worked hard and he had been promoted and given a few medals; he had traveled the world in both peace and war; but there had grown within him a dissatisfaction with his transient and too regulated life; often he felt as if something was prodding him from the inside to change the direction of his life, make a clean cut with his past and strike out on his own and leave the security he had known for many years. He needed independence and he now had it.
Edward lit a fresh cigarette with the glowing end of the stub he held between his pinched fingers; and there, in that smoked filled room in that strange house so near the woman who commanded that house, he wondered just what it was that juxtaposed people on this earth and what it was that caused the reason for one to be in a certain spot to meet a certain person at a certain time. Could one's life be simply a chain of coincidences, or, was there some guiding fate, a degree of which can never be changed by one's actions?
Edward pondered this, but after a while he became lost in the labyrinth of his own seemingly unsolvable riddles and unanswerable questions, so, instead, he turned his attention from these imponderables and fixed his gaze on the moonlight streaming into his room, which reminded him of many a moonlit night he'd formerly spent in long conversation with Jack while strolling on the beach during long, lazy Okinawan nights. It had been during one of those languid, tropical strolls, that Edward opened to his friend that he would not re–enlist and wanted to settle down somewhere and begin a new life, but did not know where to go. Jack enthusiastically invited him home to Santa Cruz.
"Since you don't know where you want to go, come home with me; and if you don't like it, you can move on," Jack had said. The simplicity of the reply was what helped him make up his mind to do just that.
Edward opened the guest room window to clear the air of smoke. He stuck his head out the window and took a deep pull of air into his lungs. The air was sweet; he was a long time in leaning out the window looking at the moon when suddenly he became aware of a sound in the night. He listened intently, almost straining to hear that sound. He closed his eyes to the moon and concentrated on the sound; as he listened more closely he knew: it was the faint sound of the harpsichord which filtered through the glass doors from below and carried up to his ears. There was no discernible melody, only sound.
Leaving open the window, he sat and listened intently. The muted sound of the harpsichord recalled the Dandini sonata Cecile had played; her knowing that obscure composition made him want to be closer to her somehow. And while she had played the sonata, he had let his mind drift back to his boyhood days of sitting, listening to his father play the small organ in their modest home. They were good memories he had kept alive all through the years; they were all he had left of his family.
He was restless; he pulled himself in from the window and thought for a moment, and putting on a sweater, went out of his room very quietly and stole down the stairs.
Reaching the doors to the patio, he unlocked them and stepped into the cool, still, moonlit night.
A lamp shone behind the closed curtains of the living room; the music of the harpsichord, though muted, was clear; he was hearing the Goldberg Variations He stepped closer to the window and knew it was Cecile playing, reading from the manuscript book he had given her. The music stopped; the passage he had been listening to was repeated one more time; then the music flowed on. She was practising for him, he thought.
Away from the music he walked, past the flower garden and swimming pool to beyond the cultivated limits of the grounds and crossed into a meadow. Away in the distance, accented by the moonlight, stood a stand of oak trees and to those oaks he went, finally sitting himself down under them. He looked back to the house; the light inside by the harpsichord still glowed from behind the curtains; and as he turned his eyes away from the distant glow, he knew what was the cause of his restlessness: Cecile Stoddard.
"What is she to me?" he asked himself out loud; and for a second he wished he'd not come into that house.
He let his mind stray from his disturbing thoughts and fell to musing on his uncertain future. He groped for some firm handhold in newness of the civilian world he had just entered. "Where do I fit in? I'm not fit for much." His self–deprecation made him wince; wincing made him admit to this weakness which he knew he had to meet head on. This sense of unworthiness made him feel wretched; he wanted to change that, so wanted to find a satisfying livelihood and create a wholesome, positive attitude about himself. There was a great need for him to reorder all the distortions he had about himself and all the false images and roles which had grown on him like ugly warts. He sighed. "Where can I go? What can I do?" He cast about in his mind for a solution; however the only image his mind's eye would project was himself feeding chickens. He laughed a soft laugh there under the oaks. "Maybe I'll take up farming. Now wouldn't that be something?" He chuckled again under his breath, but once more grew sober and concerned about his future.
Feeling calmer, Edward left the oaks and returned to the house. He reached the patio; the music and light from behind the curtains were no more. But there was a figure standing in the open doorway leaning against the door jamb, her head upturned, looking at the moon. Edward slowed his pace when he recognized the figure of Cecile standing out in the moonlight, the soft, silver moonlight.
She turned her head on hearing his footfalls and saw him; she'd been unaware until then of his presence. Hesitantly, she took a step towards him; he stopped just in front of her. Their mouths went to speak a salutation, but no sounds ushered forth from their muted tongues, so their eyes spoke for them in a soundless tongue of the Arcadian idyll: the shepherd and the shepherdess by the limpid pool of love's poetry.
Yielding, their slowly moving arms and bodies acted as one in a molding embrace; she was gentle; he just a little rough. Their lips met in a long, fervent kiss; and still wordlessly, almost shyly, they released each other, and stared into one another's face. She reached out in her muteness and touched his lips with a single finger and, quietly turning, walked into the house, disappearing into its darkness like a fading spectre.
Edward stood as if rooted to the patio's flagstones; his heart palpitated, his mind shuddered with confusion. He pressed his finger to his lips as if to confirm what had just happend. Her taste was yet in his mouth and the reality of what had happend jolted him; he felt uneasy and felt a traitor to Jack.
Afterwards, as Edward lay on his bed fully clothed, he recalled that it had been about a year since he had slept on anything other than the ground or a regulation bunk.
Then sleep took him and his first day as a civilian ended.
Jason arose the next morning at his usual hour and did all those things he regularly did to get himself going for the day. Then Gaby got up and went to the kitchen and had her tea and toast.
Patricia awakened with a slight headache from too much drinking the night before; she wasn't used to a lot of alcohol. She looked at the chiming alarm on her night table and, with a sleepy hand, reached up and shut it off. She had a presentation in her history class at nine o'clock and a quiz in Miss Alten's French class afterwards; and for neither did she feel any enthusiasm.
She lulled in bed as long as she could, but inch by inch she pulled down the bed covers and, with an impetuous kicking of her legs, she leaped out of bed taking off her night gown almost simultaneously, and ran to the shower standing under the cold splash of water until the shower ran hot, then proceeded to wash her young body which had never known a man.
Gaby served Patty breakfast; afterwards, she gathered up her books and papers, loaded them into the saddle bags of her motorcycle, then took the old forest road to school.
Unlike her father, she liked the old road; hardly anyone ever used it. The wind chilled her; she didn't care; she was too busy mulling over in her mind her year abroad and how she would be away from parental control and to fulfill the romantic fantasy of her life: to find a lover.
Birds crisscrossed the road; they were singing; but her ears were protected by the thickly padded crash helmet she wore and the roar of the small motorcycle cancelled to her ears the dulcet birds' cries and songs of the redwood forest.
Jack's eyes had popped open by conditioned habit at around five thirty; but he knew he was under no servile bonds to arise; he went back to sleep promptly, not awakening again until Patty's loud motorcycle disturbed his rest.
Arising, he donned a pair of swimming trunks, grabbed a large towel from the bath and went to the swimming pool just below the patio.
Without hesitation, he threw down his towel and dove into the pool; he went under but surfaced quickly and screamed out, "Yaaeee! this water is fucking cold!" Undaunted, however, he went under again, resurfaced, breathed, went under again and swam under water to the other end of the pool; surfacing, he turned, pushed off and, using a crawl stroke, swam to the farther side; his arm muscles bulged with strength and his powerful strokes propelled him quickly to the other side. Jack pulled himself out and stood in the unusually warm morning sun taking in long, smooth draughts of air through his nostrils. "Ahh!" he exclaimed, protracting his delight.
To the diving board he went, taking up a position at the edge. He bent his knees and bounced into the air, flinging his arms out, making a cross of his body; just before hitting the water, he aimed his arms, and like a silent spear, he entered the blue–green water, letting the force of the dive take him to whatever depth it would. Up to the board he went again and again until fatigue overcame him. Wrapping himself in his towel, he lay on a wooden bench and rested.
Jack was wet and tired but exhilarated and he had no regrets about anything. He was glad he was alive and to be who he was––right or wrong; but most of all he was glad to be back home.
The sun's warmth increased; the day,he knew by experience, would be one of those mercurial, California days where, in the midst of winter, nature would pantomime spring for a day or so, then, plunge again into winter without so much as a hint; nevertheless, one became convinced by the winter respite that spring was truly come.
Jack had missed these whimsical days during the monotonous humidity and rain and typhoons of tropical Okinawa. And while there, on that Far Eastern tour, he had come to see the many crisscrossing paths one could take in a lifetime; and he was ever undecided himself which way to go; yet in his heart he knew he had made the right decision four years before to leave the narrow world of academia where he felt he was being embalmed for a life of rote responses and unctuously acquired learning. That way of life went against his grain, and he had searched for an alternative contrary to all he had been told was proper and correct, so he enlisted in the Marines, not caring where he would be sent––just as long as it got him out of the clutches of the dull professors and the mania they had for degrees and high sounding titles, and, away from his detestable uncle.
"I'm ready for anything," said Jack out loud as if he were talking to someone nearby; he looked up to the house and felt a little sad, for he knew he could not stay for too very long a time, even for the sake of his beloved aunt. He would leave; he didn't know when, but he would; he'd wait for the moment, yes, the moment was important to Jack; as for the future? it didn't matter; he felt good about not caring about his future.
Jack got up from the bench, threw the towel back, stood straight, stretched his arms and twisted his trunk, then, bending in a squat, threw himself into the air, reaching up and out with his arms as if wanting to grab hold of the sky. He let out a shout, feeling the vigor of his young animal spirit.
Cecile had slept by fits and starts most of the night. She had heard Patricia's motorcycle and Jack's heavy steps on the stairs. And the quandary that had kept her awake was how she would face Edward Fox? How could she face him? What now did he think of her, the almost–mother of his best friend––kissing him––a stranger in the moonlight?
There was an odd tugging of conscience going on in her; feeling shame, yet able to smile, too; for there had been something about the freshness and spontaneity and mystery of that kiss and embrace which still lingered in spite of her shame. She had gone to him so willingly, quickly, with no thought as to what she was doing. She had yielded to the moment with that man, in that place, at that hour, gazing into his eyes and liking it. and how she wanted to be able to face him again feeling neither guilt nor shame. She wanted to transcend the limiting barriers of her life and rejoice in the memory of last night.
Cecile opened her eyes; her conscience was making her too uncomfortable. Slowly she got out of bed, untied her hair, shook it loose and went to the window to see what kind of day it was; and as she lifted the blinds, she was just in time to see Jack leaping into the air by the swimming pool. She smiled and was happy for him.
She started a bath and decided to wear her rose pattern dress for the day.
Edward, too, from habit, opened his eyes early, but paid no mind to his years of habit; he did, however, rise, remove his clothes and, at last, got under the covers of the comfortable bed and slept until almost noon when Jack knocked on his door and awakened him.
"Good, good morning and afternoon to the whole damn world!" said Jack in a loud, cheerful voice. "Come on, you old sack–out artist, time to rise and shine. I've been up for hours and I've had a swim and breakfast, the sun's nice and hot and I'm ready for the pool again. How about a dip before lunch, old chap?"
Edward had propped himself up on his pillows. "I see you haven't wasted much time in being home."
"You know me: live while you have a chance. How about that swim?"
"Sure; but I don't have any swimming trunks."
"Don't worry; you can borrow one of mine or go bare balls; there's no one around, except Gaby, and she's in the kitchen."
"Ok; bring me your extra trunks. By the way, when do we eat?"
"In about an hour."
Edward felt somewhat strained for those few moments of exchange with Jack; a night of mulling and a good sleep had not put his mind completely at ease; nevertheless, the ill–ease was there and he had to be honest with himself about it; after all, he'd reasoned: a man's home is his sanctuary. Yet another thing happened when he saw Jack: Jack made him think about Cecile and even while his heart pained him a little talking to his best friend, he wanted to see her and to be with her.
After their swim, they dried off, dressed and went to the patio table for lunch; and as they were finishing eating, Cecile returned home.
She had gone on a directionless drive up into the Santa Cruz hills. The day was clear; the crescent coastline of Monterey Bay stood out sharply, and one could see for miles out to sea; but she was oblivious to the panorama, for as she drove she was rehearsing in her mind how she would sit and talk privately with Edward and explain to him how it had been the wine, the excitement of Jack's return, the gift––even the moonlight. These rehearsed defenses seemed, at first, such perfectly good ones; but, upon further reflection, she had to admit that all the reasons she had isolated for the defense of her action were not (any of them) why she had kissed him. Had she not herself been so willing to that impetuous kiss and embrace? Painful as it was she had to admit, also, to herself that it was not impetuosity: she had wanted him, nay, longed for him all day.
She pulled her car off the road, got out and sat on some smooth, weathered stones and at last became fully aware of the day and its beauty; With her new awareness of the beautiful setting she was in, Cecile puzzled why she had been making so much out of nothing. "Just a fleeting caprice, a thing of the moment," she at last rationalized, convinced it was the truth and trying, at the same time, to brush away the memory of his kiss and embrace. "There, it's done," she said, letting out a breath of air. She felt better, maturer. Cecile was confident she could meet him face to face, and was eager to test this confidence.
As she drove back down the twisting roads, she wondered how many other women Edward Fox had held in his arms as he had held her?
Cheerfully, she walked into the house and saw the men on the patio. She greeted them, stood between them and put her hands on both their shoulders and asked how they had slept and about their lunch, and, making herself comfortable, she drank an after lunch cup of coffee which Gaby served them.
Cecile felt calm until her eyes and Edward's met; she felt a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach akin to stage fright; nonetheless, without losing control of her face muscles, she continued to chat with him. The feeling, however, passed, and so did, all the resolves she'd made earlier. In the back of her mind, moreover, she wondered if he had stayed awake the night agonizing, and did he feel gentle towards her? The answer to those questions became important to her. She tried to be quietly nonchalant, she was finding that difficult, however. The secretly tender looks Edward was exchanging with her made her completely drop her tensions and ready–made answers, finally allowing herself to just enjoy his company while she could, in whatever way she could.
The afternoon being agreeable, they basked in its warmth, lingering at the table. Gaby brought some fruit of the season.
"May I cut a pear for you, ma'am?" asked Edward of Cecile.
"Thank you, yes," she answered, pleased he had taken some personal interest in her; but she was also a little angry at herself for her not having thought of preparing a fruit for him.
Having cut the soft, deep yellow pear, Edward handed it to her on a glass dish with his two hands.
She remembered he had handed her her gift in that same way; she felt there was something subservient about that manner; yet, at the same time, she saw something generous and simple in his way. And she made a mental note to try handing something with two hands when next the occasion arose.
"Well, Aunt," said jack, pushing himself away from the table,"what would you say to a walk through the meadow to the stream and try a little crayfish fishing? Remember just before I enlisted the bucketful of them we caught?"
"Yes; I remember," she said gleefully, "do you still like to do those things, Jack?"
"Now more than ever," he answered, in a quiet, sincere voice, looking lovingly at her.
Jack's countenance, filled with filial love made her see that all his time away had not really changed him so much; they were not, after all, so estranged as she'd imagined they would be.
"I had planned to practice the harpsichord," she said, smiling and turning her eyes toward Edward for a second, "but crawdaddy fishing wins out; it's such a beautiful day and, who knows, maybe tomorrow winter will be back."
"Carpe diem, Auntie––let's do it," he said, then turning to Edward said, "I bet you never caught a crayfish, Ed."
"I don't think I've ever seen one," he answered lightheartedly..
"Splendid; I'll teach you all I know," said jack jocosely. "Ah, it's so good to be back, Auntie Cecile." He leaned next to her and, putting his arm around her shoulder, kissed her on the cheek.
Jack gathered the fishing gear from the garage and Edward went to his room to put on a pair of light khaki slacks and a short sleeved silk shirt, a present to himself purchased while on rest and recuperation leave in Hong Kong from the war in Viet Nam. That was when he finally concluded that his life was just one feeble step ahead of insanity because of the war; he'd stayed drunk most of that leave; he even had himself tattooed; and as he stood in front of the mirror he stared at his war–inspired tattoos; he was seldom conscious that he had them , but today he was sorry he had to carry them the rest of his life.
His shirt put on, he joined the others waiting for him.
In her hands Cecile held a bucket intended for the catch, but now it was filled half with ice and buried in the ice, a bottle of wine and three glasses.
"We might as well make a day of it," she said, holding up the bucket for Edward to see.
"Allow me, ma'am," and he took the bucket from her and carried it. He hated himself for the charade he had to play in front of Jack
Larks sang behind the bushes of the false spring day; and a hawk circled over the meadow in search of prey; insects flew and buzzed. The sun was still warm in its two o'clock position. Down a slope they went, just past the stand of oaks Edward had sat under the night before.
Further down the slope they stepped onto an old cow path stretching out in an elongated S which took them into a wood of madrones and laurels; a few pines grew therein standing out like tourists in an alien land. The stream lay to their right. They walked on the well–trodden path alongside the stream in silence listening to the sounds of the forest sanctuary, until a clearing spread out and the stream widened. On the farther side of the clearing where the stream once again narrowed, there grew a giant laurel tree, its old trunk thick with age, and its bark almost black. The old tree's heavy branches hung down as if in fatigue of having stood so many years in that same spot. Thither did they go, sitting under the aged laurel and each drank a glass of cool wine as they readied the fishing gear.
Jack, at the stream side, instructed the tyro, Ed.
"...and don't be too quick to haul in at your first nibble; let them get comfortable."
They cast their lines.
"I remember you telling me about this stream, Jack; but I never imagined I'd ever be here," said Edward in a soft voice.
"Now you're here and not any place else. Remember this time last year we were running through the jungle in Okinawa sweating our asses off? Ah, this is the life, eh, Ed?"
Edward recalled the jungle maneuvers Jack was making reference to; but Edward had been in the Far East on several duty tours and the tropical climate did not discomfort him as it had Jack, accustomed, as he was, to fogs and the mild climate of the northern California coast.
Suddenly Cecile called out, "I've got one!" and she hauled up on her pole. On the bait a crayfish, its tenacious claw unwilling to let go of the piece of meat which had lured it to capture.
"We'll have to take the wine and ice out of the bucket," said Cecile.
"I'll go," volunteered Edward. Back under the old tree, he looked around, found a stout stick and dug a hole into which he poured the ice, then reburied the wine and the glasses in the ice; he removed his shirt and put it over the ice to slow down its evaporation.
"Here," he said, bringing the empty bucket to Cecile. Now, she thought, was her opportunity: she took the bucket from his hands with her two hands and dipped it into the stream, and into the water filled bucket went the first crayfish and she hadn't felt at all subservient about using two hands.
Cecile could not help noticing Edward's fine physique, the scars on his belly and the tattoos on his arms.
On his left arm was a red dragon clutching a sword in its claws; and on his right arm, facing here, were the two words: "DIE WELL."
She had seen many tattoos in her life far more grotesque than what she was seeing on Edward's biceps; but she was curious as to the significance of the two word phrase.
"Edward, would you mind if I asked you what those tattooed words mean?"
"I don't mind at all, ma'am."
She didn't like it when he called her ma'am; there was something neutralizing in that innocuously, mannerly word for her; but she knew that was his own style of politeness and she respected him for it.
"Die well? Why on earth did you have that pricked into you?"
"Why not die well? It's that simple. Anyway, I was drunk when I had it done," he said, almost apologetically.
"But why remind yourself of dying every time you dress yourself?"
He thought for a moment before answering her.
"It's not so much a reminder. That we die is inevitable, so there's no need to be reminded of it; daily existence is reminder enough; but as long as death is inevitable, you might as well go out knowing that your death, or rather the clear realization of its imminence is ok with you; that it's all right to die and not caring whether or not you've reached some goal or have fulfilled your life's dream, or, think you've found some secret of life. That's dying well." He stopped, straightened his back, took a deep breath and continued: "I don't think you could ever understand what it means to know everyday someone is trying to kill you, and, at the same time, you want to murder that someone, too, because he's after you; it's a vicious circle; it got kind of blurred for me after a while in Viet Nam; my head was really scrambled until one day, while my squad was waiting in ambush, I decided to give up my life, surrender to death. I didn't care whether I lived or died that day. When I did that, every thing inside me changed; and when the bullets stopped flying and we went around counting bodies, I couldn't understand why I'd ever been afraid of death when being alive was mostly suffering, anyway. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry..." and as he said those words Cecile saw his face change into a smile, a smile which touched her deeply and made her understand something, however little, about death and how to face it.
"Die well," she said.
"Die well," echoed Edward, softly.
And with those words it was as if a pledge had been exchanged between these two whose spirits were reaching out to one another in space like two ribbons of silver rippling banner–like in a wind.
"I don't suppose you'd fight in another war––or would you?"
"I can't answer that. I'm still not sure why I fought in the last one," he said honestly.
Cecile nodded her head in quiet understanding.
Edward took out a cigarette, lit it and inhaled deeply.
"Will you give me a cigarette, please?" asked Cecile.
Edward gave her one.
Jack, who had been sitting quietly, of a sudden turned and faced Cecile: :"Auntie Cecile!" he called in mock surprise, "when did you start smoking again? I thought you'd written me you'd quit last Christmas?"
"I started smoking again just now," she said, accepting a light from the tall flame of Edward's steel lighter. She inhaled the tobacco smoke and became light–headed; but by the end of the quiet smoke, she had recovered her old habit.
The fishing went well; and by the time Jack called for a break under the tree for some wine, the bucket held several crayfish.
Edward removed his shirt from the ice filled hole and put it back on; the shirt was cool and moist on his back. Cecile poured the wine; they drank; she smoked another cigarette.
"I saw you from my window leaping into the air at the pool this morning, Jack: what were you doing?"
"I was paying homage to my joi de vivre, Auntie."
They all laughed heartily.
"Jack's a good pal to me just for that," said Edward, "I guess that's your greatest quality, Jack: your expression of joy at the littlest thing, and kind of horselaughing at the world which has taken itself too seriously."
Jack listened and felt an awkward shyness at his friend's compliment.
"You've described him beautifully, Edward; only I think he's gotten bolder," said Cecile.
Jack grinned at his aunt, took her hand and gave it a kiss.
"He's an inspiration to me," continued Edward, "sometimes, I forget to laugh, and this one," indicating Jack with a raising of his wineglass, "always manages to get a chuckle out of me at my most serious moments."
"I hope you can liven up the atmosphere around here, Jack. We do lead a rather uninteresting life being forever surrounded by all those blunderbusses of professors at Redwood––always so correct and proper and learned to the point of boredom. Either my toleration has worn thin, or, those old cranks have gotten worse; I don't know, but..."
"My, my Auntie, the wine has loosened your tongue. Watch out, Ed, she's ready to unleash her tirade against academia."
Cecile blushed; it was true; she had drunk a lot of wine, more than the men.
"No; no tirade from me. Forgive me, both of you. Though, I do admit, it's a pet peeve of mine, to put it mildly; but I'll not bore you. Let's drink more wine and catch more crawdaddies. I had Gaby modify the dinner menu, so we are expected to bring back half the dinner," she said, thoroughly delighted with herself for having gotten a little tipsy.
When the bucket was heavy with crayfish, and the wine all gone, the three walked through the half mystery of the sun's fading light, and returned to the house; once there, Jack cheerfully, and with the command of a seasoned chef, took charge of the preparation of the catch, much to the amusement of Gaby and the others.
Later, as Cecile was dressing, the telephone rang; she answered the ring on the other end was Jason.
"Cecile, Raymond Gould just called me and wants me to go to San Francisco this evening for a very important conference."
"All the way to San Francisco at this hour? Couldn't he have told you over the phone? We went to the stream and caught a bucket full of crawdaddies, and Jack's down in the kitchen preparing them. Can't you call Gould back and talk?
There was levity in her voice and she Knew Jason liked crawfish; Jason, nonetheless, was irritated.
"Cecile, the Regent's Chairman does not call me on such short notice for a private talk out of whimsy, if it were not most important." He emphasized the "most."
"But Gould always makes things sound more important than what they really are."
Jason breathed heavily into the receiver.
"I don't know what time I'll be back. I just may spend the night in the city. "I'm sorry I can't be there for the festivities."
"In that case, call to let us know, one way or the other and we'll keep dinner in the warmer and wait up for you."
"On second thought, that won't be necessary. I think I'll spend the night in San Francisco. Gould can put me up. Don't bother to wait up for me."
"Ok, darling," she said out of long years of habit. "Then we'll be seeing you back Saturday morning."
"Yes. Very well, goodbye."
Cecile hung up the phone. She didn't feel differently that Jason would spend the night away from home.
She finished dressing and looked at herself in the mirror; she shook her head. "This simply won't do," she said, unzipping the conventional navy blue dress she wore, and, stepping out of it, she hung it back on the rack in her closet and re–examined her wardrobe. She hesitated, then picked a white evening skirt and a white blouse with long lace cuffs and lace at the neck; as she adjusted the neck lace, she looked again at herself in the mirror; her hair, this time, displeased her. She let fall the bun on the back of her head; she brushed her dark hair until it hung down past her shoulders. She gathered her long hair halfway down and tied a slender, black velvet ribbon around it and let the hair fall.
"There, that's ever so much better," she said, seeing without vanity how handsome she was in the mirror.
And barefooted, she went from her room.
Patricia and Jack found Cecile at the harpsichord; she was playing the Dandini sonata.
"Your father called, dear; he's had to drive up to San Francisco to meet with the regent's Chairman, and he'll be staying the night. He said he'd be too tired to drive back tonight," said Cecile, after the brief sonata ended.
"Daddy works so hard," said Patty almost sadly.
Cecile did not answer, but turned to Jack: "Where's Edward?" she asked, noticing his absence.
"He's gone into town; he said he needed to buy some cigarettes."
"But I heard no car and I would have heard the motorcycle," said Cecile, a bit disappointed he was not in the house.
"He took Jack's bicycle," said Patty.
"But that's over ten miles round trip," said Cecile with surprise in her voice.
"That's nothing for Ed, Aunt Cecile. I urged him to take the bike, otherwise he would have walked; he likes to walk, that guy. He left his sincerest apologies and said we should start dinner without him. I think he just wanted to be alone for a while. I'm all ready in the kitchen; the water is boiling, the butter sauce is made and those crawfish will cook in just a few minutes, so I'm for eating."
"But shouldn't we wait anyway?" said Cecile, in earnest politeness toward her guest. Somehow it would be rude to start without him." She was like that.
"Eddy wouldn't mind at all if we started without him; he won't be offended, Aunt, believe me; I know him."
"Well, if that's so, let's all go to the kitchen and watch you cook, chef. Weren't we so lucky to have had such a good day, Jack?" she said, taking his arm, and leading the way to the kitchen.
They were each eating the delicious crayfish when they heard the connecting door from the garage open and heard footsteps. Edward appeared in the door of the dinning room; his cheeks and nose were red from the cold; his hair glistened with the wetness of perspiration. Under his arm was an ordinary brown grocery bag tied with string. He nodded to Cecile and was about to speak when Jack interrupted:––
"Welcome back, partner; you're not too late; have a seat and chow down."
"With pleasure, I'm hungry; I need to take a hot shower first. The weather sure has changed since this afternoon; it was pretty cold on the way back."
"Here, Jack, pour him a glass of wine; and you, Edward, drink it down; it will put some warmth into you; we can't have you catching a cold," said Cecile with matronly concern and authority.
"Thanks; that's very thoughtful of you," said Edward, drawing closer to the table and, taking the glass of wine from Jack, drank it in three swallows with great gusto; and, putting the glass down, he stepped back and let out a protracted "Ahh," of contentment, "'I'm warming up already. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be down as soon as possible."
Edward stepped out of the shower, dried himself and ran a comb through his short hair and dressed. He broke the string around the paper bag withdrawing two cartons of cigarettes. One he put on his dresser, the other he took with him and went downstairs.
"I bought these for you," said Edward, handing the carton to Cecile in his usual manner.
"But, Mom," said Pat in surprise, "you don't smoke!"
"She was corrupted again today," said Jack, grinning.
Patricia frowned disapprovingly at her mother and Edward.
Cecile calmly wiped her hands on her napkin, and, with two hands, received the gift of cigarettes.
"Thank you," she said, "how thoughtful; you've saved me a trip to town.
"My pleasure, Mrs. Stoddard. I hope you won't be angry with me, Patty, for buying her the cigarettes."
"Oh, no, Ed. Why should I be angry?" answered Patricia, feigning indifference, but he knew she was not being truthful.
Edward took his place at the table and Cecile herself served him. He ate the crayfish with zest. The meat was tender, sweet, and the butter and garlic sauce blended in so well with the new taste and texture in his mouth. He drank lots of wine and felt very much at home in close company to his comrade–in–arms and the woman who gently brushed his hand when she served him some salad.
After dinner they sat around the table drinking the last of the wine. Cecile broke open the carton of cigarettes and leisurely smoked from an open pack.
Gaby came in and cleared away the dishes.
"I'll take care of coffee and dessert, Gaby," said Cecile.
"Very well, ma'am, thank you. I've already set the coffee service in the living room and started a fire. It's really gotten cold within the last hour."
"It was sweet of you to think of the fire, Gaby." Cecile thought for a moment. "I'll tell you what: in honor of Jack and Edward's homecoming, take Saturday off." She felt good about giving Gaby the day off for the little, unexpected things she did which sometimes Cecile failed to commend, or, took for granted.
"But, ma'am, I can't take Saturday off; that's when I do all the shopping for the week."
"Don't worry about the shopping; I'll take care of it; just leave me your list and you go to Monterey and visit your family."
"I'll do that, ma'am. Thank you," said Gaby, genuinely touched.
"Well, shall we not gather around the fire and have our dessert?" said Cecile, rising from the dinner table and taking her cigarettes with her.
Jack and Edward carried more logs from the garage and put them in a large, concave, copper log dish next to the fireplace. The burning oak logs gave off a comfortable warmth and took the dampness out of the night air.
Outside, a thick fog arose from the sea, crawling out of the bay, rising, tumbling over the hills it came covering everything: traffic started to slow and gradually disappear from the streets; few people walked in the heavy mist; distinctions were a burden to the eye; forms were either swallowed up beyond recognition, or, distorted into phantasmagoric shapes. Huge walls of mist blocked out night lights and animals hurried to their burrows and nests seeking refuge from the cold, fog–engulfed night.
From a Neapolitan coffee pot Cecile poured strong black coffee while Patty cut a white cake into slices and served all around. They sat in front of the fire on cushions, all except Cecile, who felt more comfortable in a chair. The coffee was good, so was the cake which they ate with relish, especially Edward, who was beginning to feel comfortable in a milieu which, until his arrival in Santa Cruz, was unknown to him
"Jack," said Patricia, who had finished eating her cake first, "you never wrote much while you were gone. Did all that time overseas help you get your act together? Are you going to return to Redwood and finish your degree? All your former classmates have graduated and they are probably very successful."
"God, Patty, you sound just like your father," answered Jack in an exasperated voice. He did not like the smugness of his cousin's voice and cared little about the alleged success his former classmates might have achieved. "So what if my old college chums are, as you say, 'successful.' Who cares? I wouldn't give you a nickle for every degree that college granted. I got a degree from the U.S. Marines––it says: Honorable Discharge––that's degree enough for me. I don't need a scrap of paper from Redwood––it's just not important."
"Not important! But how will you get by? Sooner or later you'll have to get a job. Then what will you do?"
"Be a garbage collector," he said to shock her. "I certainly don't need an academic degree to live and work. You're assuming that because of a degree one is on one's way to all the good things in life. That's narrow, artificial and just plain bullshit."
Patty winced at Jack's scatological derision of her ideal––her future degree. Cecile frowned at Jack because of his audacious statements, but she had to admit to a smile as her sentiments were with his argument, but not his presentation of it.
"Well I don't think it's what you say it is, " retorted patricia, somewhat haughtily because of the insult she felt.
"Easy does it, cousin; it's not the end of the world if someone holds a view different than yours; you're really your father's daughter. Fine, you want a degree, get one; take as many degrees as you want and enjoy them; if you can. But it's not for me and I don't see any value in degrees nor in the process of getting one."
"No value! Well, you've certainly changed, and I think you're crazy for not wanting to go back to school––that's all I've got to say," she pursed her lips and snapped her head upward. "But if you're not going back to school, what are you going to do with your life?'
"Do? I'm living my life right now."
"That's silly," answered Patty, and the cousins' row continued, much to the unshown amusement of Cecile watching her children and seeing how differently they were and saw the too early–acquired stuffiness of Patricia all too clearly. It amused her, however, because she saw Jack as her knight squaring off with the world she'd come to distrust.
"You and I, dear cousin, have a fundamental difference in how we view things. As for me, my life is going on all the time; you, on the other hand, see your life as a series of: after I've done thus and so, I'll be able to live." Patty made to speak, but Jack continued. "There's no reason to deny or defend; you know that's how you think. We four are sitting here and I'm alive, experiencing this room and everything in it and what I might or might not do tomorrow or next week or next year or the rest of my isn't any more important than what I'm doing right now. Four years ago I was a college student, then a Marine; now I'm a civilian again; but no where along the line did I think I would really begin to live after a, b or c happend."
"That's weird. You don't believe in the future." Patricia felt uneasy and turned to Edward.
"Ed, do you agree with this wacky cousin of mine?" she said, trying to find an ally.
"With most of it," he said, not really wanting to get involved with her sophomoric and naive outlook.
The expression on Patty's face melted into boredom, and for a moment she was not pretty. She looked nervously at her watch. "It's getting late and I've got to go to the library tomorrow and start studying for my exam next Tuesday. Goodnight, Mom," she said, getting up and dutifully giving her mother a fast kiss on her cheek.
"Goodnight, darling. Don't spend all your time in the library. I was thinking that after shopping we could all go for a drive down the coast in the afternoon."
"I'll have to take a rain check. I've got six chapters to review. Anyway, didn't you notice, the fog's set in? It always does after these freaky hot days. Goodnight, guys." She walked from the room giving a perfunctory wave of her hand as she disappeared through the door.
"I think you're right about your not wanting a degree, Jack," said Cecile, soon after Patty was gone, "but I didn't want to say anything while she was here. Patty's rather sensitive about her academic success; you can see for yourself how hard she studies. She is really a diligent student. I think it's commendable. Still, she does have a point: what are your plans?"
"I have none, Auntie. I did think I'd get a place of my own; of course I'll have to earn some bucks, though I could dip into some of my inheritance; but I don't want to do that, yet. I've got some money saved from the service. Don't worry. I know you're concerned about what's going to happen to me, frankly, I'm not, worried. I really mean that."
"But surely you can't live by chance, on a day to day basis. You've got to have some focal point."
"Maybe I'll become a lense grinder. How's that for being in focus?" he said, impishly.
"John Player Martin, you are an incorrigible rascal," replied Cecile in mock anger. "Tell me, Edward, whatever am I to do with this rogue?"
"I don't know what to do with him either, just keep loving him, I guess," he answered, chuckling and giving Jack a friendly push on the shoulder.
"Oh well," rejoined Cecile, as in capitulation, "Che sera, sera. She turned to Edward and asked: "And what of your life, now that you're a civilian?"
Edward hadn't expected that question and was hard put for an answer. There was, however, his amusing daydream of himself feeding chickens; it was with that recollection, therefore, that he blurted out: "Maybe I'll take up farming," he answered with a smile, and then, more seriously, "I don't think I'm fit to have any kind of job; I don't want any more bosses; aside from being a jack–of–all–trades, I don't have any one thing I can call a trade except, of course, infantryman. There's bound to be land for sale in this county; maybe even an old farm. I saved a lot of money in my sixteen years of service. I could use it to make a down payment on a place."
"But you just said you have no particular skill. How can you possibly become a farmer?"
Edward looked Cecile gently in the eyes, "I'll learn."
"A point well taken," she answered softly. "If you're serious, I can introduce you to a land agent of my acquaintance. I'm sure there must be an old farm somewhere in this county that's for sale."
"You see, Ed, what did I tell you? She's a jewel."
Cecile raised her eyebrows. "What has this scamp been saying about me?" she asked in a light, curious tone.
Did she really want an answer, asked Edward of himself? He could respond in any number of ways, for Jack had sung her praises many times.
"He said a lot of things. What I remember most was that you were kind and loving and forgiving and flexible––and you hadn't lost your sense of humor."
"Really. He said all those things? That was sweet of Jack. Maybe I'm a few of those things––sometimes––but I don't know if I'm flexible. Maybe what he sees as flexibility is simply resignation. I'm not, really,: she said, turning to Jack, "I've lived a rather rigid, conventional live, if I do say so myself. I guess the only thing that has saved me from being a carbon copy of most of the people I've known is that," she said, pointing her long, slender finger at the harpsichord on the other side of the room. She let drop her hand, slowly. "Why come to think of it, all I've ever managed to do is play that thing," she added, tossing her head in the direction of her instrument.
And with those words, she had the sudden realization of how empty was her life. She became quiet, reflective and detached from the company of Jack and Edward; they too, were quiet because of the strength of her silence. No one moved.
Cecile closed her eyes; for a moment she wished she wasn't who she was and wanted to be away in some quiet place with someone: Edward. With that thought she felt a tingling of hidden desire course through her.
Jack dozed in this silence, then awakened. "Excuse me, but I'm turning in; I've had too long a day and I nodded off just now," he said, not wanting to disturb his aunt's silence too much. He got up, bent down and kissed Cecile. "Good nigh, Auntie; see you in the morning, Eddy."
Cecile opened her eyes. "Have a good rest, dear," and she took his hand and held it for a moment, then let it go.
"Good night, Jack," said Edward.
They were alone. She closed her eyes again. When she heard the click of Edward's steel lighter, she opened her eyes feeling tense at being alone with him, in spite of her earlier romantic admission of the desire for this very thing.
She felt she had to be active.
"Would you like to hear the Bach, now? I've been practicing," she said in a somewhat nervous voice.
"Yes; please, I've been looking forward to hearing it," he answered, following her with his eyes across the room, watching her body sway inside the long white skirt.
She let joy run through her fingers as they found the keys which opened the Aria of the great work of variations. She played only for Edward, and she smiled at that admission. Her cheeks flushed, her neck, too; she felt the blood warm under her skin; her rose flush did not go unnoticed by Edward, who watched her very closely.
He shook his head. "This won't do," he said, his voice breaking the spell of the music and Cecile's rapture.
Abruptly she stopped playing.
"What did you say?'
"This won't do."
"What won't do?"
"You, me, Cecile."
"What on earth are you talking about?" she asked, aware that he had called her by her first name for the first time.
"Last night, you and I out on the patio. I've been waiting to say something to you."
"Feel free to speak about whatever you feel," she said, standing and leaving the harpsichord. She sat in her chair; she took a cigarette and he lit it for her.
He had waited for this moment to break their forced, daylong silence on the matter he had mulled over much of the day. At moments he positively enjoyed having taken her in his arms and holding her for that precious, stolen kiss; he had also had his moments of doubt about his loyalty to Jack and the uncertain, emergent feelings he had for Cecile; this dilemma made him feel uncomfortable and guilty. He looked at her askance saying, "I feel there's a kind of electricity between us. I've felt it ever since I laid eyes on you at the airport, and there's no telling what's to come of it and I think before it goes any further we ought to stop."
"We've done nothing untoward."
"You make a silly kiss into––I don't know what."
"It was no silly kiss and you it. Also, I'm a guest in this house and I don't want to be part of something which might turn Jack against me."
Cecile, stung by the bluntness of his voice and words, nevertheless, was calm. She stared at him and a voice escaped from her mouth, a voice which she had never heard before: "no one will ever know unless we tell them, and I shall never tell anyone. Why would I?"
That new voice was assured of what it had said, was confident of its intent. Edward listened to that voice and it had not a little effect on him.
"But you're married––my best friend's aunt, and I'm younger than you."
"You let me worry about those obstacles," she said, shocking herself at her own words, but saying them quietly and looking at him with soft eyes.
"Play the Bach for me from the beginning," he said. His voice was almost like a command. Now she understood why he had been a sergeant. Willingly she yielded to his words.
Once again at the keyboard, she began the variations. Cecile, re–infused with her initial inspiration played the Bach with pleasure and thrilled in his rhythms and harmonies.
For her music was a certainty, a fixed foundation, unchangeable; it gave her form, convention and confirmed termination, all of which had been so important to her. Yet there was this evening the beginning of an awakening in her, casting doubt on these values she held; and she knew she had to do something.
The music filled their souls. For a while it cast out all the contradictory voices in their heads; the music had the power to disassociate their thoughts from the material world, leading them into an unsullied, ethereal, inner world of private reflections where status and rank and all social differences were rendered meaningless by the profound force of Bach's harmonies.
Came the last phrases of the Aria da Capo, the last note, and the variations were over. The room was awesomely silent. Edward sat looking at her. He could not speak for the power the music still had over him. His face, as she saw it, showed an unveiled tranquility; in a flash of insight she believed she understand the message of his two word tattoo which now seemed to radiate explanation through his tranquil state.
"Die well," she said.
Edward met her halfway across the room and took her in his arms and held her; her head fell on his neck; he could feel her most lips on his skin.
Cecile was happy he was not speaking.
Together they walked to the couch; Edward gently pushed her down while he knelt on the floor by her, cradling the back of her head.
"Jack must never know."
"He will never know," answered Cecile.
"And I must leave this house. I won't stay here after tonight."
"If that is your wish."
"It must be that way."
Their lips touched with the same fervency and hunger as when they had kissed that first time. Their hands now touched those secret places of pleasure and their naked flesh felt no shame in the chill of the damp winter night. There was jubilation in her as his body penetrated the chambers of love and life, of pain and pleasure. In him and the dance they danced was a physical completeness she had never known before.
They stayed together a long time. When, however, she parted from him in the late hours of the morning, there was a sadness in her heart for the loss of him and for the years she had never known him. She fell asleep in her own bed holding her hand upon her breast as he had done.
The fog which had settled the night before was still hanging heavily in the air the next morning. It hung low, smothering everything. It was a thick, unmoving fog, trapped by the windless day, stretching up and down the coast for miles, hiding the shoreline from those at sea, but the land dwellers could walk the ghost beaches and squint and see the faintly lapping waves; and the foghorns in the bay droned their mournful, monotonous sound incessantly.
Edward had not gone to bed. Returned to his room after leaving Cecile, he showered and tossed and turned on the bed for an hour or so; but his restlessness would not let him sleep. Dressing warmly, he quietly let himself out of the house and took the road to Santa Cruz. After a long walk, a grey dawn found him at some cliffs above the bay.
A few early morning cars passed him, their headlights but a dim glow in the shroud of fog. He walked along the edge of the cliffs. Opposite the cliff, on the other side of the black–topped road, Edward could make out the wooden houses trapped in the fog. On one house something caught his eye: a large, orange sign with bold black letter announcing "FOR RENT." Below the bold letters was a telephone number. Edward walked around the house and peered into its partially furnished rooms. The lighting was bad, but he could see a fireplace and that, more than anything else, convinced him he should try to rent the house. Returning to the front, he scrutinized and memorized the telephone number on the sign. The long walk had stimulated his appetite; he would find some place to eat and then call the number.
As he walked towards the downtown area, he paused in front of a grocery store not far from the empty house and read its name on the still glowing neon sign, "Pleasure Point Market." He liked the name, Pleasure Point, and walking away, he fantasized of languid days on the beach, perhaps even some surf fishing.
On the mall downtown, Edward found a breakfast restaurant which was open and he ordered something to eat.
His appetite was satisfied and as he drank the last of his coffee he looked around the crowded restaurant until he spied a public telephone. At the phone he looked up the Stoddard's number in the phone book, then called.
"Good morning, Cecile; this is Edward."
"Edward! Where are you calling from?" she asked, amazed at hearing his voice, for she thought him upstairs, sleeping.
"I'm calling from a restaurant downtown; I've just finished having breakfast, and I thought I should call and let the house know where I am. I didn't want you and Jack to think I'd disappeared.
"I thought you would be in your room. Is something wrong?"
"Everything is ok. I couldn't sleep, so I went for a walk, and, by a stroke of luck, I found a place I want to rent. I'll be talking to the owner in a while."
"Oh," she said, sadly; but she knew it would have to be thus. "Shall I ask Jack to go down and pick you up with the car?"
"Yes; I'd like that. Is he up?"
"No; but I can wake him."
"Let him sleep.. I'll call after I've negotiated with the owner. How are you feeling, Cecile?"
"Very well, thank you," she said politely, almost too politely, she reflected. It was strange talking to him at such a distance, when only a few hours before they had known such deep intimacy; but she felt a little self–conscious and her politeness tried to cover this self–consciousness.
"I guess the coast will be fogged in for the rest of the day. That scotches our drive," said Edward, happy to be speaking with her.
"Yes; I guess it will. The fog's as thick as pea soup up here," she said, smiling, feeling closer to him. "Shall I tell Jack you've found a place, or will you tell him? He's going to be disappointed."
"I may not get the place; but you can tell him, anyway. I'll talk to him later." He wanted to say sweet things to her, but he didn't know how to, so, instead he said, "I'm going now; I'll call back in a while."
"Good luck with the house. Oh, where is it?"
"I think the area is called Pleasure Point. I'll give you the details when I see you. Goodbye."
"Goodbye," said Cecile.
Edward dialed the memorized number and an old woman with a friendly voice answered and Edward and Mrs. Gunn, the owner, talked for almost fifteen minutes before she invited him over to her house.
Once at her house, it was another hour of light chatter before Edward got the house.
Back at the restaurant, Edward shook the keys of his new domicile in rhythm with the ringing bell of the Stoddard telephone.
"Hey, you early bird, what's this I hear about you finding a place. How come? I thought you'd stay here for a week or so."
"Come down and pick me up and I'll explain it all to you. I'll be at the Bubble Cafe. Know where that is?"
"Ya; Ok; see you in a while. I'll have to drive slowly in this fog, though."
Edward hung up the receiver and waited in front of the cafe. The fog, in the windless morning, and the smoke from his cigarette, could not be distinguished from each other. The air was heavy with dampness; the cigarette burned slowly. A chill went through his shoulders and he fastened the collar of his shirt and zipped up his jacket for warmth.
Walkers passed him, their footfalls muffled, their voices almost whispers; but the far off drone of the foghorns seemed to be everywhere.
Jack steered the car to the curb where Edward stood.
"Hop in," he said.
The car's radio was on, and a Dixieland trumpet disturbed the eerie silence of the fog. The car door closed with an unusually dull–sounding thud, and Jack slowly drove away.
"What's this all about, Ed? You feeling uncomfortable with me and my family?' There was hurt in his voice.
"Have you eaten yet?"
"Have I eaten? What the hell kind of question is that?"
"Well, if I remember correctly, you are always in a more receptive mood after you've eaten. You sound miffed, Jack. Look, I know it may seem I'm bugging out on you, but I did come here to settle down, right?"
"So now I've found a house at Pleasure Point and I'm going to settle down; it's that simple. Anyway, we'll be neighbors," he added in a cheery voice, but in his heart he knew that what he said was only half true, and he hated himself for deceiving his good friend. "I'd like to have a place of my own, Jack. It's kind of a strain on me just sitting around up at your place when I could be in my own house." That was his lie and he had to live with it.
"But you've got to admit it's kind of sudden. I just want to make sure it's nothing I, or my family, have done to make you feel uncomfortable."
"No; not anything like that. I"ve been treated like a prince at your house. We're still pals, Jack," he said, slapping Jack on the shoulder and rubbing the back of his neck, as a way of assuaging his guilt, "anyway, now I'll be able to really kick back and give my life a good think. Listen, I've got a fireplace, the house has a porch with a terrific view––when there's no fog. What a jewel of a find. You must know the area."
"Sure do. I did a lot of surfing at Pleasure Point in my high school days; and you, you crazy s.o.b., you walked all the way there from the house––and in this fog! Eddy, you are still one of the most intrepid men I've ever run across."
"That's nice of you to say so," responded Edward, happy that Jack was accepting of his leaving so abruptly; nevertheless, knowing the explanation was not completely true made him feel wretched for having lied. He had never lied to Jack, and to soothe his conscience he said, "Come for dinner tomorrow night, Jack; ok?"
"I'll be there with a couple of bottles of local wine."
"Are there lots of grapes in this county?" asked Edward, to ease away from the topic at hand.
"Lots; and wineries with big vineyards."
"I'd like to visit a winery. If the weather is clear tomorrow, we cold go to one. What do you say?"
"Sounds good; the nearest vineyard i know of is about six or so miles from where you'll be living."
"That's a good walk. How about it? We'll walk to the vineyard from my house, walk back, then have dinner. We can make a day of it."
"Didn't you get enough walking in the infantry? How about bicycles? I've got two of them; and the one you rode last night I'm giving to you as a coming home present. Fuck all this walking, man."
Edward burst into a loud laugh; the tension he'd been feeling was broken. "Ok, Corporal, no more walking; bikes it will be. I'll take mine when I move my bags. Thanks for the present. I'll make good use of it."
A visit to a vineyard and a winery had a pleasant ring for Edward.
Cecile had coffee ready and was making breakfast for Jack when Jason drove into the driveway.
"We're in the kitchen, Jason," called Cecile, hearing him come into the house. She wondered at the calm of her voice.
Jason's clothes were a bit wrinkled and his morning beard stood out like short bristles on some beast's face. "Good morning," he said, gruffly, as he took a seat at the table and mumbled greetings to Jack and Edward.
"Would you care for some breakfast, Jason?" asked Cecile.
"No; just coffee. Driving in that fog exhausted me. I've never seen fog so bad; it almost makes me angry to think it took me almost three hours to get here, where normally I can make it in about an hour and a half; fog is a damn nuisance," he pouted.
"We've had to cancel a ride down the coast, ourselves, because of it," said Jack.
All the time Edward sat calmly, drinking coffee and smoking. He studied Jason's profile and found it grotesque, reminding him of a gargoyle in weathered stone.
Cecile served coffee all around and set Jack's breakfast before him.
"How was your meeting with Gould?" Cecile asked.
"Well worth the trip, in spite of the lure of crawfish." Jason was trying to be funny; but Cecile didn't hear his humor; she heard his remark as sarcasm; and there it remained.
"Would you care to tell me about it?" she politely asked him.
"With pleasure," he said, smugly. "Mister Gould and I have been talking for some time about bringing to Redwood College a science research center, and with it, the best scientific minds we can buy, and he has found a way to bring our vision to fruition. There's group willing to endow us with enough funds to get started. Gould has already discussed the matter privately with the other members of the board and their responses, thus far, have been favorable. This is a golden opportunity for us," he ended with a gleam of the future in his eyes.
"But Redwood was founded as a school of arts and letters; that's its claim to fame, Jason," Cecile said, very surprised at this news, for until now, Jason had never mentioned this abrupt turn about in policy and philosophy for Redwood College.
"Yes; but times have changed. We live in a fast–moving economic and technological age; thre's no time for art or sitting back and pondering. We must move with the dynamic of the times, and move quickly before someone else beats us to it."
"There's always time for art and pondering––as you call it, besides, the states' schools have vast research centers."
"You're still a dreamer, living in the dark ages, Cecile," he said, and then stopped short, for Jason became acutely aware (out of the corner of his eye) of Edward, and Jason resented a stranger at his table just now, for obligating him to be a good host and not argue with the hostess in the guest's presence. Nevertheless, Jason wanted to lift his voice in argument in favor of his brand of progress as opposed to Cecile's ideals, which to him, lay stopped somewhere in a weak, romantic idyll contrary to his dynamic ideas of growth and expansion.
"Nonetheless, we'll be getting the money and I'll help see that it goes where it's supposed to go."
"Edward has found a place to live at Pleasure Point," said Cecile, seeing no reason to pursue the topic she knew he was so ready to defend.
Jason nodded his head in Edward's direction and drank another sip of coffee.
"You'll be needing beddng and towels, Edward. I'm sure we can spare some," said she, wanting to transfer her energy to something positive.
"The stores are open today," he answered, "so I'll shop for the things I'll need; thanks just the same, Mrs.stoddard."
The Mrs. caught in his throat; it was almost as if it were a word of profanity. Edward felt suppressed and uncomfortable, but he let go of the momentary felings as he looked into Cecile's eyes which reminded them both of their secret.
"If you'd like, Jack and I will give you a hand with setting up the house. You are most fortunte to have found one partially furnished. Since I've given Gaby the day off and I've got to do the shopping, we can all shop together."
He could not refuse the offer of spending the day together, even if it was only for shopping. "Thank you," he avoided using her name, "I'll have a lot of things to buy. There is one thing, though: I noticed a phonograph in your garage; would it put you out if I borrowed it for a while, I'd like to buy some records and listen to music."
"What do you think, Jason? We never use it," said Cecile.
"Certainly, certainly," he responded, not caring one way or the other and wondered why she had bothered to ask him in the first place.
"Great, thank you. The furnishings are almost complete; and now, if you'll excuse me, I'll go pack my bag." Edward rose and left the kitchen.
"How about you, Jack: are you moving out today, too?" asked Jason, very directly.
"How do you mean that, Uncle?" replied Jack, a big grin on his face.
Jason did not like that grin; it was mocking and showed disrespect and arrogance towards his person.
"Just a question of curiosity, Nephew," he said, not caring to speak upon the question any more. "I think I'll shower and shave."
Jason lifted his hulk out from the breakfast nook and walked away.
Inside Edward's small house voices echoed in the partially furnished rooms; the house was clean, airy and had the sun been shining, the front rooms would have been flooded in golden sunlight. The putting away of the household basics Edward had purchased did not take long. Cecile helped him while Jack carried in a box of phonograph records and the phnograph then plugged in the machine.
Water was put to perk inside the new coffee pot and soon there was coffee and cheese and crackers in new cups and on new dishes which Cecile gladly volunteered to wash as another present to Edward. Sitting around the kitchen table, they partook of the first fare offered in Edward's house with a clink of their coffee cups toasting his new residence.
Edward went to the phonograph intending to play one of the records he'd purchased and opened his eyes wide at the box filled with record albums from Cecile's collection, some of which he had seen at the house, but was seeing for the first time here as a surprise gift for him. He dropped to kis knee, forgetting all about his own purchases and read the titles; his hands stopped at Ravel's Daphne et Chloe Suite.
"This ought to put some sunshine into us," he said, turning his voice towards his guests. What he really wanted to do was take Cecile in his arms and hug her closely and thank her in the hundred ways of love for the gift of music. But all he could do was smile and display his thanks in guarded terms; and she, knowing well his restrictions, accepted his conventional words as so many kisses, so many hours alone in their nascent, strange and awkward relationship.
The music floated in the atmosphere dispelling, for a while the gloom–grey of the fog. The ethereal voices of the Suite's chorus made light the hearts of the three listeners; their spirits rose as they ate and listened to the polyphonies of the long–dead Frenchman.
When the music ended, Cecile looked at her watch.
"Jack I've got to go and bring the groceries home and start dinner. Patty must be back from the library by now and knowing her, she's not eaten all day and is probably ravenous."
"Ok, Auntie, I'm ready. So, Eddy, I'll get up at the crack of dawn––just for you––and pedal down."
"Oh," said Cecile, "have you two something planned?"
"We're going to cycle to a winery Jack said is nearby. Would you like to go with us?" asked Edward.
She was glad he'd asked her.
"I'll see," came her reply, not wishing to display too much eagerness in front of Jack.
"Do you think you're up to cycling six miles to and from the Clementi Winery, Aunt Cecile?"
"I don't know. I think my fingers are stronger than my legs," she responded, trying to make light her hidden excitement; but she wanted to be with Edward alone. "You two go; and now, Jack we'd better be going.
"See you tomorrow, Ed."
"So long, Jack."
The three of them walked to the car; Jack started the motor.
"Wait; I've forgotten my scarf," Cecile said. So saying, she opened the car door. "I'll just be a minute, Jack. Did you see where I left it, Edward?"
"No; but we'll find it."
Once in the kitchen they were in each other's arms.
"I'll try to come to you tonight, if you want."
"Yes; if you can," he whispered back.
They released from their embrace. She opened her purse, pulled out her scarf and tied it around her head and majestically walked back into the fog.
"Jack's coming for dinner tomorrow night, Cecile; you come too," said Edward, after she had settled herself in the car.
"I'll come, yes, thank you," she smiled; he smiled back.
Jack drove off and Edward stood on his porch lost in a hundred different thoughts.
Jason, rested and refreshed after his trip down from San Francisco, stood in his study gazing out the window into the fog. The science endowment and Janet Alten were coiling together in his thoughts like two serpents around a stone phallus. He kicked off his shoes and walked to the couch and sat cross–legged, putting a pillow behind his back which helped keep his spine straight.
He liked the idea of having so much money to command; being responsible for allocating funds and making budgets and the like were almost routine for him; however, there arose a quickening hunger for satisfaction to his degenerative beast, the control of which demanded a supreme effort on Jason's part, and he dared not do anything rash––that much the reasonable side of his mind knew; nonetheless, that dark side was a terrible fiend which needed constant admonition and discipline lest it explode in impetuous attack.
And in the diabolical chiaroscuro of his brain cells, he fused a bait of money and prestige as a lure to catch his prey.
The scheme came to him slowly as he sat on the couch weaving the evil net he wove. He uncrossed his legs and massaged them, then walked to his desk and, picking up his faculty telephone directory, he looked for Janet Alten's home number.
The moment he dialed her number, he became an outlaw.
Janet's telephone rang many times; Jason was about to hang up when a low voice spoke a single, noncommittal, "Hello."
"Professor Alten? This is Doctor Stoddard. I hope I haven't disturbed you."
Janet opened her half closed eyes wider and became more alert.
"Good afternoon, Doctor. I was taking a nap; that's why I was so long in answering. Is there something I might do for you, sir?" She resented the call and could not understand why he would call her, especially on a weekend. Nevertheless, he was her chief and she felt the obligation of being attentive seeing that he was calling her at home and on a weekend.
"I'm terribly sorry I interrupted your nap, but there's something I'd like to discuss with you, something very good has happened to Redwood. I've just returned from an impromptu meeting with the Regent's Chairman, and I'm happy to say that we have received a very handsome endowment, and I think I can use the services of a good French teacher."
"An endowment for French."
"No; but that's what I want to talk to you about; the money is for a science research center."
"Science? Isn't that a little out of my professional field, Doctor."
"On the contrary, I assure you. I'd like to use some of the endowment to develop a program to teach foreign languages from a scientific and technological perspective, and you, Professor, are the only member of the foreign language faculty who has a minor in chemistry and physics, and I think those qualifications are sufficient to build this program. Frankly, I'm very excited about this and I think you will be, too; that's why I've called you so spontaneously." He waxed enthusiastically for her; his suave voice coaxed her to sharpen her eagerness, too.
She no longer resented the intrusion of his call. Janet's professional pride was touched. Jason Stoddard was not known to compliment his faculty often; she was pleased with what he had said; she liked professional attention and appreciation.
"Thank you," she said.
"Do you think we could meet this weekend and discuss this further? Of course I understand if you've plans. I don't want to disturb your weekend, but I feel so enthusiastic about this endowment. However, it can wait until Monday," he said, in an off–handed voice.
Janet's need to know more was completely aroused.
"I've no plans; any time this weekend is fine with me."
"Splendid. Unfortunately, this fog makes it almost impossible to drive; but I heard a weather report on the radio earlier saying the fog should lift sometime tonight; let's meet, then, in my office tomorrow morning––weather permitting––of course, about eleven o'clock."
"Eleven, at your office; that should be no problem. Thank you for considering me."
"We'll talk tomorrow. I don't wish to take up any more of your time. I'm going to hang up, now. Goodbye."
"Until tomorrow, Doctor." Janet hung up all aglow and excited.
"What luck!" she said, turning to Maureen, who was angry that their nap had been interrupted by the telephone call.
"Did you win a lottery?" said Maureen sarcastically.
"Now don't be that way," Janet said, playfully slapping Maureen's buttocks, "that was the president of Redwood College, and he's going to create some new language program and wants to talk to me!
"So I heard. What's he got to say that can't wait for regular business hours?" questioned Maureen, her usual suspicious nature aroused.
"You just don't understand, do you? It's not something to postpone. Maybe he'll want to make me a department chairwoman?"
Janet beamed and clapped her hands together like a child surprised at some long, hoped for gift materializing. "Do you know what this means?"
"More money," she said incuriously.
"That's only part of it. I'll be in a most enviable and prestigious position: Janet Alten, Ph. D., Chairwoman of the Department of XYZ," she said in a playful, dramatic voice. "This is a once in a lifetime chance for me, sweet–heart."
Janet lay back on her pillows and put her hands behind her head and smiled a big smile. A myriad of thoughts flooded her mind; her musing made her almost oblivious to the strokes of her lover's hands on her thighs, so deep was her preoccupation with her academic fantasies.
Because of the fog transition from day to night was barely noticed by the dwellers of the coastal town, for they had known nothing but grey that day and when finally the black of night came it seemed very little had changed.
All was still; the fog yet hung in the air until there began to be slight motion from the west: a wind was coming from the sea. At first this wind was barely noticeable; then the fog began to move; gradually the wind increased.
Edward, who had been sitting on the edge of the cliff (across the street from his house) with his legs dangling in space, felt the wind on his face and heard the surge of the waves below as the languid sea began to respond to the increased velocity of the wind; blades of grass began to move; then leaves on the trees were in puppet motion; the fog swirled about, going this way and that at the whim of the wind; rising, twisting, spreading apart like a gauze mask being stretched before a strong light.
For over an hour the wind kept coming from the sea; and porch lights, house lights, street lamps and all the man–made lights of the night with their varying glows and colors could be seen; the earth seemed to breath again; people came out of their houses and neighbors called to one another; the wind continued, and the was fog was gone.
Stars could be seen and the moon made its way in the heavens lighting up the bay; and the drone of the fog horns was heard no more.
Edward had not moved from his spot on the cliff's edge all during the dissipation of the fog. He could see the moonlit waves and a dilapidated stairway leading down the cliff to the beach.
With slowness, deliberateness, feeling every step of the uncertain stairs, he made his way down to the sand.
He walked along the edge of the wave line. The wind was strong and its chill made him hug himself; he stepped back from the wet sand and stamped his feet.
On the beach, standing out in the moonlight, lay scattered driftwood; therefore,it was not in too very long a time that he started a fire and put his back to it. The warmth of the fire relieved the dampness of the night.
Far off in the bay he could see the green and red running lights of some small vessel making its way towards the yacht harbor. Edward followed the running lights with his sharp eyes and breathed deeply, evenly, softly of the sea air and the pungent smell of the driftwood fire.
Would there ever be another time when he would cross the seas again and view strange lands? he thought. And he shook his head, "I don't want to go anywhere right now or ever," he said in a whisper. "What the hell is there to see except a lot of people doing what everyone else does to survive in this crazy world, except they do it in a different culture and they do it speaking a different language? It's all the same, no matter where I go: eat, work, sleep, love and die. What's so damn exotic about living and shitting in another country?"
As if to confirm his thought, his hand sped down to the sand slapping it; his fingers dug into the grains and his fist closed in on the sand; raising his clenched, full fist, he let go the sand in a slow stream.
"Just so much sand...everything, the whole world, even me...someday."
He opened his hand; small patches of sand clung to his moist palm; he rubbed his palm clean on his jacket; for a moment he looked at the lines on his hand and regretted he had no talent to read his own palm and tell him his future. And with that thought, there came a sadness to his heart, making him feel utterly alone, something he did not often feel. He turned his head to either side as if in hope of seeing another human for company; but the beach was empty save for himself and the shadow of his body cast by the fire behind his back.
So much was changing for him, so many things to think about; too many things distracting him, disturbing his fledgling liberty, which he was still not used to. The beach and the fire and the smoke and the smells in the air, the things of nature, gave him solace, however.
Suddenly the air was filled with the sound of some noisy nocturnal sea birds, who had alighted and began feeding at the bounteous wave line. Edward smiled at those long–legged birds and he didn't feel so alone anymore.
The driftwood burned down to glowing coals. Edward stood up and rubbed his legs, then kicked sand over the coals. He lingered long enough for the extinguishing sand to heat up; he could feel the warmth through his shoes, and the warmth of the sand reminded him of Cecile and he turned, and hurried down the beach to the stairs.
Reaching the top of the stairs, he let his eyes sweep the bay for the last time, then gazing up to the vault of stars he saw by the position of Orion that the hour must be close to midnight.
Cecile's car was parked to the side of his house. She felt too at home to get up from the kitchen table when he walked in, though she smiled and whispered a tender greeting which he did not hear. He bent to her cheek and kissed it.
"Have you been here long?" he asked, happy to see her. She shook her head. "Not too long."
He sat opposite her, staring at her and offered her a cigarette which she accepted.
They smoked and Edward continued staring, studying her face intently as if he had never seen her before. Cecile, too, stared, but felt uncomfortable and laughed to relieve her tension caused by his staring at her.
"I hope we won't sit here all night staring at one another," she said, lightly.
"I've never really had a chance to look at you before now; you are a very lovely woman, Cecile, warm, generous..."
"Did you see all of that?"
"Not just now; ever since I first saw you; but I was drawn to you even before we spoke. I think you were drawn to me, too. Isn't that so?"
"Yes," she replied, almost shyly.
"I only met you three days ago, but something sparked in me about you; but as I looked at you just now, I didn't see any future with you; we won't last. You know that, don't you?"
"I don't know anything of the kind; all I know, as you've said, is that we saw something in each other. So why don't we just leave it at that. As to any future? damn future. We are here, now––just the two of us; that's important to me. You said we won't last. How far do you want to go? Maybe it's all sex, simply that; maybe I'll tire of you as a lover; maybe you'll tire of me; when that happens let's just be honest with the other and not have any qualms about saying that it's finished."
Cecile sat back surprised at her daring words.
"Are you strong enough to do that?"
Cecile stared down at the table. "Am I?" she asked herself.
"I don't know, Edward," she said subduedly and openly. "Perhaps it's just wishful thinking. I've never had an affair before. It's all very new to me, too; maybe I'm not as strong as I sound." Her voice was slow, even, honest; nevertheless, the sincerity of the declaration of her uncertainty drew their hearts closer.
Edward reached across the table and took both of Cecile's hands in his. "Enough solemnity; shall we listen to some music? Shall we make some coffee?" he said, in a quietly happy tone. "I need to take a shower. I made a fire down on the beach and I smell like driftwood, and I've got sand in my socks."
Cecile laughed. "Yes, some music sounds fine. Go shower; the coffee will be ready by the time you come out."
While washing, Edward heard music; but the rushing water made the piece indiscernible. He was almost finished when the shower curtain parted and Cecile stepped in, her head covered with a towel turban. They embraced under the cleansing water; their hands explored each's body in freedom.
"Go see the front room," she said, pushing him away playfully.
He dried himself, donned his robe.
The smell of fresh coffee and the sound of a solo piano filled the house. He entered the front room: Cecile had made up the couch and had started a fire in the small fireplace. Everything for coffee was there next to the couch; even the ashtray and his cigarettes and lighter. Edward was touched by her thoughtfulness and this thoughtfulness endeared her even more to him. There was this continuous stirring in his heart for her; yet he found his feelings difficult to express in words––and he dared not call it love––not yet, not yet.
Hearing the shower shut off, he sat and poured two cups of coffee and waited.
Cecile came in; her hair was down and a towel was wrapped around her body. She went to where she had neatly stacked her folded clothes and picking up her long slip, put it on, then sat on the couch–bed, her legs pulled up to her chest. For a long time she listened to the music.
"Chopin was an angel in disguise," said she, interrupting the almost finished Fantasie in F Minor.
"I expect he had a little of the devil in him, too," answered Edward, handing her a cup of coffee and she taking it with two hands. "We all have a little of both," he said, grinning and moving closer to her.
"How well I know," she answered, as she pressed next to her lover liking the closeness of him, "but I didn't mean Chopin the social man, but that side of him which was able to turn away from his baser nature and compose such sweet and sublime music."
The music ended; she turned the record over and the music of Frederic Chopin, again, filled the room. They stretched out their bodies and held one another; she felt him hard against her slip. They played their tongues against each others' lips; she shifted her body and pushed him over gently with the weight of her and, opening his robe, she covered his body with her kisses.
Their hour of clandestine passion ended. Cecile dressed and Edward, clothed only in his robe, walked to her car.
"You don't mind that I'm not going to the vineyard, Edward?"
"Yes and no; but I'll expect you for dinner, late afternoon. I want that.
"I want that too. See you then; goodnight," she said softly, then kissed him gently on the lips and drove off.
Cecile entered the house; the hour being late, she was as quiet as possible. Downstairs all was dark; she needed no light to make her way.
Halfway up the stairs she heard a door open; she stopped and looked down and saw Jason come out of his study. He was speaking in a low voice; she thought someone was with him; but he continued to mutter, making towards the kitchen. She waited on the dark stairs. He returned shortly with a glass of water in his hand.
The door to his study was open and the light from within shined on him; she saw his eyes, narrowed, dark, and his face seemed contorted as if he were in pain. To her he was ugly. It seemed to Cecile that Jason was under some great strain, and she wondered if it were caused by their estrangement; her intuition, however, told her that was not the true reason; whatever the cause, his strangeness made her want to be away from his presence.
She bathed and sat reading a book of verse; but her mind strayed from the conceits and rhymes in her hands; what captured her attention, instead, was the still pulsating feeling she felt of Edward. She lay the book aside and closed the light, letting her mind be filled with images of her in love with Edward.
Jason sat alone in his (now) half darkened study; he was reviewing his day and especially his conversation with Janet Alten and from that, he projected himself into the next day and the next, creating a self–imposed progression of victory and satisfaction for himself.
The next morning Jack, good to his word, mounted his bicycle and started pedaling the light machine towards the bay.
The Sunday morning road was relatively free from traffic. He surprised himself by his cheerfulness at his early rising; this cheer brightened as he watched a covey of California quail take fright and fly off because of his approach on his yellow racing bike. As he passed where the quail had been feeding, he saw scattered cracked corn and pieces of broken bread which a much earlier riser had thrown out in expectation of the local quail residents.
The day was clear and the atmosphere not cold; the sun was bright, but not warm. Jack drank in the early morning flavors of his homeland; he looked forward to the excursion and was pleased for going.
Arrived at Edward's house, Jack leaned his bike on the porch railing, then knocked three short raps on the front door.
"Good morning, Jack; good to see you so early; it's not even seven," said Edward, motioning to his friend to enter.
"I'm surprised myself, but I did turn in kind of early; that fog yesterday really had me in a funk."
"I was waiting for you before I had breakfast. I hope you're hungry."
"I'm always ready for breakfast."
While the breakfast cooked, the friends chatted:––
"I think I'll be moving out myself, soon, Ed."
"I thought you wanted to stay on."
"Ya, I did; but I was only fooling myself, Eddy. I've grown away from the house––even a little from Mom––and for sure Uncle Jason and I will cross swords if I stay much longer; he has as much as told me to ship out."
"It'll all work out. You can bunk here if your space gets too tight up there."
"You're a real pal, Eddy, thanks. I'll let you know; might take you up on the offer. I'm getting a little restless, too. I didn't think I would, but I'm going to go with the flow. Maybe I'll hit the road. My wanderlust is beginning to act up."
The two friends finished eating, then mounted their bicycles and headed into the hills.
The winding asphalt road which lead up into the hills was flanked by broad meadows on which grazed, here and there, small herds of goats. A lone burro, close to the roadside fence brayed when Jack hooted at the quiet beast, and a pair of somber heifers sat together facing the sun.
At a steep incline Jack engaged his high gear and pedaled switchback up the incline. Edward dismounted and walked, pushing the bike with one hand.
Jack reached the crest sweating, out of breath, but he liked the speed and the movement of his strong body against mechanisms and gravity. Jack looked down at Ed's slow, bovine pace and realized clearly how fundamentally different they were: Jack always strove for speed and a quick cessation to a task. Edward, on the other hand, was never in a hurry; intent, but never in a hurry. Jack secretly envied the steady attitude Edward had about time and the duration of action. But, at the same time, he thought Edward a bit one–sided because of his methodicalness. Nevertheless, Edward, as Jack had come to learn, always seemed to have good results because of his patient, one–mindedness in doing things. And that was the point that stung Jack the most, for what he wanted was a duplication of Edward's ways and their rewards. Jack, however, never fully achieved the results he expected even when he tried to copy the deportment of his friend.
"Come on you slow poke!" urged Jack, in his usual, joshing way.
The two bicyclists let go their bikes to gravity and flew down the opposite side of the incline.
As the road once again inclined, it curved gracefully through a small forest of oaks; on the other side of the oaks was a plain, unobtrusive sign painted in black block letters: "CLEMENTI WINERY ONE MILE VISITORS WELCOME.'
The last mile to the Clementi Winery turn off was an uphill ride. Then they saw spread out before them the terraced vineyard upon the cultivated hills; the vines were gnarled and stood out like vigorous old men standing against time, wind, rain and the sun.
They parked their bikes next to a small tasting room.
They heard a friendly, "Hello!" and an old man in a loose gray suit came walking off the porch of the main house. He wore a white shirt buttoned at the neck; a thick, knobbed cane helped him with a limping left leg.
"The tasting room no open until noon today," said the old man as he approached.
"That's ok," answered, "we only came to see the vineyard."
"Sure, sure. Please, I show you around; but with this leg, I can not go fast."
"Are you Mr. Clementi?" inquired Edward.
"That's me: Enzo Clementi, forty–five years I been on this land; plant everything you see," and the old man proudly swept his arm in an all encompassing gesture taking in the vines and the fruit trees and the walnut and fig trees surrounding his modest, white limestone house and tasting room.
Edward's delighted eyes took in everything: the trees and the house made him want to have such trees and such a house.
"Do you run this place by yourself?" asked Edward, not imagining that the old man did; but he wanted to be told about the vineyard, for it had taken him by some sudden, mellow enchantment.
"Not now; it got too much for me; but I got lots of good help; but in the old days just me and my wife, my brother and two sons; but my brother, Guido, died ten years ago, and my boys no want to be vintners––they live up in Frisco, make lots of money selling cars. Eh, what ya gonna do? New generation no like the land; too much work and worry," he said, rolling his rs softly
The two young men let Enzo talk, for they both sensed his need to talk and they listened.
"Kind of slow this time of year; but still plenty of small things to do. Come, I take you on a little tour of the presses and bottling room. No big operation, just enough to keep us fat. My brother, before he die, he think maybe because we getting old, maybe we should sell to one of the big wineries up in Napa or Modesto. This land worth plenty of money and has good vines. But I told my brother I buy his half. Me? I like it here; I'm just like the vines: old land getting better because I stay in one place and sink deep roots."
Edward heard the words of the old man and felt a profound lack of depth in his own life. Yet Enzo's simple words filled him with the idea of having deep roots, he who had really never had roots.
Enzo Clementi strutted through the pressing and bottling rooms pointing out the things he liked best, especially the old, now unused, hand press he and Guido had made many years before. Enzo didn't care much for the mechanized wine press; and with particular pride, he pointed to a primitively painted oil painting hanging near the old hand press; a reproduction of the painting appeared on all the winery's labels and had been painted many years before on a piece of scrap plywood.
"My wife, she just painted it one day and was ashamed, at first, I had it printed on the labels and then got a frame and hang it in this room. Very shy, my wife."
The crude painting depicted in stiff, almost medieval proportions, a terraced vineyard, a house and people working in and about the vineyard; in one corner of the painting was a woman, sitting on a bench, with an exposed breast giving suck to a stiffly painted naked infant. In spite of the lack of perspective and proportion, the painting emitted a timeless sense of things in harmony under a bright sun and blue sky; and the miniature reproduction of the painting on the labels glued to the rows of bottles did not lose its sense of harmony, innocence and natural order. And Edward, moved by the painting, stepped closer to the original and saw the timid signature: "Filomena C."
"Does she still paint?" Edward asked.
"No; she's dead; they both die, she and my brother at the same time, in a plane crash, coming back from Italy." Enzo hung his head and sighed.
"I'm sorry," said Edward.
"It's all right; it's all right. How could you know? No; she only paint this one picture," he said, his head erect, his thoughts once again on his visitors. "Over there," and he gestured with his cane half raised, "is the tasting room." Enzo closed his eyes for a moment and nodded his head to himself."
"I think I open the tasting room early today. I let you drink my best year; I only got about fifty bottles left." The two men looked at each other delightfully surprised at the unexpected invitation. "I use it for special times, and today is special. You two are the first visitors in over a month; kind of lonely around here in winter. But it seems today I have lots of visitors. My cousin is coming this afternoon from San Francisco to visit me. It's a good sign."
"A good sign of what, Mister Clementi?" asked Jack.
"Just a good sign," answered Enzo with paternal matter–of–factness.
The tasting room, like everything else, was small, modest, rustic. They all stood at the bar as Enzo uncorked a bottle and poured a bit of his vintage into his own glass first, pouring off minute pieces of old cork. The glasses filled, they sat and Enzo proposed a toast:––"To the blood of Bacchus," he said, smiling a warm smile at his pagan cheer. As he lifted back his head and drank, he felt the heavy old medal of the Santa Maria dependent from a thick gold chain about his neck, slide up his hairy chest; he didn't feel that his tribute to the ancient god of wine was any blasphemy towards the stylized virginal Mary he wore next to his body; he was her devotee, but he had a healthy respect and sense of humor and secret awe for both of these mysterious powers.
The wine, dark red and dry, left its taste in their mouths; it was good wine and the young men said so and the happy host filled the glasses again; the three drank, this time with no toast. The glasses were small and very easily drained; the bottle of private stock was soon half empty and all three men had red faces and enjoyed the soothing effects of the tasty wine.
All the time they sat drinking, Enzo talked on about the vineyard, its yield and how good the soil and water were. Edward listened with great interest to the dry facts and ingenuous praise Clementi poured out about his bountiful land.
"I feel like walking, Ed; how about you?"
"Sure, sure, you want to walk, we all go," said Enzo, "I show you the vines myself. The wine always makes me walk better," added Clementi, muffling a chuckle with an open hand before his mouth.
On the upper terraces were the oldest vines, explained the proud vintner as he slowly stepped down the hand hewn, limestone stairs which ran parallel to the terracing.
Edward steadied the old man half way down the first level; but old Clementi stopped and, leaning on Edward's arm, rested breathing the heavy draughts of the aged.
"I'll sit here and wait until I'm rested; you two go by yourselves."
They protested and said they'd wait, but Clementi insisted, so they left him and leisurely walked down the steps all the while admiring the winter starkness of the vineyard. At the bottom of the terracing, they turned east and, taking their time, walked to the end of the cultivated land where they stopped by an old, half tumbled, low, limestone wall on the other side of which were the ruins of an older, but smaller vineyard; the once sharp terraces were now rounded, and seen here and there, the remains of former vines, long dead and overgrown. Below the abandoned vineyard stood an old structure obscured by trees and the growth of brush.
Edward was first over the wall; Jack reluctantly followed. With quickened pace Edward walked to the structure: a dilapidated, two story house, the lower part of which was of limestone and the second story addition of wood. The front door hung on one hinge; the windows were, everyone, broken; the stone chimney was intact; nearby was a rusted hand pump which at one time served as a source of water for the house.
"Kind of creepy looking, wouldn't you say?" said Jack, not at all impressed by the dilapidated house and overrun grounds.
Edward, on the other hand, was fired by an enthusiasm for discovery.
"Let's go in," he said, not waiting for Jack. With care, he tried to open the front door; but the lone hinge gave way and he found himself holding the unhinged door. Jack helped him lean it against the outside wall and they walked in.
Inside there was a smell of dampness; spider webs, old, covered with dust and the empty shells of former insect victims hung, so it seemed, from every possible point of anchorage; leaves were strewn everywhere, and small, spindly plants, deprived of sun and good air, attempted to grow through the broken floor boards.
Edward felt a special presence, but Jack tugged at his friend's sleeve.
"Let's get out of this dump, it stinks."
"Ya, sure; in a minute; let's find the back door."
Edward explored the lower rooms and in what was once the kitchen, he spied a rear exit next to a very old, cast iron stove, upon which was an old bird's nest, long since abandoned by its avian builder. The back door was thick and heavy; age and dampness made it difficult to open; but several heaves from their shoulders unloosened the door and they found themselves in the back yard of the house. An old outhouse and a half demolished chicken coop stood out in the open ground.
"I guess this is the end of the tour," said jack."
"Seems that way. Let's get back to the old man, Jack; I think after all that wine and exertion he'll be needing some help back up the stairs."
As they headed back, Edward turned and looked again at the ruined house wanting to go back to it.
When they reached the bottom of the stone stairs and looked up, Enzo Clementi was gone.
"I guess he made it on his own, after all," said Edward. Therefore, the two men, without stopping, walked all the way to the top and out of the vineyard.
They saw Clementi sitting on the front porch of his house. "Hey!" called the old vintner, waving his hand for them to come to the porch.
"We were going to help you back up the stairs," said Edward, politely.
"That's ok; all I needed was a rest. Too much sitting around in the winter; but you wait till spring, I'll be running up and down––all over. Come into my house; my cousin is here and she's making all of us coffee."
The two friends looked at one another in mild astonishment at the second personal invitation.
"Don't be shy, boys; I'm glad for the company. Please, come in. By the way, what's your names? You know who I am."
They introduced themselves and Clementi took them into his house and introduced them to his old cousin, Elizabeth, who graciously received them and poured them strong Italian coffee which she served with anise cookies.
"Mister Clementi," said Edward, "we saw a house on the other side of an old wall; it looks like there used to be grapes there, too."
"Sure, sure; long time ago, eh...a long time ago... My brother and me, we lived there when we first bought this land. The wall? who knows who built it; but the grapes? I don't know, they grew, but they didn't do so good down there. But when we cleared and planted up here, it was like a miracle; everything took; we never lost a vine. We let the first house go after we build this place. Not good for growing grapes down there; but here, ah, like paradise. You saw yourselves what a vineyard I have , no?"
"Yes, quite a place," answered Edward, "quite a place."
The pleasantly taciturn cousin excused herself and went to the kitchen; a few minutes later she called out to Enzo something in Italian, and he, in turn, called back a reply in Italian, then invited Jack and Edward to stay for lunch.
They were reluctant to accept more of his hospitality, more out of strict politeness than anything else; but in the end the good–natured proddings of Clementi eased their reluctance, for he truly enjoyed their company and they, at last, took off their jackets, rolled up their sleeves and settled back and enjoyed the hospitality of their convivial host.
The lunch was a simple fare of macaroni, meat, bread and greens; and the Clementi wine flowed and even the cousin drank and her face flushed and she laughed and talked freely with the men.
"I tell Enzo he should come to San Francisco to live with me and my family; but he's stubborn. It's no good for him to live all by himself; he gets lonely, I know," she said openly.
"Boys, my cousin was raised in the big city; she doesn't understand a man and his land. What I do away from this place? Watch television and play crossword puzzles, walk in the park, eh? Everybody tell me I should retire; but I belong here."
"But you've got good people working for you; you could come down every so often," said Elizabeth in defence of her perpetual proposal to the cousin whom she loved so well and worried so much about in his late and lonely years.
"No; it's not the same thing. If I left, the vines would die; so would the fig trees; so would I," he said, somberly.
"Aw, go on; you always say that," replied Elizabeth, slapping him lovingly on the shoulder. He took her hand and held it for a moment, then let it go. It was a warm and strong touch he had, and Elizabeth admired him for the warmth and generosity he had always shown her and others.
Clementi grew silent and stared into his wine glass. Slowly he began to speak reflectively: "All the time I was growing up in Rome, I hungered for land; I used to dream about my own land; but in the old country how could I get it? My family was poor. And when me and Guido immigrated, where did we go? New York. What's there? just like Rome: lots of people, buildings, houses close together––no land––just dirty little rooms, worse than Rome, and hard, stinking work. A paisano of ours gets us jobs in a tallow works; it smelled like shit all the time. We changed jobs couple of times; but always I had my dream. I saved every dime I could; I sacrificed bread from my mouth for land. After I save some money I hear of lots of land in California and cheap, so I tell Guido I'm going to California; my brother, can you imagine, he wanted to stay in New York! But I tell him, ok, you stay; I go by myself. So when he heard that, he changed his mind and said he'd go, too; Guido was like that, he needed someone to give him a push.
"When we found this land, I knew I belonged to it; I just knew and I never left––not even to go back to Italy for a visit." He stopped abruptly, closed his eyes and for a second, a twinge of sorrow swept across his face, for twice this day he had been reminded of his loss: his wife and his brother. He opened his eyes, put his glass to his lips and drank the last of his wine.
The air was heavy with Clementi's unintentional somberness.
Elizabeth knew intimately the reason for the quite sorrow reflected on Enzo's face. And, feeling partly responsible for dredging up the memory of the tragedy of Filomena's and Guido's deaths, she took the demijohn of wine and poured all around, not without a few sniffles on her part. "Allegria, allegria," she said, "let's drink to health and the coming of spring and let the past be passed."
Clementi was slow to respond; but when the others lifted their glasses he revived, and his heavy basso voice broke out in toast, "A la salute e la primavera e Bacco! he called out.
They all held their filled ruby glasses and drank to health and to spring and the return of the Bromium god.
"Now that I've drunk my fill," said Jack, "I'd like to know what you said."
"To health, to spring and Bacchus," answered Clementi.
"Then let's have it again," Jack said, "that's as good a thing to drink to as the next."
"No excuses needed at my table to drink wine," said Clementi, reanimated and full of his joy of life. Their glasses clinked again and they drank deeply of the red wine from the old man's vineyard which was his life.
A few hours later, well fed and still high from the wine, Jack and Edward parted amicably from their host with his wine tied to their bicycles.
"Come again, anytime," said Enzo, sincerely; and they promised to return.
A few minutes before eleven o'clock, Janet parked her car near Jason's office and slowly, but with great anticipation, went to meet him. She was wearing a blue suit with low–heeled, black shoes and her hair was coiled in a golden braid covering her left ear as she usually wore it.
The door to his inner office was open; Jason was sitting at his desk writing something on the margin of a letter; when, however, she knocked, he stopped writing, got up, and walking from behind his desk, greeted her in his suave manner and showed her to a comfortable chair. Seen from a distance they seemed like two people being very formally polite to each other; but underneath, unseen, she was but a fly and he a vicious spider.
She was nervous, and although she tried to hide it, Jason's sharp, rapacious senses saw through her camouflage efforts––much to his delight.
"That fog yesterday was a mess," he said, sensing she was nervous and tried at least to put her at ease.
"Yes; it was a rather ugly day; I've never seen fog so bad," she answered, beginning to relax. She crossed her ankles and adjusted her skirt.
"It doesn't happen too often; we've got that to be thankful for. Would you care for some tea or coffee?" he asked very politely.
"No thank you," she replied, cordially. Janet would have liked a cup of coffee, but her refusal was based on her ill–ease––yes––coffee with plenty of sugar, but her sense of inadequacy at that moment was such that she felt even handling something as simple as a cup and saucer would make her self–consciously clumsy, and she needed to draw on all her faculties to sustain her through this most important and difficult interview. She felt small in his presence; her contact with him before now had always been with other members of the faculty and at a distance, never privately.
"Well, then, let's get to the matter at hand. As I told you yesterday, we shall be receiving a very, very large endowment for a science research center; a bit out of the ordinary, considering the humanistic traditions and origins of Redwood College––but Chairman Gould and the Regent's and I have felt for a long time the need to expand beyond the scope of Redwood's limiting traditions.
"There's going to be a gigantic leap at this school; a great change in the whole structure and philosophy of the college; and it is not at all out of line with the complex world we must prepare our students to live in today. Nuclear energy for industry and medicine are already with us and we shall open more new paths in those fields. Computers are changing everything, a true revolution is at hand in how we work, study, design––even how we speak and think. And we are going to be in the front rank of this electronic revolution!" His eyes glowed as if he could see the future as he talked to Janet rapt by his voice. "Concomitant with our expansion in the sciences, we must also bring current our language instruction to reflect the change in our academic paradigm and be more in the vanguard of progress––the emphasis will be to teach languages through scientific works and papers––never mind literature and poetics. The new poetry is nuclear power and advanced electronics."
Jason waxed supreme; his voice rose with emotion; his chest expanded and his hands clenched in two fists; he gave his arms a downward thrust for emphasis! "I don't know yet," he continued, "but I have it in mind to create a new department of scientific foreign languages. I know this isn't a new concept––but it will be new for this school and we shall bring this concept to new heights!"
Janet sat in her chair mute, almost feeling the vibrations of his voice in her body.
"Now, Professor, I know that you majored in French and the Romance languages, but, as I said yesterday, you also have a minor in chemistry and physics––and that is exactly the kind of background I need to help launch this new program."
She listened to his clearly enunciated words full of authority and persuasion and she nodded. Most of all she was proud he had taken the time to examine her credentials and select her as the instrument of his determination and vision. Already she was saying "Yes," in her mind; but she had yet to act out her modesty and reluctance before him.
"I am honored for your consideration; but frankly, I've not used my minor during my career."
"Of course, of course; nevertheless, you are the only senior faculty member in the modern language department with any science of note; everyone else is graduated in arts and letters only."
Feeling the uniqueness of her position, she calmed herself and steadied her voice before speaking: "Thank you, that's very encouraging. However, perhaps some of the older faculty members will resent me." She was perfectly sincere in this; she did fear the looks and suspicions, the unsaid displeasure her colleagues would feel. And they would (in their false–facedness) congratulate her, but hate her for having risen above them so quickly.
"Don't worry about the other faculty members; after all, I'm not taking anything away from the present department––except you, of course," he said with a broad, friendly smile.
Janet smile back; she liked his smile; it was reassuring. She could not help liking Jason just a little more for his having smiled when he did.
"The only question that needs an answer is whether you will accept the responsibility of creating this program? It's really up to you," he said, at last flinging out the bait all the way. He waited for her to bite it.
Her heart beat quickly; she sat up straighter in her chair. "Yes, I accept, and I shall do my utmost to create the best curriculum possible." She relaxed back in her chair all of a sudden feeling exhausted as if she had performed some act of physical labor instead of simply uttering a few words.
"That's exactly the spirit which will sustain us. I was not wrong in chosing you. We shall have to work long and hard at this. The Regents will meet in July for their annual meeting; and they shall confirm this program. I've already discussed this matter and mentioned you to Chairman Gould, who was pleased a woman of your caliber would head the new department." He lied about Gould. "So we'll have to have a lot of preparatory meetings, you and I; it's going to mean a lot of extra work after hours, and you'll have to select a small staff, an administrative assistant, and so on. but don't worry, we shall have funds, and, of course, I shall help you all I can.
"I'm prepared for lots of hard work and long hours."
"Good; I want only the best; we need to be the best. Is that understood?"
She felt afraid of him; his tone of voice frightened her; and in that instant of fright she shuddered at the power before her, commanding, demanding obedience. Janet surrendered to that power and resolved to obey. Her resolve made her again afraid, for it was the power of men which she feared most; and now the very source of her fear was before her and she cowered in abrogation before it like some child.
The centurion had won.
She cleared her throat and squeezed her intertwined fingers and spoke in a well–controlled voice: "You have given me a great responsibility, sir; and, if at any time my services fall below your standards, I shall tender my resignation without hesitation."
"Now, now; let's set our minds on success and co–operation. I'm confident this undertaking will bear fruit. I don't expect miracles. The going will not be easy; nevertheless, we shall give it every opportunity to succeed. Don't you agree?"
:"Yes, yes, most assuredly so, sir," she replied excitedly.
"Excellent; most excellent. This calls for a toast. Do have some brandy, Professor Alten."
"Of course," she replied automatically, glad for a respite from the emotion she was feeling.
Jason retrieved a bottle and two snifters from a carved, darkened oak cabinet nearby his desk. He poured from the black bottle. She stood to accept the drink; their glasses made a high pitched ring.
"To success," said jason as their snifters met.
"To success," she answered.
Edward was returning from the nearby grocery store with a bag of groceries in his arms. He was walking down his street happy to have a new home. Jack was back at the house sleeping off the wine and fatigue of the long bicycle ride.
Cecile, in her car, approaching from behind, saw Edward; she sounded the horn and stopped a few feet in front of him.
"Hello; I had a hunch you'd be in the neighborhood around this time," he said, stopping at the car and touching her face gently. Cecile took his hand and squeezed it.
"Good to see you; hop in."
They were both a little shy, but quickly they warmed to one another, and, by the time they got back to the house, they were holding hands in the car while she drove slowly, one hand on the steering wheel.
As they entered the house, Jack, who was curled up on the couch opened his eyes, yawned a cavernous yawn and stretched his arms like a big cat.
"My God, Jack," said Cecile, looking at her nephew's face, "you look as if you've had a rough time."
"Don't remind me, Auntie," he said, holding a hand to his eyes and rubbing them and the rest of his face. "My partner is corrupting me: first he convinces me to pedal all the way to the Clementi Winery––but he also sees to it that I drink too much wine––or the blood of Bacchus, as old man Clementi calls it––then, pedal all the way back here. You'd think we were still in the Marines––ha, ha!" he said, good naturedly, pulling himself up off the couch.
"It sounds as if you both had a good time."
"We certainly did," continued Jack, "Mr. Clementi himself served us his private hooch. Hell, we were even invited into his house and had lunch," said Jack, patting his belly with the flat of his hand in a contented manner.
"Really? How very hospitable; I'm sorry I didn't go."
"We can go again," Edward said, "we've been given a standing invitation to the house. How odd that we should have been treated so; it's almost as if he'd been expecting us..." he said, with a look of confoundment on his face. Soon however he recovered and in a normal voice continued: "I liked that old man and I liked what I saw. He's got a well–organized and lucrative business. Now that place is an inspiration for an aspiring farmer such as myself.'
"I do believe you are serious, Edward," said Cecile.
"Serious? yes. I'm planning to visit Clementi again and talk to him about a piece of land he doesn't use."
"You've got to be kidding, Ed. You mean where the old house is?"
"The very place; great possibilities––or at least I think so, Jack." he said, flashing a smile toward his shocked friend.
"But you heard what Clementi said: the land there is no good; he abandoned it; he hasn't worked it in years."
"So much the better; it's had a long rest and is ready for a bit of clearing and cultivation. There was something special about that place, Jack, even if it's in the rumble–tumble shape it's in," he said, in a dreamy voice. "But anyway, Cecile, we brought back some of Enzo Clementi's wine. Will you have some?"
"I'd love some," she said, happy to be with her dear nephew and her new lover; happy to be in the simple atmosphere of Edward's house and to hear his simple enthusiasm for the earth.
Edward uncorked the bottle and poured.
"To Bacchus," he said, handing Cecile her wine.
"To him it is," answered she, "and to his devotees," she added in a gay voice, turning to Jack and lifting her glass to him. She put the glass to her lips and drained the wine. She wiped her lips with her tongue and asked for more wine by tapping the bottle. Edward poured another round.
While the three of them helped to prepare the dinner, the remainder of the first bottle was drunk and used over the meat.
Edward soaked the wine bottle's label in a pan of warm water. When he went back to the sink in the middle of dinner, the label was soaked through and he gingerly pulled it off the bottle; he held the dripping label and looked about the kitchen for a suitable place to affix it; his eyes went to the door of the cabinet above the sink. He stuck the label on it, then smoothed it with his fingers; there was enough glue left to make it adhere to the wood. He stared at the reproduction of the late Filomena's painting; it was the innocence of it which made him like it. And everyday, thereafter, he looked at the label and saw it as the symbol of his goal: deep roots, refuge from the world, and, with time, a life of bucolic tranquility which the painting symbolized for him.
Although the evening had been a pleasant one, Edward felt constrained not being able to be near Cecile the way he wanted to be near her, but he also felt badly that he had to pretend in front of Jack. Around midnight, Jack loaded his bicycle into the trunk of Cecile's car, and for a few minutes they were alone.
"When can I see you next––alone?" asked Edward.
"Anytime; call me, she answered in a loving whisper.
Edward took her in his arms and pressed his body close to hers; she trembled for passion. His hand touched her.
"Oh, it's such an effort for me to leave," she said softly into his ear as her hands gently pushed him away. "Good night my darling," she said, affectionately.
He watched her car disappear into the night.
Early the next morning Edward awakened and went for a walk and bought the morning newspaper; returned home, he cooked himself some breakfast.
Later, as he lulled over his coffee and cigarette, he read the newspaper but with only half an interest; the fallow land next to Clementi's bountiful vineyard kept interfering with his attention to world affairs. A dock strike settlement made him think of men lugging boxes of grapes; he put down the paper and washed his dishes; and when he was finished, his mind was made up.
Mounting his bicycle, he headed toward Clementi's vineyard full of hope based on mere daydreams and a deep feeling he yet had no words for. But with this pull of the land was, also, the pull of Cecile and what he was feeling about her. He wanted to say love, define it thusly, but he was unsure of this growing sentiment in him. Moreover, he had never had an affair with a married woman; that unsettled him; but he was so drawn to her he would risk even his integrity for her. He was enveloped in a half dream of land, and love. Could they both be his? And also in this daydream was the moral dilemma of his affair.
As he neared the vineyard, however, he cleared his head of his confusions to concentrate his energy for his spontaneous, uncertain meeting with Clementi. What he was doing was gambling; and he never considered himself a good gambler––one who never took a lot of chances.
Clementi answered the knock on his door; Edward, feeling unsure of his enterprise greeted the old man hesitantly. Clementi took a long look at Edward's face and saw something in it and the old man grinned.
"Back so soon? Well, come in, come in; good to see you. I was just having a coffee."
Edward followed Enzo into the house and sat while the old man took a cup and saucer from a cabinet and served his welcomed, but unexpected guest an espresso.
After the coffee had been drunk, Clementi said, abruptly and matter–of–factly: "So, what can I do for you ? Today you are no tourist; I feel it."
Edward was happy for the man's astuteness; without hesitation he went directly to his point: "Mr. Clementi, I want to buy some of your land," he blurted out.
"My land? I got no land for sale," exclaimed Clementi.
"Yes you do: the plot you and your brother abandoned."
"What you want that land for?"
"But it's no good for grapes, and, any way, why should I have competition? You want to drive out old Clementi," he said jokingly.
"No; please, don't get the wrong impression––and as far as the land not being good for grapes––well, I could try."
"No, no, young man; I could not do that to you. Ha, ha! You'd be wasting your money and I would be worse than a thief if I sold it to you."
Clementi's immediate sentiments were mixed: at the same time he was a little suspicious that all of a sudden this strange young man wanted to grow grapes, but also, he was touched by his innocence, reminding Enzo of his own younger, land–hungry days. He was, therefore, purposely putting up obstacles to Edward's enthusiasm just to see how sincere were Edward's motives.
"Then if you won't sell it, lease it to me. Maybe you're right––maybe I'd be better off not buying it; this way if it fails, you'll have no remorse over me. How does that sound?"
The old man warmed to Edward, as he had done the day before. "Enthusiastic, but still crazy. you want to cultivate grapes, wonderful; but maybe you had too much Bacchus blood yesterday, eh?" he said, grinning broadly.
Edward smiled. "No; it wasn't the wine...listen, Mister Clementi: I just got out of the Marine Corps; I spent sixteen years of my life all over the world and never had a home of my own; and what you said yesterday about deep roots––moved me. That's one of the reasons I'm here––but even before I met you I was thinking of taking up farming; and when I was here yesterday, I felt something, and that something has been telling me all morning to grow grapes, plant my own roots. I had this strange sensation all over my body when I was walking your land, yesterday. Does that sound crazy, sir?"
The old man listened to Edward; he understood what Edward was feeling about the land; it was a special, indefinite feeling which had kept Enzo rooted for so many years to the land himself.
"You are serious and you got good intentions; I can tell; but you are no farmer––not even a vintner; you got no experience, only guts and a cockeyed dream; that's good; I had a dream like yours, too; but it's not enough; now let an old man tell you a few things: you look around my place and you see cultivation, order, harmony, harvest; but you not get these things in one season. What you see is a life time's work; it is your career; you got to work hard, maybe cry and pass many troubles––and nothing must stop you. You got the guts to watch hundreds of vines die from disease and you can't do nothing to stop it? It's not easy. Guido and me we worked like two jackasses; you think this place was always here? Nothing but savage hills we had to clear year by year with our hands that cracked like cheap plaster and pains in the back and worry about bills. If you think this is an easy life then you got time to change your mind, Mister Fox."
"My mind, Mister Clementi, is made up."
"Really? Good; then may the Holy Mother bless you––you will need a lot of blessings. Now let's talk business: how much money you got?'
"How much do you want?"
"Talk is cheap. I like cash."
"I think I have enough."
"No kid yourself; you never have enough money. Aside from the land, you got to eat, and pay taxes––don't forget that.. And what about a place to live?"
"I'll live in the old house, fix it up."
"That takes time and money; then you got to start clearing the land, buy vines, tools, many things. You need to study viticulture, oenology, too."
"You tell me what I need and give me lots of guidance and I'll turn that place into a first class vineyard. Mister Clementi, I'm willing to take the chance."
Enzo leaned back in his chair and scrutinized the would–be vintner. He liked Edward's spunk.
"Ok, tell you what: ten thousand bucks."
"Ten thousand?" said Edward in surprised disbelief. "But the land is probably worth much, much more than that."
"So what? You want me to raise the price?"
"No; I only want to give you fair market value."
"Now you sound like a real estate agent; this is a matter between a master vintner and an apprentice vintner; not business, but honor. You want the land? you pay me; that's all; we go to the courthouse and transfer title. I know about these things."
Edward swallowed hard; for a moment he could not believe what was going on before him; but he recovered quickly.
"Ten thousand; it's a deal, Mister Clementi." he said, extending his hand, and the two men sealed the bargain with a firm handshake.
"I've got my money in a San Diego bank; I can pay you as soon as I can get it transferred to Santa Cruz; I'll sign a note."
No hurry. I trust you. The land is yours. I don't need your note, only honor and trust––there are too many promises already on paper that people don't believe; you gave me your hand; that's enough for me. I'll give you all the help I can. Guido and me, what did we know about grapes? nothing. But we learned and you can do the same; but I will show you and that will make the difference instead of blundering like Guido and me done. And, who knows, maybe that old land will grow for you. This makes me very happy and you'll be happy too; someday. I wish my sons had stayed on the land. but anyway, everything is wonderful just the same. One more piece of advice: Get yourself a wife, don't be alone on the land. Now, how about a little whiskey in the coffee to celebrate?"
Old Clementi brewed more espresso and poured a couple of teaspoons each of whiskey into their sweet, black coffee.
"Buona fortuna," said Enzo, lifting his small cup up in toast.
"That means good fortune, doesn't it?"
"Then I drink especially to good fortune," said Edward, ebulliently.
They drank their toast and, afterwards, the two men remained silent, each lost in his own thoughts, each holding dear a special thought hidden from the rest of the world.
Edward at the beach, carried away in a reverie of grapes and house restoration, was unaware of the incoming tide. All at once the tide was upon him: cold, wetting him to the skin. He sprang up from his sitting position, his mind snapped to alertness; quickly, instinctively, he jumped back, but not quickly enough, for another surge of the tide flooded him to his ankles. Surprised and humbled by the tide, he retreated up the remainder of the beach and started home.
The wind was up; he was far from his house and the wind chilled him, but his dreaming had not been stopped; he was wanting so very badly to share his good fortune with someone: Cecile. Some yards up the road was a public telephone. His fingers searched his wet, tight pockets for change. He dialed; Gaby answered; Cecile was in her sewing room.
"I'm all wet from being swamped by the tide at Twin Lakes Beach, and I've stopped at a public phone...and...well, what are you up to?"
"Reading, a little sewing; not as exciting as the tide, though."
"Come see me; put your needle work and book up. I want to share something very special with you––only you."
Cecile was intrigued. "What is it?"
"I will only tell you face to face."
"I can be at your place in half an hour; and I'll bring something to warm you."
Some time later, as Edward sat in his kitchen drinking hot coffee, Cecile knocked and opened the front door. He went to her with an embrace and a tender greeting and they covered each other's face with ardent kisses. He took in a deep draft of the slight scent of her body. They disengaged.
"I've brought you this," she said, reaching into her purse and taking out a small bottle of kirschwasser.
"The very thing," he said, taking it from her two hands, "for the celebration.
"I'm dying to know. What are we to celebrate, darling."
"In time; first take off your coat and let's have some of this schnapps."
Having helped her off with her coat and hanging it in the closet, he poured the morello cherry liqueur. She waited for him to speak. When he finally did, he told her of his meeting with Clementi; and she listened to him mouth agape, at the unexpected news.
"You really did it! and that dear old man––he's so generous. I must meet him some day," she said in a voice filled with joy and surprise. "I'm so happy for you; I guess it was meant to be." Reaching across the table she took his hand: "I wish you every success and happiness, Edward; I say that from my heart."
He squeezed her hand in appreciation for her kind words of encouragement and for her softness. Still holding their singular hands across the table, they lifted their glasses and drank a silent toast. They leaned across the narrow table, their lips and tongues, still tingling from the black cherry spirits, met. From mouth to mouth they passed the flavor of the drink and the signals of their desires.
Much later, they walked down the cliff's broken stairs and strolled on the upper beach; they walked toward some high rocks, for the surf was high.
They sat and talked and smoked and gradually their words died away and their visions were directed to the sea's horizon. And Cecile created her fantasy of being on a desert isle searching the distance in hope of succor. She reached over and took hold of Edward's hand and held it tightly, then relaxed her grip.
Moving from the curvature of the earth onto the horizon, the silhouette of a freighter; and the sight of the vessel broke their silence.
"I've never been on a ship," said Cecile, wishing that she had.
"I've been on too many. I'm happy to fly, or, better yet, walk. If you've never been on a ship, then you can't know how awful and monotonous it can be. There are too many romantic notions about ships.: 'I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by...' romantic dribble."
"Aren't you being a bit unfair? Sea Fever happens to be a favorite poem of mine."
"It's one of my favorites, too; but I've got lots of sea time and I know, dear lady, whereof I speak."
Cecile smiled. Touche. Nevertheless, it is the romance, the sense of the unknown, of hoped for adventures that draws us to the sea and to ships. I think you'll agree that's true of most things; but, on the other hand, I don't believe people generally take into account the negative side of their romantic fantasies. Oh, sure, one pays lip service to the bad side, saying things like, 'Of course things can get a bit rough,' gloss over it. I can say this because I saw it in myself and, to a certain degree, see it still. When you first enlisted, did you ever think you would fight in a war?"
"No; it just never entered my mind."
"There, a fellow victim of romantic fantasy; you are a good example of what I was saying."
"Ok, you've got me there."
"I married Jason with that same romantic notion. I really didn't know what I was getting into." There was ease in her voice and the way she spoke.
"Were you really in love with him, or simply blinded by romance?"
"A little of both, I suppose. I guess we met at the right moment..."
"Or the wrong one,"he said wryly.
"Yes, one can never be too sure about the right or wrong time; there's a kind of subtle and progressive wanting and needing in a relationship, and I guess I wanted and needed Jason––in spite of him. He really charmed me, he did. There I was, a small time recitalist, traveling now and then for chamber concerts; I was alone, didn't have many friends and no beau to speak of––just my music and a few students; and all of a sudden Jason came into my life."
"Was he one of your students? I can't imagine him a music student, though."
"No; I met him at a party given by the conductor of a small orchestra I played with now and then; he and Jason were friends. When we were introduced, it was as if I'd fallen into a dream; he literally swept me off my feet. That may be hard for you to believe, of course; anyway, he charmed me till my head was spinning. He was older, and a bit of a rising star in academic circles, and I was impressed he was paying so much attention to me. Well––that first night we drove all the way down to Pebble Beach and never got to bed until the next night. We were always on the go: driving, eating in fancy restaurants, dancing, swimming; we crammed a week;'s activities into twenty–four hours.
"Finally, when we could drag ourselves no further, we checked into a beautiful hotel. To tell the truth we were so exhausted we couldn't do anything except sleep. What a whirlwind that was; I'd never done anything like that in my life. A year later, still in my romantic stupor, we were married; but I never really saw Jason's true character until after my sister died and I took in Jack and raised him and had to fight Jason tooth and nail over it."
"Jack told me the story. But why did you stay with him?"
"I thought I could still love him by trying to see beyond his baser nature; but I fooled myself...and I guess I stayed from habit; relationships can become as addictive as a drug; and there was always wanting the children to have a sense of family and some kind of father image. I admit it: I've been a real fool."
"Some image. He doesn't give a damn about Jack."
"That isn't the half of it. Oh, I've learned about him; at times he's not flesh and blood, but steel, hard, demanding, insatiable in his private lusts––always right, always stampeding over others..." She grew somber.
Talking about Jason so intimately made her upset. for it brought to mind all the unpleasant things she'd had to endure because of him; moreover, she had had to experience because she had never done anything to change her life; and she had to admit to herself her life, thus far, had been a vegetative existence more than anything else.
Edward saw her mood change. "Cheer up,Cecile; think about going off to sea and bringing back your smile."
She looked at him and had to break her somber look and smile back.
"That sounds like something Jack would say," and she laughed.
"Sometimes I wish I could be like Jack," said Edward, losing his own smile.
"Like Jack; what do you mean?"
"The way he just lets things slide. I'm just the opposite; everything has got to be just so; orderly, neat, no loose ends."
"But what's wrong with that?"
"Nothing, I guess; it has its place; but it kind of makes me one sided. What I lack most is a natural sense of honest spontaneity. I've not taken many chances in my life. Jack's whole life is dedicated to chance; and I want that too. Here's something that you don't know: leaving the Marine Corps and getting it into my head to buy that land have been the two biggest chances I've taken in my life. Kind of sad, don't you think so?"
"I can't believe that."
"No? It's true, though. Look, for sixteen years I had people telling me what to do, when, where and how and no questions. I just did what I was told; pretty stable; three squares a day, good pay, promotions; but that kind of life blinds one to other possibilities, and the regimentation lulls you into acceptance of a pattern of predictable rewards and punishments. let me tell you, it was kind of scary going out the front gate with that discharge in my hand knowing I was really on my own."
"Well, it doesn't seem to have deterred you; you've not been out a week and already you've taken plenty of chances,:" she said, encouragingly.
"And you are one of them."
"And I'm one of them..." she echoed in a soft voice. "Have things been too fast for you, Edward; too much to handle all at once: leaving the service, meeting me, our affair, the land? Do you think you're crowding too much into your life too soon?"
"Yes; but it's only because I'm not allowing myself more room for variation from old patterns and the acceptance of my newly recovered freedom.
"We can quit any time; we've already talked about this. I don't want to; but I don't want our relationship to be upsetting to you. I admit, it's been like..." and she stopped for a moment and he answered her:––
"Like the whirlwind you and Jason got caught up in the first time you met?"
"Yes," she answered in surprise at his intuitiveness.
"New things can get pretty old in a short time; I think we both know that, Cecile."
"We could be different," she replied, in a voice hesitant of expressing encouragement, for she did not wish to insinuate herself on him if he would be unhappy.
"Could we be different?" Or is that only another kind of lip service? Maybe lots of people say that; only they never mean it––oh, I guess they do when they say it; but what about afterwards?"
"It's good we're airing this out; maybe I'm wrong; maybe we're just a flash in the pan––nothing more."
"Would it matter?" he asked, slipping off the rocks and standing on the wet, hard–packed sand.
She was silent for a long time; Cecile stared down at the sand.
"I think it would matter to me. I fell in love with you the day you and Jack came home. I'm only beginning to realize that now; I'm sort of slow about admitting things to myself––but I'm getting better at it."
Edward turned and looked out to the horizon; he was caught in a dual argument of unquestioned trust and suspicion of motive on the part of Cecile; it wrenched his heart to think he might be only a passing episode of transition in her life. Deep in his heart he now knew he loved her; but he could not lift the veil of his dream any farther and could not see her outstretched hand of devotion. He was like a tiger still in the jungle of his emotions and could not smell or taste the flavors of love being offered him; he would not be made a fool of; his confusion swirled around in his mind like the waters before him; yet he felt compelled to do something––even if someone got hurt; he had to know in no uncertain terms; and he wheeled about on his heel and faced her. He looked at her long and hard. "In love with me or in love with a way of soothing yourself because your marriage is rotten?"
"That's awful!" she said in indignation. "You're wretched for saying that," she said with a twist in her lips; she was hurt and angry. She jumped down from the rocks, and, in doing so, lost her balance. Edward put out his arm to catch her, but she pushed his arm away and slumped to the sand; he made to help her rise.
"I don't need your help––thank you." Her voice was sharp.
He had meant to be callous; he had wanted to hurt her because he was angry and afraid of being hurt himself. He wanted to declare his open love for her yet was unable because of his own uncertainties and he did not want to be used as a placebo for her unhappy marriage.
But the roots of true love cannot forever be hidden from the lover. As her sharp voice faded, a lone gull passed over and called in its dissonant call. He looked up to the gull then looked down to Cecile; and then he saw the magnificence of their love and how it had opened up so many gates of happiness and how it was only his inability to let go of his rigid past and to see things in a new light which prevented him from fully realizing the truth in his heart; his life had changed and he was only now becoming aware of it; he saw what a fool he had been, what a hard–headed, suspicious fool. She indeed loved him.
He fell to her side; he took her chin in his hand and pulled her face up; she did not resist, but her face was hard. He tried to look into her eyes and spoke almost in a whisper:––
"I never in my life asked anyone to forgive me but I ask you. People doubt, they can't see, then they see, I can see, I can see, darling. I'm sorry I doubted you; I couldn't understand your feelings because I didn't understand mine; now it's all clear. I love you deeply, Cecile. What else can I say?"
Her face softened; their breach of misunderstanding was mended, and there was tenderness between them again. He still held her face but now gently, lovingly, meeting her gaze. He sat down beside her, secure in their new intimacy of body and soul.
"I want us to be together always; you want that too; but these past few days have been hell for me and I've got so much garbage in my mind that it's driving me crazy, Cecile. You can't know what it's like for a man like me to be in the world on his own. But I've got to be on my own and change all the rigid habits I've come to rely on. Oh, I'm so in love with you, Cecile; but I'm kind of vulnerable these days and I don't think I can hang on much more..." his voice dropped and choked and he wept in her arms, and his body shook with sobs.
"Let everything go; don't hang onto anything; be kind to yourself." Her voice was soothing; she held him, cradled him, rocked him. The eternal mother of her held him, comforting the son–lover in her arms. She absorbed his sorrows, took them into her own body; and in return she transmuted them into radiating quietude; he received it and calmness came to him.
They lay on their stomachs side by side not talking for a long time. The damp sand wetted their clothes, but it mattered not for these two. They lay long in silence before either of them had the volition to speak; and when Cecile made to speak, she meant to say they ought to be going, she cared not, however, to form the words; instead, she rose to her knees and pointed toward the cliff's stairs.
Together they walked mutely up the beach and back to the house.
They sat once again in the kitchen and in their same places as before; their empty glasses of kirschwasser were still where they had left them; all seemed the same, and they seemed the same, yet they were different now.
The glasses were filled again and they sipped the liqueur.
"Edward, you've made me very happy; loving you has given me something I cannot yet fully understand. I want to make you as much a part of my life as you want; I want to change my life, and I want to change it with you––or maybe without you. I want to jump out of my skin! I'm fed up with compromises; I don't want to compromise my life any more so I'm going to do something about it; Edward, I'm going to start changing my life by starting divorce proceedings. I'll stay with you if you want; it's that simple––with or without you."
He reached across the table and held her.
"Stay here with me. If I lose you, I lose my future. We'll stay together under one roof. We don't know each other very well yet, but we've got the rest of this evening and the rest of our lives to find out. This is our home and we sink or swim together. I';ve got a vineyard I've got to grow and I want us to grow with it. This is going to hurt Jack––I really love that guy––but I've got my own life to consider. I'll talk to him––even if he doesn't understand. But we both might lose him.
"Yes; I thought about that. We'll both talk to him. You'll see, everything will work out." She freed one of her hands and touched him on the cheek. "Now let's walk to a telephone; I'd like to tell Jason I'm not coming home."
Cecile spoke to Jason; at first he didn't understand; but when he understood the matter, he flew into a rage. Cecile listened to his ranting and was about to hang up herself when Jason, with an angry arm, slammed his own receiver down making a loud noise.
For a long perplexing time he stood by the instrument with his hand still on it. He tried to think; but his anger clouded his mind. in search for some action to take, he walked to Patricia's room and knocked.
Patty was in bed reading when she heard the knock on her door.
"Who is it?"
"It's Daddy, Patty; I've got to talk to you; it's about your mother."
"Come in," she said, and as he walked in she asked: "What's happend, Daddy? Is mom ok?"
Jason sat on her bed and tried to look at his daughter, but he could not face her but, instead, directed his vision to a wilderness poster on the wall.
"Patty, I just don't know where to begin––your mother and...and...that pal of Jack's––they're together, at his house, and she's not coming home. She just called me. Can you beat that? That punk Marine and my wife! Him and his homecoming gifts why I never––carrying on in my house. How dare he! But her, has she lost her sense of propriety? Why she could be his mother! She might as well have jumped into bed with her precious Jack! What am I going to do? If this is made public, I'll be the laughing stock of the whole county––I'm well known. What about my position? Doesn't your mother know she'll destroy my career? Is there no decency in her to leave me for an uneducated mercenary like Fox! O, that vile woman! Patty," he said, his voice at a high pitch and nervous, "I'll have to resign; you'll have to leave school. The shame of this. Patty, you must help me. They've got to be stopped. Tell me where he lives."
Patty heard the news about her mother and felt positively sick over it; she drew in a deep pull of breath and sighed, sharing the shame felt by her father. Nevertheless, she was clear headed enough to see that her immediate concern was not herself, but her father: she saw his red face, his narrowed eyes and saw the clenching and unclenching of his fists; and these strange manifestations frightened her and she knew that should her father confront Edward and her mother in his present state, he might lose his self–control. She'd never seen her father act this way.
She took hold of his arm and tried to pull him next to her.
"Let it go for tonight, Daddy; you'll be able to see this more clearly in the morning; I'm behind you. I think what Mom is doing is awful, just awful," and she began to cry, just a little. "And, and...I'm going to tell Jack; he'll find out what kind of a buddy he has." Her voice finally broke, but there was a secret delight of spite in Patty which made her look forward to telling Jack. She pulled her father closer and put her arms around him, giving him a kiss on the cheek.
"I'm with you, Daddy; we'll make it through this mess; maybe it won't be as bad as you think; but you can't go to them tonight. I won't let you." She hugged her father even closer to herself. Jason did not want to give in; he struggled both with the sense of his violated manhood and pride, which wanted satisfaction, and with the warm persuasions of his daughter's half whispered, loving entreaties.
He reconsidered. Yes, he would stay; what had he to gain by a confrontation with them. That Fox was beneath him. Why lower one's self, was Jason's resolve. He hugged patty; she had been the solace he'd needed.
After talking to her for a few minutes longer, assuring her of his staying home, Jason left Patty and went to his room where he sat in the dark and fell asleep in his chair.
The Stoddard household was silent the next morning when Patty got out of bed. She washed her face with cold water, put on her robe, and, walking to Jack's room, knocked.
"It's Patty. May I come in?"
Jack was sitting up in bed reading a magazine which he put down. "Come in my little early bird," he called.
Patty stared at him for a moment, for in spite of her own sadness, she had a difficult time suppressing the smile which began to spread over her face.
"Mom left Dad, Jack."
Jack snapped to attention and the magazine he'd been reading fell to the floor. "Left him?"
"For your buddy, Eddy Fox," she said, raising her voice.
"You've got to be kidding. Hey, cousin, don't play games with my head so early in the morning."
"It's no game. Ask Dad; better yet, go ask Mom herself; you've been to his place; that's where she spent the night––in his bed!"
Her voice was angry, hurt and she cried, but she was also content it had been she to first bring this news to her cousin; thus, at last, she was able to satisfy her petty spites for Jack. And by her vile act she felt repaid for all the wrongs she assumed Jack had ever done to her.
Jack, confounded, was unable to speak clearly.
"How could he do it? My best friend, and Auntie, they've gone off their heads. It's ok with me if she leaves Jason, but why with Eddy? Something's crazy. I've got to talk to those people."
He threw the bedclothes off himself; he was naked. Patty could not help seeing her cousin thus; but he paid no mind to her presence and went about dressing; she rushed from the room; her face flushed with the blushes of embarrassment, her moment of triumph not as sweet as she thought it would be.
Later, when Jack was let into the Pleasure Point house, he wasted no time and came straight to the point:––
"What the hell is going on? I feel as if I've been betrayed, and I'm not leaving until I get an explanation!" He sat on the couch and waited, all the while his anger and hurt rose up in him.
Cecile took a chair and pulled it close to the couch. She was poised outwardly, inside, however, there was a churning of loyalties; nevertheless, she was willing to talk and explain with the hope that Jack would not have any long–standing resentments either for her, or, for Edward. But, at the same time, she had to make her stand even if she could not make him understand––even if she hurt him.
"Before you came home, Jack, I'd made up my mind to divorce Jason. But I didn't want your homecoming to be marred by the tumult my walking out on him two weeks ago would have caused; you would have arrived right in the middle of it. But I thought your homecoming more important than my most private desire." She paused for a moment, lowered her eyes and continued: "Jack, I've done all I could for you both as your aunt and your surrogate mother. I've never interfered with your life; I gave you––almost––free reign. Now I'm going my way with Edward. I know you two are very close, and now you feel betrayed by him and what we have done. I understand that clearly. I think I know you pretty well. But he has not betrayed you. So I'm not going to try to explain anything or justify anything. We fell in love and I'm sorry our love for each other is hurting you. I apologize if what we have done hurts you. However, I have my own life to live as you have yours, Jack. Think what you want, but know I am always here for you––on my terms––which means being with Edward––in spite of your feelings. I'm sorry, there is no other way."
There, it's done, she thought. She had spoken from the heart and she had no regrets.
Jack turned his face as if wanting not to hear his aunt's words. By turning his face, however, he came face to face with Edward; he hated him not really knowing why; but he hated him––his friend.
"And what about you, Eddy? I thought we were friends, but this..."
"I'm still your friend, Jack; that's not changed between Cecile and I, our being together is our personal decision––it's my life, too, Jack; maybe it's destiny she and I met and fell in love. It couldn't be helped. I've been in agony for days. Do you think it's been easy on me? Nevertheless. we've made our decision and we are going on together––the way your life will have to go on. Ok, don't like it; but you can accept us. I am always your friend; you are always welcome in our home."
Jack's face became stern, angrier.
Cecile's heart was heavy and she knew well Jack's feelings; she had raised him and there was a little piece of her sensitivity and sense of honor forever forged in him; and it was with her deep love for him that she looked upon him knowing his great hurt, yet she could do nothing for him. "Do you want to strike out at someone? Then strike me. Satisfy your anger on me and maybe we can all be friends afterwards," said Cecile.
Jack heard her words and their license frightened him. He turned from her. For a moment Jack's vision blurred then refocused; he looked again at his aunt, then back to his friend; he had difficulty recognizing them; for one moment their faces seemed to be the faces of strangers and again changing into the faces he knew so well but suddenly did not know at all.
Jack spied the half open front door. An impulse to flee came over him.
He jumped to his feet. "Go to hell––both of you! I can't be friends with you!" he screamed, as he rushed out of the house not really knowing why except that he had to be out of their sight.
When Jack finally took himself home the only thing he wanted to do was get out of that house as soon as he could. He packed his seabag with civilian clothes, sat at his desk and wrote Patty a brief note: "So long, Cuz––I'm hitting the road......I just might not come back––ever!
Patty wrote a letter:––
I thought I would come to see you and talk to you about what you've done; but I changed my mind. What you did was cruel and unforgivable. How could you? And with Eddy Fox––of all people. I guess I'll have to see you sometime––but I have to be aloof from you.
There was pain in Cecile's heart; but she let the emergent pain flow out of her and maintained her new resolve to alter her responses and concentrate on just being true to her true self, the self which only wished to grow in private and not let others disturb the nascent growth which she was beginning to nourish within herself. She would not give a great deal of thought to Patricia's letter; her responsibilities now lay elsewhere: her life and her life force were now linked to Edward's and therein was her devotion.
Jason, calmer the next day, went to Paul Farraday and opened up to him. Paul was wide eyed all the time Jason spoke. The very idea of Cecile leaving to live with Jack's house guest was incredulous. Nonetheless, he put aside his personal interests and approached the problem from a legal point of view.
"Jason, for the moment don't do anything; don't try to see her; but if you have to, bring a witness; one can never be too sure about people or how they'll react. Now about you wanting me to keep this as quiet as possible: I'll do what I can; but divorces are a matter of public record and I'm limited in what I can do."
"I understand, Paul. I leave it entirely in your hands; you are the only man I can trust; I've not been feeling good about what she did; but I must try to avoid the slightest hint of scandal; bargain with her if you must, but I want that man kept out of this as much as possible. The less known about why she has left me the better. You know about my plans for Redwood; this unpleasantness could ruin everything just at the moment when I shall be needed most."
Paul sat through his friend's oration half wishing Jason were not so serious. Jason's seriousness too often disturbed Paul.
"Easy does it, Jason. Sooner or later Cecile is going to engage counsel and we'll take it from there. Relax."
"Of course; you're right; I'll do what you tell me. Now, Paul, I must go; I've a very important meeting with a new department head."
Only Gaby suffered no shock and had no recriminations to make. She boldly drove to Edward's house and talked to Cecile herself, and Cecile welcomed Gaby, glad to see a friendly face from her past.
"I don't know if you'll want to stay on at the house, Gaby, but I'm sure Mr. Stoddard will want your continued good services. That, however, is entirely up to you. I'll give you a good reference if you chose to leave."
"I guess I'll stay on a bit, ma'am; no need for me to go anywhere just yet; someone's got to see that the bills are paid and the groceries bought––and all the rest––seeing that you'll not be around to see about them. But don't worry, ma'am; I'll take good care of Patty, too. Anyway, I thought you might need some of your things immediately, so I packed a suitcase; it's in the car, ma'am, just a few things."
Cecile was touched. "How thoughtful," she said, embracing Gaby in gratitude.
Cecile engaged an attorney, the divorce was in process. She returned to the house for her things. She left all of her jewelry except Elena's emerald ring which she was saving for Jack until he married. The harpsichord and her sheet music, manuscripts, books, paintings, clothes and a few odds and ends which all fitted neatly into the small pick–up truck Edward had rented for Cecile's portage. When her things were unloaded at their cliff home, he then drove up into the hills to show her the land.
He took the old road Clementi had told him about and over its ruts and rocks and exposed tree roots Edward maneuvered the truck.
Cecile walked around the front yard and stood at some distance from the house and gave it a long look.
"We can put solar panels on the south side," she said, a big smile looming on her face, "and a vegetable and flower garden...I've not had a garden in years, yes––and some chickens––maybe even a goat," she said with pure joy at being able to plan a different future for herself.
"And we'll grow grapes," said Edward, putting his arm around her, happy she was also taken by his dream.
They entered the old house. The stairs to the second story were in excellent condition; the darkened pine board walls of the upper rooms had held up through the years, albeit festooned at every corner with spider webs.
"All we need to do is give the upstairs a good scrubbing and it would be fit to live in," said Cecile. With Edward's help, she opened a long shut window. Fresh air flew into the room and the sweet smell of it overcame the musty odor in the upper room.
Edward stood behind her with his arms around her and his hands resting on her stomach; her hands rested on his. "As soon as your divorce is final we'll get married, Cecile. I want that," he said in his soft, warm way.
"I want that, too, Edward."
He was at peace; his uncertainties were dissolving in his new–found love and devotion to Cecile and to their homestead.
They first prepared two rooms upstairs and made them liveable. Edward got the old pump going; but he had no intention of living so primitively. When the upstairs was made liveable, they started on the kitchen and the downstairs rooms; and when the rooms met their high standards, they hired a small, local contractor, (with whom they worked along side) and had a new well dug and tapped; they put in a septic tank, indoor plumbing and restored electrical power. Then they set out to restore the interior. When their house was in order, they moved from Pleasure Point and closed the door to their past.
Spring bloomed and they opened their house to the sun and wind and held each other tightly in their cozy kitchen which looked out to a pen in which sat five brown hens.
They planted a garden and continued to work on the land, awakening it.
For a long time Jason felt victimized by Cecile's sudden departure from his life; though he had come to grow tired of her, the habit of her presence was missed and hard to break. The explanations he had to give to friends troubled him and the legal formalities of the divorce were both trying and a nuisance to him; his life had changed drastically and he was unusually nervous going about in his daily routine; moreover, he began snapping at people, being more curt than necessary, and being absent–minded about his administrative duties.
But in spite of his troubles, Jason was thankful that Edward was not mentioned in the divorce; nevertheless,., tongues wagged and bits of gossip came to Jason about Cecile having left him for another man; though he withstood the gross rumors, his person was terribly offended by them and within him smouldered a controlled anger which would have made another man burst and spew forth a lava of hate; but not Jason. This centurion would not break ranks.
Yet through all this challenge to his reputation, Jason's beast was not driven off; it hungered beneath him like a blur of maggots eating away at the flesh of his mind and, in spite of many, meetings with Janet Alten, she was not responding to his double entendres, his overly long touchings of her hand or arm when emphasizing some point. In all things concerning the project, she was obedient and he was pleased with that; but that she had not given him some small sign or hint of reciprocity irked him; his beast was getting harder to control.
His more rational side, however, reasoned her unresponsiveness was simply her inability to see him in any other light than her superior; and so, to soften his image, he arranged a quiet dinner for them at an elegant, out of the way restaurant on the other side of the mountains, saying to her it was a treat because the project was going so well.
Janet did not want to accept the dinner invitation; she felt obligated, however, to him, whenever he brought up the language project ; and, indeed, her organization and innovativeness were showing signs of optimum success; needless to say, she was pleased and rewarded whenever Jason praised her work. Socially, she did not wish his company; she knew, however, that to maintain her position, she would have to socialize with him from time to time. Therefore, she relented and accepted his invitation out of fear for her job and admitted awe and of Jason.
Maureen quickly displayed her opposition to the dinner invitation, and for a few hours there were loud voices and tensions between the two lovers. Moreover, Jason had insisted upon using his own car and picking Janet up at her house. Maureen's fury hit it peak on that point!:––
"You're still playing the school girl, the sweet little, pretty girl who can't say no when the teacher says she's cute! When will you grow up?"
Maureen's censure cut Janet to the quick; Janet felt she needed to assert herself and defended her reasons for going and felt justified in the end in doing so. Maureen, in her anger, would not speak to her lover and finally left the house in a huff. Janet went after her and only after a long, conciliatory and persuasive pleading, Maureen came back; they were half reconciled by the time Janet left.
Jason ordered gourmet dishes of quail and trout with wild mushrooms; he selected fine wines with expertise; they ate; they chatted; he tried to be witty and risque in French, a language he did not know well, She laughed more at his linguistic blunders than at his attempt at humor and indelicacy, which had failed with Janet.
His indelicacies, however, made her leery and her defenses were up; she sensed something in his voice, his manner which bespoke of seduction and she no longer trusted him; but she did not let her face or voice betray her.
After dinner, as they drove down dark, lonely, narrow Highway Nine back to Santa Cruz, she was sorry she had not taken her own car.
"Why is a lovely woman like you not married, Janet?"
She knew well (now) what he was leading up to; he had no genuine curiosity about her life. He was after her! She did not like his question; but an answer, any answer she must give.
"I guess I was always too busy studying for my degrees; there really was never any time to think of marriage."
There, she thought, smugly to herself, that should satisfy him.
"But surely you must have some special gentleman with whom you keep company?" said Jason; and for a moment while he spoke, he sensed something of Cecile's poise in his voice.
Janet liked even less this new intrusion into her private life; she was angry with herself and dug her fingernails into the palm of her hand.
"No one special," she said, drawing out her words slowly, trying to conceal her irritation and growing anger.
Jason was not deaf to her displeasure.
"Excuse me, I don't mean to pry. Did I offend you?" His voice was smooth and full of apology.
"A little," answered she, feeling somewhat relieved by the change in his voice.
But he continued: "You are a lovely woman; and I'm sure by now you've realized I'm attracted to you; and I'd like to demonstrate my growing feelings towards you."
She wanted to scream at his honeyed words! She felt trapped.
"You are a married man and I never date married men."
But Jason's long frustrated beast would not be put off.
"Mrs. Stoddard and I are separated and waiting for our divorce; so you can feel comfortable about my marital status."
"What a fool this man is," though Janet; then she spoke:––
"It doesn't make me feel comfortable at all––and I wish, Doctor, that we might drop this. I'm in no position to have an affair with my college's president."
"Pay no mind to my academic position; this is just between the two of us––alone, and in complete privacy." He spoke with restrained fervor.
Her face was red with anger; only the darkness of the night prevented Jason from seeing her angry face and eyes.
"Please stop this car!" she said, her voice filled with indignation.
"What on earth for?" Jason asked.
"So that I may get out and make my own way home."
"Don't be silly; we're miles from home and it's dark; there are no lights on this road."
"I don't care. Stop. I insist!"
The headlights of the car showed a wide turn–out on the sinuous road. Jason's beast raced to decision. He slowed and pulled off the road at the turn–out and stopped the car; he shut off his headlights. The engine stopped.
Janet made to get out of the car, but she realized her safety belt kept her a momentary prisoner; moreover, the door was locked. Too soon (for her) Jason reached out in the dark to where he thought her hand might be, but, instead, he found her thigh. With a swift attack from her talon–sharp fingernails, that hand was knocked away.
Don't touch me!" screamed Janet in a fury and fright.
"I was searching for your hand," and his hand again reached out and this time found hers and his fingers encircled her wrist tightly and all her attempts to free herself from him failed.
"What are you going to do?" she asked with tremulous voice.
"Please relax; don't be frightened; I only want to talk to you."
"We have nothing to talk about, and I demand you let me go!"
"Why are you so angry and frightened; don't you like me?"
His voice was sincere and surprised at her words and actions.
She dared not answer him in his state; for any answer she gave would only fuel his madness; she had to calm herself; she was in a furious storm of confusions, desperation and fright.
"Why can't you leave me alone?" she asked poignantly. Janet began to cry and her tears were genuine. "Please let me go,' she pleaded in a whimpering voice. She felt drained and helpless to move; she shook with fear.
Jason released her wrist; but he was not moved by her emotions; on the contrary, her meekness stimulated him and he said in an almost fatherly tone: "I won't hurt you, Janet," and he let his arm find her shoulders and slid that arm across those trembling shoulders; at his touch her trembling stopped and her muscles tightened in still greater paralyzing fear.
"Have you had bad experiences with other men; is that why you're so frightened?" his voice sounded concerned, but his intentions were depraved.
She still dared not answer him; but she knew if she did not speak up and try to sway him there would be further violence to her person. She sat silently letting him press her with his thigh and toy with her ear lobe as does a cat with some prey it has caught.
A scheme came to her.
"Please take your arm away; I'd like to say something."
Her voice was shaky, but she managed the words.
"Of course," he said, removing his arm. He settle back a little.
As she began to speak, she slowly unbuckled her safety belt.
"I had to have cervical surgery for the removal of a tumor a couple of years ago and the operation left me with another problem: I experience a great deal of pain if I have sex; and the pain lasts several days and, I bleed a lot. Even if I'd wanted to, I couldn't,:" she ended, almost smiling at her ruse.
And all the while she had been speaking Jason had slowly unzipped his trousers. There was just enough starlight coming into the car for Jason to see her subtle smile.
"But my dear, there are other ways," he said. His beast, long held in check, was now released!
One of his hands silently slid to his opened pants and his fingers reached in and his tumescent penis pulled out; and his other hand, swifter, reached up and took her by the back of the neck and his other hand, now free, grabbed one of her arms. With a jerk, he pulled her head down to his swollen phallus; his grips were strong; she could not resist the swift, downward motion and she was barely able to avert her mouth; she felt the touch of his glans on her cheek, felt a bead of moisture from his urethra.
"Suck, suck or I can stick it up your ass; it's all the same to me!"
Janet heard his poisonous words; they turned her stomach. She tried to shake her neck free from his hold.
Jason was in the glory of his unleashed best. Here was power; here was the satisfaction his evil had yearned for. What did he care about her surgery? he would have her just the same.
Letting go of her arm and finding the hem of her skirt, he reached underneath and tore at her panties. She grabbed him, but she was no match for his strength and persistence.
She was being raped and the absolute horror of it struck Janet. Her glands pumped even more fluids of fear through her veins; her heart palpitated faster in a rapid rhythm of primitive fear and self–preservation.
His finger hooked onto the elastic of her panties, and, with one violent pull, they were torn from her body and her pubis was exposed to his hand which dug into her with pain. She screamed! but to no avail. Her nails dug into his face; but a swipe of his paw slapped her hand away.
An angry, commanding, guttural voice barked at her:––
"Stop! Don't resist me! I shall have you and there's the end of it! You make it hard on yourself; don't be a fool!" His beast had won over his mind, completely; he was now an outcaste from civilization, turned into something worse than an animal and cut off from human reasoning.
"I don't want your filthy hands on me! If I could kill you, I would! Now leave me alone!" her voice was loud and angry. Had she had the means, just then, she would have killed him.
She screamed her last sentence; her mouth was wide open when she felt the blow of his savage fist as it smashed across her mouth. The shock of the blow left her breathless; stunned, she lay helpless and did not move during her arrested respiration.
And it was during this brief shock–paralysis that he spread her legs and was on top of her trying to gain entrance to where no man had ever been.
She felt him and regained her senses. Her hands reached his testicles and she squeezed with all her strength.
Jason bellowed in pain and slapped her repeatedly in the face until she, almost losing consciousness, let go her grasp.
He held her down with one powerful arm and again spread her legs; there was no more resistance in her; his rapacious fingers spread her labiae; into her he pushed and pushed, meeting dry resistance and finally the barrier of her virginal hymen. He thrust again; he could not believe what he was feeling.
"You're a virgin!" said he in amazement. "No wonder you didn't want––and at your age. What a prize you are!" Now spurred on to greater appetites of violence, he took the full weight of his body and battered against her hymen ripping! it and at last the beast had what it had wanted for so long.
Janet moaned in pain from his brutality and bled; and her blood lubricated the act of violation as Jason slid in and out of her with ease.
He was not long in his act, however, when he ejaculated; as he did, he moved faster and faster, and she groaned in excruciating pain and torn spirit.
His face was next to hers; she could smell his foul breath; she felt his warm, spurting semen in her; everything she was revolted against his intrusion and his leaving his evil, beastly liquid in her. Her stomach kicked with revulsion at such a thing and she knew she would vomit. Instinctively she turned her head sideways; but already her half digested dinner shot up her throat; and while Jason was in his throes of orgasm, her vomitus streamed onto his face. His nostrils filled with her vomitus; his lips dripped it and his tongue tasted of it and from his own befouled mouth came curses directed at her, hissing, spitting them at his victim who had dirtied him. He was still in her, still hard. He lifted his torso off her and withdrew out of her half way, then plunged into her as hard as he could again and again, punishing her. His breath came in heavy draughts; he was wild with rage and repugnance at her having vomited on him. At last his battering fury abated.
"You bitch!" he growled, "why did you have to do that?"
Her mouth was bitter; her throat burned and every muscle in her body hurt; moreover, the punishing thrusts he had just dealt her caused her such pain she wished, at that moment, she would die for surcease from the agony he was cursing her.
Jason wiped his face with his coat sleeve.
Janet's hand fell limp to the car floor next to her purse; and, despite her fog, she remembered the steel ball point pen she always carried in it; her fingers crept into her open purse; she felt around until the pen was in her grasp. With her thumb she pressed the cartridge release and the fine– pointed pen stuck out of the slender steel shaft.
She pulled her arm out of her purse, and, without a moment's hesitation (for she knew exactly what she must do) she stabbed blindly towards him!
The pen point caught his cheek; she felt the tip rip into his skin only to stop because of his teeth and gums. He gasped and fell backwards in shock, hitting his head on the door's window.
Now it was he who choked for breath; he whose skin had been torn open; he who suffered pain and bled. She drew her legs out from underneath him, and when freed from his hulk, she kicked him as hard as she could; he fell sideways hitting his shoulder on the dashboard and found himself wedged between the door and the steering wheel.
Janet pulled at the lock and opened the door with trembling hands and staggered out. She tried to stand, but she fell; she got up on shaking legs and steadied herself on the open car door.
In the starlight she stood out like some hideous hag in torn clothes, her body bruised, her face swelling, all of her besmeared and bloody; and her hair went every which way making of her a wild Medusa with snakes of retribution writhing about her head.
"You filthy swine!" she screamed in a harsh, raspy, venomously filled voice. She breathed hard, long breaths which made her light–headed, and a too sudden dizziness made her hang on tightly to the car door for fear of falling again.
Jason groaned in pain; he could not move. The ball point pen was still sticking out of his cheek. His hand reached up to the protruding weapon and slowly pulled it out; he moaned an agonizingly protracted moan. He grasped pen like a knife and unwedged his body, and straightening out his legs, he pushed himself a long the seat towards her––fully intending to murder her with it.
In a panic of self–preservation, Janet looked about her for some weapon, and at her feet a large stone was visible. She reached down, picked up the stone, and, when Jason's legs started to slide out, she lifted the stone with both hands over her head and hurled! it down on his legs full force.
Jason screamed out in the dark criminal night falling back unconscious onto the front seat of the car.
Janet turned and ran; and she ran and ran and ran as if pursued by ten–thousand devils. Her shoes echoed on the asphalt road. She tumbled and fell losing one shoe; she picked herself up; her knees were skinned and bleeding. Limping, she continued running until she felt her heart would burst and her legs give way under her. Finally, however, her strength giving out, she collapsed to the side of the road, rolled down into a shallow ditch onto her back, with her lusterless eyes staring up to the stars.
Like a frightened, wounded animal, she lay in the ditch a long time before her breathing slowed down and her heart stopped thumping its rapid rhythm of panic and fear against the wall of her chest.
All her consciousness was directed to the pain in her vagina; she dwelt on that pain, centered her mind on that singular wound. She rolled onto her side, for being on her back reminded her of him on top of her. She drew up her legs making her body into a protective ball; it was then that she burst into a moan– filled outpouring of tears. She wept, and her body convulsed until she could stand no more, and from her throat there came a single, almost primordial scream of despair; her anguish filled the night, her body gave a mighty twitch and her tears ceased.
Janet wanted to get up; she tried to push herself up; but her exhaustion was complete and so she lay in that position until sleep, merciful sleep came to her. She slept until the twittering of dawn birds bitter–sweetly awakened her from her nightmare.
Because of the pain of the fracture caused by the stone Janet had hurled against Jason's leg, he lost consciousness, and for over an hour he lay on the front seat of his car thusly; when he regained consciousness, there was only insufferable pain from his punctured face and splintered bone to greet him. He moaned, wiped his eyes with his hand and tried to sit up. He refused to be laid low; by the sheer force of his will, he pulled himself up and, all in pain, moved slowly into the driver's seat where he sat grimacing in utter agony. He gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white and he bellowed out his hurt and indignation. His throat was dry and when he cried out, his voice was hoarse and his anger at all that had happened to him made him weep, for he also saw, all too well, the position he was in; he imagined the police coming for him at any moment, and he cursed and regretted not having killed Janet when he had had the chance.
"I'll lose everything––everything!" he called out in his hoarse, pain–filled voice. "I'll go to prison!" And for the first time in many, many years Jason was truly afraid.
But in between his flights of fear, pain and humiliation, he knew he must seek medical attention; but by that very act he would expose himself; however, under the circumstances, he had no choice. In pain and full of fear of the unknown, Jason started the car motor. He was thankful for the high idle of the motor; he put his automatic transmission into gear, released the hand brake and slowly the car crawled toward the road.
The emergency room receptionist gasped when she saw the face of the well–dressed man the orderlies were wheeling in from a parked car; however, before the man would consent to any medical treatment, he insisted on making a phone call.
Paul Farraday heard Jason's voice and shook his sleepy head and listened in astonishment.
"Paul, I'm at the Dominican Hospital emergency room; come here as quickly as possible; I need your help," Jason breathed deeply and groaned.
"No time for questions––just come here––I'll talk to you then. Paul, I'm in great pain––goodbye, the doctor is waiting for me."
Paul dressed and drove to the hospital. He was a long time in waiting; but his old friend was injured and he was waiting out of friendship.
A nurse tapped the dozing Farraday awake. "Mister Stoddard would like you to take him home," she said.
"He's being released?"
"He insists––even against the doctor's advice. This way, please."
Down a hall and into a recovery room Farraday was lead. The nurse left the two men alone.
"Jason––my God! What happened to you?" exclaimed Paul Farraday upon seeing that Jason's face was bandaged on one side, and the unbandaged portion of his face was gouged and scratched; his hands were scratched too, and on one leg. his left, he had a cast.
"I'm so glad you're here, Paul; take me to your place."
"Jason, you haven't told me how you were injured; and I've a right to know. Am I here as a friend or an attorney?"
"Both. Paul, be patient; I'll tell you everything––just get me out of here first."
"Jason, if you've done something illegal then for God's sake, tell me now. I'm here to help you, but if you've broken the law, I can't take you to my place. You must understand that. First tell me, then let me decide what action to take. What happened?"
Jason clenched his teeth for a long time before he had the courage to open his mouth and confess:––
"All right, Paul, I've got to tell you sooner or later. What I'm going to tell you is very humiliating for me; you know what kind of a man I am; I don't often condemn myself; and I've done a most stupid thing; I must have been out of my mind––plain crazy. I don't know what came over me, an impulse..." Jason swallowed hard, "I raped a woman tonight, and she fought me and left me stabbed in the face and she fractured my tibia with a heavy stone."
The look of incredulity on Farraday's face sent a shudder down Jason's back. Paul was both shocked and repelled at what he heard from the lips of his oldest friend.
"Oww, Jason, tell me, tell me it's not so!" said Farraday, who, as if in a daze, rose from his chair and walking, circumambulated the recovery room trying to get a clear understanding in his head of the foul crime he'd heard confessed by Jason.
"It's the truth, Paul."
"But Jason, if she left you in such a condition, what did you do to her?" and then Paul's voice stopped in a choke at his next realization: "Jason, did you kill her?"
"No! She's alive––I swear it! Paul, please believe me; she's alive; she ran away; I only roughed her up a little, that's all."
"That's all? My God, man, You could spend the rest of your life in the penitentiary!" And for a moment, Paul wished he had never known Jason Stoddard or had ever been his friend.
Now agitated by cross currents of loyalties, Paul took off his coat and threw it roughly on his chair and paced back and forth.
"Were there any witnesses; have you told anyone else?"
"No witnesses––and you are the only one I've told, Paul; but by now she's gone to the police; I might be arrested any minute. I'm afraid.
"You've got to turn yourself in, Jason; that's the only way."
"No! I've got to get away!"
"Don't be a fool! You told me yourself the woman stabbed you in the face––the physician must report such a wound to the proper authorities. And the woman you raped is probably with the police even as we speak. Jason, as your friend and, for the moment, your mouthpiece, I advise you to pick up that phone and turn yourself in."
The defeated centurion picked up the telephone. Paul had to push the numbers as Jason's hand was shaking so much he could not.
An early morning sheriff's patrol found the dazed Janet staggering bare footed down the last turns of Highway Nine. With bruised and swollen lips she mumbled her story to the deputy who, with siren blaring and red lights flashing, drove her, posthaste to the hospital; and after she had been treated, she repeated her account of the rape to the deputy. with all the details and the name of her rapist.
In not too very long a time after Jason's surrender, the deputy's report was received and given to sheriff's detectives. Janet's condition and Jason's condition left no doubt in the mind's of the sheriff's detectives as to what had happened.
The wheels of law and public information spun. The local newspaper had the story of the rape in its noon edition; and before the day was out the San Francisco papers were carrying the story. Later, the rape was aired on the radio and television news. Jason was at last under arrest, exposed, vulnerable, ruined and utterly humiliated.
Shortly after Jason's arrest and confinement under guard at the hospital, Paul drove to the Stoddard house. Gaby dressed in her robe answered the door. Paul had had to face face many disagreeable situations during his law career, but this one troubled him deeply.
"Mister Farraday, what brings you here at such an early hour? Doctor Stoddard didn't say he was having company for an early breakfast."
"I'm a messenger of bad news, Gaby. Doctor Stoddard is at Dominican Hospital. Would you please wake Patty and ask her to come down."
Gaby was shocked, but she went directly to her task without questioning Paul as to why Jason was in the hospital; and as she ascended the stairs, she turned her head and asked: "Has Mrs. Stoddard been told, sir?"
Calling Cecile had slipped his mind, but being thus reminded, he went to the telephone and called. Paul spoke to Cecile as a bewildered Patty entered and waited, and listened to the end of his conversation.
"Yes," said Paul, into the receiver, "I'll be here; I'm going to tell Patty."
No sorrow could be greater for a young woman who loves her father than to be told he has been arrested for committing an heinous act, and that the alleged victim of his criminality is her teacher. At first there was reluctance to believe; but Patty could not doubt the veracity of this news from the family's old and trusted friend. This rape ripped away the ingenuous, daughterly dream she'd had about her father; but now, with this news, her father became a monster to her sex, to be feared and prosecuted.
Paul held Patty until Cecile arrived, and when she did, Patty went to her tearfully. Cecile embraced her while Edward stood mutely close by.
Later, as Cecile and Paul and Edward sat together, Cecile was still shaking her head in disbelief.
"How could he have done such a thing? It's pure madness; he's lost his mind," she said.
"That's what I think," answered Farraday.
"Then you must plead insanity for him, Paul. If only I'd been more observant," she added, remembering the strange nocturnal behavior of Jason she had witnessed the night after the fog. "I saw him acting most strangely one night..."
"Now, now, Cecile, let me handle the pleading. I don't even know if I'm going to take his case; but it's a long and complicated process to enter a plea of insanity. There's got to be professional supporting evidence and an observation of some odd behavior by an ex wife is not evidence. You can't begin to understand what's in store for me or the attorney who takes this case. Forgive me, Cecile, for being too much the attorney at this moment," he said, by way of apologizing.
"I understand, Paul," she rejoined.
"I'll do what I can for him. Trust me, Cecile. You might be hounded by news reporters; don't say anything; they are a pack of nervous hyenas and will do anything and say anything to make this bigger and sensationally uglier than it already is. As for Patty, I advise you to take her to stay with you and close this house––all temporarily, of course. Maybe I'll be able to get Jason out on bail––if I can swing it––but I don't think so... This is a rotten business. I should have retired long ago. I've got to go home and get some sleep, myself. I'll call when I have something. In the meanwhile, lie low."
Edward had to half carry the overcome Patricia from his truck into the house while Cecile hurried to make a place for her daughter on the couch.
"I'll fix you something hot to drink, then we'll all eat breakfast, darling; a little hot food will make us all feel better, Edward, please help me in the kitchen."
Cecile, who had taken every thing thus far, sangfroid, collapsed into a kitchen chair and buried her face in her hands and cried.
Edward stood by her, but he did not try to console her. He brought Patty some hot tea, then returned to the kitchen and waited patiently for his beloved to stop crying; when she did, he broke his long–held silence and made his thoughts known:––
"For whom are you crying: the poor woman he raped, or for your bereaved daughter, or, yourself?"
Cecile lifted her head and gave a toss of her head to clear her face of hair. "I guess for all three of us, and for Jason, too."
"I'm not sure how to say this, Cecile, but don't waste any tears over him. He did it to himself. He's lucky she didn't kill him––and I don't care if he's crazy or not."
"Edward, Edward, don't say such things; of course he got himself into this terrible mess; but his mind is deranged; we simply cannot abandon him."
"I can. And why not you, too? What obligation do you have toward him?"
"I must stand by him for Patty's sake."
"Then stand by Patty for her own sake and not for him."
"I don't understand," she said with a puzzled look on her already sad face.
"What's motivating this obligation you suddenly feel? Did you ever stop to think that you're reacting to a lot of refuse from your marriage? We've both talked about change, then let's change. I don't want that man's destiny in my house––our house. We've cut loose from our other lives and I'm not going to let the past, yours or mine, interfere with us. Why should we pick up his burden? The law, right or wrong, will take care of him; he'll get due process, if nothing else; so it's not a question of abandoning him––it's out of our hands. You're just reacting to out–dated sentimental loyalty that has no correspondence to your new reality. Your new loyalty is to us!" he said, slapping his hand on the table. "We simply do not participate; no action. He's been arrested and he'll stand trial; ok, that's the way the law goes; we can't change that, but we needn't be part of the process unless compelled to by the law. Can't you see, Cecile? I don't want us contaminated by his evil."
"But what you suggest is cruel."
"Cruel? And what he did, wasn't that cruel? I just want the best for us. What I'm suggesting is correct and honest. It's what we must do to keep the fragile harmony we've created from imbalance. This land is my refuge from the world, it's, also, your refuge; so let's keep it that way––otherwise we invite destruction to all we've worked for."
Cecile was a long time in reflecting. She felt the sting of his words; he was sometimes rough by his directness, but she loved him nonetheless. She struggled with her conscience, separating the refuse of conditioned sentimentality from the realities of her circumstances and Edward's bitingly cogent words.
She lifted up her eyes to Edward. "You're right; I'll not involve myself concerning Jason. But, oh, I feel so sorry for him, and for Janet Alten," she said with a heavy heart.
Maureen raced to the County Hospital as soon as she was informed. She had just returned from work and still had her security guard's uniform on. She cringed at the sight of her lover's hideous face, bruised, swollen: the severally cut, drooping, lower lip; and Janet's darkened eyes stared out at Maureen in bewilderment.
Maureen did not say anything at the hospital, but waited until two days later when Janet was released. Once home, Maureen let her true feeling be known; she raised her voice and cursed Janet for having gone and cursed Jason for his savagery.
Janet cried land pleaded with her lover.
"I know, you're right; but, please, not now; no recriminations. I feel as if my whole life has been destroyed. I've been raped and beaten––almost killed! My nerves are shot. Leave me alone...go away from me...I don't need your anger––and I don't want it." She feel back on her pillows exhausted.
Maureen softened, even made some tea and served it as her way of showing Janet she still cared. But the hate in her heart for Jason was boundless.
Two Years After
Jack guided his motorcycle down the old road leading to Edward and Cecile's house. It hadn't been difficult locating them.
The sign at the beginning of the road had pricked his curiosity, though. In hand painted letters it read: "The Vineyard of Harmonious Refuge, E & C Fox, Props. Now Planting."
He slowed and stopped at the open gate and lifted his tinted wind visor. He shook his head in disbelief and uttered a "Well I'll be damned," in admiration for the restored house and grounds. He recalled his original repugnance when he and Edward had first visited the old house; now, however, it was hard to believe the land and the house were one and the same.
He kicked the motorcycle into gear and slowly rode the few remaining yards to the house.
Edward, who was on the upper terraces, heard the sound of the motorcycle and looked down. He saw the visor go up and knew immediately it was Jack. He put down his shovel and ran down the hill. "Jack! Jack!" he called out, waving his arms. "Where the hell have you been for the last two years? Welcome back!"
The two friends embraced in warm reconciliation.
"I'm so glad to be back, Eddy. I knew you'd welcome me."
They stood back and eyed each other. Edward was wearing earth soiled khaki pants and his tanned, bare torso bore witness to the many days of his working under the sun. Jack seemed to see the sun in his friend's eyes and he was glad for that.
"Let's not stand here like a couple of monkeys," Edward said, let's go to the house. Are you hungry; want some beer, wine, coffee, take a shower?"
"All of them––and to see Mom––if she'll see me..."
"Don;'t worry; she'll jump for joy. She's up at Enzo's now and should be back soon. I won't call her; I want to visit with you alone, partner."
Jack was given a tour of the house, and later, as the two friends sat over a little refreshment, Edward spoke out frankly:––
"The last time I saw you Jack, you were angry and hurt because of Cecile's coming to live with me. I'm glad you've had a change of heart; I remember you saying you didn't think you could ever be friends with either of us."
Jack looked away shame–facedly, then turned back to his friend.
"I was just hurt, and childish––maybe even a little jealous. Hell, you know I lose my cool and get lost. Don't think I haven't regretted the way I pulled out of here; it was only long afterwards that I realized how stupid I'd been. Eddy, I wrote a dozen letters of apology; but I was just too proud to send them. I am truly sorry. I know there was never any malice in your heart."
"It's all on the wind, Jack. Today is today and yesterday is forgotten."
"Good. I"m glad you feel that way," and Jack reached out and took Edward by the upper arm and squeezed it tightly in friendship. "Now tell me," continued he, releasing Edward's arm, "what's been happening since I left? I've been down in South America most of the time. Hell, I didn't speak a word of English for over eighteen months––and man, did I walk. Ha!"
"You never wrote and we never knew where you were, but, anyway, how did you wind up in South America?"
"When I left here I headed for San Diego––I even considered re–enlistment––but I came to my senses and got a job on a tuna boat, instead. I did that for about six months, mostly off the coasts of Ecuador and Peru. The few times I went ashore, I loved it; so when we sailed back to Dago, I signed off, and within ten hours, I was on a plane to Guayaquil and I've been tramping around the Andes and the jungle most of the time; I even got a job teaching English at a missionary school––I just might have a vocation after all, Ed––but my saga can wait. I want the news from the home front."
"Then you don't know about Jason?"
"What about him? Did he die while I was away?"
"It would have been better if he had died. Hold on to your hat, Jack, because I'm going to knock it off; but you get the end of the story first: your Uncle Jason is in a prison for the criminally insane."
Jack gasped in disbelief and waited for more.
"Did you ever hear of a French prof up at Redwood named Janet Alten?"
"Vaguely. Patty's teacher, I think."
"Right. Your uncle takes this gal out to dinner and somewhere on Highway Nine, he pulls over, beats her and rapes her; she stabbed him with the only weapon she had: a steel, ball point pen––how's that for survival, Marine? Anyway, she also clobbered his shins with a stone and broke a bone. Paul Farraday came to Jason's rescue––that's one sharp lawyer, Jack. He talks as fast as the speed of light. Farraday pleads temporary insanity; but it also gets brought out that Janet Alten is a lesbian; Farraday tried to use her sexuality to twist the case in favor of Jason. Can you imagine that? As if her being a lesbian made his crime any less heinous; you should have been here to read the papers; the editorials and commentaries were as thick as syrup and the papers didn't leave out a word.
"Redwood College was about to shut its doors; the scandal had those old dotards up there really in a dither; funds were cut, student's were dropping out–– not only because the president rapes a faculty member, it seems the Regents, in collusion with Jason and some big time investors, broke the original charter––you remember his plan for a science center? Well that was illegal and Gould and the others are out. The school is just getting back on its feet. But that's nothing. The judge and jury were convinced of Jason's insanity because it was confirmed by three psychiatrists. Oh, it was so, so proper and disgusting; you would have enjoyed the spectacle, Jack. All those fine, upstanding citizens outwardly agreeing he was guilty, but the local gossip reported, afterwards, it really wasn't such a vicious act, after all, she was only a lesbian––not really a woman. But the best part is yet to come, Jack. On pronouncement of sentence, Janet Alten's lover pulls out a thirty–eight and pops off three rounds, all aimed at Jason; but she's a bad shot; a juror and a couple of chairs got the bullets. Brother, did the shit ever hit the fan; the whole thing got sicker and sicker; then Alten swears in public she will kill Jason the first chance she gets; on and on until we did a little traveling of our own just to not be around here. We had reporters snooping all the time. Well, that's it. Some homecoming present."
"What a rotten, filthy mess! I always knew Jason was crazy––but I never thought that he was stupid, too," said Jack. "I'm sorry you and Mom had to go through it all––and me so far away. I should never have left. But how does this business stand now?"
"Jason is still doing time; maybe the shrinks will certify him sane some day––but I wouldn't count on it. Who knows––who cares? Patty did a flip–flop and became the devoted martyred daughter. Cecile and I invited her to live with us but she seemed to feel that our relationship triggered his insanity and she holds us responsible. She's living near the prison waiting for him. Alten's lover, of course, is in jail and Janet Alten dropped out of sight; and that's all I know."
"I wonder what happened to Alten?" asked Jack.
"I'd like to know, too. I wonder just how scrambled her brains got because of what happened to her? That's the story, Jack and to hell with it where it belongs. You're back and that will make Cecile happy. She misses you more than you know, and with the baby coming, it will be easier on her with you around."
"Baby? You mean Mom?"
"Yes," answered Edward, the proud father to be. "We were married last year, and now the baby's coming. We're so happy, Jack."
"You sly fox," said Jack, playfully, "so now I'm to have another cousin; and, as I see it, this makes you my new uncle––doesn't it?" Jack burst into laughter over this; and in the midst of his light–hearted laughter, came Cecile.
"Oh, dear God, Jack!" she cried. She stood motionless; Jack approached her and reached out to her embraced her and as he held her he spoke while tears ran down his cheeks:––
"Oh, Mom, Ed told me everything about Jason. I'm really sorry I wasn't man enough to accept you and Eddy at first. I wish now I could have been here with the both of you. Forgive me, Mom."
She was all forgiving; and they held each other for a long time and Cecile cherished Jack's having called her "Mom," rather than aunt; she welcomed that maternal name from his lips and wondered why she had never, in all the years, suggested he call her mother. She too wept and their tears fell simultaneously in joy and tenderness, and reconciliation.
They pulled away from each other and Jack, through his tears saw the delicately protruding bulge of the growing life within her.
And later, after the festive air of the evening had quieted, Jack and Cecile were alone on the porch.
"Mom, isn't it kind of dangerous for you to be pregnant at your age?"
"You mean dangerous because I'm forty–seven?"
"Well, my dear sweet, I don't think it's at all dangerous; it's more a miracle than anything else; sometimes I feel like one of those Biblical women who, after years of barreness, all of a sudden conceive,"
"Did you get religion while I was gone, Mom?"
She was a long time in ruminative silence.
She answered him at long last: "No; not religion, but a fuller appreciation of what I've got; but it goes deeper than that. Being with Edward on this land, carrying our child, has had a profound effect on the way I see things." She lowered her voice and half closed her eyes and leaned toward him a little. "I was in the garden one day weeding around the cabbages; something I do all the time, really nothing special; and I was so intent on picking weeds that I was...I don't know how to say it...transported out of this world. But then, all at once, I became aware that I was plucking out weeds. For a long time I had been mechanically picking weeds, but all the time my mind wasn't picking––only my body. I'd never felt so strange and perplexed in my whole life; it wasn't at all like getting lost in playing music. But where had I been? I still don't know, Jack. But it was a world without sorrow...that, perhaps is the only way I can describe it. Through that experience I've come to realize that there's not much distance between life and death. Afterwards, I looked around and everything seemed the same, but I don't feel the same anymore. Oh, I'm happy and Edward and I are together, deeply in love. A child will be born to us, but I'm just not the same: nothing frightens me any more. I used to be afraid of a lot of things––even this land at first. Now look at it," (and her voice became delicately animated and she opened her eyes widely) "we're about to see five hundred vines be planted and sprout their first leaves this year. What a joy that is for me, Jack, life and death being created all around us, inside of us and being able to share with these cycles; sometimes I seem to live in another dimension up here. We certainly gave it the right name, Harmonious Refuge, but don't think we've carved out a utopia for ourselves, and don't think Edward and I haven't our differences, we do; but we understand that beyond our petty needs and selves there is a supreme character in us which is what all this living is supposed to help us see. That's what Edward and I have been discussing these past couple of years. I don't know if it's any kind of religion, but it makes living a lot easier and less fractured."
"It sounds as if you've found something good, Mom," Jack said with a most serious look on his face, obviously deeply struck by his aunt's thoughts. "And what about Patty?"
"She never comes; she's welcome, though. I always keep in touch; she never answers my letters. She has given all her loyalty to her father. She has chosen her path. She'll get tired of it one of these days. I don't think she'll become an old maid. but you, Jack, I guess you'll have a lot of traveling to do. Do you know how long you'll stay?"
"I can't say. If my wanderlust acts up, there's no telling how long; but I think I'll stick around until after the baby comes––if that's all right with you and Eddy."
"Of course. And I'm so pleased you'll be staying. Edward will like it, too; he gets lonely for male company. Except for Enzo, who's become our good friend, Edward has no male chums. I want you to stay––stay as long as you like. This is, also, your home, Jack."
There was a birth that year; after a short labor, Cecile was delivered of a healthy boy and they called him after Edward's late father, Ashton, and for a middle name, they chose the name of their good friend, Enzo.
The vines grew; the child grew, and the family dug its roots deeply into the soil.
But done merely pro forma because Edward was standing close by.
"You haven't changed much, Uncle," said Jack; and out of breath, "and I'll get to work at a real archaeological site. I can even learn Turkish."
"But what about swing so well. Surely you'll not give it up for Turkish?"
"It's only for a year, Mother. Anyway, I can somehow, offended you?" asked Cecile, her voice sincerely questioning her impolite daughter The Centurioncame this way because she knew she was purposely being rude to her mother to win her father's favor.
"Then there is no reason to be hostile."
"I am not being hostile," defended Patty; but, at bottom, she