Sorry I have been away from the keys so long. I’ve been busy on the home front these last few weeks. But I am happy now that I have another post to share with you all. This one – like several others in the past few months, is a draft of a chapter from my novel in progress. If you’ve been reading these posts you know that the story is layered and that it switches back and forth between the early 20th century and WWI to more or less the present day. What the two sets of characters – those in 1918 and those in 2018 – have in common is a mansion located in a small town. The house was built in 1914, not long before the start of WWI. I’ve written a good bit about then man who built it – William Martin – and why he built such a grand house.
But what follows here is a scene from the present day. The book’s protagonist – Rachel (I’m not sure of her last name, yet.) has decided to buy the old house, which is in shambles now. This chapter is a conversation between Rachel and a boy she knew some twenty years before. Rachel has just lost her husband of fourteen years. Steve is now divorced.
Thanks for reading. Comments are welcome. Ed
She heard the knock at her door and went to the front window and parted the curtain just an inch and looked out onto the front porch and saw him standing there.
He stood with his back to the late sunlight and she could not see his face, but the outline of his slender body was all she needed to be sure. He shifted his weight from foot to foot and looked all around as he waited for an answer to his knock. When he came to a rest, his head was a little tilted to the left as if he had just asked a question. She had not seen him in eighteen years, yet she could have picked him out of a crowd from a block away. She had never loved him, yet she was haunted by his form the way lovers are haunted. In only a matter of days almost two decades ago she had done to him that very thing she had determined never to do to any man. She had, in a moment of very particular circumstances, in a time of song and poetry, allowed him in and then, as heaven again turned to earth, she had run from him. She knew even then, although she had tried her best not to know, the pain she caused him and she knew even then that he was justified in wondering why and in asking her why. She also knew, by a few words dropped by a friend at Christmas or at some wedding or funeral, that he had never really healed from this, although he never approached her again.
All of it had happened between them in a two-week span twenty years ago. The circumstances then had seemed to allow it, to call for it, even. She had been aware of his admiration of her all through high school and she knew of his deep, unspoken respect for her person and his profound and justified doubt about his own chances with her. He would have forgone any attempt with her if only to save her the pain of refusing him. But there were others around them then. Friends who knew of his desire and his reluctance and friends who also knew of her own loneliness, self-imposed though it was.
And it was the end of time just then. The world they had known for all of their eighteen years was coming apart just as it ever has in that age. Within only days every relationship they had known – those that had enriched and enabled them and those that had held them down – would be drowned like Pharaoh’s horsemen in the sea of time. She knew that and welcomed it. It had been the focus of her thinking and desire for more than a year. So much so that she never imagined that any other so situated had not seen the same thing coming and welcomed it just as she had.
But when she said yes to him, even though it was, as she thought then and as she thought he must have understood, all conditional, all applicable only to that brief time, that twilight of adolescence, time stopped for him. He would have lived forever there.
She opened the door.
“Steve. Come in. Come on in.”
She swung the door wide and stepped back and he entered and stood there in the foyer as if waiting for some direction.
“Here,” she pointed to the living room. “Come on in. I’ve got coffee already made.”
He sat on the couch and she brought coffee and he took a sip and set his cup on the low table before them. They were quiet for a moment.
“I was sorry to hear about John. I didn’t know him at all. He was gone by the time I got there. I knew people who knew him though. He was loved and respected.”
“I appreciate that, Steve. He was a good guy. A good husband.”
“You all never had any kids.”
“No. That wasn’t by choice. It just never happened.”
“We didn’t neither. I wanted them for the longest time and now I’m glad that it didn’t happen. I’d like to of had kids, but the mess we made of things wouldn’t have been good for them. Coming like it did, when it did.”
“You still have time for that, Steve. You never know what might be around the corner for you.”
“You have time too.”
“Not as much as you do. Nature isn’t fair that way.”
“I want to tell you right now that I’m not here to pursue you in that way. I know that you wouldn’t want that. I talked to Linda. She didn’t say anything outright. But I know how you feel. It’s how you’ve always felt, I guess.”
She did not turn away from him, but she said nothing.
“But I wanted to see you because I think I have something important to tell you. I’m not going to put anything on you. I’m not going to make any request or promise. I just have something to tell you. I know that it’s kind of presumptuous to do this. Just knock on your door uninvited, out of the blue like this. But I wanted – I felt like I should, finally – I felt like I had to tell you about it. It’s selfish in a way, I know, but I think there might be something unselfish about it. Something that might help you. Might tell you something about yourself. Be valuable in that way.”
“It’s okay. Go on.”
“I was married for almost twenty years, you know. Dated her for a year before that. Dated a bunch of girls before that. Some of them pretty great girls. But I have never felt anything for any of them like I felt about you. I have worked for years to make that not be true. The feeling I have for you is no help to me. It’s something I have spent untold energy on. And for no reason. No reason at all to do that. No chance that it would ever be anything other than just thinking. But it was always there. There has not been one morning or one afternoon, even in the happiest days of my marriage, when I did not think of you. I apologize for this, for saying this to you, I mean. I don’t mean to say that this is something you intentionally did or caused. But it is there and it is undeniable and I think I have finally figured out why it’s there and I think that it might actually mean something to you right now. I know that you’ve got to be searching, Rachel.”
And she gave him an answer that she would never have given until this day. “Yes, Steve. I am searching.”
“We all are, really. Almost all of the time. And we get hints sometimes. After years of stewing, walking blindly, sometimes we get a clue. And when that happens, it’s worthwhile. It changes things. Do you know what I mean?”
“I’m not sure that I do, Steve. But, please, keep going.”
“Well. You’re thinking about buying that house. The old Phillips place.”
“Yes, I am.”
“But you don’t know why, exactly, do you?”
“No. It’s a feeling I have. I can’t really explain it. If I could talk about it to somebody – somebody who wasn’t trying to talk me out of it – then I think I might get closer to understanding it, myself.”
“Well, Rachel. I am happy to say for once that just now, just for this purpose, I am your man.”
“I think I have felt the way I have about you all this time because of the way you love. You have loved boldly. Your love has come from your own heart and it hasn’t been the product of prevailing opinion. That’s what makes you you. That’s what makes you different from everybody else. That is why I was so drawn to you. I saw something in you that I saw nowhere else in this world.
“I saw it in your friendships all through school. You were at the top of our little society back then, but you made connections with people who others ignored and avoided. And with your friendship, those people blossomed. It was like they became other people. I think they grew into what you saw in them. That’s power.
“And so I am here to tell you that you have to do this thing that others are warning you against. It’s who you are. It’s what make you you. This may be your gift to the world. The thing that only you can do.”