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Saturday, 17 November 2012

Brother Mine (Part 1)

blue passionflower

The blue passionvine is in bloom – a fantastical flower, if ever there was one. It’s unfortunate that a flower with such promise doesn’t fulfil it with fruit. This was the rootstock of a Nellie Kelly grafted passionfruit. The graft didn’t survive, and now we have rampant blue passionvine trying to overtake the garden, latching onto the orange tree and consuming the water meant for it. But I’ve always enjoyed the peculiarities of weeds, so for the time being the wild vine remains, and I’m enjoying the crazy flowers.

The story of this week began as an exercise with my writing group, where we had to start with the first paragraph of George MacDonald’s Phantastes. In recognition that 1200 words is a lot to read in one burst on the internet, I have divided it into two parts. The second will be posted next week (poetry readers will have to wait an extra week before their next ‘fix’.)

Brother Mine

I awoke one morning with the usual perplexity of mind which accompanies the return of consciousness. As I lay and looked through the eastern window of my room, a faint streak of peach-colour, dividing a cloud that just rose above the low swell of the horizon, announced the approach of the sun. As my thoughts, which a deep and apparently dreamless sleep had dissolved, began again to assume crystalline forms, the strange events of the foregoing night presented themselves anew to my wondering consciousness.
            I hardly had time to decide whether I believed in them before the rest of the household awoke with all the clamour and bustle that entailed. Sighing, I rolled out of my bed, gave myself a quick wash, and dressed. Just in case the events I imagined of yesterday had, in fact, been real, I took up my cloak and retrieved a small pistol from the back of a bureau drawer. I tucked the latter into a flap inside my jacket which could have been made for the purpose. One never knew quite what had been intended by my deceased elder brother, Jack.
            I headed downstairs as a bell sounded. I knew therefore that my father was already in the dining room, and I checked my appearance in a long and ornately ugly mirror in the hall before proceeding to his inspection. My short black hair was neat, the russet and dark brown clothes well-made and becoming, according to my mother; there was only the uneven features of my shadowed face to displease, and those I had long ago resigned myself to. At least I could remember my brother when I saw my reflection, for we had been as seeds from the same pod. I tried to arrange my face in an affable pose, and approached the dining table.
            'Look like you're only fit for a walk in the woods,' Father grunted. 'Don't you have business today?' He gave me a piercing look under his lowered eyebrows, and I shrank from it as usual.
            'N-n-no, that is tom-m-morrow,' I said, taking a seat at the far end of the table. I prayed my sister would come earlier than was her wont, for she had the knack of distracting Father from his black moods. No matter what I said, my very presence seemed to increase that frame of mind.
            The maid dished up sausages, eggs and the remains of last night's pie while the silence of the room deepened and my father's eyebrows fell so low they almost interfered with his mandibular motion. My sister did not show, and my mother was, I assumed, nursing her constant ill-health in her own suite.
            It was as I bit into the pie that I realised, with a lurch of my stomach, that nothing had changed. Last night's events could not have occurred; they had merely been the expression of my growing desperation to know my father's approval. That moment of despair rendered the taste of pigeon pie thereafter unpalatable.
            I escaped the strained silence of the dining room with only a handful of shattering observations from my disillusioned pater. I stood in the hall for a moment, trying to decide on a course of action that would keep me out of trouble for the day. At that moment the butler announced an arrival.
            Assuming it was one of my father's business associates, I turned to go through the drawing room and thence out of the house to the stables, but Poulton ahem-ed behind me.
            'For you, Master Richard. A—' and here he looked again at the calling card in his gloved hand, 'Lord Frederick Bryant. He says you are expecting him.'
            The fellow who had announced himself so boldly looked quite irregular. I supposed that being a lord and used to having his way, he had chosen his outfit for his own peculiar tastes rather than fashion. I was not enamoured of fashion myself, but I would have found it unthinkable to wear old-fashioned purple hose with black knee-high buckled boots and a red and orange embroidered waistcoat under an open surcoat of shiny black fabric. This too had buckles, polished to gleam even as they tinkled at the jerk of his stride.

Look for Part 2 next week.
Until then…
Claire Belberg

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