To Dwell Amongst Them
by Patrick Martin
After 22 years and all the passages of woe that such a length of time entails, Rose's husband Dan returned, appearing on her doorstep early one Monday morning, a concilatory smile on his face and an array of irises stacked under his arm. His unevenly polished shoes and crooked tie were all she could focus her mind upon, and nothing of what to say on such an occasion.- I'm so sorry, Dan said, as if hoping the grave inflection would attest to his sincerity.Rose ushered him with a vague movement of one hand, the other hand holding in place the hairnet that had been in such disarray that morning. She made him some tea, not knowing any more proper way to act, and he sat down, easing himself into the furniture that was no longer familiar to him.
- Well, nice, he said, both arms making an expansive but vacant gesture about the room. His suit was too small and the effort involved in the act troubled the seams of it, rupturing it slightly around the armpits. Rose nodded at him with a ghostly pleasance and also at the kettle as it built up steam. Dan thought things to be going well, not noticing how Rose's hands shook so when she lifted the cups from the cupboard.
He rubbed the shining top of the breakfast table with a small flat hand. He made to comment on the quality of wood used when he heard the first sob from Rose. She leaned on the table for support and made a wimpering noise, holding her side.
- It's the shock Dan, she said. Just leave, it's best, between heaves of rising tears.
Dan gathered himself without expression and, having paused on the threshold to look at her once more, as though to suggest he had something to say, made his departure through the front door. Rose sat herself down at the table and stared at the chair that Dan had just vacated. Staring at it for some time as though some residue of him still remained there.
Frank had left the house some time ago, soon after his girlfriend had left for Canberra where, as he had informed Rose, a career had beckoned her. He called around on Tuesdays and Fridays for tea and a chat. He was in between jobs, as he liked to say, and suffering financially but still thought to bring with him a ginger cake and some paperbacks for Rose on each of his visits. When Rose first told him of his father's visit he said nothing. He stared at his teacup as he stirred in the milk. After a while he spoke, still looking at the teacup.
- What did he have to say for himself,... this should amuse us all greatly..
Rose rubbed at her temple with a forefinger.
- Nothing,.. I mean I don't know. I got such a shock to see him after all this while that I... just couldn't.. I told him to leave.
She seemed bemused at the decisiveness of what she had just reported as though it were somehow not in accordance with what she remembered of the afternoon's events.
- God forgive me Mam, but he's truly an idiot all the same, not just insensitive, but audacious?.. do you understand?..I don't want to get worked up about it but... he doesn't make any sense.. He has no logic to him at all.
Rose had been shaking her head in sad agreement all this while
- The stupid man, she said. Stupid, stupid man.
- Still, she said, if he comes back I'll have to listen to him, talk with him...
- You don't have to a damn thing, Mam, not a damn thing.. Frank bit his lip.
Excuse me Mam, its your decision. I'm just advising prudence. Don't let yourself be taken in. Because that's all this is. A ruse. He will insinuate his way into your life because he has no-one else to look after him.
Frank had changed a lot since he'd moved out. Rose was often saying as much to her small circle of friends. Whereas her Frank had always been bookish and aloof now he was become stern. More vocal in his appraisal of things. He struck the table with tapping fingers, the forefinger still bandaged where he'd suffered an accident.
- Do as thou wilt, Mam, he said amiably. I'll be on your side whatever you do. Equitable though he seemed, he shook his head a little as he spoke.
Rose cleaned up the spare room, Frank's old room. She put some fresh linen on the bed and aired it, keeping the window open. Polishing the closet door, she remembered where she had put the few shirts and slacks that Dan had left behind all those years ago. She moved to the attic and found among the well sequestered cardboard boxes all of Dan's remaining possessions.
He had called that morning, as simple-minded in his attitude as ever, as though he could not really understand what might prevent a resumption of their long since severed relationship.- God knows It's been a long time, Rosie. There's no need to tell me that. She struggled for words and with herself too, but in the end she had invited him around for dinner and to talk.
And her mind racing ahead to some permutation of the future she prepared the room and a meal for his homecoming, pausing occasionally to correct herself in fer assiduosness so as to crumple the pillowcase or slightly overcook his steak as a subtle reproach against her over-exertion in his service. He arrived twenty minutes late without the bottle of white wine that he had offered to bring. She remembered how feeble was this man, how lacking in integrity and sense. How childish were his ways of thinking and how his unmanly figure provoked such a sense of protection in her, some welling of affection and strength.
Over dinner she told him repeatedly how he had hurt her beyond repair by his actions and nothing would ever change that. He looked at her with such contrition that she almost felt obliged to temper her comments, but held firm. He had been disloyal, insensitive, hurtful beyond all reason. He nodded his head in full agreement even bringing about tears in his eyes and an incommunicative shrug of the shoulders.
- I make you a solemn promise this time Rosie, he said.How simple of mind is love, she thought. So exasparating and yet something redeeming in him. She had no conception of where this was all leading, just followed a long suppressed impulse. They fell silent; the silence crossfading into the clicking of knives on plate as Dan finished his last piece of steak and Rose realised she hadn't thought to ask what had become of him since the day he'd left.
When he had finished Dan offered to wash the pots and plates. To his surprise Rose agreed and left him alone in the kitchen.
In the hallway she sat, listening to the sounds from the kitchen manifested by his return. She would not call Madeline or Nichola knowing how likely was their vehement disapproval. She called Frank and heard herself confess to things that she'd kept even from herself, how weak now was her resolution to punish him and how apologetic had been his behaviour. How her nerves were no longer strong enough to fight with him... Frank listened silently. She asked him for his support in whatever it was she decided to do and he said that it was his duty to do right by her to which she had no reply. He promised to visit her in the morning and see how she was then and she agreed and wished him God bless. In the kitchen Dan had finished the last of the dishes and had sat himself down once more at the kitchen table, surveying once more the well-kept surroundings as might a man just come into a great legacy stare at his own good fortune, his countenance bearing no avarice nor any concealment of such a vice. Just the anticipation of fair dues. A halogen lamplight gleamed through his thinning hair, baptising him in it'sbeneficence. A meditative image he made there, as do ikons of wood.
Rose inspected then re-washed the pots while Dan slumped in the armchair idly staring at the tv. The evening passed without further discord, any strangeness that Rose might have felt was absolved by Dan's benign smile as he sat smoking his cigarettes in the armchair. Rose went foraging for the initialised crystal ashtray that she had kept all the while . He gave forth a few words more of apology; all in forgettable form and Rose appeared unmoved. They fell to watching television, neither having the inclination to ask where they now stood in relation to each other. And soon the hours passed and Rose found herself preparing the spare bed for the man who had deserted her so and offering him the use of her old toothbrush. He smiled at her in an attempt, it seemed, to arouse some further feelings of nostalgia but she would not permit him the satisfaction of having the moment shared. They retired separately; Dan to sleep soundly in his new surroundings, Rose to lay awake till the early hours of the morning, experiencing both comfort and torment in equal measure. Convincing herself that she had put this man to test in his efforts to forge new communion with her. And trying to temper the encroaching feelings of tenderness she felt for him.
And it passed that same night that Frank stole into the house using his old key and with stealth made for his old room, trailing a golf club silently in his wake. He opened the door slowly. With the large-headed club lofted above his head he cast an axeman's shadow upon the wall, framed by cold moonlight. He sweeped the head into his father's groin and struck again the ribs in a quick bludgeon before the man could stir. He struck his fathers eye-socket with the metal foreshaft. He put the clubhead in his father's mouth, locked between the jaws as if to throttle him. His father was a mass of twitches in the shadows. -
Get out, the fuck, Frank said and moving his face closer to his father's, said again
Get out, the fuck.
Frank had no look of an executioner when the room was lit up by Rose. Standing centrally in the room, as though planted in it's floorboards he did not flinch nor did his pupils dilate when the room was illuminated. Rose stared at him and he at his father - neither with decipherable intent.And they stood for some time in these attitudes of fixedness, as though attendant upon some other logic that might explain to them their situation. Or perhaps waiting for action to suggest itself, not unlike actors awaiting the intercession of a prompt from the wings. And perhaps the room itself speculated on all the permutations of what had happened and what would happen.
Rose sat at the kitchen table nursing a cigarette and speculating on her own loss. Rain was now lapping at the window. She stared across the table at her son and spoke of her dumbfoundedness and the feeling of betrayal she had suffered through him and finally to ask him why.
- Should I deal with my mother as with an harlot?, he said by way of response.
She did not understand her son, and only something now of her own aloneness. She watched the cigarette burn itself out in such slow annihilation. Dan walked out the door one more time without hail or farewell. He did not cover himself, ignorant of the wind and rain outside, so recently arrived. And what figure did he make in exit if not a man made from straw, one to clutch dearly and make believe in love or else unstitch and scatter wholly to the winds.
- It must be awful cold and lonely where you sit with your judgments and opinions, Rose said.
Frank nodded in clear agreement.
- No less cold nor lonely than is the way of the blind.