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June 27, 2022

Transitions 55

By Sand Pilarski

Fifty-five: Exploring My Territory

Mother had no problem at all with us searching her wing of the upstairs. She kept no secrets, it seemed, and was so thrilled to be touring museums in Italy that she didn't give a hang if her sister searched for her first husband's journals all winter.

"What does that mean?" Marca grumbled the following morning as we returned home from church. "Is she going to just abandon this place again like she did when Dad was alive?"

"Sounds like it to me," I told her a bit bitterly. "She didn't ask how I was doing, or if school was okay -- she just went on and on about some old Roman tiled bath that she got to visit being dug up."

"At least you got to talk to her. She didn't even ask for me, I'll bet."

"She didn't ask for me. Aunt Sully said, 'Here, talk to your son,' and handed me the phone. I just happened to be right there."

"Our father died, and our mother has other interests. It's like we raised each other."

"Raised each other?" I yelped. "Then you've been an abusive parent! When I introduce you to people, I don't say, 'This is my sister,' I say, 'This is my FIST-er!"

Alas, without Michel to cue me when to run, I was helpless with laughter and received a stout kick to my rear that sprawled me on the hardwood floor, just in time for Philomena to appear with a tray of salads for the lunch table. I jumped up, brushing bits of dust and lint from the front of my white shirt.

Marca leaped to my side, helping me brush off the shirt with false concern. "Owen, whatever happened? Did you fall?"

Her feeble dissembling sent both of us into greater hilarity, though I thought to myself I should find a way to pay her back in the near future. Michel should have done something to her before he left, I mused. I can't retaliate properly, because she will always escalate hostilities, and I can't get away from her. Yet I knew there had to be something, and that I would find it if I searched hard enough.

That afternoon, while rain drummed against the windows, Aunt Sully and John and I searched the parlor room of my mother's wing. We came up with nothing, no journals, no hidden compartments. None of us really believed that my father would have stashed journals there; it was almost a public room. Still, we were trying to be systematic, and we did have months to spare.

Rachel continued to share my seat on the bus, five days a week now that Mother and Uncle Bodie were not driving in to town, but she never alluded to her first kiss on my cheek, never seemed to be anything other than a transportation friend, except on line when my sisters and my brother typed communications. Then she was part of our inner sanctum, but even there she didn't make more of our relationship than being friends.

I considered talking to John about her, but knew that he'd just end up saying, "Why do you want a girl to be more than a friend at your age?"

The obvious answer to me was, "Well, because I want her to be more than a friend," but there was the age issue, and the society spies issue, and the might-get-her-beat-up-at-school issue, and the jeeze-it's-not-like-she's-going-to-get-engaged-and-wait-ten-years-to-get-married issue. Any way, I wasn't looking to marry this year, though I did think that one day I wanted to marry someone as funny and beautiful and vibrant as Rachel. If she was around in that far-off future, I'd probably woo her. In the mean time, I just wanted to kiss her and hug her and talk to her every chance I could draw breath. I was apparently "in love."

"John," I said to him one afternoon as we sat in front of the fire after I got home from school, "how does one un-fall in love?"

"You talking about this Rachel again?"

At my nod, he proceeded to grill me about my relationship with her, what I thought of her, what I thought she thought of me, what we talked about ... such interrogation, such concern -- it was exactly what I would have wanted my father to do if he were still alive, and it was an intoxicating pleasure to be encouraged to talk about Rachel at length. He alternated watching the fire and looking at me, his expression softening sometimes as he listened, becoming sharp as a knife when he posed a question. But he didn't roll his eyes or sputter in disgust, at least.

When he had run out of questions, and I had run out of words, we sat in silence for a while. I reminded him of my initial question.

"You fall out of love when you know everything she's going to say or do before she says it, and you just don't want to hear it or see it any more," he said. "I don't think you can make yourself do it, though. Just happens. But it depends on what you're calling falling in love. If it's coming from your gonads and nowhere else, it ain't love."

"It's not all gonads," I said quietly.

He rubbed his face. "Then you're just going to have to wait it out and see what happens. Maybe it is love, for real. If that's the case, you can't just make it stop, no matter what you do."

"Did you try that with my aunt?"

John started as though I had pinched him, and glared at me with squinted eyes. "Yeah, I did. And no, it didn't work. Nothing. Not from the day I met her."

"It was the eyes, wasn't it?"

He laughed. "You got it. She looked at me and right through to the back of my head. And then she turned them on full power and phasered me into dust."

"Yes, this has been my craze for her from my infancy. She is The Oracle, the Medusa, the Bomb."

Both of us shut up then, hearing the sound of her boot-heels in the hall.

"Hey, youse," she said, using John's vernacular. She ducked and kissed John's temple, then sat on the hearth, her back to the fire.

"Hello, Aunt. Was your ride productive?"

"It was. Fifteen minutes into the woods, following what looked like a game trail, we came across a hut. Called police, who came up the fire road from town, and they kicked it open. Thanks, Philomena," she said as she accepted a mug of hot chicken broth from the little tray Philomena brought to her. "There was no one in there, and no sign of blankets or cooking ware ... God knows I don't want to begrudge homeless people a place to sleep, but we can't risk someone cranking up a meth lab and poisoning our water supply. Maida and I rigged lines to the horses' harnesses and pulled the supports down; someone will go up there and get that lumber out tomorrow."

"Pretty soon I'll be able to take over on that beat," John said. "I'm coming along on this horse stuff. You shouldn't be doing that."

"Oh, John, come on. I love riding. Since I've been here and riding almost every day, I'm in better shape than I have been in years. Maybe ever."

"Nevertheless, I say apologetically, I can smell Zigzag from here. Perhaps my dear aunt ought to consider the closeness of time to the evening meal?"

"True," she admitted. "John, I'm going to slither into a hot bath for about half an hour. If I'm not downstairs by then, come wake me up, will you?"

After she exited the room, I mentioned, "That means the ride about wore her out. Riding in the cold is not bad, but it really does take it out of you."

"No shit," he replied, unguardedly. "Even a hour lesson about kills me."

"It gets better after a while. Lessons are more strenuous than riding out on the trails, unless you ride like Aunt Sully does. She was out for about four hours today, wasn't she? That's long." I sighed, knowing that John's interest in my affection for Rachel was at an end. "She probably needs help getting her boots off, and if not, she'll want to talk about her ride." I stood, stretching. "I'll see you at supper."

"You're good, Owen," he said, grinning.

As he left the big study, I wondered at his words. Was I good because I did nothing noticeably wrong, or was I good because I had learned to read between the lines and know what my adults actually meant? Or was it that I kept him company while Aunt Sully was out on her own, and he was left in what was still a strange house ... a very empty strange big house with most of the family gone?

I went back upstairs to my room. Retrieving my journal, I began to write some of what the empty house made me feel.

Every sound seems amplified. There isn't any background rattle of football games coming up from the study; there aren't as many footsteps in the halls with so few people in residence to request things. I hadn't noticed before how much noise of chatter and laughter Kelsa and Michel made, or how busy Grandmother kept the staff coming and going to her wing. Sometimes I feel restless, like I should go looking for them ... but at other times, when its so quiet that it seems like I'm the only one in the house, I kind of like it. At those times, I remember Grandmother telling me, and Aunt Sully, too, that the estate will belong to me.

I don't want to fall prey to greed, but I enjoy walking through the empty halls and thinking of them as being an extension of my room. The windows could be my eyes, looking out over the lawns and fields and the forest; the big fire downstairs could be my heart (Note: are the words "heart" and "hearth" related?).

Oesha was really eager to get away from here -- she jumped at the chance. I didn't want to, and kind of begrudge having to leave for Christmas week when so much work is going on.

One good thing about the absence -- they say the new elevator will be working by the time I get back! And once the elevator is working, it will be a matter of weeks before my suite is done. I'll be living up there before Spring. That's when it will really get cool -- that suite will be my own "home."

"Marca said you're leaving the day school lets out, going to Italy."

"Yes. Mother wants us all there together for the holidays."

"That's cool. It's just that ... " we seated ourselves behind the driver of the bus. She didn't finish her sentence, as a couple of dorks from her English class parked themselves in the seat behind us, and leaned over to breath on and grill us. "Are you two really engaged?" A chubby girl with monumental braces on her teeth and pierced eyebrows asked.

Rachel and I looked at each other. I couldn't read her eyes; she looked as though she were asking the question, too, or maybe was it just that she didn't know how to answer?

"I'm sorry. Legal mandates do not permit us to talk about this outside the family." I mumbled, assuming a conciliatory posture. "My lips are tied."

"Pre-nups -- they're such a bitch," Rachel said in support. "You wouldn't believe all the legalese. You have to hire a lawyer just to say 'yes' or 'no.' Weeks to figure it all out," she added, shaking her head.

"I heard that's why you moved here from New York," the other girl spoke as though she had heard that information from a real authority.

"God, why else would I come to California?"

The non-chubby one narrowed her eyes. "But why you?"

"Consolidating our fortunes, of course, what did you think? That's what we do," I put in, with a touch of irritation.

"Are you rich, too?" the pierced eyebrows person gasped, goggling at Rachel. "You don't look rich."

"What do you think this is, Hollywood? And anyway, I'm from New York, where they have better sense than to throw money around trying to look rich."

The pesty girls were not to be pried from their investigation. "How did you guys meet?"

Rachel darted another glance at me. This one I could definitely read. She was getting spooked; the story was getting too complicated. I had the temerity to pat her hand in comfort. Telling stories was something I had been doing since I was old enough to spell words.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-06-07
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