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April 3, 2005

Exposition, Chapter 6 (p. 103-110)

A Whispering Through the Branches
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It likely happened that the increasing warmth in each breath of a day, with the green light of life that it brought, pushed D. past the desperate urge to leave. It wasn't so much that, once her canine guardian had delivered her from the clutches of perceived immediacy, she forgot that it had been her intention all along to not stay, nor did she relinquish this intention, but perhaps she caught herself in the leaves of books and, having no more compelling reality upon which to call, diminished the effort that she insisted be put forth toward her escaping. Whatever the case, the days went on and the forest burst forth its essence in increasing time — until single breezes ticked out each underlying beat of the season's rhythm.

The elapse of hours became a blur to her. Fully three days, or six days, or a week, drifted in lethargically cyclic shadows across the pages before her, the turning of which sounded maracan sub-beats. A cloud would block out the sovereign eye of the sun and then release its hold, allowing the rays to grace D.'s smiling lips as she entertained reveries elicited by whichever tale she happened to be perusing: each titter a reaction to the light that certain words shed upon her specific situation and upon life in general. Or perhaps the inverse was true. Still, these reveries provided an outlet for her anxiety and sufficiently convinced her that the concrete world was founded no more securely than on the wings of fairies that she allowed herself to ignore the unreality of her predicament.

In the evenings, various combinations of the cast would perform discourses and soliloquies for the company on multifarious topics. If the theme was of art or literature, John and Huck would recite the bulk of the lines, with an occasional quip from D. Were societal diatribes the order of the day, Martin would slither from his room and offer an erroneous opinion or two. However, and such was the case on one of two nights that stifled the stream of D.'s awareness adequately for moments to endure as memories, a conversation concentric on Nathaniel would draw the entire abbey to the courtyard for the hearing.

Of course, it merits mentioning, the lingering menace to D. loitered further and further from the group's consciousness, until he seemed to cease his lingering and sink into the distant ground as a high mountain will appear to shrink as it drifts toward the horizon and, if the traveler cannot deny that it persists of itself in an equal capacity, still he knows also that it is only so for somebody traveling after him.

So it was that the troupe seemed huddled together in passive motion one evening. D. sat against the willow reading a book, the view of which she attempted to obscure from Martin whenever he strolled by. John lay tipsy snoozing in his chair, a telling critique of the thriller that lay open upon his lap. Huck sat at the piano, flailing a capricious, almost accidental, blues (although it is possible that he was trying for ragtime), with Jim at his feet occasionally lifting a watchful eye to D. Martin sidled before the bookshelves reading titles under his breath with an amusement that was either childlike or Alzheimeric, repeating those that he found to be the more interesting — if only by virtue of the shapes that they forced his lips to make.

It was Martin, tired of waiting for the inevitable opener, who burst out, "It seems to me that Nathaniel used to be here directly on the equinox every year."

Letting a jangling verse hang in the air in expectant incompletion, Huck responded, "Has that passed a'ready?"

"Yes," patronized Martin, "it was last week."

"Well, I always miss it. Mebbe he'll a-be here for the solstice. That'n's a little more o'vious."

"What makes you say that?"

"I'd say it's a darn sight easier to pick out the longest day than the middle-mos'. The first'n goes on an' on, an the second just ain't much different than the two around it."

"But," interjected D., noticing Martin's quandary, "by that method, it is only easier to know that you've missed it. It wouldn't do you any good for scheduling."

"Well," rejoined Huck, "I reckon Nathaniel wouldn't bother schedulin' hisself 'round nothin' so flighty as the sun, anyhow. He's a-gonna git here when he wants ta git here."

Martin, who seemed not to have understood how his simple observation could have gone so awry, said, "All I was saying was that he's been arriving later the last few years."

"Well," suggested Huck, "a man's gotta work, I reckon. He's got a life to live. Ain't no young man ever drifted out'n nowhere only to direct a castle. Least not to my knowin'."

As innocently as was possible, D. inquired as to what, if anything, those present knew of their good friend's livelihood. Huck indicated that it was Nathaniel's affair and that none of the party — especially when it was considered that they had all, with the exception of John, arrived as uninvited guests — had any right to question after it.

Mostly for the audience of D., Martin crowed, "I've made somewhat of an endeavor to find out." And then qualifying, "Not that I assume to be always amended in my assumptions."

"Oh?" Huck tilted his head and leaned forward.

D. asked what Martin's educated conclusion was.

"Well," he stammered, "I may not be the smartest person in the world, and... well, I can be fairly intuitive, on occasion. I don't know, but I believe Nathaniel might be — note that I say might — well, I believe that it is possible that he's a politician."

Huck sent him reeling in perplexity with a simple request that he justify his statement, and Martin, something pathetic in his concentration, appeared to nibble on memories and expectorate his murmurous thoughts. "He." His lower lip thrust outward as he measured the potency of his revelation. Then, to the reception of much supercilious laughter from Huck, "Well, he just has that sort of smile."

A handful of fluid days later (but who's to say it wasn't closer to a week?), Martin was performing his characteristic nose-pinching as he satisfied John's inquest into the current events of the world at large, with the often utilized aide of a news magazine that John had just read. The entire discussion had the air of a ritual — one that was apparently appropriate unless, and the absence of this quality could only have been an incessant pique to Martin, the news concerned one of the members of the household.

Following a dubious compendium reflecting the moral state of the American presidency reported by Martin, John burst forth the violent ejaculation, "Civilization is going to pieces! For my part, I am ever more gratified that I haven't left these premises these many years."

"The real question," stated Martin, "is whether or not we're becoming too extraneous in our treatment of details. The activities of men in power have always been flagellous, and I can't help but deduce that the longevity of the practice proves its equity."

Shaking his head in perturbation, John questioned Martin's choice of words.

"Oh," Martin delayed, producing his fortuitously located dictionary from the ground behind him where he sat. He flipped through the pages and recanted, "Oh, excuse me. I meant to say 'flagitious.'"

"Whichever word you should use to describe it, it is a travesty that our leadership should be so adulterated."

To which Martin responded, "Let's not forget that the American system, one which must be proper and correct because it is the only successfully American one on the planet, justly allows for men of greater means and education to hem and haw their way outside of decency. What would be the reward for success if it were not so? No, I maintain that it is an earned privilege of the exultant to be fallacious."

"I hope for the sake of the final vestiges of patience that I have for you that you say that facetiously."

Martin whisked through the crisp pages of his antique dictionary and amended, "Oh, excuse me. I meant to say 'factitious.'"

D., who had been passing above them on the balcony called down, "The real problem would be solved if the most accurate 'f' word to describe men were 'flaccid.'"

Martin and John, not having realized that they were being overheard pricked up at the female's voice. "Well," offered John, "perhaps if women weren't so insouciant with their attire and activities..."

"Then men wouldn't be so quick to show their true selves and brandish their cigars so flagrantly."

The intercourse being beyond him, Martin could only testify, "I never..."

John, apparently more aware of current events than Martin, who lived among them, chortled, "Well, now we're discussing a humidor enveloped in public hairs."

"Where exactly do you stand on the issue of the presidency?" Martin attempted to reinstate himself into the conversation.

Settling back in his chair, John reflected and explained, "It has little effect on me. I stand alone on this final boundary of civilization throughout the entire year, and when I was a mendicant of the grandest metropolis in the world, I was even less prurient. Therefore, I am an impotent arbiter."

Perhaps these were the songs that called to D. Strange to hear, but who's to say? When thoughts of escape hinted at the edges of her mind, they may have been overwhelmed in repartée and allusion, the incomprehension of either of which left her ineligible for commencement.

Yes, she was immobilized by curiosity. Who could guess what mellifluous speech would be presented in the evening? And increasingly intriguing was the pregnancy of each day with the possibility of even more entertaining company — perhaps even the arrival of that one expected person who would, by his inimitable nature, blot out the relative doldrums of these many hours.

As time progressed, D. found herself further removed from fear and drawn closer to interest, and so, with no compelling reason not to stay, she resolved, at the very least, to diminish her efforts to escape.

Not too many days subsequent to this poignant exchange, but certainly not before or concurrent to it, D. decided to take in the sunset from the towers alone for the first time. Partially because she did not believe Jim capable of the climb, she had been afraid to risk the venture, but her newfound complacence suffered her to rise to the northern height.

A curious tinge of melancholy gained purchase within her as the salacious rouge that coated the western lip of the sky inherited the day's ducat in exchange for a cold silver dollar to the east. Just as welts along her arms responded to the iniquitous swap and the chill air that marked its decrement, John's head appeared through the hole in the floor.

"Nick?" he called, and looking around at D., "Have you seen Nick?"

D. began to tell him that she hadn't met the man when a bronze voice wafted over the wall: "Are you looking for me, John?"

Stumbling up the final steps to the platform, John looked anxiously across the roof at a man on the southern tower. "Nick, my boy, you seem to have forgotten something in your car."

Nick laughed heartily. "And what might that be?"

"Well, I'd hate for anything to spoil. The weather is quite a bit warmer this evening than it's been."

Nick informed him that there was nothing perishable left for him to deliver, but that if John was impatient to augment the variety of his diet, then he could collect the keys and get whatever he desired for himself.

"You know that I can't do that," John protested.

"Sure you can. A little divergence from your code might prove edifying."


Nick held as fast to his stance as John to his, and the latter went away somewhat dejected. Even from her distance and through the dark, D. could tell, if only to the satisfaction of her expectations, that Nick nodded suavely at her and sauntered nonchalantly to gaze off after the remnants of the sun.

He was dressed all in white, but some enchanted trick of light gave his silhouette an ethereal green tint. With the effervescent stars above and circling around him on his perch, he gave the impression of an olive in an upended glass of black champagne.

D. looked off into the graying West.

When at last she glanced again in his direction, Nick had disappeared, as if dissolved into the moist darkness. Following the perimeter of the platform, D. gazed down upon John settling into his chair in the courtyard. The balcony adjacent to Martin's room appeared to flicker with the candle light that flowed in spurts through the doorway, and the hesitant ticking of his typewriter pecked at the serenity of the evening. In the distance, she could hear the straining of pipes as somebody, most likely Huck, pumped water into the dish basin in the kitchen. As the pumping abated, a raucous snore filled the aural void, but, as branches blocked her view of John's face, she could not tell if the sound rose from the courtyard or the open room, as the successor of the now desisted typing. An owl called out to the evening company, and metallic footsteps began to rise to her position.

Turning, with a slight patter of heart, D. watched Nick's head levitate into sight. His hair was a straight and neatly combed brown, and a thin matching mustache pointed downward toward the stiff white collar of his shirt. Hanging from his shoulders was an unclasped white velvet vest, offset, in color only, by smooth strands of protruding chest hair. The hair of his forearms, exposed by virtue of up-rolled sleeves, proved to be of an equally silken texture, so calm in hue as to be nearly invisible against the well-tanned skin. In one hand were two champagne glasses, and in the other was an anonymous bottle.

"I thought that you might like some company," Nick explained. "These enchanted twilights can cede to a haunting loneliness sometimes."

Slipping into form, D. responded, "I find it more peaceful than haunting."

Nick, who had gained the tower by this point, smiled and placed the glasses upon the masonry. "Ah, but calmness is seldom an end in itself."

"I find it romantic," offered D., amending to quench innuendo, "or solacing."

Nick's lips parted as if to begin a phrase but only released a wisp of air.

"Yes?" asked D.

Shaking his head dismissively and smiling again, Nick told her, "Oh, I was reminded of something in what you said, but I couldn't resuscitate the thought."

"A lover, perhaps," it must have been the stars that made her speak so freely, "perhaps a squandered affection?"

Handing her a tastefully half-filled glass, "No, I believe it was more akin to human sympathy having its limits."

Because she was no connoisseur, the tickling champagne seemed pungent. Glancing at her over his own glass, Nick sipped from it and stated candidly, "I don't like mysteries." Sip. "You must tell me who you are."

Thinking that he referred to the frivolous game of aliases, D. told him that she hadn't chosen yet.

"No, I don't mean that. I'm speaking of your type. A name, after all, is merely an arbitrary title."

To dispel her incomprehension, Nick suggested that she might be either a Daisy or a Jordan. "Not the flower for the first, and certainly not the river for the second," he specified.

D. recognized the references. "You'll have to refresh my memory. What would be the difference between the two."

"Well, are you wise enough to let forgotten dreams linger in their proper age, or are you stubborn enough to remain a beautiful little fool?"

D. considered whether to be amused or insulted, then responded, "I don't believe myself to be of either school. I'm afraid — Nick, is it? — that I'm wise enough to forget and vain enough to pray that I continue to smolder with my memories."

Nick snickered, and something in the sound brought heat to D.'s cheeks. "Very cleverly put! But you can't mean to be a Myrtle: then you'd be left to a chill fall. You can never truly escape the call of the ashes, you know."

Smiling politely, handing over her nearly untouched drink, and thanking Nick for his company, D. made the excuse of intending to help Huck with the dishes. As she drifted down the steps, D. paused in response to a burnished call:

"Have you heard, miss, that all people in this world are either pursued or pursuing?"

"No, sir, I can't say that I have."

"Well, stay busy then. Stay busy or resolve to be weary."

Posted by Justin Katz at April 3, 2005 12:55 PM
A Whispering Through the Branches