Wednesday, April 13, 2011
What I did was an inherent risk of choice making. I hid Mother away. I knew, when I committed such an act, that vital elements that were endlessly at attention, forever ridged and waiting for their orders, had effectively been forever dismissed. I let them go and they would never return. I knew what I was doing. I blame no one but myself.
Four days before leaving for Harvard I broke through Mother’s sanctum sanctorum. I confidently strolled over the threshold of her self-imposed exile and confronted her.
In my youthful hubris, with my newly won rogue’s dash (I was eighteen, after all, and the center of the universe) --- I wanted to impose order on Mother. I felt like Tiberius brashly and unceremoniously tearing through the curtain separating the most holy precinct of the Temple from the profane counter-quarters, where the High Priest enters but once a year.
There was no ark in this temple, however. I found a disheveled and surly old woman stooping over some sowing, the only light filtered through some mangled Venetian blinds as if a creature with ragged claws had mangled them for no better reason than to see if he could. She looked up at me immediately. Of course I had seen her many times in the last six years, but never in her realm. A confrontation was long overdue.
I was leaving New York. This ludicrous Gothic game was over. I was beginning a fresh, wholesome start. Before I left I intended to leave a retainer in my place to manage Mother, Homer, and the servants that remained in our employ. I was here to impose a substrate on this infernal mess. She lowered her sowing and fixed her sloping, myopic eyes on me. I could see she was having problems focusing on me.
“Homer?” she asked.
“No, Mother, Langley,” I said. She wrinkled her nose and took up her sewing. “Why are you here Langley?’ she asked indifferently. Indifferently! And here I was working so hard to set right what had lain broken for so long!
“I’m leaving next week Mother and I wanted to discuss some arrangements I’ve made for you and Homer.”
“Where are you going?” she asked, squinting at a piece of cloth, holding it to the pale swatch of light filtering dustily through the blind. “To school mother, to Harvard. Don’t you remember?”
“Oh,” she said, suddenly rising, “that’s in Boston…” She left the Sitting Room and inexplicably entered the bedroom. Mother never obeyed stage directions.
The moldy chair that held my body creaked as I shifted my weight. Outside, the leaves of a Norway maple were wilting from the summer sunshine. Inside an air of expectation, a cool and damp counter-point to the stifling outside, clung drearily to the room.
I gazed to my left: a small bottle rested on a carved wooden niche. Holding it up to my face I blew the dust ceilingward and found it was what I thought it to be: the Bonhomme Richard carefully tucked into its bottle by Langley Vandemark, ten years before. The rigging was disintegrating, the hold was peppered with black soot, the masts carefully folded to fit the hull into the bottle and the raised in situ; the ship had become detached from its mooring and listed to the right. The ship was carefully laid out on a stylized blue-green ocean of molded rubber, and had shifted from the indentation where it had rested for years and was sliding across the surface anchored only by the bow, which, through some miracle, remained fixed with a pin point of adhesive glue.
“Mother!” I cried, rousing myself, for I had not yet begun to fight, “Mother, I’ve hired a man to look after the house, you and Homer when I’m at Cambridge.”
No answer. Silence. There was a racket of fumbling in the next room. The sound of Mother rifling through her cluttered possessions. I entered the bedroom. She was stooped over a large chest. Her long matted gray hair hung down over her forehead, concealing her face. Her skinny arms were surprisingly agile as she rolled a bolt of lime green fabric from the chest to the floor.
“I wish this didn’t happen,” she said witchily.
“What? What do you wish never happened?” I asked.
“I wish you boys didn’t come into this room and disturb my things. You know I don’t want you boys coming in here without my permission.”
“But we don’t Mother. No one comes in here but you,” I answered testily.
She looked at me with her gray-yellow eyes. Time stood still in those dim orb; dull orbs that hung down in the darkness.