Part Twenty-Three, Final Chapter
Thursday, 14th. At first, Rafe was reluctant. I didn't tell him of my idea the night he came over, but an evening or two later Clarissa and I dropped over to his house. While she walked about, I asked Rafe if he had read the Journal.
"Yes, I have," he said, I asked him what he thought of it. He said nothing for a little while, then, "I don't know what to think of it. It's too large and complicated for me to have digested yet. Then, again, maybe I can nver digest it, Cara, because it's like devouring myself in some ways — I'n in it, so are you. There's no way I can be objective," He sat in his chair before the fire, his long legs stretched out on the hearth. He ran a hand through his hair.
I shook my head. "No, we can't be objective. But there'll be a way we can assimilate the book — we can keep it going."
Rafe was puzzled, "I don't understand,' he said, but I just sat still and watched him until a Iight began to break in his eyes. "I: hope you don't mean what I think you mean." Rafe sat up straight, leaned toward me, resting his arms on his knees. I still said nothing. Silence gathered around us out of the corners of the winter room. Now and then would we would hear Clarissa's murmur as she looked at something she'd found. The fire snapped occasionally.
Rafe said, "I couldn't do it."
“You must," I eaid, 'There are lots of reasons. First, the story Charles started isn't finished. We're locked into it.”
He looked at me. "You've got to begin to come out of that fixation.
"All right, then help me. The continuation of the Journal would be good therapy. You're a psychologist. You should know that."
Rafe looked doubtful, but I could see this was an argument he could understand.
"The Joumal didn't seem to help Charles," Rafe said. "In some ways it helped focus his obsessions, instead of dissipating them."
"But that's because he kept it all to himself. If others had seen it — if You or I, or both of us, could have gone over it with him after he'd written a few entries, couldn't we have used the information to counsel him? You and I would see each-other's entries every other day." I could see Rafe wavering. I leaned over and put my hand on his knee. "Rafe, I need your help now."
A few more minutes of silence and then Rafe said, "All right, Cara, maybe it is a good idea."
We'll start tomorrow," I said. I got up and went to the table where I'd put a package when I came in. I opened it and took out a record book, like the one Charles had used, but not as tall.
I handed it to Rafe. "You write the first entry," I told him. "Begin with the fire."
Friday, 15th. The note of calculation in this last entry of Cara'a, and in some of her earlier ones, disturbs me. I don't know, It doesn't fit the image I have of her — at leust the pre-fire image. The flaw of perception, no doubt, lies in me. One shouldn't generalize from a few incidents, particularly not after trauma, Cara is a beautiful lady after all, like her last name, but she must soon begin to return to a more normal way of seeing the situation in which she finds herself. And I think I see that may be happening in some of the things she has been doing lately. For instance, when I told her about the possibility of her landing the lab supervisor's job at the College she reacted very positively.
I took her down to fill out an application and have an interview with the chairman of the biology department. There was a little trouble about Clarissa needing a baby sitter while we were away at the College and I suggested my housekeeper. However, Cara's eyes filmed over with hostility. "Not her somebody else," she said, "Not the way she acts around me. There must be someone else available.”
I disagreed. “This is a small town, and the girls who are old enough are either in school or they have jobs of their own. As for the rest of the women, they have jobs or families of their own, or they're too old to handle children. "Besides, Mrs.. Wall likes Clarissa, and it's mutual.”
I could see this last remark bothered Cara, but it was true.
Her son, Thomas, who is a little younger than I am — a few Years older than Cara — is married and no longer living in the house. “Mrs. Hall has projected me in her son’s place,” she said.
“it would be good for Mrs. Hall, too," I said. "She needs to feel useful, She's quite capable."
Whenever the four of us were together — Cara and I talking, Clarrissa and Mrs. Hall in the kitchen or another room —
Clarissa had immediately gravitated toward the older woman and could be heard chattering away at her.Mrs, Hall's responses could be heard as well. They took to each other. "Listen to them," I had said once. "It's good to hear Clarissa opening up."
Cara had merely frowned.
"Listen," I said to her," I went along with you on the Journal, now you go along with me on this babysitting deal." Reluctantly, she did, and things are working out well,
The interview went smoothly, Cara was hired. Her credentials are rather impressive in botany, they like her at the College. Officially, She's to begin her work when the spring semester starts, but during finals and the semester break Cara will be going down with me now and then to get acquainted with the facilities and her colleagues, Mrs. Hall, is delighted to take care of Clarissa. I wish I could say Cara is as happy, but that will take care of itself, I'm sure.
Saturday, 16th. First, a job — then a lawyer because I am beginning to run low on funds, The "calculation" Rafe says he sees in me is merely practicality. There is a strong streak of it in my character.
My main purpose remains ths same. I have lost the only man who ever meant anything to me — the father of my child, who bears his name. And the world, though it may not know it yet, has lost a good man too. I will do everything I can, first, to get the world to recognize that Charles left a living legacy in Clarissa and, second, to recognize Charles as the great writer he was.
I must bear a great part of the burden for Charles' death. f should have done much more for him while he was alive, and I should have done it sooner. There is a deep pain at the center of my being whenever I consider the things I should have done years ago. I should have torn Charles away from Norine while I was an undergraduate having an affair with him. Instead, I bore his child alone and in silence, while that bitch continued to emasculate him day after day, using her sex to erode his sense of himself as a man.
But this is hindsight. I had no idea, until I read the Journal, how Norine became more end more frigid over the two years after I left campus. She turned into wood, into stone. And I, at first infatuated with the idea of having an affair with a writer, and then afterward romantically bearing his child and caring for it as though I were a character in some private biography of a great literary figure -— God! what must I have been thinking of?
And now it is all too late — too late! I must sit here in this winter country and try to make amends,..try to live with the memory of my folly and Charles' madness, with visions of what might have been had I not done the wrong things out of ignorance and youth.
Sometimes at night, in my bed, I lie and listen to the wind moving by the trailer, among the pines, snd I know that the same wind is moving across the cemetery at the foot of Blind Man's Hill, touching the headstones of Norine and Melanie, lifting swirls of snow over Charles' unmarked grave as be lies beside them in the frozen earth, and I think, for a moment, "I should be Iying beside him there; the same fire should have consumed us both, and the aame ice should have extinguished the blaze.*
Then I will hear Clarissa stir in her bed, and I’ll know why I've been spared. Charles Ally will not die, ever! It is my destiny to put right those things that have been wrongly done. I must revive his name and his legacies. In the spring, when the earth thaws, I’ll see to it that he has a proper headstone, so that there will be a place for his mourners to gather and see his name in the living rock. If I can, over the years, somehow, I will acquire his property and rebuild the house in which he died. Soon, I will sue to have his daughter recognized as his daughter and his heiress, These are the things I can do, And I will bear what I must to accomplish them, even to attempting an accommodation with Mrs. Hall, who hates me, I am sure, because I am not one of her own back-country, Anglo-Saxon Puritans. I even suspect her of fraudulence in her liking for
Clarissa, but I will wait a while and let her scheme, whatever it is she plans, show itself to Rafe. Mrs, Hall will exposes— I need do nothing but wait. I only hope that Clarissa will not be hurt by it all.
In the meantime, I would hurt Rafe if I acted on my convictions without proof. Rafe must not be hurt either. He is a good man — too good, perhaps, in many ways. Charles was totally wrong in his suspicions about us. Whenever we met privately, it was to discuss Charles and the things we might do to relieve or diminish his obsessions.
Rafe was his best friend, as he is mine. We have begun, Cbsrles' life, in a way, continues in this sequel to the Journal. I have taken the first steps necessarg to resuscitate his reputation. It is early yet, As time passes, the spirit of Charles Ally will rise out of his grave and begin to spread itself over Frankfort and then, at Iast, beyond its borders into the world that never appreciated his genius. I know what I must do.
Sunday, 17th. f am very deeply disturbed by the tone and content of Cara's last entry. I don't think this sequel is working out — Cara doesn't say things like that in the daylight or during her normal doings with people, but obviously she broods at night, as Charles did. What she needs to do is to get out and become part of the community, keep busy with things. But she wouldn't pick up on my suggestion that she attend services today. "I'm a long-lapsed Roman Catholic,"she said. I pointad out that the Episcopal Church is
Catholic, but she shook her head. "I don't believe in ecumenising. Besides," and she gave a short, harsh laugh, "I practice witchcraft, haven't you heard?" I said nothing.
Neverheless, after church this morning she and Clarissa dropped by for a visit and some lunch When we were through eating Clarissa went off to play and Cara and I stayed at the table sipping coffee. After a while it became apparent that Cara had something to say. Her eyes were evasive, but now and then I would catch her throwing me a surreptitious glance. Finally I sat back in my chair, locked my hands behind my head, and I said to her, "Let's have it. The silence is killing me."
She looked straight at me at last, "Okay, I’ve never asked this before, but I've always been curious." She fiddled nervously with her cup. "At first I thought possibly you might be,.,well, queer." She blushed and I laughed. I knew what was coming now. I'd been hearing it from Mrs. Hall for a long time — though, curiously, not so often of late.
Cara seemed to be having difficulty continuing, so I helped her out. "How come I’m not married, right?"
She looked at me straight again and nodded. "You'd be a good catch for some woman,"
"It's difficult to explain." I leaned forward toward her, "But I guess the simplest thing to say is that I practice celibacy."
"But why?" Her eyebrows were arched. “You're not a priest..,not exactly. You're not required to be celibate."
I nodded. "That's why, because it's not a requirement. It's a voluntary sacrifice on my part.”
Cara started to make some sort of derogatory sound, but she suppressed it. "You really are some sort of fanatic, as Charles said, aren't you?"
"Charles never convinced me that I was a fanatic, even though he could argue rings around me. No, I'm not a fanatic, just a believer. I'm not married to the Church, but I am married to people. When you are married to everyone, it's not fair to take a wife and expect her to understand that. A wife wants a husband and a father for her children. She doesn't want a part-time houseboy."
Cara began to tear her napkin into small shreds. Her gray eyes became nervous too."That's silly, Rafe. Every woman knows that if her man has a calling or a profession he's married to that as well as to her. What about a doctor's wife? Look at Charles — I always knew his writing came first. But I loved him anyway — loved him, I suppose, because of it, in part at least."
She hesitated, "No," I said, sinking into my thoughts. "Not every woman understands."
"You're thinking of Norine, aren't you?” I nodded and said, “Yes.”
Cara sighed, and the frown marks smoothened on her forehead. "Well, I: do."
Then something passed between us. "You don't believe me, do you?" she asked. I said nothing. Thsre was a quiet between us for a while. Then, "Believe what you want," she said, "about me, and about yourself." It was snowing again out of doors, as it has been almost every day, " But there's something I know — the body has demands of its own, over and above the things one believes I don't know how you cope with your appetites."
I could think of nothing more to say, and after a little while of listening to Clarissa crooning to herself in the living room, I changed the subject.
Monday, 18th. This evening, when Rafe and I got back from the college, we stopped at Mrs. Hall's house to pick up Clarissa. Mrs. Hall's son Thomas was there, up from Boston on a business trip to Augusta. He is a nice looking man — not too tall, brown hair a trifle long, a moustache, about 150 pounds I would guess, but not really slightly built. Evidently he had been with his mother most of the afternoon and had made quite an impression on my daughter.
Mrs, Hall introduced us — a little stiffly, I felt — but he shook hands warmly and said, "Your little girl and I are good friends. We've been having long talks."
"I should say!" Mrs. Hall stood shaking that professional mother's head of hers and laughing, "I could hardly put a word in."
"Hello, Thomas," Rafe said, shaking hands, "nice to see you again. What have you been talking about?"
"You name it. What have we been saying, Clarissa?
He reached down and patted her hair. Clarissa took a couple of my fingers. "He's got girls, mommy," she said. "I can play with them someday."
"That'll be nice." I looked at Thomas. I guess I appeared to be a little apologetic. "She's not usually such a chatterbox. There aren't many children for her to play with up here on the hill."
"There will be come summertime," Mrs. Hall said, "The place fills up with summer people."
"Including us," Thomas remarked. "The whole clan gathers — we have a place up the road, And we'll be sure to have lots for Clarissa to do. My specialty is little girls — I'm an expert. That's why we're friends — right, sweetheart?" He bent down and took Clarissa in his arms for a hug,
"I wish summer would hurry up," she said.
We all laughed. "So does everybody." Mrs, Hall raised her hands waist-high in a gesture of mock despair. "What a winter."
We talked for a while, and then I took Clarissa, bundled her up, and walked over to the trailer after we said goodbye.
"Do I have a daddy?" she asked — the first time I remember her doing such a thing. I could say nothing appropriate. "Is Mr. Rafe my daddy?" She looked up.
"No, honey," I had to say. There was no sense in saying anything more.
"I wish summer would hurry up," Clarissa said again as we opened the door and Catch said hello.
Tuesday, 19th. The investigation of the fire has been completed. The report says that the holocaust was of suspicious origin, evidently begun by burning brands scattered from a fireplace, but there is no abolute proof of arson. Cara, when she was questioned, told them she was upstairs when the fire started — which as true — and that she therefore had no idea of its origins — which is false.
For my part, I told the authorities the truth as far as it went — that I had come to keep an appointment with Charles, discovered the blaze and broke in. Neither of us mentioned the Journal.
My conscience is bothering me terribly for these lies of omission, but worse than that — we are withholding evidence of a crime. But for all of me, I don't know what good it would do to bring forth the jourmal. Charles is dead with his family, and all that could happen now is that a scandal would be raked over, Cara would be hurt, Charles' name blackened, and those obsessed fantasies he wrote about Cara would be sensational, though to•t untrue. I can do nothing constructive in this whole mess except keep quiet, as Cara counseled. And now there's Clarissa to consider as well.
The report has been turned over to the lawyers and the insurance companies. There is a good deal of whispering going on among my parishioners — among all the townsfolk. I've overheard an obscene joke about Cara and Charles — l'm afraid I lost my temper with the two old mejn who were sharing it. Rather than back down, they merely looked quizzically at me and one said, "Well, Rsverend, maybe they take to things like this easier down at College, but this is Frankfort."
As I turned away I heard the other whisper at a deaf man's volume, "Where there's smoke..,," The other grunted. I walked away in a rage. Mrs. Hall had been with me. The incident took place in the grocery store where we had come to shop for both of us, and Mrs. Hall heard the whole exchange. I paid the bill snd carried the parcels out. As I left I heard my housekeeper going at it hot and heavy with the old-timers. When she came out to the car I noticed her face was flushed and her lips were glinting. Cara is wrong about her.
I don't know how long the litigation will go on, but as long as it does, and perhaps for loneer, we can expect more of this. I hurt badly for so many.
Wednesday, 20th. I don't care what they say, but it's getting harder, sometimes, to hold on to Charles, just because I have to think about things like this, about the things in the lab, about Clarissa. Sometimes it seems my head is crammed to bursting with ordinary things, petty things, and the memory of Charles has to be cullled out of all that rubble,
I have been sitting here in the trailer staring at the ending of Charles' novel. Catch and Clarissa are both asleep. It doesn't seem right that these two final sheets of paper should be lying around loose in a file folder. They should be put into his 3ournal with the rest of his last work. So I have decided to paste them in. I have been hesitating only because it seems such a final act, though the pages are just a fragment, broken off in the middle of an action. It isn't finished, and can never be, I know, but it still seems like such a finality.
THE BOOK OF THE BLACK HEART
When they'd done their yard time in Liberty City, the crew in their carrier moved down into Jax for a day or two.
Nothus took one look over the starboard rail and decided to stay aboard. He'd never seen such flat nothingness stretching out past some buildings on stilts, a road spearing along into the night between a row of neon signs, stars muffled under a haze of smog that made pink haloes over the honkytonks and gas stations.
When be spoke his voice sounded both hollow and suppressed. "There's nothing here, either," he said to nobody standing beside him in the darkness, and his voice sounded so flat and strange that he decided not to speak again.
The clattering of footsteps down ladders, the thunk of shoes on the gangplank, the swabbies saluting at us as they hooted ashore in clean whites. "Come on," said Boats, "get with it for crissake. You'll get crabs if you stay aboard, crabs and lobsters off the toilet seats."
Nothus shrugged and shook his head. Boats shrugged and rolled his eyes at Peabody who stood tapping his foot at the hatch. He shrugged, said "shit," and left with the Gunner. Nothus lay on his bunk staring up at the springs of the bunk above him, squares of mattress quilting down through the wires like regulated patches of cloud about to pour. Nothus had the feeling that the compartment was empty, but he didn't look. Through his right eye he could see the knobby bulkhead that pressed beside him, the chains supporting the tier of bunks. Through his left ear he heard the stillness oi the narrow passage through a double line of bunks, the ditty bags hanging, and — at the foot of the row — the small of lockers.
One of them clapped shut with a tinny ring.
Thursday, 21st. This evening, Cara Belladonna and I made love,