I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.
Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul?
And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?
"I Sing the Body Electric", Walt Whitman
You must be acquainted with waiting.
I haven’t attempted anything else. I don’t think you would quite appreciate it otherwise. I have asked you to come to Penge. You didn’t come; I have waited. I am not waiting anymore, at least, not at Penge. I am enlisting for battle, but I don’t think you want to know. To know anything about me derange you; to be seen by me is the penalty. I have been part of your sorry grief once. I have witnessed the barren cliffs which men of your sort stand about; only now could you breathe. Only by glancing, if you want.
Do visit sometimes.
Anne has her eyes up – the blur of a hand, a Providence— until tears hold them invisible, a basket of clouds and unanswered prayer.
A cage. Some bird flees for freedom as her eyes glance over the lawn, managed in a perfectly good order. She fears the shaky blow of the wind, to stay behind bars, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone, beyond desire.
“A pretty scenery, my dear,” Martha says, her gloved hands resting prettily on her knees. Anne throws her head back, startled by the tilting of her friend’s lips upwards. “Say, what are you thinking?”
Anne is a simple, quiet little woman. She shakes her head.
“Nothing,” she admits. She likes to amount her sadness to nothing and leaves it all to the great mind of another to uncover its secrets. “How’s weather at Sussex? You must tell me everything,” she stresses, “you must know how much I miss there, all my girlhood rests in the imagination of a single breeze.”
“Then you must know how I absolutely dreaded there— that mild, old, ghastly place,” Martha says, looking at her slowly, fondly. “I travel a lot, my dear. Don’t you want to know more about the graces of Italy? Or Greece?”
Anne has met her after her marriage, in one of her husband’s parties. A socialite, travelling in her rich garments and dirt stained boots. “What you wish, dear,” Martha mouths her words; a conspirator. “What you wish— you have it. You will have it.”
“I have it— I have it all along, Martha.” She says, “I have the most marvellous and terrible dream yesterday night, and I— I ought to share it.”
Mary makes a soothing gesture, and Anne continues, “I dreamt of him,” she says, her eyes bright, “you must know how much I love him. He has always been so considerate. A good man! Volunteered despite everything that holds him apart from everyone else. You know how sudden that transformative change occurred in him. I dreamt of him— and I am – horrible, horrible, horrible."
"I assure you that you're not,” says Martha with a smile, one that she wears when she is uncertain. She has a collection of these, and Anne catalogues them one by one until she can read them in a blink.
“Terror strikes me as fashionable,” Mary says.
“I dreamt that he died!”
Martha’s hands soften against hers. “Mr. Durham is a charming man. No one dares to hurt their sort nowadays.”
“Charms are hardly priced possession when one grows old.”
“Well,” she dips her finger into one of the bloom, “It is, my dear, the foundation of our civilization. At the cusp there is always the charm that prompt the need to reproduce: procreate a better charm unto your image.”
“Martha—” she trails off; the warmth of her body stifling. “I wish for peace.”
“Anne, my dear, I am hearing you. Peace from what?”
And she could not tell her what distressed her so in this dream— Providence even – the death, and the thrill that ran through her, the need, the ecstasy of sauntering up the bars and be freed, how relief was the first thing that came to mind. How she needs to embrace others, as a result, for her husband is away, and Martha is near, and the terrible thought of her choosing the exact same thing if the distance is to be reversed. She loves him; as she glances at the sky, a hand up to some overbearing thought and Martha catches her head and brings it down to her; she loves her too, more perhaps, yet it doesn’t matter if the love is returned.
She and Clive have loved each other like the world allowed them to love. They lingered between two breaths and hold still. Untraceable matter of love rested before them for the secrecy it represented. These years of love last and stretch on in Anne’s morning yawn, with Clive’s chaste kiss on her head when she does so, and the glint of pride when he does it, as if it were some great accomplishment to be celebrated. Something unspeakable rushes through them undisturbed, since they are both cowards in their own rights, did not dare to disturb the universe.
“My dear?” Martha asks again, and time is still under her. “My dear,” she calls her.
“From him—” she could not finish, sensing the unfairness of it all. She weeps.
“He is away from me,” she cries out, “I am away from him. I am with you. We are close, we are close. I am closer to you now and he wants it that way.”
“I don’t pretend to understand Mr. Durham,” Martha states calmly. “I only understand you."
“I do not care about Mr. Durham.”
“And what about it?”
“What do you want?” Martha inquires, not unkindly. Her husband is never kind, but his tender lies never bothered her. She is a quiet little woman, and he is a jolly little man, and they make a flattering image out of the plastered posters on the pictures. That was enough.
“I—” she begins. Her tears fall; she forgets about them. “I want— I want—”
And she repeats I want I want again and again, until her answer gets swallowed by a tight embrace, and a thought flashes: a corpse that is her husband, both an image and an eulogy, for she thinks that is what they both wanted in the end. Some great deeds, to bare their teeth at a cage they built for each other, crawling for some exit that existed in a way that offered no salvation.
I have seen you.
I haven’t been to Mrs. Hall lately. I doubt I ever will. Still, I saw you. My sullied soul has permitted me to recollect some images of you in my least deranged places. I have always wished, pensive like Socrates perhaps, to educate you, to lead you somewhere else than the world of the senses. You are now pure spirit in my mind, coming from the spiritual. I can see you better there. While I am trapped inside Plato’s Cave, you walked in sunlight like Death would in any ill-omened place, gentle and awkward. You stayed. You’re on the side of the Angels, but you refuse to be one of them. Damn you, Maurice. I am damned; to hell with me. Come to me, I am here where all damned people lie.
You found a better place; it is very unfair of you.
Madness is what he hears when the tavern comes to a halt. Laughter ensues always, in true English fashion, immediately after.
John can see his friend blinks his eyes playfully. The man who before indignant has now turned pink, and mutters something unintelligible under his breath.
“So?” He asks, draping an arm around his friend’s shoulder. “Yer new fancy not interested?”
‘Nah,” Matthew says, “he sure doesn’t, or seems so. A rich boy from those colleges, not for me. Don’t say any of their sort is wood? Whisper to himself— all gods and songs— I’d hate to take ‘em dumb like that.”
John laughs along. “Strikes me a young lad.”
“Fresh like this little war, lotta heaven on his mind,” Matthew philosophizes, a hand under his chin, “can’t resist the thrill.”
John peaks over, looking at the man’s uniform, tidily cleaned, its ridges smoothed out. The man’s eyes catch his. “I can see why,” he turns to his friend. “Stunning lad.”
“My future dies not!” Matthew declares. “My future is glorious. Ahead of me, Johnny!”
“Well,” John dangles his feet to the other side of the stool, “mine’s a girl."
"Oh, poor John."
He rolls his eyes. "She's got waiting at my parents’ place, then we're getting married after this war, as you call it, and yer's heading off to some hot salon to find some boys.”
The comment is rewarded with a hearty clap on the back. “I didn't like you much before you joined the army, John, but I do like you, cockie, now you've got yer khaki on.”
John smiles, yet his gaze searches for that fair face once again. Never had he found attraction in members of his own sex, though a kind of misplaced sorrow in the man fascinates him.
“Hullo,” John greets kindly. “Excuse my friend, a doofus, that one.”
The man starts but extends a cordial hand. “No problem. I am sure he means no harm. The name’s Durham.”
“John,” he offers, taking the hand and feeling the brittle, fragile bones in his rough, brown ones.
“Only John?” He mimics his Welsh accent; it is perfect. They laugh, and John is left an uneasy feeling about this Durham. Something akin to revealing a secret, and the excitement of it as well as its promise makes him quiet.
The golden pin on the Durham’s cloth, a little bird, steals his attention. He shakes his head and recalls his mother’s advice to always smile during introductions. “Nice meeting you,” he says, “I’m sure we can forget all this, Durham. Forgive my friend ‘ere.”
Durham’s returning smile is prejudiced somewhat, along with his eyes an avid intensity. He shifts— ever since he has sat down in front of his lonely table. “What brings you here?” He plays with his fingers while he says so, the nails bitten raw at the edge.
“Like everyone else,” John shrugs carelessly, “nothing better to do.”
Durham nods. He makes a pleased noise; his face is one that brightens when expectations have been met. “Of course,” he says. “One ought to fight off boredom.”
“My mum ‘s a nurse,” he feels the need to explain, “she ought to be pleased with me for joining and bring something to the family honour.”
“I would think mothers are awfully displeased when you do anything interesting,” Durham argues mildly, though his face opens up. “You’re lucky, Mother letting you off like that.”
“She’s nice,” John crosses his arms, leans over his chair, “I have a girl at home, you see,” he nods to him proudly, “an’ she wants me to be—” he gestures vaguely. “A man, you know. I don’t have a care about country or king or what, but my girl, she’s my girl, right? I do what she says.”
“I believe girls like their man alive,” Durham pronounces on the subject darkly. “They do not care for the mind. But the flesh must be conserved in a timely fashion, I’d suppose.”
“Oh, you’d reckon this ‘s nothing serious. Ought to end in few days,” John laughs at Durham’s loftiness, then asks what he is here for in the first place. When Durham shakes his head, John tries, “you got one too at home?”
Durham sips his drink like one would with tea. John once glimpsed that manner in the man that visited the family for collecting the rent as well as his sister. The latter refused his hand, and John has always been proud of that one, really, since the tax collector was a man with too much hair instead of brain. Durham’s head is thinning, however, and when he lifts his eyebrows, they go up high to his forehead.
“I’m married,” Durham says. “I assume you’ll too, after this.”
“Right,” John adds, “but yer look younger, I have to say. Why’d she wants yer here then?”
“She couldn’t stop me. I don’t pretend I can stop her. We are our own person.”
“Yer very young,” John remarks.
He laughs; clipped. “My hair is falling out—”
“It isn’t! C'mere,” and he moves to prove Durham’s affectionally thick hair, whereupon the man stills then shakes, violently, uncontrollable motions that seem to quaver his senses. The same sense of uneasiness washes over him and makes him retreat his hand to his lap. “Aw, relax, man, I’m none of Matt’s sort, just fooling around.”
His new friend’s expression takes a sour turn. His disgust, though not directed toward him, is apparent. “You must forgive me,” he begins slowly, then rushes, “I am not quite used to this.”
Durham later excused himself. Matthew joins him and the interlude is forgotten with a sort of quiet disappointment. War came later.
I don’t care for you.
Don’t believe what I said before, it was rotten. I have cared for no one. I can say this because right now I fail to care for anyone. It is good that you parted from me. I have cared for you more than any man in this land, but I have no intent to bear Sisyphus’ love like a punishment. We are no Prometheus; we never saved each other. I woke you up, dim and influenceable as you once were, and upon doing so, laughed at me for dreaming wide awake. I write to you all that, I hope you’ll understand. I wonder if you would meet me at Penge, for the sake of old friendship and all that tiring England’s customs that you surely have intentionally forgotten now and thrown me out along with them. I am not at Penge now, but I will join you soon. You are powerful; you can still embrace me.
It can be made without love, without fire, without anything.
War did come. Late like the snow they are expecting any time soon, and war comes with a shiver.
John meets Durham again, soon, really, below the stifling of the winter cold. They meet again, being the same kind of people, waking up early and sightsees the ever-brown picture of dough. The wind is nigh, and their clothes frigid. It was an ill-omened place. Death walked there in sunlight; Durham would say to him some months later, remembering some lines from an old country.
“I have never asked why yer here,” John turns his sleeve to rub at his sweat-drenched forehead. “Yer don’t seem to be one of ours.”
Durham rubs his hands; his eyes stare at the London fog that arises every day near their camp. It is far from here, but you can see it if you drag your eyes across the horizon. “I was bored,” he says. “I have been following the news. Old college did something with the Realm Act— that scandal with Mr. Russell and all. Turned back from previous statement, as I often did. Trying to offend Labours, for sure. I don’t know. I was bored.”
“Yer got a lawyer’s heart,” John muses. “Something worth dying for that yer see ‘ere?” They are working. Something like a sigh escapes his companion’s lips.
“That would be a bore,” Durham explains. “Dying, I mean. Everything in my life has been honoured as such. I have had a plain enough story as it is.”
“Yer don’t look like it.”
Durham blinks rapidly. He does that often when he is agitated. His light hair, dulled after months of training, is just as wild. He narrows his eyes. “How do I look like, then?”
“A rich young bloke, I’d say.”
“I’m tired of work and politics.”
“They talk about ‘em all the time.”
“That hardly makes them important.”
“You don’t mind death.”
Durham doesn’t offer a reply. His prejudices seem to be based off the air he is giving; once lost, there is nothing left but the depleted replacement for silence. John pities the man sometimes, for Durham is innocent except in the way he holds himself straight.
“I wanted to know what was like,” he says at last. “I have never cared about your lot. I never did, I most likely still don’t,” he says. His shoulder hits his arm.
Durham is the shortest man in the regiment, except for little Nicholas that everyone knows full well is sixteen. They are still looking out for unforeseen enemies. John would call that working for Durham’s sake.
“I don’t see why yer would,” John answers with some compassion. “We’re a lost cause. After the war I’m going to marry my girl, an’ you already have youse. There’s nothing to care about. Battle’s not for people like yer.”
“Your girl—” he trails, seems to taste the slang on his lips, “she sounds lovely.”
“She’s mine,” John replies, crossing his arms and stopping the work all together.
Durham arches an eyebrow; his hair is getting thinner. A ghost of a smile looms over his face.
“You love her,” he remarks.
“I’m hers,” John says.
There’s a pause, but Durham’s digging doesn’t stop. He laughs.
“I wouldn’t take away what’s yours,” he says.
“S’ppose yer won’t,” says John, picking up his work. There is a pregnant sincerity in his words. “I don’t see why yer would.”
“Everything was mine,” Durham bites out, his jaw tight, “once. I guess, I think— in a lasting way.”
“Oh, you got loads alright.”
“I mean everything, John. Don’t be daft.”
Manual works please John. Military training strikes him as dull and tiring, but repetitive tasks are comforting in a way that avoids all necessary predicament for life, and so John repeats, “I don’t see why you would now. Everything’s a lot to ask for.”
Durham nods. Sensing the mood, John says, a little too loudly, “this will be over soon, war’s never that long. The one a few years back was over in some months. No matter what yer lost, yer here with us, now. An’ there’s nothing to lose with us. We’re a rotten bunch,” and as he says so, John begins to believe that as well.
And John will remember, years later, when his wife would read to him and he is dozing off to sleep, the grateful look Durham gave him; the white over blue. Durham had believed him then, and there was something terrifying in his gaze whereas a tender, radical hope kindled in the heart of the young man and settled on belief that man is good and love true.
I don’t write for you.
I have never written to anyone without the intention of relieving myself from some terrible prospect that I once prophesized upon a dream. Mine own Idle of March. You certainly won’t read my letters. If there is something that we know from each other, it is that my mind is sharper and yours bolder. I know where you are. I know who is it that you love. My hair is thinning, or so I have been told: a most bald egg. It’s only been one year. I wished you stayed. We could have planned something – could conspire almost; honorable Brutus; we used to skip lectures to prevent the world from falling apart. My world, at least.
But you loved anyway, you grow old, you grow bald, you keep your trousers rolled, you grow out of me without letting me make a point about your hair, too, who is receding, I am sure, from an inch or two of your forehead.
Later— they become close, accidentally perhaps, deliberately almost— choosing to embrace what little warmth there is left in the vacuum.
The stress of war drives them to unusual places. John takes notice of Durham’s unblinking eyes and wonders what changed in him.
“You saved me,” Durham colours when saying so. “Don’t you think that’s reason for me to trust you?”
“Yer would’ve done the same,” John says.
Durham was looking at something, glaring almost, over the woods some yards back then when a strayed bullet flew at him. John has told him to get down; he didn’t. Durham continued to fix the faraway place as if enchanted, lured and pinned. John pushed him to the ground and the relenting shot resulted in a shoulder wound.
“I would now,” Durham answers with some shame.
“What were yer watching from afar?”
“I wasn’t looking,” Durham retorts weakly. He holds his arm in a way that suggests he was the one hurt instead. “I have never looked. I knew the full extent of its depravity. I know it was dangerous.”
“It was dangerous,” he says, knowing that nothing will come out of his friend’s nonsense. “Don’t do that again.”
That look again, though not as memorable as the first. An array of orders was shout at them and they parted ways.
Matthew comes to him in a flourish during supper. They are cornered between the dirt of the ground and hidden safely inside the trench they dig for themselves. It is their turn for the night watch. He grins, the little food that was given quavering on his knees. “Have you wished for anything else, John?” Matthew asks. “The stars, the war, the boys— I’ve lived more alone without death than with him— I could’ve been in love with death— all knows he’s a gents.”
The image of death being a man Matthew would fancy makes him laugh.
“Yer all’ mouth and no trousers,” he says with fondness. “Bender like youse's be happy one.”
“I’ve got dreams too, Johnny.”
“Like what,” and there’s gentleness in the mocking, “rosebuds and boys?”
Matthew doesn’t budge. “Away,” he says simply, as if admitting some great secret, his eyes distant.
“From the war?”
Matt shakes his head; doesn’t elaborate. “Listen, Johnny. That Durham kid likes you well.”
“I saved him,” he shrugs. “I s'ppose he does.”
“He follows you around like he’s the chav. A good chap too,” Matthew says. “Can’t even bounce anything off you, yer broke.”
“I like the fellow,” John says. Matt laughs like those girls in the pictures, putting their left cheek on their palm, a high-pitched giggle bursts out so suddenly that John cowers back.
“Did you hear that! I like you too!” Matt whispers as loudly as possible down to the quiet, dark night. “C’mon, get out, yer silly old dog.”
Durham rolls up his sleeves while he is doing so. “I was assigned to guard as well,” he explains with his head rolled to the side. His face is indistinguishable beside his moonlit hair. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”
“Come here, my man,” Matt gestures the place that John has left vacant due to the earlier outburst. “The view’s better here. No one’s going to give you a gong if you don’t kill a German or two, eh?”
Durham looks shaken. He brings a hand to his face. “I only wish to see the moon,” he hesitates, then turns to John, “and I heard you and Matthew were watching tonight, so I volunteered.”
John grabs him by the arm. “The moon ‘s nice tonight, eh? You ought to see it with us,” John insists when he feels him stilling under his touch. “Aren’t we, old man?”
That damned look again. It irritates him, somehow. Durham is hurting, quietly and without respect of the occasion. “We are.” Durham’s brow glistens with sweat. In the proximity, John can see his friend’s eyes, ephemerally bright, bearing no shadows, glance toward him with fondness. “You must forgive me,” he says, reminiscent of their first encounter. “I simply forgot what it was like. I even forgot how to admit it.”
“’S nothing to forgive.”
“I’m sure there is. My manners, for example. I was mean.”
“Yer were rich,” John says.
“I still am.”
“You forget abou' it, from time to time.”
He seems to think for a moment. “I began to see your lot’s worth; I am not pleased.”
Matt is smiling, now, and Durham lets him take his hand with a trembling sigh. “Yer strike me as very old, young man,” he says. “Why don’t yer just go admire the moon like yer wanted to for now, and we ought to take the watch.”
“Let me stay,” says Durham, with barely suppressed vigour. “Oh,” a frustrated sigh, “I say, here’s the perfect spot.”
War seems more impending rather than actually present. Durham’s head rolls quietly on John’s shoulder.
John begins to imagine himself a teacher after the war, his wife and his two children. Matthew he would meet sometime for drinks, Durham he would visit with his plumb white lady and all of them like this, quiet and full of thoughts, none too charming or too mad for friendship and love.
The snow today has been plentiful. John is in dire need of glasses, because all he can see over the white organic field is a paler line of light footsteps, that fade away once the snow pours in her rage against the moon, contours inconceivable with this white and all this noise. John supposes it is cold; he can’t feel his fingers.
“I’ve dreamt this,” Durham tells them, his voice strained. “I’ve always dreamt this. A perfect, metaphysical union between equals— I’ve lived since then.”
“Equals, eh?” John teases and receives a playful shove. “I don’t know what yer rambling on about, yer always so loud.”
It is not true, Durham has always been the quiet one. It is his absence that is unmistakenly there that makes it so. From the corner of his eye, John catches Matt’s kind face. The light catches him the same way it catches the looks of a fly. Matt is silent, that means he understands something that John doesn’t. Durham turns to him, straightens his posture. “I’m glad,” Durham says to the night, the snow melting on his tongue, “I’m glad for dreams like these, however trouble they once have brought me.”
He is going to return the thought when Durham starts again, more agitated this time, eager to pour whatever his heart can’t admit when alone. “I’ve had a friend— in love with unbearable things. I couldn’t let him. He wouldn’t let me go mad in my own way; he let me become normal against my will. He was cruel. I was crueller most of the time, but he shouldn’t have done such offense.”
Nonsense, John thinks. Durham has never crossed his mind to be any kind of normal. “What offense?” He asks, “yer so touchy sometimes I reckon everything offend yer so.”
Durham covers his hand with his mouth, peeling slightly his bottom lip, remembering something too terrible for words. “But he offends me,” the voice comes out a whine, “every time I think of him – not often, but when I do— it is always with an image of a young god created somewhere in my polluted mind. Something divine. He repulses me in his all-halo, glowering picture of truth.”
“A picture only,” Durham stresses, picking his words faster as if to justify some offense at his own speech, “and pictures don’t recall anything but a reflection toward the horrid, appalling visage of the self. It is suggestive. He offends me so, John— look at us—” he gestures aggressively, arms wild, “I would take you for the Baptist. I would take him for the disciple Christ once loved. If we can only find god in another’s soul, then nothing is lost.”
He chuckles, the night bears this with a sigh. John doesn’t understand, but he sees Durham’s eyes trumps reason and cedes to a beauty of some sort. For a moment John believes he has seen them all, the heartbreaks and the face of a man that seems to torment Durham so. That moment brings him to ask rather boldly, quite foolishly, “what’s there to lose?”
Durham doesn’t answer; he turns to Matthew, who has been listening with a sort of fascination rarely found in the man. Durham says to him with a tone of envy so pure that makes John’s fingers twitch in sympathy. He doesn’t embrace him, nor does he listen to what Durham says, but his ears rings pleasantly in the loud drumming of the snow, and that music tells him all that he needs to know.
“I have been dreaming,” Durham says, “of —"
I have brought my copy of Phaedrus with me.
Anne prides herself Diotima, and she taught me love the only way I knew how. I am glad she is left in the dark about other sorts of love; women wouldn’t get it. One ought to be a scholar to find meaning in the unpractical. I would ramble to myself and pretend; I haven’t met one succeeding at imitating Plato’s virtues by the book. It has brought me comfort. You are now your own Socrates with Phaedrus by your side, and me your Lysias in absentia. You refuse to give a speech— then extend an arm at least. Let me hear you somewhere I can bear, that you will allow. Somewhere where your breath is without the mingling of another.
Wrap your arms around –-
The shot relents later. It is an ambush; Durham is shot. The bullet is spent and locked stubbornly inside his ribcage. John wonders about that trail of footsteps over the snow, and how he missed it as a sign. He holds him when he falls.
“Durham,” he cries out, the man’s body going limp and soft in his arms. “Hey, Durham…”
And there is nothing to say. Durham winces slightly, then his eyes, fluttering dark in the night, throw him a lovely glance. He looks absolutely terrified, like there is a thousand treasures made available to him— he sees in the terror the sublime.
Durham gives him his hand, and John fails to catch it. He clutches tight his shirt and doesn’t let go. His eyes wander to his face, and he gasps, his mouth wide, as if to swallow the world.
“Oh,” Durham manages; he chokes, “Maurice,” he says, his breath hitching as he grasps his shirt, twisting but not in pain. “Maurice,” Durham’s brow glistens with sweat; his cheeks lose all the red and makes the blood strikingly black against the tired ground. “Maurice…”
The golden pin, the one he noticed at their meeting, reveals itself gloriously under Durham’s discarded coat. Matthew is telling him to stand up, with a sad glance thrown at his expired friend. A little bird, golden and dirty, rests there as Maurice fell from Durham’s lips, and a breath, perhaps— certainly holding the name too, lasts a second too long before fluttering away.
A book is inside his pocket; the spine split in two and the cover lost. It is foreign language; notes scribbled all over. Another is a notebook. Neither of them tries to read it.
Matthew pretends after the ambush, after the war, when they will meet sometime after dinner, that Durham and he had the same dream. Matthew repeats it, and the more he does, the less truth there is to it. John believes that Maurice, with its listless cry and blinding hope, has always only been Durham’s dream and no one else’s.
It’s too early to write to you.
I don’t pretend to write until I am alone in the dark and offered secrecy to my thoughts. It’s white outside. I’ll have to watch the night today, I suppose. This is a familiar story. I have often dreamt of dying, not like Justin Martyr— I have long abandoned orthodoxy at its crib— but like the great Achilles, who had a friend and would die for him. Of finding my own god in that friend. One ought to embrace death like we once did: cool but passionate, a past not to be repeated but glorified in my mind, with all the tenderness reserved for the good and the beautiful. Do you think they will weep for me? I don’t care for you, but I gave you something that I have lost, and you never had the decency to give it back.
When did you stop being afraid of the dark?
The axe is laid unto the root of the trees. This text, expressing her own state, rises unbidden into Kitty’s mind. The axe is laid, therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, but no one wants to be barren, she thinks. No one asks to be cross and sad, or five years older. Some of us might have brought forth fruit if we’d been nourished properly.
It is a green sight. Kitty has stopped being surprised or appalled or aimable a long time ago. Her brother is green on the knees, some scraps of dead leaves coloured them thus. Kitty thinks about Mother’s sleep paralysis at night, and worry takes over her head over the possibility of another recurrence tonight. She is almost surprised by Maurice’s presence, forgetting that he is there at all.
“Hullo,” Maurice greets, his tanned arms flexing over the wooden door.
“I have forgotten you,” she says, quick and to the point. “Mother did too. The house is same without you. Your absence caused us some pain, I’ll admit, but no devasting damage.”
Maurice bends his head, lets out a little laugh. “Okay,” he answers lightly. Kitty dares to wrap arms around herself and takes a step closer.
“Look at yourself,” she laments softly; society’s hymn for the unspeakable, “you're— most-" she struggles, "most barbaric.”
It isn’t said with malice, nor has hatred graced the speech. The tone shifts to one of contemplation, and words are stated as a matter of fact. Kitty neither loves her brother nor abhors him: all that is left is a subtle disappointment, with her family scattered to the winds, nowhere to be found except in the romances of the past; even that memory is thinly veiled with a knowing look, a suppressible glance at fiction rather than recollection of a past she can return to.
Maurice swings the axe and lowers himself with surprising grace. “Would you like to come in?”
“Is he in there?”
Maurice feigned innocence, and Kitty, worn and tired, decided that his brother’s lover is, indeed, inside.
“I shall visit another time,” she allows the lie then, and her brother smiles at it. Maurice hasn’t stopped smiling since. He looks young and happy, and his beauty is glazed over with a pale cast of sunbeams, leaking dreams.
“Then I will see you, Kitty,” Maurice replies, his arms over his head, relaxed and content, “do give Mother my wishes.”
She will not give Mother his wishes; he knows that all too well. It is terrifying to find the same defects in her brother and in herself. They are too alike, and where Kitty lacks in courage she fills in with resilience. Maurice knows about her friend Violet, has heard about it with a distant ear, and like every young person neglects it, for the sheer scope of their own love and pain. But they aren’t young now, with Maurice strong and stretched mellowly like a cat under the sun and Kitty: unmarried and unburied with the task of caring for an old mother.
Kitty has her eyes up— she walks without navigating, roams the greenwoods like a child would a park, knowing full well, perhaps also like a child, that it is not her resting place.
There is a promise of an eventual revisit that charms her, but the subject of home and her friend, her warm, collected friend— are much more tempting.
The greenwoods present such a pretty scenery to a place that she has to remind herself is still England. A most beloved secret: a green and yellow one. She rather likes it, and she makes a note of describing the view to Violet afterwards. Thinking of her friend’s bright eyes and lovely brows, Kitty strolls down the muddy path and hums a song about the beauty of spring. She has forgotten Maurice at that point, and longs for homes and sweet teas.
I am writing.
To you, to me; the sea. You have abandoned me. You left me there and it is always twilight in one’s cell, as it is always twilight in one’s heart. In the sphere of thought, no less than in the sphere of time, motion is no more. The thing that you personally have long ago forgotten, or can easily forget, is happening to me now, and will happen to me again tomorrow. I miss Anne and her equally dazzling friend. They make a good pair. I miss you, especially, knowing that when wisdom has been profitless to me, philosophy barren, the memory of that little silent act of love has unsealed for me all the wells of pity; brought me out of the bitterness of lonely exile into harmony with the wounded, broken, and great heart of the world. I have not failed concealing Truth from Man.
Do visit sometimes.