out of the ashes

Friday, July 30, 2010


Here we are...in the mansion at last.


Marvin stopped.
He turned, curious as to what Maribeth might say, seeing as how he hadn’t exactly impressed her. A glint of afternoon sun struck his eyes as he did, and he closed them quickly, reaching for the thin marble column nearest him that supported the roof to steady himself.
She sat forward, her posture elegant, yet rigid. Delicate hands lay clenched upon the tabletop, her soft lips pressed tightly together to form a grim line, but, it was the gentle questioning look in her eyes that sparked a glimmer of hope within him.
“Do you know Shakespeare?” she asked.
Marvin closed his eyes, took a deep breath, letting the thread emerge. He stood immobile for a moment or two, and then answered.
“Plays or Sonnets? I don’t have them all yet.”
“Try ‘As You Like It’.”
He thought for a moment.
“No, sorry. I can’t find it. How about Hamlet or Love’s Labours Lost?”
“Act II, Scene I, then. Love’s Labours,” she challenged.
Marvin stepped back toward the table as he searched the gigs in his fortified brain. Amazed himself.
“Am I supposed to act, too?”
She laughed. “No, you’d probably wreck it. Go ahead. Do what you like.”
“Okay. A-hem…” He cleared his throat, lifted an arm and began.
“Enter The Princess of France, Rosaline, Maria, Katharine, Boyet, lords, and other attendants.” He paused.
“Now, Madam, summon up your dearest spirits: consider…” There followed a grand gesticulation… “who the king your father sends, to whom he sends, and what’s his embassy: Yourself, held precious in the world’s esteem, to parley…”
“Good God! Laurence Olivier come back from heaven!” All her contrary appearances vanished in a single, undignified outburst of delight. “Marvin, either you’re the world’s greatest liar, or else someone touched by some power I can’t imagine!”
Marvin left the stage and walked with aplomb to the patroness seated in her chair. He bowed slightly, in deference to her position in the court of Harris. “Madam, as you can see, I lie not. Wouldst thou have me, thy lowly servant, entertain thee further?”
Maribeth took her cue, stood in the radiant afternoon light across from him. She tipped her head and reached across the table with the palm of her small hand down. “No, gentle bard. I have received measure for measure and am pleased. As such, I knight thee.
“Where did I lay my sword?”
“Then you believe me?” Marvin asked, taking her hand in his.
“Well…no. Not really. You might be an overnight phenomenon, a miracle…but, angels? I don’t know, Marvin Fuster.”
“Are you religious?” he asked.
“Not exactly. Well, yes, I suppose…oh, I see where you’re going. I’m Catholic by birth and upbringing. Marvin, bible stories are one thing; fascinating, yes, but this is the Twentieth Century.”
“Nothing changes, essentially, paraphrasing Augustine. Truth is truth, no matter the era or the mores. Either it was fantasy then, or it was not. Let me prove the truth of it, dear child.” He held her hand, Anselm’s fingertip atop them. A gentle warmth radiated in a circle around the touch of fingers; the flesh of youth, and the decay of age. Maribeth reacted as though she was standing on a precipice, slipping, unable to halt her movement forward.
“How?” she breathed.
The die was cast. Anselm spread his wings, and the temper of the air in the garden gazebo turned from incredulity to awe.
How, Marvin wondered? Very simple. Rewrite biological reality.
“I need books. Every book ever written on genetics.
“And I need a room,” he added as a veiled reference to his need for light to see by at night, and shelter from the elements if nothing else.

It was nearly six o’clock when Maribeth threw caution and good sense to the wind after hearing a dissertation on faith, imagination, and desire—on Amy, a woman from a dream, of all things. Marvin Fuster was a shambles, at least physically, but beneath the exterior of the wraith standing before her she saw the spark of brilliance, and the lyricism of every poet from every age. His eyes, suddenly, had begun to sparkle, as though deep inside him a universe of atoms had begun to collide. When she had discovered him dead to the world on the lawn, he was blank; a blackboard wiped clean of what once might have been something of lasting value. Within half an hour he had filled the slate with chalk of immensely varied and dazzling color, and words of incomprehensible allure. What could she do but adopt him as her own?
It would have been easy, rational, sensible, to send him on his crazy way. She had no idea that Marvin had already made an enemy in the person of Robert, but even if she had, the passion and frightening eloquence of Marvin’s dream, his quest, stirred an equally passionate response, stirred by a different but equally powerful thread winding its way inside her heart, if not her head.
And so.
“Daddy and Mums are gone. Hurry then, let’s get you situated,” she said, taking hold of Marvin’s hand.
Maribeth spirited Marvin through the garage door into the home. A long hallway with windows on the yard side opened at the far end to a kitchen. Immediately to the left, five feet in, was a paneled door. She opened it quickly and motioned without a word for Marvin to follow her. A broad switchback stairway led down the wainscoted walls to the mansion basement, originally a spacious cellar for storage of coal for the home’s boiler, non-perishable staples, boxes of papers, the overflow of non-essential goods of the families who lived and died in the house. More recently it had been cleaned out. The old boiler was replaced in an earlier administration, and the coal bin dismantled. Modern accoutrements and décor were added for the overflow of entertainment; a place the governors could retreat to with friends in a relaxed, non-official atmosphere.
“Your room is right down here,” she said motioning him to follow her. The short, narrow hallway at the foot of the stairway opened into a cavernous room, in the center of which stood an opulent billiard table, and for a moment Marvin wondered if the gigantic felt-top might become his bed until father discovered his presence sometime in the near future. He dispelled the notion of having to climb up onto the uncomfortably hard surface, though, when she led him toward a doorway into an adjoining room.
Walking behind her across the room, Marvin glanced at the walls, rich Mahogany lining it. The thick carpet was deep red, and one wall was dominated by a fully stocked bar. It reminded him of the interior of a decadent nineteenth century brothel. He vowed to himself never to tell her that, however. He imagined His Lordship The Governor might very well have had some interesting parties in a room like this.
“Do you like Daddy’s playroom, Marvin?” she asked looking back over her shoulder.
“I think so. It reminds me of a whorehouse, though.” He cursed his stunning lack of ability to keep a promise, and at the same time found his eyes taking inventory of the wealth of bottles lined up like soldiers behind the bar.
Maribeth laughed at his statement. “That’s exactly what I told him after he had it remodeled. I remember that he looked a little shocked, and he asked me how I would know something like that.”
“And what did you tell him?”
“I just said, ‘Daddy, your only daughter is an avaricious reader’. This city had more than its fair share of those kinds of places…the archives are full of them.”
She opened the door to the adjoining room and flipped on the light switch. Marvin was torn between following her or remaining close to the source of a potentially endless drunk. The thread arose and squirmed, and he dispelled the very notion of it.
“Do you think I can crack the mystery of time and aging,” he asked Maribeth as they walked toward the small anteroom.
She turned and looked back at him sadly. “No, not really. Still, it beats sitting in the drunk tank for the rest of your life and dying out there on the streets, I guess. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a perfectly noble quest on your part, but it seems way too big for an angel-seeing drunk, if you don’t mind my saying. Sorry.”
“No, that’s alright. Half the time I think I’m nuts, I really do. I appreciate your picking me up and offering to help me, though. You’re probably as crazy as I am. Even so, all this stuff that’s been going on…there must be something to it.”
“We shall see,” she answered.
They walked in, and Marvin looked around. A single bed with a blond frame dominated, made up and ready for whoever might need it. Tonight it would be for someone absolutely unsuspected. Above the headboard on the wall hung a painting of the Capitol Building with its glittering gold dome, flight of steps leading up from Broadway Avenue, conifers on either side, and a brilliant blue sky above. To the right, a small writing desk with a few books atop it, a plain wooden chair without arms. An awning window with the sheers drawn closed provided a powdery glow of light to the room.

(c) Patrick Sean Lee, 2010

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