Calgary considered that he was a monk of sorts; albeit in practice, that is, in every day life his guilt compounded like millions in similar root patterns. Yet this fact of flesh was nothing to him, perhaps because after the physical contact he thought not a whit more about the girl/concubine. They were adornments in his unkempt rooms – the playful fired arches and scrollwork he glanced at on his andirons and fire-poker set besides the smoked chimney front place. He forgot to open and close the flu with alarming regularity and it was a wonder to the groundskeeper that he had not been smoked or burned alive. It was but once with these occurrences only that he managed to snatch the flap open after starting his boy-scout-size fire before another such incident happened. It was then he noted the gay transfusion of scrollwork on the fire-poker handle. Calgary examined it, working his eyes and hands down to the tip of the object. He burned his right hand, the simple nuance of the poker tip still sundown red. He dropped it on the tiles, almost alighting a breeding stack of newspapers. Idle and busy hands – the Devil's heart-strings.
Be that as it may, his so-called ‘monkish' existence (no ordinary lay-brother, he) spoke as he wrote: isolated in his sealed-past and, sometimes, regret over a woman. You surprised me in my cell while I thought lonely of soft-wood and stained figures. My Arbor at my feet lapping – in the summer sun winter – grows up the legs of my desk into the word leaping out of our common fire. But that was to-day, will be to-morrow. I should have been ready, for you. I was parched and putrefying in my mark when you called upon me. I could do or say nothing; I wallowed in shoals as the sea ran out, sank to my shoulders and soul-hollow and the wind shifted, forefinger and thumb at right angles with you aft. How close the water and the wounds. I could hear my nib scratching all day and failed to hear you in the whispering last light and now you've come – and I can go.
So she appeared, trudging up the crunchy snow and gravel path. Calgary grasped the arms of his gold-buttoned leather chair and swallowed audibly. It couldn't be her.
No, no; it was only a likeness in miniature, ivory skin outlined in the shifting oval and circle of girls, going to class. But, but…no.
It was cold up there, much colder than back home. No Southern prided seasonal colours for her. The other girls poked fun at her accent and she did her best to assimilate: no more yes'sums or no sirs the way she was taught. She had a good ear for language and its varied intonations, so quickly she was able to drop the ‘r' out of words (and whole sentences), saying ‘yawd' instead of ‘yard.' Her teachers remarked that she, with her Southern background and now good old-fashioned Yankee schooling, had an Elizabethan inflection to her speech. She liked that.
Miriam McCann was still shy, though. Back home in Williamsburg her daddy's estate was long and deep, allowing for neighbours of the obtrusive and non-obtrusive variety on all sides: the Chandlers, politicians of the old school; the Grahams, professors; across the road, the McCallahans, music and art; and the Clarks, farmers. They accepted her the way she was: shy, sometimes dramatic. Her shyness was encouraged even. Perhaps that was the manner in which real ladies were, modest, fanning themselves, hiding their pure white bosom from real gentlemen. It was all too much; she knew that as a small child.
Acceptance there. Miriam could assemble her mother's puppet theatre under sweating, trembling fingers and persimmon trees. She could produce, direct, act, sing, and dance almost every part in any given play, though she did call upon butler John to help her every now and then. Her favourite was Shakespeare: Rosalind, Cleopatra, Prospero, and Richard III. Then she, Miriam, would cease to be.
"'Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York,'" she said aloud to her Yankee window. "Too declamatory; try it again," in her mother's voice. She coached herself here in defiance of the unwritten rule that prep school girls and boys were somehow perfect when they gained admittance to the upper echelon of schooling. And, they did not talk to themselves.
Richard III, on this cold bright day, was the only perfection Miriam could think of; that and the sterile nurse's room. It felt warm, in bleak contrast to her cold room facing the North and Canadian winds. This was shielded and the morning light gobbled up the corner with her, making her hot beneath the wool blankets.
Miss Bennett's shoes appeared underneath the door; they made mythical shadows across the black and white checker-boarded linoleum. Squeaking and manhandling the thermometer, Miss Bennett did nothing to dispel the stereotype of school nurses being late middle-aged, brusque and intractable. As the woman stood in the doorway, her body expanded to block out the light. Or so it seemed to Miriam.
"Open wide. This time, let's try to keep the thermometer under our tongue, shall we?" How many Miriams and Miss Bennetts were there here anyway? Miriam knew it was ludicrous to announce situations of singular into plural. Adults were queer but she demurely obeyed. One of the many Southern-raised habits, deferring to and respecting one's elders, that she would sink in a pond at some future insistence at the behest and taunting of her peers. Their swaying opinion held her to their touch and go stage.
"How are we feeling?" Miss Bennett asked, as though Miriam could answer with a thermometer in her mouth. "Better?" She spoke loudly and pronounced each syllable. Perhaps she believed Miriam to be foreign; well, Virginia was certainly alien to Providence, Rhode Island.
She yanked out the mercury. "Fever's down. I'll inform the headmaster to notify your parents. You can return to class tomorrow. No, that's Saturday and since this a long weekend, Tuesday. You'd be best off here until then. Aren't we lucky?" Washing her shrunken hands thoroughly she said flatly, "We'll have another girl fetch your lessons and books. What is your roommate's name?"
"Kristen Smythe." An ugly image of the peevish Providence gossip blinked on.
"We'll make a note of it. Just read today."
"Yes, I will. Thank you, Miss Bennett."
"I'm sure you are welcome. Southern girls are always so polite." She handed Miriam a glass of water and two aspirins, unaware of how Miriam cringed under the covers. The infirmary door cranked closed and Miriam got on her knees in the bed, pulled the top blanket across her like a toga and said in her newly acquired accent:
"'Sir, I will eat no meat, I'll not drink sir -
If idle talk will once be necessary -
I'll not sleep neither. This mortal house I'll ruin,
Do Caesar what he can.'"
Voices in the hall, a train of voices: static, stale radio chatter forced her monologue to premature closing. She spoke only to the window. Her elders. Then she lay down quietly as the girls and teachers wound past, remembering a boy with his Christmas-new toboggan, and no snow in Virginia - at least not where they lived. It pleased her to think he could visit his cousins, who had a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She would write and tell him so.
Settled now, warm and sleepy; then she smelled the cologne.
"Yes sir?" She fumbled to smooth her bedclothes and sit up. It was the headmaster, Mr. Calgary. "I'm sorry, sir."
"What are you apologising for?" He sat down beside her on the cot, squeezing her to the wall.
"Um, I don't know. I can't...." She slipped as she struggled to get up, banging her head on the iron bar of the headboard.
"Oh, God! Are you all right, my dear?"
"Yes." But she was seeing stars and nausea rose from her guts. Mr. Calgary reached around her, sliding his hand along her back, then lifted her up, straightened her shoulders and placed her in the position he thought she wished to be in, all in easy movements: it was no effort at all. He carefully sifted her long hair to find what he knew would be a large bump. It was swelling quickly.
"Let me get you some ice," he said softly, holding her gaze. As he rose, Miriam drew her knees up to her chest, her mother's secret joke to her friends about Mr. Calgary's size finally taking root. He stooped to get ice from the refrigerator.
"You take after your mother, you know. A real beauty. It's a pleasure to have you here. If I am to be deprived of her company, then she can lend me yours. Such a thoughtful and classy woman, always. Here you go." The ice was wrapped in the hand towel Miss Bennett had used. He pressed it to the back of her head. The cold smarted. Her eyes began to water. "Did I tell you I just spoke to her? Your mother? Confound that sun! Stay here! I need the light." On barked command, the sun consumed the small clouds in a brilliant blue winter sky; spring a possibility just off. "Yes. Where was I?" He observed her as though she had eavesdropped on the conversation; perhaps he wished that she had, to spare him this triviality.
"Your mother sends her love; your father would have, too; however, he's in London doing some last minute consultation at the British Museum for the conference between the Greeks and the British concerning the Elgin Marbles."
Miriam brightened at the mention of her father and his important work. "Daddy told me the Greeks want the Marbles back and the British have stated that ‘they were purchased fairly and that the British government is not prepared to part with them at this time.'" She lowered her voice to imitate Mr. McCann, then waited for Mr. Calgary's approval of both her and her father.
"Ethical and moral questions are also at stake here; as well as issues of sovereignty, Miriam. You'll understand that better soon. But you sound more like Jim than he does." He smiled at her and pressed the ice harder, this time catching her forehead with his other hand. "Is that painful?"
"No," she lied.
"Good. From Miss Bennett's report, I assumed you wouldn't be ‘shuffling off this mortal coil' any time soon and told your mother so. True?"
"I also told you mother you'd be writing to her, to tell her all about your ear infection. You do write her often, don't you?"
"Yes sir." She wondered why his tone was formal now.
"Good girl." His hand pressure made her lean forward. Her nightdress was buttoned only halfway as she had grown hot under the blankets and his commanding sun. Calgary was staring at the expanse of her breast, already fully developed, and her hands, her mother's hands, now fluttering to close the gown - long hands with bones that seemed to peel out of the skin. She tried not to look at him.
"You like the theatre, Shakespeare?"
"Oh yes, they're wonderful! Let me see, what you quoted before was from Hamlet, Act 3, Scene I."
"The play's the thing. Your mother always said that."
Ken Calgary sat in his office the remainder of the day, the thorn in his paw hands needling into his flesh, disassembled, through the flesh and marrow, then reinvented in his bloodstream, flowing to his heart.
"Hoc opus, hic labour est." Miriam, Natalie. Bloody Jim McCann. The girl, more beautiful than her mother, than Natalie. Was that possible? Her folder was spread out in front of him. Almost fully grown, almost a woman. And next month she would be all of thirteen years old.
The excruciating vanity was not present in her child. The arrogance of McCann absent in her too. She was sweet, polite, intelligent, untainted. These very characteristics upset Calgary the most. Had she been otherwise, he would have resisted the temptation. He only chose one girl a year, usually a senior - it was his gift, her initiation into public domain. His ideals of truth and beauty rudely terminated by McCann, stealing her from him, seducing her, his money and adventures, for the sport of it all.
His girl Kathy could wait this weekend. He loved his idea already. The tryouts were this afternoon of a joint production between his school and the boys' prep across the sound. Surely she could act. Her mother had. He would try her tomorrow. As he stood up to leave at half five, he readjusted the pleats of his sober flannel trousers.
Miriam awoke late the next day; she had been up to one o'clock reading the play, more on the order of rereading, the copy of Antony and Cleopatra Mr. Calgary had lent her. There they found a book which contained The Life of Antony. One of them began to read it. She didn't have the nerve to tell him she had a copy right there. He stopped by before going to the tryouts and asked her if she had planned to go out for a part. No, she hadn't. Had she read it? Yes, but.
"I hadn't realised how shy you are, Miriam. Not like your mother, eh?"
It broke his heart. He didn't understand why.
When she came to be wide-awake she realised how fully alone she was. Miriam recounted the brushstrokes on the ceiling. Her tears rolled from the corner of her eyes into her ears - she did not sob, the sound uttered was a sigh, escaping a worldly confine, like angels after sneezes. She longed to walk backwards out of this place, not looking - keeping constant watch on the enemy - not looking at her absent father, his nakedness covered by her mother, herself - exposed wholly by brother Mercury with stiff condemnation: ‘why isn't he here?' - and the desert tent-flap blowing open upon that outer message and she too was descended from Ham and now sold into slavery, the plagues of her life only halfway cut through marrow-bone and fields.
From the windy North came Calgary, attention to detail, an abiding affection unruled by kin. He was strong and handsome like her father - a movie-still headmaster - not real at all, just shoehorned into the endless plot of growing up and old; lessons and plans. Here Miriam's feelings concerning Calgary verged upon an implicit betrayal of her mother and father. He spoke of her mother in terms of endearment, yet she was aware of the hidden. She considered the great romance of Natalie and Jim McCann and had difficulty pinning in Mr. Calgary. It was unnatural.
A tray of lunch was brought by Kristen Smythe, who had been packing to go home for the weekend. She was put out by performing this manual labour and did not hesitate to let Miriam know.
"Are they going to let you out soon? You look okay to me."
"I'm hoping Miss Bennett will sign me out tomorrow. I have a lot of homework to catch up on." The sight of the lunch made her ill again; boiled everything.
"Jesus, Miriam. Is that all you ever think about? All you do is read. You have no social life whatsoever. Go out for something. Get a boyfriend, for Christ's sake."
"Well actually, I might try out for a part in the play."
"Antony and Cleopatra? You? Have you ever been to a play?"
"Of course I have!"
After this Kristen became thoughtful. "You sure read enough of them. What part?"
"Something small. Look, Mr. Calgary brought me a copy of it. Wasn't that nice of him? He came to visit me yesterday, after calling my mother. He said he'd look in on me today."
"Really?" Kristen pinched her chin, considered the rumour about him and Kathy Thompson, and then opted for an information-gathering mode (as opposed to the usual gossip one). "Didn't you tell me your parents know Calgary? Your mother was engaged to him or something." She positioned herself at the foot of the bed.
"No, not engaged. They went steady, I guess. That was years ago. They're great friends now. Mr. Calgary even stopped by for the holidays once a couple of years back."
"Just think, you could have been, or could be, Calgary's kid. Maybe you are!"
Kristen left her pondering her good fortune at not having been another man's daughter. But Calgary made her feel different than any other adult male, or anyone for that matter. She was sure he didn't think of her as a child, though she was not an equal adult, either. And her father? Her father was the ten-foot-tall prince who ladened her with strange and exotic gifts from the countries he dug up. Already her room was littered with African totems, collected from some small country in revolt or civil war or something. Jim McCann fled through the jungle (he related all trips to her), and the trunks loaded with pottery fragments, spices and weapons arrived safely at the Baltimore dock. He was healthy and tan, a contrast to Calgary's dead white colour, though Calgary was comely, too: jet blue-black hair and marble blue eyes, tall like her father but lean. Jim didn't deprive himself on his expeditions and business trips; he ate and sampled his winding ways through the Earth's cultures. And, he maintained his air of money while roaming. He thought he should.
After Kristen departed, Miriam was oppressed so she sought refuge in sleep and curled up tightly. She dreamt of visiting a poor, toothless, stringy-haired hill woman, her mother's age, who claimed to have had her baby stolen. Miriam vividly saw the shack, raised from dirt - its planks grey as the winter sea and warped-waved; soiled quilts, and peace officers to accompany her here while she elicited information from the woman. ‘Who would do this? Why?' Then she heard crying. She gently coaxed the woman from the single stick of furniture in the shack, a rocking chair, and set her in the front room where the officers milled about. Under a quilt lay the baby, a few months old, thin but alive and wailing. Miriam gingerly cradled the baby in her arms with the woman's voice in the background, guffawing and finally saying, "I must have lost him." She handed the child over and poured milk into a rinsed-out bottle, thinking it was too early to be feeding it cow's milk, something she'd heard from a disgruntled aunt.
When she again awoke, she endured the sensation of being drugged. Then she drifted in and out of sleep for an hour remembering portions of the dream but pieced together with a vague, furtive memory. Someone standing over her when her fever peaked and the infection in her ear like a balloon was being blown up, the pressure hideous: the headmaster. Not the man she wished it to be and painted in from knees up, another. The woman Miss Bennett. She had had to locate the hungry, misplaced child for her. Miss Bennett was incapable of such an act as maternal love. Mom, Miss Bennett, no, no. It is the nurse.
Then the stars interspersed in the comings and goings. Real suns and supernovas on a delighted dome above her, in her eyelids. The silent notes played and she was with Mercury and the boy and the Chandlers. They crowded in a tree house built by her father with a small telescope and two pairs of binoculars. Then mortmain on her hot cheeks; she rolled over, wondering at it all.
Miriam didn't hear him come into the infirmary. (Indeed, it occurred to her later that Miss Bennett intentionally made the squeaks and slams and the frosted glass of the door rattle.) Nor did she realise she was crying again. She thought after the first death of Fall, then the glorious Indian Summer, her loneliness would cease: her mother told her it would. She would cultivate friends and social habits becoming a young, Southern gentlewoman. The cold hand brushed her.
"'Grace grow where those drops fall!'" As Calgary spoke; he sat down on the cot. She was on her side, facing the blank wall.
"I'm sorry; I didn't hear you come in."
"There you go, apologising again. For what? You have done nothing, except to shed tears." Calgary was still for a moment, then continued, "Tell me what I can do to help. Shall I phone your mother?"
"No, please don't."
"You are lonely; missing your family and friends. That's okay. When my parents sent me away to school, I felt abandoned. But I got over it."
Miriam stared at the wall, watching the crawling patterns she manufactured from the stucco. She concentrated hard. She wanted to stop crying and couldn't. His arm encircled her, his hand digging between her ribcage and the mattress to complete his arc. Miriam felt his pulse, rapid and hard.
"I'll be fine," she remarked as casually as possible. She brought herself up quickly. "No need to call. I've been sick and I guess I'm still sick. Thank you. Anyway."
Calgary pulled away, smiling. "That's the spirit." When standing, he jammed his hands in his pockets. "Did you read the play?"
"Yes." Then she added, "I've read it before. Today, you quoted Antony." She was calmer, thinking of the play.
"I'm delighted, Miriam! You know more than all the students I watched and heard torture Shakespeare yesterday. Will you try out for the play?"
"Maybe Iras...." Her words and emotions trailed off as she reverted to the bred Miriam. He too took this turn in, he chafed under her guilelessness, witnessed her transcendent child's beauty in the little, oppressive room.
"We need to spring you from this place. It's a wonder that not more of my students become bed-ridden with such a place as this. Don't tell Miss Bennett I just said that. It's just between us." The headmaster surveyed his empty grounds out of Miriam's window, rocking on the balls of his feet, his chin to his chest, adding, "Between us thespians."
He went to locate her. As luck would have it, the vigilant Miss Bennett was striding down the corridor, purposefully munching an apple. She never called him Mr. Calgary or Ken; she never dealt with him on familiar terms, though they had worked together for seven years: he was the Headmaster.
"Afternoon, Headmaster." She sprayed some drops of the apple's juice on his lapel as she greeted him.
"Hullo, Miss Bennett," he adopted her tone, "I've just been in chatting with Miriam McCann. She's eager to return to her own room and, quite frankly, I don't see why she can't. Barring your permission, of course." He brought to bear all the charm he had sucked up while schooling in England; Miss Bennett responded to and liked it. He ran his hand quickly through his hair, then looked down at the high shine of his shoes.
"It's perfectly fine with me, Headmaster. The girl's still a bit under the weather, but going back to her own room could perk her up. I need to fill out the forms and call her parents."
"Splendid! You do the paperwork and I'll ring the mother." He clapped his hands once, and one would have sworn servants with gifts on large trays would appear. "Oh yes, it will please Mrs. McCann. I'm an old friend of hers', you see. I feel a little responsible for her child; she's been having a devilishly difficult time adjusting," he added gravely, in his best accent.
"Headmaster, it's nice of you to take such an interest in her. With your guidance she'll break out of her shell."
"Thank you. I hope so." He bounded off to his office to telephone, having memorised the number long ago.
Calgary decided to forego his usual Spartan evening meal and prepare a dish for the girl and himself. He opened the gourmet cookbook his wife had left him before serving him with divorce papers. She had taken care of him until the proverbial bitter end: leaving his shirts pressed, brass buttons sewn back on his innumerable blue blazers, clean underwear, the stove of the campus house they shared scrubbed. But not an intimate trace of her: she burned her letters and photographs and ripped out the inscribed front pages of books she gave to him. He didn't care.
Marinara sauce. It reminded him of Natalie: only in his mind he saw the girl. It annoyed him and he considered forgetting his plan. Too late! He heard the timid knock at his door, felt her peering into the living room.
Flinging the front door open, he was shocked to see she wasn't grown up at all. He had aged her physically and here was a twelve-year-old girl, shivering in the cold night. A grim task, he told himself, be brave, and he nearly laughed in her face at his own absurdity. Then he got hold of himself.
The headmaster was stoic, ushering her in. He bade her remove her boots and took her coat, hat and scarf. Miriam inhaled deeply, enjoying the aromas. He broke.
"Homemade sauce!" He exclaimed triumphantly.
"Really?" She was genuinely pleased.
"Are you hungry?" He directed her to the dining room table.
"Yes. Starving! I didn't eat lunch."
"Why not? Were you feeling depressed then, too?"
"No. Just, well, I lost my appetite."
"The food can be tasteless here. It's like English cooking. You're undoubtedly used to your mother's fabulous meals. No wonder your dad has gained a few pounds. If I'd have lived there, I would have also. Sit down, please." Calgary held out the chair for her and scooted her up to his table.
"I don't usually invite students over here. It's frowned upon, unless," he bent over to Miriam from the waist, only a few inches from her breath, "Unless properly supervised! But occasionally I am allowed to loosen the noose of rules and get back in touch with why I became a headmaster: the pure enjoyment of watching young women grow, learn, and mature." He straightened up while he spoke this. He returned to the open kitchen.
"Like you, Miriam. It's even more rewarding because you are the daughter of someone I hold very dear."
A yellow glow emanated from his kitchen, and, aside from the small corner lamp, the rooms were in shadow. Miriam felt as if she were in a play right now, looking into the houselights as they came up.
"I hope you like al dente noodles."
"Yes. Can I help?"
"No, no, no! You are my guest. Sit tight."
In a few minutes Calgary rejoined her. He placed the food in front of her, noticing her hands folded in napkined lap. He poured himself a glass of wine.
"Hmmm. I can't decide whether I should be remiss in my duties as a host or as a headmaster. What do you think? Actually, you're probably wondering what I'm talking about." She nodded courteously. "What I mean is, are you allowed to partake of the fruits of the vine at home?"
"My parents let me have half a glass."
"Good parents! Half a glass it is. In Europe, young people are accustomed to drinking wine. This is another secret between us. If they knew you drank; you'd be expelled immediately! And right behind you is me, for corrupting a minor! So many rules, Miriam, so little time to break them."
She smiled; he unravelled.
"Mother told me you were a rebel, not like us, Southerners don't you know, but a boat rocker."
"She did?" Calgary was charged enormously by this tiny revelation. "Yes I am! I never did heed her counsel. That's why she married your father." He drifted a little. "By the way, do you like the spaghetti?"
"Yes sir. I apologise, I should've spoken sooner."
"You should have!" He kept a poker face.
Miriam blushed deeply; her utensils drooped. He grabbed her arm. "I was joking! Hey, Miriam.... Good God, nobody takes me seriously. Now I've gone and done it."
In the half-light, the marinara appeared lumpy. She stared down into her plate to avoid his eyes. Miriam bit into her lower lip and he thought blood would come.
He compared it to himself, so out of sync, a mixed-up iambic verse composed for not a single soul (except in the haze surrounding Natalie - that moist morning in Accademia, Florence to view and wonder at Michelangelo's David, long veins in impossible stone, Carrara marble, and then what to say after that. Declare love like an imbecile?). He was a stranger to this room, this way, a dull guardian of time, honour, lessons and their perfected statues - and here she was: singular in spirit, in esoteric youth, a lullaby to hush the voice of her mother at his table.
Ken Calgary's stomach growled. On cue, so did Miriam's.
"Miriam," he said unassertively, "there's nothing like food when you're hungry."
She sipped water, then smiled bashfully. He splashed red wine in her glass, then clinked hers with his, "Salute."
"Salute." Miriam swallowed the wine. He offered her bread and she took that, too.
In ritual form he told her of becoming a headmaster: rehearsed, careful. Then he began to talk of writing, sitting at his desk - how the work was close, damaging - reeling at his desk, paper shredded, crumbs in old woods and eyes blinded by the closeness, the device of seeking inspiration and he continued to pen compositions too; ‘it doesn't matter' his Maud (but Miriam knew) playing loop after her irrepressible loop and the petroleum thick black headaches eating at his visceral peace and engines - at his desk, a little sanctuary to divine what lay in red harmony, then pencils transformed into dowsing rods to detect not water but folded hands, like hers he said, pausing, his science to create so many elements, memorisation, in search of new time with the window remaining open to maintain surprise, though he thankfully was employed to balance sanity and insanity - headmaster and soon to be published, yes, writer, endless leaves of cream paper, her mother's favourite colour, did she know?
The heel of her hand to her chest, rubbing his radio signals off, the palm encircling the sternum, fingers thumping out a Morse code dot dash dot over and over again, being drawn in water into wine and noticing he absentmindedly poured the two of them more; she young in body but spiritual, not a drop of menstrual blood to pretend with a boyfriend, the shell of sky impinging stars and she took the boy's hand that one time, it would be gone, reduced forever.... ‘Miriam you are so quiet, so still, you, your mask a frontier for me to explore;' and it was finished for her.
"Do you understand what I'm saying to you?"
Miriam stood next to him at the kitchen sink, plates in her hands from clearing the table. He took them, and as he ditched them in the sink, one cracked in half. He kissed her, raising her off the floor some two inches. No longer a plan, a need.
Sunday morning and the church bells were hoof beats pounding into masses of irreligious ears - now hers, for she knew the nature of the crest of her world: a plain nothingness. Word and deed had meant nothing, had come to nothing; reciprocity a manufactured by-product of an adult mix-up.
Miriam sat upright in her bed. Its twin was undisturbed by Kristen. When she returned to her dorm room last evening, she stripped off her clothes quickly, leaving them in a pile next to her desk. From here, she could see the blood-spotted underwear. Her immediate reaction was to get up and wash out the garment. But she didn't. She beheld it curiously, disavowing the pain of his entering her, as though it had been someone else.
Another curious item: somewhere last night, somehow, she had become bored, had sat out the events mentally, demoted to a spectator. At first she had felt everything, particularly his belt buckle just above her waist, his ice hands on her back - then the plain and simple nothingness liberated her.
Was that it? Was that what everyone whispered about? He didn't even take her to his bed or the couch; it was on the floor, for the love of Christ; on a less than immaculate carpet of odd misshapes she studied, her head turned from him, shapes of clocks.
What had he asked? What was the reply? Thirteen next month. He said, after he had finished, ‘You're almost a woman.' She had answered ‘Yes sir.' And he laughed, ‘Don't call me sir,' his hilarity echoing in the chilly hall to the bathroom. She watched him urinate. He leaned against the wall, bracing himself with one hand and daintily he took his penis in the other, between thumb and forefinger. "My second virgin." She overheard him. It didn't register until later.
It was at that moment that she was ashamed; for her legs were akimbo on his patterns, albeit for so brief a period she almost forgot about it. The shame of lying on a thin carpet, her skirt up, knee socks and loafers unmolested - flattened by his body, pressed into the woodwork, stuck through and mounted in collection; a recreation of an event hopefully dead soon - the bathroom light clicked off and she smoothed her skirt down, pulled her legs together and finally sucked in all the air she could to raise herself up, recalling hand-written notations tacked to her father's bookcase: "what in me is dark illumine; what is low, raise and support;" - "and the light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not." She was in shadow, in purgatorio; outside the cold school buildings, inside an object of desire; he rounding the corner to the kitchen to snap off the light, for her, who was supported by the sides of his sofa; she leaned on the quiet.
The shame lifted into the snow flying at impossible angles about his windows. It was gone. As he sat down beside her, she got up and went to the window, placing her hand against a pane, tracing snowflakes one after the other, her breath eventually fogging the glass; she forgot about him, shame, parents and a night of falling snow replaced them. She imagined it in detail and even more important, remembered it in the morning: the boy's toboggan - him, her, Stephen, and Mercury to steer (sort of) the run down to the pond where the blue herons nested, falling off just before they reached the rim of the water, entangled in each other. It wasn't cold there.
The headmaster walked her back to her dorm, kissed her goodnight, pretending it was a date. Soon she was aware that the bells had stopped clanging. Soreness descended when Miriam lifted her legs. She rose uneasily, crossing the room to her clothes. Inspecting each garment for signs. The underwear was rinsed out in cold water. Funny, she didn't feel like a woman.
His alarm rang at 6:34 a.m. Tuesday. She was the first thing that popped into his head; or perhaps, even in accepted frozen recesses of his mind, he had not ceased thinking about her.
There had been no knock at his door; no buffeted police officers to escort him to prison, not a phone call from an outraged mother and/or father. In one way he expected it (as he had the six other times), in the other plausible, whiskeyed way of a man yet young, he expected to be unscathed: immortal, like baby-faced soldiers grinning, charging over the dirt walls of trenches, glad to meet an heroic end, certainly that was correct. ‘Would she call?' he asked himself as he briskly walked home from escorting her to the dorm, no coat - a heavy fisherman's sweater scratching his bare chest; logically, she should. She would not was the assured response. He slept for twelve sound hours until noon Sunday morning and ate a hearty breakfast.
Calgary had tried to work at his window: paperwork for school, no, no good; a poem stuck in his throat. Later, gritting his teeth, he did the paperwork. A glum settled about his shoulders that afternoon. He wanted to see her; however, he forbade himself from being with one of his girls more than once a week. Already that in itself was risky.
In here, his progress was stunted, and across a crunched snowfield in the bright icicle air, she was lightly tracing the frost on his panes. Or so he believed. At four o'clock Sunday Miriam was catching up on her homework. Monday was a repeat of Sunday.
Now, at his alarm's warning, Ken Calgary drove himself from his warm bed and showered, ate cold cereal and was in his office by 7:30 a.m., though he was a man sleepwalking. Closing his eyes, he conjured Miriam - a shaman, wand of dime store pen and coffee as potion - and smiled when he recalled teaching her to French kiss. Natalie had taught him.
Miriam! He contrived to see her that day: call her into his office. Official business and all that.
Calgary was flushed with her essence: her lightness devouring him in unbelievable times, sheltering him from the demons of drudgery, able to face the lingering winter days, to find himself forward in Spring and her rebirth.
Unhindered, he could traipse after her - being a rogue among the rich girls and certainly twisting in the mirrored miracle of Seasonal display - an eruption of bestial chicanery he was; especially to himself. She stole into his heart, a thief of that frost she so minutely envied and traced upon his pane. He thought of his mother bringing in the milk frozen in bottles from the doorstep as when he was a somnolent child, cracked from Cain's keeping, and bearing the film of possession.
Sleepy, Calgary mouthed words to his secretary, thinking of stabbing kisses, his stabs, his penetration - how she made no sound except that of choking. He snapped back to his present reality thinking aloud, "Have I lost my mind?" An absurdity rose in his throat, an entire absurdity calculated to belay the shock. But what shock? Of course, no, he couldn't admit it - the body of a thirteen, almost thirteen-year-old girl clamoured at the rim of his pupils.
He wrote his note, sent it, waited. Fell asleep, stiff. It was Fat Tuesday years ago. Walking the streets at dusk, huge papier-mâché heads of grotesque Grimm Brothers' fairy tales roamed above and purposefully bumped into him. Women in nothing except red lipstick and feathers floated above. He had anonymous sex in the doorway of a small hotel, zipped his trousers and threw up in the next block. A splendid time. Ash Wednesday service at noon the next day, slipping on his knees upon command and feeling holy with a bold chalked-cross on his forehead. Sex equals love plus prayer.
In the course of the day, he forgot exactly what she looked like; he discovered she was an impression, like seeing wicked words scrawled on an underpass and not knowing the exact definition. She vanished, reappearing in trace elements of minutes while he tarried for her, after her 4:00 Geography class. Staying, curling, tense. They knew; they were waiting, too, to catch him. McCann would be there with a large butterfly net. Calgary awoke from his dream after the buzz from his secretary.
"Mr. Calgary, Miss McCann is here to see you."
He grabbed his throat, spoke the words, "Send her in."
She stood in clear afternoon sunlight and Calgary was at full stop: on his oiled and cleaned parquet floor, her oiled and cleaned penny loafers, lambs wool ivory-coloured knee socks, plaid kilt in the stripe of the school's founder's clan - pine forest green and gold with black and red thin stripes across the buckles to the pleats of the skirt - that matched his tie, light blue button-down oxford shirt and black necktie, black v-neck sweater and pearl earrings (an exact match to her mother's). He thought he could memorise her, because he had paid no mind to what she was wearing Saturday evening. All he knew was that she was one foot shorter than himself. Her folder said so.
She was kneading her lower lip, holding the books and notebooks against her breast. She seemed to be bobbing, a cork in a bathtub, until Calgary realised she was rocking on one side of her foot. She too waited.
"How are you, Miriam?" What a stupid thing to ask.
"Fine." She rapidly glanced around the room, casting in her mind his reason for calling her in. Grades? Parents? She had never been to his office before; had seen it once when she first came to the school. Her folks sat on either side, singing her praises. Nevertheless, in her heart, she quietly recognised his need.
"Set down your books and come here."
He opened his arms as soon as she rounded the desk, and hugged her. He remained seated in his swivel chair. Miriam clasped his arms and folded hands to her chest, the hands under her chin. Calgary laid his head on her breast; she combed his hair back from his forehead - remembering - closing her eyes, the Clarks' grandson she babysat for back home, the crown of the child's head bald; needing to be held, cuddled. Unnecessary in an adult man she felt.
"I've missed you," he crooned. He carried on in a hushed voice. She didn't understand what he was saying, wasn't listening; it didn't matter. Her mother had been right: men are such babies. She rested her chin on his head. The hair smelled clean but small flakes of dandruff rested on his shoulders.
Her waking hours were concerned with work, catch-up. She slept poorly. Her eyelids were marred by lack of proper sleep; she tried Kristen's makeup to disguise her insomnia. Calgary noticed, commented not; perhaps he thought she was awake with recallings of him. Miriam's reticence served to spur further comments from him. She heard him say ‘resistance' and a science experiment popped into her head. It faded, with a quote learned by heart. A queen's imminent and profound death, whispered:
"What?" Calgary lifted his head.
‘Ah, women, women! Come; we have no friend
But resolution, and the briefest end.'
The Green Gloves by Ken Calgary
At first I thought they were black - the gloves I mean. They were black on the table, long black leather gloves. But when she held the front door open for me, the gloves magically had become an impossible early Spring-bud green, a little gold at the stitching and fingertips.
The snow was dipping towards the earth, huge flakes, coin-sized. And the afternoon had transformed all: the gloves, my mood... She was liquid and giddy and I had had no expectations of her - no forethought, had not wanted nor needed - did not want to need, another. Especially her. I wanted a spell of peace, blown-heart peace, a space straddling a cloistered lifestyle; no her or them; my selfish cries mounting until I saw the gloves, the hands, the wrists, marble become supple with intent.
We talked, that's all. Strangers overheard and became familiar in our laughter. The tiny coffee shop was grey in slate winter, wooden and aromatic, sweet.
I live by the side of the road, exploding.
Calgary stopped writing, the light had failed and he had twice forced an adult body upon Miriam. The terrific force of growing up over the course of an evening, his evening, betrayed and eluded him. But his writing, his own hand illuminated the invisible; the pride and lust and revenge copied into Protestant hearts, punctured by the simple act of what he knew now to be something previously or at least succumbed to once and only and that was love. Serpents were handled, dispatched with and dazed by his providence with a lack of respect or fear or both, yet even the mighty Episcopal Lord was humbled by the innocence and mystery held by a young woman and her admirer. In any case Calgary clenched this idea between his teeth and threw his pencil across the room.
Ash Wednesday and Miriam's silhouette spread over her single lamped wall against the protests of Kristen, who had stayed up late studying.
"What are you doing? It's so early." She wrapped herself tightly in her blankets and squeezed the pillow over her eyes.
"I'm going to Mass," Miriam answered quickly, brushing her hair in severe strokes. My confessor told me a story of his being in seminary. He asked his confessor, "When shall I pray?' The answer: "Whenever you have nothing better to do." How often had she sat in church a blank, only now comprehending she could have been praying: praising, asking for healing or guidance; if only to tell you I love You. Her mind wandered.
"It's not Sunday, you fool."
"I still need to go." Miriam gathered her books for her morning classes. She clicked off the lamp and wondered in the solid darkness if she could stand to fast all day and what she should give up for Lent.
Seven o'clock and not a shred of dawn light in the sky. The temperature was near zero leaving Miriam to question the sanity of Northern folk: they braved the arctic conditions in addition to the lack of light. It was like being an Eskimo to her. She was not sure she would ever see another flower or green field.
The church was as despairing and dark as the morning. She genuflected, then counted the pews halfway up to a suitable middle ground. Teachers and pupils were already mouthing the collect. It struck her that she had never been late to church of her own accord, although back home, her mother was usually scrambling around and was invariably tardy. But she, never. She thought she had given herself plenty of time yet she had meandered, even in the cold, maybe pausing to rebutton her anorak.
There is oil and there are ashes and the opinion of nothingness, a contemplative, implacable nothingness that invades the heart and cools the soul. Kneeling and alone, Miriam made the sign of the cross, and hoped for stigmata; she wanted to bleed continuously – a commitment to herself. It didn't materialise, for children are begat as innocents. And now I will confess. "Suffer the...." Miriam rose up with the rest of the congregation and speculated that Christ had abandoned her. She was not surprised. Indeed, she filed back through her memories to discover what she had done to deserve her fate. She should have deserted that place; for she had committed a grievous sin in the pew, crouching in middle ground: she thought she no longer cared, from that day forward, now and forever, world without end, the intoning of today's homily is from Matthew: "let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth" words of Christ in red, the discussion of insincerity, piety, mortality, and the burning of palms as she sat back in the pew, her gloves still on, a futile gesture in the realm of the unlikely laws of God (and Miriam meandered once more to her grandmother cooking oatmeal, bacon and coffee and saying to her mother that a good society is built upon good laws and good manners and Miriam knew the old woman would feel a pinprick and see a sparrow fall because she was so gentle); love and remember and ‘with thy spirit' she slips and repeats in dead silence to herself that when she gave up herself it was in someone else's words, not her own and she was branded with her father the heathen her mother would state, ashes for the faithless, no faithful, the priest dipped his thumb in the oil, then ashes, marking and making her; she was up again to receive Communion, wafers like rain and thick, syrupy wine and the headmaster controlling her totality in life's arc, the dust on her shoes now a cross on her forehead, the white, thin tapers dancing in the richness of the altar; somehow, she apprehended when she left her room this morning things were altered - she wouldn't feel clean; it was a premonition she thought strolling up the aisle, out the doors; actually, it was her fate come to fruition: she was no longer fragile. She soldiered on to class.
After classes, Miriam had a hunger headache. She existed on water, eschewing her tea, and numbly managed her day. While crossing the quadrangle she shivered, knowing his eyes were upon her, almost hearing the click of the blinds as they turned shut. What to do? It didn't occur to her to call her parents; she considered this her world: this school, these chilly people, this man. Miriam did not ask her parents to help her with a homework problem, did not plead with them to come home and attend school there, and, in good conscience, did not entertain the remote possibility of confiding in them, ever. She was on her own. She would solve her dilemma, or at least, handle it with the decorum befitting a McCann. At present, she was cloudy and hungry.
Calgary, however, was fragile. He would've admitted it to anyone who listened. He'd state ‘in some way unfair, I hope, to hope to want her (you) to be mine because of the despair that is the lack of hope, lack of her (you). My writing has failed me. She (You) are the core, the words burned down to my hand. Not just this, but Calgary would've admitted he was a man worthy of her pity.
At half past eleven that evening, Calgary was numbering the mishaps and false steps. There was blood on his temple, sprung from having pounded his head against the small fireplace. He heard movement in the upper chimney, scratching; a squirrel had fallen partway down and was inching itself up. That made him stop. He collapsed into an old armchair, throwing his legs out in front of him, musing upon his galoshes which he failed to remove upon entering his house. There was a trail of mud, melted snow and salt to the fireplace. Beside it, his books and papers.
Calgary pulled his fingers through his hair, disentangling the dried blood, examined it carefully, then flicked it onto the carpet. He equivocally pondered ringing Natalie, to tell her of his crime, of his passion, all the while knowing how ridiculous he would sound to her. He was always ridiculous to her. She wouldn't believe him. Steam hissed behind him. Ken Calgary locked in his house, poised and afraid of animals.
The squirrel fell out of the chimney onto his floor. Calgary jumped up with the fire poker in his hand. The animal leapt to the papered walls. Ripping through with its claws, the paper shredded with the glue in clumps stuck to the back. He cornered the animal in his bright kitchen. It jumped up onto the counter, knocking over the glass jar containing pasta. The jar bounced twice before shattering. Calgary dropped the poker; began opening all the windows, unlatching the storm windows behind and propping them out with finger-thick bands of vermicelli.
Hopping through his legs, the squirrel bolted out a dining room window. He closed the window, then the others; folded back into the chair, tugged at his face and chin. The poker lay on its back with the hook up, among the wreckage of noodles and glass. Calgary meditatively chewed his ring finger nail, musing how he had broken himself of his habit in college, out of vanity. He didn't want Natalie to know he did this: picturing Miriam's face.
There was no cause to wonder why the writing had failed - he was having difficulty distinguishing between mother and daughter. That grave, fine line was evaporating in the sand. He kept repeating ‘I shouldn't' and ‘They're very different, apples and oranges, really.' Opposites intact and not withstanding there was a very interesting claw pattern on the wallpaper. He sat staring at it, seeing its maker, attempting to return to the extrication of mother and child.
Suddenly, Calgary noticed it, for the first time. Getting up by raising his body with arm strength, Calgary pushed forward to the fireplace, lightly brushing rips and small holes in the wallpaper from the squirrel with his thumbs, over to the ruler-straight pencil marks beside the brick. There were names, followed by initials, neatly printed to the height of the mantelpiece, five feet above the hearth. A boy and a girl, ‘one with, one without.' Stains, too. Images wove in his brain, bits from the previous headmaster, his wife and children. Calgary had been interviewed it seemed by the whole family. A baker's dozen of photographs smiled at him from the nooks of the bookshelves and atop the desk. The tall, gaunt son; the prematurely grey wife; a daughter, sweet and lovely, lost on a school-holiday accident to the still-grieving man.
Her photograph haunted him for months after his appointment. And there were her tiny handprints, alive. The father's palpable vacancy drilling into his chest during the tour of the campus. A daughter unrecovered.
So through his actions an unhammering of his own conscious faith.
In that half-faced moon mystery, growing every nearer to his earth-bound mere existence, a radiance of guilelessness - he had attempted to deceive the satellite circling him like a top, then unwittingly reeled it in, unearthed its secret find and recognised, too late, he could never hope to reckon with its mechanisms; for its very nature Calgary had razored off his own life: his childhood, adolescence, first love. On Friday, his desk cleared, Calgary was genuine to himself.
Her game of catch-up complete, Miriam relaxed late Friday afternoon reading and reciting from Antony and Cleopatra. She had claimed the part of Iras Thursday night, which Kristen had coveted dearly.
She rested the book upon her knees, closed her eyes and spoke the entire passage from memory. Miriam flipped through, marking her lines with small pencil checks, reaching Anthony's suicide.
"....Therefore, dear Isis, keep decorum, and fortune him accordingly!"
Miriam bent over the play, slowly kneading her lip. "How the words spring off the page at impending demise; how close men come to completeness when life whirls about to behold its mortality!" She didn't recognize the handwriting but knew it was the headmaster's. (Here, her conscious mind no longer spoke his name, although she had plainly seen his signature on the flyleaf, and hearing her mother's pronouncement of his Christian name deep within; it didn't register. It didn't matter. She used his copy of the play instead of the one given her by her mother. He was still as foreign to her as her forbears were to the Native Indians when they stepped upon Virginian soil in 1710. The headmaster looked different in her mind; he had shrunk. He was relegated to a fable, an infection popping in her ear, something to be rid of quickly so one could get on with the business at hand.) Why would folks become alive when they faced death? Why didn't they hug the beat and breathe to themselves during their lifetime? Then Miriam observed: ‘Why don't I?' She closed the book, keeping her place with her index finger.
First Guard: The star is fall'n.
Second Guard: And time is at his period.
All: Alas and woe!
Antony: Let him that loves me strike me dead.
Seeing the darkness and the alien figure it was attached to, Miriam found her answer: it was the wilful darkening despair in the headmaster which had led to her seduction, produced her reticence (she did not resist; she did as she was told, took comfort in the savage, melancholy orders), attracted and repelled her simultaneously. She was attracted to him, not in the youthful bestowal of a kiss upon the neighbourhooding boy, but as a woman is attracted to that which is undeniably wrong she considered; when she can choose from anyone or walk any path - she sees the comely desperation and responds, grabs it with one hand and thrusts it away with the other.
Behind the slate-blue marble of his eyes, a gesture like that of icicles melting in the noonday sun - brittle, glistening, transparent and slick with water - the handiwork of Northern gods; one wanted to reach out with bare, crooked fingers, yet the knowledge of its fracture, of its freezing to the skin made one cautious and impatient, both.
Sexuality broke through. It was her controllable aspect; no other part of her being she had reign over. Her body and countenance passed to her, a bucket in a fire brigade. Mind educated and moulded by teachers; emotions strung along by family. Her world really came down to that: the power by the least understood rite of humanity. The headmaster had demonstrated this; she had felt the shiver in the boy's body one afternoon when she kissed him; it sprawled back through time but was in fact only six months ago. Miriam needed to do nothing, she sensed; it would all come to her. (Submitted: "And the LORD GOD said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, the serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.") Women and the archetypal Woman in psychoanalytical dreams and essays which amount wholly to jail-time, time served and functioned.
And so it was Miriam on that Friday afternoon that she grappled with and overcame that which she had been taught was base; she continued to believe it was primitive and somehow beneath her but now understood in a fundamental manner the potent domination sex held for others. Sex and love were interconnected for them; however, the two became ways to deal with people who wanted more than she could give. Miriam paged through her book.
Kristen flew into their room, out of breath. She stopped in the doorway, held by the mask of Miriam. "Are you okay?"
"...This mortal house I'll ruin
Do Caesar what he can. Know, sir, that I
Will not wait pinioned at your master's court...."
"Yeah." She did not look up; instead she gave concentration to her part, flipping the pages to her first scene.
"Are you sure? You look kinda strange." Kristen was the one that was strange to Miriam. Faded sunset tones hued the room, dispensed within the pool of light. "Why are you sitting in the dark?"
"It's not dark," she protested, then grinned as she peered about her at the full shadows on the four walls. "All right, it is dark. I was reading for rehearsal and didn't notice." Her tone was buoyant and deliberate.
"The play is going to be hard. I still don't know how you managed to get the part." She tossed her satchel on the bed and stood behind Miriam, her shadow overhanging the seated girl.
"Skill. Knowledge of the play," Miriam replied firmly but pleasantly.
"Hardly." Miriam swivelled in her chair, rotated forty-five degrees to meet Kristen. "I studied the play, I know Shakespeare. I had the best read-through. I deserve this part." She reopened the headmaster's copy to the first act and spoke aloud to Kristen, to herself, "We stand up peerless."
"Getting a tad conceited, aren't you?" She stood her plot of ground.
Miriam turned fully to her and said softly, "I know what I can do. Period."
Kristin almost retorted, and immediately thought better of it. Miriam sat straight up in her chair, her shadow larger.
As he was leaving his office, Calgary whisked the folder of Miriam into his papers, letting it settle on the bottom, perhaps as a treat following the processing of the remainder of the staff's reviews. Just a few comments here and there; the desk was duly freed and resembled the first day of work, no hassles yet. He prided himself on performing this singular act of will every Friday. He nodded and whistled to teachers, his overcoat slung over his shoulder on the Spring-like day. Students buzzed back to their rooms in preparation for dates and short trips home or simply to relax before dinner at six.
When six bells rang, the headmaster was not at his place at the head of the long table. They waited for him resolutely, five, ten minutes. The janitor Burke, an easily ruffled older man, was sent to fetch him. He complained the whole journey to himself, across the small grounds, over the cinder track, to the headmaster's house. He buttoned the strap of his overalls as he passed the track team.
Burke rapped loudly, having performed this service many times before. He could picture the colourless, dreamy man sitting at his desk, staring out the window, various writing implements and papers in neat, ordered piles circling him like the tops of covered wagons.
"And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked."
What has fallen has become flesh.
Ardent in nature, Calgary had come home to his clutter, to find his life in disarray, and he had assumed and liked it. His footfalls echoed in the coagulating light. He flung his armload of folders onto the easy chair and went into the kitchen for a glass of wine before dinner. Pasta crunched under his feet. He had not bothered to sweep it up; his cleaning woman would oblige him tomorrow. She came but once a month, already too much.
Calgary's foot stepped untrue. He slipped on the vermicelli and tried to catch himself on the counter as he fell forward. He failed. His chest caught the poker's hook. It dug through the muscle, snapped a rib and tore into his heart. Blood came up through his nose and mouth. Calgary flailed on the linoleum; a swimmer in riptide, understanding his carelessness had been his undoing. He rested in bewildering aspect and knowledge, still alive, impaled, the memory circling in his eyes and ears of Miriam, at his window - then he heard the smash and tinkle of glass and felt sure she had come to rescue him.
Burke fogged the kitchen window with his cries. Muddy-legged members of the track and field team sprinted over in ones, twos and threes. A big junior girl wrapped her warm-up jacket around her hand, punched in a pane and unlocked the door after the greasy top curtain and rod clattered unceremoniously to the floor. She pushed in, and pulled Calgary up, the poker stuck in his chest. His eyes were wide, the pupils almost fully dilated. His senior girl, Kathy, was the last to arrive. Her mouth jutted open but no sound emanated. The girl holding him attempted extrication of the poker, and then stopped as blood shot upwards into her face as she moved it slightly.
Veins were collapsing in his temples from lack of blood but made him jump in memory to pounding his head which in turn made him visualise the squirrel, then the family, then the dead girl all in smooth sequential order. He marvelled at himself and sighed. The poker stung him again; he had forgotten it was there. His girls chattered; he was floating down his halls, to his office, calling his girls, teachers, staff, and secretary, his Miriam. Miriam! Calgary rolled his eyes in his head; he couldn't very well search the room yet tried to, to no avail. Had she not heard, not known? Were they not connected?
"Ma...," he said, musculature slipping away in the blood that coated the floor.
"What did he say?" A voice came up.
"He's calling for his mother."
"I didn't know he had a mother." Kathy vomited.
A sprinter arrived with Miss Bennett, who had dialled an emergency number. Burke hobbled to the main hall to inform Ms. Davenport, Calgary's assistant.
"Ma," he repeated frantically, blood bubbling in his mouth. "Ma, Mir...."
"He wants a mirror," someone said triumphantly.
"What does he need a mirror for?"
"Lay still, Headmaster. Don't try to talk," Miss Bennett cooed. The junior cradling him felt him slip.
Miriam was finishing supper as Calgary died. Ms. Davenport had told them to go ahead and eat. Miriam did so with great relish, her appetite having returned. The other girls were abuzz with excitement, asking where the staff had gone. She helped herself to the apple crumb cake when no one else did. The news arrived when Miriam was dabbing her lips with a stiff napkin. Calming herself as she thought wildly of her great fortune, she gazed into the empty plate, and set her fork crossways down. The luck of the day went with her then and she sensed it would follow her after.
It had not been hope that sustained her; it was instead that gaze of good fortune. She was charmed thereafter. She had suffered; she was freed from spins of ill luck in the manner that someone who has lost all is: no other harm could possibly come. At least she felt that. From that curious moment on, when she withheld her joy at her captor's demise, she began slowly to gather all good moments and withhold them, too. Hoarding them, but by the arrival of her teenage years not only were notions of fortune and its interconnected spates of pleasured time cast; it was a given.