Continued from here:
She looked at the portrait once more.
Every day now, for many years, she spent time looking at it. Sometimes she stood, standing in front of it, other days she sat, considering it.
She viewed every trace, every brushstroke, and thought about the figure portrayed. The mouth was hidden behind the beard, something she missed and had to fill in herself, when she felt she could fully think back to those times – remembering his smile, but also his sternness, a combination. He had it both in him, but together they balanced out.
Still gone now, for years.
She sat this time. She had determined that the meeting would be there, and she had asked that the children be elsewhere, even the youngest ones. Martin was helping to keep care of them in this time, which hopefully would not be something to drive her to further grief.
She only wanted to talk to the two of them now, in the presence of only that portrait.
There was also her own portrait, of course, though she had felt it was almost an indulgence. But he had been so insistent, saying how he could not bear to think of it being a record solely of himself. It had not come cheaply, but he was persuasive, and the purchase was within their means.
“An heirloom, Liz. Something to pass down a bit.”
“Oh Mark.” She’d looked at him a bit tartly, but her smile was broad. “Who will get them?”
“Oldest boy, of course. So Richard’s going to hang ‘em on his wall one day.”
She’d smiled, a little more calmly now. “Well, there’s something to wish for. Some days I wonder.”
He had laughed, that huge broad laugh of his that had charmed her from the start, when they’d first met. Even more than his Irish accent, she’d loved hearing it from him every time he was in good humor, and missed it when times and situations brought out his tenser reserve. “Richard, you’ll not need worry about him. Sure he seems a bit flighty but he’s a good lad, they all are. All of them are wonderful, like their mother.”
She had blushed. “We have raised quite a few of them, haven’t we?”
He had sat beside her, held her close. “We have, and we’ve done well – and you deserve most of that credit, more so than a gadabout like myself.”
She remembered that conversation more than some others, she chose to forget some of the sadder moments, but they were never moments that had been without comfort from him at the worst.
Now she had a portrait.
As she so often had done in the past few years, she felt the tears begin to gently well up.
She shook herself a bit, found that strength that she knew she was going to need for this meeting. She had heard so much now, she had heard more than enough. She suffered no illusions that this meeting would cause a sudden change in everyone’s situation, in how they regarded themselves and their duties to others. She just wanted to make a start.
Thank goodness for Cathy. She had always approved of William’s match, because Cathy seemed to provide the grounded center that William had not always evidenced, something that had distressed herself and Mark for a while. She knew Cathy did her best in a trying circumstance, one that had only grown worse over the years. The number of times she had come over with Percy, asking if she could visit for the night – well, clear enough as to why, and she had never asked Cathy to explain the details. She could guess them well enough from her description.
Mark had been frank enough with her on things – how she appreciated his clearheadedness. He’d seen a lot in his travels and journeys, had been able to talk about them clearly with her as they raised their family but in a way that wasn’t disturbing to her own sensibilities. He had his fondness for a bit of drink but had never pursued anything further, for he had seen the results in others and found it wanting. He knew that the City had its darker sides but admitted more than once he could see no way for it to be eliminated without removing the City itself, and he loved the City.
“There’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be, Liz, nowhere else, with noone else but you and ours.”
He’d said that more than once, during brilliant days, during quiet nights.
She looked at the portrait again. She had wished it so many times since that day that she had long lost any sense of count. But she wished she could hear it just one more time, just once.
The portrait was mute, and her tears returned.
After a while, after she had risen and spent some time looking out of one of the room’s windows, looking out over the small yard that Mark had loved, she heard a knock at the front door. William, then – William and his eternal politeness. She had insisted to him that he need never knock whenever he came by the house to visit, but he had always said that he would feel strange if he didn’t knock. Or at least, she assumed he had said that, because his flowery way of talking had been in overdrive on that day, maybe because of the emotion of the time.
Well, at least this much hadn’t changed about him.
Martin had come back a little while beforehand and said that everyone was in the care of neighbors down the street, that some game or entertainment had been planned. It would keep them busy and hopefully out of sight of the house for a while, so that certain comings and goings couldn’t be seen.
She sighed, knowing that the younger children missed Richard and William so. They had often asked in recent times, and she’d been forced to simply say they were busy, perhaps even out of town. The looks she’d received ranged from the frightened to the skeptical, and she could only trust that the oldest siblings would know why she was so circumspect.
She could not fully welcome them back to the family, she felt, not while they were in a state like this, living as they did. She barely felt she could welcome them back to the house.
But Richard had sent a note – the first she’d directly heard from him in months. She knew where he was and what he did and she wanted to deny it all but couldn’t. Mark’s memory would have forbidden it, even as he would have been crushed to know what had happened.
She’d read it, considered it, and agreed. Cathy had confirmed at least part of it with her in her own note, sent from where she was caring for William. If this had happened then it was best to get it settled. And if that meant Richard would finally emerge from whatever den he had secreted himself away into, then so much the better.
But she wouldn’t let them in the house to face anyone but her and Martin. And, for that matter, the portrait. Mark could at least observe what was going to happen – somehow.
William entered the room. She saw the scabs and the scars first and quietly winced. Cathy had mentioned them, but still, to see them! She wanted to rise and insist he get to bed, some form of a mothering instinct saw him as a little boy raising hell around the neighborhood, now just simply taller…
She stopped that line of thought. She could not be sentimental, no matter what was heard.
He smiled at her, stepped into the room fully and bowed slightly. “Mother, it is so good to see you again, it has been too long and I am sorry about that. My duties and work keep me away even from home itself, and I have apologized many time to Cathy about that.”
She wished he could be simpler, but he seemed incapable of it. “It is good to see you, William.” She kept her voice from cracking. “Cathy has mentioned this to me at times in her visits here.”
“That is true, she has visited here much more than I have in these recent times, a grave misfortune on my part, one I will rectify.” He continued talking as he settled himself into another chair facing hers at an angle. “It is a marvelous thing to understand the larger patterns of life, and to be able to act upon them – it is something I will yet talk about in more detail in the future.”
She let him go on in this vein for a while. She had heard some variations of this over time and had finally given up trying to follow him, though he seemed more animated this time around, having spoken of certain visions that had come to him in recent times. She nodded at this while casting her eye about his face and physical appearance – Cathy had likely been the one to make him look at his best, recognizing a suit that he had inherited from Mark which fit him well enough, though she noted he seemed somewhat thinner of late. He occasionally rubbed his hands together in a peculiar way but otherwise seemed far more in control of himself than when he had last visited, almost wide-eyed with a tremulous excitement that she felt almost revolted by, something that even Cathy had been at a loss to explain.
Now he seemed equally starry-eyed but far more considered. A positive sign of sorts.
At a pause in his monologue, she coughed politely. “William, while we wait on your brother, you could answer a question for me – swiftly, please.”
“I have written you for some time now this year, and always no response. It is from Cathy that I hear about you, since you do not seem to come home now of your own accord, for any reason. Visiting you is quite out of the question – you have never shown an interest in it, and Cathy is clear with me that she would feel terribly ashamed if I did.”
She sat up straighter and looked across at William firmly. “I respect and appreciate Cathy very much, William. I think sometimes I am the family member who do so the most.”
If he understood the insult he seemed not to betray his reactions. “Well, it is true, Mother, that she is quite a remarkable person, I’m not surprised that she would leave such a positive impression on you.”
“No indeed.” She looked down, wondered how best to proceed. “You still have not answered me, William. Why did you not write in response to my letters? We live within the same city, it is not unheard of for people in them to contact each other that way.”
“Ah, Mother, I am sorry about that. I read them all, yes every one, I treasured their words. I understood that you were concerned. But I have been, as I have mentioned, exploring greater forms of knowledge at present, finding out more of what is to come and how we as people interact with our universe. I feel I am on the verge of something remarkable, something that will be a great boon to us all. In times like this I sometimes forget myself and my duties. I must offer my apologies.”
She stared at him silently for a little while. William seemed about to speak again, but then stretched his arms and legs and settled back further into the chair.
“I might accept them, William, if I knew why it was you left Cathy and Percy both on their own for days at a times now.”
Before William could reply, they heard the front door open. She closed her eyes briefly and took a deep breath, steeling herself for whatever was to come next.
At least Mark would, indeed, somehow see it all. At least she would not be truly alone.