Fifty-four: Transmission of Information
With my siblings and mother, step-father, aunt and grandmother in the air on the way to Italy. I knew that my time of dreamily reliving my date with Rachel was at an end. It had been perfect, and I had been wallowing in the memory at every available time, the rest of the family being completely focused on the coming separation.
Rachel's mother had cannily suggested to my driver that she deliver us to down town, as our cars were known by the pestiferous society photographers, but hers was not. As a result, we were able to enter Mr. Perfect Pizza, have lunch, sit and chat for an hour over soft drinks, and then walk around down town, poking in at shops and bars -- just a look in out of curiosity, of course -- spending time in the used book store, admiring the shopping season lights as they came on at dusk.
At nightfall, we'd gone to Giammarino's Delicatessen and bought sandwiches to take home; two for Rachel and her mother, four for me, Marca, Aunt Sully, and John. While we waited for our orders in the yellow light of the deli, I asked Rachel rather bluntly, "Should I have been trying to hold your hand this afternoon?"
Startled, she looked at me with wide eyes. I could see the information processing behind her expression. "Yeah, if you were a soccer jock and I was a tittering brainless bint whose main objective was to report to her girlfriends how big she had scored."
"I take that to be a 'no.'"
"Owen, did you want to hold my hand all afternoon?"
"No, I wanted to gnaw on your delectable forearms, and lounge in front of a mirror with your hair draped across my head to see how I would look dark."
"That's exactly what my mother warned me about this morning, so thanks for restraining yourself." After we'd laughed at each other, she continued, "You treat me as though I'm your friend. That's a whole lot more fun than going out with a grope-ape. Jeeze, I saw what my cousins were doing to themselves with the sex and drugs scene -- I'm happy to have a friend who's polite, intelligent, and not sweating pimples to jump my bones."
Finally, in the hallway of her house, after I'd thanked and taken leave of her mother, but before the front door opened to regurgitate me back to my family, Rachel had tugged on my collar, and when I bent down, had kissed me on the cheek.
I wanted to have that moment engraved upon my brain so that I could relive the delight again and again, the surprise, the softness of her lips, the pounding of my heart.
Was it wrong that a beautiful girl had turned my thoughts away from my family's separation? Or was her kiss a blessing that allowed me to forget the niggling worry over the huge change in the household?
For change there certainly was. Where our mother had been a bit dreamy and detached from life at home, Aunt Sully and John were not. They were everywhere, in every inch of the mansion, and there was no warning of their appearance: both of them were as accustomed to going around in bare or stockinged feet as any of us kids were.
"You're sinister," I told my lovely aunt. "We went without shoes so as not to disturb the conversations of adults, but you do it so as not to be perceived ahead of time."
"Why, how right you are," she smiled. "Keep that in mind."
In the daylight, on reasonably clement days, she rode with one or another of the grooms, taking the horses over every inch of the property, looking for problem areas and noting what was happening in the brush, the fields, the woods. John spent those times prowling around the mansion, teaming with Redell to keep track of the contractors and the progress on the third floor.
In the evening, I would have expected dinners to be informal, but they weren't very relaxed at all. We dressed in clean, nice clothes, and service was not at all "family style." After dinner, over drinks, the day's revelations were aired to Marca and me, our opinions sought, our brains expected to engage and process the information, as though we had been dragged into adulthood by kidnappers the moment Mother was in the air.
Marca had been triumphant over her dangerous and ridiculous tailing of our pregnant aunt; I had been smug and pompous about directing and collecting our various subterfuges. Those actions had been thrilling, the motions of heroes, of irresponsibly precocious children, of us playing at knowing what adults know. Being required to think about the things that adults know was rather dull and time-consuming, in proper fact. I didn't really want to know the engineering of the renovated plumbing on the third floor, all I cared about was would it work? Could I have a shower with truly hot water?
"You know," I told Aunt Sully, "my father never once mentioned plumbing concerns in his journal. Fruit trees and the rebuilding of the big fireplace chimney, yes, but plumbing, no. I have read all his entries numerous times, but not a single toilet or showerhead ever made it into print."
She looked at me quizzically. "You mentioned that once. I used to talk with him a lot on weekends, but he never mentioned his journaling. How far back does it go?"
I know I blushed, as I had never spoken of the journal to Marca, or any of my siblings before tonight, or even my mother. Would Marca be jealous? "Just a few months worth. From January 1996 until just before he died."
"I wonder why he decided to start keeping a journal then," my aunt posed, her brow wrinkled between her eyebrows.
"The first entry, did your dad tell why he was starting a journal?" asked John.
"No, it was about celebrating New Year's Eve with us kids."
"Bet he kept a journal before that, then."
"Dad kept a diary?" Marca sputtered. "Why would he do that?"
"Maybe because he wanted to let someone, sometime, know what he thought and did?" I was tremendously annoyed at her callous unbelief.
"But why would he do that? Who'd read it? Oh, wait, besides you. Maybe he wrote it just for you, you think?"
It was exactly what I wanted to think, although I would have been too young to read it when it was done. Marca seemed to think that it was an uninteresting effort, even though she had to have remembered our father a full year more than I could. However, I didn't have an interest in engaging her in a spitting match -- what John said sparked my curiosity. "I didn't find any other journals in his office," I told him. "Just that one, behind some books in his bookcase."
"My God," said Aunt Sully, "if he wrote other volumes, and we could find them, we might find stuff that would tell us how to run this place before it runs itself into the ground."
"He hid it behind stuff," John mused. "If there is more, it's probably hidden, too. Want to go look?"
"No," I said, with as much dignity and authority as I could muster. "That office has been mine since Father's death, and I would want to remove my private writings from discovery before the room is searched."
"Fair enough, Owen. Can you get them out before the weekend?"
Marca was not the least bit interested in the conversation. Having drained her water glass and followed it with a sigh, she asked to be excused. In all probability, she was going to her room to watch television and email her twin. Oesha's absence was making her melancholy and subdued. In times past, I would have worried about her raiding Father's office and trying to find and mess with my writing, but there was no need for concern now. In only a few days she had gone beyond sibling sparring, half her heart now residing in another land.
Fortunately we both had Rachel, me for my romantic notions and male ego, and Marca for a steadfast friend. We -- at home and abroad -- would all try to connect with each other on the internet instant messenger services when we could, six-way conversations of silliness and gossip, outside the ears of adults, trading information and insults. Oddly, apart and in contact only through our computers, we had more privacy and greater leeway of discussion than we siblings had had when we were all home.
By the weekend, I had removed my writings (on paper) to a hiding place behind Michel's books in his bookcase. How convenient it was for him to be far, far away!
Aunt Sully, John and I spent Saturday morning going inch by inch over my father's office, moving furniture, tapping on walls, opening up the big safe, taking drawers out of the desk. Nothing. There were no other journals, unless they had been shredded and made into cushions for the wing-backed chairs that clustered around a small table by the door.
"They're not here," Aunt Sully affirmed. "Could they have been stored in the attic?"
"Here," mumbled John. "This office is the closest to the hall. You wouldn't want anything personal in here that wasn't locked up -- anyone could wander in and swipe it, let alone read it."
Aunt Sully's eyes opened wide. "He had a whole wing for privacy at that time. This was just his office, for business conversations with individuals. He lived in the rest of the wing."
"Well, that screws that," I said. "None of us goes into Mom's wing unless invited."
But my intrepid Aunt was already dialing the phone, calling my mother.