Thursday, December 8, 2011

Elijah: Part Three


THE HOUSE was a large brick building, framed in white that overlooked a sound off the Chesapeake Bay.  Its front yard entailed an unusual quantity of green acreage, and its backyard a beige strip of sand touched constantly by a dark green-brown sea.  As one approached the front of the house, they were reminded of a plantation; its drive was long and had a dense boundary of trees.  It was not until they reached the house itself or caught sight of the ocean that they realized it was not a farm house from a Margaret Mitchell novel, but was instead the eccentric ____ or conservative, as the case may be ____ tastes of an extremely wealthy man who now lived alone in Colorado.
It was at the location and exterior of the house where the influence of Elijah’s father was left.  Inside was a totally different, tasteless world of expensive art and trinkets that showed off a garish flare for flaunting wealth.  Elijah’s mother had been allowed to decorate the interior in whatever fashion she desired and the result was an appalling display of color blindness.  Upon entering the house one was so bombarded with so many different clashing hues, that it became necessary to divert the eyes in order to avoid what would have surely been a fatal dose of poor interior decorating.  It was the kind of house that children feared; nothing was touchable, everything fragile.  From the two original Picasso’s that ornamented the living room walls, to the queer European sculptures, well within a child’s reach, the house was built with making a child feel uncomfortable as its primary goal.

So Elijah easily left any nostalgic feelings in the drive and entered the house with a rather disgusted shroud of anxiousness.  He wanted to leave the second he arrived and had no premonition that things would change.  Without bothering to speak to his mother, he made his way with his luggage up the steps to the second floor and went promptly to his old room.  At once his eyes were allowed to rest; the colors dulling as a slight sense of conservative cultivation dominated the room.
This room was a different museum in the sense that it held along its walls and shelves remnants of a life lived hard, non stop and fervently: plaques of deep mahogany, echoed with shimmery gold dotted the white spaces; a large ceiling to floor trophy cabinet held the spoils of four years of varsity football, baseball, and track; another shelf across the room, perhaps twice as large, held a library of books ____  Hemingway, Dumas, Morrison and Salinger dominating the middle section; tucked tightly into a large complete works collection of William Shakespeare, was a stack of certificates and awards ____ there was no longer any room to hang them; on a large desk in the corner of the room were scattered an array of papers and writings; and on the desk chair, hanging as if it had been tossed there yesterday was a blue and red letter jacket, heavy with stars and metals.

Elijah walked directly past his plaques and trophies, directly past the books and went straight to a small framed photograph on the desk.  He set his luggage down and picked the frame up as if it was going to fall apart and he studied the figures behind the glass.  Elijah and Simon were on either side of a tall slender man of about twenty, who held in his arms their baby sister.  The man was absolutely gorgeous, with powerful arms and legs and a full chest, enhanced by broad shoulders.  His look was lean and hungered; he had the passion of the dancer that he was.  Ashley Carter was built to dance; you could see it in his eyes.
At twenty years of age, he had already been on Broadway for three years.  He was a prodigy; to be a song and dance man was his destiny and when he left home for New York at seventeen, only his mother doubted him.  He could do anything with music: the piano, singing, dancing.  He never had a lesson, but instead picked things up with a savant-like nature that put those around him in awe.  That was what he did best.  Place people in a state of stupefaction.  When at twenty years of age, three days before New Years, Ashley put a bullet into his brain, he was doing just that.  There was no one left on their feet; everyone was incoherently astonished.  For Simon and Elijah, a hero had died.

“Were you not planning on saying Hello to your mother?” the woman’s voice startled Elijah.  He was quick to regain composure and did not face her as he spoke.
“I wouldn’t want to give you any notion that I had any desire to see you Mama.  Any such indication would have been a misinterpretation on your part, so I saved you the trouble.”
“All right.  Did you say hello to your brother then?” The woman’s voice sounded hurt.
“No I have not.  I just walked in the door, perhaps you could give me a few moments to let my eyes adjust.”
The woman pulled a long brown cigarette from the pocket of her jacket and lit it presently with a silver lighter.  The blue-grey smoke rose into the air as she exhaled long and full; the scent reached Elijah almost the instant she let out her breath.  He whipped his head around to double check his senses.  “When did you start that up again?”
“A little while ago and I don’t want to hear anything about it either.”
“Don’t mistake simple curiosity for concern mother.  I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t put forth the effort to stop you from jumping off a bridge, let alone get into a tiff on the dangers of cigarette smoke.”
            “I can not believe you just said ____
“However, I better not see you smoking those damn things around Megan.  You can poison your own lungs if you want, but you leave her the hell alone.”
“I don’t, if that makes you feel any better.  What are you looking at?” she said shaking off her injuries.  She walked over to him and looked over his shoulder.  “I remember the day your father took that picture.”
“Do you now?”
“Yes.  I may not like your father as it stands, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have fond memories.  That was a wonderful day.”
“It was.  For some reason or another you were fairly silent and relatively absent.  Definitely one of my fonder childhood memories.”
She took a long arduous drag on the cigarette and coughed a few grey puffs.  “When are you going to see him, your brother I mean?”
“I’m sure I’ll make my way to his room in a few minutes.  As I understand it he’s lying, sulking in his bed.  I don’t think there’s a real rush.  Do you?”
           “No, I guess not.”  She walked slowly out of the room, sporadically lagging her pace as if she had one last comment, but finally proceeding silently out the door.
Elijah put down the photo and walked out of his room.  He slowly made his way down the hall, passing five or so empty bedrooms until finally arriving at his destination; a large, spacious and rather empty bedroom.  There was very little furniture and even fewer ornamentation.  Lying asleep in the bed across the hardwood floor was Simon Carter.  Elijah walked over and sat on the end of the bed softly so as not to wake its inhabitant, and looked over the eighteen year old child. 
Simon had the covers pulled to his chin and was breathing heavily, just shy of a snore.  He looked pale and feeble ____ in fact there was no pallor to his skin to speak of and if it had not been for the respiration, one might have taken him for dead.  Elijah looked at the hand clutching the sheet and then at the other which clasped a tattered book tightly between its fingers; and for the first time he noticed the white, lightly stained bandages wrapped around Simon’s wrists.  First he was bewildered, then scared, and finally enraged.  Elijah stood quickly from his seat and charged out of the room.  He found his mother preparing some sort of meal in the kitchen.
            “What in God’s name is going on?”
“Don’t you shout at me Elijah Carter.  I am in no humor to be shouted at.”
“And exactly what in the hell makes you think I give a damn about your humor?  You mind explaining what is on his wrists and why?”
“Well I think it is self explanatory.  Don’t you?”
“Yes it is pretty self explanatory.  You've driven another one into attempting suicide ____
“What did you ____
“Whose going to be next Mama?  Me.  Am I your next target.  Or no...Megan.  Yes!  She’s young enough that you can get a proper start.”  The woman swung her open hand out at Elijah, but he caught it in mid flight.  “Don’t even dream about it Mama.  Don’t even let the thought cross your mind.”  Elijah tossed her hand aside.  He stared at her with hard, piercing eyes.  “Why?  Why in the hell did he do something like this?”
“Why don’t you ask him, Elijah?”  The woman had lost control of the tears that pushed at her ducts.
“Because you know just as well as he does.  And I want to see if at the very least you can take the responsibility.”
            “Oh yes.  I can take the responsibility.  It’s all my fault.  Just like every other problem you kids have.  It all comes back to me.  It’s really very Freudist of you, Elijah.  The mother is most certainly at the center of it all.”
“No, Mama.  Mothers who weren’t too preoccupied with their own lives to care about their children don’t count.  They’re exempt.  You however ____
“You want to know what happen.  I’ll tell you.  He’s failing again, Elijah.  The boy is attending a second rate university ____ we all now know where wasting our time in high school gets us ____ and I’ll be damned if his laziness hasn’t gotten him into another fix.  This was his freshman year and the boy was on academic probation more times than I care to remember.  Well, I’m tired of it.  I really am.  The boy comes home whining every chance he gets.”
“And I suppose that each of those times you gave him sympathy ____ took him into your arms and ____ hey here’s an idea ____ offered him encouragement.”
“No I most certainly did not.  He doesn’t need me to offer him encouragement.  What he needs is a good kick in the rear.  And as for sympathy ____ I have never sympathized with incompetence or indolence and I never will.”
“Did it ever occur to you that this may be the best he is capable of?”
“No it has not!  I have not raised failure.”
            “You got that right.  The only problem is that even if he was a Goddamn prodigy, you still wouldn’t of raised him.”
“He just has no drive,” the woman said ignoring Elijah.
“I think that it probably goes a little deeper than that.”
“You care to explain.  How about sharing your great insight with me.”
            Elijah stepped toward his mother and took her by both her shoulders, shaking her hard.  “Listen to me.  I realize that your sick pride can’t allow for you to have a child who is less than perfect.  I also realize that you are a cold disturbed individual; but what I can’t see is how you can care so little. You think that you can just pass it over to someone else and you’re off the hook.  Simon is hurting.  He is desperately reaching out for someone and he’s finding an empty shallow wretch as his only comfort. It is exactly the same thing that happened with Ashley.”  Elijah’s mother turned her eyes to the floor and tried to pull away.  “Damn it you will listen!  It’s exactly the same.  When he needed you, when he cried out for your embrace, when he begged for reconciliation, begged for your forgiveness, when he pleaded for your love, you were so bitter and so self-centered that all you gave was scorn.  You killed him, Mama.  It wasn’t the gun, it wasn’t Ashley.  You killed him when you couldn’t love him for what he was.  For some reason, unbeknownst to me, he loved you.  And you just couldn’t love him back.”
“I just ____
“You know why?  Because, you screwed up your life when you were young and even as an adult.  The only way you could see to fix it, the only way you could prove to the world that Rosemary Andrews was something, was to have children who lived your dreams and conquered your petty fears.  And well dancing on Broadway was not correct thing for Ashley to be doing; it was not were you wanted him to go.”
“That boy had a mind that you wouldn’t believe.  He could have done something, been something,” this was said through running tears.
            “Goddamn it, you are so dense.  Can’t you see that he was something?  Even now, can’t you see?  He was a man who was living out his dreams.  How many of us can say that?  How many of us in this world can say that when it came down to it, we saw our chance and went for it heart and soul?”  Elijah’s voice echoed with his last word and a long uncomfortable period of silence followed.  The entire house seemed to deaden at that precise moment, and they were both left with that perpetual ringing of the ears.  Elijah never took his eyes off of his mother; she could only brave sporadic short glances against his onerous stare.  With each look she would catch the flash of green, the confused anger, the bewildered rage, the hint of hatred, a glimpse of pity.  
          “I’m going to go talk to Simon,” Elijah said finally and walked slowly from the kitchen.
As Elijah reached the steps he heard a little voice let out a frustrated sigh.  His attention diverted, he walked toward the sound.  Megan was seated in the living room, her legs folded close to her body so that she could be as near as possible to a wooden coffee table.  On the table, placed strategically in neat piles, were two books, assorted crayons, a pencil and paper.  Megan was writing furiously from one of the open books, her mouth taut and her azure eyes locked to the task.  As she leaned over the make shift-desk, her long blond hair hung down so that its ends rested on the table top.
“May I ask what you’re doing?”  At the sound of Elijah’s voice, the five year old little girl’s eyes got even brighter and she whipped her head around to affirm her suspicions.  The second she recognized his face, she was on her feet and into his arms.  Elijah lifted her high into the air and spun her in a circle so that her legs spun out like the blades of a helicopter.  When he finished the spin, he pulled her close and gave her small frame a tight squeeze.  When he set her down she thought for a second and promptly answered his question.
             “I am doing my lessons.  Mama had Mrs. Newbury make them because she said that I will start school next year.”
“Really?  You don’t say?”
“I do.”  The little girl gave Elijah a sincere and very sweet smile; his heart nearly melted.  “Are you here because Simon is sick?”
The question surprised Elijah with its suddenness, but he quickly recovered.  “Yes, I am.”
“He is very sick.  He doesn’t even go out of his room.  I think he is sad.”
“Why do you say that, sweetie?”
“He can’t go outside and play on the beach.  I know that if I came home and I couldn’t go in the water, I would be so sad.”  Elijah laughed out loud. 
“That would make me sad too.  You know what?”
“What?”
“I’ve been thinking just now, that you are going to waste away the day, doing all of those lessons.”  The little girl looked up at her brother with hopeful eyes.  “What do you say you and I go outside and have a swim?”  The little girl again jumped into his arms and then ran to her room for a bathing suit.
            Elijah went into his room and got to his suitcase before he realized that he had not brought a bathing suit.  He had sent a box full of clothes to his dad’s house and his suit was in it.  He paused for a minute and then with a sudden thought walked across the hall and opened the door to Ashley’s room.  The door creaked loudly from its lack of use and Elijah did not shut it behind him for the noise.  The room was dusty and dark ____ shades tightly drawn ____  but otherwise exactly as Ashley had left it.  It looked as if time ceased to exist and Elijah had the feeling that any minute, Ashley would appear in the doorway.  Elijah spent a few moments looking around the room, glancing at pictures, trophies, awards; Ashley had been a student equal to Elijah and would have been the valedictorian of his class as well had he not left for New York.  He instead graduated at midyear by taking advanced tests and double load courses.  
           Elijah removed a bathing suit from one of the two chests of drawers and left the room, leaving the door and the shades up behind him. He met Megan at the bottom of the stairs, wearing a blue suit that had belonged to his brother.
Elijah took his baby sister’s hand and they walked out onto the deck leading to the sand.  The air was warm and the sun was hot; it shone brightly off the ocean’s reflective green.  When they reached the sand, Elijah picked Megan up because the sand was scalding and he ran to the edge of the water.  He set her down and they began to kick at the waves.
“Elijah,” Megan said inquisitively.  “Who is Ashley?”
            The question put a lump in Elijah’s throat and made him feel queasy.  A single tear ran down his face which he quickly removed with the back of his hand.  “He was your biggest brother, sweetie.  He died before you were old enough to remember.  Didn’t Mama ever tell you anything about him?”
“No.  Simon kept saying his name over and over and over.  I asked my Mama.  She said, ‘never mind.’”  Elijah brought his clenched fist to his lips and shook his head.
“Well one day soon I’m going to tell you all about him.  Okay?”
The little girl just smiled and turned back to the water.  She kicked at it for a while and occasionally Elijah would lift her into the air and playfully threaten to toss her in.  She would squeal appropriately and he would whiz her in a circle to the ground where it would all begin again.  It was on the fourth spin that Megan first caught sight of the figure in distance of the ocean.  She stopped and pointed in the figure’s direction.  Elijah looked down the line of his hand and within a second put everything together and came to life.  In almost the same single fluid motion, Elijah told Megan to run and get Mama and Fred and dove into the water, emerging to the surface in a heated attack to propel himself through the water.
          Simon had swum out deep into the ocean, approximately 200 yards from shore and was now treading water.  He took a breath of fresh air held it for a moment in the sun and then let himself sink into the water.  Due to the time he spent, lazily treading, he had been under a full minute when Elijah arrived in the vicinity.  Elijah did not pause for an instant, but was immediately under the surface, probing blindly through the darkness.  When he emerged for the first time, empty handed, he cried a bloodcurdling scream.  He bounced over a single wave, pulled as much air into his lungs as he could and ducked into the ocean for the second time.
         Elijah opened his eyes but could see very little.  With outstretched arms, he pushed deeper and deeper into the water.  As he descended he could feel the temperature drop dramatically; a chill entered to mix with his paranoid fear.  His lungs began to fail him after another thirty seconds, but he did not move toward the surface.  He instead continued to push further into the depths.  By luck or by grace, he finally felt the fabric of Simon’s bedclothes.  He tried desperately to grab hold, but his fingers were numb.  He swam harder so that he could get beneath Simon, and when he had both arms around him, he kicked with all he had toward the surface.  Simon’s heart beat was slowing with the lack of oxygen, and Elijah could feel its faltering rhythm against his bare chest.  As he began to see the light, Elijah’s leg cramped, and his mind began to blacken his thoughts.  With one final burst of strength, he grabbed hold of Simon’s legs and hoisted him to the surface.

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Scarlet Hopewell