In the LibrarybyAdrian Leverkuhn©
"No, Tom. You can walk me to yours."
We were heading to my room a few minutes later, holding hands like teenagers, and my stomach was tied up in knots. Did I really want to do this? Get involved with this woman from my past - again. What would be different this time around? Would anything be different? And it wasn't the physical thing. I hadn't been with a woman in months, in fact, I hadn't wanted to be with one in a long time. Too many complications. Yet I was aware of her hand in mine, aware - that it felt good there. Really good. An energy I hadn't felt in years was in my skin.
My hand was shaking as I slipped the key into the door, and I flipped on a light as I walked in behind her. The room as huge, the furniture small but elegant, and it was colder than hell! I'd not turned on the heat earlier today - there had been no need - and now the room was a meat locker! I turned to Patty to apologize, but she was apparently used to the cool. She led me over to the bed and pushed me down, undid my belt and zipper and pulled my old tan corduroys down past my knees and settled in between my legs. She started without preamble to give me the best head I'd ever had in my life. Well, maybe twenty eight years ago I'd had something similar . . .
Her head was bobbing up and down so smoothly, her hand trailing her mouth in glistening bursts that took my breath away, and I was powerless to respond. I wanted to, wanted to give her something as special as she was giving me, but it was like she had found the shut-down switch that controlled my will to move, and I lay there in awe of the feelings that swept over my body, in awe of her. I moved my hands to her head, ran my fingers through her hair for a moment, and then she picked up the pace a little, and the universe settled on my groin and began to press. Hard.
It wasn't too many moments later that Mount St Helens erupted again, right there in Room 214. I was completely lost to the world for a few minutes afterwards, then opened my eyes to see her standing there over me, not undressed, not smiling, just standing there.
"You alright now?"
"Yeah, Pats. Peachy."
"Well. Seeya 'round." She turned and walked out of the room.
I had to finish my work at the library that next day, so I was there when it opened at nine. I had a flight out to Logan tomorrow morning, then on to DC, and I had to get the speechwriters some quaint factual tidbits for a new speech Dad was planning to give next week in Iowa. He was full of piss and vinegar, ready to hit the campaign trail one more time, but he had his work cut out for him. Most people didn't care for the idea of electing someone as President if their health was, well, questionable. But a lot of people in the Party loved my father, didn't want to abandon him, especially not now, so the idea was to kick start the campaign with some fond remembrances of home, of how the world used to be, of how it might be that way again. I was looking for some of those more distant fond remembrances. My Mom and oldest sister would fill in the blanks on the more recent stuff.
"You're Tom, Tom Howe, aren't you?" I heard a voice asking me, and I looked up to see the old librarian standing over me. She had a nice face, well, anyway, once the scowl was gone it wasn't so scary anymore. Kinda friendly.
"Yes, Ma'am," I said as quietly as I could. Even then I was terrified of disturbing the silence of her world.
"I used to know your father."
"Oh?" I stood and looked at her.
"Yes, back in high school. We dated for almost two years."
"Would you care to join me, Ma'am?" I looked at her expectantly for a moment, then indicated the chair next to mine, and she regarded it suspiciously for a moment, then came to a decision. She sat down and appeared to gather up her thoughts for a moment. I sat back down.
She looked at me for a few moments longer. "I don't suppose he talked much about me." I didn't even know her name, but I was quite sure he'd never talked to me about an old flame back in Vermont from his high school days.
"Might help if I knew your name, Ma'am."
"Ida. Ida May Harding." The name didn't mean a thing to me, and I guess I could see that on her face as I watched. There was kindness in her eyes, however, and not just a little regret.
"So. You dated?"
"Yes. Right before he went off to college. Before the war."
"Did you know him well?"
"Yes. Very well." Her back seemed to stiffen as she said that, like she was proud of her intimacy with him.
"Well, Ms Harding, I'm here looking for some family history for a speech he's going to give in Iowa in a couple of weeks. Any help you could give me, I'd sure appreciate it." She regarded that for a moment, let the thought roll around in the air between us for a while.
"Is he still going to run? For President?"
"Yes, Ma'am. I don't think there's anything in the world that could keep him from that."
"Well, I'm sure I could give you a hand with that. It would be a privilege. But . . ."
"Maybe you'd like to see your brother first."
"Ma'am, I don't have a brother."
"Yes, Tom, you do."
The sun was having a hard time making any progress against the snow that morning. It was brutally cold, and the early morning shadows were still quite long as we hopped in my rental and drove out of town. I followed her directions as we headed over toward the park on the east side of the river, and my stomach lurched when she directed me to turn in the little Episcopal Cemetery. I pulled into a sunny spot and parked the car, then moved around to open the door for her.
We walked a little way into the grounds and she made her way to a rather simple headstone. She just stood before this place in the earth and bowed her head. I looked at the gray granite, the snow that had drifted up against it in the night, and I looked at the name chiseled in the stone.
Thomas H Harding, December 25th, 1940 - April 3rd, 1968
A brother. A brother I had never known once walked on this earth. Now he rested, in this earth.
"How did he die?" I asked this woman who in the vagaries of time might once have become my mother.
"In Vietnam. He was a pilot. In the Navy." I looked at the stone. He had apparently graduated from Annapolis in 1963. And there was more . . .
"Did he ever marry?"
"Did he have any children?"
"Are they still living here, in town, I mean?"
"Could I meet them sometime?"
"I can ask."
"Does Dad know about this?"
She looked up at me, her lip trembled and a tear came to her eye, and she just looked away.
And so there it was. I had come here looking for my father's past.
I had found it.
I took her to lunch at the same diner I had eaten in the night before, but we had a booth to ourselves. We ate in silence, but she looked up at me from time to time and smiled. There was love in her eyes. I could see why Dad had loved her once, could see the beauty in her eyes. The peace.
Time can take only so many things from a person. Even time can be merciful.
We walked back to the library after we ate, she unlocked the door and walked in and went to her counter, listened to messages on her telephone and scribbled a note or two down on an unseen notepad, then made a call. I walked to my pile of books, sat down and started to make some notes, but my heart was full of unseen questions. There were no answers in the books on the table. Wasn't that always the case. Why had I come to a library? This library?
Was I looking for truth? No, not today. . . Truth had come looking for me.
I don't know how long I had been dozing. Had I been reading, trying to read?
A door opening had awakened me, and Ida May was talking to a woman at the counter. I looked that way once, saw them looking at me, and my heart skipped a beat. It was Patty McKaig's older sister . . . I couldn't remember her name . . . and then I knew.
My Dad's other son had married Patty McKaig's older sister. The symmetry was numbing.
Dolly. Her name was Dolly McKaig. Dolly . . . what? Harding? Of course! Right there in front of me all the time, in front of all of us. Just a few key facts to put the pieces together. Truth is like that sometimes.
The two walked over to me, and I stood. Stood looking at these circles of history arcing through the air, truth all around us, dancing, smiling.
"Tom, you know Dolly Harding?"
"Of course." That was all I could say. Of course.
"Nice to see you again, Tom." Well, at least she was more articulate than I was.
"Tom?" Ida May asked. "Are you alright?"
"Hmm? Yes, of course. Dolly? Could you sit for a while, join us?" Ida and Dolly sat down across from me, looked at me with interest. I felt nauseated.
"Listen, Tom. Let me set the record straight. I only told Dolly about your father a few years after Thomas passed on . . ."
"About the time I was dating Patty," I interjected as that truth rang through the air. "Does she know?"
"I don't think so, Tom." This from Dolly. "But she's smart."
"I wonder what that means?" As far as I was concerned, this was terra incognita.
"It means, Tom," Dolly said, plainly trying to be patient, "there are little signposts all over this valley. Anyone could figure it out if they looked long enough, hard enough."
"Shit." I looked around nervously. There were spies from the press and the opposition camps suddenly springing up from behind bushes, lurking in the chandeliers.
"Don't worry about that, Tom. We've been protecting your father for a long time. We know where our loyalties lie."
I didn't know who said that, and I don't think I would have cared if I did. All I was thinking about was Patty McKaig between my legs last night, the look in her eyes before she walked out of Room 214. "I see," I said. I wasn't going to win any awards for articulate speech this time around.
I was looking out the window, looking at the school kids leaving the building, and moments later Patty was walking out of the building. She was looking right at me as she walked across the quad. At me.
It was a council of war.
What, or who, was their objective?
Patty looked at me with an almost vacant expression in her eyes. When she learned just exactly who Dolly's husband had been, she excused herself and went to the bathroom. When she came out she was pale faced and her body shook every couple of minutes. Dolly tried to hold her, but she pulled away, moved to another seat closer to the window. She looker out at the barren limbs that swung in the afternoon breeze.
Such a cold place.
I listened as Dolly told me about meeting Thomas in high school, of losing him when he marched off - first to Annapolis - then to Vietnam. He had come back after his first tour over there, and they had taken up where they had left off those many years ago, and within a few weeks of his return they had been engaged. They married on his next R&R - in Hawaii - about six months later, and he died almost a year later, a month before his son was born. Dolly had never remarried. And, she said emphatically, she ever would.
Had Thomas known who his father was, I asked?
Of course, Ida May told me.
Did they converse with one another, keep up with one another, I wanted to know?
Yes, Ida May told me, and she had kept their letters. His father had been instrumental in his acceptance to Annapolis.
I wondered what that simple fact meant to Dad. Not exactly a quiet irony.
The sun finished it's job for the day and was racing behind the mountains once again, and Ida May moved off, began to tidy up her desk. Dolly stood to make her good byes, but Patty still sat under the window, lost in thought. I sat back down and watched her for a few minutes. I looked at the set of her eyes, the way her fingers graced her lap, the fall of her hair.
She had always been attractive, but right in that moment I felt that surely she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life.
Such unreal symmetry.
I walked over to her.
"Feel like a drive?" I said to her.
"Sure, why not."
"Dinner? Simon Pierce, maybe?" That had always been the best place to mend fences in this part of the world. Best cheddar cheese soup on earth, too.
"Yeah. Let's go."
We walked down the street to her car, an old gray-green Subaru wagon, and hopped in. We sat in silence during the fifteen minutes it took to get to the restaurant. The sun was still up, barely, and I got out and walked over to the river, looked downstream to the old covered bridge. Such a beautiful spot.
I felt her presence in the air, and held out my hand. She took it, gently caressed my fingers in hers, and I knew everything was going to be alright.
We ordered some wine with the soup, and turned to look at the sunset over the river. Clouds parted, and a burst of sun-rays flooded the air. Everyone turned to look out at the unfolding scene, everyone seemed caught up in the moment.
"My God." That was it. All I could think of to say, but really, what more could you say? 'Gee, ain't that purdy?' No, I don't think so . . . There was something divine in this moment. Something permanent, yet fleeting. I looked at the clouds as they raced across the sky, their spectral blue-gray forms an ever-changing mélange of feeling that bathed the scene in ambiguity. I heard Smetana's Die Moldau playing in my mind's eye, and was as suddenly back in the Caribbean, drifting in the sun with Patty almost thirty years before, yet the enchanted feeling of that sunset in Vermont remained with me. It was quiet in that distant past, water lapped against the hull, and the air was warm, almost hot. The water was crystal clear, a frighteningly transparent silver-blue that made time feel incorporeal. Nearby boats seemed to hover in air above the almost earth-like sand, while light breezes drifted through our hair, stirring nascent feelings of desire as they drifted over our bodies.
We made love that afternoon those many years ago as distant clouds thundered, and we held on to each other, watched as the sky was washed by wind and rain, and we had drifted in the parting clouds as the sun set over the sea and distant islands. Magic. There had been magic in the air that evening, and I turned to look at her now in the candlelight, returning from a past reluctant to leave, wanting us to live in that parallel moment forever.
She was looking at me. Tears ran slowly down her face.
I took her hand, brought her fingers to my face and kissed them.
"Oh, my love," I heard her say.
"Yes, we should have never let go." I meant it, knew in my heart that I had turned from my destiny those many years ago. That I had left my heart with hers when I returned to Cambridge, and when I had I turned inward to embrace the darker landscapes of treachery and deceit that defined my father's world, I had somehow withered away from that simple truth. Her world had forever been fixed in the world of ideas, and would remain so forever. She would tilt at windmills her entire life. I wondered why those choices remained so fixed in life.
And was it possible to change? To chart a new course?
I woke just before the sun that next morning, looked at her face next to mine in the soft early morning light, and wondered what we had begun in the depths of that night. I slipped out of bed and into the shower, then dressed and packed my little overnighter. I turned to look at her.
She was looking at me. Wondering - as I suppose I was - what crossroads we had broached in the night. Would I turn and run - again.
I looked at my watch. Three hours until the plane left. An hour or more to get to the airport. And that without ice on the road. I walked to the window, parted the curtains.
A heavy snow was falling.
This would have to be quick.
"Ideally," I began, "where would you like this to go?"
"Ideally," she countered, "I'd like you to be man enough to know what you feel, and act on it."
Fair enough, I thought. Maybe I had that coming.
"Come down to DC next weekend?"
She swung her legs out of bed, moved across the room and put on her clothes, and walked out of the room.
Not exactly what I expected. But there you have it.
I arrived at the little commuter airlines tiny check-in counter about an hour before the plane was scheduled to take-off. There were about five other lost souls in the 'departure lounge' - if you could in fact say that a one-roomed airport building could in fact have a departure lounge - and all of us - probably - were wondering what the hell we were doing at this ungodly hour on a Saturday morning trying to get on an airplane in this kind of weather. I looked out the ground level window at the little twin-engined turbo-prop commuter, looked at the six inches of snow piled up on the wings, at the ground crew beginning to spray anti-ice compound all over the plane, and I saw my reflection in the window.
Me? Is that me? What are you doing here?
What have you got to say for yourself?
Me? I've been wandering the corridors of a never-ending dream, caught between the past and the future in a never-ending lie. I've been lying to myself about the nature of choice, you see, maybe I've always had been lying to myself, trapped by my lies in a world where the present can't exist.
What? The present can't exist?
Yes, you fool. The present can't exist in a world built on denial and self-deceit, no matter how noble the mythology. The present can't really exist without truth, because without truth life is deferred. Life is waiting to unfold in the light of truth, like a book in a library is waiting to share it's truth with anyone willing to look for it. Your life has been a long walk through a library of unopened books, and those vanquished truths have defined the contours and boundaries of the life you chose.
I chose this life?
What? You are implying that others chose this life for you? That other people chose you to embrace their lies? To do their dirty work? Foster their denial?
Embraced their lies? Is that all I've done?
You turned your back on love, on the truth of that love born so long ago. And true to form, you made the same choice - again - this morning. You chose to walk away from truth, refused to open just a single book.
The reflection in the window next to mine was mute, unblinking. It was her reflection, and her form seemed to float next to mine in the abeyance of truth.
Untouchable. Without truth, I could not touch her.
Unknowable. Without truth, I could not know her.
Unlovable. Without truth, I could not love her.
I turned to look at her, to see if the reflection was real.
She was there. Looking at me with the truth of my choice in her eyes.
I reached out to touch her, to see if she was real.
I felt her, felt the truth of her choice. My choice - in abeyance - waited in her library.
My choice. Became clear to me.
I took her hand in mine, felt the simple truth of her skin on mine.
Her lips came to mine, and life was as an opened book.
Waiting. Having waited for so long to be opened, it's truth yearning to be explored for so long, I held it in my hands and examined it.
Truth waiting, patiently, waiting only for the honesty of this moment.
"I love you." I heard my voice.
"I love you." I heard her voice.
I turned, looked at snow falling on this waiting earth, on the earth that covered my brother's body, and as suddenly my eyes were drawn to the sky. I saw her reflection again - there in the glass - her hand in mine. The clouds had parted, and a shaft of pure light arced up into the sky.
It was all so simple.