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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Drama Stories / Human Interest Stories
- Subject: Character Based
- Published: 09/16/2016
For a while I felt nothing. No sense of being, no awareness of my own pitiful existence, not until a light formed in my mind like a pin prick in the vastness of space, or one single star being fashioned in the infinite cosmos of the Universe. I called it my awaking. It was like being born again only with all the memories of a life lived and not the blankness of a new baby’s mind still open to experience. There was and remains a mosaic of images and emotions within my head I am slowly trying to piece together.
Someone once wrote ‘There is a fine line between sanity and insanity’, but on the question of who penned that particular quote, I’m afraid you would have to ask my ex-wife Susan, she is, or was the academic of us both. Our paths first crossed one hot summer and we stayed together for fifteen years up until we separated, not through choice on my part I might add, but through circumstances forced upon me that made it impossible to continue on. Afterwards Sally remained in the city while I moved onto the island not far away.
It is beautiful place with a small close knit community, clean rivers and green fields, but even with its pleasant surroundings there are times I feel as if there is an undertone of uneasiness veining through it. Much like a town without a Mayor or police force to give it a sense of purpose, no one seems to be in control. Not that security is needed; most residents can confidently leave for days on end without worrying about their personal sanctuary being invaded. But every now and then a sense of foreboding canopies the air like the static friction of an impending storm. Thunderheads rumble above the town like the deepest voices from heaven are speaking and those are the times when vicissitudes come and I feel that line between what’s real and what is not gets crossed. It’s after those epochs some people leave never to return, while others like me choose to remain, because even with its peculiarities the island is still a place where I can feel close to Susan.
We are not totally isolated of course, if any of the residents, myself included, need to go visit family or friends, early each morning a ferry sets sail to go to the mainland and late evening it returns. Its cost is minimal, two tokens that can be acquired at any of the trade outlets scattered across the isle where credit is optional, a price that has remained unchanged for years, much like the audacious Charon, the captain and owner of the vessel. He is a stalwart of meticulous time keeping and will not wait for anyone who happens to find themselves late in any going direction. Rumored to be of Greek descent he eloquently masters the currents of the rivers Styx and Acheron that weave their turmoil beneath his ship before finally flowing within the Nekros Sea. He is an unkempt seaman of few words with feverish eyes and an irascibility demeanor that does not favor the frail nor opinionated.
It was on one such trip I met and got talking to a man I had not seen before on the island, Susan had called me one evening around eight and although I was unable to talk to her directly that particular night I made a mental note to catch the morning tide to visit. My plan was to spend a few hours with my parents first, who are still in the same home I grew up in and which by chance is not far from the apartment Susan and I shared. I hoped to stay most of the day with them before going to Susan’s around dusk.
I saw him standing looking nervous a little to the side of the main group of waiting passengers that had formed around the bottom of the high skin colored cliffs. My back was to the line of evergreens from whence I had came who rose tall to form a natural screen of Cypress trees to the way onto the main paths of the island. From where I stood my line of vision that looked out across the rivers was slightly obscured by the side of Charon’s ship that had dropped its gangway onto the rocks of the harbor walls. It was an impressive wooden craft with two linen sails and a mast head sculptured in the form of a green scaled seahorse, and just above the waters a slight mist was levitating about a foot as far as I could see.
The waves slopped against the black boulders the quay was erected on, Making gurgling sounds like a cascading waterfall. I approached him quietly and I could tell by the change in his stance he had become aware of my presence. His uncertainty elevated slightly when we drew level and he pulled the collar of his coat up to hide his eyes. For a few moments we stood in silence listening only to the sound of Charon’s counting.
Eventually I spoke to introduce myself.
‘’My name is John’’ I said ‘’John Henry Newman, you are new to the island are you not?’’
At first he said nothing, choosing only to haunch his shoulders ever higher within his jacket against the morning chill. My breath, like the mist, hung in the air, evaporating slowly into the gray sky above us. I held out my hand the second time I spoke hoping that my friendly gesture would be better received. Thankfully it was and he took it, firmly.
‘’Arnold Bocklin’’ he replied. ‘’you are right I have not been here long, and you?’’
‘’Quite some time’’
‘’How far are you from the quay?’’ he asked smoothing his grizzled beard against his face ‘’is your abode favorable?’’
‘’All are of the same construction and layout as far as I know’’ I answered him again. ‘’for me it is merely a place to sleep because I spend most of my time on the mainland so it is adequate for my meager needs. But if you are not happy you can ask to be moved and I’m sure they will accommodate you else where’’.
‘’No, It will be satisfactory, for the short time I plan to be here all will be sufficient, there is no need to complain’’ he said.
‘’Do you have a profession?’’ I asked, making sure we did not loiter and being mindful that the body of waiting passengers was growing thin ahead of us and we should hurry to join those few still waiting so as not to miss the embarkation. It was my experience that Charon delayed his passage for no one-ever.
‘’painter’’ he said in a poignant whisper as if it hurt him to reveal his vocation. ‘’I paint with oils on canvas’’
‘’A master of art then’’ I smiled and placed my hand upon his shoulder as we strolled. ‘’It is my pleasure to meet you sir for I enjoy looking at well constructed works of beauty from the likes of Dante Rossetti or John Waterhouse. Have you heard of them?’’
‘’I have, and both are icons of their chosen genre’’ He replied, and as we spoke I could feel an easiness come over him as he engaged further about his passion for painting.
Soon his tenseness seemed to vanish, taking away the ridges of pain from his forehead that were prominent when we first met. He looked more at peace as we walked and talked to the gangway of the ship. We were the last to board once our fare was paid. Charon then ordered that the walkway should be lifted and soon we were afloat.
Arnold and I took the last remaining seats at the back of the ship behind a few regular travelers like myself who I had become familiar with. I acknowledged each in turn with a silent nod as we moved awkwardly towards our places. beside us near the porthole there was Hugo Simberg, the gardener, who was a sickly thin man with a gaunt expression more in need of substance I fear than any other I had seen in my time. To his left was a thirty something lady dressed in a white chiffon blouse and black pencil dress already firmly engrossed in a book of poetry and well known on the island for her life of chosen seclusion. Emily Dickinson was an anxious acrophobic rarely seen on Charon’s boat or walking the paths that wound between the Island’s cupolas buildings. So to find her traveling far from her comforts made me think of a line I once read ‘Hope is a thing with feathers,’ wondering if maybe finally she had conquered her demons of depression. I then queried more out of etiquette than concern when I asked about her eye condition which she had been suffering from for sometime and if she had heard from her sister Lavinia lately. Neither of which as I expected were my questions of civility acknowledged with any decorum. If anything her eccentricity had not diminished in the slightest. She continued to read her book unfazed and un-speaking.
‘’She is an unpleasant sort,’’ Arnold commented quietly with a hint of humor in his tone and glance. ‘’and our friend here smells of compost and is in dire need of a good meal, wouldn’t you agree John?’’
Arnold’s quip made me smile; for it had been a long time since I had felt the sentiment of absurdity and sometime since I had indulged in a conversation with any other neighbor. It was a pleasure to have some lucid company on my trip for a change.
‘’I believe Hugo was the architect of the Islands commons, and is the longest known resident on it apart from Charon’’ I stated. ‘’His task is endless keeping the shrubberies tidy and the pathways clear of dead cypress leaves is it any wonder his personal hygiene is compromised at times. And so too is it any surprise with his constant laborious drudgery he is nothing but skin and bones.’’
‘’Yes’’ Arnold agreed flexing his pale fingers in front of himself like a pianist would before playing a note. ‘’Not a chore I would relish that’s for sure, not with these tender hands, but what of you?’’ he asked me ‘’What is your story John Henry Newman?’’
‘’Me?’’ I shrugged ‘’There is nothing much to tell that would hold your interest’’
‘’I think I should be the judge of that don’t you?’’ Arnold said ‘’and besides we have still a long way to go before we dock, does not time pale away when one is captivated in a good book? And since we have no such reading material we must therefore find other ways of passing the journey, would you agree?’’
‘’Good, then tell me why you travel today, are you like me, hoping to conclude some unfinished business or maybe just visiting someone?’’
‘’The latter’’ I conceded. ‘’It is my ambition to firstly call with my parents as I do on most of my trips. Both are in the winter of their lives but still vibrantly in love and with an inner energy many younger people would envy. Father likes to enjoy the morning sun, weather permitting, by reading in the garden and he’s usually there when I arrive. So I sit with him for a while, if not he will be in the lounge maybe drinking coffee and indulging his mind with a crossword or some other newspaper puzzle. In any event I spend an hour or two in his company, something I have taken pleasure from since I was a boy. He still amazes me with his wisdom and fortitude, I wish I was more like him but alas I favor my Mother’s aptitude. Her dexterity, and I hope mine, lies with writing; she is an accomplished author and composes under her maiden name of Mary Godwin. Maybe you have read some of her work? She was monstrously sought after in her early years. I preferred the more mundane kind of scribing with theological publications. Not what you would call memorable but tracts for the times I suppose. If she is at home and not out promoting a new book with her agent Frank Ernestine or attending some Literary Reanimation get together of her others she will be in the Library reading. That’s where I will spend the afternoon. she talks to me and I listen to her recite William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, her favorite author. Near dusk I usually leave to visit my ex-wife Susan, and even though we are no longer together I still love her. I met her one hot summer night more than fifteen years ago; her name was Susan Tassone then. She was working in a music store I happened to fall into while I was looking for a copy of ‘Fade to Black’ by Metallica, but left with her phone number and a vinyl of Iron Maidens fifth single. I knew we were kindred spirits from the start.
"Day by Day we began to see more and more of each other until less than a year after we met we were married at St Faustina Catholic Church. Our honeymoon period lasted nearly five years and during that time we moved into a modest apartment not far from where I lived. We hadn’t much in the way of wealth or material items but we were happy and our love carried us through mostly. Though sadly I must add Susan was unable to have children and even though I constantly reminded her that she was enough for me I think deep down she felt less than a woman.
It was close to our tenth year together that things began to unravel, maybe because of it. I started to concentrate more on my writing since we had less and less to say to each other. we would fight and argue over stupid things and it was clear our marriage was falling apart. How it got to that I don’t know, but even now I regret I didn’t see the signs early on and do something. Then the inevitable happened, there was an evening while I was with my Mother on one of her promotional book signings. I often tagged along in the prospect of gaining some merit for my own works on the back of hers when I met Linda Calvey. She was a beauty to die for and her wit and charm was second to none with any other woman I had met, not even Susan’s. I was smitten at once and soon I was making excuses about why I spent more and more time away from home. I pretended it was to do with my own new found recognition in the realms of the Theological book world but in reality I was with Linda.
We became lovers and for two years we got away with it. But Susan was no fool, she had me followed. Things really came to a head soon after. I had made up this crazy lie that I needed to do some research for my latest manuscript, I even gave it a name ‘Essays on Miracles’ to make my need to travel more convincing. I wove a web of deceit to cover my lust for Linda and I can only blame myself for what happened afterwards. The so called excursion for research masked the truth of the fact that Linda and I were to be together for a week. Not the five hundred miles away as I had lied, but less than eighty near the ocean, in a luxury cabin, much more than I had ever done for Susan in all our years together, and I felt the shame of each moment on that journey. But I was a fool to think I could never be found out.
Like before she followed us and found Linda and I together. She burst into the bedroom in a murderous belligerent rage, words and blows were exchanged before she left, bringing my marriage to a swift and conclusive end. Linda departed too that night and I have never seen her again.
After some time I ended up on the island and for a while I just wandered around like a lost soul until I resigned myself to a pitiful supposition that it was my penance to remain there. Time passed, then one night I got a call. A woman I had never met reached out, she said she was a friend of Susan’s and that Susan was missing me and maybe ready to forgive my sins. She told me her name was Jeane Dixon and that I should come back to the apartment Susan and I once shared with the hope she could maybe mediate between us. I thought about it for some time and at first I was reluctant to go, my new life on the island had become serene, but the lure for redemption and to be with Susan again was too great. So I go now when Jeane and Susan appeal, taking in my visits to my parents as well, like I said. Mostly though we just sit around the table. I never say much at our liaisons. I think its better if I just listen for a while, would you not agree?’’
‘’Your story is profound my friend’’ Arnold said when I had finished.
‘’And with tragic consequences’’ I sighed in agreement, then both of us fell silent with only the sound of the lapping waters of the sea against the boats side as it made slow headway on our journey. I had only one last question of Arnold before we might reach our destination and that was would I have his company on the return voyage. I inwardly prayed he would say yes and that he may not conclude his business this trip because purgatory is a lonely place.
Authors note: Ok, you have finished. I hope you enjoyed the twist at the end but there is more! Within the content of this story I have hidden lots of clues along the way giving hints as to what the story was about as you read. Did you find them all? Read it again now that you know the twist and you will or may discover some, but I do not think all.
Still curious and dying to know how many you found? For all the answers go to my new website and click on my blog section. And please leave a message in my guest book thanks…Will