THE UNEXPECTED GUEST
ROBERT WALLACE PAOLINELLI
The wind blew hard. The surf smashed against the rocks with such force that clumps of mussels affixed to the rocks were torn off and carried away with the ebb of the waves only to be returned and smashed against the rocks again. The noise of the waves was like a cannon shot which could be heard far up from the beach at the lone house high above the thundering surf.
Outside the house the trees swayed in rugged rhythm with the powerful wind; on the ground lay pieces of windfall scattered here and there, but not staying too long in any one place, for the wind scattered everything, everything in its path.
The smoke from the house's chimney twisted in contor-ted patterns, dissipating quickly in the storm wind.
From the windows of the house came bright light pene-trating feebly, however, into the darkness. Inside the house sat a solitary man reading from a thick book. The tome was propped up on two stacked books. Edward DeMaris rested his chin on his cupped hands. Next to his right elbow was a notebook and a pen. A page of the notebook was half filled with sentences and symbols. The text DeMaris was studying treated of ancient scripts. The particular chapter he was perusing was on the development of Phoenician and related scripts: Ahiram, Ellibaal, Shipitbaal, Mesha, Kana, Tepe, Punic and NeoPunic. He paid little mind to the storm's howling winds and the booming surf. He turned his head and looked into the fireplace. "Time to put on another log," he said out loud.
The new log, a fat split of oak lay for a few minutes amid the coals, then, with a poff!, the bark burst into flame. Edward knelt before the fire and, using a twig as a spill held the twig until it burst into a jagged flame with which he lit the pipe dangling between his teeth. The oak log, now completely engulfed in orange flame, gave off a lot of heat, too much for DeMaris, who rose, stepped back and stared down into the flames.
Edward puffed his pipe and continued to stare at the burning oak log. The draw of the fire now held his attention and he ignored his ponderous tome to gaze into the fire and rest his eyes and rest his mind. And it was while he was standing thusly that he became aware of the howling wind and the thunder of the crashing waves. He shut his eyes and tilted his head slightly taking in the savage sounds of the storm. A smile spread across his lips. Edward opened his eyes, and, turning, walked to the back door, pulled aside the curtain and looked out. The weak light from the exposed window gave him a faint view of the bending trees and the prostrated grasses and bushes. "Ahh, delightful, simply delightful. I must go out and breathe some of this wild air." So saying, he took his heavy coat, donned it; and from out of one of the pockets took a watch cap and, pulling it over his head to below his ears, stepped out into the storm.
For a few minutes the warmth he had taken with him from the house was with him. But by and by he felt the chill and dampness penetrate his heavy coat, his thick corduroy pants and the cotton longjohns hugging his body. He walked against the wind; and as he walked, Edward threw his head back and sucked in deep draughts of the cold, invigorating sea air through his nostrils which made him lightheaded, but he didn't care, for he was in his element and relished the sensation of lightheadedness and the slight burning sensation in his lungs from the pure, nitrogen-tinged air of the storm.
At a safe distance from the wave-besieged rocks, he stood listening to the roar of the wind and the waves. The atomized mist from the shattering waves wetted his face and beads of moisture collected on his cap and coat. Edward DeMaris was exhilarated by the storm. All at once rain clouds, carried from the sea by the storm, dropped their heavy burden of rain simultaneous to the first bolt of green-silver lightning, followed some seconds later by a blast of thunder which seemed to burst just over his head. He was startled, but elated, nevertheless, not wanting to be caught in the open during a lightning storm, Edward hastened to his house. By the time he reached the porch the rain was falling heavily. He tarried for a moment under the overhang of his back porch for a last look at the driving rain and as he did, he heard the unmistakable sound of someone sneezing very loudly, coming from inside! Had his house been invaded by a bold thief? He was a little frightened. After all, who would be in this neck of the woods in this weather, at this late hour and at this time of the year, December?
There was only one way to find out who was inside. He decided the element of surprise would work best. He heard another sneeze. Edward fixed a look of meanness on his face then threw open the door and yelled: "What are you doing in my house?"
What he saw was a thoroughly drenched woman with a look of fright in her face standing with her back to the glowing fireplace. He did not feel threatened.
"Well?" he asked, shutting the door and boldly walking up to her, whereupon she swooned and fainted. He was quick and caught her before she could fall to the floor.
He was perplexed. In his arms was an unconscious woman, a stranger and momentarily he was at a loss as to what to do with her; but his common sense prevailed and, picking her up, he took her to the couch, laying her down as gently as he could. Edward stared down at her ashen face. He touched her neck and cheek; they were cold. He felt compassion for this stranger, and without even taking off his coat, he took a blanket, covered her, tossed more wood on the fire, then went to his kitchen and put some water to boil, poured out a dram of brandy into a Chinese tea cup and took it back to her. Dipping his finger into the brandy, he rubbed her lips with the liquor. She murmured and opened her eyes, She stared up at him:--
"I...I...saw the lights...I..." and she closed her eyes and moaned. He knelt. "Can you hear me?" he asked. She nodded her head but did not open her eyes. "Are you injured?" She opened her eyes and shook her head no.
"Here, drink this; it's brandy," and he put his hand under her head and brought her lips to the rim of the cup. She sipped, swallowed then sipped again and started to cough. "It burns," she whispered and then, "Oh, I'm so cold, so cold. Can you take me to the fire?"
Edward laid the blanket in front of the fire, put a pillow down, then lifted her from the couch, and taking off his jacket laid it over her. She lay inert, but he could tell by the expression on her face that she was liking the fire. Her clothes were beginning to steam and he knew she must get her wet clothes off.
"You've got to get out of those wet clothes. Do you think you can do it yourself? I have some things you can wear."
She looked up at him and forced a smile. "I think I can manage."
"I'll be right back," he said. And going to his bedroom he took a set of long underwear, heavy socks, a flannel shirt and a pair of wool pants he didn't often wear. He stopped in the bathroom took a fresh towel and, as he was about to step out into the hallway, he thought she might need a comb. He took one from the medicine chest.
When he got back she had her boots and socks off, and was struggling out of her wet jacket.
"Here, take these. They might be kind of big, but they'll have to do until your own things are dry. I brought you a towel and here," he said, handing her the comb, "I thought you might need this." She sneezed as she went to take the comb and it fell to the floor. She laughed. It was a faint laugh but nonetheless a laugh which Edward took as a good sign.
"While you're changing I'll make you some hot tea and heat up something to eat." He was glad he was in the kitchen so that she could have some privacy to change. He took his time. The leftover stew from his dinner was bubbling on the stove, the tea was steeping; he took a loaf of bread and was cutting off a thick slice when he heard a noise behind him. Turning, he saw the stranger dressed in his clothes. The towel was wrapped turban-style on her head and she was holding up the pants with one hand. He couldn't help laughing.
"I don't blame you for laughing," she said good naturedly, "I must look awfully silly," and she smiled. "May I trouble you for a belt or some kind of sash?"
"Of course. But first sit and have some hot tea." She sat and he left to rummage around his closet. He had belts but knew they would be too big to cinch around her narrow waist. But he spied his ties; he rarely wore them. Indiscri-minately, he took one.
"Will this tie do?" he asked, holding it out to her.
"Perfectly," she answered, taking it from him and tied it around her waist.
Edward served her a steaming bowl of stew and put out a basket of bread. Without hesitation she started eating. She ate quickly at first, then slowed. Color was coming back into her cheeks and she seemed calm. Edward sat opposite her drinking tea and puffing on his pipe and tried not to stare at his most unexpected guest, for he was not used to compa-ny.
She stopped eating took a long drink of her tea, drain-ing her cup. "May I have more tea, please?"
She drank again. "I want to thank you for taking me in. I'm sorry I broke in--but I did knock--and hard, too--I was so cold and wet I just walked in. I didn't know what I was going to find; but I needed shelter. And when I felt the warmth and saw the fire, I didn't care what would happen. All I wanted to do was be warm and dry out. When you came in, so unexpectedly and shouting, I was so scared I passed out. I apologize if I've intruded. You are very kind."
"You did the right thing by coming in. I was out by the cliff enjoying the roar of the storm; but the rain and lightning drove me back and I wasn't expecting company. I heard your sneezes, though. What's your name.
"Emily Fallon. And yours?"
"Edward DeMaris," he answered.
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. DeMaris," said Emily, extending her hand which he took, "and thank you again for taking me in and for treating me so decently. I won't ever forget what you've done for me." They disengaged their hands.
"I couldn't have done otherwise but help you--considering the state you were in. Would you like more stew?"
"No thank you. I'm satisfied; but I would like some brandy in my tea. I'd appreciate that."
"With pleasure. A good snort on a night like this will do us both some good. He poured brandy into her cup and then into his own.
"Here's to you, Edward DeMaris, for being such a decent person." Their cups clinked and they drank. He almost blushed for the praise of her toast.
"Would you mind telling me what you were doing out in this kind of weather, and how did you get to the shoreline road? It's dirt and gravel mostly and almost ten miles from the highway?"
"I'm a freelance photographer, Mr. DeMaris, and I wanted to camp out in my car and take some early morning pictures of the sea; but I didn't expect the storm. When I saw that the road headed west, I impetuously turned off the highway. When I got to the ocean, it was about dusk. So I crawled into the back seat of my car, covered myself with a blanket and went to sleep. But I was rudely awakened by waves hitting my car."
"How far down the road were you parked?"
"I don't know--maybe three or so miles."
"Hmm, I think I know the spot, rather flat there, and when the storms come from the ocean that place is usually flooded, and, it's dangerous."
"I found that out the hard way. The force of the waves moved my car. I panicked and jumped out; and just as I did, I got the surprise of my life: A wall of water about three feet high rushing at me. I hung on to the car door, other--wise I would have been washed away. Nonetheless, the wave flooded me out and I figured if I didn't get out of there, and quickly, I could be drowned. So when the wave receded, I ran for my life. I was just about clear when I was knocked down by another wave. I grabbed hold of some branches and prayed I wouldn't be washed out to sea. I finally managed to get to high ground and kept walking. The wind was fierce and I was so cold I shivered until I thought I would shatter," she said very seriously. "Well, I walked and walked until I saw your lights and--well, you know the rest--but when you burst in screaming, I was so scared and cold and confused, I passed out. I'm sorry if I've caused you any trouble."
"Now, now enough of that. You're here, alive and well and that's important. I'm only too glad to take you in."
"Thank you. Do you live here by yourself?' asked Emily
"Yes. In the summer I have some neighbors about half a mile down the road but you can't see their house from the road. By and large, this is a pretty remote spot and I don't see many visitors around here. The next house after my neighbor's house is about four or so miles away. You were lucky I was home--then, of course, I don't leave very often, just into town about every ten days or so to check my P.O. box and to get supplies."
"What do you do with your time? It must get awfully lonely."
DeMaris smiled, sucked on his pipe, blew out smoke slowly, shifted his weight in his chair and looked her squarely in the face: "Lonely? I'm never alone. I have the ocean, the birds; raccoons visit in the night, sometimes deer; I have my books, lots of music and, of course, I can't discount myself. I'm always with me. So I'm never alone," he said with an impish grin on his face.
She was a strong woman herself and as he spoke she'd met his benign look with ease--for a few moments; but then she had to avert her eyes for his intenseness (though it was benign) was too much for her. "Solitude is good for the creative spirit," she responded, "but too much can be counterproductive."
"I'm not very creative, in an artistic sense, so I don't experience any counterproductivity. I just live one day at a time. I take long walks--weather permitting, naturally, and I go fishing. Do you like to fish?" he asked.
"I've never fished in my life, if you want to know the truth. But I sure like to eat fish and I'm not averse to cleaning them either--which I've done."
Abruptly he said: "Miss Fallon, you must want to get some sleep. You've had a pretty rough go this evening. I'll put you up in the spare bedroom. I'll throw your clothes in the washer; they are a bit muddy and that sea water needs to be washed out and I'll hang them in front of the fire. By morning they should be dry."
"Oh, you needn't bother. But it's awfully kind of you to offer. Let me put them to wash. Just show me the washer and while they're washing, we can lounge in front of the fireplace--that is if you don't mind."
"Not at all; not at all. I am a bit of a night owl myself and if you want to stay up, well, make yourself at home. I'll show you the washer. I never did get around to having a dryer installed."
Edward liked her company. Although he liked his solitary life he was not a hermit. He showed her the washer and while she got her things together, he cleared the table and washed the dishes and Emily volunteered to dry them.
They sat in front of the fire in comfortable chairs. He smoked his pipe in silence and she sat quietly, reflec-tively gazing into the fire. She felt a bit annoyed that he was smoking, but she felt blessed that she had escaped injury and had found shelter in DeMaris' house and was at ease in it and for the moment she would ignore the irritation of his pipe smoking, and wondered what kind of man he was and why he chose to live in such a remote place alone--albeit a beautiful place, yet too remote for her tastes. She was about to ask him when he said:--
"When I first came here ten years ago I was only going to stay a year; but after the first year I decided to stay another; and the third year I bought this place and have been here ever since." He added nothing more. It was almost as if he were giving her an opportunity to question him; and being of a curious nature, she asked:--
"Why did you come here?"
He lit his p[ipe and blew smoke, puffed again and said in a soft voice, "I just wanted to hide."
"Hide from what?" she responded, her curiosity really aroused.
"From the world, from my rotten past, the city and its filth, the competition, the aggressiveness. I had been li-ving a lie. I needed to purify myself--so to speak. I was a medical records supervisor in a big hospital where people were mean, the doctors and administrators arrogant, and the bureaucracy blind and nonsensical. I loathed every minute of it. I felt trapped by a system I wanted no part of. But one has to make a living. I was always dissatisfied and frustra-ted. One day a friend of mine talked me into a weekend in Las Vegas. I just went to forget my problems for a couple of days--idiot relief, really. I'm not much of a gambler. We got one of those weekend packages, you know the kind: round trip flight and two nights in a glitzy casino hotel, pool, sauna, the works. The second night I was in bed early because, frankly, I was no better off emotionally; but I couldn't sleep. So I went down to the bar to have a glass of wine; and on my way to the bar I stopped at one of those slot machines that pay out multi-million dollar prizes. Well, I had a dollar slot machine token in my pocket and I played it, and I won sixteen million dollars. He said it quietly, almost nonchalantly.
Emily whistled in surprise. "Wow! Sixteen million! So you were set," she said with awe in her voice.
"Set? Ha! I was filthy rich. I never did get to sleep. I did all the things I needed to do to receive my money, then flew back to San Francisco. And the first thing I did, I quit my lousy job--called them from the airport and I never looked back. I used to come up to this are to fish now and then before my winning and I always liked it. So I found a real estate agent and she found me this house with a one year lease. And then," and his eyes brightened and his voice lost its relaxed, fireside ease, "I did what I always wanted to do."
"What was that?" she asked excitedly, not knowing what to expect.
"Study ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and Sumerian cuneiform. That's what I've been doing for the last ten years. I'm pretty good, too. I've carried on a lengthy correspondence with some of the best scholars in the field and, I might add, I've gotten some compliments from them, too," he said proudly, but not boastfully so.
Admittedly she was a little disappointed, for she had suspected something more exotic from a frustrated man who had suddenly won millions of dollars than a study of dead languages "That's amazing," she said, more to be polite, but she was impressed that he had pursued such a line of study. "You mean you can actually read Egyptian and Sumerian?"
"Yes, and translate it, too. Admittedly it was hard, and I've still a lot to learn. More than once I was about to pack it in and take up modern Spanish or French. But I drove myself until one day...one day I realized I could! That has been the greatest event in my life. Greater than winning all that money in Vegas. I was able to pick up a hieroglyphic text and read it with the same ease and understanding I have with English. Now I understand that I was born for it. That took seven or so years, then I started on Sumerian and got the hang of it in about two years. Some how I found it easier. Now I can read them both. And recently I've deve-loped a curiosity for ancient Punic."
"But to what end? Will you leave your isolation for some academic position?"
"Ho!" he laughed. "God forbid. That's the last thing I need in my life: Another bureaucracy with a lot of back biting, ambitious, competitive scholars trying to prove how wrong someone is, instead of cooperating to solve the problems of ancient languages. No; I do what I do just because I don't want to do anything else."
"You are pretty strong-headed, sir," she said, "and I like your mettle."
He almost blushed but turned his face away and fiddled with his pipe which was in perfectly good working order. Edward was not accustomed to such talk, which he took as complimentary; nonetheless, he had long ago given up inti-mate company and was out of touch with people except his one good friend of thirty years who came to visit him every summer. Ben Kaisar, his old friend, the only one who understood Edward's desire to cut himself off from the world and follow his fantasy as far as it would go. Ben was the only one who did not criticize him or chide him because he wanted to study ancient, esoteric languages simply to satisfy an old curiosity he had repressed for many years because of an irrational feeling of inadequacy and a lack of self-confidence.
He soon found out who his true friends were after his good fortune. His complete indifference to what the nay-sayers were telling him strengthened his long-denied courageous character. But with Ben it was different: There was complete understanding and many encouragements. "Go ahead, do it, Eddy. To hell with what others think or say, and rise above your own feelings of inadequacy. I say it's a great idea. I only wish I had some secret heart's desire I could follow. Being a surgeon, frankly, is beginning to stale--but it's all I have. So go ahead. I'll come up to visit you. Go--and send me periodic reports."
Ben was the only one, and it was only with Ben, during his visits, that he could accept any kind of praise. With his neighbors, the few that he had come to know, he was friendly, neighborly, but reserved and did not mingle. Now in the intimacy of his small, special world, she had said she liked his mettle. He hadn't felt this shy in years and, further, he felt almost silly that he was re-acting so to her spontaneous comment, which made him suddenly aware of how far he had removed himself from the close contact of humans.
Edward reconnected the pipe stem to the bowl, blew through it a couple of times and turned to his guest. She was three quarter profile to him and staring into the fire, which was burning low; the room was warm and he didn't feel another log was necessary. He became acutely aware of her profile and her long hair which hung down straight. Edward became aware of her almond-shaped eyes which reminded him of Etruscan, Egyptian and Minoan eyes he had seen in many paintings and statues in museums and in museum catalogs and art history books he had studied.
She was beautiful, one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen. He had carried her, ministered to her, clo-thed her, fed her; but all the while her beauty had not been noticed by him until now. He said: "Thank you for saying I'm strong-headed. No one has ever said that to me. I take it as a compliment. But really, I'm not. It was the freedom of knowing I never had to answer to anyone ever again for my bread, never had to dread the whims of bosses and personnel decisions made by heartless administrators over whom one has no power. You said, '...strong-minded.' Well, in a sense you're right. It took tenacity I never knew I had to comprehend a writing system alien to me not only in form, but, also, as I discovered, in consciousness as well. I'd always been pretty compliant and uncomplaining. I conformed to all the rules, You might say I was a citizen of model comportment. But underneath was a burning desire to be rid of it all, I was never much of an aggressive person by nature, but I had to be in order to survive in that dog-eat-dog competitive world I had to live in. And when I realized I was my own man I just became true to my truer nature, my deeper self; and what you concluded is only half right. I don't see myself as strong-minded, only as being honest after years of dishonesty, that's all."
"That's all?" she said. "That's a lot. I wish I could be that honest with myself, as you call it, one's 'truer nature'. But you can afford it. You're a millionaire, I've got to work for a living. And because I'm a freelance photographer, I've got to work twice--three times as hard for my bread--as you so aptly put it. I don't have a boss per se, but I've rent to pay, groceries to buy and photo equipment, processing. Photography is an expensive field. I'm lucky I was able to buy my cameras and lenses when I was flush. I envy you, Edward, if you don't me calling you Edward--I envy your freedom. I've succeeded in a small way being a freelancer. But I'd enjoy being my own woman so I could pursue my art the way I really want to. Would you like to know why I wanted to take some pictures of the ocean?" He nodded. "I was shooting seascapes for a calendar project I had to almost sell my soul for. It will be published and distributed all over the country--even Canada, maybe Europe, too. I should realize enough to let me have a year or so from battling the competition--which is a killer--I might add--and make enough so I can wait all morning, if I have to, for the right moment of light before I open my lens. But when the money runs out, back into the fray I go. It's a vicious cycle, Edward, a vicious cycle."
She tossed her head to get some strands of hair which had fallen over her right eye out of the way. And the way she tossed her head and the way her hair settled into place seemed so graceful, like the subtle movement of a good dancer.
There was a long silence between them. For the time being they had said all they had to say.
He pulled back the covers of the guest room's bed for her. He showed her the guest bathroom, wished her a good night then retired himself.
Sitting in bed with his hair a little damp from his shower, he shut his bedside lamp and lay his head down to rest. The evening had been out of the ordinary. He'd not had a visitor in the house since September and now Christmas was only nine days off. Edward had been to town and back several times; he'd stayed for lunch once and once to see a movie; he'd chatted with clerks, waiters and acquaintances, but nothing intimate, nothing to make him give speech to his thoughts. He realized what a quasi-hermit he'd become. Sleep overcame him and he slept peacefully.
At around Four A.M. the winds abated; the last of the storm clouds passed to the southwest and all was still. No wind blew; the surf, which not too long before had been roiling and roaring, was now a moderate surf, a little choppy near the rocks, but closer to shore, away from the open sea, the waves rolled almost lazily up the sloping black-sanded beach depositing driftwood and uprooted kelp and floatsam from the previously stormy sea. Gulls and pelicans and cormorants were about; so too sanderlings and dowitchers scurrying en masse on spindly legs, hunt-pecking in the wet sands for the delicious eatables buried under the treasureous sands of California.
Trees and bushes and the eaves of Edward's roof dripped. Inside the house the windows were covered with moisture; each pane was an ever-changing mosaic of water pearls clinging and gliding down the smooth glass.
Dawn: A soft golden light from a fresh sun revealed a pale blue sky, and everything stood out sharply. Some starlings flocked to the ground and in this light were able to peck at whatever they could see and feed on. They made a racket with their peculiar purrings, cluckings and warb-lings.
Emily, being a light sleeper, half opened her eyes and saw the day. Her initial reaction was to reshut her eyes, roll over and go back to sleep. But she was taken suddenly by the quiet. She held her breath as if in reverence for the holiness of the silence of nature she was suddenly aware of.
The last sounds she'd heard before sleep took her were of wind, the pounding rain and the muted roar of the surf; but now all was quiet and her reflexes were quickened by the stillness and her eyes opened widely, and she found herself awake and eager to get up and explore the outside.
She freshened herself in the bathroom, brushed her teeth, combed her hair, then dressed. Her boots and thick socks were dry; she put them on. Her jacket was dry, too. She donned it and stepped outside.
Emily walked around the house inspecting its four quarters. It was a rather simple, unobtrusive and rustic house on the outside, not one she would readily associate with a millionaire. But inside everything had a sturdy and elemental quality from the polished floors and expensive carpets to the silverware and dishes and the quantity and kinds of books which seemed to be everywhere.
She passed a wood pile covered with a heavy tarpaulin; a pick-up truck was parked at the back door. She found the remnants of a garden and a small shed with gardening tools, a coiled hose, a wheelbarrow and the like.
Under a tree she found a redwood table and benches and a beehive oven close by, something she'd seen in New Mexico in pueblo villages. How odd, she thought to find such a structure here. It seemed out of place among trees, greens, fogs and the nearby ocean; it was an artifact of the desert. She looked inside it and saw the soot-covered dome; it had been used often and it smelled good, too. And to her surprise, scratched into the many coats of black soot were Egyptian hieroglyphics and other scripts she did not recognize. What an odd man, she thought. Further on she spied a dome-like structure covered with white canvas. She lifted the flap and discovered a skeleton form of thumb-thick saplings; in the middle of the space was a small firepit filled with large, smooth stones; she intuited it was a primitive sweat lodge. Finding the sweat lodge frame made her want to sit in a hot bath for she felt a little sore in her neck, shoulders and lower back.
A trail lead to the beach; she followed it.
Her presence caused the birds to scatter and flee from her and resettle up the beach a ways. She paced slowly just a few feet away from the wave line. She was like a walking camera; she adjusted her eyes like a camera's iris; her blinks were like fast moving shutters; and her memory kept the images in her mind like a library of color slides and black and white prints. Something in her periphery caught her eye. Emily stopped, turned her head: rolling down the slope back toward the water was a net-encased glass globe a float, the kind used on fishing nets. The globe rolled back down only to be picked up again by the next incoming wave. She waited; the waters took the sphere within inches of her feet; with a quick bending motion, she snatched up! the globe before it could roll back down the slope.
She stepped away from the water line and inspected the glass float: it was greenish, opaque and there were no cracks. It was encased in a thick weaving of hempen line, perhaps woven by hand in some far off land...
She scanned the surf to see if she could see more, for she liked to collect such things from the sea. But she could find no others; with this treasure in her hand, she slowly retraced her steps back to the house.
As she walked she mused about her evening: it had certainly been an unusual one. She was grateful for such a gracious, if not eccentric host and she wanted to repay him somehow for his kindness. Money she knew would not do, she had to give him some gift--perhaps a couple of her prize photos mounted and framed. Yes; she would mail him two when she got home.
The house was quiet; her host she felt was yet asleep, so, poking around the kitchen, she found what she needed to make coffee; while the coffee brewed, she cut bread, disco-vered some berry jam in the fridge and had that for her breakfast.
She rekindled the fire, and with a second cup of coffee sat in front of the fireplace in the same chair she'd sat in the night before. On her lap was a book she'd found on the table: "The Language of the Hittite its Structure and its membership of the Indo-Germanic Stock," Bedrich Hrozny.
She had only a slight and superficial knowledge of ancient Hittite history and that through having seen Hittite structures and sculptures in art history books she'd studied as a student; but before her was a tome she felt intimidated by. She could not imagine ever having the patience to read through such a study. The book seemed twice as heavy on her lap. so she closed it, replaced it and picked up a slim volume of Japanese poetry; and opening it at random, her eyes fell on a four line poem and next to it was an asterisk drawn in pencil. The poem read:--
I have always known
That at last I would
Take this road, but yesterday
I did not know it would be today.
Something about the poem touched her; she read it again and then twice more then turned the page to read another poem, but turned back and reread, I have always known...
There was a stirring in her. The poem was awakening her to something. But what?
Hearing the sound of running water, she knew her host was in the shower. She went to the kitchen and prepared a place where she would serve him coffee, therewith dismissing her metaphysical musings about the poem. In not too long a time Edward came into the kitchen.
"Good morning," he said. "Did you sleep well?--ah, I see you have made some coffee. Good, good; make yourself at home."
"It seems I already have. I've set a place for you. Let me pour you some coffee."
"Thanks just the same, but I always go for a walk before breakfast. Would you care to come along?"
"You're very kind; but I've already had a walk. In spite of my ordeal, I got up with the birds. I've been down to the beach--and let me show you my find," she said excitedly. "I left it by the fireplace so the netting would dry."
She handed him the globe. "Interesting aren't they. I've found lots of these through the years--used to keep them, too. One day I threw them all back into the surf. They do make good souvenirs, though," he said, his voice light and easy. "Well, I'm off. Keep the coffee hot. I should be back in half an hour or so."
Emily felt oddly disappointed at his seeming indiffe-rence to her treasure from the surf. He put on a light jack-et and a beret, and stepped out into the morning which was turning into a clear, crispy-golden winter day, and for a moment she was sorry she'd refused his offer to go along. Nevertheless, she checked her clothes and found they were all dry and going back to the guest room she changed into them.
Sitting once again in front of the fire her eyes began to flutter and she felt terribly sleepy. She tried to fight the unexpected onset of sudden fatigue; but she succumbed to the sleep which beckoned her.
Edward returned from his walk. When he entered the house he found it quiet, yet he seemed to sense her presence even without seeing her. He found her asleep in the chair. She looked so peaceful. He covered her with a light blanket.
His breakfast was much like hers but he added some fruit and a piece of hard cheese encased in black wax. While he ate he mulled over in his mind that he had to help his unexpected guest get to her car and he had to, also, answer some letters and devote a couple of hours to his continuing study of the Punic tongue.
When Emily awoke she felt a bit disoriented, and for a moment she couldn't remember where she was. She looked about her and as she shifted her body she felt the blanket on her and understood where she was and was touched that he had covered her. What an odd, but gentle man he seemed to be--yet there was something about him that irked and irritated her.
She heard a clatter of dishes from the kitchen and that all too common sound brought her wits back to her. "Mr. DeMaris," she called out, "thank you for the blanket," she said. "I must have been more tired than I thought; and I've been remiss in keeping the coffee warm."
"That's perfectly alright," he said, entering the room with his finger through the handle of a coffee cup. "I made a fresh pot. Care for a cup?"
"No thanks," she replied. He sat.
"How are you feeling?" he asked. She heard and believed the sincerity of his voice.
"Fine, just fine," she answered with a grateful smile on her face. "I guess I needed that little nap. I hope I'm not disrupting your routine too much," she said graciously.
"No disruption, I assure you. I'm flexible, in spite of being set in my ways. I rather like this interlude. I was thinking, though that we ought to drive down to your car and have a look. What do you say?"
"I was going to ask you the very same favor. Do you think we can leave soon?"
"Get your coat; we can leave now."
"But you've not finished your coffee."
"I can have another when we come back."
They drove to her car and when they alighted from Edward's pick-up they found that the action of the storm's waves had so saturated the dirt road it made it a quagmire and all four tires had sunk some six or so inches into the mud. Things did not look promising. In spite of the mud, Emily crossed over to her car, opened its door with some difficulty and sat on the front seat; she tried to start the motor but it would not turn over. Silence.
Edward smoked his pipe and watched and in looking at the sunken tires realized a tow truck would be needed to pull her out.
"I think you'd better take your things with you," he said. She nodded her head in agreement, but felt a bit glum. She took her suitcase, now she would have a change of clothes and her toiletries and her gadget bag of photo equipment and her two tripods.
Back at the house, while she closely inspected her equipment, Edward was talking to the garage in town and their schedule was such that it would be impossible for them to be out there before three p.m. and they had half a dozen cars in line for repairs and service; and it might be three or four days before they could even begin to analyze the problem.
"I'm afraid you are stuck here," he said.
"Surely there must be a hotel nearby," she retorted.
"The closest motel is thirty-five miles away and there's no public transportation to it. No; I'm afraid you have no choice but to stay put."
"But I can't do that."
"Do you have an alternative? I've explained: this is a pretty remote area."
"I'm beginning to understand just how remote it is," she said in a downhearted voice. She felt put upon by circumstances beyond her control and she resented being in such a position. Moreover, she felt genuinely shy about staying in his house--even if he was amenable to it. But really, what alternative did she have?
"Well, if that's the case then I must thank you for extending yourself for me. I'll try to be the consummate, unexpected guest and make myself as invisible and inconspi-cuous as possible," she said resignedly.
"Nonsense. You'll do nothing of the kind. I'll not have you hiding. I'm not a monk with a rigid rule. Ha!" he laughed. "By all means, relax and enjoy your stay. Do you play chess?" he asked.
"Yes," she said unhesitantly. She was a good player.
"Good. We can play chess. And I've got to make bread sometime today or tomorrow, so we can do that together--if you'd like. You said you wanted pictures of the sea--well, you've got the beach to yourself and you can read--I've got plenty of books," he said, making a sweeping motion with his hand toward the bookshelfs,"and you can keep me company. How about it?"
She was overwhelmed by his generous invitation. "I accept, but you must allow me to contribute something for the groceries."
"I wouldn't have it. No; I've got plenty of grub. Any-way, how much can you eat?"
"You'd be surprised," she said. "You can't imagine what an appetite I have after a day in the field."
"Splendid," he said in a jovial voice, "then we can cook up some sumptuous meals. I had it in mind to do some fishing off the rocks. We can always catch some rock fish--maybe even a stray ling cod."
She liked the way he'd used "we," and she accepted her circumstances and her amicable host.
"I do need time alone in my studio. And afterwards, around three, we can drive down and meet the tow truck. You just make yourself at home."
Edward went to his study. Emily loaded her favorite 35mm cameras with color and black and white film and, with a last cup of hot coffee in her, she went out and down the path to the beach and for two or more hours she strolled about selecting and framing and taking pictures of rocks, driftwood, piles of kelp, birds, waves and diving pelicans which from the distance she viewed them seemed like fat pterodactyls.
The tow truck was at her car when they arrived. The driver exchanged some small talk with them, filled out some paperwork then began to hook up her small car. Slowly the wench pulled her car out of the mud. The tow truck operator drove to high ground and set the mud-dripping vehicle down. He tried to start the engine, but it only gave out one last lugubrious moan and died; and although jumper cables and a boast from the truck's power source were applied the engine would not start. Emily hid her anger, for she was short on cash and she was pushing her one and only credit card almost to the limit.
"Can't say what's wrong but probably sea water got into the electrical system. Battery's shot, that's for sure. One thing, though, I can say: you ain't going anywhere for a few days--that's for sure," he added.
They watched as the tow truck and her car disappeared into the dark wood that shielded the coast from the distant highway.
By Five-thirty p.m. it was almost dark, except at the horizon where a hint of sun shone in the distant band of fast-dimin-ishing light.
She ran to her gadget bag and in no time Emily had her camera on her tripod and the tripod settled in the soft earth. Her eye studied the horizon and its hint of light: click, click, click went her shutter three times. She waited about one minute, click, click, click, went her shutter again; she kept taking three pictures at one minute intervals as the line of light on the horizon became thinner and thinner until it disappeared altogether and there was only darkness.
Back in the house she found a note on the kitchen table: "Dear Guest, I've withdrawn to my study for an indefinite time. Cook and eat and drink whatever you want. The house is at your service. Be well. Edward."
She was glad she'd be alone. Emily cooked some dinner; she made enough for two in case her host left his studio and wanted something to eat. By the time she finished washing up it was close to seven o'clock. With a work of fiction she'd found, she sat and read about fifty pages; gradually however she lost contact with the printed words and dozed off. The three inch thick book slid slowly off her relaxed lap and dropped with a muted thud onto the thick Persian carpet.
She woke up from what she thought was a nap and looked at her watch: it was past Nine A.M. She'd slept all night in the chair She went to the bathroom and brushed her teeth and threw some water in her face. A search of the house determi-ned that Edward was probably still asleep, and the food she'd cooked yesterday had not been eaten; there was no sign of anyone having made coffee, either.
She was at a loss as to what to do with herself. Back home she would have had her dark room and, at such an hour, could be developing negatives or printing and cropping or cutting matt board preparatory to mounting and framing. But cut off from that, she was idle and she did not like being idle.
On a small roll top desk she saw some paper and pens. Therefore, she decided to write a letter to her sister in Pennsylvania, with whom she kept in touch; and she would relate to her sister her adventure at Edward's thus far.
When she was at the end of her second page, she lifted it off and instead of finding a blank page she found a page with writing on it. Was the hand writing that of Edward DeMaris? The way the paragraphs were centered, it seemed more a poem. She was going to ignore it, but her curiosity got the best of her she read:--
I have lost my innocence:
I have lost my faith that
a higher consciousness, whom
we call God hears one's
supplications and through
divine means comes to one's
aid. Last night, when I came to
this realization, I was
brushing my teeth and
looking at myself in the mirror.
When I realized what a fool
to faith I had been, I had
to turn my face away because I was em-
barrassed--almost ashamed to
look into the face of a fool
It's not comfortable realizing
one has been a fool: Having
faith that God, as some Divine
force had my best intentions
Fool! Fool for having believed;
fool for having had faith in
something I had never questioned--
yet had never seen any evidence
of its having been active in my
Now I feel empty.
Something has gone out
of my life. That's good;
because faith is an illusion;
and the sooner I rid
myself of illusion the
better off I am.
Emily let out her breath slowly and gently replaced the page on the stack. She could see that her ballpoint pen's impressions were visible across the boldly printed strophes of his prose poem.
She felt a little guilty. She always prided herself for being honest and she would have to tell her host that she had read his opus of lost faith. Nonetheless, now that the deed was done, she reread the work.
Personally Emily had no deep reflections or opinions about things spiritual; and his words made her question what little she did believe which, upon immediate reflection was not much.
Just then she heard loud music! It was coming from down the hall from Edward's study. She cocked her ear and sat listening. Wafting to her came the strains of trumpets; she recognized the music: "Fanfare for the Common Man," by Aaron Copland. And just as suddenly as it had started, the music stopped. She heard a door open and close, then footsteps and a baritone voice la-laing the trumpet part from the fanfare just played and suddenly cut off.
"Hello!" said Edward in a cheerful voice. "How are you feeling? Have you eaten? I'm starved. I've been up all night." He was glad to see her.
"Good morning to you, and you say you've been up all night. Amazing. You've been ensconced in your study all this time?"
"It's nothing really. I'll eat, have a nap for a few hours and hit the books again. It's a routine with me."
"I admire your tenacity. I could learn from it."
"Really?" he said with genuine surprise. "I can't imagine anyone learning anything from me because I sit over books studying a language people haven't spoken in over two thousand years or so."
"Well, it inspires me just the same," she replied ingenuously. If you don't mind, before breakfast, I have something to tell you." She felt embarrassed, but she told him of having stumbled across his poem and reading it.
He smiled. "Oh, that. Well, no need for your con-triteness. I don't mind if you've read it. I'd even forgotten I'd written it."
"You forgot it?"
"Yes. I only now remember it because you have called it to mind."
"Do you mean to say you've had a change of heart since?"
"Not at all. But I can't make a big deal out of nothing."
"Out of nothing?" She retorted in disbelief. "But you said in the poem you'd lost your faith in God."
"Well?" he said almost impatiently.
"'Well'? Is that all you can say?" She was flabbergasted that something he had held to so dearly had been lost and she expected something else.
"What else is there to say?" And then he smiled. "Oh, I get it, you think I should be wearing a long face and tell you how devastated I am. Sorry to disappoint you; but it's nothing like that at all, at all. I remember, as my poem says, coming to that realization while brushing my teeth. When I was finished, I wrote the poem, then I had a bottle of beer and read some early short stories by W. Sommerset Maughm--excellent ones, I might add. Have you ever read his Cupid and the Vicar of Swale? It's a delightful story of an Oxford-trained vicar who proposes to a widow only to find out her annuity of fifteenhundred pounds ended upon her remarriage--so he proposed to another woman, who also had lots of real estate. Most unlike his later works." He had turned the conversation away from her topic. He really didn't mind her having read the poem and he appreciated her openness about having done so; but he did not appreciate her questions about a sentiment or sentiments he did not feel worth talking about. He was hungry; and when he'd exited his studio he'd been elated, for he had just translated a short paragraph of Punic from around 1200 B.C. and he'd played a fragment of the Copland fanfare in honor of his success and celebration of it with music--which was so like him. For a moment he felt put out by his guest then let it pass. "I've a frightful appetite. If you've a mind to have a bite join me in the kitchen," wherewith he turned and proceeded to the kitchen.
He wanted to eat the squash and pasta she had cooked the night before for his breakfast and she decided to join him--even though it was for her a most unusual breakfast, nevertheless, there was enough for two.
She had found some squash and had baked them; she'd seen some frozen peas in the freezer and big yellow onions in a basket and found olive oil and plenty of macaroni in his larder, so she made pasta piselli, which she had learned to make from an Italian cook book.
"You've left me a fine breakfast," he said, after having tasted a little of both dishes, "and this pasta piselli is most excellent--why it's almost as good as my own--Ha! Ha!" he roared in a booming voice filled with good cheer.
"I accept your boast as a compliment," so saying, she lifted coffee cup in his direction and said: "thanks. You are an odd bird. Did you ever think of yourself as an eccentric?"
"Indeed I have--and I love it. Being the Supreme Fool has become second nature to me--a finely cultivated art you might say."
"'Supreme fool?' I don't understand," she said, taking another sip of her coffee.
"With capitals. Living this monkish life has allowed me to see that in spite of what learning I might be credited with, I know that I know nothing; and by knowing I don't know anything I can live in a bliss only a fool-a Supreme Fool--can appreciate."
Emily shook her head. "I'm afraid you've lost me."
"Really? Well, no matter, when we've finished eating, we can take a stroll, if you wish. Then it's a nap for me."
She resented (silently, of course) his simply shutting off and changing a topic when he felt like it; she found it rude and egotistical. Nevertheless, she felt obligated as a guest to control herself--but she still resented being cut off so abruptly; it made her feel he was playing with her, shoving his superiority by whimsically (as she saw it) changing the topic at hand. She was miffed but she did not let on how she felt.
He drank a large cup of coffee, and, to her mannered, acquired distress, he pulled out a leather pouch of tobacco, some cigarette papers and proceeded to roll a handmade cigarette and smoke it leisurely as he sipped his coffee. She wrinkled her nose; she tried to hide her displeasure but failed.
He saw her furrowed nose, smiled and surmised the reason, smiled and ignored her annoyance. He'd tried to be as polite a host as he could--and now he was resenting her. Living his solitudinous life had given him a freedom he now felt was trying to be checked by the will and whims of a stranger whose values were not his.
"You are certainly an odd person yourself, Emily, crinkling up your nose because a man smokes in his own kitchen.
She was mortified and hard-pressed for a response. Her sharp wit however found the right words--or so she thought: "Haven't you heard? There's a big, national campaign to make people aware and more sensitive to the dangers of second hand smoke. Maybe living in your isolation you're not up with the mood of the times."
He laughed. "Not up with the mood of the times? Dear woman, I am at this very moment being victimized by the mood of the times and right in my own house. What audacity. You're presumptuous and intolerant and I assure you I am au courant and well aware of the common sentiments of today. I told you: I am a Supreme Fool, but I'm not a simpleton. I know the mood and it's ugly and intolerant--just so much artificially aroused sentiment someone with an axe to grind is promoting."
"I can't believe what I'm hearing. You are really out of it, Edward. Don't you know that breathing second hand smoke can cut your life short by several years?"
"What a lot of rot! There are millions and millions of automobiles and trucks and buses mucking up the atmosphere with carbon monoxide--and acid rain is killing forests and lakes--and smog is so thick in some cities it blots out the sun and hundreds, if not thousands of people keel over during smog inversions. Ho! And you're worried about a little tobacco smoke. You are not to be believed. Your sentiments have no correspondence to your reality--unless you sell your car, which is befouling the atmosphere, you've no right whatsoever to voice such serious concerns about a man smoking some tobacco. Ha! Well, enough of that. There are better things to chat about. Did you ever wonder how humans acquired speech? The subject fascinates me--or why the sounds used for certain nouns were chosen and why objects were called thus and so? In other words: why was the word equus used to call a horse a horse? What was it in that sound that corresponded to what the object was? I find that unanswerable, but fascinating. And now dear guest, how about a post prandial promenade?"
She found him officious and patronizing--yet there was no polite way to refuse him.
The air was pleasant; the surf was lazy, the picturesqueness of the area quieted her heart and she felt very much at peace. Edward walked in silence for a long time. He broke his silence saying, "I'll take you to my secret cave," he said it almost with a boyish pride, revealing a secret hideout only he knew about to a new playmate.
Her heart melted to his invitation and she felt sorry for the scene during coffee. And she was seeing how he was trying to accommodate her during her forced stay--which she was sure was a great breach in his very private, scholarly life and he was doing his best to take her intrusion in stride. She smiled, "yes, I'd love to see your cave. Is it far?"
"Not far; follow me."
They left the upper trail and took one going down toward the beach; at a certain point of the descent the trail biforcated; and taking the right fork, they walked up a rise and then down again, which brought them to a cave about ten or more feet deep and three or four feet wide and an entrance half the size of a common house door. They had to duck their heads as they went in.
There was ample lighting although the light was muted; the air was filled with the good smells of the earth and the surf; and the silence inside the cave almost overwhelmed Emily who could hear her heart beating!
"Do you come here often?" she asked.
"Not as often as I used to. When I was studying Egyptian hieroglyphics I used to come here and meditate on the lessons. I can honestly say coming here, to this cave helped me to absorb a great deal of material in a very short time. I used to pretend I was an ancient Egyptian scribe trapped inside of a pyramid. Rather fantastic, don't you agree?"
"Rather," she said as she nodded her head in agreement.
One day," he continued, "as I was sitting in here and thinking about some hieroglyphics I'd just learned, I had the sudden realization that the whole world was trapped in the past--that also included myself--in spite of modern technology."
"What do you mean, 'trapped in the past'?"
"Exactly that; for example: I read somewhere that a new museum was being built which would house a hithertofore scattered collection of ancient statues, medieval armor, Greek vases, Renaissance art and the like. The museum would be the model for the most up-to-date in terms of lighting and controlled temperatures to retard deterioration and a state-of-the-art security system to baffle the cleverest and most sophisticated thieves.
"The museum building itself would cost millions of dollars to build--not including overhead and security. So here I was in this cave thinking that the residue of the past was being taken care of with kid gloves with the wonders of the technological new age. What a waste of money, when it could have been used to build a few elementary schools and give teachers a raise and have enough left over to treat the kids to some exciting field trips to the beach and other places. But no; we use modern technology to keep ourselves trapped by the past, its forms and artifacts of cultures long dead--and we only pay lip service to aiding the children who would be the future. Can you imagine this slick modern museum housing art and armor no one would make use of except to look at it, keep it at a proper temperature and think something of high achievement had been done for humanity. It's absurd."
"Well aren't you perpetuating the past with all your study of ancient tongues? After all, what's the purpose of your devotion to languages no one speaks anymore."
"Purpose? I have none. I just do it. As I said, I'd always wanted to and when I had the chance I took it. So if there is purpose it's only to satisfy my narrow curiosity."
"Then you are like that modern museum in a sense: you are a contemporary man housing, if you will, ancient languages. Why don't you study modern languages?"
"Oh, but I did. I taught myself to read German and Japanese; but I found I had more interest in the ancient tongues. I really am an eccentric. But I like life and I don't like the world I left. It's too bad so much effort goes into trivia while there are so many important issues to be addressed."
Emily was getting just a little angry at his preaching. After all, she was part of the world for which he seemed to have so much disdain. She said to him:--
"So, what are you doing to help the world. You've squirreled yourself away in this remote place indulging your whimsy while people are homeless, families broken because of hard times and people dying because they don't have enough to eat. Do you know what's going on in Africa?"
Edward took out his pipe and filled it; and while he did so, almost unconsciously, he stared out of the cave, a calm look on his face. Emily had expected him to respond to her almost insulting utterances; but he didn't. Calmly he struck a match and puffed on his pipe and blew a big smoke ring and put his finger through it and turning to her said: "I'm not an indifferent monster. I do have compassion; I'm not a misanthropic person; and I well know what's going on in the world--how well I know. As to what I do about it? I do nothing, for there is nothing I can do about any of it--not even starving children in Africa nor the homeless nor any of the evils which afflict our society..."
She cut him off: "So there, you see, all you can do is sit out here and have compassion--but admit you can do nothing. Well, I try to do something. For six months, every Sunday morning, I used to get up at five a.m. to go to a church soup kitchen as a volunteer server. At least I helped feed the homeless," she said with a raising of a voice filled with indignation.
He remained calm. Her words, no matter how strident did not unruffle him. Edward continued to look at her with his calm eyes and his calmness was upsetting her, for she wanted confrontation.
"You think I've used my money only to serve my narrow needs," he began, "well you're wrong. This county was going to close the only medical clinic in this area because there wasn't any more money, so I bankrolled the clinic and it's still open--and it's free or you pay sliding scale if you can pay something. I have given over fifty thousand dollars to a church soup kitchen that feeds thousands of people every year. And I give each year. The priests who run the kitchen are forever sending me letters of gratitude--unsolicited--I might add. I have personally financed the education of college students in this county who would otherwise have either had to drop out or work their way through college at the expense of their academic achievement. I have an old friend of mine, a doctor, he has a daughter who's a music teacher; often her student's can't afford instruments so I sent her a check for a few grand and now she can give her needier and talented students instru-ments. And as for the starving people in Africa--I have donated my fair share to that cause too..."
Emily ran from the cave, she almost forget to stoop down at the exit and just managed not to smash her forehead on the opening. She was in tears as she made her way back to the house. She was both angry and humiliated. She had wanted to strike out at a man for what she thought he was, when all the time he was everything to the contrary--only she had not seen it--had not even taken into consideration that he had taken her in.
She ran as fast as she could until she was back at the house where she immediately went to the guest room and closed the door wanting to hide for the shame she was feeling.
Edward remained in the cave and finished smoking his pipe and looked up to the ceiling to where he had scratched in some Egyptian hieroglyphics he had learned some years before. He smiled thinking that perhaps one day the glyphs might be found and because they were so perfect would probably confuse the finder. "Ha!" he laughed out loud, "I wonder if they'd be put in a museum? Ha, ho, ho, ho!"
Eventually he left the cave knowing he had an unhappy house guest whom he would have to soothe.