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October 16, 2005

Development, Chapter 13 (p. 249-253)

A Whispering Through the Branches
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The courtyard was in an uproar when Nathaniel burst upon the scene from the northwest entrance. He took it all in as if having the opportunity to leisurely scrutinize a room of sculptures, all within a momentary evaluation. Everybody was present, though Martin and Othello were on the balconies, Martin looking eagerly and lasciviously down into the turmoil, Othello looking concerned and perhaps a little aghast. Below Martin, Sal stood in the corner, and though his eyes were hidden by his sunglasses, he gave the impression of a man trying to avoid being pulled into an argument but willing to toss indiscriminate blows should the opportunity arise. John was standing before his chair, seemingly jolted to his feet but frozen upon rising, and behind him, barely visible within the shadows of the doorway to the entrance hall, Alex lurked, wearing, as it seemed to Nathaniel, an amused smirk. Under the willow, Huck stood with a restraining hand against Jake's chest, though the position seemed an unnecessary gesture, because Jake stood coolly, despite being obviously agitated, a drop of blood seeping from his lip. In a statement both of preventative concern and friendly consolation, Steinbeck had a hand on Jake's shoulder, and he cast a wary eye beyond the tree at a laughing Holden, who held back Nick, disheveled and flailing to break free.

"What's going on here?" Nathaniel shouted.

Nick was undaunted, redoubling his efforts to get away from Holden, who looked as if he was willingly losing the struggle. Nathaniel walked determinedly across the grass until he stood before Nick, looked him in the eye, pointed a finger in his face, and said, "Stop it!" in a commanding tone.

Nick's eyes flew open in frightened outrage. Then his fury relaxed into frustrated anger.

Nathaniel turned around and asked the opposing trio, "So what's going on?"

"Ask him," said Jake, meaning Nick. "He just up and swung at me."

"Hit you pretty good, too!" Nick snarled from behind Nathaniel, who spun just in time to push him back and tell him to keep his mouth shut.

"Why?" he asked Jake.

"How the hell am I supposed to know why his kind acts like they do?" was the reply. Jake was hiding something.

"You know damn well!" Nick shouted, and Nathaniel had to wrestle him to the ground to stop him this time.

Trusting that Jake was no longer a threat to the general peace, Huck helped Nathaniel up once Nick had ceased his writhing. "Seems our boys've brung somethin' from the outside in," he explained. "Be best ta let it simmer down, an' come back to it when we're all cooled."

Nathaniel brushed himself off and looked around. Everybody had closed in. Martin and Othello had come down from the second floor, and Sybil walked into the yard.

It's because of me, Nathaniel thought, then said out loud, "No. It's over."

He felt as if they had crossed some line that he had always known existed, just as he had always known it would be crossed. He was in the company of strangers, in a situation that had changed irreparably.

"You can't just let these things fester," suggested John, still standing by his chair. "I think it would be best to resolve it right away."

"No. It's over," Nathaniel repeated. "All of it. Go home." And again, "It's over."

All eyes glanced at all eyes, not understanding the import of the moment, or not believing that it was resolved and uncompromising.

"What're ya tryin' ta say, Nat?" Huck asked, the idea that Nathaniel would throw them all out being unanticipated, even unthinkable.

Nathaniel kept his eyes focused on the spot where the willow entered the ground. "I mean exactly what I said. It's over. It's all lost its meaning and its usefulness. Get out."

"But..." somebody began but never finished.

"Get out!" Nathaniel screamed, glaring around at them. "All of you. It's finished. It's ruined. Go live your lives. Leave everything here. Or come back for whatever's yours after I've left, but just go."

Having said all that he intended to say, Nathaniel walked past Sybil.

"You don't have to do this," she told him quietly.

"It's been coming," he said and walked on.

Martin called, pathetically, up to Nathaniel, who had reached the door to his room, "How will we keep in touch?"

"We won't" was the answer.

They all heard the door slam shut, and then the other. And for the first time that any of them could remember, they heard the rusty locks of Nathaniel's room being turned. Instantly, they all realized that, for whatever reason and despite the capricious speed with which Nathaniel had altered all of their lives, it was over, and they had no option but to do as he had commanded.

Amazing the bewilderment that keeps these friends silent as they look around at each other, although it's not an unfamiliar scene. Some of them begin to voice questions to the others, but the answer comes merely as a shaken head, intended to say, "I don't know." One of them seems to make a decision and walks toward the stairs, planning to make an appeal for reparation, no doubt, but another stops him and whispers, "No." Another makes the attempt but needs no stopping.

Some of them think, perhaps, that if they wait long enough it will all be put back as it was. Others think that some time away will make repairs and that the following year will find that they've all forgotten and forgiven... and returned. Still others begin to realize that, though they cannot fathom the reason, the decision has been voiced and can never be amended. A few of these might resolve for themselves that, even were the act to be repealed, the future would merely be a disappointing shadow, and they begin the process of letting go. These are the first to walk from the courtyard, initiating the relief of movement. The rest follow, one by one.

Eventually they have all but one said their goodbyes, some secretly giving phone numbers and addresses, and they leave with time enough before the sunset. There is nothing else to be done, and none of them have traveled with such a burden that it cannot easily be taken up. The words have been spoken. Nothing will ever be the same, some of them think as they take their last looks at the house. But we know that is mistaken.

As the sun begins to fall beyond the mountains, a rusty lock can be heard turning, and Nathaniel descends to the courtyard. John is waiting for him. His eyes tear as he tells Nathaniel, "I've nowhere to go." The younger man puts an arm around him and offers him hope.

Nathaniel breaks a twig from the willow, making an unbearable snap in the unusually still rural evening. He sits at the piano and plays a melancholy piece of music. He runs a finger along the dusty spine of a long unread book. And the two men walk toward the eastern door together, slowly, torn between wanting to breathe the air of the Pequod one last time and needing to make the break quickly.

Finally the door closes behind them. The house is empty. In minutes, a raccoon climbs the stairs onto the porch. An owl flutters into the courtyard and lights on the willow calling out for replies that do not come. A deer emerges from the underbrush and dines on the grass, not looking through the windows or the French doors. Not concerned with the paintings beyond them or the books behind the paintings or the piano beyond the books.

In an hour, night has come in all of its dark mystery. The moon is rising, past being full, but still bright. Bright enough, at least, to cast a gray-blue glow on something white moving below. A woman sneaks stealthily into the house and emerges moments later with a burden of notebooks.

So what do you think? We had come here to rest. To sleep. But we chose — perhaps without the proper consideration — to follow these humans for a final show. Were we looking for a reason to stay or to go? Whichever the case, do we follow them back into the world that we had thought to have escaped? Or do we forget them all and sleep?

I say there is time enough for sleeping, especially when we've no inclination to awake. So let us follow. If only for the chance to sleep without questions. For all questions have answers that can be found, as they must, if we insist on finding them.

So now let us leave the tranquility and make haste to follow this last representative of the people whom we have left as she picks her way through the trees and finds the brook. And from there as she looks for her neglected automobile. Call out to her; lead her in the right directions so that we may be led, ourselves, into a world where we know only the answer to the question of where we, ourselves, will end.

Posted by Justin Katz at October 16, 2005 7:55 AM
A Whispering Through the Branches