Title To Bear
Word Count 939
The man had been beaten. The bruising lay like dirt, somewhere dirt should never be. He was not a man for beating, for harm. He was too rich for that, the shape of his words, the shape of the mouth and face that made them said so. Oh, he might have been given strokes by a loving father for some infraction such as boys commit. It would have hurt the heart to make such a boy weep. And he might have been rebuked by a hired tutor, such things must be done, of course, though he seemed clever enough, if you like them vapid. But it hurt to see a young face defiled so. He was lovely underneath, fair and floss, and certain with it. He was in manhood. He held himself out, expecting the world to love him. I could see that the world had.
Christofer loved him. I could see that-- loved him with all the cool deliberation with which a drunk man falls down a flight of stairs. Poor Christofer.
I thought on this as I walked. I had nowhere I needed to go-- but I could not stay in that little room. The air was afire in there.
I found my feet leading me by old ways, worn ways, past shops I knew, and smells that pulled at my mind as heat lifts smoke. I was going home. Home to the house where my parents had died, locked behind a door nailed closed against their contaigion. The friends and gossips of kinder days had deserted them, Plaugue on the street-- kindness turned to terror. But my parents had gone together-- as they would have wished. And whatever their last moments had been, they had died in the great comfort of their certainty of the world to come.
I turned at the corner, in the shade of the great tree onto Lombard Street. Our little house was halfway down. It was still boarded up of course. Best to wait long, after getting the bodies out. Someone would come in, in time, scrub the place clean, with sweet water and sand, My parents must have had a will, written by my father, certainly, in his lovely soaring hand. My father, the noverint. I had seen him write up wills, dozens, hundreds. Sure, he and mother would not neglect such a thing. The house and contents were left to someone. I wondered who.
The street was quiet at this time-- no stalls here, no wares. Just respectable houses, the petty school, the church. It was near silent. The only sound was that of Pup, whimpering. He was crammed against my leg, panting with alarm. This street had a place in his doggish memory, he remembered dirt and the smell of death. Time to go.
My steps were weary, the walk back seemed long. I had given Christofer plenty of time for sport.
A man with a girl would speak of her, in jest, in boast, in complaint. Love flourished best like washing hung out to dry, under heavens own sunlight. But fot Christofer and his Tom I could see it was different. To speak was to dare too greatly, even in the world plays and poets. The reserve in his gaze, the huddled shoulders of his sleep, My poor friend, in love with all that was large and loud and golden. I would make a great clatter, I decided, upon my return, in case they were at it for a second go.
I had been walking in thought. Here now was Marclella's little shop. I had hoped to see her. But the place was shuttered, closed up tight. My throat ached, suddenly with lonely tightness. I had been looking forward to her company, her smile, her forthright talk, her beauty. I wondered if she had had the baby. Even if she had, she would be home, in forced idleness until her churching. Her parents were congregants of the Dutch Church. They were from Africa by way of Holland. Marcella had been born here though. Her tongue was as Egllish as my own. Still, it was there that she would kneel, beside the alter in a simple veil. She would be blessed, she would give thanks for a safe delivery, and only then could she return to her fish shop. I had seen it done, many times of course, as I sat restless in the pew beside my father. St Mary Woolnoth was big-- much bigger than the Dutch Church with it's hodgepoge of sailors and forigners. Sometimes in my childhood there had been several women churched at a time. I had found it dull, as a boy, and wriggled in the pew until my mother pinched me to silence. She watched it with a kind of hunger that hurt me now to think of. She, in the end, had only me. I was, she said, her cross to bear.
This baby was not mine, it had been too long for that. It was not Marcella's dead husbands either-- although she had had the cover of widowhood. I wondered what color the baby would be. Marcella was the dark of old polished oak. I wondered if it would grow to be like her, have her smile, her hands, her speech. I hoped so. Better that than to be the spit of some man like me, like me, but not me. Better that by far than to have been my child.
Pup gave a deep doggish sigh. I put my hand down to pat him a little, and we turned for home.